Front Page Titles (by Subject) 63.: THE BALLOT EXAMINER, 5 DEC., 1830, P. 769 - The Collected Works of John Stuart Mill, Volume XXII - Newspaper Writings December 1822 - July 1831 Part I
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63.: THE BALLOT EXAMINER, 5 DEC., 1830, P. 769 - 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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Mill here continues his general argument in favour of the secret ballot, replying to a leading article in the Standard, 30 Nov., 1830, p. 2, which responded to his assertion in No. 60. For further discussion, see No. 65. This item is the first article in the “Political Examiner,” headed as title, and described in Mill’s bibliography as “The first twelve paragraphs of a leading article on the Ballot, in the Examiner of 5th December 1830” (MacMinn, p. 13). The continuation of the argument, directed against The Times, is presumably by Albany Fonblanque (1793-1872), the radical editor of the Examiner.
the standard has met our challenge of last Sunday, by noticing, we must say rather than answering, our argument respecting the Ballot. Its observations are evidently the result of so little consideration, that we advert to them only because, on a subject of such immense and rapidly-increasing importance, discussion can scarcely be carried too far; and also, because a return is due to the courtesy with which we have always been treated by our able contemporary.
Of that courtesy he has afforded us a new instance, in politely allowing to the substance of our observations on the Ballot, the name of an argument,—indeed, he calls it the first argument he ever heard in defence of the Ballot. Without impugning the truth of this assertion, we will make free to suggest, that if he has never before met with any argument for the Ballot, it very probably was because he did not give himself any great trouble to search for one. Indeed, what could be expected, if, as he now informs us, his opinion was predetermined by a consideration which renders all appeal to the merits of the case utterly superfluous. A sufficient objection to the Ballot, in his mind, he says, was its novelty. It has never been tried before, in a like case. And if its never having been tried, is a reason why it never should, this is a difficulty which is not likely to be soon got over.
On this objection it may be remarked, that if it avail against the Ballot, it would have held equally against steam-coaches.1 Steam may be an excellent thing in a manufactory, but when was it ever tried in a like case?
We need not seriously controvert the proposition, that the plainest dictates of reason are not worthy to be attended to when they recommend any thing which is new; nor need we ask, what improvement is there which may not be called an untried one, if that which is tried in private societies within every one’s knowledge, and in the political constitution of the only two great or intellectual countries which possess a constitution besides ourselves, is to be set aside without even an examination, on this curious plea.
But these experiments, it seems, are not like cases. Does the Standard then, really suppose that a political institution was ever tried in a like case? No two cases in history are alike. This is a logic, by which all reasoning from experience would be rendered impossible. The Standard declares itself favourable to a plan of Parliamentary reform which shall restore our old, and therefore, we presume, our tried institutions. But does the Standard suppose that the state of England when these institutions existed, constitutes a like case to the state of England at the present moment? If that be our contemporary’s real opinion, we should not despair of persuading him that any two cases which ever were mentioned together, are like cases.
The Standard has very candidly extracted from our columns the passage of Mr. Mill’s History of British India, from which our argument was drawn;2 and by the additional publicity which it has given to this passage, it has, we feel assured, done more good to the cause of the Ballot, than it can do harm by such a refutation as it has attempted, though repeated ten times over.
Mr. Mill’s proposition, it will be recollected, was this—that the Ballot is bad, where the voter’s own interest points in a wrong direction, and where the restraint which public opinion imposes, is indispensable as a check to that interest. But if the voter’s own interest accords with the public good, as it must do when the public themselves are the voters, this restraint is not necessary; and the Ballot, consequently, is desirable as often as the voters are liable to be acted upon, either in the way of bribery or intimidation, by the interests of powerful individuals.
On this the Standard remarks, that it is not interest, but passion, which, in all save extreme cases, determines the public conduct of the mass. By passion must here be meant, feelings of violent liking or dislike, independent of any calm consideration of the consequences of the vote either to the voter himself or to others.
If it be true that his vote, supposing it to be known to nobody, would be given not from reflection, but from passion, it seems to us, we confess, a singular mode of keeping passion under controul, to make him vote in the face of a multitude, actuated, as is assumed in the supposition, by the very same violent passion.
But this is losing sight of the true question. All the effect which can follow, or is affirmed to follow from the Ballot, is, that the vote will be given to the candidate whom the voter sincerely prefers. A degree of perfection greater than this, it is not possible to attain by any contrivance of polls or ballot-boxes. If it be impossible to constitute any body of electors but such as will sincerely prefer the wrong man, there is an end to all rational attempts at a representative government. But nobody asserts this; and the only question is, what portion of the community, if allowed to chuse the man whom it prefers, is most likely to chuse the right man. Sincere and upright persons may differ on this point; but we should not have imagined that there could have been any difference of opinion respecting the propriety of taking the suffrages in such a manner, that those who you have determined ought to be the chusers, shall really be the chusers; and that the power which you have pretended to give to them shall not, through the medium of a system of immorality disgraceful to human nature, be really exercised by a petty oligarchy, on whom nobody would have the face to propose conferring the same power directly and avowedly.
As for passion, as long as men are ill-educated, they will sometimes be too strongly excited to attend to their true interest. But we are apt to think that the passions of men whose interest is right, are less dangerous than the passions of men whose interest is wrong. Amidst all this exaggeration respecting passion, the real fact is, that the passions which extend to entire nations, not collected together in mobs, but insulated in their own homes, are almost invariably, in the present state of civilization, generous and amiable ones. The danger in the present condition of society is not from passion, but from selfish calculation of worldly interest. The universal cry periodically raised, from John o’Groat’s House to the Land’s End, for the abolition of slavery, is a specimen of popular passion, such as our own day exhibits: humane and disinterested in its ends, and consenting to appear impatient and inconsiderate only because it knows that the assemblies to which it addresses itself possess coolness sufficient to temper the ardour of the hottest enthusiasm.
It is no doubt true that many voters do not, and would not, give their votes upon a judgment of particular public measures, on which they very often are not, and know that they are not, capable of forming a correct opinion. But if they have no private ends of their own to serve, and cannot be made instruments against their conscience for serving the private ends of other people, they will in general vote for the person whom they think most honest, and most capable of judging correctly. And in this they will seldom be mistaken, unless from blind deference to their superiors in rank and education; for, except where they have learned, by bitter experience, that the higher classes have the most miserably petty personal object more at heart than their physical and moral well-being, the fault of the multitude has never been distrust of the rich, but too habitual and implicit a confidence in them.
[1 ]On 15 Sept. the Manchester-Liverpool railway line had opened.
[2 ]The passage had been quoted by Mill in No. 60.