Front Page Titles (by Subject) 297.: THE BANK CHARTER QUESTION  MORNING CHRONICLE, 20 APR., 1844, P. 4 - The Collected Works of John Stuart Mill, Volume XXIV - Newspaper Writings January 1835 - June 1847 Part III
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297.: THE BANK CHARTER QUESTION  MORNING CHRONICLE, 20 APR., 1844, P. 4 - 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 BANK CHARTER QUESTION 
For the previous renewal of the Bank Charter, in 1833, see Nos. 208, 209, and 212. That Charter was now subject to its decennial revision, and once again the Bank’s partial monopoly of issue was the central question. In the banking crisis of 1836-39, a number of country banks of issue had failed, and Peel (unlike Mill) favoured the gradual curtailment of their powers. He refused to allow any new banks to issue notes, or existing ones to expand their issue, in the measure that Mill here anticipates, “A Bill to Regulate the Issue of Bank-notes, and for Giving to the Governor and Company of the Bank of England Certain Privileges for a Limited Period,” 7 Victoria (24 May, 1844), PP, 1844, I, 51-65, enacted as 7 & 8 Victoria, c. 32 (1844). Mill’s discussion continues in Nos. 298-300; see also his “The Currency Question,” which appeared in the June number of the Westminster (CW, Vol. IV, pp. 341-61). The unheaded leader is described in Mill’s bibliography as “A leading article on the Bank Charter Question in the Morning Chronicle of 20th April 1844”
(MacMinn, p. 57).
the time is drawing near when Sir Robert Peel must break his protracted silence respecting the measures to be proposed to Parliament, in connection with the approaching expiration of the Charter of the Bank of England.
If the rules which the Prime Minister prescribes for others could for a moment be supposed applicable to himself, we might wonder that the declaration of his intentions on a subject of such magnitude should be so long deferred. He has recently, in unequivocal language, stated to the House of Commons what he thinks of those who delay the discussion of important measures till the concluding months of the session of Parliament.1 If the representatives of Ireland pray for a few days longer to confer with their countrymen on a proposition which is to convert their national representation into an engine for registering the edicts of the Orange landed proprietary, he gives a grumbling acquiescence, but under protest, and with an express stipulation that no one shall hold him responsible for whatever may be the consequence of such blameable procrastination. But it would seem that in his judgment delay is an evil only when it is to be employed in deliberation; when his purposes have been made known, he deems it impossible that the nation should require any length of time for the consideration of them. But he invariably reserves the declaration of those purposes to the latest possible moment. It is becoming the practice of the Government to have only one of its measures before the public at a time, withholding, if possible, until that one is out of danger, or rejected, or withdrawn, all knowledge of those which are to follow.
The Bank Charter question has not taken the Government by surprise. Since the last renewal, in 1833, it has been known to every one that this year, if not sooner, would be the time to legislate on the subject. Having ample time to prepare, Ministers accordingly gave early note of preparation. The settlement of the Currency was among the promises in the Queen’s Speech;2 and, certainly, those promises were neither so many nor so brilliant as to account for any tardiness in determining how they were to be fulfilled. If the Ministers had not made up their mind, during the recess, what measure they should submit to Parliament on this subject, they must be incapable of making it up, on reasonable grounds, at all; and if they had, what prevented them from at once introducing their bill, that its principles and provisions might have been canvassed, by competent persons, during the ten weeks and upwards that have since elapsed, and the minds of Parliament and the public prepared for an adequate discussion, before the month of June, when, as Sir Robert Peel tells us, it becomes a question what portion of the Government measures the Government intends to abandon?3
Instead of this, Ministers have maintained that perfect silence which they seem to regard as characteristic of statesmanship; and we do not believe that there is one, even of their parliamentary supporters, who can surmise, on just ground, what their proposition will be. The time, however, is past when Sir Robert Peel’s silence was supposed, even by his own party, to conceal some great mystery of state craft. He profited by this delusion while he could; but, like most of the prestiges on which he subsisted while out of place, it did not survive a year after his accession to office. Most persons are now convinced that when he says nothing, he has nothing very valuable to say; that, as was formerly observed of another political character, when he shakes his head, there is nothing in it.
From the remarkable absence of interest, and even of curiosity, which prevails in almost all quarters concerning the promised measure—a state of the public mind so unlike that which has so often before been experienced on similar subjects—it may be inferred that, in the opinion of the public, Ministers are not likely to propose any material alteration in what exists; but will renew the charter of the Bank of England, on its present footing, without extension, but also without curtailment, of any of its exclusive privileges. This conjecture is doubtless a very probable one. That a minister will do nothing at all, when not urged to action by some powerful pressure, is generally a safe enough guess. But still this is only a presumption, and sometimes fails. What a minister will never voluntarily do, is to move in any direction that conflicts with the interests on which he relies for support. But where none of these interests are implicated, the habitual disposition of official men to leave things alone alternates, especially since the Reform Bill, with a rather strong occasional inclination to signalize themselves by meddling. One of the principal effects of that memorable measure, and of the general break-up of old ideas and associations which accompanied it, was to diffuse a notion much more widely than ever before, that the business of a Government was not to sit still and receive the taxes, but to look out in all directions for all means which could be discovered of conferring benefit on the community. The demand for improvement, and the spirit of it, have been in far more active operation upon the minds of rulers in the last eight or ten years than formerly. But as the circumstances which stimulated the desire for improved legislation, could not all at once confer the capacity of it upon men who had been occupied all their lives with any kind of objects and ideas rather than those which would have qualified them for such a function, they are apt to come to their new task with minds rather ill prepared; and the very men who, when their purpose is to maintain things unaltered, have at their fingers’-ends all the commonplaces deprecatory of “speculative changes,” are often found, when they think the time is come for being reformers, to be ready dupes of the crudest and most superficial theories.
We confess that in the case which has led us into this line of remark, our fears are chiefly of this latter kind. The present system, if it can be so called, of the currency is, doubtless, far from perfect; as is implied in the fact, that it is a medley of several systems, founded on conflicting principles. But we believe that the amount of practical evil fairly attributable to its defects, has been enormously exaggerated by most writers on the subject; while we confidently affirm, that no theory which has been propounded for its improvement is sufficiently matured, or has obtained that general sanction from the opinion of those who are entitled to be considered authorities, which would justify Parliament in making any considerable changes on the faith of such a theory. Yet we feel by no means certain that some attempt of this nature will not, on the present occasion, be made. If there is at present no strong direction of public sentiment in favour of such changes, neither is there any strong disinclination to them; while, such is the diversity of individual opinion on the subject, and so much that is plausible may be said in favour of almost every view, that scarcely any plan could be proposed of which, if brought forward by Government, it could be affirmed beforehand to be impossible that a considerable section of the mercantile public might be induced to give it their support.
[1 ]Peel, Speech on the Irish Registration Bill (15 Apr., 1844), PD, 3rd ser., Vol. 74, col. 4.
[2 ]On 1 Feb., 1844 (ibid., Vol. 72, col. 4).
[3 ]Peel, speech of 15 Apr., col. 4.