Return to Title Page for 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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53.: The Reform Bill  9 MAY, 1867 - 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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The Reform Bill 
PD, 3rd ser., Vol. 187, cols. 280–4. Reported in The Times, 10 May, p. 7, from which the variants and responses are taken. The St. Stephen’s Chronicle, Vol. III, pp. 336–7 agrees with The Times in the variants. In Committee on the Reform Bill, when considering Clause 3, dealing with qualifications for voting in boroughs, Disraeli had proposed inserting the italicized words in the third qualification: “Has during the Time of such Occupation been rated as an ordinary occupier in respect of the Premises so occupied by him within the Borough to all Rates (if any) made for the Relief of the Poor in respect of such Premises . . .” (cols. 15–19). The Times reported that Mill “spoke in a low and at times inaudible tone.”
it must be admitted that the Government, by the last concession which they have made, have abated one of the most obvious objections to the most objectionable of all the provisions of the Bill. The compound-householders are not to be burdened with any fine. They are to pay it, but they will be allowed to deduct it from their rent, and will thus be subject to one disadvantage the less. So much has been said about this single disadvantage—so great stress has been laid on what is called the fine—that attention has not been sufficiently directed to the many other impediments which will remain. The honourable Member (Mr. Hibbert) has called the Amendment a great improvement.1 He should rather have called it a real, but a small improvement. Not only will the voter have to keep money by him for a quarterly payment, instead of a weekly payment which gives no trouble, being confounded with his rent; not only will he have to lie out of his money until he has recovered it—perhaps by weekly instalments; but another most essential condition is requisite, on which the honourable Member has justly laid much stress—his landlord must consent.2 And who is his landlord? One of that powerful class, destined henceforward to be more powerful than ever—not a popular class either with this House or with the public—the owners of small tenements: every one of whom, if his solvent tenants take advantage of the Bill, will lose, to say the least, a profitable contract. Let honourable Gentlemen realize to themselves what an obstacle this is, and then say whether it is likely that in the face of it, the Bill will give more than a very limited amount of honest enfranchisement. But I might be better inclined to accept it as an instalment, if it did no worse; if it was satisfied with keeping almost every small householder out, and did not let anybody in by unfair means. But awhat will happen?a If the Bill becomes law in its present shape, no sooner will it have passed than the scramble will begin for the 465,000 compound-householders. It is safe to say that whichever party can put the greatest number of these people on the register, and, what is of still greater consequence, can keep them there, will have a tolerably secure tenure of power for some time to come. Now, success in this will be principally a question of money. We need not necessarily suppose any direct bribery, any payment of rates, anything distinctly illegal. But there will have to be, and there will be, a perpetual organized canvass of the 465,000. Organizations will be formed for hunting up the small householders who are not rated, and inducing them to come on the rate book. The owners of small tenements must be canvassed too, that they may give their tenants leave to register. Every motive that can be brought to bear on either class will be plied to the utmost. Perpetual stimulus will be applied to the political feelings of those who have any, and to the personal interests of all. Both sides in politics will be prompted to this conduct by the strongest possible motive—by that which makes so many men, not wholly dishonourable or without a conscience, connive at bribery—the conviction that the other party will practise it, and that unless they do the same, their side, which is the right, will be at an unfair disadvantage. Now, this annual, or rather perennial, rating and registering campaign among the small householders, will cost much money. I hope that honourable Gentlemen on this side of the House, who, loving household suffrage not wisely but too well,3 have brought matters to this state, intend to come down handsomely to the registration societies in their own neighbourhoods; for the registration societies are destined henceforth to be one of the great institutions of the country. I wonder if any one, possessed of the necessary pecuniary statistics, has estimated how much will be added to the already enormous expenses of our electoral system when this Bill has passed. The Chancellor of the Exchequer knows perfectly well which side is likely to carry off the prize when it comes to a contest of purses (Hear, hear, and Oh!); though, after the profound contempt which I was happy to hear that he entertains for all such considerations,4 it would be uncourteous to suppose that he is in any way influenced by them. But this serviceable piece of knowledge, though the right honourable Gentleman is indifferent to it, is one which I should like to impress upon the clever Gentlemen who are going to outwit the Chancellor of the Exchequer, and make his Bill bring forth pure and simple household suffrage, contrary to the intentions of everybody except themselves who will vote for it. Now, if the Conservatives do, what without doubt the right honourable Gentleman intends they should—namely, by dint of money, bring everybody on the register who is dependent on them, or who they think for any reason is likely to vote with them; what is it expected that the Radicals will do? Every creature must fight with its own natural weapons: honourable Gentlemen opposite carry theirs in their pockets (Oh, oh!): the natural weapon of the Radicals is political agitation. In mere self-defence they will be compelled to be greater agitators than ever, more vehement in their appeals to Radical feeling, more strenuous in counter-working the voter’s personal interest by exalting to the highest pitch every political passion incident to his position in life. This is what will happen even if we make the chimerical assumption, that the money expended in making voters will all be expended in modes which are conventionally innocent—that there will be nothing scandalous, nothing absolutely illegal; not even that decent form of bribery, payment of rates. But is any one so simple as to believe that this will be the case? Encouraged by the brilliant success of your bribery laws,5 you are going to make payment of rates for political purposes an offence against those laws:6 and your reward will be, that whereas you do now and then detect a case of bribery, it is questionable if there will ever be a single conviction for the other offence. You find it difficult enough to prove bribery, committed where all eyes are watching for it, amidst the heat and publicity of a contested election. Will it be an easy matter, think you, to prove judicially that the non-rated householder, who a month or two before the registration, goes quietly to the parochial officer and pays his full, not his composition rate, has had it put into his hands a few days previous, when no one but the registration agent was thinking about him? And if you could prove it, whom could you convict? Not the candidate; at the time of the registration there is no candidate. The offender is a society of gentlemen in the neighbourhood. If you can convict any one, it will be some needy agent, some man of straw, unauthorized by anybody, beyond general instructions to do the best he can for the Conservative or the Liberal interest. I just now called what would take place a scramble for the compound-householders. I might have called it an auction. Except under the impulse of strong political excitement, we may expect that the small householders who will get on the register will generally get there at some other person’s expense. And the work which begins in this way will not end with it. Once paid for his vote, the integrity of the elector is gone. (Hear, hear.) Many a one will go further, and take payment in a grosser and more shameless form. This is the futurity which the Government Reform Bill provides for us. There was but one thing wanting to complete the picture, and that one thing has been vouchsafed to us. It is, that the Minister who is in this way sowing bribery broadcast with one hand, should hold a Bill for the better prevention of bribery in the other.7 That Bribery Bill completes the irony of the situation. (Laughter.) Sir, the point on which we are now deliberating is, in the judgment of this side of the House, the most important of all the points which we shall have to decide. I sincerely hope, in spite of what was said by the honourable and learned Gentleman who spoke last,8 that it is not so in the eyes of the Government. No one now wants to throw out the Bill. (Hear, hear, and Oh, oh.) If it is wrecked it will be by its authors; nobody can wreck it but themselves. The Bill, however, has now come out in its true colours, as a Bill which restricts the suffrage. Of course, I do not mean that it does nothing else. But if it passes, it will make the franchise more difficult of access to a considerable portion of those who are by the present law entitled to it. As regards the new electors, the right honourable Gentleman the Chancellor of the Exchequer has framed his measure very skilfully to effect the greatest apparent, and the smallest real, enfranchisement of independent voters (No, no, and Hear, hear), and the greatest, both apparent and real, enfranchisement of the bribeable and the dependent. Perhaps the House thinks I mean this as a reproach to the right honourable Gentleman, as if there were something tricky and insincere in it. But I am bound to say that the right honourable Gentleman, from as long ago as I remember, has seemed to me remarkably constant to a certain political ideal, which may be defined, an ostensibly large and wide democracy, led and guided by the landed interest. (Laughter.) He has always aimed at shaping our institutions after this type, whenever he has meddled with them, either as a theoretical or a practical politician; and there need be no doubt that he sincerely thinks it the best form of Government. But that is no reason why we should follow him, who like neither his end nor his means. (Hear, hear.) I am afraid that this Bill, so far as it relates to compound-householders, will make ten electors with other people’s money, for other people’s purposes, for every one who will make himself an elector by the exercise of the social virtues: and will greatly increase, instead of diminishing, the influence of money in returning Members to Parliament. I believe that in consequence, instead of attaining the end to which so many honourable Members are willing to sacrifice everything, that of putting the question to sleep, and giving a long truce to agitation, this Bill, if it passes with its present provisions, will achieve the unrivalled feat of making a redoublement of agitation both inevitable and indispensable. Thinking these things, I must resist to the utmost these parts of the Bill; and must vote for bthe Amendment of the honourable member for Oldham (Mr. Hibbert), and for every otherb Amendment (Ministerial cheers) which tends to diminish, either in a great or in a small degree, the obstructions, removeable by money, which the Bill throws in the way of a small householder’s acquisition of the suffrage. (Hear, hear.)
[After a long debate Disraeli’s amendment was carried, Mill voting in the negative.]
[1 ]John Tomlinson Hibbert (1824–1908), M.P. for Oldham, Speech on the Representation of the People Bill (9 May), PD, 3rd ser., Vol. 187, col. 267.
[2 ]Ibid., cols. 270–1.
[a-a]TT,SSC the proposal would have, also, quite a contrary effect.
[3 ]Shakespeare, Othello, V, ii, 344; in The Riverside Shakespeare, p. 1240.
[4 ]Disraeli, Speech on the Representation of the People Bill (6 May), cols. 43–5.
[5 ]5 & 6 Victoria, c. 102 (1842), and 17 & 18 Victoria, c. 102 (1854).
[6 ]By Clause 36 of the Reform Bill (PP, 1867, V, 536).
[7 ]“A Bill to Provide for the More Effectual Prevention of Corrupt Practices and Undue Influence at Parliamentary Elections,” 30 Victoria (9 Apr., 1867), PP, 1867, II, 213–32.
[8 ]William Balliol Brett (1817–99), Conservative M.P. for Helston, Speech on the Representation of the People Bill (9 May), PD, 3rd ser., Vol. 187, col. 280.
[b-b]TT,SSC] PD any