Front Page Titles (by Subject) 274.: THE WORD DESTRUCTIVE GLOBE AND TRAVELLER, 6 JAN., 1835, P. 2 - The Collected Works of John Stuart Mill, Volume XXIV - Newspaper Writings January 1835 - June 1847 Part III
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274.: THE WORD “DESTRUCTIVE” GLOBE AND TRAVELLER, 6 JAN., 1835, P. 2 - 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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THE WORD “DESTRUCTIVE”
Here Mill returns to the Globe and Traveller for the first time since 1823. This unheaded leader is described in Mill’s bibliography as “A leading article on the word ‘Destructive’ in the Globe of 6th January 1835”
(MacMinn, p. 43).
it is amusing to see how invariably, in one age after another, party frenzy frustrates its own purposes in the self-same manner. Not only there is no variety in its weapons, but it invariably uses all of them so indiscriminately as to blunt their edge. One of its most universal devices is calling bad names. “Give a dog a bad name and hang him,” might be taken for its motto. But the bad names do not long remain bad; for as they are presently applied to all, without distinction, who are obnoxious to the party coining the names, they are soon shared by so many persons of the highest public and private worth, that no one is either ashamed or afraid of a reproach borne in common with such men, and the names originally opprobrious are in a short time avowed and even boasted of. “Whig” and “Tory” were originally terms of abuse, levelled exclusively at the lowest populace.1 Every one remembers the name “Gueux,” or beggars, applied in derision by the partisans of the Duke of Alva to the first Flemish insurgents, and very soon adopted by themselves as a title of honour.2 Whoever is old enough to remember the first invention of the term “Radical,”3 and the terror with which almost every person above the rank of a working man deprecated the application of it to himself, will be at no loss for a modern instance similar to these ancient ones.
The same game is now played over again with an abusive epithet of more recent coinage, and, as we already begin to see, with the same result. When the term Radical had ceased to terrify any one, the word “Destructive” was invented to supply its place;4 and for a short time a distinction was kept up—many persons were called Radicals who were not called Destructives, and at first nobody was willing to confess himself a Destructive. But this term of opprobrium has run its course more rapidly than any similar term ever did. Already every person is called a Destructive who is not a Tory, who is not willing to be governed by Tories. The majority of the last parliament, the majority of the parliament which is to come, the enormous majority of the electors, and of the middle classes generally, a large portion of the landed and the largest portion of the commercial aristocracy of the United Kingdom, are all Destructives. There are but two parties now, Destructives and Conservatives. The consequence is, that no one who does not call himself a Conservative will feel the least objection to being called a Destructive, and we may soon expect to see even addresses to electors from persons calling themselves “Rational Destructives.”
In the meantime, if we may be permitted to put the question, pray what is meant by calling all the Reformers, except those after the fashion of Sir Robert Peel, Destructives? What does the word signify?
If it means people who are for the destruction of property, there are no such people. At no time, in no country, not even in France during the height of the Revolution, were there more than a handful who wished even to reform, much less to destroy, the laws of property.
If it means people who are for the abolition of monarchy and the House of Lords, and the establishment of an American republic, very good and wise men have thought that this would be desirable; but even of these we never saw or heard of one who wished the experiment tried in this country in defiance of the old and deep-rooted national attachments to those institutions. As for mere adventurers and demagogues, these are the last objects they would choose, because the last which would hold out any hopes of successful agitation. The people of England are not led by words. They carry even to a fault their indifference to abstract principles. The only change which they desire, or even tolerate, is the reform or removal of something which is doing them positive and visible harm. They make no alterations for the sake of symmetry; when an institution works well, that contents them. They want a House of Commons fairly chosen by the people, and a House of Lords so composed as to assist and not thwart the purposes of such a House of Commons. Give them these, and they do not fear that the King will ever make himself an obstacle to the deliberate wishes of two such houses, backed by the opinion of the nation.
Who, then, are the Destructives? The Times says they are all who are for the ballot, for the separation of church and state, for the repeal of the union, and, it has the modesty to add, for an “equitable adjustment” with the fundholder.5 (By this last test Sir James Graham, the Quarterly Review, and full one half of the Tory county members, are Destructives.) To the above catalogue the Standard adds all who are for corporation reform, or for the repeal of the corn laws.6 The Times has not yet come to this; but, fair and softly, it soon will—nous l’attendons là. The Standard is in the right, and we will add a few more categories to the list. All who wish the reform bill to be made effectual by the improvement of the registration clauses, by disfranchising the corrupt freemen of such places as Norwich and Liverpool, and by getting rid of such of the smaller constituencies as have already become, beyond hope of redemption, close or rotten boroughs—all who wish that taxes should be taken off the necessaries of the poor instead of the luxuries of the rich—all who wish for local courts, or any other substitute for the irresponsible and incapable jurisdiction of the county magistracy—all who wish to see any measures introduced for the relief of the Dissenters but such as the Dissenters will indignantly reject—all who wish to see the Universities reformed: those places where the sons of English gentlemen are steeped in the foulest mire of Toryism, and then sent forth to govern a country which has cast forth Toryism with disgust—all who wish to see the church of England reformed, and all rational persons who do not wish to see it destroyed—all who wish to see the church of Ireland reduced to reasonable dimensions, and the national property, which it has so long misused, employed for the benefit of the unhappy oppressed Irish people, whom by combined injury and insult it keeps always on the very verge of rebellion—and, finally, all who will not endure that a dignitary of something calling itself a Protestant and English church shall go forth with armed men and assassinate the children and neighbours of a poor widow because she will not any longer give to him of her scanty substance the wages of a degrading tyranny.
These are the Destructives; for these are the enemies of the present ministry. Electors of the United Kingdom, let such Destructives, and none but such Destructives, have your votes.
[1 ]The origins of both terms are obscure. Whig is probably a shortening of whiggamer or whiggamore, which in the late seventeenth century became associated with those who supported the Settlement of 1688 and the Hanoverian succession. Tory is probably from an Irish word for “a pursued or persecuted person,” hence an “outlaw,” and by extension a supporter of the Stuarts.
[2 ]Ferdinand Alvarez de Toledo (1508-82), Duke of Alva (or Alba), Spanish general and statesman, had conquered the Netherlands.
[3 ]In the late eighteenth century the word began to be applied to those favouring fundamental political reforms.
[4 ]For the origin of the term, see No. 216, n25.
[5 ]The immediate cause of this article would appear to be the leader on “The Destructive Party,” in The Times of 1 Jan., 1835, p. 2, but Mill seems also to have in mind the leaders of 12 and 26 Dec., 1834 (p. 2 in each case), especially the former. The phrase “equitable adjustment” is Cobbett’s; see No. 203, n1.
[6 ]Standard, 2 Jan., p. 2, and 5 Jan., p. 4.