Front Page Titles (by Subject) A PRESIDENT IN COUNCIL THE BEST GOVERNMENT FOR INDIA 1858 - The Collected Works of John Stuart Mill, Volume XXX - Writings on India
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A PRESIDENT IN COUNCIL THE BEST GOVERNMENT FOR INDIA 1858 - John Stuart Mill, The Collected Works of John Stuart Mill, Volume XXX - Writings on India 
The Collected Works of John Stuart Mill, XXX - Writings on India, ed. John M. Robson, Martin Moir, and Zawahir Moir (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, London: Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1990).
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A PRESIDENT IN COUNCIL THE BEST GOVERNMENT FOR INDIA
London: Penny, 1858. No running titles. Unsigned. Not republished. There are no emendations in the Somerville College copy. Identified in Mill’s bibliography as “A President in Council the best Government for India,” the third item under the heading: “The following short pamphlets on the India Bills and Resolutions of the Session of 1858 viz:” (MacMinn, 91).
A President in Council the Best Government for India
there are two political functions devolving on the British nation. It has to provide for its own government; and for the government of the much more extensive and populous countries which are dependent on it.
The majority however of its dependencies it has, wisely and necessarily, divested itself of the duty of governing; having found, after long trial, that it was unable to govern them satisfactorily. The only great outlying possession of the British Crown which is not now left substantially to its own government, is India.
The question is, in what manner Great Britain can best provide for the government, not of three or four millions of English colonists, but of 150 millions of Asiatics, who cannot be trusted to govern themselves. This is evidently a far more difficult task, than the one which the British nation acknowledges itself to have failed in. It is not likely that the very plan which has failed everywhere else, should be perfectly sufficient and satisfactory in the case in which the difficulties are the greatest. One would say, even before the subject is considered, that if success can be attained in such a case, it must be by some arrangement much more carefully and nicely adapted to the purpose.
Consider in what way the government of England itself is conducted. The English people may be supposed to know something of their own affairs. It may also be reasonably presumed that they feel an interest in them. They have every possible means of making their necessities, their grievances, and their opinions, known. When they have any wish in regard to their own Government, they usually demonstrate the wish in a thousand channels, by the press, petitions, and public meetings, before the Government takes the first step on the subject. And if the Government adopts any measure which the people, or even any fraction of the people, consider injurious to their interest, the first announcement causes it to be at once questioned in the press and in the House of Commons, and if general opinion is unfavourable there is time for the measure to be stopped before it has come into practical effect. These securities, as we know and lament, do not always prevent bad measures; but they do, for the most part, suffice to prevent inconsiderate ones. No Government feels it safe, in the home affairs of England, to take any step likely to lead to serious consequences, without previous weighing and deliberation. The checks do not operate so quickly in foreign affairs, and therefore it is generally felt that foreign, much more than home affairs, are conducted according to the individual and private preferences of the Minister, and much less according to either the interests or the wishes of the nation.
But in the government of India by a Parliamentary Minister, none of the checks exist at all. The public are never likely to hear of what is meditated, until actually done. When done, they seldom hear of it until the mischief, if there be mischief, is in part accomplished, and its reversal may be attended with greater evils than that of allowing it to subsist. Even when they do hear of it, they scarcely ever obtain, until long afterwards, the materials for judging whether the measure was right or wrong. There would be all these difficulties in controlling the Minister, even if the public and Parliament were deeply interested and intent on Indian affairs. But, on the contrary, all except a few are in general entirely without interest in the subject, because they have no knowledge of it, and because their time and attention are taken up by things nearer at hand. Among the few who do attend to the subject, neither the public nor Parliament have the means of distinguishing those who, from character and knowledge, have the best claim to be followed as guides. A Minister, probably very little acquainted with the questions which he is to decide, has nothing to compel him either to study them and deliberate on them in his own mind, or to attend to the suggestions of those who have already studied them, except a nominal responsibility to a body who have no means of accurate knowledge, and who are in general too indifferent to the subject to apply to it even such knowledge as they might obtain.
It is in circumstances like these that Parliament is asked to give over India to the sole government of a Minister, usually altogether ignorant of it when first appointed, and changed every two or three years. And it is gravely said that we need not fear to confide absolute power to absolute ignorance, in reliance that if the natural effects follow, Parliament will punish the Minister for his misconduct.
As it cannot be desired that the policy of the Indian Government should be a policy of ignorance, or that it should be changed every time a Minister is promoted or turned out; and as there is no public or Parliament to supply knowledge of Indian affairs, as knowledge of English affairs is in some measure supplied, the knowledge must be furnished to the Minister in his own office. There must be in the department itself a body which knows India, and is the guardian and conservator of the principles of administration which experience has approved, or which knowledge sanctions. Those who object to a Council constituted for the purpose, must intend that the clerks in the office should be this body. But the proposal to confide the habitual Government of India to persons whom the public generally do not know even by name, and never know whether their advice is taken or not, is rather remarkable as coming from the zealots for responsibility. The real friends of responsibility are those who would have this function exercised by a Council, who can be made responsible.
But a Council which the Minister need not consult, will be little better, if not worse, than leaving him with no other competent advisers than the clerks in his office. He cannot shelter his own responsibility behind the clerks. They cannot serve him as a screen. The Council may. And if it is left to him to determine their functions, that is the chief use to which he will probably apply them. In no one of the three plans brought before the House of Commons by its accustomed leaders,1 is there any inducement given to the Minister for consulting the Council, if he has reason to expect that they will differ from him in opinion. Lord Ellenborough has very truly and laudably said, that the Minister will want their support, to protect India from the mistakes of Parliament and of English opinion.2 But India needs protection also against the Minister’s own mistakes. Parliament, however misled, can only exert its power slowly, and after discussion: the Minister, in half an hour, may issue a despatch, the evil consequences of which years may not suffice to cure. If the Council is fit to support the Minister when he is right, it will be fit to check him when wrong. And its support is not likely to carry any weight when it agrees with him, if it is not allowed to differ, or is not asked its opinion unless willing to agree.
To make the Council a real security for good government, all business which requires deliberation, or admits of difference of opinion, ought to be transacted by the Minister in Council. It is on this principle that the British Government in India itself is constructed, and it works most effectively. The Governor-General, or the Governor of a Presidency, performs his manifold duties in conjunction with Councillors, not of his own nomination. They are appointed, theoretically, by the same authority which appoints himself; but practically by a different authority, the Governor-General or Governor being in fact selected by the Queen’s Minister, the Members of Council by the Court of Directors. As an ordinary rule, all questions are decided in Council according to the opinion of the majority; but their opinion is not binding on the head of the government. When he pleases, he can, recording his reasons, set aside the opinion of the Council, and act on his own sole responsibility; but he must go through a particular form for that purpose, which gives a deliberate, and in some degree a solemn, character to the act. On this system the members of Council feel themselves a real and substantial element in the government; their best thoughts are given to every question which presents itself, their opinion is recorded and has its just weight, while they have no power of authoritatively opposing themselves to the deliberate opinions and purposes of the head of the government.
The same principle, applied to the home administration, would give probably the best organ of Government for India, which circumstances admit of. The authority should be that of the President, but of the President in Council. The deliberation should be as much that of the whole body, as if the body and not the head had the power of deciding in the last resort. The general practice in that case would probably be, to decide, (as at Calcutta,) according to the sense of the majority, the President’s vote only counting for one. But he would have the power, after he had consulted his Council, on declaring his intention in a prescribed form, and recording his reasons, to act on his own separate opinion in opposition to theirs. According to this plan, the ordinary conduct of business falls by the natural working of things, without any special provision for the purpose, into the hands of those who know most of the subject; and the minds which really determine what is done, are associated, as they ought to be, in the responsibility. Yet the Minister’s responsibility, even for the ordinary business, would never be felt to be impaired, no more than the responsibility of Lord Wellesley or Lord Dalhousie was impaired by the advisers with whom they were associated; while the Minister would be subjected to an additional and special responsibility, when he chose to set aside his Council. And this is surely right. If there be any case whatever in which deliberation, and a sense of responsibility, are peculiarly necessary, it is when one man, often not qualified by special training, assumes to be a better judge of a subject, than a body of men expressly selected for their knowledge of it, and their competency to advise on it.
[1 ]For the first two Bills, introduced by Lord Palmerston and Disraeli, see pp. 162-3 above. The third was “A Bill for the Better Government of India,” 21 Victoria (17 June, 1858), PP, 1857-58, II, 313-36; it was introduced by Henry Fitzroy (1807-59) on 17 June (PD, 3rd ser., Vol. 150, cols. 2253-4), but one of the “accustomed leaders” of the Conservatives, Edward Henry Stanley (1826-93), Lord Stanley (later 15th Earl of Derby), gave the first major speech on 24 June (ibid., Vol. 151, cols. 315-30).
[2 ]Law, Speech on the Government of India (29 Apr., 1858), PD, 3rd ser., Vol. 149, cols. 1962-8.