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PARLIAMENTARY REFORM

I.Election Mode—its inconveniences

Mischiefs to individuals.

I. On the part of the Electors.

1. Drunkenness occasioned by party meetings. Remedy—Voting by ballot all in one day in each Parish.

2. Riots occasioned by the conflict of parties. Remedy—Voting by ballot.

3. Expence of travelling on the part of such Electors as have to come from a distance. [Remedy.] Voting each in his own Parish.

4. Loss of time by party meetings, canvassing and disputation. Remedies. Voting in Parishes all in one day.—Voting by ballot.

II. On the part of the Candidates.

1. Expence of canvassing: i:e, of travelling to canvas. Remedies. Small districts. Canvassing prohibited.

2. Loss of time in canvassing. Remedies, as above.

3. Expence of conveying such voters as would not defray their own expence. Remedy. Voting each in his own parish.a

4. Expences of entertainment. Remedy. Voting by ballot.

5. Expences coming under the head of bribery. Remedy. Voting by ballot.

6. Expences of Election-Causes before Parliament. Remedy. Certainty and simplicity of the mode of ascertaining the qualification. Entry upon the parish Register-book.

7. Expences of Election-Causes in the Common Law Courts. Remedy, as above.

III. To the general morals of the people.

1. Habit and example of drunkenness. [Remedy.] Voting by ballot.

2. Habit and example of idleness. [Remedy.] Voting by ballot.

3. Habit and example of lying to the prejudice or advantage of the candidates and their respective partizans. Remedy. Shortness of Parliaments.

4. Divisions created in families and among neighbours. Remedy. Voting by ballot.

pg 429 IV. 1. Denial of Election-rights to the citizens at present excluded from being electors. Remedy. Universal admission of all who can read.

2. To persons excluded from being eligible. Cause 1. Exaction of pecuniary qualification. Remedy—abolition of pecuniary qualification. Cause 2d' Expence of standing. Remedies. 1. Voting by ballot. 2. Voting each man in his own Parish.

V. Mischiefs to the service.

Choice of Members unfit through:

1. Habits of idleness and dissipation. Remedies. [1.] Obligation to attendance. 2. Frequent re-election.

2. Avocations. Remedy, as above.

3. Want of talent. Remedies. 1. Obligation to attendance. 2. Election upon a free and extended plan. 3. Frequency of election.

4. Want of probity. Remedies. 1. Election upon a free and extended plan. 2. Frequency of election.

5. Lessening the chance of superior fitness by the exclusion of men of small fortunes and thence of industry and talents in consequence of the expence. Causes through the influence of which choice of unfit persons may ensue.

1. Choice in the hands of the servants of the Crown. Remedies. 1. Right of Election extended. 2. Voting by ballot.

2. Choice in the hands of a few who name their own particular connections without regard to fitness or sell their votes. Remedy. Right of Election extended and free.

3. Surprize effected by personal sollicitation. Remedy. Prohibition of canvassing.

II.Ballot—Objections answered

Objection. The practice of voting by ballot has an immoral tendency: it affords a screen to cowardice. A free man and Englishman ought to declare his choice boldly, without respect of persons, or fear of the consequences to himself. Fari quœ sentias1 ought to be his motto. He ought to have a will of his own to govern his conduct, and an understanding of his own to govern his will.

Answer. Morality, if that were at all endangered by this course, is but a means to an end. The end of morality is happiness: morality is valuable no otherwise than as a means to that end: if happiness were better promoted by what is called immorality, immorality would become a duty, virtue and vice would change places.

pg 430It has been shewn that public happiness, or in other words public interest, is in this instance better promoted in every point of view by keeping the votes secret than by rendering them public.1

In our dealings with mankind we ought to square our measures not by what they ought to be but by what they are. Am I to leave my house-door perpetually open, because all men ought to be honest? because no man ought to enter in my house and steal? Merely because such is a man's duty, ought I to place a man in a situation in which it is certain that he will not do his duty?

So far is the use of this expedient from being immoral, that as far as morality is concerned, immorality would be not in the use but in the neglect of it. To expose a man to a temptation which from the necessary constitution of man's nature it is certain he will not be able to resist, is to be the author of his delinquency. It is sitting a man upon a barrel of gunpowder with a lighted train to it under the notion of using him to the smell of powder. The candidate I approve of is as determinately disapproved of by my father, my master, my mistress and my dearest friends. If I follow my own judgement and my own will, my father disinherits me, my master turns me off and my mistress discard [s] me, and my friends abandon me. My vote is one amongst five thousands. Is it likely that for giving this 5000th chance to a man I never saw I should forfeit my whole subsistence and the happiness of my life?

Objection 2d' Every Elector, being a trustee for his Co-electors as well as for himself, ought to act under their inspection that their good or ill opinion may operate as a guard upon him, and that their censure in case of misconduct may be his punishment.

Answer. The use of obliging a man to act under the public eye is to oblige him to act in conformity to the public interest in preference to any private interest of his own. This check is perfectly useless in all cases where either it is his own private interest only that the case requires he should pursue, or where by acting in pursuit of his own private interest he acts as much in conformity to the public as if the public interest was the direct object of his pursuit. Now by the very supposition the latter is here the case. It is impossible the majority of the grown persons in a nation can have each of them an interest distinct from that of the whole. They have not naturally of their own any such separate interest, and in whose power should it be to give it them? While he acts in secret he is at free liberty to do what he thinks right and for his interest (which in this case are but two phrases for the same thing): what more can you do for him or for the public? pg 431Expose him to the public eye, what will be [the] consequence? You expose him at the same time to the eyes of some individual or individuals who have an interest of their own opposite to the interest of the public and who have it in their power to make you suffer if you do not give the preference to theirs, or what comes to the same thing, an opinion or caprice of theirs.

Three principles, the selfish, the dissocial and the social, share the dominion of man's conduct. Where the two first are out of the way, the latter will carry every thing before it. No matter how weak it is, it will shape compleatly the course of every man's conduct, while it acts alone. What should hinder a man from voting for the candidate whom he deems the fittest, when there is no advantage to be got by voting for any other? What should induce him to vote for any other candidate than him whom he really deems the fittest, when there is no advantage to be got by it?

III.Mischief—Bribery—Boroughs classed

Bribery.—This is no mischief of itself—if it be a mischief, it is in consequence of the tendency it has to produce effects which in themselves are mischievous.

It is a proof and measure of the fondness the candidate has for the office. If the office had any thing of duty belonging to it, it would thus far be a presumption in favour of his fitness for it. If the money given were given to a public fund in ease of the public burthens, it would in that respect too be an advantage.

But these cases are both hypothetical.

1. It aggravates the yoke of the aristocracy, of the rich: and by that means in this as in all other instances strengthens the natural monopoly which so many causes concurr to establish in favour of men of this description to the prejudice of those who are more likely to be fit for it—a monopoly of this power in hands which so far from being the most likely are the least likely to be fit for it.

2. It acts in opposition to the influence of understanding on understanding; that influence on which the liberty of action in the discharge of public trusts as well as the propriety of their exercise so essentially depend.

3. It tends to injure the public morals by propagating the habit of sacrificing integrity and thus notions of duty to the snares offered by avarice.

4. It tends to injure morals in another way by encreasing as it were the value of money, and adding to the temptations already too strong pg 432which it is in the nature of it to spread for the probity of mankind. Power, dignity, and consideration, if separate from money, add to the number of the prizes in the lottery, console a man for the want of money, and lessen the force of its seductive influence. But if money is necessary to every thing, money swallows up every thing, all men of any talent are set a-scrambling for it and nothing however is too bad to be done in order to get it. If honour is to be had no otherwise than by and through money, what is it, how dishonourable soever, that a man will hesitate to do in order to get it? In staking his honour he risks what is worth nothing for the chance of acquiring the only thing that is of any value.

It tends therefore to injure the service in two ways.

1. By throwing power exclusively into the hands of a class of men whose indolence and ignorance renders them essentially unfit to exercise it.

2. By offering to the preference of each elector a person who is not the one who in his own judgment or that of those whom he takes for his guides is the fittest.

Bribery is not so bad as the influence of wealth without bribery.

Instances of violation of constitutional principle in the mode of representation classed as they rise one above the other in the scale of malignity:

5. Property seats in the hands of Peers.

4. Property seats in the hands of Commoners.

3. Natural interest seats.

2. Seats in venal aristocratical Boroughs.

1. Seats in venal democratical Boroughs.

The case of least evil is that of a property seat in the hands of a Peer.

In venal democratical Boroughs you have the mischief of bribery in perfection. There is most of it, and what there is of it is more public in proportion to the number of electors. In the same proportion the corruption spreads wider and wider and the bad example becomes more and more contagious. The more numerous the partners in guilt, the lighter the load of infamy to each, till at last all sense of shame is obliterated, and the very idea of honour and public spirit is become ridiculous.

In venal aristocratical Boroughs the mischief is of the same nature though less in degree. There is less of it, and what there is, is more covert. Decency is not thrown off. Profligacy does not rear a triumphant head.

In both these cases success is about equally independent of merit. In democratical boroughs what passes for merit has a better chance to be attended to: because in these instances bribery seldom if ever pg 433acts alone. Friends [are]1 purchased by affection and sollicitation and opinion: […?] are determined, adversaries bought over by bribes. But the circumstances already mentioned make the sort of merit that passes there for merit very different from real merit.

In natural-interest seats success is almost equally independent of talents: and almost equally independent of public virtue. It is not however independent of private virtue, that is of such sort of virtue as is likely to pass for virtue amongst such Judges. It has likewise a good effect in a certain point of view upon the candidates themselves: it tends to mould their characters to popularity: it tends to render them good sort of men: it tends to keep them from pride and insolence and open and notorious injustice and oppression, especially to people beneath them and of the class of the electors.

It has a bad effect on them however in other points of view. It tends to prompt them to useless and ostentatious expence: to profusion instead of frugality. It keeps them from laying up money and thence adding to the capital and prosperity of the country: it keeps them from laying up money for their children: by this means [it]2 weakens their independence as against corruptive influence and tends to their leaving a needy and dependent posterity.

It has this effect in a greater degree, in proportion to the number of persons who by their vicinity and opulence are capable of being competitors. It has it least where some man of overgrown opulence frightens away all competitors. But even the most enormous opulence is under some check. If the great man were to make himself odious in a certain degree, the Borough might in a fit of antipathy dethrone him and set up a King of their own choice.

The mischief of natural-interest-pocket Boroughs is that by minorities, or present unpopularity or other accidents they are liable from time to time to emerge from that condition to invite strangers or less wealthy or new[?] competitors, produce contests, and thence the complicated mischief of contested elections, and to degenerate into the condition of a venal Borough, aristocratical or democratical.

Property seats are neither attended with the advantages nor the disadvantages of Natural-interest Seats: but they are attended with some peculiar advantages.

They have no tendency to promote any popular qualities favourable or unfavourable to the interest of society. They are not liable to degenerate into venal boroughs, nor therefore to be productive of the silent mischiefs of corruption or the open violences and immoralities of contested elections.

The mischief they do is the withdrawing so much of the repres- pg 434entation of the country out of all dependence upon the people. The effects of this mischief are altogether out of the reach of calculation. A proprietor of this sort may be the slave of the crown at one time, the friend of the people at another. He may be assiduous in his attendance, or belong to the house as if he did not belong to it. He may be a man of influence by his speaking, or he may be a mere silent veto[?]. The votes of members of this description may be all on one side, or be divided so equally as to destroy the effect of one another: they may be thrown away in an insignificant minority or swallowed up in a triumphant majority: or they may act with real effect and turn the scale.

In the case of a single proprietary seat the best thing that can happen is that it should be in the hands of a Peer. Why? because if it be in the hands of a Commoner he will sit in it himself and sit in it for everlasting. As a possession of this nature is seldom unaccompanied with other possessions more immediately productive, it will by that means be entailed as it were upon a man in whom the seeds of industry and ability have been destroy'd by opulence.

In regard to the Peer the happiness is that he can not sit in it himself: this lets in a possibility of his pitching upon a man of real merit and fitness to supply his place. True it is that the man stands last in an almost endless line of competitors. He stands as remainder man after possibility of heirs general extinct. There must be no younger brother in his way, no son, grandson or nephew: no bosom friend whose degree of intimacy excludes altogether all necessity of merit: no inseparable companion of looser hours: no necessary minister to secret pleasures: no choice spirit whose convivial talents render his presence indispensible at table: no man of humble pretensions and pliancy proportionable [which] entails upon him those negative qualities which, according to a French wit, compose the essence of a Courtier in every sphere, purity from all sense of honour or ill-humour,1 and which render the protegé the unvarying representative and alter idem2 of his noble patron. It is to a combination of ingredients thus extraordinary that the world has been indebted for the blessing or the curse (it is for posterity to cast up the account and strike the ballance) of the matchless talents of an Edmund Burke.3

Notes

a Were voting by proxy admitted, votes might then be bought in numbers.

Notes Settings

Notes

Editor’s Note
1 i.e. 'say what you think'. Cf. Horace, Epistulae, i. iv. 9: fari possit quae sentiat, i.e. 'he can say what he thinks'.
Editor’s Note
1 For a discussion of the respective merits of open and secret voting see Political Tactics (CW), pp. 144–9.
Editor’s Note
1 MS 'or'.
Editor’s Note
2 MS 'in'.
Editor’s Note
1 See Claude Adrien Helvétius (1715–71), De l'esprit, 2 vols., Paris, 1758, Discours IV, Ch. XIII, ii. 271, where the saying 'Quiconque est sans honneur et sans humeur est un courtisan parfait' is attributed to Philippe, duc d'Orléans, Regent of France.
Editor’s Note
2 i.e. 'another self'.
Editor’s Note
3 Burke had been first returned to Parliament in 1765 for the borough of Wendover on the interest of Ralph Verney (1714–91), second Earl Verney.
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