Front Page Titles (by Subject) 374.: ON REFORM DAILY NEWS, 19 JULY, 1848, P. 2 - The Collected Works of John Stuart Mill, Volume XXV - Newspaper Writings December 1847 - July 1873 Part IV
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374.: ON REFORM DAILY NEWS, 19 JULY, 1848, P. 2 - John Stuart Mill, The Collected Works of John Stuart Mill, Volume XXV - Newspaper Writings December 1847 - July 1873 Part IV 
The Collected Works of John Stuart Mill, XXV - Newspaper Writings December 1847 - July 1873 Part IV, 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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This unheaded leader (following the parliamentary report), which again brings French experience to bear on English reform, is described in Mill’s bibliography as “A leading article on Reform (1st leader), in the Daily News of 19th July 1848”
(MacMinn, p. 70).
the more reasonable class of the opponents of reform do not attempt to defend the present constitution of parliament by any very confident appeal to its fruits; they find little to say in recommendation of the sort of government, or the sort of governors, which our present institutions give us; but they are unable to persuade themselves that matters would be at all mended by giving a more democratic character to the popular branch of the legislature. The fault, they say, is in the country itself; in the national education; in the state of the public mind; not in the constitution of parliament. If our statesmen are without ideas and without purposes, weak, passive, opinionless; if they have neither head nor heart to face the difficulties of any great question; if they rarely aspire to leave any of the larger interests of the people they profess to govern in a better condition than they found them; this is not (in the opinion of some persons) the fault of the men, so much as of the age and country, which have not produced better men, or have produced them only as scattered, obscure individuals, quite as likely to be overlooked by a numerous constituency as by a narrow one. If the classes who now rule in parliament are so deficient in the qualities which should belong to rulers, do the masses possess them? The knowledge, the vigour of intellect, the freedom from prejudice, the judgment undivided by selfishness or partiality, which we so deeply desiderate in the rich and high-born, do we find them in the poor? That clear-sighted justice and high-minded generosity, combined with practical resource, which the times demand—without which this great transitional period in opinions and institutions may be lengthened out in fruitless oscillations—what reason have we to flatter ourselves that these endowments, which we seek vainly among our so-called educated classes, will be found in the untaught delegates of the factory and the workshop? Is it not much, and more than we can expect, if those for whom society has done nothing, prove no worse than those on whom it has lavished all its means of instruction and improvement?
This objection assumes, as the natural and intended effect of popular institutions, that the crude opinions and unguided instincts of the working classes would be the directing power in the state. We have no such expectation from any extension of the franchise. Reformers have always maintained, and the example of France is now before us to show, that views of things taken from the peculiar position of the working classes are not likely to predominate, or to have at all more than their just influence, even in a legislature chosen by universal suffrage. After a revolution made by workmen, not twenty members in an assembly of nine hundred are working men. Scarcely in our own parliament do opinions with any semblance of an anti-property character meet with a more hostile reception; and it is evident that the errors of the assembly are more likely to be on the side of conservatism than of revolution. Then what has France gained, it may be asked, or what would England gain by the admission of the working classes to the franchise? A gain beyond all price, the effects of which may not show themselves in a day, or in a year, but are calculated to spread over and elevate the future. This gain does not consist in turning the propertied classes out of the government and transferring it to the unpropertied, but in compelling the propertied classes to carry it on in a manner which they shall be capable of justifying to the unpropertied.
Grant but a democratic suffrage, and all the conditions of government are changed. Whoever may be the rulers, the interest of the great mass of the community must then stand foremost among the actuating principles in the conduct of public affairs. The legislature must from that time make both the real and the apparent interests of the most numerous classes an object of incessant solicitude; and whenever it does things which are opposed to those apparent interests, it must defend them by reasons drawn from the interests of those same classes, and appealing to their understandings. The consequences of this would be incalculable. The discussions of parliament and of the press would be, what they ought to be, a continued course of political instruction for the working classes. Let those classes be as ignorant, prejudiced, passionate as any one may choose to represent them; let them be full of all sorts of prepossessions against property and order—those who are interested in property and order would feel all the more strongly that their safety depended on enlightening that ignorance, prejudice, and passion. One of the first measures of the democratic government of France has been a bill to bestow gratuitous education, at the expense of the state, upon the whole rising generation of the French people.1 Where the poorest have votes, the richest can no longer be indifferent to the state of their mental cultivation. To educate the whole community up to the highest point attainable is not then a matter of choice but of fortunate necessity.
This, however, is only one, and the most obvious, of the benefits which would arise from making the labouring masses a great power in the state. Nothing can be imagined which would tend so much to regenerate the intellectual vigour of the classes, who are now letting the powers of government perish in their hands from mere mental feebleness. Every one who knows history or the human mind is aware, that powerful intellects and strong characters are formed by conflict, and that the times which have produced brilliant developments of mental accomplishment in public stations have been those in which great principles and important social elements have been fighting each other hand to hand—times of struggle for national independence, political freedom, or religious emancipation. The present age also is an age of struggle between conflicting principles which it is the work of this time, and perhaps of many generations more, to bring into a just relation with one another. The conflict now going on is between the instincts and immediate interests of the propertied classes and those of the unpropertied. This opposition of interests—partly real, partly only apparent—is at present the grand difficulty of government. All other questions with which governments have yet begun to occupy themselves, are difficult chiefly by their connexion with this. Now, of those two opposing forces—neither of which can be disregarded, neither of which can or ought to triumph over the other, but which it is the grand business of government to attempt to reconcile—one only is represented in the British parliament. The ministry, be it what it may, exclusively represents the propertied classes; and the two houses of parliament are unanimously on the same side of the question as itself. It has to make out a case to the satisfaction solely of its own party. The murmurs of the other party it only hears at a distance, and is under no greater necessity of attending to them than the cabinet of a despot. There are no recognised organs for that other power, no way in which it can show itself above ground, and the extent of its subterraneous working will therefore only be known when some day, as at Vienna, it explodes and blows up the whole fabric of society.2
Is it not of old one of the principal and acknowledged uses of parliament, that all which agitates and divides society should make itself felt by a corresponding agitation and division there? Ought not parliament to be the place of discussion for adverse interests and principles, the arena where opposing forces should meet and fight out their battle, that they may not find themselves reduced to fight it in a less pacific field? If so, the British parliament does not fulfil its office; for the vital question with which all Europe rings, and which fills every thinking mind, both in England and on the continent, with anxiety—the question how to make the rights of property acceptable to the unpropertied classes, is unheard of in that assembly, which it ought more than anything else to occupy; and the subjects which engross parliamentary debates, compared with the great and urgent interests of the nation, form a contrast as full of irony, as the Byzantine multitude occupying itself with the factions of the circus when Attila was at their gates.3 So it will be until the rulers of the country have to meet face to face in parliament the representatives of those interests and feelings of which they are now ignorant, or from which they superciliously turn aside. They have to learn the difficult but necessary act of looking at established institutions and opinions from the point of view of those who are not on the sunny but on the shady side of the social edifice. Defects by which other people alone suffer are seldom seen until the sufferers point them out. When the unpropertied are fairly represented in the House of Commons, their just claims will, for the first time, obtain a really impartial hearing, and their unreasonable demands will, also for the first time, be so resisted as not to leave a stinging sense of injustice behind.
[1 ]Projet de décret sur l’instruction primaire (30 June), Moniteur, 1848, pp. 1537-8; it was withdrawn on 4 Jan., 1849.
[2 ]Revolutionary activity among the peasants in Austria and its territories, evident from 1846, came to a head after the February revolution in France deposed Louis Philippe. Prince Metternich (1773-1859), long a dominant force in Austrian and European diplomacy, was forced to resign office on 13 Mar., 1848, and took up exile in England; Hungary and Bohemia were promised liberal constitutions.
[3 ]Attila (ca. 406-53), “the scourge of God,” King of the Huns and conqueror of much of Europe, in 447 reached the walls of Constantinople, where he forced Theodosius II to accept a tripling of the yearly tribute. The population of Constantinople was addicted to the pleasures of the Hippodrome, the “circus” for races, sports, executions, and popular politics.