Front Page Titles (by Subject) 408.: POLAND PENNY NEWSMAN, 15 MAR., 1863, P. 9 - The Collected Works of John Stuart Mill, Volume XXV - Newspaper Writings December 1847 - July 1873 Part IV
Return to Title Page for The Collected Works of John Stuart Mill, Volume XXV - Newspaper Writings December 1847 - July 1873 Part IV
The Online Library of Liberty
A project of Liberty Fund, Inc.
Search this Title:
408.: POLAND PENNY NEWSMAN, 15 MAR., 1863, P. 9 - 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).
About Liberty Fund:
Liberty Fund, Inc. is a private, educational foundation established to encourage the study of the ideal of a society of free and responsible individuals.
The online edition of the Collected Works is published under licence from the copyright holder, The University of Toronto Press. ©2006 The University of Toronto Press. All rights reserved. No part of this material may be reproduced in any form or medium without the permission of The University of Toronto Press.
Fair use statement:
This material is put online to further the educational goals of Liberty Fund, Inc. Unless otherwise stated in the Copyright Information section above, this material may be used freely for educational and academic purposes. It may not be used in any way for profit.
The Polish uprising of 1830-31 had been followed by a period of repression, during which Poland had been reduced to the status of a Russian province; attempts to extinguish Polish nationality continued under the milder rule, beginning in 1855, of Tsar Alexander II (1818-81). The revolt of January 1863 had as its immediate cause an ordinance conscripting Poles into the Russian army at the arbitrary discretion of the government. By the time of Mill’s letter, a Provisional Government had been formed by the rebels.
On 8 Mar., p. 1, the Penny Newsman, edited by Mill’s friend of forty years, Edwin Chadwick, published “The Polish Insurrection,” which prompted Mill to write to Chadwick on 9 Mar.: “I send a paper on the Polish question, in the form of a letter to the Editor. If you like you can alter the form to that of an article from a correspondent; but on the whole probably it is better as it is. I have signed it with my initials, and have no objection to being known as the author. . . . Proofs would be agreeable if there is time and it is not inconvenient.” The next day he wrote again: “I have returned the proof, corrected, to the Editor. [paragraph] I have no objection to being named in your leader, but I wish only my initials to be put to the letter itself; and I would rather that, in your first sentence, my name was introduced more indirectly. You might say ‘we feel thankful to a correspondent, whose initials sufficiently indicate his name’ or some such words, and you might then go on mentioning me by name as at present. [paragraph] I would rather you did not add the sentence proposed in your letter, because I do not wish to be understood as having peculiar sources of information. Herzen’s and Ogareff’s writings are open to all the world, and the notification by the Insurrectionary Committee to which my letter refers was mentioned by the correspondents of some of the English newspapers. [paragraph] Many thanks for your offer of separate slips, but I do not care to have any.” (LL, CW, Vol. XV, pp. 847, 847-8.) In a long introductory paragraph (pp. 8-9), Chadwick followed Mill’s wishes.
Mill’s letter, headed “(To the Editor of the Penny Newsman),” is his only contribution to that paper. It is described in his bibliography as “A letter on Poland, signed J.S.M. in the Penny Newsman for March 15, 1863”
(MacMinn, p. 94).
The view which you have taken in your last and some previous numbers1 —or, I should rather say, the view which you appear disposed to take of—Polish and Hungarian affairs, seeming not to be characterised by your usual accuracy of information, you will, I hope, permit a warm friend and admirer of your principles and purposes to endeavour to set right what he regards as a complete misapprehension of the events now taking place in those countries.
You appear to look with suspicion on the great national movements in Poland and in Hungary as being aristocratic movements; not likely to confer any good upon the mass of the population; not provoked by the tyranny under which aristocracy and people alike suffer, but rather by the benefits which the Emperors of Russia and Austria are desirous of conferring upon the people, and which the aristocracy would be glad to intercept.2
The true state of the case, both in Poland and in Hungary, is very far from this. I limit myself for the present to Poland, leaving Hungary for, perhaps, a future occasion. In Poland, then, the present insurrection is essentially a popular one. The higher nobility and great landholders have, hitherto, for the most part stood aloof; not from want of sympathy with the movement, but because they regarded it as premature. The Insurrectionary Committee have, in consequence, thought it necessary to issue a general summons to the aristocracy, both in Poland and in exile, threatening that if they do not join the insurrection they shall be deprived of their lands.3
Next, as to the benefits which the Emperor designs for the labouring classes, and which you seem to think are a cause of displeasure to the authors of the insurrection. Let me first say, the enfranchisement of serfs is not now the matter in question. There are no serfs in Poland; and there are none in Russia since the 2nd March.4 Let the Emperor Alexander have all honour for this great triumph of justice. But though there is now no question between the peasantry and their former masters respecting their personal freedom, there is a great and fundamental question still open relating to the land. The peasants maintain that, along with their freedom, they ought to receive, in full ownership, the portion of land which was previously assigned to them to be cultivated by themselves and their families. This claim is resisted by the landowners. From the peculiar character of the agricultural economy of the country, which it would be too long at present to enter into, both sides have much that they can justly urge for their view of the question. The Emperor has decided the point in favour of the landlords. The leaders of the insurrection have decided it in favour of the peasants.
The Insurrectionary Committee have entered into a public engagement that the land, which is the subject of dispute, shall be given absolutely (without any payment, present or future) to the peasants who have hitherto tilled it; and that the landowners shall receive compensation at the cost of the State, the only mode by which the burthen can be fairly shared between the two parties. Some months before the insurrection broke out, the leaders had already announced to their friends in England, as part of their programme, what they have now pledged themselves in the face of the world to carry into effect.5
Thus, if the insurrection were successful, the labouring population of Poland would acquire, without internal conflict or wrong to any one, that proprietorship in the land which the rural population of France gained by the Revolution, and the acquisition of which was an ample return for the sacrifice of a whole generation.
Even if this great benefit to the masses were not, as it is, one of the direct objects of the insurrection, I submit that, in the more backward countries of Europe any revolution, any bursting of the bonds by which all the energies of the people are now cramped and paralyzed, must be an improvement, must be the commencement of a new era. The resurrection of Polish nationality would at least let in the light. It would bestow a free press, freedom of public discussion, representative assemblies, national education. It would let in the ideas of civilised Europe; and not the ideas only, but the industry and capital also; and before these combined influences, the barbarism, which has been prolonged till now chiefly by the benumbing influence of foreign bondage, would rapidly pass away. A foreign tyranny necessarily regards intelligence and education as its greatest dangers. Any national government in the situation of Poland, much more one which is certain to be a free and popular government, will feel its safety and prosperity entirely dependent on the amount of popular intelligence and popular energy which it can array in its defence.
If you would only learn what the Liberals and Democrats of Russia itself think and feel about Poland; if you would inquire what is thought and felt by the editors of the Bell, Mr. Herzen and Mr. Ogareff, who, by their newspaper, clandestinely circulated at St. Petersburg, are already shaking the whole fabric of Russian despotism;6 if you will ascertain their opinion, you will no longer mistake one of the most unanimous and profoundly popular political manifestations in history for a class movement to perpetuate the domination of an aristocracy. If you would see, on the other hand, a vivid representation of the old type of a haughty aristocrat, sincerely zealous for the dignity and nationality of his country, as identified with his class, but reckless of any amount of cruel oppression inflicted upon the multitude, read the sketch in last week’s Spectator of the principal agent of Russian tyranny over Poland at the present moment, the Marquis Wielopolski.7
[1 ]See, e.g., “The Insurrection in Russian Poland,” 1 Feb., p. 8; “Poland,” 22 Feb., p. 2; and “Poland,” 1 Mar., p. 9.
[2 ]Alexander II proclaimed in 1861 the emancipation of the serfs. Francis Joseph I (1830-1916) had introduced a series of ultimately unsuccessful constitutional reforms in 1860 and 1861.
[3 ]See “Foreign Intelligence: France” (24 Feb., 1863), The Times, 25 Feb., p. 9.
[4 ]Although given personal liberty by the proclamation of March 1861, the Russian serfs were, during a transitional two-year period that had just expired, obliged to perform their traditional duties to their masters. After March 1863, household serfs were to be entirely free, while those on the land entered a “temporarily-obligated” state while they paid for their holdings.
[5 ]The announcement to their friends was in the form of a letter from the Central National Polish Committee in Warsaw (Bell, 1 Oct., 1862, pp. 1205-6); the public pledge may be found in “Proclamation of the National Committee” (22 Jan., 1863), in “Correspondence of the British Government Respecting the Insurrection in Poland,” PP, 1863, LXXV, 40-1.
[6 ]The Bell (Kolokol) was a Russian language journal published in London and Geneva under the editorship of Alexander Ivanovich Herzen (1812-70), in exile in London, of whose writing Mill had known at least since 1859 (see LL, CW, Vol. XV, p. 607). Nikolai Platonovich Ogarev or Ogareff (1813-77) was a life-long friend of Herzen, and like him an early Saint-Simonian. In exile from 1856, he lived mostly in London and Geneva, and collaborated with Herzen. Mill had written to him in November 1862 (ibid., pp. 805-6).
[7 ]The behaviour of Marquis Alexander Wielopolski (1803-77), who held, inter alia, the presidency of the Polish council of state, is described in “Zamoyski and Wielopolski,” Spectator, 7 Mar., 1863, pp. 1717-18.