Front Page Titles (by Subject) II.: Manuscript Draft of Representation of the People  (1866) - The Collected Works of John Stuart Mill, Volume XXIX - Public and Parliamentary Speeches Part II July 1869 - March 1873
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II.: Manuscript Draft of Representation of the People  (1866) - John Stuart Mill, The Collected Works of John Stuart Mill, Volume XXIX - Public and Parliamentary Speeches Part II July 1869 - March 1873 
The Collected Works of John Stuart Mill, Volume XXIX - Public and Parliamentary Speeches Part II July 1869 - March 1873, ed. John M. Robson and Bruce L. Kinzer (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, London: Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1988).
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Manuscript Draft of Representation of the People  (1866)
MS, Houghton Library, Harvard University, MS ENG 1105, incomplete version of No. 16.
although the question on which the House will be called on to divide relates ostensibly to the mere order of proceeding, it will scarcely be denied that we are really discussing the main question; and I need make no apology for confining myself to that. When it is maintained that the House ought not to pass the bill which has been proposed to it, until there has been laid before it some other proposal for the improvement of our representative system, the supposition must be that the present measure, if passed without any such supplementary measure, would be injurious. For if it would not be an injurious, but merely an incomplete measure—one after which there would still remain much to be reformed—the mere common-sense rule of doing one thing at a time would fully justify the course which the Government have adopted. Now, although according to the almost universal opinion of Reformers, many important things will remain to be done after this bill has been passed—though we are, I dare say, as sincerely desirous as the noble mover of the amendment that family and pocket boroughs should be extinguished and that the excessive political influence of a few noble and opulent families should be reduced—though in our desire to make it more difficult for wealthy men to buy their way into the House of Commons or to shut the doors of the House against poorer men by their lavish and strictly legal expenditure, I am bold to say that we do not yield to the wealthiest man present—though we are perfectly orthodox on these cardinal points of Conservatism1
quick about it—they concealed their presence so successfully—their votes made such an imperceptible difference—they had all this power of endangering our institutions and so obstinately persisted in not doing it—that honourable gentlemen are quite alarmed, and tremble at the thought of the frightful abyss into which we have not fallen. Well, Sir, it certainly appears that this amount of enfranchisement of the working people has done no harm: but though very useful in many other respects, as a representation of the classes is worth nothing at all: for it makes no difference what absolute number of voters a class has if it is always outvoted. If the working classes mustered 26 per cent in every constituency in the kingdom and no more than that proportion in any, it would be the same thing in a class point of view as not being represented at all. If indeed the mechanism of our electoral system provided any representation of minorities—if those who are outvoted in one place could join their votes with those who are outvoted in another—if any means existed by which 26 per cent of the electors could succeed in returning 26 per cent of the representatives—then indeed the arguments against which I am contending would have a claim to be considered. But as it is, the share of the working classes in the representation is not measured by the number of working men on the register, but by the number of constituencies in which working men are the majority, and even that only shews the extreme limit of the influence which the working men can exercise, not that which they will. It seems there are some half dozen constituencies in which working men are already the majority, and I put it to honourable gentlemen, would anybody ever have suspected it? At the head of these constituencies is Coventry: are the members for Coventry usually very zealous champions of working class ideas? It certainly has been remarked that these gentlemen whatever may be their politics otherwise, usually vote quite correctly on the subject of French ribbons; and as that kind of merit comes most naturally to Conservatives the members for Coventry are often Conservative. But I have not heard that any of them ever proposed a tax on power looms or anything else which might be supposed to promote the class interest of his constituents as working men, apart from their employers. If we look at any of the places where working men possess a considerable number of votes, what manner of men are the candidates for whom those votes are given? Almost always great employers of labour: aI admit that the high character and enlightened opinions of the gentlemen chosen fully justifies the choice buta so far from representing the class interests of working men, they are drawn from the very class between whose immediate or apparent interest and that of working men the principal collisions take place. Considering the innumerable modes of influence to which voters are subject, I cannot but think that even if this bill so far altered the constituency that the working classes by mustering the whole of their strength, had the power of returning by small majorities 200 of the 650 members of this house, there would not be fifty of that number who would represent the feelings and opinions of the working classes or would possess their special confidence. For my own part I should not think the whole 200 too many on the principle of class representation. Even if they were unanimous there would be more than two to one against them when they were wrong: they could never carry any working class object unless they were supported constantly [?] at least by 130 representatives of other classes, and when they obtained this support there would, I think, be a very strong presumption of their being in the right.
It has been asked—and the person who has asked it with greatest emphasis is my right honourable friend the member for Calne—what practical good do we expect from lowering the franchise? What good measures are there which cannot be carried in the present House but which we expect to be able to carry in the Reformed one? Well, Sir, this is a reasonable question, and Reformers ought to be able to answer it; but it is a little unreasonable to expect that it should be answered to the satisfaction of this House. If I understand my right honourable friend correctly, he thinks we ought to come to the House with a catalogue of complaints against itself of wrong things which the House does and ought to be prevented from doing, and good things which it leaves undone, and ought to be compelled to do, and when convinced by our arguments, the House pleads guilty and cries peccavi, then it will be time to bring in a Reform Bill. Sir, my right honourable friend says we ought not to proceed on a priori reasoning but should be practical; I want to know whether this is his idea of being practical. Why, Sir, what he calls a priori reasoning, but which I call the rational probabilities of the case, are the only ground on which this matter can possibly be debated: for if ever we descend to particulars, and point out this or that in the conduct of the House which we should like to see altered, we imply what may be a good argument elsewhere but cannot possibly appear so to the House, for the very reason the House do these things is that they do not think these things wrong; if they did, they would amend them: So that we could not possibly advance our cause by entering into particulars while we should stir up all the most irritating topics in the whole field of politics. Suppose for instance—and I purposely choose a small instance to give the less offence—suppose we were to say that if the working classes had been represented it would not have been found so easy as it has been for honourable gentlemen whose cattle are slaughtered for the public good to get compensation twice over, once by a rate and once by the rise of price? I use the case only for illustration; I lay no stress upon it; but I ask, if the debate on a Reform Bill ought to consist of a series of discussions on such subjects as this, and many others much more irritating still? I will ask one more question. If, when the Reform Bill of 1831 was introduced, its proposers had foretold—which they could not do, for they did not know it themselves—that in consequence of it we should abolish the corn laws—that we should abolish the navigation laws—that we should grant free trade to all foreign nations without reciprocity—that we should reduce the postage on inland letters to a penny—that we should renounce the exercise of any authority over our colonies—and various other things which have come to pass—do honourable gentlemen think that these announcements would have greatly inclined the Parliament of the time towards passing the bill?
Sir, all of us know well that we commit a thousand mistakes and hold a great number of erroneous opinions: but we do not know which of our opinions these are, for if we did, they would not be our opinions. Therefore every reflecting man takes precautions beforehand against his own errors without waiting to have the particular instances pointed out, and if he is a conscientious man as well, if there are things which from the character of his mind or his habits of life he is in danger of not perceiving, he is glad that there should be others who will. Now this is all that I ask honourable gentlemen to concede in the present case. What is the reason why we are so often told that classes should be represented? I apprehend, it is because every class knows some things which are not so well known by other people, and ought to have the opportunity of stating them; and because every class has peculiar interests which require to be protected, and no protection is so effectual as its own. These may be called a priori doctrines, but so is the doctrine that a straight line is the shortest distance between two points: they are as much truths of common sense and common observation as that is, and every person of common sense acts upon them as confidently. Well then, I claim the benefit of these principles for the working classes. They require it more than any other class, for reasons which are obvious. The class of lawyers, for instance, or the class of merchants, are amply represented in this House, although there are no constituencies a majority of which consists of lawyers or of merchants; but it must be remembered that a successful lawyer or merchant easily gets into Parliament by his wealth and social position, and when there is just as good a representative of lawyers and merchants as if he had been elected on purpose; but no working man is ever likely to be returned to Parliament except by a constituency of working men—and not only no working man, but no man who looks at working men’s questions with working men’s eyes. Is there, I wonder, a single member of this House who knows and could explain to the satisfaction of working men, the working men’s view of strikes, for instance? Are there many of us who so thoroughly understand the subject of apprenticeships, let us say, or of the hours of labour, as to have nothing to learn on the subject from intelligent operatives? I know that along with much valuable knowledge and many just ideas you would sometimes find pressed upon you erroneous opinions—mistaken notions of what is for the true interest of the working classes. And if those classes were preponderant in the House, attempts might possibly be made to carry some of those wrong notions into practice. But there is no question at present about making the working classes preponderant in the House: what is asked for them is such a measure of representation as shall ensure that their opinions may have a fair hearing, and may be met by fair arguments addressed to their own understanding, by persons who can enter into their manner of looking at questions and can adapt their arguments to it. This is never done now. When anything at all is said in this House on the questions which are near the hearts of the working men, all the doctrines which they require to be convinced of are taken for granted; or if any reasons are given, they are such as never reach their minds. In general, when people attempt to correct the errors of working people they do it as if they were speaking to babies—any reason is thought good enough. They are so little aware of what is in the mind of a working man that their answers are always wide of the mark. They never touch his real difficulties and merely give him a contemptuous opinion of those who use them. Do not suppose that working men would always be unconvincible by such arguments as ought to convince them. It is not one of the faults of democracy to be obstinate in error. An Englishman who had lived some years in the United States recently expressed his opinion of the Americans by this observation: he said “they are the most teachable people on the face of the earth.” It is not indeed to be expected that an old country should be as teachable as a new one, in which old traditions, and fixed habits have less power; but I believe neverthless, it will be found that the educated artisans, those at least who interest themselves in politics, are more teachable than any other class. There are several reasons why they should be so: for one thing, they are, as a rule, more in earnest than any other class; their opinions are more genuine, less influenced by hopes of personal advancement; and their social position is not such as to breed self-conceit. Above all, there is one thing to which I believe almost every one will testify who has had much to do with them and it is a point of which my own experience supplies very striking examples: there is no class which so well bears to be told of its faults, and to be told even in harsh terms, if they believe that the person who so speaks to them speaks what he thinks, and has no purpose of his own to promote by it. I can hardly conceive a nobler course of national education than the debates of this House will become, when the various notions, right and wrong, which are fermenting in the minds of the working classes, and many of which go down very deep into the principles of the social union, are fairly argued and genuinely discussed in this place. It has been remarked of all classes of persons with what comparative readiness they resign themselves even to the refusal of what they ask, when everything which they could have said for themselves has been said by somebody for them in the course of the discussion. The working classes have never had this tranquillizing assurance—they have always felt that they were judged without being listened to—and it is not in human nature to bear this without deep dissatisfaction.
If I may now be permitted to say, in general terms avoiding all topics that can give offence, in what respect I think the proceedings of this House would be practically improved by the presence in it of a body of persons representing the opinions and wishes of working men, I may refer honourable gentlemen to Tocqueville who is so favourite an authority in our political discussions when2
[1 ]Here a page of manuscript is missing.
[a-a][written on verso of previous folio; marked for insertion at this point]
[2 ]The manuscript ends here.