Front Page Titles (by Subject) 223.: CONDUCT OF THE MINISTRY WITH RESPECT TO THE POST-OFFICE DEPARTMENT, AND THE PAYMENT OF OFFICERS BY FEES EXAMINER, 10 NOV., 1833, PP. 706-7 - The Collected Works of John Stuart Mill, Volume XXIII - Newspaper Writings August 1831 - October 1834 Part II
Return to Title Page for The Collected Works of John Stuart Mill, Volume XXIII - Newspaper Writings August 1831 - October 1834 Part II
The Online Library of Liberty
A project of Liberty Fund, Inc.
Search this Title:
223.: CONDUCT OF THE MINISTRY WITH RESPECT TO THE POST-OFFICE DEPARTMENT, AND THE PAYMENT OF OFFICERS BY FEES EXAMINER, 10 NOV., 1833, PP. 706-7 - John Stuart Mill, The Collected Works of John Stuart Mill, Volume XXIII - Newspaper Writings August 1831 - October 1834 Part II 
The Collected Works of John Stuart Mill, Volume XXIII - Newspaper Writings August 1831 - October 1834 Part II, 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).
About Liberty Fund:
Liberty Fund, Inc. is a private, educational foundation established to encourage the study of the ideal of a society of free and responsible individuals.
The online edition of the Collected Works is published under licence from the copyright holder, The University of Toronto Press. ©2006 The University of Toronto Press. All rights reserved. No part of this material may be reproduced in any form or medium without the permission of The University of Toronto Press.
Fair use statement:
This material is put online to further the educational goals of Liberty Fund, Inc. Unless otherwise stated in the Copyright Information section above, this material may be used freely for educational and academic purposes. It may not be used in any way for profit.
CONDUCT OF THE MINISTRY WITH RESPECT TO THE POST-OFFICE DEPARTMENT, AND THE PAYMENT OF OFFICERS BY FEES
This is the seventh and last of Mill’s leading articles on the parliamentary session of 1833 prompted by Le Marchant’s The Reform Ministry; for the entry in his bibliography and the context, see Nos. 216-21. In the Somerville College set of the Examiner, the article is listed as title and enclosed in square brackets.
the clerks of the post-office, in addition to their authorized salaries, have large perquisites, not voted annually by Parliament, nor brought upon the public accounts, but which, like all the gains of public functionaries, come out of the pockets of the people, and in this instance in a most objectionable manner. The sources of these irregular emoluments are various, the most considerable being the privilege of franking newspapers, and the entire monopoly which that privilege confers of the supply of foreign journals to persons resident in this country. The extravagance and the manifold evils of this mode of remunerating the post-office establishment were recognised as long ago as 1788, when a Tory commission, appointed by the Tory Ministry of Mr. Pitt, recommended that the practice should be abolished, and all emoluments forbidden to the functionaries of the post-office, except in the form of fixed salaries.1 The recommendation was renewed by the Tory commissioners of revenue inquiry in their report to the Tory Minister, the Duke of Wellington, in 1829.2 Here was ground enough, one would think, for a Reform Ministry to proceed on: but this is not all. A few months ago the French Government, in a spirit of which it were to be wished that Governments afforded more frequent examples, sent M. Conte, their Postmaster-general, to this country on a special mission, to obtain the consent of our Ministry to several measures for facilitating communication between the two countries both by letter and by printed publications.3 Among the foremost of these propositions was one for suffering the newspapers of each country to be conveyed by the mails of the other on the same terms with its own, namely, post free, or at a rate of postage almost nominal. Here was a proposal which a Ministry of enlarged views and a liberal spirit would have grasped at with the utmost avidity. Here was an opportunity for facilitating the circulation of knowledge, the interchange of ideas, and the increase of friendly feeling between the two leading nations of Europe; an occasion scarcely to be looked for in a century, of meeting the liberal overtures of a foreign country for a more extended intercourse in a corresponding spirit of liberality; for proving to the statesmen of France that so creditable a wish is reciprocal, that their aspirations are appreciated and participated in, and that our missions and our negociations to obtain increased facilities of intercourse are not mere show and pretence, nor a trick to cajole the French into granting what are called commercial advantages, but the expression of a sincere and well-considered and disinterested purpose. Was it so easy for the French Ministry to effect improvements, that we could afford to say No, when they voluntarily said Yes? There, as here, we may be sure, abundance of private interests stand opposed to all innovation; there, as here, the ease both of superiors and of subordinates is best consulted by leaving all things as they are. By singular good fortune all these obstacles were got over without any trouble on our part, and the French Ministry spontaneously offered what it would have been worth years of negociation to obtain. Every consideration, not only of liberal and benevolent policy, but of the narrowest political expediency, was in favour of the proposal; nothing was opposed to it but the private interests of the clerks of the post-office. Those interests have triumphed; the French negociator has gone away unsuccessful! A specimen of the Reform Ministry.
All comment upon this would be idle, except Lord Althorp’s own. Among his other endowments, one which Lord Althorp possesses in a supreme degree, is the faculty of making whatever is exceptionable in his actions, still worse by the niaiserie of his excuses. Being challenged on this subject in the House of Commons, he defended himself by saying that if the monopoly were taken from the clerks of the post-office it would be necessary to make an equivalent addition to their salaries!4 Suppose it were; what then? But no, my Lord: an addition, perhaps, but not an equivalent addition: gains which do not see the light are apt to be considerably larger than would be tolerated if they did: your Lordship would not dare to propose to Parliament avowed salaries for these officers, of half the amount of the emoluments which they are at present allowed to pick up in a dark corner. Look at the schedule annexed to the Tory Commissioners’ Report, my Lord.5 Would Sir Francis Freeling,6 for whose office 1000l. a-year was considered by the Revenue Commissioners to be an adequate remuneration, have been permitted to receive as an addition to his salary of 1200l., the 2965l. a-year he now receives as “compensation for loss of the privilege of franking newspapers to the colonies?”7 Your Lordship well knows he would not, and so does Sir Francis. Of the paltriness of making a question like this a mere matter of pounds, shillings, and pence, neither reckoning the injustice of monopolies in general, nor the peculiar and odious mischief of a monopoly in favour of national prejudices and antipathies, and against the most valuable of all intercourse, that of human thoughts and feelings, we will not trust ourselves to say anything.
It would be absurd to suspect the Ministers of having any personal interest in these jobs; what we charge them with is a stupid insensibility to all the higher considerations which ought to govern such questions, joined with a dulness and want of discernment which makes them tools in the hands of any interested person who desires to use them as such. It is this, and the anti-popular instinct together, which makes them uphold the taxes on newspapers and political publications. Who are their advisers in this? The daily newspapers! monopolists, whom the abolition of those taxes would compel to share with a hundred rivals the market which they now engross exclusively. Ministers little know the store of public hatred which they are laying up for themselves by this, and their defence of the corn laws, and one or two things more, which the mass of the working people feel to their heart’s core, and which a Ministry, unexceptionable in every other respect, could not possibly persevere in for three or four years without becoming as odious as the Castlereagh Ministry in its worst times.8
But what can Lord Althorp know of public opinion? He, who affirmed that nine-tenths of the people of England would lament to see the Bishops ejected from the House of Lords.9 This at a time when their expulsion from that House on merely religious grounds, quite apart from the almost universal disgust (there is no other word) at their conduct as politicians, formed part of every plan of Church Reform brought forward by friends of the Establishment as absolutely indispensable for redeeming its character and preserving it in existence! The very time when the Bishops, as a body, were making themselves the prime agents in every intrigue for “tripping up” the Ministry, and when their votes regularly swelled the minorities or majorities against the most important of the Ministerial measures; this dexterous tactician chooses that very moment for volunteering a gratuitous assurance to his bitterest enemies that they have nothing to fear, and may mature all their machinations against him and his colleagues, and against the people of Great Britain, in confidence and security!
But among the wants of these Ministers, want of the higher qualities of statesmanship is hardly more conspicuous than want of tact, and of understanding their own position. Surely there never before was a Ministry which several times in one Session compromised themselves neck-deep in defence of what they had not strength to hold for a few weeks following. Surely no Chancellor of the Exchequer but Lord Althorp would have courted the odium of defending sinecures as a valuable part of our institutions,10 against motion after motion for their abolition, and been forced before the end of the Session to appoint a Committee on purpose to recommend that sinecures should be given up.11 Nor would any other Minister have voluntarily taken upon himself the load of obloquy which this foolish Lord incurred by justifying, we know not how many times, not only the Assessed Taxes, but those inequalities in their assessment which fly in the faces of mankind; and this with so little power of maintaining the ground he had so rashly occupied, that in the very same year he has been constrained to yield what, with the persons interested, passed and was intended to pass, as an actual promise to give those taxes up.12
If we continued our examination of the Ministry until every thing in their conduct which calls for severity of stricture had been exhausted, we might prolong it till the next Session. But all things must have an end. We must, therefore, pass over the Ballot, Triennial Parliaments, Impressment, and numerous other subjects of the utmost importance, but which unhappily are still alive, and will afford many occasions for every sort of comment before they are finally disposed of. Here, then, for the present, our review of the Session must close.
[1 ]“Reports of the Commissioners Appointed by Act 25 Geo. III, cap. 19 to Enquire into the Fees, Gratuities, Perquisites, and Emoluments, Which Are or Have Been Lately Received in the Several Public Offices Therein Mentioned. Tenth Report—Post Office” (30 June, 1788), PP, 1806, VII, 755-97, esp. 783.
[2 ]“Eighteenth Report of the Commissioners of Inquiry into the Collection and Management of the Revenue Arising in Ireland and Great Britain: Post Office Revenue, United Kingdom” (20 Mar., 1829), PP, 1829, XI, 1-90, esp. 31.
[3 ]Antoine Joseph Xavier Conte (1773-1850) was made Director General of the Post Office after the July Revolution. He successfully reorganized the Postal Service and arranged postal treaties with other countries, most notably (though not until 1836) with Great Britain.
[4 ]Spencer, Speech on Newspapers—the Post Office (28 June, 1833), PD, 3rd ser., Vol. 18, cols. 1303-4.
[5 ]PP, 1829, XI, 91-101.
[6 ]Francis Freeling (1764-1836), who joined the General Post Office in 1787, in a career of nearly fifty years worked his way up to Chief Secretary. He had been knighted in 1828.
[7 ]See 6 George IV, c. 68 (1825), Sect. 9.
[8 ]Robert Stewart (1769-1822), Viscount Castlereagh, 2nd Marquis of Londonderry, Tory statesman much hated by the Radicals, though never Prime Minister, was leader of the Commons from 1812, and had major responsibility for the “Six Acts” of 1819.
[9 ]See No. 216, n3.
[10 ]Spencer, speech of 14 Feb., 1833, col. 674; cf. his speech of 15 Aug., PD, 3rd ser., Vol. 20, cols. 706-8.
[11 ]As a result of a motion for an inquiry into the sinecure offices on 15 Aug., 1833, which was successfully amended into a motion for a return of all such offices, the committee Mill refers to was set up, but not until the next session, on 28 Feb., 1834. See “Report from the Select Committee Appointed to Examine the Papers Respecting Sinecure Offices Presented to the House on the 26th February Last,” PP, 1834, VI, 339-572.
[12 ]For Spencer’s justification of assessed taxes, see No. 217, n15; for his alleged promise to give them up, see his Speech on Inhabited House Duty (7 Aug., 1833), ibid., Vol. 20, cols. 421-5.