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19.: The British Constitution  19 MAY [?], 1826 - John Stuart Mill, The Collected Works of John Stuart Mill, Volume XXVI - Journals and Debating Speeches Part I 
The Collected Works of John Stuart Mill, Volume XXVI - Journals and Debating Speeches Part I, ed. John M. Robson (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, London: Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1988).
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The British Constitution 
MSS, University of Hull Library, JK 318 M6 (main part), and University of Toronto Library (conclusion). The Hull MS is headed in Mill’s hand: “speech never spoken on the British Constitution”; the Toronto MS has upside down after the conclusion, in Mill’s hand: “Peroration written for a speech on radical reform.” Typescript, Fabian Society, of the Hull MS. The two MSS connect in mid-sentence at 369.32. The speech would appear to have been prepared for the tenth debate at the London Debating Society, on 5 May, 1826, “That the practical Constitution of Great Britain is adequate to all the Purposes of good Government,” proposed by J.H. Lloyd and opened by William O’Brien. The debate was adjourned till the next meeting, at which Mill delivered a revised version (see No. 20). Mill’s references to the remarks of the opening speaker and to other speeches indicate that this unspoken speech was also prepared for the adjourned debate. As not published in Mill’s lifetime, not listed in his bibliography.
i cannot agree, Sir, in the objection which has been urged by my honourable friend1 against the wording of the question. I think it tolerably well worded, and of all possible faults those with which, in my opinion it is least chargeable are those which he has imputed to it. The proposer2 distinctly prepared us, by the wording of his resolution, for what we afterwards learned from his speech, that he intended to defend the practice of the Constitution, and not its theory, and though he admitted that the Constitution is not, what it pretends to be, he maintained what is more to the purpose, that it is better than it pretends to be. For my part, I care as little about the theory of the Constitution as he does. I care not by what machinery my pocket is picked: picked or not picked is the essential point, all the rest is of small moment. If we are well governed, I agree with the honourable opener,3 that it does not matter one iota how we came so. All I complain of is, that we are not well governed; and that from the manner in which the House of Commons is constituted, it is absolutely impossible we ever should be. With this exception, I am happy to acknowledge myself a perfect disciple of the honourable opener.
Confining myself then to our practical Constitution, I originally intended to have given a few practical specimens of that practical thing: and to have shewn by a few striking examples, how regularly, the interest of the many is sacrificed to the interest of the few. But this exposure has already been made, by my honourable friend who spoke third:4 and though it would be easy to double his list of grievances, and to colour the picture still more highly than he has done, I chuse rather to expose the futility of the excuses which are set up for keeping things as they are,5 than seek any farther to aggravate the apparent magnitude of the evils attempted to be excused.
But before I examine the arguments of honourable gentlemen, I must take notice of what is sometimes more difficult to be answered than arguments, I mean vague accusations. Not that I think so meanly of the understandings of those whom I am addressing, as to suppose that there is one of them who thinks it at all material to the question, whether those members of the Society who oppose it are or are not republicans, or whatever other names of ill omen the pure love of truth may have induced any honourable gentleman to affix to them; but because I really feel for the terrors which these words excite in certain minds, and as I do not like to see a human creature suffering, I will tell the honourable gentleman the extent of my republicanism. The form of government which I seek; and with which I will be satisfied, is that which will secure, at the smallest expense, an identity of interest between the governed and the governors. This identity of interest does not now exist. The reason is, that an immense majority of the House of Commons who are the real governors, are chosen by a narrow oligarchy. The proof of this fact I took a former opportunity of stating.6 Nobody then denied it; nobody denies it now. To any person who is capable of putting two ideas together, it is unnecessary to say that a House of Commons which is in complete dependance upon persons who have a sinister interest7 will act in subservience to that sinister interest, when they dare. The question is, how to compose a House of Commons which shall not be in subservience to any sinister interest. This question has been answered, by a noble Lord, a member of this Society, in his late speech to the Electors of Northumberland.8 As long as the House of Commons has a sinister interest of its own, or is dependant on persons who have, bad government is certain. Good government can only be secured, by making it dependant upon persons who have no sinister interest: and the only persons who have no sinister interest are the people. Dependance upon the people, therefore, is the only security. Let the House of Commons be dependant upon the people, and I am satisfied.
If I be asked, whether with such a House of Commons there would be a king, I answer that I neither know nor care. The difference between the words King and President, or between a hereditary first magistrate and an elective one is hardly worth disputing about. I do not think the quantity of power which the king now possesses, as king, sufficiently great to be any obstacle to good government: and as for the expense, I have little doubt that a competent person might be found to perform all the duties of king for so very moderate a remuneration, that to an otherwise cheap government it would be hardly worth saving. Or if any difficulty were felt in the matter, Mr. Maelzel has an automaton,9 which I make no doubt he might be induced to part with at a reasonable price, which might hold levees and drawing rooms for the benefit of trade, and execute either in person or by commission all the other functions of sovereignty.
I shall now examine the principal arguments which have been urged by the supporters of our practical Constitution in this Society. They may be distinguished into two classes; those which are relevant and those which are irrelevant: in other words, those which have something, though but little to do with the question, and those which have nothing to do with it at all. The former are drawn from the actual composition of the House of Commons and I will enumerate them presently. The latter belong to that class of arguments which would apply with as much propriety to any other measure, as to parliamentary reform. And these I shall begin with. I omit those arguments which seem to have a more immediate reference to persons than to things, such as the accusation of being enemies to institutions, of being theorists, and so on, and I shall merely touch upon the assertion that we have flourished and are flourishing under the Constitution and in short that we are well as we are.
Now as to former times, I cannot pretend to speak. I do not know whether our grandfathers were well as they were, or what sort of persons those may have been who flourished under our Constitution a hundred years ago. But I know very well what sort of persons flourish under it now. The ministers flourish—they have plenty of money, patronage, and power. The country gentlemen also flourish: since they have not only plenty of money of their own, but a considerable quantity of that of other people, which they have contrived to appropriate to themselves, as the legislators of the country, by means of the Corn Laws. Nor have I any objection to concede to the honourable opener that the higher ranks of lawyers and clergy are well as they are, since fees continue to flow in and tithes to be paid as usual: and as for the lower ranks, the vulgar herd of both professions, they hope to be well, which is nearly the same thing as if they were well. It cannot be denied therefore that some of us have flourished, whatever may be said of the rest. But I would suggest that there are perhaps some others who may have claims on our attention, and that among these it is just possible there may be some who are not quite so well. The tax-payers for instance do not always see the blessings of taxation in so clear a light as the receivers, and the 5 or 6000£ which are wrung from the poverty stricken million to pay some noble lord for doing nothing who is not fit for doing any thing, may be less pleasant in the giving than it is in the receiving.10 It may be, too, that the old man who has pined in poverty all his days while the vultures of the Court of Chancery have been preying upon the estate which his father inherited when an infant, might wish that the country were a little less prosperous and that he had bread to eat: and he who has been ruined by a lawsuit which he has gained with costs may wish his money out of the pockets of the Lord Chancellor and his imps. The peasant too, who has been torn from his family and sent to herd with felons in a gaol, for breaking a twig of the value of two pence, or treading on a partridge’s egg,11 may peradventure be less satisfied than his game eating persecutor with the order of things under which the latter tenders his services gratis to imprison the former. When England, Sir, is called a free country, a slight mistake is made of a part for the whole: we are free as Sparta was free: the Helots are overlooked.
If, Sir, I could overlook the whole of our peasantry, and all who are unhappy enough to need any service at the hands of what are denominated courts of justice, I might admit that we are on the whole subject to less oppression than any other nation in Europe. But that this is owing to the nature of our Constitution is not only a theory, but, I will take leave to say, a theory which has not been proved.
This may serve to shew what gentlemen mean, when they condemn theory. Every general principle which they do not like they call a theory: and when they have called it a theory, we, it is to be understood, are to reject it without examination. Now the sort of theories which I condemn are those which are founded upon an insufficient number of facts. I condemn the person who, on a subject that supposes a knowledge of 100 facts, should generalize on ten or twelve. I condemn still more the person who generalizes on five or six: and the theorists who generalize on four, three, or two facts respectively, must be considered to be characterized by the positive, comparative, and superlative degrees of imbecillity. But what shall we say of him who generalizes on one—who takes a single instance for the foundation of a theory? who on a single coincidence grounds a general rule? Surely he is the king of theorizers. Surely if any body is a visionary speculatist, he is. That man is the honourable opener.
This country has a peculiar Constitution, it has also a great many other peculiar things. This country has prospered in a peculiar manner, ergo, its prosperity is owing to its Constitution, and to nothing else. Is this theorizing? Is the honourable gentleman a theorist? Or is that appellation to be confined to those who theorize on evidence, reserving the praise of practical wisdom for him who theorizes without evidence?
I too have a theory, and it is this: that the commercial prosperity of London is owing to the Monument by which it is overlooked. As no powerful person has any interest in upholding this theory, it will I doubt not be called a theory. Of the two theories, however, this is considerably the more plausible: for if the Monument has not done much good I do not think that it has done any harm, nor is it at all probable that our commercial prosperity would have been greater, if the Monument had been built in a different shape, or of different materials. But there are persons who think that with a Constitution of different shape and of different materials, we should have been more prosperous.
I do not however charge the honourable gentleman merely with theorizing on insufficient evidence, but with overlooking part of the evidence which exists. Though our specific experience of the British Constitution is confined to a small portion of the globe, it is not altogether so scanty as the honourable gentleman would seem to make it; and although for reasons best known to himself, he has thought proper to theorize upon one fact, the circumstances of the case happily afforded two. Of the British isles, the only part of the empire which can be said to be under the British Constitution; of these isles, though Great Britain is one, Ireland, let me inform the honourable gentleman is another. It has sometimes been disputed whether the evils of anarchy or those of despotism be the worst: but I never heard it disputed that the two together are a greater evil than either of them singly: From one half to the whole of Ireland has been suffering under the two together, ever since it was admitted to the blessings of the British Constitution.12 With all that insecurity of person and property which had been supposed peculiar to a state of anarchy, is combined a degree of arbitrary power in the functionaries of government which has scarcely been exceeded under the most absolute monarchy. Yet Ireland is in full enjoyment of our excellent Constitution, and not only of that but of an excellent system of law, enforced by an excellent unpaid magistracy, all combined to uphold an excellent established Protestant reformed church,13 and an excellent landed aristocracy. I wonder why, having so many excellent things in common with us, she should not be equally flourishing? Perhaps it is because we have a better people: a more civilized, a more instructed, and a more moral people; or perhaps it is to the greater awe which this people inspires, that we are to look for the cause of our comparative exemption from gross misgovernment. But if you wish to see the British Constitution in its unadulterated state, read the Evidence before the Irish Committees, and see how Ireland is governed.14
It sometimes happens, Sir, that nobody cries stop thief, stop thief, louder than the thief himself. It will now perhaps be admitted that the theorist himself was the first and loudest to cry stop theory, stop theory.
I will do the honourable gentlemen opposite the justice to admit that they have not confined themselves to such trashy arguments as this. They have advanced others and much more plausible ones. But they have not stated them very distinctly or explicitly or in a manner which indicated much confidence in them. They have mixed up their propositions with their proofs, and one of their propositions with another, and have skipped backwards and forwards from one part of the subject to another without dwelling long enough upon any one to give us time to scrutinize it accurately. As my object is not to confound them but to go to the bottom of the question, I will do for the honourable gentlemen what they have failed to do for themselves. I will attempt to separate their different arguments from one another, and state them, fairly and distinctly one by one. It will then appear that their cause is not so desperate as one would be led to suppose from their manner of defending it: and the honourable opener may learn that even when he is in the wrong, a little logic will do him no harm.
It is alleged, then, first, that if the right men get into the House of Commons, it is of very little consequence how they come there: and that the right men do get into the House of Commons, since it would be difficult to shew how a body of men could be composed which should comprise a greater quantity of talent and education. This is the first argument.
The second is, that to form a representative assembly, it is not necessary that the representatives should be chosen upon any uniform plan: it is sufficient if every interest has its representatives in the house: the landed interest, the mercantile interest, the army, the navy, professional men, and so on. The great body of the people, it is said, should have its representatives also, but these need not amount to more than a small portion of the whole. It is contended that this state of things is realized in our practical Constitution, and it is added that there is not a shade of opinion, not a variety of political sentiment, which does not find advocates in the House of Commons, which is quite sufficient for the ends of good government. This is by far the most plausible argument which they have urged.
The third argument, and the last which I shall notice, is this: that our government is a government of mutual check: that the people appoint some members of parliament, the king and aristocracy others: that the people by means of the members whom they elect, have just as much power as they ought to have, that is, enough to keep the king and the aristocracy in check, while the king and aristocracy have also power enough to keep the people in check, and prevent the country from being brought to ruin, as it infallibly would be if the people had the full control of the government. And hereupon we were entertained with a multitude of accusations against the people, none of them it is true very specific, which I shall for the present represent by the monosyllables fools and knaves, as being the only words comprehensive enough to include them all.
There are the three arguments. There was a fourth, which is hardly worth noticing: I mean, the division of the House of Commons into two parties, which was treated as a conclusive proof that the supposed conspiracy against the people did not exist. Surely nobody can be deluded by this appearance. It is nothing new that two dogs should fight, they always do wherever there is a bone. Even a band of robbers always splits into parties, except when they are under the iron yoke of a single leader: and I had an opportunity of shewing on a former occasion15 that the aristocracy has divided itself under the action of the same interests which divide the robbers and the dogs. They too have a bone to pick: they too have booty to divide: and the quarrel is to settle who shall have the picking of the bone, the largest share of the spoil, and the division of the rest.
Without wasting more time on this argument, I will attempt to answer the three others, as shortly as possible, for I have much to say.
We are told that there is talent and education in the House of Commons. And of what use to the people are talent and education which are sure to be directed against them? It is not customary for a player at cards to congratulate himself upon the trump card in his adversary’s hand. A man of talent in parliament is a trump card in your adversary’s hand, and your adversary is the borough holder, or if such be the case, the county aristocracy, whose nominee he is, and whose game he is put there to play. Talent, indeed, in such a situation there will be plenty: but what sort of talent? Not that of taking an enlarged and comprehensive view of the bearing of public measures upon the happiness of the bulk of his countrymen, for the bulk of his countrymen are nothing to him, nor to his master the parliament maker: he is not sent there to serve them and were he to serve them he would be sent there no more. Occasionally, indeed, this sort of talent is accidentally met with in the House of Commons and how is it treated? It is called theory—abstraction—metaphysics—and the other cant words by which the many who do not think are in the habit of expressing their contempt for the few who do. The talent which abounds in the House of Commons is the talent of the advocate—the talent of making out a case—of misstating a question, of making little things appear great ones, and a part of the subject appear to be the whole, of taking the greatest possible advantage of the oversights of an unskilful opponent, of battering down with a tremendous logical artillery some inconsiderable outwork of his argument, and persuading your audience that you have driven him from the stronghold. All the branches, in short, of the much cultivated and richly rewarded art of misrepresentation, are carried to the highest pitch of perfection in the House of Commons. And this, with the art of rounding a sentence and balancing a period, of confounding your adversary by irony and sarcasm, of disguising the flaw in an argument with the varnish of rhetoric, and dressing out assumptions in the tinsel and frippery of the harlot eloquence, till the gaudiness without conceals the rottenness within—this constitutes the sort of talent in which I am ready to admit the House of Commons abounds. As for education, truth constrains me to admit that most of the members have been taught, some time in their lives, to make nonsense verses, though it must be said for their credit that they are in general wise enough to forget that sublime art before they take their seats.
The second argument, about the representation of interests, comes next to be considered.
That the House of Commons represents all interests, is in one sense true: but as it is not true in the sense in which it is meant to be understood, whenever this argument is used an imposture is practised by the common instrument of imposture, an ambiguous term.
They tell us and truly that interests are represented, but they do not tell us, which interests. Every man and every set of men have two sets of interests which are not only different but incompatible: one interest which is common to them with the rest of the community, the other which is not only not the same with the general interest but opposed to it. An example may make this clear. A sinecurist, being a payer of taxes, has an interest that the taxes should be no greater than the real purposes of good government require, and thus far his interest corresponds with the general interest. But inasmuch as a necessary condition of this state of things would be the abolition of his sinecure, he has also a separate interest, opposed to the general interest. A country gentleman, as a consumer of bread, has an interest in cheap corn, but as a receiver of rent, he has an interest in dear corn, thus he too has his separate interest and his share of the general interest. A lawyer, again in common with the rest of the community, is liable to be under the necessity of seeking redress at the hands of a court of justice, and he has therefore an interest, in common with the rest of the community, in having a cheap and expeditious form of judicial procedure. But in as much as such a form of procedure, if introduced, would dry up most of the sources from whence lawyers’ profit is drawn, he has also a separate and sinister interest which impels him to resist any such innovation to the utmost of his power.
Now the assertion that the House of Commons represents interests, is true in this sense, that it represents the separate and sinister interests of an immense number of classes: so much so indeed that there is hardly ever a job proposed for the benefit of any set of persons at the expense of the community which does not find in that assembly a large number of supporters. Sir, this is precisely what the reformers acknowledge and complain of. According to their notions, the House of Commons ought to represent only one interest—the general interest—the joint interest of all classes, not the separate interests of any.
As for the assertion that every shade of opinion finds an able advocate in the House of Commons, this would be very well if the House of Commons were a debating Society; I should be sorry if this Society were constituted as I think a legislative assembly should be. No doubt, if every member consulted the public interest exclusively, the debates would be much duller than they now are, and many shades of opinion which now find many advocates, might possibly not find one. But the House of Commons is something more than an arena for discussion: it is a legislative assembly: and it is amusing to be told that such an assembly is well constituted because there is no measure so bad as not to find somebody to support it, as if security for their distinguishing the good from the bad, and adopting the good, were nothing; it is plain that it is every thing. If the best measures were always adopted, we need not care if there were nobody to advocate the bad ones. The best measures, we know, cannot from the nature of man, be always adopted; but they will at any rate stand a better chance of being adopted, by persons who have no sinister interest, than by persons who have: and it is on this ground that I place the question of parliamentary reform.
This brings me to the third argument of the defenders of our practical Constitution, the necessity of a check upon the people, who are supposed to be unfit to have a control over their own affairs. And because persons who have an interest in good government are apt nevertheless to govern ill, the remedy is to give power to persons who are interested in bad. The remedy, Sir, appears worse than the disease. The many can act wrong only from mistake—they cannot act wrong from design, because they have no sinister interest. The few have a sinister interest, and therefore act wrong from design. The idea of checking the many who may go wrong by giving power to the few who must go wrong, is a curious idea. The absurdity of supposing that the few can have power enough to check the many in doing wrong, without having enough to check them in doing right, is what I have not time fully to expose. It is evident however that if the few nominate part of the House of Commons and the many another part, the practical question is merely this, which part is the most numerous: for whoever commands the majority commands the government, and will exercise it for his own benefit as far as his fears of a popular insurrection will let him. Who it is that commands the majority, let the divisions on the Corn Laws tell.16
From the length to which my remarks have already extended, I have left myself but little time to comment on the assumptions which have been made against the people, and popular governments: yet assumptions of this nature are so much the ordinary weapons of the enemies of reform, that I cannot leave them altogether without reply. In the language of the corruptionists, one always hears the many, who have an interest in good government, represented as the enemies of good government, and the only persons who are spoken of as its friends are the few, who have an interest against it. There is a pretty large class of persons, who are always fearing evil to the many from the many, never from the few. We are always ready to believe what we fear, and if a man can but frighten us sufficiently, we are not nice about his proofs. This is a great advantage to an orator. It is very convenient to be believed upon our bare word. One of the advantages of being believed upon our word is, that we are not compelled to be prolix. Assertion without proof, takes up little time: misrepresentation is always beautifully brief. There are sentences in the speech of the honourable opener each containing half a dozen assumptions, each of which it would require a long train of reasoning or detail of facts to refute.
Thus when he talks of Athens or Rome, it would require a volume to prove that the Athenian government was the best government of its time: yet the fact was so. If honourable gentlemen who have such a horror of the Athenian democracy would take the trouble to read its history, not in Mitford, but in the authors whom Mitford quotes,17 they will find that of all the governments of antiquity that in which person and property were most secure was the Athenian democracy. Yet after all, if the Athenian democracy had been ever so bad, what would it prove? Merely that the people are not fit to act as a deliberative body, and manage the details of government with their own hands. But nobody says they are fit for any such purpose: it is only asserted that they are fit to chuse their governors not that they are fit to govern. Yet surely if so ill constituted a popular government—a government in which the people exercised a function for which it is on all hands acknowledged that they are radically unfit—was yet, as it unquestionably was, the best government of its time, the fact speaks volumes in favour of a well constituted popular government. And so we shall find it in every age. Every thing that there has been of good in any government has arisen from the share which the people have had in it. In every stage of society the governments in which the people have had most power have been the best governments which that stage of society has afforded. The Grecian and Roman governments are cases in point. As soon as the people ceased to have power the Grecian and Roman governments became the vilest governments in the world. The Italian republics, and the free cities in Germany, are an instance in one age; the United Provinces of Holland in another age. Our own government is an instance: it has become better and better just in proportion as the power of public opinion over it has become greater.
If those who are so much afraid of the people would tell us exactly what it is they are afraid of, we should perhaps know how to meet their fears. Are they afraid that the people would destroy property? then let them point out one instance, one single instance in which the people have shewn hostility to the general laws of property. Even amidst the excesses of the French revolution, with the exception of the property of the emigrés, no private property was touched. Do they say that the people are turbulent, and fond of change? when if there is a single fact to which history, and not history only but every day’s experience, bears uniform testimony, it is the rooted aversion of the people to change, and attachment to every thing that they have been accustomed to from their infancy. Robertson speaks of abhorrence of innovation and attachment to ancient forms, as strikingly characteristic of popular assemblies.18 Every Athenian orator whose speeches are preserved,19 laid particular stress in addressing the people upon the wisdom of their ancestors,20 and the infinite superiority of every thing ancient, and particularly of ancient laws and institutions, topics insisted upon with an earnestness and frequency which leave no doubt that with the bulk of the people they were as popular as ever Lord Eldon could have desired.21 What is there to oppose to this mass of experience? The excesses of the Parisian mob, in the crisis of a revolution and the bloody irregular proceedings of the terrified Convention, when the knife was at their throats.
I do not find that those who think the people so bad act as if they had much desire to make them better. I do not find that they exert themselves very much to inform the people. We do not often find them establishing schools and colleges and circulating cheap and useful publications among the mass of the people. Sir, it is these things which are the test of sincerity. A man may doubtless be sincere in thinking the people, as yet, unfit to manage their own affairs, and may resist parliamentary reform from this motive. But if he be not foremost in every undertaking the object of which is to make them fit, he has some other motive for his resistance than the pure love of good government. Now everybody knows, that those from whom these accusations against the people chiefly proceed are the same who have opposed, and do oppose with an inveteracy and fury which has scarcely ever been paralleled, every thing that has ever been proposed for making the people fit to manage their own affairs: and whose avowed object is to keep the people in a state of intellect not superior to that of the beasts, on the express ground that if allowed to attain any higher degree of intellect it would be impossible to prevent them from being dissatisfied with existing institutions. They are to have bad institutions because they are unfit for good; and they are to be kept unfit lest they should desire better. One may fairly say, therefore, that if the people were not unfit, those who complain of their unfitness would have taken much trouble to little purpose.
For my part, I do not pretend to say, that those who profess to think the people incapable really think the contrary. But one cannot help picking up a few observations: and I observe that my Lord, though he is extremely ready to ease the public from the management of the public estate, yet when it comes to the management of his own, he invariably selects one of the people to manage it for him. Of course this is not because he considers such a person more competent than himself to the task, but because not being able to divide himself into two halves, and to serve the public and himself at the same time, he generously offers himself up a sacrifice to the public weal, and lets his private affairs go to ruin rather than confide the helm of the state, to hands less trustworthy than his own. I observe too—I do but throw it out as a casual remark—that although they always speak their real sentiments, those sentiments somehow always conform themselves to their interest. They can flatter as well as rail, when they have a point to gain. Twenty or thirty ragamuffins from the lowest ranks of the people, are the worthy, patriotic, and independent electors of a rotten burgh. When the high and the low, the rich and the poor, the intelligent and the stupid, are spoken of collectively, then it is that no expression of contempt is too strong.
Sir, it has been so much the practice of the powerful in all ages, to carry out the proverb, Give a dog a bad name and hang him, to begin by defaming those whom they seek to oppress; and the powerful have till lately been so exclusively in possession of all the organs of public sentiment, that a general opinion against the people, got up by such means, is very poor evidence against them. There is a passage in Machiavel, so much to the purpose, and so concisely and forcibly expressed, that I will even hazard the ridicule22 of quoting it in the original: “L’opinione contra aì Popoli nasce, perchè de’ Popoli ciascun dice male senza paura, è liberamente ancora mentre che regnano.”23 The opinion against the people arises from this cause, that of the people every one may speak ill without danger, even where the people reign. Most true it is that where the people reign, they have never curtailed the liberty of speaking ill of themselves. At Athens Aristophanes was permitted to hold up the collective body of the people, in the character of Demos, to the most poignant ridicule on the stage, and with impunity.24 In this country there are gagging bills,25 and penalties enough for those who speak ill of the aristocracy, and places and pensions enough for those who speak ill of the people. While railing against the people is rewarded as it is, there will always be railers enough: but we must look not to what these railers assert, but to what they prove, and by that standard we must try not only their aims but themselves. To calumniate an individual, to cast imputations upon his character, unsupported by evidence, for the purpose of taking away his liberty, is a baseness which is in general estimated as it deserves. Every one is sensible of the injustice of condemning an individual without proof. And is there no injustice in condemning the great body of the people without proof? Is there no baseness in calumniating them, in casting imputations upon their character, unsupported by evidence, for the purpose of taking away their liberty? I leave it to honourable gentlemen on the other side, to26 find an answer to this question as they can.
I have now said, not all that I have to say, but all that I have time for: and I know not how to excuse myself to the Society for the great portion of their time which I have taken up. I am grateful, Sir, for the patience with which they have heard me: the more so as I have spoken of persons and things in a manner which many of them are but little accustomed to, and which I cannot expect that all of them will approve. The occasion however was not of my seeking: we know from which party the question came: and when it did come, I thought it best to appear what I am, straightforward and uncompromising. It would have been easy for me no doubt, if I had been so minded, to have done better for myself, though I might have done worse for my cause. It would have been easy for me to have dealt in compromise, and trimming, and equivocation, to have talked a little on one side of the question, and then a little on the other. I might have conceded a point on this side and a point on that; I might have given up half of every important truth; I might have made one nice distinction after another, and offered to barter the whole inheritance of good government for a little more of the forms. I might have frittered and refined away every thing in parliamentary reform that is disagreeable to the ruling few, and have made an attack upon the Constitution which should almost have been taken for an apology. I might thus have had the satisfaction (if a satisfaction it could be deemed when thus purchased) of hearing every tongue sound the praises of my moderation and my candour: and I might have been pardoned even the odiousness of my opinions in favour of the lukewarmness with which I had defended them. But playing fast and loose with opinions is not to my taste; and it is an ill compliment to any one who professes to serve the people, to be praised by those who if he had served them effectually would have heaped curses on his name. If those who profit by abuses are sometimes willing to gain the spurious credit of an easy liberality by applauding those who have no objection to the existence of misgovernment but find fault with the colour of its cloak, they know their own interest too well to regard those who wage war against the monster misgovernment itself with any feeling but that of the most deadly hatred: but I had rather be in the latter class even at this price, than in the former.
I might, too, have followed the example of the honourable opener, and been the indiscriminate and unblushing eulogist of things as they are. I should not have despaired of acquitting myself tolerably well: to succeed in this line, transcendent talents are not necessary. It only requires a tolerable command over the two great instruments, assumption and abuse. Practice renders men singularly perfect in these things, and after a twelvemonth’s tuition under the honourable gentleman, I have little doubt that I should even have rivalled my master. But I leave these weapons to those who like them, or to those who can hope to be paid for them. I at least shall be acquitted of having any thing to gain by my opinions: unquestionably they are not the road either to preferment or to popularity. If we except men of knowledge and intellect, who are never numerous, these opinions are no favourites with any class except the lower; and to gain their favour would require habits and pursuits very different from mine. The reward I look to, and it is no small one, is of another kind—a kind which the honourable opener and his fellow labourers in the same vineyard will never know: it is the consciousness that these opinions are daily gaining ground; and that the time is approaching, though we who are now living may not see it, when every intelligent and disinterested Englishman shall be a radical reformer.
[1 ]Not identified.
[2 ]John Horatio Lloyd (1798-1884), a friend of Mill and of Henry Cole.
[3 ]William O’Brien, not otherwise identified.
[4 ]Not identified.
[5 ]A Radical catchphrase, probably deriving from William Godwin (1756-1836), Things As They Are; or, The Adventures of Caleb Williams (1794).
[6 ]See the opening of No. 14 above.
[7 ]For the term, see No. 5, n7.
[8 ]Henry George Grey (1802-94), Lord Howick (later 3rd Earl Grey) was a candidate for Winchelsea (which he represented 1826-30); these views are found in the report of his speech of 11 April in “Newcastle Dinner to Lord Howick,” Examiner, 23 Apr., 1826, p. 258.
[9 ]Johann Nepomuk Maelzel (1772-1834), a German inventor, showman, and charlatan, exhibited “Turk,” a chess-playing automaton that in fact was operated by a man hidden within it.
[10 ]Cf. Acts, 20:35.
[11 ]Cf. No. 6, n27.
[12 ]Mill’s ironic references cover centuries of English rule over Ireland, but technically the British Constitution could be said to have included Ireland since the Act of Union, 39 & 40 George III, c. 67 (1800).
[13 ]For the statutes, see No. 5, n5.
[14 ]For the Minutes of Evidence and Reports of the Committees of the Commons and Lords inquiring into the recent disturbances in Ireland, see PP, 1825, Vols. VII-IX passim.
[15 ]See No. 14.
[16 ]PD, n.s., Vol. 15, cols. 370-1 (18 Apr., 1826), and col. 1004 (8 May, 1826), record the victories of the landed interest. For more detail, see No. 20, n18.
[17 ]Mitford’s main authorities are Aristotle, Thucydides (5th-century ), and Polybius (ca. 200-120 ).
[18 ]William Robertson (1721-93), The History of the Reign of the Emperor Charles V (1769), in Works, 6 vols. (London: Longman, et al., 1851), Vol. III, p. 379.
[19 ]See, e.g., Isocrates (436-338 ), To Demonicus, in Isocrates (Greek and English), trans. George Norlin, 3 vols. (London: Heinemann; Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1928), Vol. I, pp. 4-35; Aeschines (ca. 390-338 ), Against Timarchus, in The Speeches of Aeschines (Greek and English), trans. Charles Darwin Adams (London: Heinemann; New York: Putnam’s Sons, 1919), pp. 8-9; and Demosthenes, De falsa legatione, in De corona and De falsa legatione (Greek and English), trans. C.A. and J.H. Vince (London: Heinemann; New York: Putnam’s Sons, 1926), pp. 420-6.
[20 ]For this term, see No. 4, n3.
[21 ]John Scott (1751-1838), 1st Earl Eldon, Lord Chancellor 1807-27 and leader of the Ultra-Tories, frequently dwelt on the popularity of following tradition: see, e.g., his speeches of 5 and 17 May, 1825, and 7 Mar., 1826, PD, n.s., Vol. 13, cols. 373-4 and 765, and Vol. 14, cols. 1156-7.
[22 ]The manuscript in the University of Hull ends here.
[23 ]Niccolo Machiavelli (1469-1527), Discorsi sopra la prima deca di Tito Livio (1531), in Opere istoriche e politiche, 4 vols. (Filadelphia: Nella stamperia delle Provincie Unite, 1818), p. 165 (Bk. I, Chap. lviii).
[24 ]Aristophanes (fl. 427-388 ), Greek satirical playwright, The Knights, in Aristophanes (Greek and English), trans. Benjamin Bickley Rogers, 3 vols. (London: Heinemann; Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1924), Vol. I, p. 194 (752-5).
[25 ]I.e., Acts preventing seditious meetings and assemblies, such as 57 George III, c. 19 (1817) and 60 George III & 1 George IV, c. 6 (1819).
[26 ]The University of Toronto manuscript, f. 1r, which ends here, has two vertical lines drawn through it, as for cancellation; the other sides are not cancelled.