Front Page Titles (by Subject) 22.: Representation of the People  31 MAY, 1866 - The Collected Works of John Stuart Mill, Volume XXVIII The Collected Works of John Stuart Mill, Volume XXVIII - Public and Parliamentary Speeches Part I November 1850 - November 1868
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22.: Representation of the People  31 MAY, 1866 - John Stuart Mill, The Collected Works of John Stuart Mill, Volume XXVIII The Collected Works of John Stuart Mill, Volume XXVIII - Public and Parliamentary Speeches Part I November 1850 - November 1868 
The Collected Works of John Stuart Mill, Volume XXVIII - Public and Parliamentary Speeches Part I November 1850 - November 1868, ed. John M. Robson and Bruce L. Kinzer (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, London: Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1988).
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Representation of the People 
PD, 3rd ser., Vol. 183, cols. 1590–2. Reported in The Times, 1 June, p. 6, from which the variants and responses are taken. The continued debate was on the motion to go into Committee on the Reform Bill (see No. 15) and “A Bill for the Redistribution of Seats,” 29 Victoria (7 May, 1866), PP, 1866, V, 33–48. The discussion was on an amendment opposing the government’s proposal to group boroughs. After considerable debate Pakington spoke, followed by Mill.
honourable gentlemen opposite in considerable numbers have shown a very great desire to inform the House, not so much as to their views on the question before us, as with regard to what I have said or written upon the subject, and they have also shown a great desire to know the reasons I have for the course which they suppose I am going to take upon the question.1 I should be sorry to refuse any honourable Gentleman so very small a request, but I must first of all correct a mistake made by the right honourable Baronet (Sir John Pakington) who has just sat down. I did not allow myself to be persuaded not to speak upon the Bill of my honourable Friend the Member for Hull (Mr. Clay).2 I had various reasons for the silence which I observed on that occasion. One of these I have the less hesitation in stating, because I think it is one with which the House will fully sympathize—a decided disinclination for being made a catspaw of. (Hear, hear.) What other reasons I had may possibly appear in the very few observations that I am now about to make, for the gratification of those honourable Gentlemen who show so much friendly concern for my consistency. No doubt it is a very flattering thing to find one’s writings so much referred to and quoted; but any vanity I might have felt in consequence has been considerably dashed, by observing that honourable Gentlemen’s knowledge of my writings is strictly limited to the particular passages which they quote. (Hear, hear, and laughter.) I suppose they found the books too dull to read any further. But if they had done me the honour to read on, they would have learnt a little more about my opinions than they seem to know. It may be that I have suggested plurality of votes and various other checks as proper parts of a general system of representation; but I should very much like to know where any Gentleman finds I have stated that checks and safeguards are required against a £7 franchise? (Laughter.) The proposals I made had reference to universal suffrage, of which I am a strenuous advocate. It appeared to me that certain things were necessary in order to prevent universal suffrage from degenerating into the mere ascendancy of a particular class. Is there any danger that the working class will acquire a numerical ascendancy by the reduction of the franchise qualification to £7? It is ridiculous to suppose such a thing. (Hear.) The effect of the present Bill will not be to create the ascendancy of a class, but to weaken and mitigate the ascendancy of a class; and there is no need for the particular checks which I suggested. I must, however, except one of them, which is equally desirable in any representative constitution—the representation of minorities; and I heartily congratulate the right honourable Baronet on the qualified adhesion which he has given to that principle.3 It is not intended specially as a check on democracy—it is a check upon whatever portion of the community is strongest—on any abuse of power by the class that may chance to be uppermost. Instead of being opposed to democracy, it is actually a corollary from the democratic principle, for on that principle every one would have a vote, and all votes would be of equal value; but without the representation of minorities all votes have not an equal value, for practically nearly one-half of the constituency is disfranchised, for the benefit, it may happen, not even of the majority, but of another minority. Suppose that a House of Commons is elected by a bare majority of the people, and that it afterwards passes laws by a bare majority of itself. The outvoted minority out of doors, and the outvoted minority of the Members of this House who were elected by the majority out of doors, might possibly agree; and thus a little more than one-fourth of the community would actually have defeated the remaining three-fourths. (Hear, hear.) On the principle of justice, therefore, and on the principle of democracy above all, the representation of minorities appears to me an absolutely necessary part of any representative constitution which it is intended should permanently work well. If the right honourable Gentleman who has declared in favour of the representation of minorities (Sir John Pakington) will bring forward a Motion, in any form which can possibly pass, with a view to engraft that principle upon any Bill, I shall have the greatest pleasure in seconding him. (Hear, hear.) I desire to make a brief explanation in reference to a passage which the right honourable Gentleman has quoted from a portion of my writings, and which has some appearance of being less polite than I should wish always to be in speaking of a great party. What I stated was, that the Conservative party was, by the law of its constitution, necessarily the stupidest party.4 (Laughter.) Now, aI do not retract this assertion; but I did not mean that Conservatives are generally stupid;a I meant, that stupid persons are generally Conservative. (Laughter andcheers.) I believe that to be so obvious and undeniable a fact that I hardly think any honourable Gentleman will question it. Now, if any party, in addition to whatever share it may possess of the ability of the community, has nearly the whole of its stupidity, that party, I apprehend, must by the law of its constitution be the stupidest party. And I do not see why honourable Gentlemen should feel that position at all offensive to them; for it ensures their being always an extremely powerful party. (Hear, hear.) I know I am liable to a retort, an obvious one enough, and as I do not intend any honourable Gentleman to have the credit of making it, I make it myself. It may be said that if stupidity has a tendency to Conservatism, sciolism and half-knowledge have a tendency to Liberalism. Well, Sir, something might be said for that—but it is not at all so clear as the other. There is an uncertainty about half-informed people. You cannot count upon them. You cannot tell what their way of thinking may be. It varies from day to day, perhaps with the last book they have readb, and therefore they are as likely to prove Conservatives as Liberals, and as likely to be Liberals as Conservativesb . They are a less numerous class, and also an uncertain class. But there is a dense solid force in sheer stupidity—such, that a few able men, with that force pressing behind them, are assured of victory in many a struggle; and many a victory the Conservative party have owed to that force. (Laughter.) I only rose for the purpose of making this personal explanation (hear, hear), and I do not intend to enter into the merits of the Amendment, especially as I concur in all that has been said in the admirable speech of my right honourable Friend the Member for London (Mr. Goschen).5 (Cheers.)
[After lengthy debate, there was an adjournment to the following day; another long debate then led to a further adjournment to 4 June, when there was agreement to go into Committee.]
[1 ]There had been repeated reference to Mill and his opinions in the debate of 30 May on the Elective Franchise Bill. See the speeches by Robert Montagu (1825–1902), M.P. for Huntingdonshire, who referred (col. 1491) to Mill’s describing people lacking participation as a flock of sheep (Considerations on Representative Government, CW, Vol. XIX, p. 412); James Whiteside (1804–76), M.P. for the University of Dublin, who quoted (cols. 1505–8) several passages from Thoughts on Parliamentary Reform (CW, Vol. XIX, pp. 323–8); Charles Bowyer Adderley (1814–1905), M.P. for North Staffordshire (col. 1529); John Locke (1805–80), M.P. for Southwark (col. 1532); and Stafford Northcote (col. 1541). Thomas Dyke Acland (1809–98), M.P. for North Devonshire, offered (cols. 1542–3) to surrender the floor to Mill if he would speak; PD records that Mill “shook his head.”
[2 ]Pakington quoted (col. 1578) from Thoughts on Parliamentary Reform (p. 327), and (col. 1579) from Representative Government (p. 450), and asserted (col. 1579) that Mill had been persuaded not to speak on “A Bill to Extend the Elective Franchise for Cities and Boroughs in England and Wales,” 29 Victoria (22 Feb., 1866), PP, 1866, II, 493–514, brought in by James Clay (1804–73), M.P. for Hull.
[3 ]Pakington, cols. 1582–3.
[4 ]Pakington (col. 1574) quoted from Representative Government (p. 452n) part of a passage in which Mill had referred favourably to Pakington while criticizing Disraeli; in the key phrase Mill had said: “The Conservatives, as being by the law of their existence the stupidest party,” adhered less to their true principles than the Liberals.
[a-a]TT Conservatives are probably stupid, but
[5 ]George Joachim Goschen (1831–1907), Speech on the Representation of the People Bill, and the Redistribution of Seats Bill (31 May), PD, 3rd ser., Vol. 183, cols. 1560–72.