Front Page Titles (by Subject) 65.: CONTROVERSY ON THE BALLOT EXAMINER, 12 DEC., 1830, PP. 786-7 - The Collected Works of John Stuart Mill, Volume XXII - Newspaper Writings December 1822 - July 1831 Part I
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65.: CONTROVERSY ON THE BALLOT EXAMINER, 12 DEC., 1830, PP. 786-7 - 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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CONTROVERSY ON THE BALLOT
This article, continuing the discussion in Nos. 60 and 63, responds to the Standard, 30 Nov., p. 2, and 8 Dec., p. 2, from the latter of which Mill quotes. The promised reply by the Standard, incorporating No. 63, that is referred to by Mill in the opening sentence, actually appeared on 11 Dec., but presumably after this article was completed. This leading article, in the “Political Examiner,” is headed as title and described in Mill’s bibliography as “An article headed ‘Controversy on the Ballot’ in the Examiner of 12th December 1830”
(MacMinn, p. 13).
the standard has promised a complete reply to our article of last Sunday, on the Ballot, when it shall have room to re-print the article itself. This mode of carrying on an important controversy reflects credit upon our contemporary’s fairness, and is, we confess, very much to our taste. The Standard will, we know, readily believe that nothing but the limited space which is at the command of a weekly newspaper, prevents us from affording a similar proof of our regard for truth, by inserting in our columns such of his articles as we think it useful to controvert. They have sufficient claim to such a place on the score of their intrinsic merits. Powers of vigorous thought, however ill disciplined, or however misapplied, scarcely ever run so completely to waste as not to propagate and call forth similar powers in some, at least, of the minds with which they may come in contact.
The Standard now affirms, that the Ballot does not ensure secrecy; of this it attempts no proof, except an assertion, that, in the United States, every man’s vote is known. There is something, to us, very ridiculous in these appeals from the experience of the human race to the assumed experience of a single country, which not one of the persons so appealing has the assurance to pretend that he knows any thing about. In America, the Ballot may very possibly be an unnecessary protection; for no voter is in a state of dependence, the voters are too numerous to be bribed, and the candidates not in circumstances to bribe. Moreover, the Ballot, in America, may be a mere sham, as at the India House.1 But when there is a real Ballot, to say that the votes can be known, is a manifest absurdity. The vote can never be known, unless the voter has it in his power to shew it. The voter may tell it; but his telling it when nobody can ever know whether he tells the truth, will not cause it to be known. Ballot or no ballot, a man’s vote may be surmised by those who are acquainted with his political opinions; but the Standard cannot suppose that any one would be so silly as either to bribe an elector, or lose a respectable tenant on a mere surmise.
After all that has been said, the Standard seems even now utterly unable to seize the distinction between the case wherein the ballot is a safeguard to the honest, and that in which it is a cloak to the knave. He cannot even yet see, that the temptation sometimes comes from the interests of people who can influence the voter, and sometimes from the voter’s own interests: that in the first case the ballot puts an end to the temptation, while in the second it removes only the restraints. Our contemporary persists in saying, that if the elector needs the ballot to protect him against his landlord, the representative must equally stand in need of it, to remove him from the control of the minister. As if the sovereign body could need protection against the creature of its own will; as if the minister had any means of controlling the legislature, but what the legislature gives him; as if there were any body who does not know that a ministry exists not by commanding the two houses of parliament, but by obeying them. These constitutional fictions belong to a time which is past. Kings and ministers once dictated to the parliament and to the parliament-makers, but have long since sunk down into the humbler office of carving for them.
There is a passage in a late article of the Standard, which we cannot let pass without severer reprobation. After accusing the reformers of attaching little comparative importance to bribery, as contrasted with the influence which is exercised by the threat of turning men out of house and home, our contemporary permits himself to say,
At present when it is known that the electors at such places as Stamford can be bought at two or three guineas a-head, it is the duty of the landlord to dispossess all who have proved their corruption by voting against the legitimate influence of a community of political sentiment, and of that interchange of kindnesses which always obtains between a good landlord and his tenants.
We scarcely remember another equally remarkable instance of the doctrines which men will permit themselves to avow respecting their fellow-creatures, when they have unhappily become entangled in a bad cause, and have not manliness or resolution to extricate themselves from it. Here we have it deliberately declared that every tenant who votes in opposition to the will of his landlord, must do so from the motive of bribery, and ought to be treated by other people as if it were legally proved that he had been bribed; and this whatever be the Lord’s behest, and whether he be whig, tory, or radical: and such is the undistinguishing sweep of this morality, that the tenants of Lord Radnor or of Sir Francis Burdett,2 just as much as those of the Duke of Newcastle,3 are not only bound to vote as the landlord commands, but are so utterly in the condition of cattle, so incapable of a political opinion, a public sympathy, or even a preference of one man over another, that no possible interpretation can be put upon their disobedience to the lordly mandate, except that they have been bribed in actual money—always providing that the superior whom they have failed to obey, is a good landlord, judice the landlord himself.
We make no comment on this doctrine. We leave it to the judgment of its author, who, we have no doubt, in his cooler moments, will recoil from it. But it is a grievous misfortune to be hampered with a Duke of Newcastle, and obliged to prove that his black is white.
[1 ]Each year six of the twenty-four Directors of the East India Company retired, and could not be re-elected for one year. But the Chairman drew up a “House List” of recommended candidates, consisting of the names of the six who had retired the previous year; this list was signed by the directors in office and mailed to the members of the Court of Proprietors, who almost invariably balloted for the House List. Consequently thirty Directors were practically assured of life tenure.
[2 ]William Pleydell Bouverie, 3rd Earl Radnor (1779-1869), a Whig politician of advanced ideas, was M.P. from 1801 until he went to the Lords in 1828. Francis Burdett (1770-1844), a radical and well-known advocate of Parliamentary (and other) reform since 1797, was M.P. for Westminster, 1807-37; he had originally entered Parliament in the Newcastle interest.
[3 ]Henry Clinton, 4th Duke of Newcastle, had just (3 Dec.) made his famous reply when questioned about his ejection of tenants for voting against his interest, “Is it not lawful for me to do what I please with mine own?” (PD, 3rd ser., Vol. I, col. 751). The phrase originates in Matthew, 20:15.