Harriet Taylor wants to see “freedom and admissibility” in all areas of human activity replace the system of “privilege and exclusion” (1847)

Harriet Taylor

Harriet Taylor (1807-1858), in an essay dedicated to Queen Victoria, claims that the replacement of “privilege and exclusion” by that of “freedom and admissibility” is “the very most important advance which has hitherto been made in human society”:

Trades and occupations have almost everywhere ceased to be privileges. Thus exclusion after exclusion has disappeared, until privilege has ceased to be the general rule, and tends more and more to become the exception: it now no longer seems a matter of course that there should be an exclusion, but it is conceded that freedom and admissibility ought to prevail, wherever there is not some special reason for limiting them. Whoever considers how immense a change this is from primitive opinions and feelings, will think it nothing less than the very most important advance which has hitherto been made in human society. It is nothing less than the beginning of the reign of justice, or the first dawn of it at least. It is the introduction of the principle that distinctions, and inequalities of rights, are not good things in themselves, and that none ought to exist for which there is not a special justification, grounded on the greatest good of the whole community, privileged and excluded taken together.

Tucked away in an appendix at the back of volume 21 of the 33 volume Collected Works of J.S. Mill are the small number of essays written by Harriet Taylor. She is important both for her own ideas and for the influence she exerted on her companion. This piece is taken from a letter or essay she wrote and dedicated to Queen Victoria on the need to abolish all forms of “privilege and exclusion” and to replace it with a system based upon “freedom and admissibility”. What is also interesting in this passage is how she puts this demand into a broader historical context where the demand for the freedom of women is seen in a long march towards liberty which had been going on since the end of feudalism. It is not known how Queen Victoria reacted to this essay.