Front Page Titles (by Subject) 58.: Reform of Parliament 25 MAY, 1867 - 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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58.: Reform of Parliament 25 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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Reform of Parliament
Daily News, 27 May, 1867, p. 2. Headed: “Reform Meeting at St. James’s-Hall.” Reported in the Daily Telegraph, the Morning Star (identically in the Evening Star), and the Morning Post (all of these with similar texts of Mill’s speech), The Times and the Evening Mail (these two with similar reports that rearrange and summarize the speeches and events), the Morning Post (a condensed version of the Daily News text), and the Standard. (Clippings of the Daily News, Daily Telegraph, and Evening Mail reports are in the Mill-Taylor Collection.) This second meeting of the National Reform Union (with many members of the Reform League present) was held on Saturday evening at 7 p.m., chaired by Samuel Morley, who had also chaired the first meeting on Wednesday, 15 May, at which Mill was on the platform though he did not speak. It might have been expected that fewer would attend than at the first, but “such was not exactly the case; for although there was not so much pressure as to put the physical endurance of a large part of the audience to a severe trial, yet every available place, whether for sitting or standing, was occupied; while an ardour, not to say enthusiasm, prevailed, which rivalled the demonstrativeness of the former meeting. Doubtless owing to the fact that Mr. Stuart Mill was announced as the leading orator of the evening, the fair sex was more fully represented than on the previous occasion; many of them, we will not say invading the platform, but occupying places there.” (Daily Telegraph.) After preliminaries by the Chair, a resolution congratulating the reformers of the country on having won from the Government concessions in favour of household suffrage was moved and seconded. Mill “rose to support the resolution, and was received with loud and prolonged cheering, the audience rising in a body and waving hats and handkerchiefs.”
brother and sister reformers—(laughter and cheers)—since I had the satisfaction last week of looking from this platform upon you or other reformers, equally numerous and equally aearnesta , many things have happened. At the beginning of the week it really seemed as if the greatest of the objects for which you are agitating had actually been attained.1 It seemed as if we had got household suffrage, real, honest household suffrage, and that there was very little for us to do but to sit down and congratulate one another. (Laughter.) It is very fortunate that you did not think so, and that you stood to your guns, for here is our friend the compound-householder up again, and as strong as ever. (Laughter.) We have the whole battle to fight over again from the beginning. (Hear, hear.) We hope that we shall fight it out successfully (hear, hear), and we shall have you to thank for it. I will explain how this matter stands. It is not we who object to the compound householder. We do not object to householders compounding for their rates. It is a very great convenience, and it is very desirable that we should ahve the whole subject properly discussed without any reference to political questions, which ought to have nothing to do with it. b(Hear, hear.) It is the government that has forced this upon us; because the government—as it would not quite do to say there was no principle at all in their bill, and as they did not see that they had a very firm hold on any other—somehow attached all their self-consequence to sticking to this little principle. (Laughter.) I am very glad it is not a greater. (Laughter and Hear, hear.) For it seems they would insistb to the very last—the principle that no one should compound and vote too. (Laughter and cheers.) There is no reason in the nature of things why a person should not compound and vote too. Compounding may be a good thing, and I am sure voting is a good thing, and I do not see any incompatibility between them. (Hear, hear.) However, the government do (laughter), and they appear determined that you shall not give every householder a vote unless you prevent him from compounding. Mr. Hodgkinson proposed that, and we thought they had conceded it. (Laughter.) But what have they done? They say, it is very true, that everybody shall be rated unless he objects himself, but if the landlord and he apply to compound they may be allowed to compound, and then he shall lose his vote. Well, that does not suit us. (Laughter and cheers.) cIt is not only that we want every householder to have a vote, as we do;cdthat is not all. See what would happend . If the Chancellor of the Exchequer’s clause pass, the householder’s having a vote will depend upon his landlord.2 (Hear, hear.) Now that is what we have been afraid of all along (hear, hear), because it is the landlord’s interest that he should not have a vote if he cannot have a vote and compound too. It is the landlord’s interest, and it is the interest of vestries, local boards, and eother authorities in parishese , that he should compound, and therefore it is their interest that he should not have a vote unless he can compound too. Well, if that is the case, observe what would happen. The landlord, it being his interest that such householders should not have a vote, and his consent being necessary, he will not consent unless it is made worth his while; and we know what that means. (Laughter and cheers.) It means that if the landlord wants the votes of his tenants for a political purpose, or if anybody else fcan make it worth his while to want their votes for a political purpose, they will have the vote; and if not, notf . (Laughter and cheers.) That is not what we want, and we are not disposed to stand it. (Loud cheers.) We know very well that if we once get household suffrage, though we may be obliged to give up the convenience of compounding, when all these small householders have got votes, if they want to compound, if it is for their interest, convenience, and advantage to compound they will soon alter the law so that they may compound without the monstrous political consequences wanted to be attached to the act. (Cheers.) This is very like all that has been going on ever since the beginning of these reform discussions. It has been a succession—I will not say of tricks, because I do not like to use hard words, especially when I cannot prove them (laughter), but of what is called in the vernacular, trying it on. (Great cheering and laughter.) The object is just to see what you will bear, and anything that you will bear you shall have to bear (laughter), but if you show that you will not bear it, then perhaps it may not be required of you. (Renewed laughter and cheers.) I dare say that it is thought by the people who do it, and by many others, to be fair political strategy. Well, if the government were our enemies, I mean the enemies of our objects, if we are trying to get the most parliamentary reform that we can, and they are trying to give us the least, if we are openly attempting to take every advantage that we can against one another, these things may be fair enough. If that is the case they should tell us so. (Hear, hear, and a laugh.) But they do not, they leave us to find it out. (Loudlaughter.) I must say that Mr. Disraeli cannot be charged with having broken faith with us. Men of his ability seldom do gbreak faith with anybodyg . (Laughter.) He has been very careful hand guarded, indeedh , and no one can say he has deceived us; but I think he has encouraged us a good deal to deceive ourselves. (Laughter.) I ought, perhaps, to be ashamed to make the confession, but he certainly succeeded with me this time. (Loud laughter.) I certainly thought when Mr. Disraeli came forward in the house, and with that bland and conciliatory, and frank and open manner—(cheers and laughter)—which he always exhibits when he chooses (laughter)—and during this session he has often so chosen, except towards our great leader, Mr. Gladstone—i(shame)i —when he came forward in this way, as soon as Mr. Hodgkinson asked for the abolition of the compound household, jin order that we might not disfranchise the small householders,j he claimed that idea as his own—(laughter)—as what he had wanted from the beginning, what he had not only no objection to, but what he positively loved.3 (Laughter.) When he did this I really thought we were going to have real household suffrage. But he has taught me a lesson—(cheers and laughter)—which I did not think I needed; but I did—(laughter)—and that is, to be a precious great distance out of the wood before I holloa in future. (Laughter and cheers.) This may not be so kbad as it looks. Some of our friends—some of the liberal members—k place a deal of trust, I am sorry to say, not in the Chancellor of the Exchequer’s virtues, but in the bad opinion they have of him, for they think that in all this that looks a little equivocal in his conduct, as if he is going both ways, he is trying to impose upon his own party. I do not know that he is trying to impose upon anybody. If I thought he was I should think at least if he was going to impose on anybody it was not so likely to be on his friends as on his foes. (Laughter.) I think rather that if he were disposed to impose on anybody it is likely to be upon us. I hope we shall be mistaken, and that on Monday next, when the subject comes up again, we shall really get the household suffrage that we want. (Loud cheers.) If we get that we can afford to smile when Mr. Disraeli gets up in an exulting tone—whether we have beaten him or he us, it is all the same to him—he always thinks it his victory—(laughter)—and we can smile when he tells us that we have all come over to him. He tells us that with the gravest face in the lworldl . But we are not quite so patient, and ought not to be so, when he gibes at those to whom we really owe all this, when he mcalls them “blunderers,”m talks of their “blundering hands,”4 and gives it to be understood that they have not been able to carry reform and he can, and that it is not their measure. He is quite satisfied if he can say to Mr. Gladstone, “You did not do it.” But Mr. Gladstone did do it. (Loud and long-continued cheering.) He could not carry his measure last year5 because Mr. Disraeli and his friends opposed it; Mr. Disraeli can carry his Reform Bill because Mr. Gladstone will not oppose anything but that which is not real reform, and will support to the utmost that which is. (Cheers.) I have no objection to thank everybody for their part in it when once we have got it, but I will always thank most those to whom we really owe it. (Cheers.) The people of England know that but for the late government this government would have gone one hundred miles nout of their wayn before they would have brought in any Reform oBill at all. (Hear, hear.) Ando every good thing we have got in this bill, even that which seems to be more than Mr. Gladstone was prepared to give, has only been given for the purpose of outbidding Mr. Gladstone. (Hear, hear.) pI have nothing more to say on this subject, but I should like to say something on another. I am reminded by my friend on my right (Mr. Gilpin)6 —one of the most thorough and determined reformers in the House of Commons—that I had the gratification of being along with him in thep deputation to Earl Derby qwhich he mentioned to youq , to endeavour to save the life of a poor convict. We do not know what the result will be.7rWe met under very great disadvantages.r The deputation was arranged last night when the house was very thin, and when the news that sthese poor men weres8 to be executed came upon us like a clap of thunder. (Cries of Shame.) tWe had to hunt up all the members of Parliament we could, many of them as it was the night before (Friday) were out of town, or were going out, having formed engagements, and under the circumstances we gott together some 50 or 60 English, Scotch, and Irish members, including some of the most honoured names in the house u—(cheers)—and saw the Prime Ministeru . We do not know what the result is. I myself, from Lord Derby’s tone, felt a good deal discouraged; but some of my friends, vwho know more of him, andv who are much better judges than I am, think there is a great deal of hope. As long as there is a chance of this hope being gratified, I would not say a word to mar the grace of the concession. I am willing to give the most hearty thanks to her Majesty’s government if they change the resolution which they are understood to have come to wonlyw by a majority, in which some of the most eminent members of the government did not join. (Hear, hear.) I do not wish to say anything that could excite any hostile feeling against the government, since I hope it will appear that they have not deserved it. But I should like to elicit a little feeling from you. (Cheers.) I should like to know, first, whether you think that we have any right to hold Ireland in subjection unless we can make Ireland contented with our government. (Cries of No, no.) That expression of your sentiment will resound through Ireland, and win the hearts of her people to you. (Cheers.) Let me ask you now: Do you think the Irish people are contented with our government?9 (Cries of No, no.) Is that your fault? (No, no.) Do you think those men who have been driven desperate by the continuance of what they think misgovernment—although it is not so intentionally, if it was once; the reason we govern Ireland badly is because the ruling classes do not know how to do it better—do you think that these poor men, who do not understand the English people, and do not understand that you are determined to do them justice, and do not know that you are going soon to be strong enough to do it—(cheers)—and because they do not know this, their patience is worn out, and in most desperate circumstances they endeavour to get rid of what they think misgovernment at the risk of their lives—do you think, I say, that those men are not fit to live for that reason? x(Cries of No.)x It is necessary to punish them. (Hear, hear.) It is necessary to punish any unsuccessful revolutionists (Oh, oh); because no man has a right to endanger the lives of his fellow-creatures, to raise civil war in the country, unless the event proves that there was such a feeling in the country at the timey, and that the circumstances were altogether suchy that he had reasonable prospect of success.10 (Hear, hear.) If people did not risk anything by making these attempts we should have them made upon all sorts of absurd grounds by small minorities. It is necessary, then, to punish these people, but it is not necessary to hang them. (Cheers.) It is important that the world should know that you, the people of England, abhor the idea of staining the soil with the blood of political zoffendersz . (Loud cheers, and a cry of Hang the Government.) I hope that we shall not have to reproach any one for this. But if it is done, I hope that you will show that it is not your doing—that you do not sympathise, that it is not you who want to hang the poor men who aimed to obtain the liberty of their country even by the amost mistaken meansa . (Hear, hear.) Political malcontents are very seldom bad men; they are generally better than the average. They very often do wrong things; but the man who will risk his life and all that is dear to him for a public object is generally a better man than the common—he is an object of pity, and not of hatred. (Cheers.) If he is not successful, his failure will itself be a terrible blow to him. b(Some person in the body of the hall here askedb“How would you punish them?”) I assume that it is unnecessary to punish all. It is only necessary to punish the leaders, and I would punish them by imprisonment, but not for life. They should not be treated like the scum of the earth; and we would always hope that the time would come, and we would do our utmost to make the time come, when an amnesty would let them all out of prison. (Cheers.) These things are done even in some of the most despotic countries of Europe, and I am sure that the people of England will not bear that their government should be the only one except those of Spain and Russia, which does such things. (Cheers.) If the government were so unfortunate as to hang these men, they would have the sympathy of none but Marshall Narvaez and General Mouravieff.11c(Cheers.)c I could not help addressing you on this subject. (Cheers.) Many of us who went up to Lord Derby feel deeply that it will be a most fatal thing for the honour of this country, for its estimation in the eyes of all other countries, for its future prosperity, for the future good feeling between class and class, and, above all, for the future good feeling between Ireland and England, which was so precious to them all, if the government should persevere in the dcalamitousd resolution to which they have come, but from which many of our friends feel econfident, and I feele considerable hope, that they will virtuously abstain. (Loud and continued cheering.)
[The resolution was passed unanimously, and then Thomas Mason Jones moved a second one, condemning the government’s “breach of faith” over compounding. In his speech Jones said, “as an Irishman,” he must thank “the most illustrious philosopher in Europe—(loud cheers)—for the speech . . . worthy of even the great reputation of John Stuart Mill” (Morning Star). Later in his speech, Jones referred to a conversation in which Mill indicated that though he had been opposed to the ballot, he “was so convinced of the dangerous state of things in Ireland, that he was willing the ballot should be tried in that part of the kingdom—(great cheering)—that, if the experiment were to be tried at all, that was the place to try it” (Morning Star). When Jones finished, Mill rose again.]
gMr. J.S. Mill: My friend who has just addressed the meeting, and whose enthusiasm has led him greatly to overrate my merits, has misunderstood in some degree the communication which took place between him and me on the subject of the ballot. I have never concealed from you any opinion which you dislike. (Hear, hear.) I did not do so at my election, and you won’t expect me to do so now. I am not in favour of the ballot. I think there are great objections to it, and that we are getting strong enough to do without it. (Hear, hear.) I was not able to say so much of the unfortunate Irish. I said, and I say again, if the ballot is to be tried, try it first in Ireland. (Cheers.)g
[After the unanimous passing of this and another resolution, and thanks to the Chair, the meeting agreed to send a memorial to the Queen, praying that she spare the lives of the Fenian convicts. Morley’s response to the vote of thanks closed the meeting proper, as the “vast assemblage” of some 3,000 separated. A few of those most involved, including Mill, then gathered in a smaller room to draw up the memorial concerning the Fenian prisoners, of which the substantial clause read: “We, your Majesty’s humble memorialists, beg earnestly to pray your Majesty to exercise your Royal prerogative of mercy in sparing the lives of our unhappy countrymen in Ireland now lying under sentence of death for high treason.” It was sent with a covering letter by Morley to Gathorne-Hardy, recently appointed Home Secretary.]
[1 ]I.e., after Disraeli’s Speech on the Representation of the People Bill (17 May), PD, 3rd ser., Vol. 187, cols. 720–6, which gave the impression that the Government would accept the abolition of compounding householders as proposed in the amendment of Hodgkinson on the same day (ibid., cols. 708–12).
[b-b]DT] DN It is a government that has forced this upon us because it would not quite do to say there was no principle at all in their bill—(a laugh)—and as they did not feel that they had got a very firm hold of any other, they seem to have attached all their self-consequence to sticking to their little principle—I am very glad it is not a greater—which it seems they will insist upon] MS as DT . . . Government who has . . . us—(hear, hear)—because . . . did not feel they had got a . . . other—they somehow . . . to this. (A laugh.) This little principle—I am . . . greater—but this little principle they would insist upon
[c-c]DT,MS] DN We want every householder to have a vote,] MP as DT,MS . . . vote,
[d-d]MS] DN but that is not all.] DT but see what would happen
[2 ]Disraeli, in his Answer to a Question on the Business of the House (23 May), ibid., cols. 941–2, had said the Government would bring forward a Clause amending Clause 34 to allow compounding with the joint consent of the owner and occupier (see ibid., col. 1180).
[e-e]DN of all the important people about] MS of the rich and important people about] S,MP church-wardens
[f-f]DT] DN should make it worth the landlord’s while to secure the votes, the tenants will find their names on the register] MS as DN . . . while to want their vote for political purposes, they will register, and . . . as DT
[g-g]+MS] DN,DT so] MP as MS . . . faith
[h-h]MS] DN indeed] DT,S,MP and guarded
[i-i]DT (Loud cheers.)] MS —(groans and hisses)—] MP —(hear, hear)—
[3 ]Disraeli, speech of 17 May, cols. 720 and 724.
[k-k]DT] DN,MP , but so it looks to some of our friends, some of the liberal members who] MS as DT . . . looks. There are some of ... as DN
[l-l]DT,MS House of Commons
[4 ]Ibid., col. 726.
[5 ]For the measure, see No. 15.
[n-n]DT] DN,MS,MP off
[o-o]DT] DN Bill; and
[p-p]DT] DN,MP Today I had the gratification of being with a] MS as DT . . . another which was referred to by . . . right, one . . . House. (Cheers.) I . . . as DT
[6 ]Charles Gilpin (1815–74), M.P. for Northampton, the only other M.P. on the platform, had spoken before Mill.
[7 ]Thomas Francis Bourke (see No. 57), in the event, had his death sentence commuted to penal servitude for life, but he was released after seven years.
[s-s]DT,MS] DN,MP this poor man was
[8 ]For the others, see No. 57.
[t-t]DT] DN Under the circumstances it is a wonder that we were able to get] MS We got together as many members of Parliament as we could. Many members had gone out of town, and under the circumstances it is a wonder that we got
[w-w]DT,MS,S,MP] DN finally
[9 ]In England and Ireland Mill refers to this meeting and quotes from this passage: “The question was put, some six months ago, to one of the largestand most enthusiastic public meetings ever assembled in London under one roof—‘Do you think that England has a right to rule over Ireland if she cannot make the Irish people content with her rule?’ and the shouts of ‘No!’ which burst from every part of that great assemblage, will not soon be forgotten by those who heard them” (CW, Vol. VI, p. 521). Cf. his letter of 16 November, 1867, to J.H. Bridges, where he again gives the circumstances and the quotation, saying in this case that the audience was “composed in great part of working men,” and that the “enthusiastic shout of ‘No’ . . . might have been heard, I think, outside the building” (CW, Vol. XVI, p. 1328).
[x-x]+MS] DT (Loud and unanimous cries of Yes.)
[10 ]Questioned by G.W. Sharp as to the accuracy of the report of this passage, Mill said it was correct, adding: “And I do not know how anyone could express himself otherwise who believes, as all Englishmen do, that insurrections and revolutions are sometimes justifiable.” He mentions the cases of the English Civil War and Glorious Revolution, the Polish insurrections, and Garibaldi’s revolutions, and continues: “I did not mean that all insurrections, if successful, stand exculpated; the rebellion of the American slaveholders would have been equally guilty and even more detestable if it had succeeded. What I was arguing for wasthat even those revolutionists who deserve our sympathy, ought yet for the general good, to be subject to legal punishment if they fail.” (CW, Vol. XVI, p. 1275 [1 June, 1867].)
[a-a]MP perilous resort to arms
[b-b]MP] DN,S (A voice:
[11 ]Ramon Maria Narvaez (1800–68), duque de Valencia, field marshall, and at that time authoritarian prime minister of Spain, and Mikhail Nikolaevich Mouravieff (1796–1866), military governor, who savagely repressed uprisings in Lithuania and Belorussia in 1863.
[c-c]+MS] MP,S (A Voice: Is this a Fenian meeting?)
[e-e]DT , if I do not feel,