The State and the Ruling Class: An Anthology of Key Works of Libertarian/Classical Liberal Class Analysis

Compiled by David M. Hart
Table of Contents of the Anthology: <>

[Created: 16 August, 2016]
[Updated: 7 January, 2017 ]


James Mill, “Caste” (1824)

Editing History

  • Item added: 8 Sept. 2016
  • 1st Edit:


“Caste” (1824) in Supplement to the Fourth, Fifth, and Sixth Editions of the Encyclopaedia Britannica. With Preliminary Dissertations on the History of the Science. Illustrated by Engravings. (Edinburgh, Archibald Constable and Company, 1824). In The Political Writings of James Mill: Essays and Reviews on Politics and Society, 1815-1836, ed. David M. Hart (Liberty Fund, 2013). <>

Editor's Intro

James Mill (1773-1836) was an early 19th century Philosophic Radical, journalist, and editor from Scotland. He was very influenced by Jeremy Bentham’s ideas about utilitarianism which he applied to the study of British India, political economy, and electoral reform. Mill wrote on the British corn laws, free trade, comparative advantage, the history of India, and electoral reform. His son, John Stuart, after a rigorous home education, became one of the leading English classical liberals in the 19th century.



Definition. By this term is here distinguished the classification and distribution of the members of a community into certain classes or orders, for the performance of certain functions, with the enjoyment of certain privileges, or the endurance of certain burthens; and the establishment of hereditary permanence in these orders, the son being ordained to perform the functions, to enjoy the privileges, or sustain the burthens of the father, and to marry only in his own tribe, without mixture of the classes, in regular succession, through all ages.Caste.lf1624_figure_001.jpg

Origin of the Term. The term Caste is borrowed from the Portuguese. It was the term applied by that people, who first of the European nations formed establishments in India, to the classes which they found established upon this principle among the inhabitants of that portion of the globe; and from them, as it was from their intercourse that the rest of the nations of modern Europe first derived their familiarity with the manners and institutions of the people of India, the term made its way, and was established in the other languages of Europe.

The institution itself appears in the early ages of society to have been very extensively introduced.

This Institution widely diffused. In regard to the ancient Egyptians, the fact is universally and familiarly known. The President de Goguet, who, with singular industry, and no ordinary judgment and sagacity, explored the remains of ancient times, comprehends a great body of history in a few words. “We may farther observe,” says he, “that, in the Assyrian empire, the people were distributed into a certain number of tribes, and that professions were hereditary; that is to say, children were not permitted to quit their father’s occupation, and embrace another. We know not the time nor the author of this institution, which, from the highest antiquity, prevailed over almost all Asia, as well as in several other countries.” It is not necessary here to surcharge the reader with the authorities which he quotes. The passage itself (P. i. B. i. Ch. i. Art. 3.) will be consulted by all who distrust the legitimacy of his inference, or desire to prosecute the inquiry.

It is stated in the common histories of Greece, that Cecrops distributed into four hereditary classes, or tribes, all the inhabitants of Attica. And we are informed by Plutarch, in his Life of Theseus, that by this prince, the class of priests, and that of nobles, in other words the magistrates or military leaders, were united into one: whence the society was composed of three classes; 1. The sacerdotal, legislating, and ruling class; 2. The class of husbandmen; and, 3. The class of tradesmen. “To the nobility,” says the illustrious biographer, “he committed the choice of magistrates, the teaching and dispensing of the laws, and the interpretation of all holy and religious things; the whole city, as to all other matters, being as it were reduced to an exact equality; the nobles excelling the rest in honour, the husbandmen in profit, and the artificers in number. And Theseus was the first who, as Aristotle says, out of an inclination to popular government, parted with the regal power; which Homer also appears to attest, in his catalogue of the ships, where he gives the name of People to the Athenians alone.” There is a passage near the beginning of Plato’s Timæus, which, though in a work of fancy, is not without some weight, as evidence either of conclusions which were drawn by men of research, or of traditions which were current among the people. In this passage, not only is it asserted, that, in the primeval state of the inhabitants of Attica, they resembled the Egyptians in the division into hereditary classes and professions; but a very accurate description is given of those classes, five in number; viz. 1. The class of priests; 2. The class of handicrafts; 3. The class of shepherds and hunters; 4. The class of ploughmen; 5. The military class. Πϱωτον μεν το των ἱεϱεων γενος, απο των αλλων χωϱις αφωϱισμενον· μετα δε τϫτο το των δημιϫϱγων, ὁτι ϰαθ᾿ ἁντο ἑϰαςον, αλλῳ δε ϫϰ επιμεμιγμενον, δημιϫϱγει· το τε των νομεων ϰαι των θηϱευτων· το τε των γεωϱγων· ϰαι δη το μαχιμον γενος, απο παντων των γενων ϰεχωϱισμενον, ὁις ȣ́δεν αλλο πλην τα πεϱι τον πολεμον ὑπο τϫ νομϫ πϱοσεταχθη μελειν.

We are informed by Aristotle, that the people of Crete were divided into castes, after the manner of the Egyptians, by the laws of Minos. Εοιϰε δε ϫ νυν ϫδε νεωgreektι τϫτ᾿ ειναι γνωϱιμον τοις πεϱι πολιτειας φιλοσοφϫσιν, ὁτι δει διηϱησϑαι χωϱις ϰατα γενη την πολιν, ϰαι το τε μαχιμον ἑτεϱον ειναι, ϰαι το γεωϱγϫν· εν Αιγυπτῳ τε γαϱ εχει τον τϱοπον τϫτον ετι ϰαι νυν· τα τε πεϱι την Κϱητην. Τα μεν ϫν πεϱι Αιγυπτον, Σεσωςϱιος, ὡς φασι, ȣ́τω νομοθετησαντος· Μινω δε τα πεϱι Κϱητην. Polit. vii. 1.

It is worthy of observation, that certain vestiges at least of that ancient institution are still visible in Egypt. “La distinction par familles,” says General Reynier (De l’Egypte, p. 56), “se retrouve encore dans les villes: l’exercise des arts et metiers est hereditaire: le fils imite les procedés de son pere, et ne les perfectionne pas.”

We have a remarkable passage to prove, that, among the ancient Persians, the same division into castes existed which now has place among the Hindoos. In the Zendavesta, as translated by M. Anquetil Duperron, it is said: “Ormusd declared, There are three measures (literally weights, i. e. tests, rules) of conduct, four states, and five places of dignity. The states are, that of the priest; that of the soldier; that of the husbandman, the source of riches; and that of the artisan or labourer.”—“We are told,” says Sir John Malcolm (Hist. of Persia, i. 205), “that Jemsheed divided his subjects into four classes, and that he allotted to each a separate and fixed station in life; which seems to imply that the condition of the ancient Persians was like that of the modern Hindoos; and that the extraordinary institution of cast, which now exists in India, was once known in Persia.” Sir John proceeds to state some reasons which induce him to doubt the reality of the fact; in not one of which, however, there is a particle of weight.

Sir John quotes, and translates for us a passage from Strabo, which asserts that a similar institution existed in Iberia. “Four kinds or classes of people inhabited that country. From what they consider the first class, they appoint their kings according to nearness of kindred and seniority; these administer justice, and head their armies: The second is of priests, who take charge of their political rights with respect to their neighbours: The third of soldiers and husbandmen: The fourth of the people in general, who are slaves of the king, and perform every menial office.” This account of the distinctions of the castes is evidently incorrect, and by a man who was not well informed. The fact of the Iberians being distributed in a remarkable and uncommon manner, he knew; otherwise there would have been no occasion to single out the fact, in the description of this particular people. He knew also that they were divided into four principal classes. With regard to the matters of detail, however, his words bear internal evidence that either his information had been vague and inaccurate, or that his recollection had become so.

From a dissertation of Mr Joinville, on the religion and manners of the people of Ceylon, (Asiat. Researches, vii. 430.) we find that there is sufficient evidence to prove the existence of a similar institution, anciently, among the Buddhists of Ceylon; and by consequence to infer it, among the other Buddhists, spread over so large a portion of Asia.

After this evidence of the general diffusion of the institution of castes, in the rude ages of the world, especially in Asia, there is a temptation, from the following passage of Herodotus, (Lib. I. cap. 101.) to infer its existence among the Medes, at the commencement of the monarchy. Εςι δε Μηδων τοσαδε γενεα, Βϫσαι, Παϱηταϰηνοι, Αδιζαϫτοι, Βϫδιοι, Μαγοι. There is nothing in the passage which serves to fix the meaning of the word γενεα; and the names, it is plain, are words of the ancient Median language. But we know that the Μαγοι were the priests; and hence there is reason to conclude, that the other words also are names of classes and professions; in other words, of hereditary castes.

The institution of castes may be traced in places with which we are more intimately connected. Mr Millar, to whom the world is indebted for almost the first lessons which it received, in tracing the facts of history up to the general laws of the human mind, has called our attention to the fact, that in the ancient condition of our Saxon ancestors, they were divided into four great classes: 1. The artificers and tradesmen; 2. the husbandmen; 3. those who exercised the honourable profession of arms; and 4. the clergy. Mr. Millar adds, (Hist. View of the English Gov. B. i. ch. ii.) “From the natural course of things, it should seem, that, in every country, where religion has had so much influence as to introduce a great body of ecclesiastics, the people, upon the first advances made in agriculture and in manufactures, are usually distributed into the same number of classes or orders. This distribution is accordingly to be found, not only in all the European nations, formed upon the ruins of the Roman Empire; but, in other ages, and in very distant parts of the globe. The ancient inhabitants of Egypt are said to have been divided into the clergy, the military people, the husbandmen, and the artificers. The establishment of the four great castes, in the country of Indostan, is precisely of the same nature.”

Human nature is very uniform in the phenomena which it exhibits. The new world displays a striking resemblance to the old. The same stage of society presents nearly the same results. There is reason to conclude, that something which resembled the institution of castes existed among the ancient inhabitants of Peru and Mexico. The Count Carli, the celebrated author of the Lettres Americaines, when treating (Lett. xiii. and xiv.) of the laws of the Peruvians says: “Les citoyens furent distributes en classes ou tribus. * * * Il n’etoit pas permis, ni par marriage, ni par changement d’habitation, de confondre une classe avec l’autre: car la loi defendoit de se marier dans une autre famille que celle d’ou l’on sortoit. * * * N’oublions pas le soin qu’on avoit de l’education des enfans. C’etoit toujours le pere qui elevoit son fils. L’education consistoit à apprendre aux enfans rôturiers le metier que chaque pere de famille exerçoit,” &c. We are informed by Clavigero (Hist. of Mexico, B. iv. § 5.), that “the sons in general learned the trades of their fathers, and embraced their professions; thus they perpetuated the arts in families, to the advantage of the state.”

Such is the extent to which this institution has existed on the surface of the globe. We shall next endeavour to ascertain the state and condition of the human mind, to which it may be considered as owing its origin.

Origin, and Causes of the Wide Diffusion of his Institution. The lowest and rudest state in which the human race are found to exist, may, in a certain general way, be described as the hunter state. That of the shepherd is the next stage in the progress toward the advantages of civilized life. The agricultural state succeeds; when men begin to cultivate the ground for the means of subsistence, and experience the benefit of fixed habitations.

So long as they continue in the condition of hunters or of shepherds, the division of labour is unknown, and all the multitude of blessings which it brings. Every family is itself the author of all the simple accommodations which it knows. The tent or hovel, the waggon or cart, is constructed by the men; the coarse garment is spun and even woven by the women.

In this situation of things, the accommodations with which it is possible for human beings to supply themselves are few and imperfect; and life is a scene of privation.

When population has so far multiplied as to render the produce of flocks and herds insufficient for the means of subsistence, and the cultivation of the land has become necessary, the inconveniences arising from the want of the division of labour becomes still more sensible and oppressive. The labours of the field are neglected while the family are engaged at the loom, or repelling the incursions of an enemy. The accommodations of lodging, of clothing, of taste, and fancy, are wretchedly supplied, when the business of extracting the means of subsistence from the soil, exacts the greater part of their time and attention.

The progress, however, of human improvement, though not necessarily, is commonly, in point of fact, at least in the more uncultivated ages, exceedingly slow. Men continue to suffer under the inconveniences which their present condition imposes upon them, complaining of their miseries, but unable to form a clear conception of the means of exemption, and doubtful of all the remedies which are pointed out to their attention. In the mean time, as the human mind is essentially progressive, and, unless in very extraordinary circumstances, never fails to make progression, the uneasiness which is felt under the inconveniences of a state to which the mind has become superior, and above which it is rising higher and higher every day, is continually increasing; and at last rises to such a height that some change is unavoidable; and the society are prepared to welcome the most plausible of the schemes which are proposed to them.

The grand steps which are made in improving the condition of mankind, though essentially the result of a progression in the minds of the society taken as a whole, are commonly the immediate suggestion of some one individual, or small number of individuals, whose conception of the necessity of a change, and of the means of relief, is more clear and determinate than that of the rest of the community.

In the earliest stages, when the human mind is weak and prone to superstition, the individuals who project the great improvements in the state of society, endeavour to accelerate the consent of the people, and overcome their reluctance to innovation, by giving to their projects the character of a divine revelation and command. The first legislators of almost every country, we find to have represented themselves as depositaries of the divine will, and entrusted with a revelation from heaven.

If we take the Hindoos as a model, the people divided into castes with whom our acquaintance is the most complete, we shall conclude, that some individual, wise enough to perceive the cause of the inconveniences under which men suffer while the division of labour is unknown, and placed in circumstances which enabled him to clothe himself with a divine authority, overcame in most places the reluctance of the people to so great a change of their manners and habits, and accelerated the date of their improvement, by persuading them that the divine power, or divine powers, now commanded them to be divided into classes for the performance of certain offices.

In the early stages of society, however, the wants of men are few; and the ideas of the legislator himself are incapable of extending to a great variety of cases. In such periods, the power of superstition is always exceedingly great. Unacquainted with the laws of nature, and exposed to the most dreadful vicissitudes, which they are altogether unable to foresee, human life appears to men in that situation to hang altogether upon invisible powers. The human mind is incessantly occupied with conjectures respecting what those unknown powers will produce, and with tormenting apprehensions that they will produce evil rather than good. The persons who, in this state of things, are skilful enough to create a persuasion that they are better acquainted than others with the will of these powers, more especially if accompanied with a persuasion that they have an influence over that will, and can turn it more or less whichever way they please, become an object of supreme regard. Nothing can be done without them. They are the most important class in the community. When society is first divided into classes, for the sake of the division of labour, the priests, therefore, are always a separate class, and always in the place of highest distinction.

After the evils to which men in the rude state of society conceive themselves liable from the unknown and invisible authors of physical events, the evils to which they are liable from the incursions of hostile men, appear the next in magnitude. While the institutions of society are imperfect, and the human mind is weak, these evils are very great, and present a terrific picture to an imagination perpetually haunted with fear. In the rude ages of society, therefore, the soldier is always a character of great importance. He is the barrier against those evils which rank next in order after the evils against which the priest affords relief. When classes are first formed, the military are, therefore, always a separate class, and next in rank and veneration to the class of the priests. It is remarkable, that the rank and consequence of both classes are founded upon fear. It is also remarkable, though a natural consequence, that, in all ages, they are most apt to be venerated by the most timid persons,—the most timid sex, for example; over whose imagination the priest and the soldier have a proverbial away. It is farther observable, and a necessary consequence, that as the fears with respect to invisible powers, and with respect to the incursions of hostile men, gradually decline as society advances, and have less and less effect upon the imaginations even of those who are most apt to be governed by the passion of fear, so the respect for the castes of priest and soldier are destined to sink in relative importance, as the institutions of society are improved, and the human mind becomes strong.

After provision is made, in that early stage of society which we are endeavouring to describe, against the two classes of fears against which the priest and the soldier hold up their respective shields, the care of subsistance is the object of greatest importance. A class of husbandmen, therefore, is a necessary and never failing institution, and, in the scale of rank and consequence, this order follows immediately after the sacerdotal and the military castes.

Beside the means of subsistence, other accommodations are required. But, at first, very few are so much as known, and, by consequence, very few are demanded. One class of the community are, therefore, supposed to be sufficient for the supply of all other wants, and the performance of all other services.

It is obvious, that reflection upon the laws of human nature would lead us to draw a picture, nearly the same with this, if we were called upon to describe the state of society, at the time when the division of labour is first introduced, even if we had no specific facts to direct our inquiries. In a remarkable passage in Plato, in his second book De Republica, he ascribes the origin of political association and laws, to the benefits which were sought for by the division of labour. Γεγνεται πολις, ὡς εγ᾿ ὦμαι, ϫπειδαν, τυγχανει [Editor: illegible word] ἑϰαςος, ϫϰ αυταϱχης, αλλα πολλων ενδοης. As men cannot be supplied with accommodations in any tolerable degree, but by the division of labour and employments, one man producing one thing, another another, and every man getting what he wants, by exchange with other men, an association of a certain number of men is necessary for well being; and hence society and laws. In exact coincidence with the deduction which we have presented above, he says, that the simplest form of a society would consist of four or five orders of men. Αλλα [Editor: illegible word] πϱωτη [Editor: illegible word] ϰαι [Editor: illegible word] των [Editor: illegible word] της τϱοϕης [Editor: illegible word] [Editor: illegible word], [Editor: illegible word] δι [Editor: illegible word] [Editor: illegible word] [Editor: illegible word]. . . . . . . Ειη [Editor: illegible word] ἡ [Editor: illegible word] ανωγϰαϫοτατη [Editor: illegible word] ϫϰ [Editor: illegible word] η [Editor: illegible word] ανδϱων. The coincidence is very nearly complete between the speculation and the practice; between what is in this manner inferred, and what is recorded of ancient nations, and witnessed among the Hindus.

Under all the difficulties under which, especially in rude ages, human society, and the human mind, make progress, small are the steps which can be taken at once. When professions were separated, and the vast benefits derived from the separation began to be felt, the human mind was not sufficiently strong to perceive, that there was no danger whatsoever that they should ever again be combined and confounded. No; it was imagined to be another grand effort of the same wisdom which had made the separation, to take care of its permanence, and to make provision for securing the benefits of it through all ages. With this view it was thought necessary to ordain and sanction, by divine authority, that the son should follow the profession of the father, and be subject to the severest punishment if he engaged in any other occupation. To secure also, in each profession, the due succession of sons to fathers, it was necessary that marriage should be strictly regulated; and the method which obviously enough suggested itself for that purpose was, that the members of each class, male and female, should be compelled, under the severest penalties, to marry only among themselves, and never, by intermarriage, to ruin and confound the separate castes.

So far the aim, at any rate, was good. The benefit of the whole society was the object which all these regulations were accounted useful to promote, and no degradation of any of the classes was either intended by any of these enactments, or necessary for the ends which they were destined to serve.

The degradation of one set of the castes, in comparison with another, was the result of an after thought, and in the pursuit of ends of a different description. When one of the castes, as that of the priests, or the soldiers, found itself possessed of an influence over the minds of the rest of the community, such, that it could establish certain points of belief in its own favour, it was never long before it availed itself of that advantage, and pushed it to the utmost. If it could inspire the belief that it was more noble, worthy of higher privileges, and greater honour, than the rest of the community, it never failed to get this point established as an incontrovertible right, not the result of the mere will of the community, but of an absolute law of nature, or even a revelation and command from God.

As every elevation of one class implies a correspondent degradation of another, and as there is no end to the elevation which one class will aim at, there is no end to the degradation which will be imposed upon another, if the state of the human mind is sufficiently weak to give to one class an unbounded influence over the belief of another. How naturally this extreme degradation is grafted upon the institution of castes, will immediately appear.

As we derive our most minute and practical acquaintance with the shape into which society is moulded by the establishment of castes, from our intercourse with the Hindus, the particulars which are at this day exhibited in Hindustan, and provided for by their laws, afford the most certain means of acquiring precise and specific ideas concerning this remarkable institution.

Of the Indian Castes in particular. According to the sacred law book, entitled the “Ordinances of Means,” the Creator, “that the human race might be multiplied, caused the Brahmen, the Cshatriya, the Vaisya, and the Sudra (so named from the Scripture, protection, wealth, and labour), to proceed from his mouth, his arm, his thigh, and his foot.” “For the sake of preserving this universe, the Being, supremely glorious, allotted separate duties to those who sprung respectively from his mouth, his arm, his thigh, and his foot. To Brahmens he assigned the duties of reading the Veda, of teaching it, of sacrificing, of assisting others to sacrifice, of giving alms, if they be rich, and, if indigent, of receiving gifts: To defend the people, to give alms, to sacrifice, to read the Veda, to shun the allurements of sensual gratification, are, in a few words, the duties of a Cshatriya: To keep herds of cattle, to bestow largesses, to sacrifice, to read the scripture, to carry on trade, to lend at interest, and to cultivate land, are prescribed or permitted to a Vaisya: One principal duty the Supreme Ruler assigns to a Sudra, namely, to serve the before-mentioned classes, without depreciating their worth.”

Such is the employment of the castes; and such the authority whence it is derived. The next great peculiarity is, the degree of elevation which one set of the castes was enabled to usurp, and the correspondent degradation of the others.

Priests. 1. The Brahmens, or the priests. “Since the Brahmen sprung from the most excellent part,” says the same divine code, immediately quoted, “since he was the first born, and since he possesses the Veda, he is, by right, the chief of this whole creation. Him the Being, who exists of himself, produced in the beginning from his own mouth, that, having performed holy rites, he might present clarified butter to the gods, and cakes of rice to the progenitors of mankind for the preservation of this world. What created being then can surpass Him, with whose mouth the gods of the firmament continually feast on clarified butter, and: the manes of ancestors on hallowed cakes? Of created things, the most excellent are those which are animated; of the animated, those which subsist by intelligence; of the intelligent, mankind; and of men, the sacerdotal class. When a Brahmen springs to light, he is horn above the world, the chief of all creatures. Whatever exists in the universe, is all, in effect, the wealth of the Brahmen; since the Brahmen is entitled to it all by his primogeniture and eminence of birth.”

As the Brahman exclusively, or at least to a supreme degree, engrosses the regard and favour of the Deity, so he is entitled to the worship and adoration of mortals. Kings themselves, and the most exalted of men, are infinitely inferior to the meanest of the Brahmens. “Let the king,” we again quote the ordinances of Menu, “having risen at early dawn, respectfully attend to Brahmens learned in the three Vedas, &c. . . . and by their decision, let him abide. Constantly must he show respect to Brahmens, who have grown old, who know the scriptures, who are pure.” “The king must appoint seven or eight ministers, &c. . . . . To one learned Brahmen, distinguished among them all, let the king impart his momentous counsel. To him, with full confidence, let him entrust all his transactions; and with him, having taken his final resolution, let him begin all his measures.” “Let him not, although in the greatest distress, provoke Brahmens to anger, by whom Brahma, the all-devouring fire, was created, the sea with waters not drinkable, and the moon with its wane and increase. What prince would gain wealth by oppressing those, who, if angry, could frame other worlds, and agents of worlds, could give being to new gods and mortals? What men, desirous of life, would injure those by the aid of whom, worlds and gods perpetually subsist; those who are rich in the knowledge of the Veda? A Brahmen, whether learned or ignorant, is a powerful divinity; even as fire, is a powerful divinity, whether consecrated or popular. Thus, though Brahmens employ themselves in all sorts of mean occupations, they must invariably he honoured; for they are something transcendently divine.”

The least disrespect to one of the sacred order, is the most atrocious of crimes. “For contumelious language to a Brahmen,” says the code of Menu, “a Sudra must have an iron style, ten fingers long, thrust red-hot into his mouth; and for offering to give instruction to priests, hot oil must be poured into his mouth and ears.”

The laws give to the Brahmens the most remarkable advantages, over the other classes of the community. Neither the person, nor so much as the property of the Brahmen, can ever be touched, in awarding punishment for the most atrocious crimes. “Never shall the king,” says one of the ordinances of Menu, “slay a Brahmen, though convicted of all possible crimes; let him banish the offender from his realm, but with all his property secure, and his body unhurt.” This privileged order was entirely exempt from taxes. One of the most important of all duties is to bestow wealth upon the Brahmens, by incessant gifts and donations.

Military Caste. 2. The Cshatriyas, or the military caste. Though the Brahmens look down upon this class, they are looked up to by all the rest of the classes, with a prostrate veneration, inferior only to that with which the Brahmens are regarded. The difference of rank in India, is not a mere ceremonial distinction. The advantages which are conferred by it, or the injuries endured, are immense; and to the suffering party unspeakably degrading. Any infringement, even of the external marks of the abjectness of the degraded party, is punished as a heinous crime. “If a man of an inferior caste,” says Halhed’s Gentoo Code, “proudly affecting an equality with a person of superior cast, should speak at the same time with him, the magistrate in that case shall punish him to the extent of his abilities.” It is unnecessary, under this head, to enter into details, which would occupy a dispropertionate space.

Agricultural Caste. 3. The Vaisyas, the agricultural and commercial class. It is still less necessary to multiply particulars under this head. When the two extremes are sufficiently explained, what modifications of respect or disrespect belong to the intermediate stages, may be easily inferred.

Servile Caste. 4. As much as the Brahman is an object of intense veneration, so much is the Sudra an object of contempt, and even of abhorrence, to the other classes of his countrymen. The business of the Sudras is servile labour; and their degradation inhuman. The most abject and grovelling submission is imposed upon them as a religious duty, enforced by the most dreadful punishments. They are so completely deprived of an equal share in the advantages of the social union, that few of those advantages are reserved to them. The classes above them are restrained from injuring them, even in the case of the greatest crimes, by punishments far slighter, than those which are appointed for injuries done to the superior classes. The crimes which they commit, are punished with much heavier inflictions than equal crimes committed by individuals of the classes above them. Neither their persons nor their labour is free. “A man of the servile caste,” says the sacred ordinance of Menu, “whether bought or unbought, a Brahmen may compel to perform servile duty; because such a man was created by the Self-existent for the purpose of serving Brahmens.”

According to the principles of the same code, the Sudra was excluded from the benefits of property. “No collection of wealth must be made by a Sudra, even though he has power, since a servile man who has amassed riches gives pain even to Brahmens.” “A Brahmen may seize without hesitation, the goods of his Sudra slave; for as that slave can have no property, his master may take his goods.”

The degradation of the wretched Sudra extends not only to every thing in this life, but even to religion, and the prospect of future happiness. “Let not a Brahmen,” says the above code, “give advice, nor what remains from his table, nor clarified butter, of which part has been offered, nor let him give spiritual counsel to such a man, nor inform him of the legal expiation for his sin; surely he who declares the law to a servile man, and he who instructs him in the mode of expiating sin, sinks with that very man into the hell named Asamvrita.” Not only are the Sudras not allowed to read any of the sacred books; but, “If,” says the Gentoo Code, “a man of the Sooder reads the Beids of the Shaster, or the Pooran, to a Brahman, a Chehteree, or a Bice” (Halhed’s mode of spelling the names of the four castes), “then the magistrate shall heat some bitter oil, and pour it into the aforesaid Sooder’s mouth; and if a Sooder listens to the Beids of the Shaster, then the oil, heated as before, shall be poured into his ears, and arzeez and wax shall be melted together, and the orifice of his ears shall be stopped up therewith. If a Sooder gets by heart the Beids of the Shaster, the magistrate shall put him to death. If a Sooder gives much and frequent molestation to a Brahman, the magistrate shall put him to death.” From this specimen of particulars, a judgment may be formed with regard to the rest.

Though this is the primary and original formation of castes, the institution, unless where it happens to be early broken up, does not rest here. The distribution of the members of the community into four classes only, and the appropriation of their services to four species of employment,Inconveniences which flow from this Institution as Society advances. though a great step in improvement at the time they were instituted, must have become productive of many inconveniences, as the wants of society multiplied. The bare necessaries of life, with a few of its rudest acommodations, are all the means of gratification which it affords, or is capable of affording to mankind. As the desires of mankind, however, speedily extend beyond such narrow limits, a struggle must have early ensued between the first principles of human nature, and those of the political establishment.

And this was not the only evil to which, under this primary institution, society was exposed. The different castes were strictly commanded to marry with those exclusively of their own class and profession; and the mixture of the classes by the union of the sexes, was guarded against by the most sanguinary laws. This, however, was a result which laws were not sufficiently powerful to prevent. Irregularities occurred, and children were born who belonged to no caste, and for whom there was no occupation. A more calamitous event could not tall upon human society. Unholy and infamous on account of that violation of the sacred law to which they owed their unwelcome birth, those wretched outcasts had no resource for subsistence, except two; either the bounty of the regular classes, to whom they were objects of contempt and abhorrence, not of sympathy, or the plunder of those classes by whom they were oppressed; a resource to which they would betake themselves with all the ingenuity of necessitous, and all the ferocity of injured men.

When a class of this description became numerous, they must have filled society with the greatest disorders. The nature of the case would have drawn the philosophical mind to this conclusion, had no testimony existed. It so happens, however, that this is one of the few facts in the ancient history of the Hindus, which can be ascertained from their records. In the preface to that compilation of the Hindu Laws, which was translated by Mr Halhed, it is stated that, after a succession of good kings who secured obedience to the laws, and under whom the people enjoyed felicity, came a monarch, evil and corrupt, under whom the laws were violated, the mixture of the classes was perpetrated, and a new and impious race were produced. The Brahmens put this wicked king to death; and, by an effect of miraculous power, created a successor, endowed with the most excellent qualities. Nevertheless the kingdom did not prosper, by reason of the Burren Sunker (so were the impure and irregular brood denominated); and it required all the wisdom of this sage and virtuous king to devise a remedy. He resolved to form a classification of the mixed race; and to assign them occupations. This accordingly was the commencement of arts and manufactures. The Burren Sunker became all manner of artisans and handicrafts. Of the classes into which they were distributed, one was appointed to the weaving of cloth, another to works in iron, and so in all other cases; till the subdivisions of the race were exhausted, and the wants of the community were provided for. Among the Hindus, thirty-six castes of the impure race are enumerated, all inferior in rank and privileges even to the Sudra. To proceed farther in the detail, would be inconvenient and useless. By this supplement to the institution of the four primary castes, two great evils were remedied at once; the increasing wants of an improving society were supplied, and a class of men, who had been the pest of the community, were converted to its service.

The only remaining inquiry with respect to the institution of castes, which seems appropriate to this place, is that of its utility or inutility as a part of the social establishment.

A few words, we think, will suffice, to convey clear and determinate ideas upon this subject.

General View of the Effects of this Institution. It is the distinction of man’s nature, that he is a progressive being. It is by this grand characteristic that he is separated so widely from the inferior animals. When found in circumstances and situations in which the benefits of progression seem not to have been reaped, he is raised but a slight degree above the condition of some of the more perfect of the inferior animals. His peculiarity is, that he is susceptible of progression; and unless when he is placed in circumstances which impose extraordinary restraints upon the principles of his nature, does invariably and incessantly make progress. Even when he originates in a state little above that of the inferior animals, he rises, and gradually ascends from one stage to another, till his elevation above all the other inhabitants of this globe is immense; nor is there any limit which our knowledge permits us to set, to his final attainments and felicity. In whatever state the other animals originate, in that same state they remain through all ages; and seem altogether incapable of improvement.

In regard to man, therefore, considered as a class of beings, or an order of existence; every thing is to be considered as beneficently important, in proportion as it favours his progression; every thing is to be considered as mischievously important, in proportion as it obstructs and impedes that progression.

It is by this grand test of all that is good and evil in human institutions, that we shall endeavour to estimate the effects of the establishment of castes.

We shall not here adduce the elevation of one set of the classes, and the correspondent degradation of another, obviously the cause of infinite evil; because it may be with justice maintained, that this horrid elevation, and equally horrid depression, are not essential parts of the institution of caste, but arise from other causes, and may, in fact, be separated from that institution.

First of all, it is evident, that at the time when the number of castes and professions is established, unless it could be foreseen what are all the species of operations or arts, by which the desires of man, in all their possible varieties, are capable of being gratified; and what are all the possible divisions of labour from which any good can arise; the appointment of fixed, unalterable castes and professions, must oppose an irresistible barrier to human advancement in these two grand instruments of progression, the division of labour, and the practice of new arts, as invention may suggest them, or the multiplying desires of an improving society may create the demand. Since it is obviously impossible that all these things can be foreseen, it is abundantly certain, that the institution of any fixed number of arts and trades is exactly an institution for preventing the progression of mankind. This deduction appears to be conclusive; and, if there were no other argument, affords a complete answer to the question respecting the utility of castes.

Even in the trades and arts which are known and provided for at the time of the institution, it is by no means certain, that this fixed order of the persons who are to practise them is a contrivance well adapted for carrying these arts themselves, whether large in number or small, to their highest state of perfection. It by no means follows, that a man will do any thing better than any other man because his father did it before him. To establish a caste for any particular art or profession, is giving a sort of monopoly to that particular description of men. It is a wide monopoly, to be sure; but as far as the appropriation of the art to one class is calculated to have any effects, they must so far be such as it is of the nature of a monopoly to produce, and hence unfavourable to the progress of the art. The way which presents itself to the reasoning mind, as that which is best calculated for improving every branch of human industry or skill, is to open, as widely as possible, the doors to competition; not to exclude any man, of whatever origin, who may appear to have an extraordinary genius for any particular thing, but allow him, through competition, to reap the reward of his superiority, and hence to feel all the motives that can prompt him to excel. The acquirements of one generation are not transmitted to another more surely when they are transmitted from father to son, than when they are transmitted in the way of promiscuous instruction. Nor does it necessarily, or even commonly, happen, that the learner gets more careful instruction from his father, than he would from a man who is not his father; or, that he himself is more intent in his application, and careful to learn, because it is his father who instructs him.

In the sciences and the fine arts, the power of excelling in which depends upon rare combinations of circumstances, to limit the number of competitors, and shut up the field from all but the members of a particular tribe, is obviously a powerful expedient for diminishing the chance of progression. In regard to literature and knowledge the case is clear and decisive. To confine the prosecution of it to a particular tribe, is to insure a perpetuity of ignorance and misery to the human race. It will be decidedly the interest of the knowing class to maintain as much ignorance as possible among the rest of the community, that they may be able the more easily to turn and wind them conformable to their own purposes; and, for that end, to study, not real knowledge, not the means of making mankind wiser and happier, but the means of deluding and imposing upon them; the arts of imposture. With this clear and incontrovertible inference, how exactly does the historical fact correspond? How truly and faithfully have the Brohmens acted up to that rule? They have made it a law revealed from heaven to keep the great bulk of the community in ignorance. And what branch of knowledge have they ever studied but the science of delusion? There is first their theology; a mass of absurd fictions to chain the imagination of ignorant and foolish men. And then there is astrology, which concludes the circle of all their studies, and may be justly styled the “Second Part of the Act of Imposture;” even their mathematics, in which they made some little progress, being studied in no other shape than as a part of the business of astrology.

Another circumstance appears to merit no slight regard. The institution of castes is calculated to multiply the evils, so dreadful in magnitude, which are apt to arise from the principles of population, and is opposed to the measures which are calculated to lessen or prevent them. The evils which are apt to be produced by an occasional superabundance of people in any one of the departments of industry and subsistence, are exceedingly diminished, when the greatest possible facility is given to the supernumerary individuals, of distributing themselves through all the other departments of industry and subsistence. And these evils, it is obvious, are all raised to the greatest height when the possibility of that distribution is taken away; and individuals, in whatsoever degree superabundant, are still confined to their own department. As this is a topic, the elucidation of which is easy to carry on, we shall content ourselves with the bare hint which has thus been given, and leave the development to the reflections of the reader.

It may be added, as a supplement to what was said about the obstruction which, by the institution of castes, is given to progression, not only in the division of labour and the multiplication of arts, but even in perfecting the arts which are known and practised, that the strict confinement of one tribe of men to one tribe of operations must have a strong tendency to create a habit of routine, and hence an aversion to all innovation; a disposition to acquiesce in what has constantly been done, as if it were that which ought to be constantly done; and hence to deaden that activity of mind which is on the alert to catch at every chance of improvement,—that admirable temper, on which the greatest rapidity in the march of human amelioration essentially depends.

It was intended, after thus presenting the reasons on which we conclude that the institution of castes is an arrangement altogether opposite to the interests of human nature, to have stated and answered the reasons which have been advanced by Dr Robertson, in the Appendix to his Historical Disquisition Concerning India, and very recently by the Abbé Dubois, in his Description of the Character, &c. of the People of India, to prove that the institution of castes is really beneficial. But after looking over these reasonings, with a view to that answer, they have appeared to us to be so weak and insignificant, as to be altogether unworthy, the trouble of transcription. A sufficient answer to every point which they adduce, will be found in the considerations which we have already urged upon the subject; and we doubt not, that we may safely intrust the decision to the judgment of the reader.

(f. f.)





James Mill, “Government” (1824)

Editing History

  • Item added: 8 Sept. 2016
  • 1st Edit:


“Government” (1824) in Supplement to the Fourth, Fifth, and Sixth Editions of the Encyclopaedia Britannica. With Preliminary Dissertations on the History of the Science. Illustrated by Engravings. (Edinburgh, Archibald Constable and Company, 1824). In The Political Writings of James Mill: Essays and Reviews on Politics and Society, 1815-1836, ed. David M. Hart (Liberty Fund, 2013). <>

Editor's Intro




Nature of the Inquiry. The question with respect to Government, is a question about the adaptation of means to an end. Notwithstanding the portion of discourse which has been bestowed upon this subject, it is surprising to find, upon a close inspection, how few of its principles are settled. The reason is, that the ends and means have not been analyzed; and it is only a general and undistinguishing conception of them which exists in the minds of the greater number of men. So long as either remain in this situation, they give rise to interminable disputes; more especially when the deliberation is subject, as in this case, to the strongest action of personal interest.

Object of this Article. In a discourse, limited as the present; it would be obviously vain to attempt the accomplishment of such a task, as that of the analysis we have mentioned. The mode, however, in which the operation should be conducted, may perhaps be described, and evidence enough exhibited to show in what road we must travel to approach the point at which so many have vainly endeavoured to arrive.

End of Government. The end of government has been described in a great variety of expressions. By Locke it was said to be “the public good;” by others it has been described as being “the greatest happiness of the greatest number.” These, and equivalent expressions, are just; they are only defective in as much as the particular ideas which they embrace are indistinctly announced; and different combinations are by means of them raised in different minds, and even in the same mind on different occasions.

It is immediately obvious, that a wide and difficult field is opened, and that the whole science of human nature must be explored to lay a foundation for the science of government. To understand what is included in the happiness of the greatest number, we must understand what is included in the happiness of the individuals of whom it is composed.

That dissection of human nature which would be necessary to show, on proper evidence, the primary elements into which human happiness may be resolved, it is not compatible with the present design to undertake. We must content ourselves with assuming certain results.

We may allow, for example, in general terms, that the lot of every human being is determined by his pains and pleasures; and that his happiness corresponds with the degree in which his pleasures are great, and his pains are small.

Human pains and pleasures are derived from two sources. They are produced either by our fellow men, or by causes independent of other men.

We may assume it as another principle, that the concern of government is with the former of these two sources; and that its business is to increase to the utmost the pleasures, and diminish to the utmost the pains, which men derive from one another.

Of the laws of nature, on which the condition of man depends, that which is attended with the greatest number of consequences, is the necessity of labour for obtaining the means of subsistence, as well as the means of the greatest part of our pleasures. This is, no doubt, the primary cause of government; for, if nature had produced spontaneously all the objects which we desire, and in sufficient abundance for the desires of all, there would have been no source of dispute or of injury among men; nor would any man have possessed the means of ever acquiring authority over another.

The results are exceedingly different, when nature produces the objects of desire not in sufficient abundance for all. The source of dispute is then exhaustless; and every man has the means of acquiring authority over others, in proportion to the quantity of those objects which he is able to possess. In this case, the end to be obtained, through government as the means, would be, to make that distribution of the scanty materials of happiness which would insure the greatest sum of it in the members of the community taken altogether; and to prevent every individual, or combination of individuals, from interfering with that distribution, or making any man to have less than his share.

An element of great importance is taken into the calculation, when it is considered that most of the objects of desire, and even the means of subsistence, are the product of labour. The means of insuring labour must, in that case, be provided for as the foundation of all.

The means for the insuring of labour are of two sorts; the one made out of the matter of evil, the other made out of the matter of good. The first sort is commonly denominated force; and, under its application, the labourers are slaves. This mode of procuring labour we need not consider; for, if the end of government be to produce the greatest happiness of the greatest number,Government.lf1624_figure_001.jpg that end cannot be attained by making the greatest number slaves.

The other mode of obtaining labour is by allurement, or the advantage which it brings. If we would obtain all the objects of desire in the greatest possible quantity, we must obtain labour in the greatest possible quantity; and, if we would obtain labour in the greatest possible quantity, we must raise the advantage attached to labour to the greatest possible height. It is impossible to attach to labour a greater degree of advantage than the whole of the product of labour. Why so? Because, if you give more to one man than the produce of his labour, you can do so only by taking it away from the produce of some other man’s labour. The greatest possible happiness of society is, therefore, attained by insuring to every man the greatest possible quantity of the produce of his labour.

How is this to be accomplished? For it is obvious that every man who has not all the objects of his desire, has inducement to take them from any other man who is weaker than himself. And how is this to be prevented? One mode is sufficiently obvious; and it does not appear that there is any other. It is the union of a certain number of men, agreeing to protect one another; and the object is best accomplished when a great number of men combine together, and delegate to a small number the power necessary for protecting them all. This is government. And it thus appears, that it is for the sake of property that government exists.*

Means necessary to the Ends of Government. With respect to the end of government, or that for the sake of which it exists, it is not conceived to be necessary, on the present occasion, that the analysis should be carried any farther. What follows is an attempt to analyze the means.

Two things are here to be considered; the power with which the small number are entrusted; and the use which they are to make of it.

With respect to the first, there is no difficulty. The elements, out of which the power of coercing others is fabricated, are obvious to all. Of these we shall, therefore, not lengthen this article by any explanation.

All the difficult questions of government relate to the means of restraining those, in whose hands are lodged the powers necessary for the protection of all, from making a bad use of it.

Whatever would be the temptations under which individuals would lie, if there was no government to take the objects of desire from others weaker than themselves, under the same temptations the members of government would lie, to take the objects of desire from the members of the community, if they were not prevented from doing so. Whatever, then, are the reasons for establishing government, the very same exactly are the reasons for establishing securities, that those entrusted with the powers necessary for protecting others make use of them for that purpose solely, and not for the purpose of taking from the members of the community the objects of desire.

Three simple Modes or Forms of Government. There are three modes in which it may be supposed, that the powers of protecting the community are capable of being exercised. The community may undertake the protection of itself, and of its members. The powers of protection may be placed in the hands of a few. And, lastly, they may be placed in the hands of an individual. The Many, the Few, the One; these varieties appear to exhaust the subject. It is not possible to conceive any hands, or combination of hands, in which the powers of protection can be lodged, which will not fall under one or other of those descriptions. And these varieties correspond to the three forms of government, the Democratical, the Aristocratical, and the Monarchical.

It will be necessary to look somewhat closely at each of these forms in their order.

Of the Democratical Form. I. The Democratical. It is obviously impossible, that the community in a body can be present to afford protection to each of its members. It must employ individuals for that purpose. Employing individuals, it must choose them, it must lay down the rules under which they are to act, and it must punish them, if they act in disconformity to those rules. In these operations are included the three great operations of government, Administration, Legislation, and Judicature. The community, to perform any of these operations, must be assembled. This circumstance alone seems to form a conclusive objection against the democratical form. To assemble the whole of a community as often as the business of government requires performance would almost preclude the existence of labour; hence the existence of property; and hence the existence of the community itself.

There is also another objection not less conclusive. A whole community would form a numerous assembly. But all numerous assemblies are essentially incapable of business. It is unnecessary to be tedious in the proof of this proposition. In an assembly, every thing must be done by speaking and assenting. But where the assembly is numerous, so many persons desire to speak, and feelings, by mutual inflammation, become so violent, that calm and effectual deliberation is altogether impossible.

It may be taken, therefore, as a proposition, from which there will be no dissent, that a community in mass is ill adapted for the business of government. There is no principle more in conformity with the sentiments and the practice of the people than this. The management of the joint affairs of any considerable body of the people they never undertake for themselves. What they uniformly do is, to choose a certain number of persons to be the actors in their stead. Even in the case of a common benefit club, the members choose a committee of management, and content themselves with a general control.

Of the Aristocratical Form. 2. The Aristocratical. This term applies to all those cases, in which the powers of government are held by any number of persons intermediate between a single person and the majority. When the number is small, it is common to call the government an Oligarchy; when it is considerable, to call it an Aristocracy. The cases are essentially the same; because the motives which operate in both are the same. This is a proposition which carries, we think, its own evidence along with it. We, therefore, assume it as a point which will not be disputed.

The source of evil is radically different in the case of aristocracy, and that of democracy. The community cannot have an interest opposite to its interest. To affirm this would be a contradiction in terms. The community within itself, and with respect to itself, can have no sinister interest. One community may intend the evil of another: never its own. This is an indubitable proposition, and one of great importance. It may act wrong from mistake. To suppose that it could from design, would be to suppose this absurdity, that human beings can wish their own misery.

The circumstances from which the inaptitude of the community as a body for the business of government arose, namely, the inconvenience of assembling them, and the inconvenience of their numbers when assembled, do not necessarily exist in the case of aristocracy. If the number of those who hold among them the powers of government is so great, as to make it inconsistent to assemble them, or impossible for them to deliberate calmly when assembled, this is only an objection to so extended an aristocracy, and has no application to an aristocracy not too numerous, when assembled for the best exercise of deliberation.

The question is, whether such an aristocracy may be trusted to make that use of the powers of government which is most conducive to the end for which government exists?

There may be a strong presumption, that an aristocracy, monopolizing the powers of government, would not possess intellectual powers in any very high perfection. Intellectual powers are the offspring of labour. But an hereditary aristocracy are deprived of the strongest motives to labour. The greater part of them will, therefore, be defective in those powers. This is one objection, and an important one, though not the greatest.

We have already observed, that the reason for which government exists is, that one man, if stronger than another, will take from him whatever that other possesses and he desires. But if one man will do this, so will several. And if powers are put into the hands of a comparatively small number, called an aristocracy, powers which make them stronger than the rest of the community, they will take from the rest of the community as much as they please of the objects of desire. They will, therefore, defeat the very end for which government was instituted. The unfitness, therefore, of an aristocracy to be entrusted with the powers of government rests on the basis of demonstration.

Of the Monarchical Form. 3. The Monarchical. It will be seen, and therefore words to make it manifest are unnecessary, that, in most respects, the monarchical form of government agrees with the aristocratical, and is liable to the same objections.

If government is founded upon this, as a law of human nature, that a man, if able, will take from others any thing which they have, and which he desires, it is sufficiently evident that, when a man is called a king, it does not change his nature; so that, when he has got power to enable him to take from every man what he pleases, he will take whatever he pleases. To suppose that he will not, is to affirm that government is unnecessary; and that human beings will abstain from injuring one another of their own accord.

It is very evident that this reasoning extends to every modification of the smaller number. Whenever the powers of government are placed in any hands other than those of the community, whether those of one man, of a few, or of several, those principles of human nature which imply that government is at all necessary, imply that these persons will make use of them to defeat the very end for which government exists.

One observation, however, suggests itself. Allowing, it may be said, that this deduction is perfect, and the inference founded upon it indisputable, it is yet true, that, if there were no government, every man would be exposed to depredation from every man; but, under government, if an aristocracy, he is exposed to it only from a few; if a monarchy, only from one.

This is a highly important observation, and deserves to be minutely investigated.

It is sufficiently obvious, that, if every man is liable to be deprived of what he possesses at the will of every man stronger than himself, the existence of property is impossible; and, if the existence of property is impossible, so also is that of labour, of the means of subsistence for an enlarged community, and hence of the community itself. If the members of such a community are liable to be deprived only by a few hundred men, the members of an aristocracy, it may not be impossible to satiate that limited number with a limited portion of the objects belonging to all. Allowing this view of the subject to be correct, it follows that the smaller the number of hands into which the powers of government are permitted to pass, the happier it will be for the community. That an oligarchy, therefore, is better than an aristocracy, and a monarchy better than either.

This view of the subject deserves to be the more carefully considered, that the conclusion to which it leads is the same with that which has been adopted and promulgated by some of the most profound and most benevolent investigators of human affairs. That government by one man, altogether unlimited and uncontrolled, is better than government by any modification of aristocracy, is the celebrated opinion of Mr Hobbes, and of the French Economists, supported on reasonings which it is not easy to controvert. Government, by the many, they with reason considered an impossibility. They inferred, therefore, that, of all the possible forms of government, absolute monarchy is the best.

Experience, if we look only at the outside of the facts, appears to be divided on this subject. Absolute monarchy, under Neros and Caligulas, under such men as Emperors of Morocco and Sultans of Turkey, is the scourge of human nature. On the other side, the people of Denmark, tired out with the oppressions of an aristocracy, resolved that their king should be absolute; and, under their absolute monarch, are as well governed as any people in Europe. In Greece, notwithstanding the defects of democracy, human nature ran a more brilliant career than it has ever done in any other age or country. As the surface of history, therefore, affords no certain principle of decision, we must go beyond the surface, and penetrate to the springs within.

Where it is said that one man, or a limited number of men, will soon be satiated with the objects of desire, and when they have taken from the community what suffices to satiate them, will protect its members in the enjoyment of the remainder, it appears that an important element of the calculation is left out. Human beings are not a passive substance. If human beings, in respect to their rulers, were the same as sheep in respect to their shepherd; and if the king, or the aristocracy, were as totally exempt from all fear of resistance from the people, and all chance of obtaining more obedience from severity, as the shepherd from the sheep, it does appear that there would be a limit to the desire of taking to one’s self the objects of desire. The case will be found to be very much altered when the idea is taken into the account of the resistance to their wills which one human being may expect from another, and of that perfection in obedience which fear alone can produce.

That one human being will desire to render the person and property of another subservient to his pleasures, notwithstanding the pain or loss of pleasure which it may occasion to that other individual, is the foundation of government. The desire of the object implies the desire of the power necessary to accomplish the object. The desire, therefore, of that power which is necessary to render the persons and properties of human beings subservient to our pleasures, is a grand governing law of human nature.

What is implied in that desire of power? and what is the extent to which it carries the actions of men? are the questions which it is necessary to resolve, in order to discover the limit which nature has set to the desire of a king, or an aristocracy, to inflict evil upon the community for their own advantage.

Power is a means to an end. The end is every thing, without exception, which the human being calls pleasure, and the removal of pain. The grand instrument for attaining what a man likes, is the actions of other men. Power, in its most appropriate signification, therefore, means security for the conformity between the will of one man and the acts of other men. This, we presume, is not a proposition which will be disputed. The master has power over his servant, because when he wills him to do so and so, in other words, expresses a desire that he would do so and so, he possesses a kind of security that the actions of the man will correspond to his desire. The general commands his soldiers to perform certain operations, the king commands his subjects to act in a certain manner, and their power is complete or not complete, in proportion as the conformity is complete or not complete between the actions willed and the actions performed. The actions of other men, considered as means for the attainment of the objects of our desire, are perfect or imperfect, in proportion as they are or are not certainly and invariably correspondent to our will.—There is no limit, therefore, to the demand of security for the perfection of that correspondence. A man is never satisfied with a smaller degree if he can obtain a greater. And as there is no man whatsoever, whose acts, in some degree or another, in some way or another, more immediately or more remotely, may not have some influence as means to our ends, there is no man, the conformity of whose acts to our will we would not give something to secure. The demand, therefore, of power over the acts of other men is really boundless. It is boundless in two ways; boundless in the number of persons to whom we would extend it, and boundless in its degree over the actions of each.

It would be nugatory to say, with a view to explain away this important principle, that some human beings may be so remotely connected with our interests, as to make the desire of a conformity between our will and their actions evanescent. It is quite enough to assume, what nobody will deny, that our desire of that conformity is unlimited, in respect to all those men whose actions can be supposed to have any influence on our pains and pleasures. With respect to the rulers of a community, this at least is certain, that they have a desire for the uniformity between their will and the actions of every man in the community. And for our present purpose this is as wide a field as we need to embrace.

With respect to the community, then, we deem it an established truth, that the rulers, one, or a few, desire an exact uniformity between their will and the acts of every member of the community. It remains for us to inquire to what description of acts it is the nature of this desire to give existence.

There are two classes of means, by which the conformity between the will of one man and the acts of other men may be accomplished. The one is pleasure, the other pain.

With regard to securities of the pleasurable sort for obtaining a conformity between one man’s will and the acts of other men, it is evident, from experience, that when a man possesses a command over the objects of desire, he may, by imparting those objects to other men, insure to a great extent the conformity between his will and their actions. It follows, and is also matter of experience, that the greater the quantity of the objects of desire, which he may thus impart to other men, the greater is the number of men between whose actions and his own will he can insure a conformity. As it has been demonstrated that there is no limit to the number of men whose actions we desire to have conformable to our will, it follows, with equal evidence, that there is no limit to the command which there are motives for endeavouring to possess over the objects of desire.

It is, therefore, not true, that there is in the mind of a king, or in the minds of an aristocracy, any point of saturation with the objects of desire. The opinion, in examination of which we have gone through the preceding analysis, that a king or an aristocracy may be satiated with the objects of desire, and, after being satiated, leave to the members of the community the greater part of what belongs to them, is an opinion founded upon a partial and incomplete view of the laws of human nature.

We have next to consider the securities of the painful sort which may be employed for attaining conformity between the acts of one man and the will of another. We are of opinion, that the importance of this part of the subject has not been duly considered; and that the business of government will be ill understood, till its numerous consequences have been fully developed.

Pleasure appears to be a feeble instrument of obedience in comparison with pain. It is much more easy to despise pleasure than pain. Above all it is important to consider, that in this class of instruments is included the power of taking away life, and with it of taking away not only all the pleasures of reality, but, what goes so far beyond them, all the pleasures of hope. This class of securities is, therefore, incomparably the strongest. He who desires obedience to a high degree of exactness, cannot be satisfied with the power of giving pleasure, he must have the power of inflicting pain. He who desires it to the highest possible degree of exactness, must desire power of inflicting pain sufficient at least to insure that degree of exactness; that is, an unlimited power of inflicting pain; for, as there is no possible mark by which to distinguish what is sufficient and what is not, and as the human mind sets no bounds to its avidity for the securities of what it deems eminently good, it is sure to extend, beyond almost any limits, its desire of the power of giving pain to others.

So much with respect to the motive for having and holding power of inflicting pain upon others. It may, however, be said, that how inseparable a part soever of human nature it may appear to be to desire to possess unlimited power of inflicting pain upon others, it does not follow, that those who possess it will have a desire to make use of it.

This is the next part of the inquiry upon which we have to enter; and we need not add that it merits all the attention of those who would possess correct ideas upon a subject which involves the greatest interests of mankind.

The chain of inference, in this case, is close and strong, to a most unusual degree. A man desires that the actions of other men shall be instantly and accurately correspondent to his will. He desires that the actions of the greatest possible number shall be so. Terror is the grand instrument. Terror can work only through assurance that evil will follow any want of conformity between the will and the actions willed. Every failure must, therefore, be punished. As there are no bounds to the mind’s desire of its pleasure, there are of course no bounds to its desire of perfection in the instruments of that pleasure. There are, therefore, no bounds to its desire of exactness in the conformity between its will and the actions willed; and by consequence to the strength of that terror which is its procuring cause. Every, the most minute, failure, must be visited with the heaviest infliction; and, as failure in extreme exactness must frequently happen, the occasions of cruelty must be incessant.

We have thus arrived at several conclusions of the highest possible importance. We have seen, that the very principle of human nature upon which the necessity of government is founded, the propensity of one man to possess himself of the objects of desire at the cost of another, leads on, by infallible sequence, where power over a community is attained, and nothing checks, not only to that degree of plunder which leaves the members (excepting always the recipients and instruments of the plunder) the bare means of subsistence, but to that degree of cruelty which is necessary to keep in existence the most intense terror.

The world affords some decisive experiments upon human nature, in exact conformity with these conclusions. An English gentleman may be taken as a favourable specimen of civilization, of knowledge, of humanity, of all the qualities, in short, that make human nature estimable. The degree in which he desires to possess power over his fellow-creatures, and the degree of oppression to which he finds motives for carrying the exercise of that power, will afford a standard from which, assuredly, there can be no appeal. Wherever the same motives exist, the same conduct, as is displayed by the English gentleman, may be expected to follow in all men not farther advanced in human excellence than him. In the West Indies, before that vigilant attention of the English nation, which now, for thirty years, has imposed so great a check upon the masters of slaves, there was not a perfect absence of all check upon the dreadful propensities of power. But yet it is true, that these propensities led English gentlemen, not only to deprive their slaves of property, and to make property of their fellow-creatures, but to treat them with a degree of cruelty, the very description of which froze the blood of their countrymen, who were placed in less unfavourable circumstances. The motives to this deplorable conduct are exactly those which we have described above, as arising out of the universal desire to render the actions of other men exactly conformable to our will. It is of great importance to remark, that not one item in the motives which had lead English gentlemen to make slaves of their fellow-creatures, and to reduce them to the very worst condition in which the negroes have been found in the West Indies, can be shown to be wanting, or to be less strong in the set of motives which universally operate upon the men who have power over their fellow-creatures. It is proved, therefore, by the closest deduction from the acknowledged laws of human nature, and by direct and decisive experiments, that the ruling one, or the ruling few, would, if checks did not operate in the way of prevention, reduce the great mass of the people subject to their power, at least to the condition of negroes in the West Indies.*

We have thus seen, that of the forms of government, which have been called the three simple forms, not one is adequate to the ends which government is appointed to secure; that the community itself, which alone is free from motives opposite to those ends, is incapacitated by its numbers from performing the business of government; and that whether government is entrusted to one or a few, they have not only motives opposite to these ends, but motives which will carry them, if unchecked, to inflict the greatest evils.

These conclusions are so conformable to ordinary conceptions, that it would hardly have been necessary, if the development had not been of importance for some of our subsequent investigations, to have taken any pains with the proof of them. In this country, at least, it will be remarked, in conformity with so many writers, that the imperfection of the three simple forms of government is apparent; that the ends of government can be attained in perfection, only as under the British constitution, by an union of all the three.

Union of the three simple Forms of Government. The doctrine of the union of the three simple forms of government is, then, the next part of this important subject, which we are called upon to examine.

The first thing which it is obvious to remark upon it is, that it has been customary, in regard to this part of the inquiry, to beg the question. The good effects which have been ascribed to the union of the three simple forms of government, have been supposed; and the supposition has commonly been allowed. No proof has been adduced; or if any thing having the appearance of proof, it has only been a reference to the British constitution. The British constitution, it has been said, is an union of the three simple forms of government, and the British government is excellent. To render the instance of the British government in any degree a proof of the doctrine in question, it is evident that three points must be established; 1st, That the British government is not in show but in substance an union of the three simple forms; 2dly, That it has any peculiar excellence; and, 3dly, That its excellence arises from the union so supposed, and not from any other cause. As these points have always been taken for granted without examination, the question with respect to the effects of an union of the three simple forms of government may be considered as yet unsolved.

The positions which we have already established with regard to human nature, and which we assume as foundations, are these; that the actions of men are governed by their wills, and their wills by their desires; that their desires are directed to pleasure and relief from pain as ends, and to wealth and power as the principal means; that to the desire of these means there is no limit; and that the actions which flow from that desire are the constituents whereof bad government is made. Reasoning correctly from these acknowledged laws of human nature, we shall presently discover what opinion, with respect to the mixture of the different species of government, it will be incumbent upon us to adopt.

The theory in question implies, that of the powers of government, one portion is held by the king, one by the aristocracy, and one by the people. It also implies, that there is on the part of each of them a certain unity of will, otherwise they would not act as three separate powers. This being allowed, we proceed to the inquiry.

From the principles which we have already laid down, it follows, that of the objects of human desire, and (speaking more definitely) of the means to the ends of human desire, namely, wealth and power, each of the three parties will endeavour to obtain as much as possible. After what has been said, it is not suspected that any reader will deny this proposition; but it is of importance that he retain a very clear conception of it.

If any expedient presents itself to any of the supposed parties, any expedient effectual to that end, and not opposed to any preferred object of pursuit, we may infer, with certainty, that it will be adopted. One effectual expedient is not more effectual than obvious. Any two of them by combining may swallow up the third. That such combination will take place appears to be as certain as any thing which depends upon human will; because there are strong motives in favour of it, and none that can be conceived in opposition to it. Whether the portions of power, as originally distributed to the parties, be supposed to be equal or unequal, the mixture of three of the kinds of government, it is thus evident, cannot possibly exist.

This proposition appears to be so perfectly proved, that we do not think it necessary to dwell here upon the subject. As a part, however, of this doctrine of the mixture of the simple forms of government, it may be proper to inquire whether an union may not be possible of two of them.

Three varieties of this union may be conceived; the union of monarchy with aristocracy, or the union of either with democracy.

Let us first suppose that monarchy is united with aristocracy. The power of each is equal or not equal. If it is not equal, it follows, as a necessary consequence, from the principles which we have already established, that the stronger will take from the weaker, till it engrosses the whole. The only question, therefore, is, What will happen when the power is equal?

In the first place, however, it seems impossible that such equality should ever exist. How is it to be established? Or by what criterion is it to be ascertained? If there is no such criterion, it must, in all cases, be the result of chance. If so, the chances against it are as infinite to one. The idea, therefore, is wholly chimerical and absurd.

Besides an overweening propensity, a disposition to overrate one’s own advantages, and underrate those of other men, is a well known law of human nature. Suppose, what would be little less than miraculous, that equality were established, this propensity would lead each of the parties to conceive itself the strongest. The consequence would be that they would go to war, and contend till one or other was subdued. Either those laws of human nature, upon which all reasoning with respect to government proceeds, must be denied, and then the utility of government itself may be disputed, or this conclusion is demonstrated. Again, if this equality were established, is there any human being who can suppose that it would last? If any thing be known about human affairs, it is this, that they are in perpetual change. If nothing else interfered, the difference of men, in respect of talents, would abundantly produce the effect. Suppose your equality to be established when your king is a man of talents, and suppose his successor to be the reverse, your equality no longer exists. The moment one of the parties is superior, it begins to profit by its superiority, and the inequality is daily increased. It is unnecessary to extend the investigation to the remaining cases—the union of democracy with either of the other two kinds of government: It is very evident that the same reasoning would lead to the same results.

Hypothesis of a Balance in mixed Governments. In this doctrine of the mixture of the simple forms of government is included the celebrated theory of the balance in the component parts of a government. By this, it is supposed, that when a government is composed of monarchy, aristocracy, and democracy, they balance one another, and by mutual checks produce good government. A few words will suffice to show, that, if any theory deserves the epithets of “wild, visionary, chimerical,” it is that of the balance. If there are three powers, how is it possible to prevent two of them from combining to swallow up the third?

The analysis which we have already performed, will enable us to trace rapidly the concatenation of causes and effects in this imagined case. We have already seen that the interest of the community, considered in the aggregate or democratical point of view, is, that each individual should receive protection; and that the powers which are constituted for that purpose should be employed exclusively for that purpose. As this is a proposition wholly indisputable, it is also one to which all correct reasoning upon matters of government must have a perpetual reference.

We have also seen that the interest of the king, and of the governing aristocracy, is directly the reverse; it is to have unlimited power over the rest of the community, and to use it for their own advantage. In the supposed case of the balance of the monarchical, aristocratical, and democratical powers, it cannot be for the interest of either the monarchy or the aristocracy to combine with the democracy; because it is the interest of the democracy or community at large, that neither the king nor the aristocracy should have one particle of power, or one particle of the wealth of the community, for their own advantage. The democracy or community have all possible motives to endeavour to prevent the monarchy and aristocracy from exercising power, or obtaining the wealth of the community, for their own advantage. The monarchy and aristocracy have all possible motives for endeavouring to obtain unlimited power over the persons and property of the community. The consequence is inevitable; they have all possible motives for combining to obtain that power, and unless the people have power enough to be a match for both, they have no protection. The balance, therefore, is a thing, the existence of which, upon the best possible evidence, is to be regarded as impossible. The appearances which have given colour to the supposition are altogether delusive.

What then is to be done? For, according to this reasoning, we may be told that good government appears to be impossible. The people, as a body, cannot perform the business of government for themselves. If the powers of government are entrusted to one man, or a few men, and a monarchy, or governing aristocracy, is formed, the results are fatal. And it appears that a combination of the simple forms is impossible.

Notwithstanding the certainty of these propositions, it is not yet proved that good government is impossible. For though it is perfectly true that, as the people cannot exercise the powers of government themselves, they must entrust them to some one individual, or set of individuals, and these individuals will, infallibly, have the strongest motives to make a bad use of them; it is nevertheless possible that checks may be found sufficient to prevent the bad use of them. The next subject of inquiry, then, is the doctrine of checks. It is sufficiently conformable to the established and new-fashioned opinions to say, that, upon the right constitution of checks, all goodness of government depends. To this proposition we fully subscribe. Nothing, therefore, can exceed the importance of correct conclusions upon this subject. After the developements which we have already made, it is hoped that the inquiry will be neither intricate nor unsatisfactory.

Representative System, and Doctrine of Checks. In the grand discovery of modern times, the system of representation, the solution of all the difficulties, both speculative and practical, will perhaps be found. If it cannot, we seem to be forced upon the extraordinary conclusion, that good government is impossible. For as there is no individual, or combination of individuals, except the community itself, who have not an interest in bad government, if entrusted with its powers; and as the community itself is incapable of exercising those powers, and must entrust them to some individual or combination of individuals, the conclusion is obvious. The community itself must check these individuals, or they will follow their interest, and produce bad government. But how is it the community can check? The community can act only when assembled. And then it is incapable of acting. The community, however, can chuse representatives; and the question is, whether the representatives of the community can operate as a check?

We may begin by laying down two propositions, which appear to involve a great portion of the inquiry; and about which it is unlikely that there will be any dispute. The checking body must have a degree of power sufficient for the business of checking. It must also have an identity of interest with the community; otherwise it will make a mischievous use of its power.

The first question relates to the degree of power which is necessary to perform the business of checking. We need hardly excite the reader’s attention to the importance of this inquiry; for upon this, it is evident that every thing depends.

To measure the degree of power which is requisite upon any occasion, we must consider the degree of power which is necessary to be overcome. Just as much as suffices for that purpose is requisite, and no more. We have then to inquire what power it is which the representatives of the community, acting as a check, need power to overcome. The answer here is easily given. It is all that power, wheresoever lodged, which they, in whose hands it is lodged, have an interest in misusing. We have already seen, that to whomsoever the community entrusts the powers of government, whether one, or a few, they have an interest in misusing it. All the power, therefore, which the one or the few, or which the one and the few combined, can apply to insure the accomplishment of their sinister ends, the checking body must have power to overcome, otherwise its check will be unavailing. In other words, there will be no check.

This is so exceedingly evident, that we hardly think it necessary to say a single word in illustration of it. If a king is prompted by the inherent principles of human nature to seek the gratification of his will; and if he finds an obstacle in that pursuit, he removes it, of course, if he can. If any man, or any set of men, oppose him, he overcomes them, if he is able; and to prevent him, they must, at the least, have equal power with himself.

The same is the case with an aristocracy. To oppose them with success in pursuing their interest at the expence of the community, the checking body must have power successfully to resist whatever power they possess. If there is both a king and an aristocracy, and if they would combine to put down the checking force, and to pursue their mutual interest at the expence of the community, the checking body must have sufficient power successfully to resist the united power of both king and aristocracy.

These conclusions are not only indisputable, but the very theory of the British constitution is erected upon them. The House of Commons, according to that theory, is the checking body. It is also an admitted doctrine, that if the king had the power of bearing down any opposition to his will that could be opposed by the House of Commons; or if the King and the House of Lords combined had the power of bearing down its opposition to their joint will, it would cease to have the power of checking them; that it must, therefore, have a power sufficient to overcome the united power of both.

All the questions which relate to the degree of power necessary to be given to that checking body, on the perfection of whose operations all the goodness of government depends, are thus pretty easily solved. The grand difficulty consists in finding the means of constituting a checking body, whose powers shall not be turned against the community for whose protection it is created. There can be no doubt, that, if power is granted to a body of men, called representatives, they, like any other men, will use their power, not for the advantage of the community, but for their own advantage, if they can. The only question is, therefore, how they can be prevented? in other words, how are the interests of the representatives to be identified with those of the community?

Each representative may be considered in two capacities; in his capacity of representative, in which he has the exercise of power over others, and in his capacity of member of the community, in which others have the exercise of power over him.

If things were so arranged, that, in his capacity of representative, it would be impossible for him to do himself so much good by misgovernment, as he would do himself harm in his capacity of member of the community, the object would be accomplished. We have already seen, that the amount of power assigned to the checking body cannot be diminished beyond a certain amount. It must be sufficient to overcome all resistance on the part of all those in whose hands the powers of government are lodged. But if the power assigned to the representative cannot be diminished in amount, there is only one other way in which it can be diminished, and that is, in duration.

This, then, is the instrument; lessening of duration is the instrument, by which, if by any thing, the object is to be accomplished. It is very evident, that the smaller the period of time during which any man retains his capacity of representative, as compared with the time in which he is simply a member of the community, the more difficult it will be to compensate the sacrifice of the interests of the longer period, by the profits of misgovernment during the shorter.

This is an old and approved method of identifying, as nearly as possible, the interests of those who rule, and the interests of those who are ruled. It is in pursuance of this advantage, that the members of the British House of Commons have always been chosen for a limited period. If the members were hereditary, or even if they were chosen for life, every inquirer would immediately pronounce that they would employ the powers entrusted to them for their own advantage, and that they would go just as far in abusing the persons and properties of the people, as their estimate of the powers and spirit of the people to resist them would let them regard it as safe.

As it thus appears, by the consent of all men, from the time when the Romans made their Consuls annual, down to the present day, that the end is to be attained by limiting the duration, either of the principal, or (what is better) of the checking power—the next question is, to what degree should the limitation proceed?

The general answer is plain. It should proceed, till met by overbalancing inconveniences on the other side. What then are the inconveniences which are likely to flow from a too limited duration?

They are of two sorts; those which affect the performance of the service, for which the individuals are chosen, and those which arise from the trouble of election. It is sufficiently obvious, that the business of government requires time to perform it. The matter must be proposed, deliberated upon, resolved, and executed. If the powers of government were to be shifted from one set of hands to another every day, the business of government could not proceed. Two conclusions, then, we may adopt with perfect certainty; that whatsoever time is necessary to perform the periodical round of the stated operations of government, this should be allotted to those who are invested with the checking powers; and, secondly, that no time, which is not necessary for that purpose, should by any means be allotted to them. With respect to the inconvenience arising from frequency of election, though, it is evident, that the trouble of election, which is always something, should not be repeated oftener than is necessary, no great allowance will need to be made for it, because it may easily be reduced to an inconsiderable amount.

As it thus appears, that limiting the duration of their power is a security against the sinister interest of the people’s representatives, so it appears that it is the only security of which the nature of the case admits. The only other means which could be employed to that end, would be punishment on account of abuse. It is easy, however, to see, that punishment could not be effectually applied. For punishment, definition is required of the punishable acts, and proof must be established of the commission. But abuses of power may be carried to a great extent, without allowing the means of proving a determinate offence. No part of political experience is more perfect than this. If the limiting of duration be the only security, it is unnecessary to speak of the importance which ought to be attached to it.

It is necessary just to bring to notice, that, in the principle of limiting the duration of the power delegated to the representatives of the people, is not included the idea of changing them. The same individual may be chosen any number of times. The check of the short period for which he is chosen, and during which he can promote his sinister interest, is the same upon the man who has been chosen, and rechosen twenty times, as upon the man who has been chosen for the first time. And there is a good reason for always re-electing the man who has done his duty, because, the longer he serves, the better acquainted he becomes with the business of the service. Upon this principle of rechoosing, or of the permanency of the individual, united with the power of change, has been recommended the plan of permanent service with perpetual power of removal. This, it has been said, reduces the period within which the representative can promote his sinister interest to the narrowest possible limits; because the moment when his constituents begin to suspect him, that moment they may turn him out. On the other hand, if he continues faithful, the trouble of election is performed once for all, and the man serves as long as he lives. Some disadvantages, on the other hand, would accompany this plan. The present, however, is not the occasion on which the balance of different plans is capable of being compared.

Proper Constitution of a Representative Body. Having considered the means which are capable of being employed for identifying the interest of the representatives, when chosen, with that of the persons who choose them, it remains that we endeavour to bring to view the principles which ought to guide in determining who the persons are by whom the choice ought to be performed.

It is most evident that every thing depends upon this question. It can be of no consequence to insure, by shortness of duration, a conformity between the conduct of the representatives and the will of those who appoint them, if those who appoint them have an interest opposite to that of the community; because those who choose will, according to the principles of human nature, make choice of such persons as will act according to their wishes. As this is a direct inference from the very principle on which government itself is founded, we assume it as indisputable.

We have seen already, that if one man has power over others placed in his hands, he will make use of it for an evil purpose; for the purpose of rendering those other men the abject instruments of his will. If we, then, suppose that one man has the power of choosing representatives for the people, it follows, that he will choose men who will use their power as representatives for the promotion of this his sinister interest.

We have likewise seen, that when a few men have power given them over others, they will make use of it exactly for the same ends, and to the same extent, as the one man. It equally follows, that, if a small number of men have the choice of the representatives, such representatives will be chosen as will promote the interests of that small number, by reducing, if possible, the rest of the community to be the abject and helpless slaves of their will.

In all these cases, it is obvious and indisputable, that all the benefits of the representative system are lost. The representative system is, in that case, only an operose and clumsy machinery, for doing that which might as well be done without it; namely, reducing the community to subjection under the One or the Few.

When we say the Few, it is seen that, in this case, it is of no importance whether we mean a few hundreds or a few thousands; or even many thousands. The operation of the sinister interest is the same; and the fate is the same of all that part of the community over whom the power is exercised. A numerous aristocracy has never been found to be less oppressive than an aristocracy confined to a few.

The general conclusion, therefore, which is evidently established is this; that the benefits of the representative system are lost, in all cases in which the interests of the choosing body are not the same with those of the community.

It is very evident, that if the community itself were the choosing body, the interest of the community and that of the choosing body would be the same. The question is, if that of any portion of the community, if erected into the choosing body, would remain the same?

One thing is pretty clear, that all those individuals whose interests are indisputably included in those of other individuals, may be struck off without inconvenience. In this light may be viewed all children, up to a certain age, whose interests are involved in those of their parents. In this light, also, women may be regarded, the interests of almost all of whom are involved either in that of their fathers or in that of their husbands.

Having ascertained that an interest identical with that of the whole community is to be found in the aggregate males, of an age to be regarded as sui juris, persons who may be regarded as the natural representatives of the whole population, we have to go on, and inquire, whether this requisite quality may not be found in some less number, some aliquot part of that body.

As degrees of mental qualities are not easily ascertained, they must be outward and visible signs which are taken to distinguish, for this purpose, one part of these males from another. The applicable signs of this description appear to be three: years; property; profession or mode of life.

According to the first of these means of distinction, a portion of the males, to any degree limited, may be taken, by prescribing an advanced period of life at which the power of voting for a representative should commence. According to the second, the elective body may be limited, by allowing a vote to those only who possess a certain amount of property or of income. According to the third, they may be limited, by allowing a vote only to such persons as belong to certain professions, or certain connections and interests. What we have to inquire is, if the interest of the limited number, set apart upon any of those principles as the organ of choice for a body of representatives, will be the same with the interest of the community?

Plan of Limiting the Right of Voting to Persons of a certain Age. With respect to the first principle of selection, that of age, it would appear that a considerable latitude may be taken without inconvenience. Suppose the age of forty were prescribed as that at which the right of suffrage should commence, scarcely any laws could be made for the benefit of all the men of forty which would not be laws for the benefit of all the rest of the community.

The great principle of security here is, that the men of forty have a deep interest in the welfare of the younger men; for otherwise it might be objected with perfect truth, that if decisive power were placed in the hands of men of forty years of age, they would have an interest, just as any other detached portion of the community, in pursuing that career, which we have already described, for reducing the rest of the community into the state of abject slaves of their will. But it so happens (and it is a fully established law of human nature), that the great majority of old men have sons, whose interest they regard as an essential part of their own. There is, therefore, no great danger that, in such an arrangement as this, the interests of the young would be greatly sacrificed to those of the old.

Plan of making Property a qualification. We come next to the inquiry, whether the interest of a body of electors, constituted by the possession of a certain amount of property or income, would be the same with the interest of the community?

It will not be disputed, that, if the qualification were raised so high that only a few hundreds possessed it, the case would be exactly the same with that of the consignment of the electoral suffrage to an aristocracy. This we have already considered, and have seen that it differs in form rather than substance from a simple aristocracy. We have likewise seen, that it alters not the case in regard to the community, whether the aristocracy be some hundreds or many thousands. One thing is, therefore, completely ascertained, that, unless the qualification be very low, it would only create an aristocratical government on a broad basis, and be accompanied with all the evils which we have shown to belong to an aristocratical government.

This question, however, deserves to be a little more minutely considered. Let us next take the opposite extreme. Let us suppose that the qualification is very low, so low as to include the great majority of the people. It would not be easy for the people who have very little property, to separate their interests from those of the people who have none. It is not the interest of those who have little property to give undue advantages to the possession of property, which those who have the great portions of it would turn against themselves. It may, therefore, be said, that there would be no evil in a low qualification. It can hardly be said, however, on the other hand, that there would be any good; for if the whole mass of the people who have some property would make a good choice, it will hardly be pretended that, added to them, the comparatively small number of those who have none, and whose minds are naturally and almost necessarily governed by the minds of those who have, would have any chance of making the choice a bad one.

We have ascertained, therefore, two points. We have ascertained that a very low qualification is of no use, as affording no security for a good choice beyond that which would exist if no pecuniary qualification was required. We have likewise ascertained, that a qualification so high as to constitute an aristocracy of wealth, though it were a very numerous one, would leave the community without protection, and exposed to all the evils of unbridled power. The only question, therefore, is, whether, between these extremes, there is any qualification which would remove the right of suffrage from the people of small, or of no property, and yet constitute an elective body, the interest of which would be identical with that of the community?

It is not easy to find any satisfactory principle to guide us in our researches, and to tell us where we should fix. The qualification must either be such as to embrace the majority of the population, or something less than the majority. Suppose, in the first place, that it embraces the majority, the question is, whether the majority would have an interest in oppressing those who, upon this supposition, would be deprived of political power? If we reduce the calculation to its elements, we shall see that the interest which they would have, of this deplorable kind, though it would be something, would not be very great. Each man of the majority, if constituted the governing body, would have something less than the benefit of oppressing a single man. If the majority were twice as great as the minority, each man of the majority would only have one-half the benefit of oppressing a single man. In that case, the benefits of good government, accruing to all, might be expected to overbalance to the several members of such an elective body the benefits of misrule peculiar to themselves. Good government would, therefore, have a tolerable security. Suppose, in the second place, that the qualification did not admit a body of electors so large as the majority, in that case, taking again the calculation in its elements, we shall see that each man would have a benefit equal to that derived from the oppression of more than one man; and that, in proportion as the elective body constituted a smaller and smaller minority, the benefit of misrule to the elective body would be increased, and bad government would be insured.

It seems hardly necessary to carry the analysis of the pecuniary qualification, as the principle for choosing an elective body, any farther.

Plan of Limitation to certain Professions or Interests. We have only remaining the third plan for constituting an elective body. According to the scheme in question, the best elective body is that which consists of certain classes, professions, or fraternities. The notion is, that when these fraternities or bodies are represented, the community itself is represented. The way in which, according to the patrons of this theory, the effect is brought about, is this. Though it is perfectly true, that each of these fraternities would profit by misrule, and has the strongest interest in promoting it; yet, if three or four of them are appointed to act in conjunction, they will not profit by misrule, and will have an interest in nothing but good government.

This theory of representation we shall not attempt to trace farther back than the year 1793. In the debate on the motion of Mr (now Earl) Grey, for a reform in the system of representation, on the 6th of May, of that year, Mr Jenkinson, the present Earl of Liverpool, brought forward this theory of representation, and urged it in opposition to all idea of reform in the British House of Commons, in terms as clear and distinct as those in which it has recently been clothed by leading men on both sides of that House. We shall transcribe the passage from the speech of Mr Jenkinson, omitting, for the sake of abbreviation, all those expressions which are unnecessary for conveying a knowledge of the plan, and of the reasons upon which it was founded.

“Supposing it agreed,” he said, “that the House of Commons is meant to be a legislative body, representing all descriptions of men in the country, he supposed every person would agree, that the landed interest ought to have the preponderant weight. The landed interest was, in fact, the stamina of the country. In the second place, in a commercial country like this, the manufacturing and commercial interest ought to have a considerable weight, secondary to the landed interest, but secondary to the landed interest only. But was this all that was necessary? There were other descriptions of people, which, to distinguish them from those already mentioned, he should style professional people, and whom he considered as absolutely necessary to the composition of a House of Commons. By professional people, he meant those members of the House of Commons who wished to raise themselves to the great offices of the State; those that were in the army, those that were in the navy, those that were in the law.” He then, as a reason for desiring to have those whom he calls “professional people” in the composition of the House of Commons, gives it as a fact, that country gentlemen and merchants seldom desire, and seldom have motives for desiring, to be ministers and other great officers of State. These ministers and officers, however, ought to be made out of the House of Commons. Therefore, you ought to have “professional people” of whom to make them. Nor was this all. “There was another reason why these persons were absolutely necessary. We were constantly in the habit of discussing in that House all the important concerns of the State. It was necessary, therefore, that there should be persons in the practice of debating such questions.” “There was a third reason, which, to his mind, was stronger than all the rest. Suppose that in that House there were only country gentlemen, they would not then be the representatives of the nation, but of the landholders. Suppose there were in that House only commercial persons, they would not be the representatives of the nation, but of the commercial interest of the nation. Suppose the landed and commercial interest could both find their way into the House. The landed interest would be able, if it had nothing but the commercial interest to combat with, to prevent that interest from having its due weight in the constitution. All descriptions of persons in the country would thus, in fact, be at the mercy of the landholders.” He adds, “the professional persons are, then, what makes this House the representatives of the people. They have collectively no esprit de corps, and prevent any esprit de corps from affecting the proceedings of the House. Neither the landed nor commercial interest can materially affect each other, and the interests of the different professions of the country are fairly considered. The honourable gentleman (Mr Grey), and the petition on this table, rather proposed uniformity of election. His ideas were the reverse—that the modes of election ought to be as varied as possible, because, if there was but one mode of election, there would, generally speaking, be but one description of persons in that House, and by a varied mode of election only could that variety be secured.”

There is great vagueness undoubtedly in the language here employed, and abundant proof of wavering and uncertainty in the ideas. The ideas, however, of this theory, appear in the same half-formed state in every speech and writing in which we have seen it adduced. It is this mist by which it has been kept surrounded which creates the only difficulty; because it cannot be precisely known how any thing is good or bad, till it is precisely known what it is.

According to the ideas of Lord Liverpool, the landholders ought to be represented; the merchants and manufacturers ought to be represented; the officers of the army and navy ought to be represented; and the practitioners of the law ought to be represented. Other patrons of the scheme have added, that literary men ought to be represented. And these, we believe, are almost all the fraternities which have been named for this purpose by any of the patrons of the scheme. To insure the choice of representatives of the landholders, landholders must be the choosers; to insure the choice of representatives of the merchants and manufacturers, merchants and manufacturers must be the choosers; and so with respect to the other fraternities, whether few or many. Thus, at least, it must be in substance, whatever the form, under which the visible acts may be performed. According to the scheme in question, these several fraternities are represented directly, the rest of the community is not represented directly; but it will be said by the patrons of that scheme, that it is represented virtually, which, in this case, answers the same purpose.

From what has already been ascertained, it will appear certain, that each of these fraternities has its sinister interest, and will be led to seek the benefit of misrule, if it is able to obtain it. This is frankly and distinctly avowed by Lord Liverpool. And by those by whom it is not avowed, it seems impossible to suppose that it should be disputed.

Let us now, then, observe the very principle upon which this theory must be supported. Three, or four, or five, or more clubs of men, have unlimited power over the whole community put into their hands. These clubs have, each, and all of them, an interest, an interest the same with that which governs all other rulers in misgovernment, in converting the persons and properties of the rest of the community wholly to their own benefit. Having this interest, says the theory, they will not make use of it, but will use all their powers for the benefit of the community. Unless this proposition can be supported, the theory is one of the shallowest which the pretenders to political wisdom have ever espoused.

Let us resume the proposition. Three, or four, or five fraternities of men, composing a small part of the community, have all the powers of government placed in their hands. If they oppose and contend with one another, they will be unable to convert these powers to their own benefit. If they agree they will be able to convert them wholly to their own benefit, and to do with the rest of the community just what they please. The patrons of this system of representation assume, that these fraternities will be sure to take that course which is contrary to their interest. That course which is according to their interest, they leave as if it had never presented itself to their imaginations!

There being two courses which the clubs may pursue, one contrary to their interest, the other agreeable to it, the patrons of the club system must prove, they must place it beyond all doubt, that the clubs will follow the first course, and not follow the second; otherwise the world will laugh at a theory which is founded upon a direct contradiction of one of the fundamental principles of human nature.

In supposing that clubs or societies of men are governed, like men individually, by their interests, we are surely following a pretty complete experience. In the idea that a certain number of those clubs can unite to pursue a common interest, there is surely nothing more extraordinary, than that as many individuals should unite to pursue a common interest. Lord Liverpool talks of an esprit de corps belonging to a class of landholders, made up of the different bodies of landholders in every county in the kingdom. He talks of an esprit de corps in a class of merchants and manufacturers, made up of the different bodies of merchants and manufacturers in the several great towns and manufacturing districts in the kingdom. What, then, is meant by an esprit de corps? Nothing else but a union for the pursuit of a common interest. To the several clubs supposed in the present theory, a common interest is created by the very circumstance of their composing the representing and represented bodies. Unless the patrons of this theory can prove to us, contrary to all experience, that a common interest cannot create an esprit de corps in men in combinations, as well as in men individually, we are under the necessity of believing, that an esprit de corps would be formed in the classes separated from the rest of the community for the purposes of representation; that they would pursue their common interest, and inflict all the evils upon the rest of the community to which the pursuit of that interest would lead.

It is not included in the idea of this union for the pursuit of a common interest, that the clubs or sets of persons appropriated to the business of representation should totally harmonize. There would, no doubt, be a great mixture of agreement and disagreement among them. But there would, if experience is any guide, or if the general laws of human nature have any power, be sufficient agreement to prevent their losing sight of the common interest; in other words, for insuring all that abuse of power which is useful to the parties by whom it is exercised.

The real effect of this motley representation, therefore, would only be to create a motley aristocracy; and, of course, to insure that kind of misgovernment which it is the nature of aristocracy to produce, and to produce equally, whether it is a uniform or a variegated aristocracy; whether an aristocracy all of landowners; or even aristocracy in part landowners, in part merchants and manufacturers, in part officers of the army and navy, and in part lawyers.

We have now, therefore, examined the principles of the representative system, and have found in it all that is necessary to constitute a security for good government. We have seen in what manner it is possible to prevent in the representatives the rise of an interest different from that of the parties who choose them, namely, by giving them little time, not dependent upon the will of the parties. We have likewise seen in what manner identity of interest may be insured between the electoral body and the rest of the community. We have, therefore, discovered the means by which identity of interest may be insured between the representatives and the community at large. We have, by consequence, obtained an organ of government which possesses that quality, without which there can be no good government.

The question remains, whether this organ is competent to performance of the whole of the business of government? And it may be certainly answered, that it is not. It may be competent to the making of laws, and it may watch over their execution. But to the executive functions themselves, operations in detail, to be performed by individuals, it is manifestly not competent. The executive functions of government consist of two parts, the administrative and the judicial. The administrative, in this country, belong to the king; and it will appear indubitable, that, if the best mode of disposing of the administrative powers of government be to place them in the hands of one great functionary, not elective, but hereditary, a king, such as ours, instead of being inconsistent with the representative system in its highest state of perfection, would be an indispensable branch of a good government; and even if it did not previously exist, would be established by a representative body whose interests were identified, as above, with those of the nation.

The same reasoning will apply exactly to our House of Lords. Suppose it true, that, for the perfect performance of the business of legislation, and of watching over the execution of the laws, a second deliberative assembly is necessary, and that the end can best be attained by such an assembly as the British House of Lords, the proprietors of the greatest landed estates, with certain dignities and privileges annexed. It follows, that a body of representatives, whose interests were identified with those of the nation, would establish such an assembly, if it did not previously exist. For what reason? The most certain of all possible reasons; that they would have motives for, and none at all against it.

Examination of Objections to the extension of the Representative System. Those parties, therefore, who reason against any measures necessary for identifying the interests of the representative body with those of the nation, under the plea that such a representative body would abolish the King and the House of Lords are wholly inconsistent with themselves. They maintain that a King and a House of Lords, such as ours, are important and necessary branches of a good government. It is demonstratively certain that a representative body, the interests of which were identified with those of the nation, would have no motive to abolish them, if they were not causes of bad government. Those persons, therefore, who affirm that it would certainly abolish them, affirm implicitly that they are causes of bad, and not necessary to good government. This oversight of theirs is truly surprising.

The whole of this chain of deduction is dependent, as we stated at the beginning, upon the principles that the acts of men will be conformable to their interests. Upon this principle, we conceive that the chain is complete and irrefragable. The principle, also, appears to stand upon a strong foundation. It is undisputable that the acts of men follow their will; that their will follows their desires; and that their desires are generated by their apprehensions of good or evil; in other words, by their interests.

These apprehensions, however, may be just, or they may be erroneous. If just, the man’s actions will be agreeable to his real interests. If erroneous, they will not be agreeable to his real interests, but to a false supposition of interest. This it is which creates the difficulty.

We have seen, that, unless the representative body are chosen by a portion of the community, the interest of which cannot be made to differ from that of the community, the interest of the community will infallibly be sacrificed to the interest of the rulers. The whole of that party of reasoners who support aristocratical power affirm, that a portion of the community, the interest of whom cannot be made to differ from that of the community, will not act according to their interest, but contrary to their interest. All their pleas are grounded upon this assumption; because, if such a portion of the community would act agreeably to their interest, which is the same with that of the community, they would act agreeably to the interest of the community, and the end of government would be obtained.

If this assumption of theirs is true, the prospect of mankind is deplorable. To the evils of misgovernment they are subject by inexorable destiny. If the powers of government are placed in the hands of persons whose interests are not identified with those of the community, the interests of the community are wholly sacrificed to those of the rulers. If so much as a checking power is held by the community, or by any part of the community, where the interests are the same as those of the community, the holders of that checking power will not, according to the assumption in question, make use of it in a way agreeable, but in a way contrary, to their own interest. According to this theory, the choice is placed between the evils which will be produced by design, the design of those who have the power of oppressing the rest of the community, and an interest in doing it; and the evils which may be produced by mistake, the mistake of those who, if they acted agreeably to their own interest, would act well.

Supposing that this theory were true, it would still be a question, between those two sets of evils, whether the evils arising from the design of those who have motives to employ the powers of government for the purpose of reducing the community to the state of abject slaves of their will, or the evils arising from the misconduct of those who never produce evil but when they mistake their own interest, are the greatest evils.

Upon the most general and summary view of this question, it appears that the proper answer cannot be doubtful. They who have a fixed, invariable interest in acting ill, will act ill invariably. They who act ill from mistake, will often act well, sometimes even by accident, and in every case in which they are enabled to understand their interest, they will act well by design.

There is another and a still more important ground of preference. The evils which are the produce of interest and power united, the evils on the one side, are altogether incurable: the effects are certain, while that conjunction which is the cause of them remains. The evils which arise from mistake are not incurable; for, if the parties who act contrary to their interest had a proper knowledge of that interest, they would act well. What is necessary, then, is knowledge. Knowledge on the part of those whose interests are the same as those of the community would be an adequate remedy. But knowledge is a thing which is capable of being increased; and the more it is increased, the more the evils on this side of the case would be reduced.

Supposing, then, the theory of will opposed to interest to be correct, the practical conclusion would be, as there is something of a remedy to the evils arising from this source, none whatever to the evils arising from the conjunction of power and sinister interest, to adopt the side which has the remedy, and to do whatever is necessary for obtaining the remedy in its greatest possible strength, and applying it with the greatest possible efficacy.

It is no longer deniable that a great portion of knowledge is capable of being conveyed to a portion of the community, whose interests would be the same with those of the community. This being the only resource for good government, those who say that it is not yet attained stand in this dilemma: Either they do not desire good government, which is the case with all those who derive advantage from bad; or they will be seen employing their utmost exertions to increase the quantity of knowledge in the body of the community.

The practical conclusion, then, is actually the same, whether we embrace or reject the assumption that the community are little capable of acting according to their own interest.

That assumption, however, deserves to be considered. And it would need a more minute consideration than the space to which we are confined will enable us to bestow upon it.

One caution, first of all, we should take along with us; and it is this, that all those persons who hold the powers of government, without having an identity of interests with the community, and all those persons who share in the profits which are made by the abuse of those powers, and all those persons whom the example and representations of the two first classes, who, from the very supposition of their having the powers of government, must have the power of setting the fashion, and of influencing, to a large extent, the public mind,—all those persons will be sure to represent the community, or a part of the community having an identity of interest with the community, as incapable, in the highest degree, of acting according to their own interest; because this is the only resource of those who hold the powers of government without having that identity of interest; it being clear that they ought to hold them no longer, if those who have that identity of interest could be expected to act in any tolerable conformity with their interest. All representations from that quarter, therefore, of their incapability so to act, are to be received with suspicion. They come from interested parties; they come from parties who have the strongest possible interest to deceive themselves, and to endeavour to deceive others.

It is impossible that the interested endeavours of all those parties should not propagate, and for a long time successfully uphold, such an opinion, to whatever degree it might be found, upon accurate inquiry, to be without foundation. A parallel case may be given. It was the interest of the priesthood, when the people of Europe were all of one religion, that the laity should take their opinions exclusively from them; because, in that case, the laity might be rendered subservient to the will of the clergy, to any possible extent; and as all opinions were to be derived professedly from the Bible, they withdrew from the laity the privilege of reading it. When the opinions which produced the Reformation, and all the blessings which may be traced to it, began to ferment, the privilege of the Bible was demanded. The demand was resisted by the clergy, upon the very same assumption which we have now under contemplation. “The people did not understand their own interest. They would be sure to make a bad use of the Bible. They would derive from it not right opinions, but all sorts of wrong opinions.”*

There can be no doubt, that the assumption in the religious case was borne out by still stronger appearance of evidence than it is in the political. The majority of the people may be supposed less capable of deriving correct opinions from the Bible, than of judging who is the best man to act as a representative.

Experience has fully displayed the nature of the assumption in regard to religion. The power bestowed upon the people, of judging for themselves, has been productive of good effects, to a degree which has totally altered the condition of human nature, and exalted man to what may be called a different stage of existence.

For what reason is it, then, we are called upon to believe, that, if a portion of the community, having an identity of interests with the whole community, have the power of choosing representatives, they will act wholly contrary to their interests, and make a bad choice?

Experience, it will be said, establishes this conclusion. We see that the people do not act according to their interests, but very often in opposition to them. The question is between a portion of the community, which, if entrusted with power, would have an interest in making a bad use of it, and a portion which, though entrusted with power, would not have an interest in making a bad use of it. The former are any small number whatsoever; who, by the circumstance of being entrusted with power, are constituted an aristocracy.

From the frequency, however great, with which those who compose the mass of the community act in opposition to their interests, no conclusion can, in this case, be drawn, without a comparison of the frequency with which those, who are placed in contrast with them, act in opposition to theirs. Now, it may with great confidence be affirmed, that as great a proportion of those who compose the aristocratical body of any country, as of those who compose the rest of the community, are distinguished for a conduct unfavourable to their interests. Prudence is a more general characteristic of the people, without the advantages of fortune, than of the people who have been thoroughly subject to their corruptive operation. It may surely be said, that if the powers of government must be entrusted to persons incapable of good conduct, they were better entrusted to incapables who have an interest in good government, than to incapables who have an interest in bad.

It will be said, that a conclusion ought not to be drawn from the unthinking conduct of the great majority of an aristocratical body, against the capability of such a body for acting wisely in the management of public affairs; because the body will always contain a certain proportion of wise men, and the rest will be governed by them. Nothing but this can be said with pertinency. And, under certain modifications, this may be said with truth. The wise and good in any class of men do, to all general purposes, govern the rest. The comparison, however, must go on. Of that body, whose interests are identified with those of the community, it may also be said, that if one portion of them are unthinking, there is another portion wise; and that, in matters of state, the less wise would be governed by the more wise, not less certainly than in that body, whose interests, if they were entrusted with power, could not be identified with those of the community.

If we compare in each of these two contrasted bodies the two descriptions of persons, we shall not find that the foolish part of the democratical body are more foolish than that of the aristocratical, nor the wise part less wise. Though, according to the opinions which fashion has propagated, it may appear a little paradoxical, we shall probably find the very reverse.

That there is not only as great a proportion of wise men in that part of the community which is not the aristocracy, as in that which is; but that, under the present state of education, and the diffusion of knowledge, there is a much greater, we presume, there are few persons who will be disposed to dispute. It is to be observed, that the class which is universally described, as both the most wise, and the most virtuous part of every community, the middle rank, are wholly included in that part of the community which is not the aristocratical. It is also not disputed, that in Great Britain the middle rank are numerous, and form a large proportion of the whole body of the people. Another proposition may be stated, with a perfect confidence of the concurrence of all those men who have attentively considered the formation of opinions in the great body of society, or, indeed, the principles of human nature in general. It is, that the opinions of that class of the people, who are below the middle rank, are formed, and their minds are directed by that intelligent and virtuous rank, who come the most immediately in contact with them, who are in the constant habit of intimate communication with them, to whom they fly for advice and assistance in all their numerous difficulties, upon whom they feel an immediate and daily dependence, in health and in sickness, in infancy and in old age; to whom their children look up as models for their imitation, whose opinions they have daily repeated, and account it their honour to adopt. There can be no doubt whatever that the middle rank, which gives their most distinguished ornaments to science, to art, and to legislation itself, to every thing which exalts and refines human nature, is that part of the community of which, if the basis of representation were now so far extended, the opinion would ultimately decide. Of the people beneath them, a vast majority would be sure to be guided by their advice and example.

The incidents which have been urged as exceptions to this general rule, and even as reasons for rejecting it, may be considered as contributing to its proof. What signify the irregularities of a mob, more than half composed, in the greater number of instances, of boys and idlers, and disturbing, for a few hours or days, a particular town? What signifies the occasional turbulence of a manufacturing district, peculiarly unhappy from a very great deficiency of a middle rank, as there the population almost wholly consists of rich manufacturers and poor workmen; with whose minds no pains are taken by any body; with whose afflictions there is no virtuous family of the middle rank to sympathize; whose children have no good example of such a family to see and to admire; and who are placed in the highly unfavourable situation of fluctuating between very high wages in one year, and very low wages in another? It is altogether futile with regard to the foundation of good government, to say that this, or the other portion of the people, may at this, or the other time, depart from the wisdom of the middle rank. It is enough that the great majority of the people never cease to be guided by that rank; and we may, with some confidence, challenge the adversaries of the people to produce a single instance to the contrary in the history of the world.

(f. f.)



It may be remarked, that the conclusion to which we have thus arrived coincides exactly with the doctrine of Locke: “The great and chief end,” says he, “of men’s uniting into commonwealths, and putting themselves under government, is the preservation of their property.”—Second Treatise concerning Government, ch. ix. This the more certainly appears, when it is considered that by far the greater part of injuries to person committed by human beings are, in some way or other, on account of property.


An acute sense of this important truth is expressed by the President Montesquieu: “C’est une experience eternelle, que tout homme qui a du pouvoir est porté à en abuser; il va jusqu’ à ce qu’il trouve de limites.”—Esp. de Loix, II. 4.


A most instructive display of these and similar artifices for the preservation of mischievous power, after the spirit of the times is felt to be hostile to it, may be seen in Father Paul’s History of the Council of Trent.



James Mill, “State of the Nation” (Apr. 1835)

Editing History

  • Item added:
  • 1st Edit:


“State of the Nation,” Apr. 1835, vol. I, no. 1, pp. 1-24. The London Review (London: Simpkin, Marshall, & Company, 1835). In The Political Writings of James Mill: Essays and Reviews on Politics and Society, 1815-1836, ed. David M. Hart (Liberty Fund, 2013). <>.

Editor's Intro




The use of placing before us a view of the present state of the country respects the future. We may derive from it two advantages: First, a more sure anticipation of the train of events, which time is about to bring forth; Secondly, a more distinct perception of the means which we may employ, for accelerating and improving the results of a beneficial kind,—for mitigating, or altogether preventing, the results of an opposite kind, which the mixed nature of the causes now in operation is tending to produce.

The most remarkable circumstance, in the state of our country at the present moment, is the strength of the spirit of reform. The evidence of this strength is very singular. A set of men, whose pride and vanity, whose boast and glory, it has been, throughout their lives, that they were the general enemies of reform, and who, of course, found their account in it, that is, found this profession in accord with the opinion of a sufficient section of the public to obtain emolument and honour by its means—have been compelled to profess themselves the general friends of reform: of course, because no sufficient section of the public mind remained in such a state, as to hold out either support or reward to those who professed themselves of a different sentiment.

This fact is decisive. The predominant section of the public, those with whom the preponderance of influence—intellect and property taken together—in forming public opinion, resides, are proved to be reformers. This is not denied by the new converts: they lay it as the ground of their conversion. They say, that no men, not bereft of their reason, can now hope to carry on the government of this country, in a spirit opposed to the spirit of reform;—they justify their change of policy by saying, that a clear and steady manifestation of public opinion renders that expedient in government, which otherwise would not have been expedient; and as nothing in government is good, to which the public mind is permanently opposed, anti-reform therefore is not good, in the present circumstances of this country.

We accept this apology, as a justification, so far. But, if all reform is bad, the public opinion, however strongly manifested, will not make it good. If public opinion call for changes, and all changes lead to a balance of evil, the public opinion may be too strong to be resisted; but every good man will lend his utmost endeavour to effect a change in it, and in the mean time to make the innovations to which he gives way as insignificant as possible. But, on the other hand, if public opinion is right—and that question, as regards our own country, we shall presently search to the bottom—then the men who are only reformers by compulsion, and who submit to it as a necessary evil, are very unfit to have the guidance of public affairs;—that is, to have the power put into their hands of preventing, as far as possible, every increase of the public good.

To see the force of that evidence of the spirit of reform which we are now contemplating, it is necessary to consider it in its elements.

The Tory party, heretofore the proud boasters of anti-reform passions—men whose nurture, from the cradle upwards, whose conversation all their lives, and whose substantial interests, all tended to give them an abhorrence of reform, and of all the men who sought to promote it—have latterly changed their language, and their name. Instead of enemies of reform, which they boasted of as their distinction and glory, they now assure us that they are true reformers;—instead of Tories, a name synonymous with attachment to all the abuses by which the state is afflicted, and with all the infirmities of intellect by which old women are distinguished, they call themselves Conservatives—a name, the import of which we shall examine thoroughly by-and-by.

Counting upon a majority, in the late House of Commons, of persons imbued with the spirit of reform, this party tried an experiment upon the country, for which we thank them. The spirit manifested during the last general election is satisfactory in the highest degree: it has shown that the reforming mind is more widely diffused, and has taken a more firm hold of the most numerous class of the men who possess influence with their fellow-citizens, than otherwise we should have had ground for believing.

When we consider to what an extent the influence of all the property, held in large masses, was exerted, to procure the return of supporters to the present ministry—and when we further consider the advantages under which that influence was exerted—that, under the imperfections of the present law of election, (an important item, by-the-by, in the state of the country, and which must not long be permitted to remain as it is,) the power of intimidation, and the power of bribery, possessed by the owners of large property, have full scope to exert themselves, and were exerted to an extraordinary degree in the last election; and when we reflect on the result, that all this power was balanced, and more than balanced, by the combined influence of the men of small property,—we are led to the inevitable conclusion, that the middle classes, which of necessity lead the inferior, are almost wholly gained by the spirit of reform, and that to such a degree as to ensure on their part the utmost vigour of action, and to create such a tide of public opinion as will be sure to carry along with it, and that speedily, all the more enlightened and generous among those by whom the property in large masses is possessed. The ascendancy of the spirit of reform is now out of danger, and even of dispute.

The next thing, upon which we have to reflect with wonder, is the shortness of the time in which the spirit of reform in this nation has grown to such a degree of strength. This is perhaps the circumstance of the present period on which the future historian will dwell with the greatest astonishment. How small a time is it to look back upon, since a sentiment tending to reform could not be uttered in genteel society;—when only men of the firmest nerves dared to appear as reformers;—when Sir Francis Burdett, with all his claims to indulgence, was actually expelled from aristocratic society, and all but hooted down in the House of Commons, and when aristocratical men and aristocratical women generally boasted of having cut his acquaintance;—when to be called a Benthamite was a mark of reproach, and men who courted aristocratical society affected to pass an acquaintance of that description in the street.

When we reflect upon the smallness of the interval—from the time when not only all the honours and emoluments of the state, and all the powers of government, were appropriated and secured to the sworn enemies of reform, but even when the spirit of anti-reform was so preponderant as to create a proscription in society against every man who allowed it to appear that his mind had a leaning that way—to the time when now the spirit of reform has grown to such a height that it has the ascendancy everywhere, except in the House of Lords, and the court of the King: when the King’s ministers, though inveterate, thorough-bred enemies of reform, are obliged to profess that they will govern in the spirit of reform, and cannot govern otherwise;—and when even the ballot, that bugbear of the Aristocracy, can be advocated in good company without opprobrium; we are entitled to conclude that the interval will not be long before that ascendancy will manifest itself in some material results.

One of the things which most deserves our attention, in reflecting on this astonishing progress of the spirit of reform, is the little encouragement under which it has grown up to this power, in this wonderfully short space of time. It is indeed to be remarked, that it has grown up almost entirely in circles where the prospect of the honours and emoluments of the state had little effect, or even the smiles and caresses of aristocratic society—all carefully reserved for people of another sort; but what one asks with some astonishment is, how did they come by the ideas? Reading is the principal source of information in those circles; and undoubtedly they must have profited by their reading. But how little reading, calculated to be useful to them, has been put in their way? The newspapers, on this subject, have hitherto been very unsteady and imperfect instructors. It is, indeed, but of yesterday that any newspaper of influence has dared firmly and plainly to advocate the principles of reform. A newspaper also is compelled rather to assume results, than explain them; and rather to enforce the topic of the day, than to insinuate a new idea into a mind which is only beginning to inquire.

The other periodical publications, which have flourished during the interval we speak of, were not even calculated to help forward the spirit of reform in the middle classes. They were addressed not to those who were beginning political reading, but to those who were hackneyed in it. They as little thought of teaching in the elementary method as the newspapers. In fact, their discussions were of the nature of newspaper discussions, and so much the worse, as they were more wordy. The principal among them also were addressed to the aristocratical classes, and either harangued perpetually against reform, or touched it as ‘cats touch mustard.’

It does appear that the spirit of reform must have grown up in the circles of the middle order, chiefly from their own reflections; from observing, with their own good sense, the turn which was habitually given to things in parliament; how regularly every proposition which tended to the good of the Many was thrown out; how regularly every abusive institution which yielded emolument to the ruling Few was clung to and preserved. To this course of reflection we have no doubt that the exertions of Mr. Hume have rendered the most important service. The perseverance with which he showed up from day to day gross instances of the misapplication of the property of the people; the parallel perseverance with which the House of Commons protected the misapplications—in time produced a powerful conviction, that the House of Commons was not so constituted as to be an instrument for the good of the people. These were matters which men in their shops, and in their fields, even at their looms, and their anvils, could understand without much reading. And we do in our consciences believe, that Mr. Hume has done more to rouse the spirit of reform, and carry it to its present state of ascendancy, than any man living, or than any aggregate of men which we can name. Even the ill usage which he so long sustained in the House of Commons, and from all the parties which it then contained, is one of the memorable circumstances in the history of parliamentary reform, and adds to the debt of gratitude which the nation owes to this its truest and most undaunted friend.

Having seen how rapid has been the growth of the spirit of reform, and how great the strength which it has now acquired, we have still to answer some other questions before we can fix its relative importance as an article in the present state of the country.

First of all, what is to be said of its permanency? May we prophecy that it is a casual fever of the public mind, destined to have its period, and then to die away? or must we look upon it as a permanent affection, which not only never can be eradicated, but of which the power must go on increasing?

That this is an important question every one will immediately see; and what the answer to it must depend upon will also be seen, as soon as it is mentioned. The permanence or fugacity of the spirit of reform must depend upon its tendency to produce good or evil. There is no need of apprehending that the public will ever grow tired of making additions to its good. This is an appetite which grows by what it feeds on. Whatever the amount of previous additions, that does not in the least abate the relish of something more, or take from its value. The last addition may be of as much importance as any of those which preceded it, and worthy of as eager a pursuit. But reverse the supposition; assume that this pursuit of good will always terminate, not merely in disappointment, but calamity—then we may conclude, with certainty, that it will not be of long duration.

This, then, is the question which awaits us,—Does the pursuit of reform tend to good, or to evil?

This is a question, the very terms of which appear to supply its answer.

The pursuit of anything means a tendency towards the attainment of it. The pursuit of good, therefore, is a tendency towards the attainment of it. The talk we usually hear, in reply to this observation, is from the purpose. This pursuit, they say, is liable to be ill-directed. True; men may mistake their way; but they more frequently find it, and arrive safe at the place they intended. And another thing,—when they find out a mistake they have once committed, they are seldom in any danger of committing it another time. Great errors were committed in the first voyage round the world, which now are with certainty avoided.

We think, therefore, it is a clear case, that the pursuit of political good—which is what we mean when we name the spirit of reform—has a tendency towards the attainment of it, and that it only needs to be well directed to ensure that end. We thence conclude, and with an assurance approaching to certainty, that the men who, instead of giving directions for avoiding the mistakes liable to be committed by the people in the pursuit of political good, (which would be the certain course of honest men fearing those mistakes,) labour to beat down and destroy that pursuit; whose constant endeavour it is to defame it; to represent it as the purpose of none but the most wicked of men, of those whose desire it is to destroy all those securities which human beings have set up to defend them from the violence and injustice of one another, and thus to effect the ruin of all that is good for mankind—are men to whom the attainment of political good is unwelcome. That can arise from one cause only—that their interest is opposed to it. In other words, the people’s good is their evil; therefore, they hate the people’s good, and leave nothing undone to make the pursuit of it be thought odious—the horrid mother of everything which most strongly excites the terror of mankind.

To understand this unhappy position of a portion of our fellow-citizens, we must call to mind the division which philosophers have made of men placed in society. They are divided into two classes, Ceux qui pillent,—et Ceux qui sont pillés; and we must consider with some care what this division, the correctness of which has not been disputed, implies.

The first class, Ceux qui pillent, are the small number. They are the ruling Few. The second class, Ceux qui sont pillés, are the great number. They are the subject Many.

It is obvious that, to enable the Few to carry on their appropriate work, a complicated system of devices was required, otherwise they would not succeed; the Many, who are the stronger party, would not submit to the operation. The system they have contrived is a curious compound of force and fraud:—force in sufficient quantity to put down partial risings of the people, and, by the punishments inflicted, to strike terror into the rest; fraud, to make them believe that the results of the process were all for their good.

First, the Many were frightened with the danger of invasion and ravage, by foreign enemies; that so they might believe a large military force in the hands of the Few to be necessary for their protection; while it was ready to be employed in their coercion, and to silence their complaints of anything by which they might find themselves aggrieved.

Next, the use of all the circumstances calculated to dazzle the eyes, and work upon the imaginations of men, was artfully adopted by the class of whom we speak. They dwelt in great and splendid houses; they covered themselves with robes of a peculiar kind; they made themselves be called by names, all importing respect, which other men were not permitted to use; they were constantly followed and surrounded by numbers of people, whose interest they made it to treat them with a submission and a reverence approaching adoration; even their followers, and the horses on which they rode, were adorned with trappings which were gazed upon with admiration by all those who considered them as things placed beyond their reach.

And this was not all, nor nearly so. There were not only dangers from human foes; there were invisible powers from whom good or evil might proceed to an inconceivable amount. If the opinion could be generated, that there were men who had an influence over the occurrence of this good or evil, so as to bring on the good, or avert the evil, it is obvious that an advantage was gained of prodigious importance; an instrument was found, the power of which over the wills and actions of men was irresistible.

Ceux qui pillent have in all ages understood well the importance of this instrument to the successful prosecution of their trade. Hence the Union of Church and State; and the huge applauses with which so useful a contrivance has been attended. Hence the complicated tissue of priestly formalities, artfully contrived to impose upon the senses and imaginations of men—the peculiar garb—the peculiar names—the peculiar gait and countenance of the performers—the enormous temples devoted to their ceremonies—the enormous revenues subservient to the temporal power and pleasures of the men who pretended to sand between their fellow-creatures and the evils to which they were perpetually exposed, by the will of Him whom they called their perfectly good and wise and benevolent God.

If, besides the power which the priestly class were thus enabled to exercise over the minds of adult men, they were also permitted to engross the business of education—that is, to create such habits of mind in the rising generation, as were subservient to their purposes, and to prevent the formation of all such habits as were opposed to them—the chains they had placed on the human mind would appear to have been complete: the prostration of the understanding and the will—the perpetual object of their wishes and endeavours down to the present hour—to have been secured for ever.

The alliance of the men, who wielded the priestly power, was, in these circumstances, a matter of great importance to those who wielded the political power; and the confederacy of the two was of signal service to the general end of both—the maintenance of that old and valuable relation—the relation between Those qui pillent, and Those qui sont pillés.

There was another instrument—not, indeed, of so great, but of no mean potency. We allude to the lawyers. Men speedily discovered how much they were exposed to injury from one another, even in the state of social union, and found how greatly they were dependent on the protection which was afforded them against such injuries. They greatly valued that protection, and respected greatly the men who were its more immediate instruments. These men naturally thought of serving themselves by the advantageous situation in which they were placed. They wished to make the dependence upon them of the other members of the community as great as possible. This was to be done mainly by rendering the mode in which they yielded that protection mysterious and obscure. Obscurity, especially in the less instructed states of the human mind, is a powerful cause of that kind of reverence which is mixed with fear. Not body knows what may be in a thing which is obscurely seen. It is almost always swelled into something of vast dimensions and pregnant with good or evil according to the frame in which the imagination of the half-observer may be at the time. More than this: when law was obscure, nobody could obtain the benefit of it but by means of the lawyers, because by them alone was it understood. This created a state of profound dependence on the part of all the rest of the community. It proved, of course, to the lawyers, a fertile source both of riches and power. The alliance of the men of law with the men of the state and the men of the altar, became thence a matter of importance to the trade of all; and the union of Law and State has not been less real, though less talked about, than the union of Church and State. It is unfortunate that it never obtained a name, and therefore is more frequently overlooked.

A threefold cord is not easily broken. The doom of mankind might now have appeared to be sealed. The shackles on the mind secured the shackles on the body; and the division of mankind into ceux qui pillent, et ceux qui sont pillés, might have been thought to be established for ever.*

There was, however, in the womb of time, a small event, which was destined to give a turn to the tide of human affairs. A German tradesman, not one of the high classes, not one of those qui pillent, but one of those qui sont pillés, invented a method of stamping written characters on paper, and, by that means, of multiplying the copies of a writing to any extent. At that moment the voice of Heaven went forth—Let there be light! and the voice was heard in Erebus—in the deepest cells, and strongest holds of the friends of darkness.

Of this light the effects were visible, first, in the affairs of the church. The grossness of the priestly frauds and delusions had been not only observed, but remarked upon, sometimes with scorn, sometimes with indignation, by the prime spirits of the age, before the appearance of Luther—the most heroic of the sons of men, and the greatest earthly benefactor, beyond compare, of the species to which he belonged.

When the human mind had burst the shackles imposed upon it by one class of those who desired to hold it in bondage, and refused to take the word of priests for the standard of what was good and evil for human nature, it could not forbear examining the shackles of all other kinds with which it was loaded, and the use to which they were converted. The acts of those who wielded the powers of government began to be scanned, and to be tried by the test of their conduciveness to the weal or ill of those over whom, and in whose behalf, they were exercised.

That criticism, that examining, and testing, has been going on from that day to this. It has been going on, indeed, under the greatest disadvantages, and its progress has been slow. The advance has, notwithstanding, been unintermitted. The movement has been irresistibly, and unchangeably, forward; and latterly, as we have seen, it has been wonderfully accelerated.

The artifices by which it has been resisted have always been very similar. Such manifestations of it as could be punished were repressed by violence and cruelty. This expedient was at first extensively used. Still there were operations which could not be combated in this way. These were to be attacked by defamation.

The history of reform, from its first page to its last, is hardly anything but a repetition of the same imputations. Read the History, by Father Paul, of the Council of Trent, assembled for the express purpose of arresting the progress of the Reformation, and putting an end at once both to Luther and his doctrines. The reformation of religion was to produce exactly the same effects as the reformation of government is to produce at present. The people were altogether unfit to judge what was good for them in religion. If they were left to themselves to try, the consequences would be horrible. All sorts of monstrous doctrines would be propagated. Every man, or small number of men, would have a different creed, and society would be torn to pieces by the contentions of the different sects. Nor would this be all. From religion they would quickly pass to government. No form of government would content them, and property and government would expire together in general confusion.

There is wonderful uniformity in human nature under all the appearances of diversity. They who had an interest in keeping bad things as they were, behaved in the same way then as they do now. They represented themselves as Conservatives, and those who desired removal of the bad things, Destructives. And conservative they were, but of what things?—the bad. The others were destructive, no doubt, but of those things only which it was good to destroy; that is, the causes of suffering and degradation to the most numerous portion of the species. This explanation, however, of the meaning of the two words they carefully avoided then as now. They designed, and they effected, fraud. Religion, Government, were the two generical terms. They left it to be understood, that when they called themselves Conservatives, they were labouring for the conservation of religion and government; that the men whom they called Destructives were labouring for the destruction of religion and government. Now it is certain that religion and government never were in any danger. Religion and government never had in the world any but friends.

What, then, was the object of those who imputed the destruction of religion and government to those who desired the reformation of them? We cannot be mistaken in the answer. They hated the Reformation, and hoped to be able to render it odious by misrepresenting it—by affirming of it that which was not true. They did their utmost to make it be believed, that reformation and destruction were synonymous terms—that they who desired to take from government whatever made it work ill for the people, and supply to it whatever would make it work well, laboured only for its destruction—that they who desired to strip religion of all the hurtful ingredients which the interest of priests had incorporated with it, or fastened upon it, and to reap the good of it pure from evil, laboured in like manner for the destruction of religion.

The wonder is—not that these artifices, supported as they were with all the factitious power and authority of the times, were long deplorably successful—but that even now there are men who have the audacity to make use of them. There are men—a class of them—even now, who think they have answered us, or try to make other men believe they have answered us, when we desire to make those changes in government and religion, which are necessary to prevent them from being instruments in the hands of ceux qui pillent and to make them instruments of good to ceux qui sont pillés, by calling us Destructives, and telling the public that we ought to be put down.

This is a species of arguing, which is never perseveringly applied in behalf of a good cause. The reason is sure. A good cause has always better means of defence. The good things which are in it can be shown. The ill things in that which is opposed to it can also be shown; and when this is done, all question is at an end.

He who, in opposition to a plan of improvement, has nothing to offer but a vague picture of distant consequences, of a horrible nature, proves only one thing, with whatever assurance, or even fury, he may vent his prophecies: that he has his reasons, whatever they may be, for hating the plan, and doing what he can to prevent the realization of it. The use of this expedient, therefore, is always to be taken as the sign of a bad cause. It is the ‘hay on the horn,’—hunc tu, Romane, caveto.

There were formerly two sets of people who were glib in the use of this argument; the anti-reformers, and the half-and-half reformers. The former of the two classes is now extinct; they are incorporated with the half-and-half men. But in their junction they have not relinquished the old mode of warfare.

There is a class of reformers,—namely, all those who desire any changes which the class in question do not desire, some desiring more and some less,—whom they have been calling radicals; and endeavouring by that name to class with all that is most despicable in the community, till the name at last began to acquire respect; and then they changed it to that of destructives. Under that name, it is given out, that all those who desire any greater reforms, than those which are desired by the half-and-half men, are men who desire the destruction of religion and government, or who are stupid enough not to see that what they desire is the same thing; and then follows the endeavour to hunt them down by clamour and abuse.*

The force of the weapon, however, is nearly spent. Those who desire to take but a crumb of reform and leave the rest are daily losing ground against those who desire to go on reforming, so long as there is anything to reform. Why should rational beings stop short in lessening the number of things which hurt them? Why should they cease adding to the number and efficiency of the things which do them good?

The enemies of reform,—we mean the enemies of all but the crumb,—may be assured, that the public now see far too clearly the reason of the case, to be stayed by the pretence, that seeking good they will catch evil. They ask themselves, and have gone too far ever to cease asking, ‘Why should not we be as good judges of what is beneficial, what hurtful, as the men who never yet were found to offer us any advice, except on matters which concern themselves.’ Whensoever we, the portion of the community qui sont pillés, seek an atom more of protection to ourselves against those qui pillent, they are in an uproar; the evils, which are not only threatened, but certain, are the most horrible which can be presented to the imagination. On the other hand, whatever is done to take from our protection, and add to the facilities with which the trade of those qui pillent is carried on, is done with the utmost coolness. Never any forebodings of danger from that source.—The public have learned to suspect such advisers. They say, and they say with a witness,—‘When we look at the body to which we belong, and the body to which they belong, not only is the greater wisdom with us, but there is no wisdom to be found anywhere else. Look at the body qui pillent; how small the number among them who are good for anything; to whom any other man would confide the management of his ordinary affairs; who have an understanding comparable to that of an ordinary tradesman!* And even among those who stand foremost in the class, there is not one that passes mediocrity. A wit among lords is, proverbially, only a lord among wits. On the other hand, all that is great and powerful in intellect,—all that excels in any of its walks,—all the men from whose minds anything signally beneficial has proceeded in former times, or can now be expected to proceed, have been, are, and ever will be found in the class to which we belong. Why then should we not trust to our own wisdom as much as to theirs.’

Of what use is it to point to the lowest class among us, and ask if they are fit to judge what is good or bad in political or ecclesiastical institutions? We point to the majority in the class who defame us, and ask in our turn, if they are qualified to judge what is or is not good in such matters, or any other matters of the smallest importance? If we are told, that we are not to look to the less wise, but the more wise in the class in question, because the less wise are governed by the more wise, we claim the benefit of the observation for ourselves. The less wise, in our class, are and ever have been governed by the more wise; and in our body the more wise are infinitely superior in wisdom to the wisest portion of theirs. Why then should we not follow our own reason, in preference to theirs, in matters which so deeply concern us? At the same time, we are far from being unwilling to discuss with them the questions between us. We indeed reject defamation as discussion, and content ourselves with exposing it. When the public is assured, by those who wish to discredit us and our cause, that our labours tend to the destruction of government and religion, we say that we intend the preservation of both; and we ask, if government is less government when it is rendered true to its ends, than when it is to a great degree perverted from them; if religion is less religion, when it is purged of the pollutions with which the selfish interests of men have defiled it, than it is when mired and merged in these impurities? The question, then, between us is not as to our professed ends,—they are the same,—the preservation of government and religion, purged, both of them, of their abuses. We differ about two things: what are the abuses, and what the proper remedies for them. And these we allow to be fair subjects of discussion; provided always the discussion be fair. We grant, also, that they never ought to be decided without discussion, and that continued, till it has become obvious to the majority of disinterested and competent judges, that all the reason is on the one side, and only the renitency of custom, or self-interest, on the other.

As an instance of our differences of opinion about abuses, we may point to what we consider the master abuse, the want of sufficient power in the people to choose their representatives. We say, that the means exist, even under the Reform Act, of taking away the power of choice from the people, to the extent of a majority of the whole number. Our opponents say that this is no abuse, but an advantage. They have talked loudly about the Reform Act as a final measure. Sir Robert Peel has lately grounded his accession to it on his belief, a declaration which gives the measure of the man, that it was an arrangement for ever,—a new ‘original compact,’ of everlasting and indefeasible obligation.

We can state, in narrow compass, the reasons on which we consider any defalcation in the power of the people to choose their representatives, as a master evil.

We go upon the postulate, that the power, by which the class qui pillent succeed in carrying on their vocation, is an evil; and ought to be abated. This postulate, indeed, has been refused, and with cries of great indignation; but we have not time at present to examine them.

We assume, then, that this power ought to be taken away; and we say, that we know but one way of accomplishing our object, which is, to grant to the people the entire and complete choice of their representatives.

This has ever been the great problem of Government. The powers of Government are of necessity placed in some hands; they who are intrusted with them have infinite temptations to abuse them, and will never cease abusing them, if they are not prevented. How are they to be prevented? The people must appoint watchmen. But quis custodiet ipsos custodes? Who are to watch the watchmen?—The people themselves. There is no other resource; and without this ultimate safeguard, the ruling Few will be for ever the scourge and oppression of the subject Many.

‘All free governments must consist of a Senate and People. The People, as Harrington observes, would want wisdom without the Senate; the Senate without the People would want honesty.’—Hume’s Idea of a Perfect Commonwealth.

The representatives are the watchmen of the people; and two things only are wanting to make the people very perfect watchmen of the representatives; First, the perfect power of choice, which implies the power of speedy removal; Secondly, the full benefit of the press, which gives them the necessary knowledge of the behaviour of the representative. So circumstanced, the representatives will have a paramount interest in consulting the interest of the people, and in resisting every exercise of power which would trench upon it. And we reformers, till we have brought the state of the representation to this state of perfection, will not cease to have a grievance, which our best exertions will be strenuously and incessantly employed to remove.

So much as to an instance of what we deem an abuse. Now for a specimen of our remedies. The power of taking away from the people the choice of their representatives is all derived from two sources,—the publicity of the vote—and the want of power to displace a representative whose conduct does not give satisfaction. We desire, therefore, two things—we desire secret voting, and we desire short parliaments.

We know the goodness of these remedies is disputed. As what will not be disputed by those who have an interest that the question should be determined in a different way from the right one? But by what is it disputed? Not by reason and argument, by examining and showing the impotence to good, the potency to evil, of the remedies we propose, refuting all that we can urge in their behalf;—not by this, but by the stale, hackneyed resource of a bad cause, defamation—the imputation of all the vague, general consequences, which men are accustomed to dread, the loss of morals, the loss of government, the loss of religion: consequences regularly imputed to every project of change by which the good of mankind is to be greatly promoted. However, the discussion of these remedies is on foot; and the enemies of them may rest assured that it never will cease, till the public mind is thoroughly enlightened on the subject; and then they well know what will be the result.

We should now go on, and point out the reforms which we think are wanted in the other great provinces of abuse—Law and Religion; but we have been led on so far in illustrating the spirit of reform, that we have not space for these particular subjects, and must allot to them separate articles in future numbers of our publication.

After having shown how the community, as a whole, are divided into reformers and anti-reformers—for we account all those anti-reformers who cut off a slice of reform for us, and say, ‘There, content yourselves with this, for you will get no more’—we proceed now to the next grand item in the catalogue of things which compose the state of the nation,—the mode in which public men, the men wielding any portion of the powers of government, are distinguished and classed.

Among them there are now no anti-reformers. Those who formerly professed anti-reform, now profess moderate reform; and they who formerly professed moderate reform, profess it still. The grand division, then, has come to be two-fold—that of the men who profess moderate reform, and that of the men who profess complete reform, which their antagonists call radical reform: a very good name, which they who apply it in scorn are working into repute.

There is a distinction between the new Moderates, and the old: they both, indeed, cut us off slices of reform, and, like Lord Peter, with the slices of his brown loaf, damn us to the lowest pit of hell, if we are not contented with what they give us; but the old Moderates, we believe, are willing to cut us the larger slice, and for that reason we give them the preference.

At the same time we do not conceal from ourselves, that there is a stronger affinity between the two, than between any of them and the men who say that they, for their parts, consider reform to be then only at an end, when there is no removeable cause of evil which is not removed, and no attainable cause of good which is not attained.

We consider, that the House of Lords is divided between the new Moderates and the old, the new, in much the larger proportion; and that if there be anything like a complete reformer in the House, the proportion is too small to be of any weight.

The House of Commons, too, is, in far the greater part, composed of the new Moderates and the old, with a preponderance, we think, in favour of the new. Of the House of Commons, however, there is a portion who deserve the name of Complete Reformers. A few years back there was no such thing. If one individual or two betrayed any symptoms of that unnatural propensity, he was a marked man; the rest lolled out the tongue of scorn against him. Now, they are not a great proportion, but a considerable body, to which time is daily making additions, and to which the future time will doubtless make them rapidly.

It is of immense importance how this little band conduct themselves. They are in a position in which the good they may render—not to their country only, but to mankind—is beyond all calculation; and little are they on a level with the high vocation to which they are called, if their minds are not fired with the contemplation of it, and filled with the sacred ambition which it is calculated to inspire.

Till a higher station in the great council of the nation is prepared for them, it is impossible for them to hope that the powers of government will be put in their hands—or, at least, that they could employ them successfully, for the furtherance of the benevolent objects they have in view. If any remarkable combination of circumstances, not without the bounds of possibility, should place the powers of government within their reach, the fate of them and their reforms would resemble precisely the fate of Turgot and Malesherbes. They would, after a few ineffectual struggles, be dismissed; and the restoration of their enemies would only put the realization of their plans of improvement farther off than before.

There is only one thing which we deprecate more than this, and that is, a partial union with either of the parties of the Moderates. The time is not quite come for that; but it is impossible to say how soon it may become the interest of either of them to seek an accession of strength, by admitting a portion of the complete reformers to the offices of state along with them.

We consider that this would be the death-blow to the influence of the complete reformers. Of course, the most soft-tempered and flexible of the party would alone be chosen for the association in question, who would not convert their friends the moderates, but be converted by them. The body of complete reformers would not only be weakened but broken up and discredited in the eyes of the nation.

If this important little phalanx understand their own position, they will take care to make clear what their purpose is with regard to place. Their business is to make it understood, beyond cavil or doubt, that they will not accept of place, and for what reason? that they are more powerful to aid the cause of reform as they are. They are sufficiently numerous, if they conduct themselves wisely, and with a single eye to their noble end, to be a great power in the public council of the nation. It will be the interest of every minister to have them for him, rather than against him; and if the only successful mode of courtship to them be the grant of reforms, they may extort a succession of reforms from hands the most averse to the boon. Their advantages at the present moment are peculiarly great. The two parties of grudging reformers, the ‘now’s-enough’ men, are nearly balanced; of course, the favour of those, who on every occasion can so easily turn the balance, is of the greater value, and the more will be willingly paid for it.

It is clear that the vocation of the class of philosophical reformers in parliament at present divides itself into two paths of exertion. The one is, to make it, as far as their weight can go, the interest of every ministry, be it what it may, to be the author of reforms. The second is, to be the champions of the philosophical principles of government. It is impossible to speak in exaggerated terms of the importance of this part of their high calling. There has been no example in parliament, up to this hour, of a man who has deemed himself worthy of this function, with the exception of the short period,—alas! how short,—in which the never-to-be-forgotten Ricardo lifted his head. His modest nature made him think only of that part of the subject which he had the most profoundly studied. But he had formed the idea of the function with perfect distinctness, and often said to the individual who now calls to memory, with acute sensibility, the irreparable loss which the world sustained by his untimely death, that his business in the House of Commons was to stand up for principle; to allow no renunciation of it to pass unnoticed, and no slighting talk about it to go unexposed; to watch the grounds on which measures of importance were laid, and to show on what a foundation of sand everything, not grounded on principle, was of necessity reared.

The absence of men in parliament who thought themselves worthy to stand up, as Ricardo appositely expressed it, for principle, has been so complete, that a fashion has been created against it. So far is it from being the custom in that place to measure anything by its accordance with principle, that the man is reckoned fine, who professes to hold it in derision or abhorrence. It has come to this pass, in that assembly, that the appeal to reason is discreditable,—the renunciation of it a thing to parade, and be vain of. The tone of the place,—not casual, not by fits and starts, but habitual, steady, is,—that the use of reason is to be discarded in the conduct of a nation’s affairs. We believe it would be impossible to assemble an equal number of tolerably educated men, in any other part of the civilized world, among whom it would be fashionable to set reason at defiance, and to profess to act in contempt of her dictates.

This remarkable characteristic of the legislative council in England is a declaration, clear and not to be mistaken, of the interests which are there pursued. Truly was it said by Hobbes, that ‘when reason is against a man, a man will be against reason;’ and with equal truth and certainty may we reverse the proposition, and say, ‘whenever a body of men are found to be steadily and tenaciously against reason, we may safely conclude they have interests, to the gratification of which the exercise of reason would be fatal.’ We find the following apposite sentiment in an anonymous writer:—

‘All those who wish for arbitrary power over their fellow-creatures have an interest in preventing their acquiring habits of being governed by reason. Men who are in the habit of being governed by reason are not willing to be governed by any man in disconformity with reason. Hence the skill which has been employed in diverting men from the exercise of their reason. Forms, and ceremonies, and cant phrases, and subjection to all sorts of false belief, the weaker and more groundless the better, are equally favourable to the priests of all three classes; those who serve at the altar of state, those who serve at the altar of law, and those who serve at the altar of religion.’

The instruments which are chiefly made use of, in parliament, to cover the renunciation of reason, and render it somewhat less palpable, are a set of hack phrases, serving each of them as a wrapper for a little parcel of sophistry. Thus we have, ‘Not speculation, but practice,’—as much as to say, act like a beast, and not one of the best of beasts, a blind horse in a mill; ‘Wisdom of ancestors,’—as if ancientness of error were better than truth, or the everlasting repetition of evil converted it into good. Of late, the word ‘Institutions’ has been industriously employed to preclude the use of reason. ‘Institutions,’ in the talk of the anti-reformers, is made synonymous with government and religion; ‘change,’ is made synonymous with destruction. By force of this new nomenclature, therefore, he who desires to reform anything goes to the destruction of government and religion; as if government were no longer government when it is rendered good,—religion were no longer religion when it is rendered pure. What these people mean is, that government is then destroyed, when they are no longer permitted to abuse its powers, for their own aggrandizement, at the expense of the rest of the community; religion is then destroyed, when they cannot make use of it as an instrument for the accomplishment of the same design. In other words, the mischievous tendency which has been given to each by the perfidious artifices of men, is, in their sense, the essence of each. The essence of government, the essence of religion, is the mischief which can be done with them. Let mischief no longer be done with them, they no longer exist.

Such is a specimen of the artillery against which the true reformers have to contend. The resources of their enemies are poor, both in quantity and quality, and soon would be exhausted. What havoc a few right-minded men might make in a few years of their masks and screens! How easily might the advocates of bad government be reduced to the miserable task of repeating exploded sophistry of the poorest kind, which then would not only not impose on anybody, but would degrade still lower even the abject creatures who could descend to the use of it.

The persevering advocation in parliament of the principles on which good government depends, and exposure of the sophistries by which it is sought to discredit them, would be a source of instruction to the nation, of which it is impossible to exaggerate the importance. The house, however, we are told, would not bear to be thus schooled. We know, indeed, that there is a right mode, and a wrong, of doing anything, and we do not advocate the wrong mode. With all the defects of the House of Commons, as at present constituted, there is in it a certain portion of good taste, and of good feeling. If a man speaks with simplicity and in earnest, not for the sake of self-display, but evidently for the sake of what he deems a great object, and is able to bring sense and reason to bear upon his question, without violating the respect which every man owes to the feelings of those about him, he will meet with listeners, and he will meet with respect. Why should not this be done, at once, by the little band of true reformers? They are the most instructed men in parliament, some of them, at least, by many, many degrees. And practice would in time give them dexterity in the use of their weapons, the celestial panoply of reason, in the service of mankind.

Beside this general field, there are spots on which the true reformer should make a particular stand. The most important of these is property. Of this the true reformer should signalize himself as the champion. The danger to it is very considerable; and arises, not from the class of poor men, as the enemies of good government so industriously teach, but from the pre-eminently rich; who in all ages have desired to consider nothing as property but that which they themselves hold, everything held by others as held chiefly for their use—that is, with power in them to take to themselves, at any time, whatever portion of it they deem it convenient to take.

The security of property lies so deeply at the root of human happiness, especially of the poorer class, whose subsistence wholly depends upon the employment given to them by accumulated property, and who must perish when that is destroyed—that any infringement of the rights of property ought to be treated as the introduction of a devouring pestilence.

Upon this paramount consideration, it is consolatory to remember, that, of all the men in parliament, the little band of philosophical reformers have distinguished themselves with most zeal and effect to defend the rights of the creditors of the state, and to counteract the desire, not obscurely signified, of the pre-eminently rich, to make this class of their fellow-citizens their prey.

Upon the same principle it is of vast importance that, in the changes which reason recommends, the true reformers should be careful to protect all existing interests. When any source of expense, for example, is to be cut off, the operation ought to be prospective. Any person, whom law or custom has entitled to consider that the emoluments which he had been receiving he was to receive for his life, is, in reality, the owner of a life estate, as much entitled to protection as any species of property whatsoever.

Reasoning on this principle, we were exceedingly disconcerted, last year, when some of the true reformers were seduced into the vulgar cry against the holders of crown pensions. That the power of granting those pensions has been grossly abused, there is no doubt; and perhaps it ought to be wholly taken away. At all events, security against that, as against every other abuse, ought to be provided. But what is all this to the existing holders of pensions? They considered themselves sure of them for life, on a course of practice amounting clearly to prescription. They had, therefore, a life estate. And the small life estate of Mrs. Arbuthnot, of which so unjust and indelicate a use was made, appeared in our eyes as sacred, as the prodigious one of the Archbishop of Canterbury; and, with respect to the holders, the lady not the least respectable character of the two.

The operation of particular taxes—for the general amount of them is a topic for many a mouth—is another object of particular attention to the philosophical reformers. Any tax which, in its operation, takes money out of the pockets of the people, to put it, not into the treasury of the state, but into the pockets of individuals, they should never cease to expose. Such a tax is spoliation, annual robbery, established by club-law; one of those institutions of ours, of which our Conservatives have erected themselves into the body-guards. Such is the tax on imported corn, which, so long as it exists, will so long stand an unanswerable, a trumpet-tongued, argument of the need of further parliamentary reform.

The abolition, also, of any tax, which must be replaced by some other tax, not less burdensome to the nation, while the operation of the removal will be to put money into the pockets of individuals which it takes out of the pockets of the people, making so far a clear addition to their burdens, is another instance of robbery, which ought to be luminously exposed, and strenuously resisted. Such would be the repeal of the malt-tax, so clamorously called for by a class of men whose predominance in parliament has ever been, and continues to be, the grand obstruction to good legislation. No man doubts that if the malt-tax is taken off, other taxes to an equal amount must be laid on. How, then, are the landlords to find their advantage? By a rise in the price of bread; a necessary consequence of an increased demand for another product of the soil. The people, therefore, to please the landlords, would have to pay some other tax or taxes to the state in lieu of the malt-tax, and an additional tax, a tax on bread, to the landlords—to the men who already levy a tax on bread, and who would never rest satisfied so long as any other men have anything they can call their own. The poor farmers! is their cant; such a piece of naked hypocrisy, as it is wonderful even they have the impudence to put forth. The cause, and the sole cause, of any undue pressure, which may be sustained by the farmers, is the extortion of too much rent. If the farmer’s rent is proportioned, as it ought to be, to the price of the produce he raises, it is equal to him if the price is high or low; or rather he has an interest in low prices, as in that case he pays less in wages, and has thereby higher profits of stock.

Beside those objects which make stated calls upon the attention of the real reformers, detached incidents which should call them up are of perpetual occurrence. We may present as a specimen what happened the other night.

In the House of Commons, Wednesday, 4th March, 1835, Mr. Wakley asked Sir Robert Peel, if the inhabitants of St. Margaret’s parish were to have the choice of their rector. Sir Robert replied by a couple of sneers; first asking, ‘If Mr. Wakley meant the choice to be by ballot?’ next observing, that ‘the inhabitants of St. Margaret’s parish would not be put to the trouble of choosing their rector, the Crown intending to save them from it.’ This is the true style of old Tory insult; and the House should mark it—the reformers, at least, should mark it; they may learn from it what will be the tone of the courteous baronet, if they allow him to settle himself in his saddle. ‘If they do this in the green tree, what will they do in the dry?’ Because a member of parliament asks a question relating to another subject, he is insulted by a disrespectful allusion to some opinion of his, which his insulter knows is distasteful to the crowd of those who hear him, and will echo the insult. The other expression, by which his Majesty’s Prime Minister chose to proclaim his disrespect, at once to the author of the question, and the parishioners of St. Margaret’s, must have been picked up in the purlieus of St. Giles’s. ‘Please to help me up with this burden,’ says one. ‘I won’t give you the trouble,’ says the other, with a grin, and passes on. The crown would not trouble the parishioners of St. Margaret’s with the reception of a benefit! Not it, we will be bound for it. ‘The crown will not give the parishioners the trouble of choosing their rector,’ says Sir Robert; and with ten times the glee would he say, if he durst, ‘The crown will not trouble the people of England with the choice of their representatives.’ One thing, however, there is which the crown will not seek to save the parishioners of St. Margaret’s from the trouble of. It will not save them from the trouble of paying this man whom they are not to choose. Such troubles as these the crown never thinks of saving such folks as parishioners from. The more of that sort of trouble they submit to, the better pleased the crown. All that is pleasant in these sort of matters, the crown, that is, the folks who act for themselves in the name of the crown—for the crown suffers by all such doings—are eager to save parishioners and such like rabble from the trouble of; all that is burdensome they liberally and generously place upon their shoulders.

Among the objects which require the attention of reformers, Education stands in one of the highest places; though it is never to be forgotten, that the operation of the political machine is that which has the greatest effect in forming the minds of men. We are not able to go into that subject here, because it is closely connected with the means adopted for the teaching of religion, which we have destined for the subject of a future article. We confess we despair wholly of seeing any beneficent plan of state education carried into effect, so long as we have a clergy on its present footing. There might be a clergy so happily circumstanced as to have an interest in good education, and then we should obtain that inestimable advantage. The clergy of the Church of England are so unhappily circumstanced, as to have a decided interest against it; and till their position is altered, a good state-education is hopeless. We look with more expectation to the combinations of individuals; which will every day be more skilful and more energetic.

We point to colonies, as an object of attention to the genuine reformers, because the importance of the subject is seldom understood. We consider the English colonies as one grand cause of the oppression of the English people. It is not disputed, that of the distressing burdens they bear a great proportion is the work of the colonies: that a very small number of troops is required for the service of England and Scotland; that the army is rendered the most galling of our burdens, because misgovernment cannot be supported in Ireland but with the bayonet, and because every insignificant spot, called a colony, creates a pretext for a military establishment. It has been frequently said, but the evidence of it has not been sufficiently displayed and enforced, that no colony is other than hurtful to the mother country, which does not defray its own expenses. The proposition, indeed, is next to self-evident; for what does a country get by a colony, for which it is obliged to pay, and from which it receives nothing?

Let us, however, attend a little to the pretexts, by which the interested endeavour to hide this loss and burden from our eyes. They say, we have the monopoly of their trade. And both theory, and experience, prove, that it is of no advantage. How many times more valuable the free trade of the United States, than the forced trade was of the North American colonies? They say, also, that we have sunk capital in the colonies. Sunk it, indeed! Then let us follow the approved maxim of common life, not to throw good money after bad.

The value of capital consists in the annual return received from it. Suppose the capital of a colony to yield ten per cent. profit. If the expense of military and civil government exceeds the aggregate of that profit, the loss of the colony, and the capital along with it, would be a gain. But, again, why should we, the people of England, pay enormous sums to protect the gains of the colonists? We protect our own; why do not they the same? This doctrine needs only to be well preached, to be very operative in time, and then we shall have relief from a heavy load. There is not an outlying spot of ground subject to the crown of England, which is not a drain upon the people of England, with one only exception, India, where the East India Company has stood in the way of ministerial misrule and extravagance.

P. Q.



‘Tyranny and oppression never wanted either a plea or an advocate for whatever they did: for the majority of the lawyers, the divines, and all quæstuary professions, will be sure to run over to the stronger side, where will passes for law, and rapine for Providence.’—L’Estrange, Fab. 483.


The nature of these resources was well understood by Chillingworth: ‘It is an argument of a despairing and lost cause to support itself with these impetuous outcries and clamours, the faint refuges of those that want better arguments; like that stoic in Lucian who cried, ω ϰαταϱατε, oh, damned villain! when he could say nothing else.’—Relig. of Prot., Ep. Ded. Again,—‘Men are engaged to act this tragical part only to fright the simple and ignorant, as we do little children, by telling them, that bites, which we would not have them meddle with.’—Ibid.

‘Sir, I am always inclined to suspect a man who endeavours rather to terrify than persuade. Exaggeration and hyperboles are seldom made use of by him who has any real arguments to produce.’—Dr. Johnson’s Parliamentary Debates, vol. ii., p. 39. ‘Sir, to discourage good designs, by representations of the danger of attempting and the difficulty of executing them, has been at all times the practice of those whose interest has been threatened by them.’—Ibid. p. 42. In illustration of this comprehensive proposition take the following instance:—‘This was the famous act (2 Hen. c. 7) against the Lollards, upon which many of those people suffered. In the preamble they are loaded with the imputation of state crimes, as a pretence to delude the people into a concurrence with the churchmen in their persecution. They are said to be united in confederacies to destroy the king, and all other estates of the realm, both lay and spiritual,—and all manner of policy,—and finally the laws of the land.’—Reeves’ Hist. of English Law, vol. iii. p. 260. He further says, (Ibid. p. 235,) speaking of the first law which was made against the Lollards (2 Hen. IV. c. 15)—‘The meetings of heretics in their conventicles and schools are stigmatized in this act with the name of confederacies to stir up sedition and insurrection; the very pretence that had been made use of by the Romans against the primitive Christians, and which had been adopted by the Romish Church ever since to suppress all opposition or inquiry into its errors.’—We see who were the Conservatives, and who the Destructives, of those days. Our Conservatives are a little milder in their ways. Why? Because they are less able. Make them once more as powerful as they were in those days, and we shall soon see they have found the short and easy way with the Destructives. ‘The wisdom of ancestors’ would be produced, as the encouragement, and justification of the energetic methods.—There is nothing, for making people good and merciful, like taking away from them the power of being mischievous and cruel.


‘Et tamen, mi Attice, auguria quoque me incitant, quadam spe non dubia, non hæc collegii nostri ab Appio, sed illa Platonis de tyrannis, . . . . . . si ii provincias, si rempublicam regent, quorum nemo duas menses potuit patrimonium suum gubernare.’—Cic. ad Att., lib. x. ep. 8.—The high classes in Rome were better educated, and better employed, than the high classes in England.



James Mill, “Aristocracy” (Jan. 1836)

Editing History

  • Item added: 8 Sept. 2016
  • 1st Edit:


“Aristocracy,” The London Review, Volume 2: July-January, 1835-6, Jan. 1836, vol. II, no. 4, pp. 283-306. In The Political Writings of James Mill: Essays and Reviews on Politics and Society, 1815-1836, ed. David M. Hart (Liberty Fund, 2013). <>

Editor's Intro




THE advocates of aristocracy—who are numerous, not without abilities, and of whom there will be good supply for some time to come—labour strenuously to confound inequalities of fortune with aristocratical privileges. And no wonder they do; for all the plausibility of their sophisms is derived from this expedient. Were they obliged to speak of aristocratical privilege, truly, as it is—power held by a certain narrow class to do with the rest of the community what they please—they would be treated with the scorn, which a pretension so impudent and hostile deserves. While allowed, however, to practise with the forked tongue, and talk of inequality of fortune and aristocratical privileges as the same, they can hold up the advantages accruing from inequality of fortune, and by a juggle of language make them pass for advantages of aristocracy.

This is the course which must always be pursued when a bad thing is to be vindicated. The praises of some other thing, which is good, are cunningly transferred to the thing which is bad. When the object is to defend a useless and most expensive ecclesiastical establishment, take notice that the praises of religion are transferred to it. The two ideas—that of religion in all its excellence, and that of an ecclesiastical establishment, however bad—are blended together by artful language, and so closely associated, that ordinary minds find it difficult to disjoin them. When this association of ideas is pretty generally formed, the ecclesiastical sophists proceed at their case. Their business is only to declaim and abuse:—‘Base men! would you destroy religion?’ Or, if in Ireland, ‘Base men! would you destroy Protestantism?’ When all the while there is no question about either religion or Protestantism, but only about an ecclesiastical establishment which is inimical to both.

Take another example, in the abuses of government. They who desire to maintain in existence the causes of evil strive to confound them with the causes of good; and by taking them in the lump, apply to the causes of evil the praise which belongs to the causes of good. We are told of the advantages of the constitution: that is, in their sophistical language, the benefits of government in the aggregate. Well, we are as sensible of the benefits of government as they are; but we will not allow them to transfer the credit of those benefits to things which are not the causes of them, but the reverse—causes of evil, not of benefit. They may compliment causes of evil with the name of part of the constitution, as long as they please; we shall not be inclined to suffer them any more on that account. Those parts of the constitution which we hold sacred are the causes of good. By casting off the things which are the causes of evil, we think we are doing service to the constitution, in the only sense in which it deserves a particle of our respect.

Reformers are far from thinking evil of inequalities of fortune: on the contrary, they esteem them a necessary consequence of things which are so good, that society itself, and all the happiness of human beings, depend upon them: a consequence of those laws whence the generation and augmentation of property proceeds. That the prosperity of nations may advance, there must exist motives to accumulate. But these motives will operate on some men more, on some less, on some not at all. There will be different degrees, therefore, of accumulation:—and this is the origin of all inequality of property. Nor can the tendency to it be checked, were it desirable to do so, without checking accumulation, and all the advantages which are to be derived from it.

But, abstracting from the consideration that we cannot have other things which are good for us in the highest degree, without having inequalities of fortune along with them, we consider inequalities of fortune as themselves good—the cause of most admirable effects. To have men of high intellectual attainments, we must have men who have their time at their command: not under the necessity of spending it wholly, or in greater part, in providing the means of subsistence:—in other words, we must have men of independent incomes. And that we may have this happy effect, in the desirable degree, we must have them not few in number; we must have them a more than inconsiderable proportion of the population. Where the only men who are in circumstances to devote themselves to intellectual pursuits are few in number, there is not sufficient stimulus. There must be a public capable of appreciating such attainments, sufficiently numerous to give a weight to their esteem, before a motive can be generated sufficiently strong to induce any considerable number of men to take the trouble, long and laborious, of making themselves knowing and wise.

Besides this first and all-important effect, a class of men possessing leisure is absolutely necessary for cultivating the elegancies of life. This cannot be expected from men absorbed in the labours and cares of earning a subsistence. A society composed of such men would be necessarily coarse, and would have a tendency to grow more and more so: a taste even for cleanliness and neatness would be apt to be lost among them. But the laborious classes are prone to the imitation of those who are in circumstances above them; and when they see elegance, are fully capable of discerning its superiority to that which is coarse; they are refined by imitation; and it is of prodigious importance to have in each community a standard of behaviour to which they may look up; and even of household accommodation, which they may strive to imitate—if not in the costliness of the materials, at least in the style of the arrangement, and even the beauty of the forms.

  • Ingenuas didicisse fideliter artes
  • Emollit mores, nec sinit esse feros.

And even to be conversant with the refinements of life, the simple, unaffected, and true, is a kind of drawing into the path of virtue.

But while we thus value the advantages of inequality of fortune, we must say a word for the prevention of a common, but grievous mistake. They are the natural inequalities of fortune, not the unnatural, to which all these advantages are attached. By the natural inequalities of fortune, we mean those which are the result of the natural laws of accumulation; not those which are the result of unnatural restraint put upon the natural laws of distribution—that a man shall not leave his property to whom he will, or that it shall not go in equal portions to those whose proximity of relation to him is the same. The inequalities which are owed to this source are mischievous in every way—restraining the salutary effects which flow from inequalities of the natural kind, and operating otherwise as a disease in the body politic.

A few reflections will make this evident; and it is a truth which deserves our most profound attention.

The first effect of those artificially-made, unnatural inequalities, is to raise up a small number of enormous fortunes, which stand by themselves, and constitute a little class. We have only to think of the situation of the persons in whom those masses of property, which cannot be used for any useful purpose, are vested; and the influences which thence act upon them, at every stage of their lives.

What motive have they to cultivate the intellectual virtues? or any other virtues? Their business is pleasure. Distinction is created for them, by the command which they have over the things which all men desire.

Not acquiring the intellectual virtues, it is their interest to profess contempt for them, and to the utmost of their power to prevent the esteem of them from rising in the community. They hate men of intellect, and drive them away. Observe the character of those whom, not distinguished by the same gifts of fortune with themselves, our English nobility raise, as they term it, to their familiarity. Have men of intellectual superiority been much found among them in any age? The men whom they delight to honour are rhymesters, story-makers, pretenders to literature but true parasites, singers, fiddlers, dancers, painters, joke-crackers, and buffoons.

The effect of this is very great in keeping down the value of intellectual acquirements in the nation—lessening the motive to the acquisition of them, and diminishing the number of those who reach them; for this class have the power of setting the fashion, and their example forms the general taste.

This is one deplorable effect of these artificially-created and unnatural inequalities of fortune;—that they keep down the standard of intellectual excellence in the nation; in which they are potently assisted by the clergy of a vicious establishment, to whom the prospect of growing intellect in the community is despair.

Nor is their influence less potent in preventing the general diffusion of a taste for the elegancies of life. The distinction of men overflowing to excess with wealth is not to have beautiful things, but costly. A passion for running after the costly things, in preference to the beautiful, is created and diffused; the universal emulation is to put forth the gaudy signs of being rich, to the ruin of many of those who enter into this barbarie competition. Cost and elegance becoming synonymous terms, the very thought of seeking for elegance—which in this sense they cannot afford—is extinguished in the breasts of those among whom it is of most importance that the taste of real elegance should be diffused: because from them it descends with greatest ease to the body of the population.

It would be very instructive to illustrate this observation in detail, and to show how the operation of large fortunes tends to the corruption of taste, in everything to which the word elegance is with propriety applied. But we must confine ourselves to a few instances.

To begin with architecture, which is one of the noblest of the fine arts, and of which the creations, when really tasteful, have the power of calling up such a train of interesting associations as constitute some of the highest of the pleasures of imagination. By the strength and durability of their materials, uniting one age with another—by the charms of proportion, and the superaddition of appropriate and harmonious beauties to the parts essential to the use for which the building is designed—in the ornaments of which, for every purpose of taste, the idea of fitness, or the useful, must always predominate—trains of the most agreeable ideas are incessantly renewed; and with this great advantage, that the creations of architecture are of necessity public; and the enjoyment of them, like the light of day, is as much the property of the poor as of the rich.

The unmanly and frivolous state of mind which characterizes a class overloaded with wealth has actually extinguished architecture among us as one of the fine arts. It has become a low trade of mimicry, or rather apery—misjudging, misapplying—forming incongruous monsters, revolting to good sense as well as to good taste. Who but people whose taste is gone would have thought of erecting, as ornamental, a triumphal arch, in an age, and a country, in which there are no triumphal processions, and in which the reality of that barbarous and inhuman exhibition would not be endured? A man of taste would as soon think of ornamenting his drawing-room with the thumb-screws and bootikins with which the hierarchical churchmen of Scotland tortured the Presbyterians, as to ornament his street with a triumphal arch!—not to mention the bright idea of setting it astride, not a public street, through which only would a triumphal procession pass, but a by-path, leading to a private dwelling.

We have also some beautiful specimens of the rich man’s taste, in gates. A gate is an opening through the inclosure of an inclosed space. The gate of a walled city is an opening into the city through its wall;—a gate into a park or a field is an opening through the fence of the park or the field, into the field. But it is evident that there is no sense in a gate higher or more elaborate than the fence, of whatever sort it be, through which it affords admission. Take, then, as a specimen of congruity, proportion, or good sense, the extraordinary piece of stone and mortar at Hyde Park Corner, which lets people into a green field, through a paling four feet high;—and, as another specimen, the thing set before the palace at Buckingham Gate, standing totally detached from the building, like a pillar of salt, and put there it should seem only (by the superiority of its material) to make the palace look dirty and mean.

But the thing which deserves most reprobation is the despicable mimicry, substituted for ornament, in the ordinary class of expensive buildings. Every idea of appropriate ornament seems to be abandoned, in order to stick about them the appurtenances of a Grecian temple. The men of Greece did what men of sense and taste will always do—they considered what were the substantial, indispensable parts of their buildings; to these they endeavoured to superadd such shapes, proportions, and decorations as harmonized with them. The essential parts of Grecian buildings, particularly temples, of which almost solely any specimens have remained for our inspection, were pillars, and the roof which they were placed to support. The chief thing which admitted of ornament here were the pillars. What grace and beauty the Grecian architects contrived to bestow upon them is known to all. The substantial, indispensable parts of buildings in our climate are solid walls, with holes cut in them for doors and windows. The study of our architects should, therefore, have been, the ornaments which could be applied to solid walls, windows, and doors—as well by variety and grace of form, as by other congruous decorations. But our architects, under guidance of the wealthy man’s taste, have abandoned the very thought of this, and have dreamed of nothing but giving us the supports of a Grecian roof, where all roofs are otherwise supported: exhibiting mere affectation, and the utmost barrenness of invention. What an image is presented to a man of cultivated taste, when he sees that which is the appropriate support of the roof of an open building stuck into the heart of a solid wall, or standing a little space before it, with something laid on its top, to make a mock show that it has got something to do!

Music, fortunately, it has not been in the power of our rich man’s taste to spoil. It is not of home growth. The man of wealth is obliged to take it as it is made for him, in places more favourable to the wholesome cultivation of it; and one of his affectations is to profess a delight in it, which is beyond both truth and reason. In this, too, his conduct is very unfavourable to the progress of taste. The profession of the intense in the enjoyment of the fine arts, tends to working for the intense in the productions of them; and then truth, and nature, and all that is of fine relish in them, goes. There is a peculiarity well worth remarking in our rich man’s concern for music: he hates that the enjoyment should go down to his poorer neighbours. Yet it is obvious that this is a very desirable thing. In the first place, it is an innocent pleasure; and in so far as it exercises agreeably the vacant time of the labouring man, it is a good per se, and moreover a diversion from the pursuit of pleasures which are otherwise than innocent. But there is another effect of still greater importance. Sweet music is in unison with all the sympathetic affections of the soul, and by drawing out trains of such emotions tends to make them habitual in the mind. A really wise and beneficent legislature would reckon it a great point to cultivate a taste for music among the common people, and to afford it to them of a good kind. The conduct of our legislature, under influence of the rich man’s taste, and the churchman’s hypocrisy, is altogether its own. There never was anything like it in the world. It treats the common people as unworthy to enjoy the pleasure of music. Latterly the taste in music had so much improved, that the strolling musicians, who practise in the streets, had become no bad performers; and very tolerable music might be heard in the streets. That was the moment for declaring war against it; and now it is all but prohibited: as it is, in those only other places, where it was in the power of the common people to enjoy it—the places of cheap resort. If there was danger, as no doubt there was, of improprieties in those places of unregulated resort, what was to be done? Why, to afford the same, or better amusement, in places properly regulated.

In painting and sculpture, the taste of the man of wealth is notorious and proverbial: it is pure selfishness. His money is all lavished on old pictures—the reverse of encouragement to the making of new—and on portraits. The old pictures he carries home, where he is proud of them as signs of his wealth, and shuts them up from public inspection, which is almost their only use. Portrait-painting, and portrait-sculpture, the very lowest branches of the art, are the branches which he really encourages: so that, in the higher departments, very few attempts are made; and the art in this country is stationary, or worse. We do not, however, regard this as much of a misfortune. To the body of the population, pictures and statues can never render very valuable service: they are but poor arts; and the pleasures they give are but little connected with any of those mental states which we are interested in cultivating. The exhibition of the human form in its ideal perfection is the best thing they do; and that is something. The perfection of the female form calls up ideas of love; and of the male form, ideas of dignity, or of force. But these are states of mind which nature provides for. In telling a story, to call out the affections, the brush and the chisel are very defective: their resources are confined. Except by some hideous exhibition, as that of the Laocoontes, or Ugolino, the emotions raised are faint.

In respect of this art, there is in the behaviour of the men of wealth in this country to the rest of the community, something characteristic, and singularly worthy of attention. Under pretence of improving the taste of the people, they get the community, as often as possible, to buy certain articles, which serve exclusively for their own enjoyment; and while they are doing so, exclude the people, about whose taste they are so anxious, from the enjoyment of the beauties of nature—a source of the greatest improvement—by shutting up paths, which are the people’s right, and from which they are excluded only by the right of the stronger, or, in plain English, robbery.

We are accustomed, no doubt, to acts of rapacity on a larger scale; but there never was in degree a more profligate instance of the abuse of public money than the purchase of two Corregios the other year, by money extracted from the pockets of an overburthened population. Why did not the men of wealth, if they wanted such things—nobody else did—purchase them with their own money? The pretence that the purchase was for the good of the people, even after all our experience of impudent pretences, was astounding. Our legislators gave 11,000l. for two Correggios, and had but 20,000l. to spare for the education of the people, and could not at all relieve them from the taxes on knowledge! Oh, brave!

We come now to an art, which is of greater importance, than all the rest taken together, the art of conversation.

When a society exists, well constituted for the pursuit of intellectual attainments and of the elegancies of life, a style of social intercourse is cultivated, which whets the understanding, and improves at once the morals and the taste. Men of independent, but few enormous incomes, sufficiently numerous to form a class and a public, are obliged to seek distinction among themselves by qualities which recommend them to the respect and affection of their fellows. These are, the high qualities of the intellect, the practice of virtue, the endearing affections, and elegance of deportment in life. In the social intercourse of persons so circumstanced, the principal ambition must be to make manifest the possession of such qualities. It needs but little stretch of imagination to see the consequences. Think what a society must be, in which all that is respectable in intellect and correct in conduct is the object of display: what effusions of knowledge,—what ingenuity of discussion,—what patience with the ignorant,—what gentleness in the contest of differing opinions,—what tasteful disquisitions on the slighter ornaments of life, and what grace in the enjoyment and display of them! Social intercourse of this kind is a school of all that is grand and lovely in human nature. And where such is the style of that intercourse in the leading class—a class not separated from, but intimately mixed with, the rest of the community, the imitation of it is inevitable. The community becomes intellectual and refined. Please call to mind that this is the state of things, which a vapouring man, a needy dependent of the aristocracy, said was to tread down all that is ornamental in society “under the hoofs of a swinish multitude:” a formula which was greedily taken up by those who thought themselves made of a different clay from the “swinish multitude;” and actively made use of, till they found it would no longer do. The “swinish multitude” now know that they are a potent multitude; and they will no longer be trodden down under heels however high-born and genteel.

We have now to consider the style of social intercourse which is generated by the circumstances of a society composed of men of overgrown wealth. The distinction of these men arises from their wealth; and for the most part they seek no other distinction. This is a fruitful source of consequences. High mental qualifications, not being the cause of distinction to such men, are not possessed by them. They cannot take part in conversations where these are displayed. They therefore banish them from their society. It is voted ungenteel to be the introducer of a serious subject; and the frivolity of the conversation in the high circle is proverbial and notorious. Pope, who often hit off characteristic features with great felicity, gave a taste of aristocratic conversation, in speaking of the heads of the aristocratic circle, Kings:

  • ————“Heard every lord declare
  • His noble sense of op’ras and the fair.”

The writers of books of entertainment, in verse or prose, and suited to the aristocratical taste, also men who can vent the cant of criticism, or who have got by heart and can spout flashy passages out of books, and come out occasionally with bits of knowledge or pretended knowledge, are admitted into this high society; but men of solid acquirements are not there; and the others are admitted on terms sufficiently humiliating. Mr. Moore, though one of the most favoured of the admissibles, complains that he was invited not as part of the company, but as one who could help to entertain the company. Observe also the distinctions they make; who they are whom they favour, and who they are whom they neglect; they make this man a pensioner, the other man a baronet; and the only great poet we have had since Milton, they made a gauger.

So much for what is gained in intellect by the social intercourse of high people. Let us next see what is gained in morals and refinement. Their conversation has two tones, and two only; that of mockery, and that of vehement admiration. These are the tones naturally assumed by men who think themselves superior to all others, and that upon the worst of grounds. To talk of plain things in a plain way is below the dignity of such people; the herd of mankind do that: they never talk but to show what they think of themselves; that is, with contempt of all the rest of the world; and with strained admiration of their own set, and the things which distinguish it. How prodigious their admiration of pictures!—because pictures are a luxury confined to themselves; of expensive music, for the same reason: of fine houses, fine horses, and fine dogs. The intense in admiration is in itself bad; hostile in the highest degree to the progress of taste; and the infallible criterion of a feeble understanding. When it is exclusively bestowed on frivolous objects, it is hostile to every thing that is valuable in the human mind.

But if their admiring tone is thus injurious, their disdainful tone is infinitely more so. What is desirable above all things in society is a spirit of mutual benevolence; a kindly feeling towards one another pervading the whole community. To this the tone of scorn and mockery is in direct hostility. Sympathetic kindness does not inhabit the breast along with contempt. Scorn is the natural expression of the hostile mind, where other manifestations of it are not permitted; and the indulgence of scorn is the plentiful feeder of the hostile mind. The hostile mind, therefore, is proved; and that we do not feel the more cruel effects of it, is only because they in whom it exists dare not attempt them. How deeply we are indebted to our power of striking terror! If it were not for this, we should be in the condition of the most miserable of mankind. Do you ask any further proof than the nature of the case affords? Look at Ireland.

It is thus evident, that society derives no improvement from the style of conversation and social intercourse which take place in a class of men of overgrown wealth. It is, on the other hand, the main cause why the state of intellect, of morals, and of taste, is in this country at the low point at which, in each of these respects, it remains; nor will there be any change for the better, till the influence of that class ceases to be predominant.

We have as yet considered only the effects upon society produced by a class of men possessing large fortunes, secured by special laws against distribution, without political privileges. We are now going to consider what effects are produced by the addition of political privileges.

A privilege means, a beneficial something conferred upon an individual, or class of individuals; in which the rest of the community are not permitted to share. These privileges are always some one of three things—money, or dignity, or power. The privilege is the most perfect when it combines, as it commonly does, all the three. Let us see how they, severally and respectively, work.

By the money-privilege is not meant the enjoyment of a man’s own property, whether large or small; for that belongs to every member of the community, one as much as another. It is money peculiarly allotted. The most remarkable case of this which has been actually exemplified, is that exemption from taxes which formerly was one of the privileges of the nobility in France. The sinecure places in England, once of great amount, reserved for distribution among the people of rank, is another instance of the same thing. It is not necessary to allude to more; and it is very evident what this benefit in the case of the few is composed of. It is composed of oppression to the many. There is so much taken from the many, that it may without reason be given to the few. This kind of privilege therefore is always wicked. And we must not permit the friends of this wickedness to confound it, which they like to do, with another thing which is not wicked,—the reward of important service. That is no privilege. What is so bestowed by the people is bestowed for their advantage, to secure them a supply of eminent services; and if such rewards are honestly conferred, any individual in the community, as much as another, may aspire to them.

The reflections which apply to factitious dignity are of kin to the above. We say factitious dignity, because it is that alone which has anything of privilege in it. Dignity, from its natural sources, from superior wisdom, superior beneficence, superior elegance, is open to the aspirations of all the community; even the dignity which springs from the associations we have with superior wealth, the effects of which are of a more mixed character, is not withheld from any member of the community who can manage to become rich. The dignity we mean is the dignity which is conferred by artificial distinctions; by titles, by precedencies, or any of the other contrivances, by which, apart from the natural causes of dignity, elevation is given to an individual or a class.

A reflection is called forth upon this subject, which is of the highest importance, and which has been far too long in attracting the notice which it ought; for, out of what is this dignity to the one, or to the few, created? The answer is indisputable: the degradation of the rest. A man is elevated above others, only by making others lower than him. But if I am made lower than another man without reason, that is an injury to me: it is injustice and oppression. If another man’s pocket is filled out of mine, all the world acknowledges the oppression; but my dignity is dearer to me than my wealth. If then my dignity is lessened to augment the dignity of another man. I am injured in a more precious part.

The contrivance to degrade a community for the elevation of a few is not a happy contrivance: it is unrighteous in the purpose, and it is grievous in the effects. A degraded community is not an object of comfortable contemplation. It is a community, in which all the valuable qualities of human nature are in a lower state than they would be, if that fatal cause of depression did not exist.

When a man has attained to eminence by intellectual acquirements, by a course of beneficent conduct to his fellow-creatures, by presenting a model of what is amiable in his amusements and tastes, or, lastly, by the honourable accumulation of wealth, why should he be robbed of any portion of the dignity which those merits are calculated to confer? But this robbery he sustains, when a portion of dignity is taken from him, in order to make an addition to the dignity of somebody else: when an elevation to somebody else is created out of his degradation. The motives to the highest degree of well-doing in every line are then the most operative when this well-doing leads to the highest distinction. But the highest distinction is to be at the top. To whatever extent therefore the highest degree of well-doing is prohibited from reaching the top, to that degree the motive to it is taken away; and to that degree is the virtue of the community kept down. Then only will virtue be at the highest when the præmia virtutis are at the highest. But artificial ranks are a contrivance to prevent the præmia virtutis to be at the highest. To have a high rank, therefore, we must have a low virtue; that is part, and but a part, of the price we must pay for the article.

But of the kinds of privilege, that which consists in political powers is by far the most important. We do not mean to enter into a detailed exposition of its effects; but the particulars to which we shall advert will be allowed to deserve the most profound attention.

A privilege made of political power, must be made either of judicial power, administrative power, or legislative power. In our own country we have specimens of all the ways. The highest of all our tribunals, the tribunal of last resort, is composed of hereditary judges. The whole of the administrative power in a mass, is placed in the hands of an individual by the right of descent; which individual has also a great share of judicial power, in the exclusive right of pardoning: and as the legislative power in this country, according to the received theory of the constitution, is divided into three parts, two of the three parts exist in the shape of privilege, and only one is free.

No one disputes, that there ought to be no political power which does not exist for the good of the community; and that if in any quarter there is a single particle of it, in any shape, which is not for the good of the community, it ought to be abolished. And why?—not merely because it is superfluous; but because it is noxious. Political power is the power of commanding; and that implies the obligation of obeying. But why should I be subjected to the degradation, and the hardship, which may be to any degree, of submitting to the commands of any one, when it is for no good? Above all, why should the millions composing the community be subjected to the degradation and oppression of obeying any one’s commands, when it is for no good?

But the most weighty consideration of all yet remains to be stated. All political power which exists in the shape of privilege has a tendency to be mischievously used. This in fact is true of all political power; and therefore all wise men are for putting adequate checks upon it; that is, so ordering matters, that it shall be against the interest of those who hold it, not to make a good use of it. But all that portion of it which is allotted in the shape of privilege, is, to a certain degree, placed out of the reach of check. So far as it is so, it is most unwisely allotted. It is a power put into the hands of individuals, to be used for their own advantage, at the expense of the rest of the community.

But to set up a class or order of men, by giving them powers which they may use for their own advantage, at the expense of the rest of the community, is to set up a body of enemies to the rest of the community; for they will be sure to act like enemies; which is, to prosecute their own advantage to the utmost, regardless of the mischief they do to the rest of the community. Their constant endeavour will be, to give to their power the most extensive operation possible. It will be gilded with all sorts of false colours. Writers will be hired, some with money, some with smiles, to serve it with all the powers of sophistry. The writers who expose it, will be pursued with calumny, if there be no more direct mode of persecuting and putting them down. If there be, they will be thrown into gaols, and robbed of their property, till their ruin is consummated.

Such men full well know, that in the attainment of good government their power of serving themselves at the expense of the community will be taken away. There is nothing, therefore, which they hate with so much intensity as any approach to good government, and the men who are working with any effect towards the attainment of it. If they could poison all such men with their looks, what a heartfelt joy it would be to them! In the meantime, they do what they can with their pestilential breath: they strive to poison their reputations. The man who appears as an advocate for good government they call a wretch, who wants to destroy government and substitute anarchy; the man who exposes the abominations of an unwholesome ecclesiastical establishment they call an Atheist, and would have us believe that he is as much detested by the Almighty as he is by them.

It is very unfortunate, when a state possesses within itself a body of enemies, such as this. However, in committing the folly of giving the powers which make men the enemies of their fellow-citizens, the greatest mischief is done by giving legislative powers. So long as the legislative power is well placed, there is a remedy. The command of the legislative power is the supreme command; and it can set bounds to the exercise of all subordinate powers, and keep it within the path of utility—at least, of harmlessness. But when the power of legislation is put in the hands of those who have an interest in using it for their own purposes, the descent to evil is prone and irresistible.

In making these reflections, no man can forbear turning his thoughts to the situation of England in respect to its legislature. Nearly one-half of the legislative power is placed in the hands of men who, by the tenure on which they hold it, are of necessity converted into a body of enemies, of the kind we have just described. The great object of their dread is, as we have seen, every approach to good government. Their earnest desire, of course, is to prevent it; and the fact is—a lamentable fact assuredly—that they have it completely in their power to do so.

The existence of this power is an evil, so great, that all other grievances in the state sink into nothing compared with it. That a clear-sighted and resolute people will not always endure it, is not to be feared; but how long it may contrive to carry on its work, by fair words, and by little concessions, well-timed, it is not easy to foresee: especially so long as those who take the lead of the people in opposing them, afford them so much encouragement, by the faintness of their desire for the progress of good government, and the feebleness with which they urge even the reforms which they approve.

In the meantime, it behoves the people of this country deliberately to mature their thoughts, about the mode of meeting so great an evil, the removal of which is a matter of necessity.

In taking measures for removing evils in the machinery of government, it is good to accomplish the object (if accomplished it be, for half measures only indicate a weakness, which gives boldness to resistance, and adds to the difficulties of farther improvement)—with as little change as possible. We think that the power of the Lords to effect the incredible mischiefs, involved in their power of frustrating all schemes of improvement, might be taken away by a change very little perceptible. Let it be enacted, that if a bill, which has been passed by the House of Commons, and thrown out by the House of Lords, is renewed in the House of Commons in the next session of parliament, and passed, but again thrown out by the House of Lords, it shall, if passed a third time in the House of Commons, be law, without being sent again to the Lords.

What is put forward, as the great, and almost sole advantage of having two houses of legislation, is the security which it provides for mature deliberation; for it never can be thought by any man who has the blessing of reason, that there ought to be two authorities in a state, the one capable of barring whatever the other would do. This would be a scheme to arrest the powers of legislation, and set the whole vessel afloat without a carpenter and without a pilot. It is quite certain that if there be two authorities, one or other must have the means of prevailing in the long run. The only question then is, to which of our two houses of parliament that power should belong. And this, we believe, we may consider as a question decided. We do not suppose that the Duke of Wellington himself would pronounce for the House of Lords. Whether he would discern the consequences may be doubtful; but this he would certainly see, that it would not be submitted to. If anywhere there be two legislative assemblies—one under efficient obligations to legislate for the good of the community, the other under no obligations but to legislate for their own good—the power of prevailing in the long run, given to one or the other, involves the whole of the difference between good government and bad. The powers of legislation exercised for the good of the people is good government; the powers of legislation exercised for the good of any set of men is bad government, and is naturally carried to excess; for the good of the set can only be pursued at the expense of the community. The set are, therefore, always in fear. Fear is essentially cruel. Every thing which looks like opposition is savagely punished; terror is the security in which they confitle; and the reign of terror is theirs.

The expedient which we propose would be an effectual antidote to those evils, and would at the same time afford all the security against precipitate legislation which can be derived from a House of Lords. We are happy to see that Mr. Roebuck has taken up the idea of this expedient, and has given notice of a motion on the subject for next session of parliament. We think, however, that he has given too little time for consummating the operation. The evil will be alleged of postponing good measures; but on most of the measures on which immediate decision is of importance, there is not much likelihood of opposition between the two Houses; and on the great questions of constitutional improvement a little delay is not a great evil. Take, for example, the questions of the ballot, of shortening the duration of parliaments, of equalizing the constituencies, the interval which we propose between the first passing of a bill for any of these great objects in the House of Commons, and the time for its becoming law independently of the votes of the Lords, would not have many evil consequences, and the strong attention which would be kept fixed upon it in the meantime, would make it better understood, and more sure in its operation.

If we are told that this expedient of ours would no doubt be effectual to its end, if we could obtain it, but that to such a measure as this the Lords will never give their consent; we answer that, in a case of necessity, what cannot be obtained in one way must in another; and the probability is, that this being seen by the Lords, they will not hold out to the last. But if they do, the House of Commons have only to proceed a step farther, and declare that bills, as passed by them a certain number of times, and at certain intervals, are law. This resolution the people would had with transport, and make the enactments laws by their obedience; and from that moment the House of Lords is blotted out. The thing would be done as quietly as passing a money bill. Collision! What could they do? They would draw the sword. So do a gang of as many smugglers on the coast, but this does not alarm the nation.

We shall be told perhaps, that the judges would not recognise such laws, and would refuse to enforce them. A good many of them would have an itching that way, we have no manner of doubt; but they are men who look which way the wind blows. When the nation, and the nation’s representatives, in their determination to effect the removal of an intolerable evil, have not allowed the House of Lords to stand in the way, the judges will not be slow to infer that neither will they be allowed to stand in the way. It is easy to supply the place of judges who set themselves up against the legislature.

It has been hinted by Lord John Russell (for he is one of those who like to make themselves known by circumlocution, rather than by plain speaking, when their inclinations and those of the community are not quite in accord) that there is no occasion for any reform of the House of Peers; and in this he has been copied, which was a matter of course, by the Attorney-General. To be sure, their arguments are not calculated to make great impression. The Lords, they tell us, will grow wiser. We therefore have their word for this great event, on which so much of our happiness depends; and it much concerns us to consider the value of it. First of all, we must think who the men are, who call upon us for such a stretch of our confidence, upon a matter to us of infinite moment. What if they are mistaken in their word, thus pledged for the Lords? Will it not be a great satisfaction to us to find ourselves the victims of aristocratic misrule, because Lord John Russell and the Attorney-General told us not to expect it? Let us, therefore, deliberately ask ourselves, whether it is more likely that they are mistaken in this word of theirs, or the contrary? If we should suppose, with them, that the light which is shining upon the rest of the community, and which may be expected, as they justly say, to shine every year with greater and greater force, will not permit the Lords to remain in the same thick darkness in which they are as yet immersed, will their greater degree of intelligence render them less disposed to pursue their own interests? Is such a supposition as this agreeable to our experience of human nature? Will not the Lords like to have power, as well after the wisdom of their inferiors has forced itself in some degree among them, as before? And will they not like as well to make that power available to their own ends, at the expense of the community? It is not to the ignorance of the aristocracy that we owe all our evils, but to a much deeper rooted cause—the preference which every man has of himself to another. Do Lord John and the Attorney-General really advise us to submit to the miseries of aristocratic misrule, till the wisdom of the Lords gets the better of this propensity? The shallowness of the view in which such a thought could originate is not the least remarkable thing in this emphatic advice. Lord John and his colleagues only expect this degree of wisdom to exist among the Lords, when it exists to such a degree in the community that they cannot remain devoid of it. This implies a state of things in which no man prefers himself to his neighbour—a state in which every man values his neighbour’s good as much as his own; for assuredly Lord John and his colleagues will admit that the Lords are the very last portion of the community whom this angelical spirit will reach. But is it possible Lord John and his colleagues should not see, that when the human mind has reached this stage of perfection, every man governs himself accurately, according to the truest principles of well-doing; and all government by others becomes useless; government ceases to exist. It follows with the force of demonstration, that we may trust to the wisdom of the Lords for their assent to good government, then, when government altogether becomes unnecessary, and not one moment sooner.

There is only one other pretence we can think of, which can be held up in favour of Lord John’s advice—that the Lords will grow wise enough to see the danger of resisting the will of the people.

To trust to this security is not in our opinion a wise scheme of governing; and to recommend it would assuredly be a great inconsistency in Lord John. Lord John is one of that class, or tribe, or sect, who dread the people. The impetus of the people is, according to them, one of the great evils in society, against which adequate securities can hardly ever be taken; and yet it is here proposed to make it an ever-acting power in the state. Where one power is employed for the counteraction of another, it must work whenever the other works. But the will of the Lords to benefit themselves at the expense of the rest of the community is in perpetual action;—so then must the impetus of the people, which restrains it. This, in the opinion of reformers, is not a desirable state of things, even if we were to admit the inadmissible supposition that it could exist permanently. It would imply a state of perpetual excitement; and what would add enormously even to that evil—a feeling of hostility between the higher and other classes in perpetual and vehement action. To be in this state is, as far as it goes, to be in a state of anarchy. The aim of all the arrangements of government, so far as they have not grown like trees, as Sir James Mackintosh would have them, but have been made under the guidance of reason, with a view to public good, is to trust no important series of results to uncertain causes—to impulses, which may or may not have place.

Lord John, and they whose thoughts run in the same channel with his, talk to us loudly about institutions; hold a language about institutions, as if no body had a regard for them but themselves; taking care, a large proportion of them, to include all abuses under the name of institutions. Well, then, we desire them to remark, that we, whom they calumniate as the enemies of institutions, because we are the enemies of abuses, are for checking the Lords by an institution; just as we are for securing all the other points of good government by institutions, and not by the irregular impulses of the people. Our institution, too, is the simplest thing in the world. It is merely that the assent of the Lords to a law deemed necessary for the public good, by the nation’s house of legislation, shall, after a period of refusal, be unnecessary. Is not this better than bringing down the people upon them on every occasion? Does not Lord John think enough, to perceive, that the people have only two modes of acting in such a way as to coerce a body of powerful men?—It is either by violence; or the prospect of violence, so near as to be terrifying; and this prospect of violence, so near as to be terrifying, is what Lord John proposes to make the habitual medicine of the state. Also we, the reformers, who wish to gain all our ends by institutions, that is, by established organs, adequate to the purpose, are the people to be distrusted for their want of regard to institutions. If, indeed, nothing is to be institution, in the language of our aristocratical revilers, but established organs for preserving aristocratical abuses, we are their enemies, and will assuredly persevere till we have destroyed them.

In taking away, however, from the Lords such power of legislation as we cannot secure from being used for bad purposes we would grant to them other powers, the mischievous use of which we should have the means of preventing. They should obtain both the right of voting for members of the house of representatives, and the right of being chosen members. We think that this would be attended with several good effects. It would hold out motives to all the young men of that class who had ambition for high place in the service of the state, to cultivate the qualifications which would give them pre-eminence in the field of free competition, and recommend them to the highest trusts. It would make a spontaneous change in the education of that class; they would seek to become, and therefore would become, intellectual men; and they would have adequate motives to cultivate the good opinion of the people, by the practice of all the virtues which render men valuable and acceptable to one another. They would become men of worth, in the highest and most endearing sense of the word; and possessing the means of doing good to others in a higher degree than men of inferior wealth, they would be more looked up to, and their wishes would be more consulted. They would still, if they chose, be the foremost men in the state, and with a happiness of which at present they have no conception.

We shall speedily, no doubt, hear, from those who make loyalty a virtue, whether well or ill bestowed,—that is to say, from those with whom in affairs of state the good of the people passes for nothing, but whom at last the people have learned to know, and are prepared, when the season comes, to treat as they deserve,—a loud accusation.

We shall be told, that, by this reasoning of ours, we destroy the foundation of monarchy as well as of aristocracy.

But those men, who have the monarchy appetite, at least the cant of it, for their virtue, and care for no other, are very shallow politicians; they never see more of a thing than its outside. We tell them, that monarchy rests on grounds totally different from those of aristocracy; and they are the great enemies of monarchy, who try to confound the two.

There is a great deal of foundation for what was urged with so much earnestness by the French Economistes, and by the penetrating philosopher, Hobbes,—that the interest of the monarch, and the interest of the people, are not opposite, but identical.

Let us take the leading particulars, and look at them for a moment.

The greatness of a King, to begin with that, is doubtless dependent upon, and measured by, the greatness of his people. What has made the King of England for centuries hold the high rank which he has done among the sovereigns of the earth? Not the numbers of his subjects. Not the riches of his soil. What then? The riches, that is, the productive powers of his people; who were prompted to exert themselves, because they knew that what they produced, they should have liberty to enjoy. Queen Elizabeth appears to have had more than a glimpse of this truth. When told that she was reproached for being shabby, what did she reply?—“My riches,” she said, “are in the pockets of my people, where they are much better placed than in mine; and therefore it is my resolution to take out of those pockets, not as much as possible, but as little.”

Next, for his glory. Abstracting from the greatness, the grounds of which we have explored in the preceding paragraph, what can that consist in but the high qualities of his people—their copious possession of all that contributes to well-being—their fame for high intelligence, for their skill in all the arts which supply the conveniences or ornaments of life—their love of their country, which gives them happiness—their social and domestic virtues? To be at the head of such a people, is to be at the very summit of glory.

And what, after this, has a king to wish for? A people, who themselves abound in all the means both of comfortable and of elegant living, will consider it for their own decoration that their king shall be pre-eminent in this, as in other respects. A king indeed, placed in these elevating circumstances, will be far above entering into a competition with his subjects in the tasteless display of wealth, or thinking any part of his dignity to consist in being able to make more waste than any other man in his dominions. He has better means of distinction.

How is it then, it will be asked in contradiction to us, that our kings of England, for example, have always been so much misled? When have they considered their greatness as identified with the freedom and happiness of their people? When have they considered it their glory to be at the head of a people eminent for their intellectual attainments and their moral worth? Experience, we shall be told, is against us.

The account of this matter is (for the fact is not to be disputed) that our kings have always linked themselves with the aristocracy, and have committed the grievous blunder of thinking the interests of the aristocracy the same with their own. They have degraded themselves by becoming the creatures of the aristocracy. They have no independent power, because they have separated themselves from the people. The aristocracy, after making them dependent upon themselves, have made a stalking-horse of them;—have talked in very lofty terms of their authority, and the obedience due to it, because they can employ it all for their own use, and with the vast advantage of having the king for a screen. The power of the sovereign has been converted into their power: no wonder they like it. But till that was brought about, how did they behave? Let history answer the question. They were the king’s antagonists, and his oppressors; and it was only by the aid of the people that he was ever able to make head against them. What was the contest with the Stuarts, but a contest to determine whether the king was to be master, or the aristocracy? If the king could rule without a parliament, the king was to be the master; if he could not, the aristocracy was to be the master, because the aristocracy at that time made the parliament. In this contest the aristocracy had the advantage, for the first time, of drawing the people to their side—gulled as they were by the name representative—as if a man, because he was called a representative, would take care of the people’s interests, though put into parliament only to take care of the interests of the aristocracy, and turned out when he failed to do so.

This contest was decided against the king, for ever; he discovered that he could not rule but in subservience to parliament. And what, in consequence, has he done? He has put his neck into the collar of the aristocracy, and to this hour tugs like a pack-horse at their waggon. He might have done better for himself, and better for the state;—he might have joined with the people in rescuing parliament from the gripe of the aristocracy; and then he would have been really subservient to nothing but the public interest, which he would have felt to be his.

Ever since the expulsion of the Stuarts, what has been the situation of the King of England in the hands of the aristocracy—his master, as well as the people’s? Read the authentic documents in Coxe’s biographical works, from Marlborough to Pelham inclusive. What was the government of England during the reigns of William, of Anne, of George the First, and George the Second, but a disgusting struggle among the aristocracy who should have the power of plundering the people? without its being thought necessary by a man among them to make even the pretence that a regard for the public good entered among his motives. There is no where else to be found such a display of immorality—of the utter abandonment of principle—of hardened, unblushing rapacity, as characterized the aristocracy in those days. The business of a minister was, by his intrigues, by his personal or family interest, to get a majority of those marauders to support him in parliament. The man who had obtained this, the king was obliged to make minister; and George the Second, with great bitterness, told the Chancellor Hardwicke, that whoever was minister was king in this country—not the cypher who bore the name.

There is no doubt that when a king is afraid of his people, and believes that he is only safe by being able to crush them, he has cogent motives to govern ill, and that in every possible way; to hinder his people from knowing; to hinder them from speaking; to plunder them to the utmost, for the sake of gorging those whose profligate assistance he may require; and to subject them to the most atrocious revenge for any appearance of a disposition to dispute his will. But when a king is satisfied that his throne is established on the rooted conviction in the minds of his people that it is good for them, he has no fear to provide against; no blackguards to hire, either to debase the understandings of the people, or to shed their blood. He has no higher ground of rejoicing than the blessings in which his people rejoice—plenty of the good things of life, with minds sufficiently cultivated to use them all to the best advantage.

And if it be true, that the interest of a king is not irreconcilable with the interests of his people, it is not yet proved that his office is an unnecessary one, or unattended with advantages which in no other way can be so perfectly attained.

A first magistrate is necessary; that is a fixed and undisputed point. The necessity of unity in matters of administration, the use of concentrated responsibility, and many other considerations, seem to place the balance of advantage on the side of the individuality of the first magistrate. He should be one, and not two, or more.

But if so, the only question which remains is,—whether he should be hereditary, or elective.

The chief advantage urged on the side of electiveness is the security for talent. With an hereditary first magistrate, the degree of talent is a matter of chance; with an elective, a high degree is tolerably certain.

If we allow this to be so, we have still the question to answer, whether the security for talent in the chief magistrate is a matter of much importance.

As it is very certain that he must govern in subservience to parliament; and as parliament will soon be chosen by the people, and responsible to the people, we should say that it is not in this country a matter of much importance.

It is clear to reason, and well proved by experience, that when the chief magistrate attempts to act as his own minister, he does no good, but evil; and if he chooses for his ministers, as in the above circumstances he must do, men agreeable to the parliament, he cannot go far wrong: they will always be, if not the very best men, among the best that are to be had.

In these circumstances, there are advantages of a very solid nature, on the side of the hereditary principle. The choice of the chief magistrate, if he is elective, must be given either to the parliament, or to the people. The evils are so obvious of giving the choice of the great administrative organ of government to the legislative organ, that we believe it has never been seriously contemplated. It would be the most effectual of all contrivances to fill that body with faction, to light up the evil passions, and to engross the minds of members with any thing rather than the interests of the country, the care of which, even in minute detail, is their great and infinitely important duty. The choice by the people is perhaps less pregnant with evil. But the agitation which must be created by so important a choice as that of head of the state, even for a few years, pervading the whole mass of the population, and carrying with it all the solicitations, all the intrigues, all the misrepresentations, all the calumnies, and all the estrangements, which it creates, is very unfavourable to all that is good in the minds of the people; among whom quietness and harmony, when they know that the securities for good government are firmly placed in their hands, are most desirable for every kind of prosperity—their prosperity in wealth, their prosperity in intellect, their prosperity in morals, and in all the ornaments of life.

If ever the King of England becomes clear-sighted enough to see that he has been very ill-advised, in leaning upon a corrupt aristocracy, and a corrupt church, as the two crutches without which he could not stand; and that he may rest with assurance on the solid advantages to the people, inherent in his office: he will occupy a far more exalted station in the social union than he has hitherto done. He will feel that he reigns in the reason and understanding of his people; which is a more steady reliance, than that reigning in their hearts, which he has hitherto heard so much about, and to so little purpose.

P. Q.