Front Page Titles (by Subject) 277.: THE LONDON REVIEW ON MUNICIPAL CORPORATION REFORM GLOBE AND TRAVELLER, 17 APR., 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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277.: THE LONDON REVIEW ON MUNICIPAL CORPORATION REFORM GLOBE AND TRAVELLER, 17 APR., 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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THE LONDON REVIEW ON MUNICIPAL CORPORATION REFORM
While there can be no question about Mill’s interest in municipal reform, the occasional cause of this account (see the opening sentence) is surely the publication of the first number of the London Review, of which he was the editor and Sir William Molesworth (1810-55), a wealthy Radical politician, M.P. 1832-41 and 1845-55, the proprietor. In 1836 Molesworth was to buy the Westminster Review for £1000 and unite the two under Mill’s editorship as the London and Westminster Review. Though Mill (himself here anonymous, of course) promoted a policy of semi-identification of authors in the London Review, he here speaks of the “reputed author” of “Municipal Corporation Reform,” London Review, I (Apr. 1835), 48-76, which is signed “J.A.R.,” not a very thick disguise for John Arthur Roebuck, then M.P. for Bath. The article, headed “Corporations—London Review,” is described in Mill’s bibliography as “A notice of the Article on Municipal Corporation Reform in No. 1 of the London Review: in the Globe of 17th April 1835”
(MacMinn, p. 44).
among various interesting and well-timed articles in the first number of the London Review, just published, is one on the great practical question of the day—municipal corporation reform—to which we invite the attention of all our readers. Without entering into the minutiae of corporation abuses—which, if not already sufficiently known to every one, are amply exhibited in the commissioners’ report1 —the article addresses itself at once to the practical question, how to frame the required measure of reform. The writer has brought to the examination of this question the best lights of the political philosophy of the age, along with a just estimate of the modifications required by existing opinions and impediments. And we venture to affirm that if either the proprietor of the Review, or the reputed author of the article, will promulgate its doctrines from their places in parliament in the approaching debates on corporation reform, they will contribute not a little to the satisfactory settlement of that vital question, and lay the basis of no ordinary political reputation for themselves.
After briefly stating the uses and conveniences of a local or municipal government, the writer says—
It is unnecessary here to dwell upon the history of our own corporations, or those of Europe generally. Whatever were the circumstances which gave rise to the municipia of ancient, or the corporations of more modern times, the convenience of local governments, as above explained, alone justifies, in the present condition of this country, the existence of these petty jurisdictions. Their olden form will doubtless influence the changes which may hereafter be made; but this influence will, for the most part, be mischievous. Antiquated rules, and foolish customs sanctioned by time, though opposed by reason, will often prove stumbling blocks to the reformer of municipal corporations, if he attempt to remodel the many various systems of corporate government which now exist in England. One uniform system ought to be established, framed with reference to the present condition of the people; and to do this, the whole mass of ancient rubbish should be completely swept away.
He proceeds to show that if utility alone were consulted, these local governments would not be confined to the precincts of single towns, but would be extended to districts, spreading over the whole country, by which the whole of the present ill-contrived and ill-administered apparatus of local judicature and local taxation would be superseded. This, however, being a greater innovation than public opinion would at present sanction, the writer contents himself with recommending that if the corporation government cannot be extended beyond the town in which it is situate, it shall at least include the whole town, which at present is rarely the case.
The reviewer next proceeds to inquire what should be the powers of the local government, and in what manner the persons exercising these powers should be nominated.
The powers are partly powers of judicature, partly of administration, partly of local legislation. The points for which the reviewer contends are chiefly the three following:—
1st. That the administration of justice should be entirely separated from the powers of administration and legislation, and confided not to ignorant amateur aldermen, but in every town to one duly educated judge (or more than one if required).
2d. That this judge should have power to adjudicate in all causes, civil and criminal, subject to appeal to a central court in the metropolis.
3d. That the powers of local taxation, local legislation, police and other branches of administration, should be vested in or placed under the control of a town-council, periodically elected by all rate-payers, or at the lowest by all ten pound householders; and that this town-council should appoint the local judge.
For the fuller statement of these views, and for the argument by which they are supported, we must refer our readers to the article itself. We content ourselves with extracting a few, not of the most striking passages, but of those which will best admit of being separated from the context.
On the vices of the administration of justice in corporations as at present constituted:
The recorder now is, in many places, a mere nominal officer; in others he really does adjudicate the matters within his jurisdiction; but this is done only a few times in the year. He is usually in these cases a barrister, practising in London, and running down for a few days to the seat of his jurisdiction; his business is dispatched with hurry, so that he may run back again, and lose no chance of profit in his profession. This ought to be wholly reformed. The recorder should, in all cases, be made a permanent judge—residing in the town, administering justice from day to day, and pursuing no other avocation whatever. He should be, what judges are not now (excepting those of the Courts of Westminster), a person possessing the confidence and respect of the people. At the present time the greater part of the business of administering the law is performed by persons whom the mass of the people bitterly hate, and oftentimes contemn. All corporation magistrates, as now chosen, acquire, from the mere fact of their being of the corporation, the ill-will, and even the suspicion, of the persons within their jurisdiction. The body of persons by whom such judges are chosen are looked upon by the people as men living by dishonest peculation. Whether this suspicion be correct or not, matters nothing. It is the necessary consequence of the system of monopoly and secrecy which belongs to all our present corporations. A judge, administering justice with this odium attached to him, cannot so administer the law as to make the people yield a cheerful obedience to it; no matter how just his judgments, the losing parties, having no confidence in the judge, will never be content with his decision. Instead of accommodating their minds to acquiescence, a surly spirit of rebellious opposition arises within them. They do not, as they would do had the judge their confidence, doubt their own opinion, and yield up their passions and their opposition. Where the judge is respected, the opinion of the world also leads men powerfully to this obedience;—when a man sees that his neighbours all believe that he has had justice done, he begins involuntarily to believe it himself; finding no sympathy in his gall and bitterness, he is quiely compelled to put up with his condition. How different is the situation of a man condemned by a judge whom all suspect, and none love! At every turn the disappointed suitor finds countenance, and sympathising auditors; he charges his judge with unfairness, and they agree with him. Suspicion and hate grow together. The administerer of the law is first hated—then the law; and bitter are the feelings of animosity created in the minds of the multitude by the belief that for them justice is but a name, and law but a cruel step-mother.
On the mode in which English statesmen are accustomed to legislate, the mode recommended by “practical men” and by the haters of “philosophy” and “theory:”
Much care and knowledge would be required to make an accurate and scientific classification of the rights to be conferred, and the obligations imposed on the municipal governments; so that a general rule might be framed, and put into the form of a law. To draw correctly and distinctly the line between these various small jurisdictions and the general government, would demand no ordinary proficiency in the science of legislation; that is, so to draw it, that a complete conception of the whole field of their jurisdiction could be attained by an instructed man on a perusal of the law. It would be easy to perform the task in the ordinary, clumsy mode of English legislation, in which difficulties are avoided only by putting them off to be settled by expensive and doubtful judicial decisions. Any English act of parliament which shall regulate the extent of corporation jurisdictions will, doubtless, contain a confused, illogical, and incomplete list of the powers conferred; an attempt at an enumeration will be made, and appended to it will be a drag net to catch any forgotten or stray right which may have escaped the detail, in a shape, perhaps, like the following: “And all other rights, powers, privileges, or immunities necessary to the due and proper discharge of the several functions above enumerated.” What “rights, powers, privileges, &c.” may be so necessary, will lie hidden in the womb of time till a judgment of a court of law shall give them birth, so that we shall never come to the end of the list. The decisions of the courts will never do more than settle the matter immediately in dispute, and, on every fresh emergency, a new suit, and new decision, will be requisite. To avoid these mischiefs by a previous, complete, and exhaustive classification of the rights and obligations necessary to the end in view, will, we fear, never suggest itself to those whose business it will be to prepare a bill for the consideration of the legislature. To do so would appear too much like the conduct of a philosopher; and a philosopher, as every blockhead is supposed to know and always asserts, is not a practical man. The practical men are the drag-net framers—men to whom nothing suggests itself but what a narrow experience teaches—men who never use thought to learn what may happen, but who are content to task their own memory to remember what has happened. They put down a confused list of particulars in the order in which their memory supplies them, and then complacently crown their work by the capital contrivance of a wide generality, which, as it distinctly specifies nothing, may, upon occasion, be made to signify anything. After this manner have all our laws hitherto been fashioned. Would that we could reasonably hope that, in the case of corporation reform, science was about to assume its proper function, and order and logic to occupy the place of a confused and disorderly enumeration!
In the following passage the defects of the bill formerly proposed by Lord Brougham, for giving corporations to the new boroughs,2 are forcibly exposed. Lord Brougham, we are sure, has long been completely alive to the faults of that hastily concocted measure:
We are not inclined, in any case, to be very solicitous about names merely, but instances do occur in which the effects of a name are of great import. The matter in hand appears one of these. Instead, therefore, of retaining the old, and in themselves unmeaning designations of corporate officers, it would be wise to choose new and significant ones. The designation to which this remark chiefly applies is—aldermen. We propose to do away entirely with the name alderman, and for this reason; aldermen in almost all instances have hitherto been chosen for life. As in the army, once a colonel always a colonel, so in corporations, once an alderman always an alderman. It is deemed not so much an office as a dignity, and to deprive a man of a dignity once attained is contrary to usage and feeling. The idea of permanency is so indissolubly connected with the name, that we see little chance of getting rid of the one without the other. The name, if it now point to any, points to one only, and that an insignificant one, of the many circumstances which should determine the choice of the elector. Alderman, or elder, is one whom, from being old, people believe to be experienced. Now age is but a faulty index to experience—and experience alone is not enough to constitute a good servant of the public. Honesty is an essential quality, and this, unfortunately, has no necessary connexion with experience.
Having got rid of the insignificant name alderman, one difficulty will be removed from our way, when endeavouring to apportion to each officer the business he will have to perform. To each will be affixed a significant name—a name that will distinctly point to, and, in some measure, mark out the duties of his office; while with these appellations no mischievous associations of permanency or dignity will be allied. There is more importance in this matter than inexperienced observers would, at first sight, be inclined to attach to it.
Amongst other offices which we propose to abolish is that of mayor. The aggregate of duties now attached to that office are heterogeneous, and ought in no case to be exercised by one and the same individual. While, on the other hand, there is no need of creating anew any head to the body corporate. Under the proposed system the mayor would not act as judge or magistrate, for these duties would be performed by the regular judge; he would have no administrative office, for all that class of duties would be specifically apportioned to their respective officers. All the members of the town-council to be hereafter spoken of would be equal, and elect their own chairman. To retain a mayor under these circumstances would be to retain a useless incumbrance.
The following passage well deserves the attention of Repealers and anti-Repealers, as the reviewer points out the only rational “adjustment” of the repeal question would be to give Ireland a local legislature for local purposes exclusively, and to give to all other parts of the empire the same advantages:
Much has been said—much more will be said, and perhaps something eventually done—respecting the union of Ireland and England. The remedy—the only effectual one for the evils of which the Irish people justly complain, lies in the due application of the corporation system. They complain that their interests are judged of and controlled by persons at a distance, and ignorant of their affairs. In order to remedy this mischief, it has been proposed to do away with the supreme authority of the imperial legislature. This would certainly avoid the evil complained of, but might entail upon both countries others of still greater magnitude. When there is no higher authority to settle differences between contending governments, war is the arbiter; and between nations so nearly allied as England and Ireland, it behoves us to find, if possible, some means of avoiding so direful a calamity as war. The remedy is at hand, and easy of application. The evil complained of is, that the concerns of the Irish people are administered by persons at a distance, and ignorant respecting them: to obviate this, grant to the people corporation governments. Bring, by this means, the government of their concerns home to their very doors; give large and liberal powers to these subordinate governments, but keep them still subject to the general legislature, and let their limits, under the law, be determined by the judicature. Thus on the one hand we obviate the existing ills, and avoid those that are dreaded in consequence of a separation.
[1 ]For details, see No. 220, n7.
[2 ]For details, see No. 220.