The Pamphlet Collection of Sir Robert Stout: Volume 9
This pamphlet was written and published before I had seen or heard of Mr. Hare's important Treatise on Representation; which, had I been acquainted with it, would have enabled me greatly to improve those parts of my own performance, which go over the same ground with Mr. Hare. It would have been impossible to reprint this tract without making any reference to the great enlargement which my opinions on the subject have received from Mr. Hare's speculations; and a new edition having been called for, the easiest, if not the best, mode in which I can perform this duty, is by subjoining, from an article contributed by me to Fraser's Magazine for April last, a somewhat full exposition of the great idea by which that sagacious thinker has (it is no exaggeration to say) given a new aspect to the principle of popular representation.
Though Mr. Hare has delivered an opinion—and generally, in our judgment, a wise one—on nearly all the questions at present in issue connected with representative government; the originality of his plan, as well as most of the effects to be expected from it, turn on the development which he has given to what is commonly called the Representation of Minorities, he has raised this principle to an importance and dignity which no previous thinker had ascribe to it. page 42 As conceived by him, it should be called the real, instead of nominal, representation of every individual elector.
That minorities in the nation ought in principle, if it be possible, to be represented by corresponding minorities in the legislative assembly, is a necessary consequence from all premises on which any representation at all can be defended. In a deliberative assembly the minority must perforce give way, because the decision must be either aye or no; but it is not so in choosing those who are to form the deliberative body: that ought to be the express image of the wishes of the nation, whether divided or unanimous, in the designation of those by whose united councils it will be ruled; and any section of opinion which is unanimous within itself, ought to be able, in due proportion to the rest, to contribute its elements towards the collective deliberation. At present, if three-fifths of the electors vote for one person and two-fifths for another, every individual of the two-fifths is, for the purposes of that election, as if he did not exist: his intelligence, his preference, have gone for nothing in the composition of the Parliament. Whatever was the object designed by the Constitution in giving him a vote, that object, at least on the present occasion, has not been fulfilled; and if he can be reconciled to his position, it must be by the consideration that some other time he may be one of a majority, and another set of persons instead of himself may be reduced to cyphers: just as, before a regular government had been established, a man might have consoled himself for being robbed, by the hope that another time he might be able to rob some one else. But this compensation, however gratifying, will be of no avail to him if he is everywhere overmatched, and the same may be said of the elector who is habitually outvoted.
Of late years several modes have been suggested of giving an effective voice to a minority; by limiting each elector to fewer votes than the number of members to be elected, or allowing him to concentrate all his votes on the same candidate. These various schemes are praiseworthy so far as they go, but they attain the object very imperfectly. All plans for page 43 dividing a merely local representation in unequal ratios, are limited by the small number of members which can be, and the still smaller which ought to be, assigned to anyone constituency. There are considerable objections to the election even of so many as three by every constituent body, This, however, under present arrangements, is the smallest number which would admit of any representation of a minority, and in this case the minority must amount to at least a third of the whole. All smaller minorities would continue, as at present, to be disfranchised; and in a minority of a third, the whole number must unite in voting for the same candidate, There may, therefore, be a minority within the minority who have sacrificed their individual preference, and from whose vote nothing can with certainty be concluded but that they dislike less the candidate they voted for, than they do the rival candidate.*
* These semi-dissentients might even amount to a majority of the minority; for (as Mr. Hare remarks) if fifty persons agree to combine their strength, who, left to themselves, would have divided their votes among ten candidates, six of the fifty may impose their candidate on all the rest, though perhaps only relatively preferred by them.
This arrangement provides for all the difficulties involved in representation of minorities. The smallest minority obtains an influence proportioned to its numbers; the largest obtains no more. The representation becomes, what under no other system it can be, really equal. Every member of Parliament is the representative of an unanimous constituency. No one is represented, or rather misrepresented, by a member whom he has voted against. Every elector in the kingdom is represented by the candidate he most prefers, if as many persons in the whole extent of the country are found to agree with him, as come up to the number entitled to a representative.
To enable the scheme to work in the manner intended, a second and subsidiary expedient is necessary. A candidate who enjoys a wide-spread popularity, if votes are received for him everywhere, will often be voted for by many times the number of persons forming the quota entitled to a member. If this multitude of votes were all counted for his return, the number of members required to constitute the House would not be obtained; while the many thousand votes given for these favourite characters, will have had no more influence than the simple 2000 given for the least popular candidate who is returned at all. To obviate this, Mr. Hare proposes that no more than 2000 votes be counted for any one; that whoever has obtained that number be declared duly elected, page 45 and the remainder of his votes he set free to be given to another. For this purpose (while no one's vote would he counted for more than one candidate) voters should make a practice of putting into their voting papers a second name, and as many other names as they like, in the order of their preference, of persons for whom they are willing to vote in case their vote is not needed for the one who stands first in their list. Suppose that 8000 electors give their first vote to the same candidate. Only 2000 of these (that being the supposed amount of the electoral quota) will be counted for his return. We will not discuss which 2000 should be chosen out of the 8000, as this is the solitary point we have yet discovered, in which Mr. Hare's arrangements appear to us susceptible of improvement. The 2000, on whatever principle selected, form the constituency whom this candidate will represent. His name will then be cancelled in the remaining 6000 papers, each of which will be counted as a vote for the person next in order who is named in them, unless he also shall have been already returned by other votes—and so on. In this manner the 8000 electors who prefer A. B. will obtain from among the list of persons by whom they have declared their willingness to be represented, the full complement of four members due to them, A. B. being one; or will have exerted an amount of influence equal to the return of four members, in the election of some greater number.
Of this breadth, clearness, and simplicity are the principles of the plan. Indeed, if Mr. Hare had stopped here, the chief difficulty he would have had to encounter would have been the doubt whether a scheme so theoretically perfect could be brought into practical operation. But since he has taken the trouble to point out, even to the minutest detail, the mode in which the plan can be executed, and has drawn up in all legal form the statute necessary to give it effect, the danger now is lest the inevitable prominence of the mechanical arrangements should confuse the mind of a mere cursory reader, and enable the scheme to be represented as too complex and subtle to be workable. Such a notion would be extremely erroneous. Mr. page 46 Hare's draft of a Bill is ten times more simple and intelligible than the Reform Act, or almost any other Act of Parliament which deals with a great subject. Its details are worked out with infinite care and sagacity, and accompanied with an explanatory comment which must satisfy any one not only of the possibility, but the facility of carrying them into effect. Seldom has it happened that a great political idea could be realized by such easy and simple machinery; and there is not a serious objection, nor a genuine difficulty, of however slight a nature, which will not, we think, be found to have been foreseen and met.
That these arrangements are just and reasonable, and afford a complete remedy for an evil for which none but very imperfect palliatives were supposed to be attainable, is obvious almost at first sight. But it was not till after mature reflection and diligent study of Mr. Hare's admirable exposition, that we fully realized the greatness of the incidental benefits, not at first apparent, which would result from the substitution of personal instead of exclusively local representation.
In the first place, it would prodigiously improve the personnel of the national representation. At present, were they ever so desirous, a great majority of the most distinguished men in the country have little or no chance of being elected anywhere as members of the House of Commons. The admirers, and those who would be the supporters, of a person whose claims rest on acknowledged personal merit, are generally dispersed throughout the country, while there is no one place in which his influence would not be far outweighed by that of some local grandee, or notabilitié de clocher, who neither has, nor deserves to have, the smallest influence anywhere else. If a man of talents and virtue could count as votes for his return all electors in any part of the kingdom, who would like to be represented by him, every such person who is well known to the public would have a probable chance; and under this encouragement nearly all of them, whose position and circumstances were compatible with Parliamentary duties, might be willing to offer themselves to the electors, Those voters who page 47 did not like either of the local candidates, or who believed that one whom they did not like was sure to prevail against them, would have all the available intellectual strength of the country from whom to select the recipient of their otherwise wasted vote. An assembly thus chosen would contain the élite of the nation.
Nor must it be supposed that only the minorities, or weaker parties in the localities, would give themselves a wider range of choice, to acquire, by combining with one another, their just share in the representation. The majorities also would be brought under inducements to make a more careful choice. There are few things more discreditable to the country than the mode in which the member for a borough, when not the mere creature of the local influences, is generally selected. What do the body of those who give him their suffrages usually know of him? Unless in the ease of those who live among them, and are known to them privately, nothing at all, except that he is of the right political party; that he calls himself the Liberal or the Conservative candidate. But there are Liberal and Conservative candidates of all qualities; and what are the qualifications looked for by the attorney the Parliamentary agent, or the half-dozen local leaders, who king down the candidate from London? What they seek for is a man with money, and willing to spend it—if of any social rank so much the better—and who will make professions on some subjects, and be silent on others, according to what they tell him is required by the local opinion. Whatever may be his worth, or want of worth, in other respects, the voters who are on the same side in polities vote for him en masse: whether he is to their taste or not, they cannot, by proposing another candidate, divide the party; they must either bring him in, or lose their votes, and give a victory to the other side. Under Mr. Hare's plan things would be far otherwise. The candidate of the party which is strong enough to carry its nominee would still, no doubt, be generally selected by the local leaders; when many persons are to be brought to act together, some must take the initiative. But the position and page 48 interest of the leaders would be much changed. They could no longer count upon bringing up the whole strength of the party to return any professed Liberal or Conservative who would make it worth their while. An elector even of their own party, who was dissatisfied with the candidate offered him, would not then be obliged to vote for that candidate, or remain unrepresented. he would have the option of contributing to give his country, or his party, the benefit of a better representative elsewhere; and his leaders would be under the necessity of offering him some one whom he would consider creditable, to be secure of his vote. It is probable that a competition would spring up among constituencies for the most creditable candidates, and that the stronger party in every locality (local influences apart) would be anxious to bring forward the ablest and most distinguished men on their own side, that they might be sure of uniting the whole of their local strength, and have a chance of being reinforced by stray votes from other parts of the country.
A member who had already served in Parliament with any distinction, would under this system be almost sure of his reelection. At present the first man in the house may be thrown out of Parliament precisely when most wanted, and may be kept out for several years, from no fault of his own, but because a change has taken place in the local balance of parties, or because he has voted against the prejudices or local interests of some influential portion of his constituents. Under Mr. Hare's system, if he has not deserved to be thrown out, he will be nearly certain to obtain votes from other places, sufficient, with his local strength, to make up the quota of 2000 (or whatever the number may be) necessary for his return to Parliament.
The considerations on which we have hitherto dwelt are independent of any possible changes in the composition of the electoral body. But the bearing of Mr. Hare's proposals on the question of extending the suffrage, is of the very greatest importance. Why is nearly the whole educated class united in uncompromising hostility to a purely democratic suffrage? page 49 Not so much because it would make the most numerous class, that of manual labourers, the strongest power; that many of the educated class would think only just. It is because it would make them the sole power; because in every constituency the votes of that class would swamp and politically annihilate all other members of the community taken together; would put them in the same position, as regards Parliament, in which the labouring classes are now, without the same imposing physical strength out of doors; and would produce (or would be in danger of producing) a Legislature reflecting exclusively the opinions and preferences of the most ignorant class, with no member of any higher standard to compare and confront themselves with, except such as may have stripped themselves of their superiority by conforming to the prejudices of their supporters. But if the greater number could obtain their share of political power without silencing the smaller number; if the educated and the propertied classes could still be represented, though by a minority, in the House; there would not, in the minds of many of those classes, be the same insuperable objection to the political preponderance of the majority. Represented as the minority would be likely then to be, by the ablest heads and noblest hearts in the nation, their representatives would probably acquire considerable personal ascendancy over the other section of the House; especially as the majorities would have been under the inducements already spoken of to get themselves represented by the most intelligent and morally recommendable persons they could find. The cause of the minority would be likely to be supported with such consummate skill, and such a weight of moral authority, as might prove a sufficient balance to the superiority of numbers on the other side, and enable the opinions of the higher and middle classes to prevail when they were right, even in an assembly of which the majority had been chosen by the poor. We have not the smallest wish that they should prevail when they were wrong, as no doubt they often would be. So much confidence, indeed, have we in the moral efficacy of such a representation of minorities as Mr. Hare's scheme page 50 would give, that we should not despair of its rendering ultimately unnecessary the system, which in principle we have advocated, of plural voting, an expedient not included in Mr. Hare's plan, though perfectly compatible with it.
Meanwhile, however, and so long as the working classes are not admitted to the suffrage so indiscriminately as to outnumber the other electors, those classes have a most direct interest in the due representation of minorities, since in numerous cases they would themselves be in a position to benefit by it. There is great difficulty, under the present machinery, in measuring out influence to the working classes, so as to be just to them without being unjust to every one else. They are not represented even as a class, unless they are the majority of the constituency, and if they are, nobody else is represented. A strong sense of the importance of their obtaining, by whatever means, a certain number of members who actually represent them, has led an intelligent writer, Mr. Bagehot, to propose so violent a remedy as that of giving up the representation of the large towns to day-labourers, by establishing, in them, equal and universal suffrage, thereby disfranchising the higher and middle classes of those places, who comprise the majority of the most intellectual persons in the kingdom. All this Mr. Hare's plan would supersede. By admitting the working classes into the constituencies generally, in such numbers as to constitute a large minority therein, they would be enabled to return all their leaders, and a considerable number of other members without swamping, or even outnumbering, the rest of the electors. They would be relieved from the mischievous alternative of all or none. They would have the exact amount of influence in the composition of Parliament which it was the intention of the Legislature to give them; whereas on the present system the effects of any extension of the suffrage would be so entirely uncertain, that to be sure of not giving them more than Parliament is willing to allow, it would be thought necessary to give much less than is fairly allowable.
Consider next the check which would be given to bribery and intimidation in the return of members to Parliament. page 51 Who, by bribery and intimidation, could get together 2000 electors from a hundred different parts of the country? Intimidation would have no means of acting over so large a surface; and bribery requires secresy, and an organized machinery, which can only be brought into play within narrow local limits. Where would then be the advantage of bribing or coercing the 200 or 300 electors of a small borough? They could not of themselves make up the quota, and nobody could know what part of the country the remaining 1700 or 1800 suffrages might come from. In places so large as to afford the number of 2000 electors, bribery or intimidation would have the same chances as at present. But it is not in such places that, even now, these malpractices are successful. As regards bribery (Mr. Hare truly remarks), the chief cause of it is, that in a closely contested election certain votes are indispensable: the side which cannot secure those particular votes is sure to be defeated. But under Mr. Hare's plan no vote would be indispensable. A vote from any other part of the country would serve the purpose as well; and a candidate might be in a minority at the particular place, and yet be returned.
Those who demand equal electoral districts should strenuously support Mr. Hare's plan; for it fulfils, in a far preferable manner, their professed purposes. In his system all the constituencies are equal, and all unanimous. Disfranchisement becomes unnecessary, for every place is represented in the ratio, and no place in more than the ratio, due to its number of electors. The endless disputations, the artful manipulation and elaborate ponderation of interests, to endeavour to make sure (which can never really be done) that there shall always be places enough returning persons of certain descriptions, may all now be dispensed with. Every description of persons, every class, every so-called interest, will be sure of exactly the amount of representation it is entitled to. The system, moreover, is self-adjusting; there would not be need of an Act of Parliament once in every quarter of a century to re-adjust the representation. Every year the whole number of registered page 52 electors would be ascertained, and the quota necessary for returning a member declared; this done, the rest of the machinery would work of itself. There need be no grouping of boroughs; the boroughs and the electors inhabiting them would spontaneously group themselves. Nor need there be any limit to the number of places returning members. Mr. Hare would have any town or district, or any corporate body (an inn of court, for example), permitted to call itself a Parliamentary constituency, if it chose. This would excite, he thinks, a salutary emulation to elect the best men; and small bodies are the most likely to bring forward, from personal knowledge, men of merit not yet generally known. Of course, no constituency would have a member to itself, unless it contained the quota of electors. If it were a small body, the member who might be returned for it would be the representative of many other electors, and perhaps of other places or bodies; but he would not be called the member for any place or body in which he had not the local majority. Nor need it be apprehended that by the greater play given to influences of a wider and more national character, local influences would be deprived of any weight which justly belongs to them. Local influences would be safe in the hands of the local majority, through whom alone those influences are effective at present. The power which would be called into action for national purposes, under motives of a national character, is a power now wasted and thrown away. The instrument by which larger and higher elements would be brought into the arena of public affairs, would be mainly the votes which are now virtual nonentities.
But in no way would the effects of this masterly contrivance be more unspeakably beneficial, than in raising the tone of the whole political morality of the country. A representative would be under nothing like the same temptation to gain or keep his seat by time-serving arts, and sacrifices of his convictions to the local or class prejudices and interests of any given set of electors. Unless the prejudice was universal in the nation, a spirited resistance would cause his name to be page 53 inscribed in the voting-papers of some electors in almost every place in which it was heard of. The elevating effect on the minds of the electors themselves would be still more valuable. Hardly anything within the scope of possible attainmentwould do so much to make the voting for a member of Parliament be felt as a moral act, involving a real responsibility. Every elector's interest in his representative would be at the highest pitch. The member would be the elector's own representative, not chosen for him, but by him. Instead of having been chosen perhaps against him, by electors of sentiments he remotest possible from his, he will not even have been accepted by him as a compromise; he is the man whom the elector has really preferred. No longer required to choose between two or some small number of candidates, much alike probably in all respects except the party banner they carry, and seldom having any strong public recommendation but that, to the suffrage of any one who votes for them; the elector would have the opportunity, if he chose, of tendering his vote for the ablest and best man in the Empire who is willing to serve. Is not this a situation to rouse a moral feeling in any one, who has sufficient conscience belonging to him to have any of it to bestow on the performance of a public duty? It is the seeming. insignificance of men's individual acts that deadens their consciences respecting them. The self-deluding sophistry of indolence or indifference operates by "What does it matter?" Place before any one a high object; show him that he can individually do something to promote that object; and if there is a spark of virtue in the man, it will be kindled into a glow. To the new feeling of duty would be added a pride in making a good choice—a desire to connect himself as a constituent with some one who is an honour to the nation—to be known to him and to the world as one who has voluntarily sought him out to give him his vote. Mr. Hare, when he reaches this part of his subject, rises into a noble enthusiasm, which is irresistibly attractive when combined, as it is in him, with a sober and sagacious perception of the relation between means and ends, and a far-sighted circumspection in guard- page 54 ing his arrangements against all possibilities of miscarriage and abuse.
With this exalted sense of the moral responsibility of an elector, Mr. Hare is, as might be expected, an enemy to the ballot.* His plan requires voting papers, but he would have them signed by the elector, and delivered personally 'by every voter at his proper polling-place;' saving the case of necessary absence, when arrangements are suggested (p. 318) for transmitting his voting paper, with proper evidence of his identity, to a central office. There are serious objections to voting papers under the existing system, of which the strongest is the facilities and efficacy they would give to undue influences; since the act of subservience would be done in the privacy of home, where the eye of the public would be absent, but the hand of the briber, or the vultus instantis tyranni, might and would be present. The system of personal representation does so much in other respects to weaken the inducements to the exercise of the undue influences, that it can afford to leave them such advantages as voting papers would give. But the evil is a real, and, in any system but Mr. Hare's, a conclusive objection.
* Pp. 168 et seq.
We heartily join in Mr. Hare's condemnation of the proposal for payment of members of Parliament. 'The constant meddling of a body of men, paid for making laws, and acting under the notion that they are bound to do something for their salaries, would in this country be intolerable' (p. 122). Moreover, as Mr. Lorimer remarks (p. 169), by creating a pecuniary "inducement to persons of the lowest class to devote themselves to public affairs, the calling of the demagogue would be formally inaugurated." Nothing is more to be deprecated than making it the private interest of a number of active persons to urge the form of government in the direction of its natural perversion. The indications which either a multitude or an individual can give, when merely left to their own weaknesses, afford but a faint idea of what those weaknesses would become when played upon by a thousand flatterers. If there were six hundred and fifty-eight places, of certain, however moderate, emolument, to be gained by persuading the multitude that ignorance is as good as knowledge, and better, it is terrible odds that they would believe and act upon the lesson. The objection, however, to the payment of members, as Mr. Hare remarks, is chiefly applicable to payment from page 56 the public purse. If a person who cannot give his time to Parliament without losing his means of subsistence, is thought so highly qualified for it by his supporters as to be provided by them with the necessary income at their own expense,—this sort of "payment" of a member of Parliament may be equally useful and honourable; and of this resource it is open even to the working classes to avail themselves. They are perfectly capable of supporting their Parliamentary representatives, as they already do the managers of their trade societies.
Though Mr. Hare is strongly averse to this "point of the Charter," he would relieve candidates from the heavy burthen of election expenses, except a payment of fifty pounds, which he would require from each on declaring himself a candidate, "to prevent any trifling or idle experiment, whereby the lists of candidates might be encumbered with the names of persons who can have no rational expectation of being usefully placed in nomination."
exonerate the candidate from all liability in respect of any further expenses, except such as he may voluntarily incur. Such voluntary expenses will of course, as now, vary according to the peculiar circumstances of every candidate. They will probably be in the inverse ratio of his political eminence and distinction. Men of high character and reputation, and those whose political conduct and discretion have been tested and proved by experience, would stand in need of no more than that announcement of their names which the gazetted list would publish. A man of less distinction might require something more; possibly the charges of a public meeting, and of an advertisement or printed address, declaring his general views on political questions. This, perhaps, would be less necessary if the candidate were a person of any mark in literature or science, and had in his previous career become known to the public. Those who would probably be compelled to spend most, would be the persons who have the least to recommend them besides their money.—p. 126.
one which will exclude no man of ordinary industry and skill in his calling, and ordinary prudence and self-denial in his conduct. It cannot be necessary that the suffrage should be given to every youth as soon as he is out of his apprenticeship: it is not necessary that it should be given page 57 without regard to property, or to position, as the head of a family, or to participation in the burdens of citizenship, at least to one in early manhood, whilst the character is in process of formation, and the pleasures and anticipations of life exercise a strong influence on his conduct, and divert him from more serious thought on subjects not directly affecting his own career. . . . The qualification, however, should be accessible to every man when he acquires a home, and settles to the line of occupation for which the preparatory course of his earlier years has fitted him.—p. 309.
This general doctrine is sufficiently liberal to satisfy any one; but when Mr. Hare (p. 313) considers the present £10 qualification in the large towns, and one varying from that to £6 in the smaller towns and in the counties, to be a standard "so low that it is within the reach of every well-conducted man who is not a victim of some extraordinary misfortune, forming an exception to the general lot," we fear statistics will not bear him out. An educational test he deems inapplicable (p. 310), because "it would be next to impossible to apply" such a test "to every individual of a multitude" (not true of the simple test of writing and arithmetic, which might with ease be applied to every elector at the registry); because "it may exclude men of much practical knowledge and good sense" (we greatly question the knowledge and good sense, as applicable to politics, of any one who has not the power and habit of reading); and finally, because "it would operate severely on those who were more advanced in life, and to whom elementary tests are less suitable." The rights of existing electors should certainly be reserved; but in the case of any others, the supposed hardship, being merely that of not being entrusted with duties they are not fit for, is no subject for complaint.
In all cases where a woman is sui juris, occupying a house or tenement, or possessed of a freehold, or is otherwise in a position which, in the case of a male, would amount to a qualification, there is no sound reason for excluding her from the parliamentary franchise. The exclusion is probably a remnant of the feudal law, and is not in harmony with the other civil institutions of the country. There would be great propriety in celebrating a reign which has been productive of so much moral benefit, by the abolition of an anomaly which is so entirely without any justifiable foundation.—p. 320.
Such is this remarkable book: of the contents of which we have been compelled to leave a great portion unnoticed, including the simple arrangements by which the system of voting is adapted to the case of single elections, and of municipalities. In our brief exposition we have given a much more adequate idea of Mr. Hare's specific proposals, than of the instructive and impressive discussions by which he introduces them. Yet if the book made no practical suggestions whatever, and had no value but that of the principles it enforces, it would still deserve a high rank among manuals of political thought. We trust it will be widely read, and we are convinced that, by competent thinkers, the system it embodies will be recognised as alone just in principle, as one of the greatest of all practical improvements, and as the most efficient possible safeguard of further Parliamentary Reform.