Front Page Titles (by Subject) 76.: Meetings in Royal Parks  22 JULY, 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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76.: Meetings in Royal Parks  22 JULY, 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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Meetings in Royal Parks 
PD, 3rd ser., Vol. 188, cols. 1890–3. Reported in The Times, 23 July, p. 8, from which the response is taken. In the debate on the second reading of “A Bill for the Better and More Effectually Securing the Use of Certain Royal Parks and Gardens for the Enjoyment and Recreation of Her Majesty’s Subjects,” 30 Victoria (3 May, 1867), PP, 1867, IV, 63–6, Mill had seconded (col. 1888) P.A. Taylor’s amendment that would have had the effect of aborting the Bill.
mr. j. stuart mill said, among the many, to me, regrettable things which were said by my honourable and learned Friend the Member for Oxford (Mr. Neate),1 there was one with which I entirely agree: that this question is entirely a political question. It is only as a political question that I care about it. I see no reason why we should at present discuss all the purposes for which the Parks should or should not be allowed to be used. All I am anxious about is that political meetings should be allowed to be held there. And why do I desire this? Because it has been for centuries the pride of this country, and one of its most valued distinctions from the despotically-governed countries of the Continent, that a man has a right to speak his mind, on politics or on any other subject, to those who would listen to him, when and where he will. (Cries of No.) He has not a right to force himself upon anyone; he has not a right to intrude upon private property; but wheresoever he has a right to be, there, according to the Constitution of this country, he has a right to talk politics, to one, to fifty, or to 50,000 persons. I stand up for the right of doing this in the Parks. I am not going to discuss this matter as an affair of technical law. We are not here as lawyers, but as legislators. We are not now considering what is the interpretation of the existing law; we are considering what the law ought to be. We are told that the Parks belong to the Crown, but the Crown means Her Majesty’s Government. Her Majesty’s Government of course have power over the Parks; they have power over all thoroughfares, all public places, but they have it for purposes strictly defined. It is not, I believe, even pretended that the Parks are the property of the Sovereign in the same manner as Balmoral and Osborne are her property. They are part of the hereditary property of the Crown, which the Sovereign at her accession gave up to the nation in exchange for the Civil List;2 and the right honourable Gentleman would find some difficulty in showing that the surrender was accompanied with any condition as to the particular uses to which the Parks should be applied—any stipulation confining their use to walking and riding, or, as it is called, recreation. As long as the compact with Her Majesty exists, so long, I contend, the Parks are public property, to be managed for public uses at the public expense, and to be applied to all uses conducive to the public interest. If a technical right of exclusion has been allowed to be kept up, it is for police purposes—for the safety of the public property and the maintenance of the public peace—and not for the restriction of the freedom of public speaking. On what principle is the House asked to curtail this inherited freedom of speech, and make it penal for the people to use that freedom in large numbers, in the only places now left in the metropolis where large numbers can conveniently be assembled? On no principle can this be done, except that of the most repressive acts of the Governments most jealous of public freedom. The French Emperor says that twenty-one people shall not meet and talk politics in a drawing-room without his license.3 Her Majesty’s Government only says that 100,000 people shall not meet for a similar purpose in the Parks without theirs. This is a wide difference in degree. It is much better to have our lips sealed in the Parks than in our own houses—better that free speech should be limited to a few thousands or hundreds than to tens; but the principle is the same, and if once it is admitted, a violation has commenced of the traditional liberties of the country, and the extent to which such violation may afterwards be carried becomes a mere question of detail. But what is the justification alleged for introducing arbitrary restrictions by which the holding of a great open-air meeting in London without the previous consent of the Government will be made impossible? The excuses which profess to be founded on public convenience do not deserve an answer, even if they had not been already answered a hundred times; the fact is, no one believes them to be serious. There is no decent argument for the interdiction of political meetings in the Park, which does not proceed on the assumption that political meetings are not a legitimate purpose to apply a public place to, and that it is, on the whole, a desirable thing to discourage them. I wish honourable Gentlemen to be aware what it is they are asked to vote for; what doctrine respecting the constitutional liberties of this country they will give their adhesion to if they support the Bill. The opinion they will pledge themselves to is something like this—unfortunately the people of this country are so foolish that they will have the right of holding large political meetings, and it is impossible to take it from them by law; but that right, though necessary, is a necessary evil, and it is a point gained to render its exercise more rare by throwing impediments in its way. If honourable Gentlemen opposite would be candid, I am persuaded they would confess that this is a fair statement of what is really in their minds. It is proved by the arguments they use. They say that these multitudinous meetings are not held for the purpose of discussion, but for intimidation. Sir, I believe public meetings, multitudinous or not, seldom are intended for discussion. That is not their function. They are a public manifestation of the strength of those who are of a certain opinion. It is easy to give this a bad name; but it is one of the recognized springs of our Constitution. Let us not be intimidated by the word “intimidation.” Will any one say that the numbers and enthusiasm of those who join in asking anything from Parliament, are not one of the elements which a Statesman ought to have before him, and which a wise Statesman will take into consideration in deciding whether to grant or to refuse the request? We are told that threatening language is used at these meetings. In a time of excitement there are always persons who use threatening language. But we can bear a great deal of that sort of thing, without being the worse for it, in a country which has inherited from its ancestors the right of political demonstration. It cannot be borne quite so well by countries which do not possess this right. Then, the discontent, which cannot exhale itself in public meetings, bursts forth in insurrections, which, whether successful or repressed, always leave behind them a long train of calamitous consequences. But it is said that it is not meant to put down these public meetings, or to prevent them from being held. No; but you mean to render them more difficult; you mean to impose conditions on them, other than that of keeping the public peace. Now, any condition whatever imposed on political meetings, over and above those by which every transaction of any of Her Majesty’s subjects is necessarily bound—and any restriction of place or time imposed on political speech, which is not imposed on other speech—involves the same vicious and unconstitutional principle. Sir, I contend that all open spaces belonging to the public, in which large numbers can congregate without doing mischief, should be freely open for the purpose of public meetings, subject to the precautions necessary for the preservation of the peace. A great meeting cannot possibly be called together in London without the Government knowing of it beforehand, and having ample warning to have a sufficient force of police at hand to meet any exigency, however improbable. I must therefore oppose this Bill to the utmost.
[The amendment was lost, but the Bill was not enacted.]
[1 ]Charles Neate, cols. 1882–4.
[2 ]By 1 Victoria, c. 2 (1837).
[3 ]By the Code pénal, Bull. 277 bis, Nos. 1–7 (1810), Bulletin des lois de l’empire français, 4th ser., numéros bis, Art. 291.