Front Page Titles (by Subject) 272.: SENIOR'S ON NATIONAL PROPERTY  SUN, 3 JAN., 1835, PP. 2-3 - The Collected Works of John Stuart Mill, Volume XXIV - Newspaper Writings January 1835 - June 1847 Part III
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272.: SENIOR’S ON NATIONAL PROPERTY  SUN, 3 JAN., 1835, PP. 2-3 - John Stuart Mill, The Collected Works of John Stuart Mill, Volume XXIV - Newspaper Writings January 1835 - June 1847 Part III 
The Collected Works of John Stuart Mill, Volume XXIV - Newspaper Writings January 1835 - June 1847 Part III, 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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SENIOR’S ON NATIONAL PROPERTY 
The “crisis” Mill refers to in the first sentence was precipitated by the elevation of Spencer (Lord Althorp) to the Lords on the death of his father in November 1834. The Whigs had already been weakened by the resignation in May of Stanley and Graham over the proposed transfer of Irish Church revenues to secular purposes, and by Grey’s resignation in July over Irish coercion. Rather than see Russell succeed Spencer as leader of the House of Commons, William IV chose to replace Melbourne and called upon Sir Robert Peel to lead a minority Tory government; it lasted only until April 1835. The anonymous pamphlet, discussing possible ministerial policy, was by Nassau William Senior; it was published in London by Fellowes in 1835. See also No. 275, on the 2nd ed. of the pamphlet. The unheaded item is described in Mill’s bibliography as “A leading article on a pamphlet (by Senior) entitled ‘On National Property, and on the Prospects of the Present Administration and of their Successors’; in the Sun of 3d January 1835”
(MacMinn, p. 43).
a pamphlet has just appeared, well deserving of the attention of electors, and of all who can exercise any influence over the dénouement of the present extraordinary crisis; while, at the same time, it stands broadly distinguished from any mere party production, and from works of temporary interest, by containing views and principles applicable to all time, stated and enforced with unusual energy and precision. The title of the pamphlet is, On National Property, and on the Prospects of the Present Administration, and of their Successors.—“The subjects of our title-page,” says the author, “may appear, at first sight, to be totally distinct. It will be found, however, that they are intimately connected.” [P. 3.] In this he is not mistaken. The present Administration, as he powerfully argues, cannot stand, mainly because they will not, and cannot with honour, take such measures as the public voice imperiously demands, on the subject of the “National Property,” namely, the endowments of the Church, the Municipal Corporations, and the Universities. Nor can Sir Robert Peel’s “successors,” whoever they may be, have the slightest chance of maintaining themselves in power, unless they are prepared to deal in the manner this author inculcates, with that great subject.
The pamphlet is evidently from the pen of a practised writer, and one well accustomed to the treatment of political questions. It would be well if we could hope to hear his topics discussed in the ensuing Session of Parliament, in the same tone of thought and in the same manly and popular style.
The writer begins by one of the very best statements which we have seen, in a small number of pages, of the philosophical argument for the right of the State to control all endowments. This right, according to him, extends so far, as to empower the Legislature, when the lawful claims of existing incumbents shall have become extinct, to dispose of the property at its own absolute will; guided of course by the same views of public expediency to which the whole of its conduct ought to be subservient, and under the further restriction of not divesting what was intended for all generations, to the temporary purposes of one.
The cant of “spoliation”1 is disposed of in the following passage:
Some deny the right of the State to deal with the income of property held in mortmain, on the ground that, what they call the church, as distinct from the existing clergymen, is the owner of what they call church property; that the episcopal lands belong to the bench of bishops, not for the lives of the existing bishops, but for ever; and that to declare that no bishop shall in future be appointed, and that the revenues of the sees as they become vacant shall be applied to the support of hospitals, would be an act of spoliation, even although it could be demonstrated that such an application would be more useful, not only at present, but permanently, than the present one. The answer to these reasoners is, that to every spoliation there must be two parties, the spoiler and the person despoiled. Now who, under these circumstances, would be the persons despoiled? Our posterity? No; for the argument assumes that they would be benefited. The existing Bishops? No; for they are untouched. The persons who now have the power to appoint bishops? Their consent must of course be obtained. If the bishopric of Sodor and Mann had still belonged to the Athol family, their right to appoint a bishop could not have been suppressed without compensation.2 But, in the present case, the persons who have the right to appoint bishops are the government, and their consent is pre-supposed. The persons who might hope to be made bishops? They have no vested interest susceptible of valuation; and, therefore, on the grounds already laid down, cannot be heard. They have no more right to protest against the suppression of bishoprics than subalterns have to oppose a reduction of the number of field officers. Bishoprics no more belong to the church, as an imaginary entity, distinct from the existing churchmen, than pay and allowances belong to the army, as an equally imaginary entity, distinct from the existing soldiers.
Others again contend that this property, having been originally given to ecclesiastical purposes, cannot be diverted from them without improperly violating the wills of those deceased persons who so dedicated it. In Scotland, where a right of perpetual entail is admitted, this argument might have some plausibility. In England and Ireland, where the law “abhors perpetuities,”3 it is almost too absurd for refutation. Our ancestors have had their full swing of posthumous power. Their wills have been obeyed for centuries; in some cases, without doubt, most beneficially; in others, more or less mischievously. And will any one, out of a sentimental regard to their memory, maintain that we have not now the right, or that, having that right, we are not now bound to inquire, how far this obedience is now beneficial, how far it is mischievous? or that we have not now the right, or that, having that right, it is not our duty to make such changes as may augment the benefit and remove the mischief?
If this argument were successful, the land would indeed belong not to the living, but to the dead. Every successive generation would find itself more and more confined by testamentary enactments; in many instances the result of vanity, caprice, or ignorance; in others, framed to meet the wants of an obsolete state of society, but in all cases immutable as the laws of the Medes and Persians. One testator might direct his estates to lie fallow for 10,000 years; another that they should be cropped alternately in thistles one century, and in nettles the next; and a third might order, as indeed has been done, that the successive life-owners should for ever be chosen by lot.
The right of Legislative interference with endowments, which existed in all cases whatever, our author considers it expedient, and therefore the bounden duty of the Legislature to exercise, in three instances. The first is, the reduction of the temporalities of the Irish Church, to the amount adequate to the wants of the Protestant population, devoting the surplus to the education, not of Protestants, but of the whole people. [Pp. 23-37.] The second is the reform of Municipal Corporations, and the employment of the property now under the control of those bodies, for such purposes as after inquiry and mature deliberation shall be deemed most useful. [Pp. 37-9.] The third is, the admission of Dissenters to the Universities. [Pp. 39-42.]
We do not think it requisite to extract any of the passages in which our author advocates these measures. Of their propriety, as soon as the right is allowed, every rational mind is already satisified. We pass to his observations on the present Ministry. After stating the obvious grounds on which neither the reforms for which he has been contending, nor any other of these demanded by public opinion, can be expected from the Peel-and-Wellington Cabinet, he urges the following cogent reasons why, even were they to become Reformers to the fullest extent which could be required, they ought, nevertheless, to be driven from office, and with disgrace:
But let us admit, merely for purposes of argument, that all this is mere trick,—that the address to the electors of Tamworth is a counterpart of the letter to Dr. Curtis,4 —and that in the course of the next two months, Sir Robert Peel will discover the justice, or at least the expediency, of carrying all that he now declares he cannot consent to.
It may seem that this is all which those who are not partisans, those whose object is good government, without caring from whom they receive it, can require; and, therefore, that although such an attempt would deprive Sir Robert Peel of the aid of the Tories and of Lord Stanley’s friends,5 it ought to give him that of all the independent Members of the House. The obvious objection to this view, and it appears to us a decisive objection, is, that it would countenance a degree of political immorality, which in no state of society it would be safe, and in our own it would be fatal, to sanction. It would sanction the opinion that, in political warfare, faith is not to be kept with the country, with enemies, or even with friends: that even among the leaders, on one side at least of the House, the debates are a solemn show, in which the actores fabulae wear the dresses and repeat the speeches which the nature of the plot, and the rules of the stage, require; but as soon as a new piece begins, have nothing to do with the characters which they supported in the former one. It would proclaim, that a man making the strongest protestations of his sincerity, may oppose, as a sacred duty, measures which he knows to be not only expedient, but essential; may drive, by his opposition, a part of the country to the brink of civil war; and, the instant he has succeeded in turning out the proposers of those measures, may introduce them himself, and then receive, from the very persons whom he has forced out, support and power as his reward. No nation could hope for public spirit, or even common honesty, from its servants, if it were thus to remunerate falsehood and faction.
Besides this, there is another reason, which hitherto has not been sufficiently insisted upon, and to which we invite, in the strongest manner, the attention of all friends of good government, or of the ancient doctrines of the Constitution:
But even supposing none of these insurmountable objections to exist, and the new Ministry to be personally unexceptionable, there are circumstances connected with their appointment which must deprive them of the support of those who wish to consult the permanent interests of the country.
It has for many years been admitted, that a Minister, though appointed by the Crown, and nominally subject to be dismissed mero motu regis,6 without warning or explanation, really holds his office at the will, not of the Crown, but of the two Houses of Parliament. He might be disliked by the Court, he might be unpalatable to the King, it might be his duty, indeed, to take steps which would necessarily produce one or both of these results; but while he retained the confidence of the Houses of Parliament, he was, according to the doctrine which prevailed until the 15th of last November, secure. And the necessity of this principle is obvious. If a Minister held office at the caprice of the Court, the Court, not Parliament, would be the field on which the battles for power would be fought. The arts which succeed in Courts, and the measures which please Courts, would be the arts and the measures adopted. Despotic governments and constitutional governments have each their peculiar merits and their peculiar inconveniences; but this would be a mode of uniting the faults of both: the slow and cumbersome machinery of the one, and the ignorance, prejudices, corruption, and vacillation of the other. Even in despotisms, where public opinion has acquired any force, deference to that opinion prevents any capricious change. “C’est moi,” said Louis XV, “qui nomme les ministres, mais c’est la nation qui les renvoie.”
Those whom this reasoning does not convince, may, perhaps, yield to the authority of Mr. Burke. That acute observer, after dwelling on the necessity that a Minister should be connected not only with the interests, but with the sentiments and opinions of the people, adds, in words which we might now adopt, “These are considerations which, in my opinion, enforce the necessity of having some better reason in a free country and a free Parliament for supporting the Ministers of the Crown, than that short one, ‘That the King has thought proper to appoint them.’ There is something very courtly in this; but it is a principle pregnant with all sorts of mischief, in a constitution like ours, to turn the views of active men from the country to the Court. Whatever be the road to power, that is the road which will be trod. If the opinion of the country be of no use as a means of power or consideration, the qualities which usually procure that opinion will be no longer cultivated. And whether it be right in a State so popular in its constitution as ours, to leave ambition without popular motives, and to trust all to the operation of pure virtue in the minds of Kings, and Ministers, and public men, must be submitted to the judgment and good sense of the people of England. . . . When a Ministry rests upon public opinion, it is not indeed built upon a rock of adamant; it has, however, some stability; but when it stands upon private humour, its structure is of stubble, and its foundation is on a quicksand. I repeat it again—he that supports every administration subverts all government. The reason is this: the whole business in which a Court usually takes an interest goes on at present equally well in whatever hands, whether high or low, wise or foolish, scandalous or reputable; there is nothing, therefore, to hold it firm to any one body of men, or to any one consistent scheme of politics. Nothing interposes to prevent the full operation of all the caprices, and all the passions of a Court upon the servants of the public. The system of administration is open to continual shocks and changes upon the principles of the meanest cabal, and the most contemptible intrigue. Nothing can be solid or permanent. All good men at length fly with horror from such a service. Men of rank and ability, with the spirit which ought to animate such men in a free State, while they decline the jurisdiction of dark cabal on their actions and their fortunes, will, for both, cheerfully put themselves upon their country. They will trust an inquisitive and distinguishing Parliament, because it does inquire and does distinguish. If they act well, they know that in such a Parliament they will be supported against any intrigue; if they act ill, they know that no intrigue can protect them. This situation, however awful, is honourable. But in one hour, without any assigned or assignable cause, to be precipitated from the highest authority to the most marked neglect, is a situation full of danger, and destitute of honour. It will be shunned equally by every man of prudence, and every man of spirit.”7
It is to be added, that if this principle is to be abandoned; if the king is to be at liberty, merely because he thinks his own opinion better than that of the nation speaking through their representatives, to dismiss a government which enjoys the full confidence of the House of Commons; if he is at liberty to do this at his own personal pleasure; this absurdity follows, that his Majesty can act without a responsible adviser in one point, and on one point only, that point being the most important one which he ever can have to consider. The question, who is responsible?—for some one must be responsible for the sudden and total dismissal of a ministry,—has not been decided since our Constitution assumed its present form, because in fact it has not been necessary to raise it. A parliamentary vote or a resignation has preceded every previous change. It has now been raised, and painful as the discussion is, it must be decided. It must be decided with reference not merely to the present emergency, not as a party or temporary question, but as one of permanent constitutional law.
The king of course is not responsible. Royal responsibility is inconsistent with monarchical government. Of course, too, it would be absurd to fix the responsibility on those persons who may be supposed to have had private access to his Majesty’s ear. The country does not recognise such advisers, either for good or for evil. The domestic comfort and privacy of the sovereign require that those who, filling no political office, are familiarly about his person, should be considered to be, as in reality it is their duty to be, unconnected with politics. The persons on whom this responsibility falls most naturally and most usefully, are those who are to profit by the act in question, the immediate successors of the dismissed administration. If it be once understood that, whether really consulted or not, they are to be considered as having advised the measure which, by their acquiescence they have adopted, and that no administration, for whom a vacancy has been made by a court intrigue, or by mere personal predilections or dislikes, or by caprice, or, in short, on any ground of which Parliament does not recognize the sufficiency, however personally eligible, will receive parliamentary support, we shall return to our established system, and the events of last November will be a warning instead of a precedent.
It may be asked then, what was the Duke of Wellington to do when he was summoned from the hunting-field at Strathfieldsay, and the King threw himself on his loyalty?8 Was he to refuse to aid the King in his difficulties?
Unquestionably it was his duty so to refuse.
It was his duty to say, not in words, but in substance, “Four months ago, your Majesty appointed Lord Melbourne your minister. The country approved of the choice, and nothing has occurred to diminish its approbation. I cannot be a party to any change which has even the appearance of having originated in intrigue, or caprice, or in any personal feelings whatsoever.”
It will be the duty of the houses of parliament to say, “We will not bind on our necks, and on those of our posterity, a yoke from which the country has worked itself free. We will not abandon the trust which the practice of the Constitution has reposed in us of deciding by what party the government shall be carried on.”
It is now the duty of the electors, since Sir Robert Peel is blind enough to appeal to them, to proclaim, “We will return those men, and those men only, who will maintain their station as representatives of the people. We have not broken the chains of an oligarchy to put on those of a court. We will not sanction a single step towards a return to those unhappy times, when the sovereign was the real minister, and placed and displaced at pleasure, the puppets who bore the name.”
Considering it as certain that the present Administration cannot stand, the author proceeds to examine what ought to be the conduct of their successors. And first, on what terms ought they to take office? On this point the writer is most explicit. A creation of Peers (in his opinion Peers for life), sufficient to re-establish harmony between the two Houses, ought to be an absolute condition. This he shows with great force and spirit. [Pp. 64-71.] And if, as there is reason to believe, his pamphlet speaks the sentiments of a part at least, if not the whole, of the late Administration, so strong a declaration on this point is highly important.
The writer thinks, and, in our opinion, for unanswerable reasons, that Peers should be eligible to the House of Commons, otherwise the creation of so many popular Peers might for ever exclude from the other House a large proportion of those who would be its most valuable members. [P. 69.] And what Reformer does not wish that Earl Spencer, the Earl of Durham,9 or Lord Brougham, could again make themselves heard in that assembly in which the direction of public affairs, now and hereafter, does and will mainly reside?
To the observations contained in the pamphlet on giving official seats to Ministers [pp. 72-81], on paying the Catholic Clergy [pp. 87-110], on Secondary Punishments [pp. 110-13], and other important subjects, we can only call the reader’s attention. He will find them well worthy of perusal and consideration.
[1 ]For an early use of the term, see Charles Watkin Williams Wynn (1775-1850), lawyer and M.P. for Montgomeryshire, Speech on Irish Church Property (13 May 1833), PD, 3rd ser., Vol. 17, col. 1156.
[2 ]For nearly a hundred years, the sovereignty of the Isle of Man held by the Dukes of Atholl, of the Scottish house of Murray, had been the source of much friction with the British Government, even though the reign of the Atholls over the Island had been officially terminated in 1765. As late as 1814 the then Duke of Atholl appointed his nephew, George Murray, Bishop of Sodor and Man.
[3 ]Adam Smith, An Inquiry into the Nature and Causes of the Wealth of Nations, 8th ed., 3 vols. (London: Strahan, 1796), Vol. II, p. 85 (Bk. III, Chap. ii), drawing on Blackstone, Commentaries, Vol. II, p. 174.
[4 ]Peel’s An Address to the Electors of the Borough of Tamworth (London: Roake and Varty, 1834), commonly known as the “Tamworth Manifesto,” outlining the principles of the new, liberal Conservative party, was delivered on his accession to office and published on 18 Dec., 1834. The Duke of Wellington’s letter of 11 Dec., 1828, intended to be private, but published in The Times (26 Dec., 1828, p. 2), and stating that, although he believed a solution to the Catholic question should be found, the time was not yet, was followed within months by the proposing of Catholic Emancipation by the Duke’s Government. For the private letter of 4 Dec., 1828, of Patrick Curtis (1740-1832), Roman Catholic Archbishop of Armagh, and the Duke’s reply, see Despatches, Correspondence, and Memoranda of Field Marshall Arthur Duke of Wellington, ed. by his son, 8 vols. (London: Murray, 1867-80), Vol. V, pp. 308 and 326.
[5 ]Stanley had refused Peel’s offer to join the Ministry, but had agreed to support him in the Commons.
[6 ]The phrase (in the form ex mero motu, “of his own will”) was first used for grants of land under 4 Henry IV, c. 4 (1402).
[7 ]Edmund Burke, Thoughts on the Cause of the Present Discontents, Works, Vol. I, pp. 447, 491-2. The preceding quotation, attributed by Senior to Louis XV, has not been located.
[8 ]William IV had summoned Wellington from his Berkshire estate on 15 Nov. to offer him the Premiership.
[9 ]John George Lambton (1792-1840), 1st Earl of Durham, a leader of the Radical Whigs.