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The Pamphlet Collection of Sir Robert Stout: Volume 18

Political Progress; — Its Tendency and Limit: a Lecture

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Political Progress;

Its Tendency and Limit: a Lecture

The chair was taken by the Hon. George Higinbotham, late Attorney-General of Victoria, who introduced the lecturer.

The Hon. H. J. Wrixon said:—

Mr. Chairman, Ladies and Gentlemen.

I hope it is not necessary that on the present occasion I should make any apology to you for asking your attention to a subject that relates to the Study of Government. No one, of course, would have the bad taste, when addressing an audience assembled under the circumstances in which we meet, to allude to politics in its party aspect, or to touch upon any of its aspects that might justly or fairly excite party opinions on either side. But, quite apart from politics in that aspect, there are general views connected with the Study of Government, general information bearing on that study, and general considerations deduced from the facts which we learn by enquiry, all of which it is important to bear in mind when we deal with the theory and principles of political life and action. In the political arena itself, these more general considerations are naturally enough rather at a discount, because, in the actual conflict of politics, to discourse then upon these general principles is something like discussing the theory of war in the middle of a general engagement, and fairly enough does not meet with any great favour. But yet, without a consideration of those general views and principles, it is almost impossible to form an intelligent public opinion on this important subject. You may of course, have your party views, and persons following one party or another page 2 with great devotion, but, without a consideration of the theories and principles on which the Science of Government—if it may be so called—depends, you will not have that intelligent public opinion which is so useful for the guidance and control of that active party political warfare in which we are all at various times engaged. Therefore I hope, Ladies and Gentlemen, in asking your attention to this subject, I may be able to bring before you some topics which will be instructive in the aspect I have alluded to, and which will, I trust, also be found not wholly uninteresting; and as I have a good deal to which I desire to ask your attention, I think I had better without further preface begin.

Now, when you talk of the Political Science or the Study of Government, you are in the first instance at once remitted to the origin of the political state; but I do not mean, this evening, to detain you by any erudite discussion as to the manner in which that origin is to be traced. Different theories have been suggested and different explanations given, all of which are supported by plausible views, and can be maintained by ingenious arguments. But, without discussing that topic, we may begin with the undoubted fact that the first form of government—the infancy of the political state—is to be found in what is termed the patriarchal system of government: that is, in fact, the government of a family broadening into the government of a tribe. The family soon spreads into the tribe; the head of the family becomes the head of the tribe, and in that capacity has to discharge the" different duties of the ruler and the law giver, to which, in these earliest times, were also added those of the priest. You all recollect how an example of this very infant form of government is to be found in that most remarkable writing—the Book of Job. Those of you who are familiar with that book will recollect there a picture of a ruler who occupied such a position. You will recollect that Job appears to have been the governor of his tribe, and to have discharged, in addition to the duties of a ruler, those also of judge and priest. This is, of course, in the mere infancy—the first beginnings of human government. We find, however, that very rapidly the wants of men required a more complex state of government, and man's intelligence very soon came to be directed to those wants. We might refer, for example of the next stage of progress, to poems of a very ancient composition. I allude to the poems of Homer. You will find reflected there what I take as the next progressive stage of human government. We find developed in Homer's poems a system of government more advanced than that at which I have just glanced, but yet simple and child-like as compared with that which now prevails amongst men. We find in his poems a plan of government developed in which there appear to have been leading men—god-like men as they were termed—who controlled and influenced the body of the people. They were assisted by a council of chiefs, all of whom held their position oil account of their intrinsic merit, being as it were naturally born to command; and then there was also a general assembly of the people, in which the views of the leaders were propounded and discussed. But in this early system of government it is interesting to note that several principles which are now accepted as common-place's among us, seem to have had no part or portion whatever. For example, of the principle of equality—of one man being as good as page 3 another—about which I shall have more to say before I sit down, we see no germ whatever.

Of another principle, too, now familiar to us, and which is the great instrument by which we work our political institutions—I mean the principle majority ruling—there is no trace to be found in the poems of Homer. On the contrary, we find that when those leading men—the wise men and chiefs—consulted the people, it was not so much with any view of obtaining the opinion of the majority, or of being Raided by it, but rather for the purpose of influencing the people to comply with the conclusions that they had previously agreed upon. And they certainly seem to have adopted with their opposition a much more summary course than in our times would be considered at all allowable. We read of one debate in which the project of the leaders was opposed by a poor and ignorant man, but his objections were put down summarily by the violence of one of the chiefs, who assailed him and belaboured him with his sceptre, and that amid the general laughter and approval of the assembly. So that in this first form of human government, consultation with the people, and their admission to deliberative rights, appears to have obtained in a very circumscribed and limited manner indeed. Well, now, if we go a little further beyond these two first stages of human government, we find in the works of another ancient writer, much deeper and keener reflections on the principles of human government than anything suggested in what I have already adverted to. We find in the works of Aristotle several acute and profound reflections on the theory of human government; and it is interesting and important to us in observing these early views, to notice how diverse they often are from those which now prevail amongst us. For we are very apt to get into the groove of the age in which we live. We are exceedingly apt to think that the only wisdom is that which we see obtaining in our own age; and it is profitable to us, and tends to enlarge our views and ideas, to consult older writers, men of great intellect, and who present views of government different to those which are familiar to us at the present time.

Now this writer (Aristotle,) at whose views I will just glance, enters with great acuteness into several problems which then perplexed men, and which cannot at all yet be considered to be settled. He enumerates the different kinds of human government. He says that if you give the government to the many, they are apt to oppress the few; and that, as the majority are poor and the few rich, you will have the many poor oppressing the few rich. On the other hand, if you give the government to the few who are wealthy, they, again, will oppress and disregard the rights of those who are poor. But, if you have an aristocracy—which in his time meant the best of the people, not only those who had been born to the position, but were really the best of the community—that means the exclusion from honours and offices of all but the aristocrats themselves Having set out these difficulties clearly, he observes that some may say the law should be supreme; but he at once answers that you must have some one to execute the law, and thus you have all your difficulties to face again. He further says that in every business there are three classes of people. There are the people who do the work, there are the people page 4 who superintend the work, and there are the people who study the theory and he says that it is often found that they who do the work—those of the lowest class—though they are not able themselves to discharge the higher duties, are yet uncommonly good judges of those on whom those duties devolve. In politics, he observes, it is just the same. You have the mass of the people, and those who are statesmen, and those who study the theory; and whatever you may think about the capability of the mass of the people to study the science of government, or to undertake administration, yet they are good judges, and keen judges, of those who take it upon themselves to discharge either the one duty or the other—good judges of practical men, and often, too, sound judges of theory.

And that is an observation which has been frequently used since. It affords foundation for an argument that Lord Russell puts forward in support of his views in favour of an enlarged political franchise; and it is interesting to note how this writer, who lived in such a totally different state of society from ourselves, and surrounded by conditions of human thought wholly alien to ours, suggests a view undoubtedly just, and a view which has influenced the course of political progress among ourselves. And you will see how totally different was the state of society in which Aristotle lived, when I tell you that in the same work in which is contained these deep reflections upon the political art, you find announced other principles, and other topics handled, which you would be very much surprised indeed to hear propounded now. For example, you hear him discoursing upon the manner in which the public feast tables should be laid out, devoting a whole chapter to the way in which the public dinners should be conducted, and discoursing at great length upon the question of marriage as a matter, the details of which the state ought to regulate, as also the manner of bringing up children, with regard to which he declares that only the healthy children should be preserved, and that the unhealthy and deformed should be made away with.

These are ideas we have wholly discarded, but that increases the interest in what remained; it increases our admiration of the man who, in the mere infancy of human thought, spoke so much and so clearly about principles upon which rest the foundations of society. But now, when we thus come to that period of political progress in which we reach a settled form of government, such as we find pretty fairly developed in the works of Aristotle—the regular institution, as it were, of politics—the best thing we can do in tracing its onward course is to take the history of our own country, both because in that history we find the most perfect chain of political progress, and also because its result has been a system of government which, slightly varied, bids fair to encompass the whole of the civilized world. If we propose to consider "Political Progress; its Tendency and its Limit," I don't think we can do better than take that political progress which in its origin is embodied in the history of the Anglo-Saxon race, and is now the property of the world. Not that I intend to detain you with any detailed account of the political history of Great Britain. I shall only glance at that history, and it will lead us up to the particular point to which I desire to ask your attention more fully this evening. Now, all of you page 5 who have considered the history of our own country are aware that in the early times, before we had parliamentary government, and knew the force of representative institutions, the king or sovereign was the great power in the community. Different writers have described the functions which he discharged, and the duties which devolved upon him, but you can get a very good idea of them by observing what is done in the name of the sovereign now. If you look at the London Government Gazette, or at our own Government Gazette, or observe the records of public proceedings yon will be struck by the number of things the Queen is supposed to do—the number of duties and functions the sovereign is supposed to perform. Now the simple fact is, that, in the early times, the sovereign used pretty much in his own right and by his own power to perform all those functions. At present, as you know, they are practically done by persons who are answerable to the people; and though, nominally, the sovereign is doing these different acts, they are really done by persons who may, at any time, be called to account, which is the great feature of our political system. But, in the earlier days, the king performed most of these acts on his own responsibility. That being so, I need not tell you that his power was very great. This power seems, however, from the very earliest period, to have been limited by three qualifications,—qualifications about which authors have disputed with very great warmth as to how far they were binding, and how far only illusory, but which, I imagine, were disregarded when there was a strong sovereign and a weak parliament, and observed when there was a weak king and an active parliament. The restrictions, as you probably remember, were that the sovereign was not to tax without the consent of the parliament; that he was not to make laws without its sanction, and that he was under a general obligation to conduct the government of the country according to law.

These were the three general limitations which qualified the power of the sovereign, and which were enforced, more or less, very much as the people had power or opportunity to enforce them; and in the Great Charter which we have all read of in our school books, we find these principles recognised. And certainly that charter is a remarkable document, and one which may well justify all the enthusiasm which political writers have expressed about it, for in it we find embodied and clearly recognised great principles of human liberty, principles which were in practice often but imperfectly vindicated, but which still we find there asserted by all the leading men in England.

However, the mere granting of a charter, or any nominal concession of political rights, would not have been of much use to any people—as I need not tell you—unless some means of giving practical reality to what was conceded could be found out, and therefore it is that a peculiar interest attaches to the gradual growing up of what we now know as the House of Commons. In these early times the House of Commons was a very different body indeed to that which now bears the name. It was then, in fact, an assemblage of persons, who were sent by the different constituencies to the general council of the country as their mere agents or attorneys, to stipulate for them with regard to the amount of the monetary contributions which they were to make to the general revenue. That page 6 was what the House of Commons was originally. Accordingly we find in those early times that a member sent to the House of Commons was paid his wages just as any other attorney or agent would have been. Now, when a man wishes to be elected to parliament, he frequently presents the inhabitants of the town, which he proposes to ask for election, with a fine park, or some other monument of his munificence or if that does not do, he spends thousands of pounds in securing his election. It is a well-known fact that one election has cost as much as £100,000; but it was very different in the old times. Then, when they sent agents or deputies to the general council, they had to pay them for giving their time and trouble to the service, and you find some very curious records of this state of affairs. For example, we find one sheriff of a county indicted because he paid too much for a member to go to Parliament. The indictment set forth that the sheriff had paid £20 when he could have got a man to go to Parliament just as well for £10. I mention this fact because it will give you a better and clearer idea of the real nature of the early House of Commons than any lengthened disquisition about it. But though that early House of Commons appears to us now to stand in a comparatively insignificant light, being thus an assemblage of persons paid to perform a simple service, and paid such small sums, yet there lay concealed in this institution a great and vital power to which is owing the whole of the political progress of England, and I may add of the world, namely—the power of money. It was their legitimate right (though often infringed in the early times) to say how much money was to be granted. That power was imperfectly recognised in the beginning, yet still they held fast to it. Under different reverses and infinite difficulties the House of Commons in England always adhered to that right, and England, you will observe, occupying an insular position, and not being compelled to support a standing army as were other continental nations, there was no really decisive way of bringing mere brute force to crush the rights thus claimed for the people. So we find throughout the whole history of Britain that the House of Commons having the power of giving money, and the sovereign always wanting money, they continued making demands, and he, in return for grants, making concessions. He had no effectual means of crushing the opposition of the Commons, and therefore he, from time to time, made terms with them. This, doubtless, is the secret of political success in Great Britain. I need not tell you that this success was a very gradual process, and that, though there was this germ of power, never wholly crushed, yet still its growth was slow. We find, from reign to reign, and generation to generation, the struggle continued, and from the time of King John even up to the time of Queen Elizabeth, we frequently notice how limited was the recognised power of the Commons, though, through their secret power as it were, their unrecognised power was gradually growing and surging upwards. We observe in the reign of Queen Elizabeth the request for free speech still continued every session. That is one of the most marked signs of the inferior position which the Commons held. Even as late as that reign, the speaker, every session, requested from the sovereign the right of free speech; and you may, possibly, recollect the answer of the haughty Queen to one of these demands, namely, that, as for free speech, page 7 she was quite willing they should have it, but she wished them to understand what it extended to—simply "aye" or "no," and nothing more. I need not tell you that that would be a license of parliamentary speech wholly inadequate to our present requirements. However, at this same period, several great changes had taken place in the world which were reacting on the course of English political progress. There was the Reformation, which signalised the unloosing of a great mental power, and which told more directly and pointedly on English politics than it did on the politics of any other country in the world. The invention of Printing—which I need scarcely allude to—was of itself alone sufficient to create and effect a revolution; and, accordingly, we find growing up during the reign of Queen Elizabeth a great power, which she was just able to keep under, but which her successors were wholly unable to control, namely—the Puritan clement, which identified itself with the progressive and democratic party in England. Now, I need not go through in detail the various stages of political progress that followed. In the reign of Charles I. we find one marked stage signalised by the well-known Petition of Right—a great document in the history of English political freedom; a document which contains the principle frequently before that violated, but still never given up, viz., that the sovereign was in no case to tax without the authority of parliament. That was put foremost in this Petition of Right; for by this time the political leaders had come to clearly understand the primary importance of that political privilege. They clearly realised that everything depended on it, and accordingly we find it heading the claims of the Petition of Right. The second demand was, that he was not to imprison without the authority of law; the third was directed against an abuse at that time growing up, that he was not to introduce martial law, but leave unimpaired the authority of the common and statute law of the kingdom. This period, then, represents another stage of British political progress, though, as you will no doubt recollect, for a time the Petition of Right failed. The king broke loose from the obligations he had entered into, and himself fell a sacrifice to the indignation of those whose rights he had violated, and with whom he had broken faith. No doubt, looking back on that—the first—revolution, in which Charles I. was brought to the scaffold, we must admit that it was imperfect. It was too violent. It was not conducted with English moderation, and on that account, no doubt, it ultimately failed, and the royal line was brought back again in Charles II. Yet that first revolution effected this great object: it, as it were, familiarised the people of England with the idea of revolution whenever it might be found necessary. It was, I say, imperfect in itself. It was too violent and did not succeed. Yet it left a lesson and made a mark on the minds of the people of England, that whenever they were very hard set they could have a revolution again; and that I take to be one great use of the revolution that brought Charles I. to the scaffold.

The second revolution, you will recollect—that which ejected James II. from England—was carried out in a much more business-like and effectual manner. You will remember that that was a revolution conducted and completed by some of the greatest statesmen and lawyers that have ever appeared in any country; who, by natural right as it were, went to the front—carried out that revolution—and recorded the rights which they page 8 claimed in the Bill of Rights, taking every step as closely as could be in accordance with the Constitution, from which for a time they had to depart.

The Bill of Rights, which was passed after James II. had been deposed, contained a record and summary of the privileges claimed by the people of England, defined, though in the midst of revolution, in a temperate and constitutional manner; and thus this revolution was marked by the absence of the excesses with which national movements of that kind have been often conducted, and was stamped with a peculiarly English character; conducted, as it was, by statesmen, led by an aristocracy then the natural leaders of the people, and perfected by the advent of a constitutional prince. This moderation enabled them to achieve permanent success; and we thus reach a stage of political progress where we find parliamentary government clearly established, and constitutional rule as the normal condition of English sovereignty. No marked change, nor any striking principle, presents itself from this time until about the end of the eighteenth century, when we reach a period distinguished by a great upheaval of the human intellect, by a novel development of political principle, which wholly modified the current of English political progress, established principles that are yet actively at work among us, and of which we have not yet seen the limit, or ultimate effect.

Before I advert to this new principle, let me ask you to observe that so far in English political progress the great effort and struggle of the people was to secure their chartered rights. All their struggle was to secure what was given to them by such and such a charter. Were they to be deprived of what was secured to them by this act of parliament or that? We find nothing about the rights of men in general, it is all about the rights of Englishmen. The first charter to which I have alluded, for example (that of King John,) was supposed to be a copy of an earlier charter, which was itself asserted to be a mere embodiment of the ancient common law rights of the people. We find in the Petition of Bights the same point alluded to. In this petition it is asserted that "your servants have inherited this freedom." In the Bill of Bights they recite again that they propose to do as their ancestors have in like case done in the vindication of their liberties; and throughout the whole course and current of English political progress you will find the same feature obtaining in a marked degree. "What are our legal rights?" was the question they asked themselves; and, turning to different charters, they pointed out what they were entitled to, and of what they were illegally deprived. You may recollect that Shakspeare, who is such a correct interpreter of the feeling and character of his age, in representing the career of Jack Cade, a violent and reckless rebel, shows that this feeling of ancient lineage and ancient rights was a potent principle with the people of England, because Cade, you may remember, when haranguing the mere rabble, tells them that he was entitled to their favour because his father was a Mortimer, his mother a Plantagenet, and his wife a descendant of the Lacies; and when he reproaches the people, he says that he did not think they would have given up their arms until they had vindicated their page 9 ancient freedom. And Shakspeare only represents what was the settled principle of the English people. In fact, the great question with them was one often found in old law volumes,—"What saith the book?" what, in fact saith the letter of the law? In all their struggles and demands you find no allusion to the rights of men; it is all, what are they entitled to under their charters as Englishmen.

But now a great change was coming over the world, and over England too. I have alluded to the end of the eighteenth century as the period when this change began to set in. Just at this time there was a new principle about to be announced, a principle which is yet actively at work, and which has not nearly run its course, and the ultimate effect of which none can tell. I refer to the principle of the equality of men. Now, when I call it a new principle I mean new as applied to the active affairs of life; because it was not an entirely new idea—this principle of the equality of men. In very early times, quite as early as those to which I referred when I commenced to address you, we find this notion expounded by different political writers. It was one of the principles of the Roman lawyers—the principle that all men were equal was one that was recognised as amongst the settled axioms of their science. But it was with them a mere idea, a mere principle which was necessary for the logical unity of their system, just as in the same way we find lawyers in the present day asserting that everyone knows the law—a principle which, I need not say, is open to criticism, because some of the lawyers themselves do not know it, but yet it is necessary for the logical consistency of the theory of English law. Well, just in the same way, those early Roman lawyers used to assert that all men were equal, but only, in that aspect, as for the purpose of rendering complete the juridical system they expounded. The principle was also announced by different philosophers and men of science and letters in later times. Hobbs, a great English thinker, proclaimed it point blank—nature, he said, had made very little difference between them. But although he announced this as a matter of science, he was himself in political principle an ardent Tory. But with much more earnestness and force was this principle championed by the thinkers, philosophers and writers of the French shool. Rousseau amongst others embraced and championed it illustrated it with ingenuity, and clothed it with eloquent language. These thinkers and philosophers, disgusted as they were with the tyranny and oppression which kept clown the mass of men, and seeing the narrow theories and selfish principles that ruled the institutions about them, championed abroad the grand idea that, whatever institutions you might have, whatever form of government you instituted, however hopeless and miserable the social lot of the people, yet men Mere entitled to equal rights; and that whatever oppression you subjected them to you did not destroy those rights. There still remained the great principle implanted by the Deity in the human heart, that all men were entitled to equality.

They heralded and championed this view, but still it was with them only the sentiment—though a noble sentiment—of a few men of letters. But about this time came the great French Revolution. That revolution was in itself, as we all know, marked by horrible atrocities, by those exhibitions of fiendish disposition which we must expect in men just page 10 loosed from slavery. But amidst all its crimes it had still this great merit: it bore aloft, as it were, and raised into the living world, the great principle of the equality of men, wherever they came from, and proclaimed that no kings, or aristocracies, or institutions of government could suppress that great truth. With all the excesses of the French Revolution it embodied that principle, and it bore the idea of the equality of men—for the first time it bore it—prominently into the active every day world. But now, if it had merely been left with the French to work out, much would not have come of it, because, admirable as the French people are in many respects, they are not distinguished by practical persistence in supporting their views, and they had been so long subject to slavery that theirs were not the hands to win victory for this principle. It is strange to notice the way in which Providence seems to work out great movements in the world; for just at the time that this great principle of human equality was raised aloft for a moment by the French Revolution in a wild shriek of liberty; just at this time there was at the other end of the world—practically much more remote than we are now from Europe—growing up the United States of America; and there you had a people eminently qualified to embody, preserve, and adorn any political principle they embraced. This people, just rising from infancy into nationality, with all their instincts in favour of freedom quickened by their separation from the mother country, and, at the same time, east loose from the mere heritage of charters, or acts of parliament, which had at once preserved and limited English freedom: this people, just rising into independence—a steady people—a grave people—a moral people : they were just the very people to take up and give practical effect to this mere principle thrown up among men by the great French Revolution. And, accordingly, this idea of the equality of men was caught up and responded to by the young American states, and preserved there, until it has become the great active principle of our time. Prominent among the men who championed this principle was Thomas Jefferson, who is another example of what is often observed, that the men who most influence mankind are often not themselves really the ablest, intellectually. Thomas Jefferson was a man by no means of a commanding intellect; but, nevertheless, he possessed great determination and a clear insight into things political. With him is identified mainly the progress and success of the principle of human equality in the United States. He threw himself body and soul, as it were, into the advocacy of that principle, and secured its complete predominance in the Government and institutions of America. We find in his first inaugural message, for the first time clearly announced, the principle that the majority must rule. And the principles thus given practical shape in the United States, soon reacted on England. I apprehend it will be found, that after the close of the eighteenth century, the political progress of England was something different from what it was before. You do not find after this period the same adherence to the mere chartered rights of Englishmen. You find new ideas of political progress setting in. For example, in the great reform of 1832, there is a prominent and decisive move towards the general rights of all—a move that could not be justified merely by a reference to the ancient theory of page 11 political liberty. On the contrary, I think that the observation of the Duke of Wellington made at that time was really a true one, though he did not take the deepest and most statesmanlike view of what was going on But when he said it was "revolution by due course of law," he said what was perfectly right, because that was really what then began—taking into account not merely the change in the electoral franchise that was Then made, but the manner in which it was carried, viz., by establishing formally the political principle that the House of Lords was not entitled, in any case, to object to what the Commons finally determined on. There you find a marked advance in the political progression of England, and an advance due, as it seems to me, to this one principle brought to light by the French Revolution. Well, after this reform of 1832, it was easy to see that progression must go on more and more. Some of the politicians who had brought about that reform spoke of it as being final—Lord John Russell, for example, and the witty dean of St. Paul's. Sydney Smith, who was an ardent supporter of the reform measure, a few years after it was passed began complaining of its effects, clearly showing this—that all the time political progress was rushing on, while the men who had effected that political movement were standing still. I will read to you the observations that Sydney Smith makes, because it is curious to observe what he says about it, and to compare with his observations what has since occurred. He says:—

"It is hardly necessary to say anything about universal suffrage, as there is no act of folly or madness that it may not in the beginning produce. There would be the greatest risk that the monarchy, as at present constituted, the funded debt, the established church, titles, and the hereditary peerage, would give way before it. Many really honest men may wish for this change. I know, or at least believe, that wheat and barley would grow if there were no Archbishop of Canterbury; the domestic fowl would still breed if our Viscount Melbourne were again called Mr. Lamb; but he has stronger nerves than I have who would venture to bring this change about………. The people seem to be hurrying through all the well-known steps to anarchy. They must be stopped at some pass or another. The first is the best, and most easily defended."

This shows us how political progression was going on, because these were the words of a man who most ardently supported the cause of reform in 1832; but he stood aghast at the effects that measure produced. What is the answer to these fears and remonstrances? What is the next thing? "Why, that we find the Conservative or Tory party, not very many years after, passing a reform bill that closely approximates to universal suffrage. We find the principle of an established church, you may say, practically given up; we find the ballot in England conceded; we find the question of the re-distribution of seats, as it is termed—or giving members more to numbers—also conceded, as one that must necessarily be included in any new measure of reform; so that, in a very few years, changes which the political reformers of thirty years ago would, even in the heat of their conflict, have denounced, are now being accomplished.

The London Punch of a very few years ago amused his readers with some satirical sketches of what was to happen in England at the end of the century, politically. Among these was one representing what was to page 12 take place in the House of Commons, and one feature of which was "Sir John Bright" being a member of the Government. That was then thought so amusing and extravagant that it formed a subject for Punch. Now we find not merely that that eminent man is a member of the Government, but that his views and principles are those which mainly influence the Government; and though he remains untitled, not the less is his influence predominating over the people and the Government of England. This shows how rapid is the political progress which is going on. Now Mr. Gladstone and Mr. Bright are the leading men—they are the progressive men—the men who embody the advanced views. But I doubtless address many young men this evening; and I can assure them that they will live to see the principles of Mr. Bright and Mr. Gladstone antiquated. They will live to see them regarded as men who were very good in their age, and who did very good service in their time to the liberal cause, just as Earl Russell and Lord Brougham are now regarded. But other men will take the lead and conduct the political progress which those men who now guide it will not be then considered sufficiently advanced to head. And now, if there is anything in this view of political progress that we have been taking, if it be true as a fact—and it is only of facts that I desire to speak—that we are all hurrying on with this rapid progress, 1 think it is only natural for one to inquire, "Where is all this going to?—In what is all this political progress to end?" From centuries ago, when the people contended for the mere right not to have their money taken from them without their consent, and not to be imprisoned without due course of law—to the next stage, when they contended to keep unimpaired the privileges of their representatives—to the subsequent stage, when they contended for the admission to political rights of a larger section of the people—to the present stage, when so many of the ancient landmarks of the Constitution have been swept away—from that early time to this, and looking forward to further progress, I think it is a natural question to ask, "Where is it all to end?—what is its object?—what, in fact, is its tendency?" In order to consider what is the tendency of all this, I beg you to observe, at the outset, what it is that is really taking place. You find some people speaking of the dread they feel of a loosening of all the powers of government, and of a fear that political progress will lead to the relaxing of that authority which is necessary for the maintenance of the social state. Now that I take to be a complete mistake, for nothing of the kind is going on. What is really going on is this: there is a transfer of power taking place from one set of depositories to another, a transferring of the power from kings and aristocracies to the mass of the people. That is the real movement which is going on, and it is in the light of that movement that we have to consider the different tendencies which are observable and will be observable with regard to this political progress.

Now, there are several minor, though very important tendencies to which I think I need not ask your attention in detail. The most marked of these minor tendencies is the tendency to sink individualism in the general power and weight of the community. This is one which unquestionably accompanies political progress—the tendency to make the page 13 individual less and the community more. I might illustrate this tendency to make less of individual rights. Lord Chatham, alluding at one time to the rights of Englishmen, said that the poorest man in his cottage might defy all the force of the Crown. It might be ruined, its walls might be broken down, the wind might enter it, the rain might enter it, but the king of England could not. With all his forces he could not cross the threshold of the ruined tenement. Now, what Lord Chatham expressed in those picturesque terms figures the power of the individual—his being entitled to stand on his rights against the representative of the whole community, and in doing so it figures a principle which daily tends to grow weaker. The more political progress advances, the less will be the weight of those individual rights. You will observe that I am not now discussing whether these tendencies be good or bad—how-far they are objectionable, or how far they are to be applauded—but I am only alluding to what they unquestionably are, and no one who observes the course of political progress will doubt that one great tendency of it will be to weaken the position of the individual. It tends, indeed, to have a deeper and keener influence than is represented by any mere infringement of men's personal rights. It has a tendency to control thought itself. It will be found that the more political progress advances the more the general opinion of all tells : and the more the weight of the general mind of the community comes to be felt, the less scope there is for individual opinion; in fact, the less chance there is for a man to be singular. His opinions are apt to be controlled and dominated by the great weight of the general opinion about him, pressing him in on all sides, enclosing him, contracting him, as it were, and subjecting him to the general pressure—like the air itself—of the common opinion. I do not mean to say that this tendency must necessarily run its full course, because there is great friction in human society, and if we want real progress we should endeavour to prevent tyranny of opinion as much as any other tyranny. Nevertheless, there is this tendency, and it will become more marked every day. Accompanying this increasing tendency of the majority to absolute dominance you certainly have this compensating influence, you have, the general rectitude of the views of the majority as a security. If the majority do predominate, if the majority do claim and exercise this weight, it is accompanied by this, that generally the efforts of the majority are for the good of the whole. There is a remarkable illustration of that in the late American war. In that war I don't think it can be questioned that the minority, the Southerners, had the law on their side. They were strictly contending only for their constitutional rights. I believe that anyone who has studied that constitutional question will say that this is the case, and, therefore, so far it was an invasion on the part of the majority of the constitutional right of the South; but yet, you will observe that that invasion of those rights was marked by a determination to vindicate the great principle of human freedom, and was distinguished, when they did succeed, by a remarkable consideration and forbearance towards those whom they bad conquered. Whatever view we may take of that American war, none can question, I think, that it exhibited these two features, and so it is an illustration of the fact that this marked tendency page 14 of modern political progress—the tendency to sink the individual—dangerous though it be, carries with itself, at least, one great compensating principle. But we need not pursue these different political tendencies in detail, because there is this great tendency of political progress one which embraces all the rest—which is becoming more marked each year that we live, and which has only begun to produce its effects,—and that is the tendency more and more to effect that equality of men to which I have alluded, and I believe that the avowed aspiration of all political progress is to promote and secure that equality. That is the distinguishing feature and the marked tendency of all political progress in our time.

Now, it is no use to talk merely of generalities. Let us look a little more closely at what the meaning of this political equality is; let us see, in fact, what we mean when we talk of the equality of men. When we talk of men being equal, what do we mean ? Take one set of persons who are without education or means of knowledge, who reflect on very little beyond their own mere animal wants. Take again the number of men who, to borrow an old expressive phrase, serve vice, are the slaves of vice, as if bound to give to it all their energies. Take those again who are tyrants in their own petty sphere, either over their families or the lower animals, if I may allude to a branch of human morality not yet much thought of. Take these. Take, then, others, persons of great knowledge, reflection, and intelligence; persons who strive to live according to their sense of duty and right; persons who are so controlled by their own sense of right that they would not oppress the poorest and meanest thing within their reach. Take these two classes which we know are in every human state. Why, go out into Bourke Street late in the evening, and you will see some of the one class; and, doubtless, you know among your friends those of the other. And what do you think of the assertion that they all are equal ? What equality do you see between one and the other ? It is of no use repeating a thing, no matter how often, or by what number of people, unless it is really true; therefore, I ask, What do you mean by the equality of men ? Unquestionably, whether you like it or not, or believe it or not, that is the great principle that is now actuating mankind—this tendency to the equality of men. What is the meaning of it? What is the real effect of it. Some men, and very able men too, satirise the whole notion, and look upon it as ridiculous. For example, Carlyle, in that paper of his which excited a good deal of attention some time ago, "Shooting Niagara," alludes to the principle of equality of men in these terms:—

"Singular, in the case of human swarms, with what perfection of unanimity and quasi religious conviction the stupidest absurdities can be received as the axioms of Euclid, nay, as articles of faith which you are not only to believe, unless malignantly insane, but are, if you have any honour or morality, to push into practice, quasi primum, and to see done if your soul would live. Divine commandment to vote (manhood suffrage, horsehood, doghood ditto, not yet treated of,) universal glorious liberty (to sons of the devil in overwhelming majority as would appear,) count of heads the God-appointed way in this universe—all other ways devil-appointed—in one brief word, which includes whatever of palpable page 15 inequality delirious absurdity universally believed can be littered or imagined on these points, 'the equality of men.' Any man equal to any other: Quashee-nigger to Socrates or Shakespeare, Judas Iscariot to Jesus Christ, and Bedlam or Gehenna equal to the New Jerusalem, shall we say?"

Such is his criticism and satire on this principle of human government. A little further on he shows his idea of our political progress. For he says, the whole of it means, "Anarchy plus a constable." No one can go to pick your pocket but some constable is sure to have him. Except that limitation, the whole is anarchy. Rather a melancholy thing if it is the right view; because, you observe, whether we like it or not he thing goes on. Whether you believe in it or whether you do not, no doubt this great principle is actuating men, and anyone taking the trouble to study the political history of the world and the course of events will see this movement prepared from period to period, as it were by the hands of Providence, and the force of human society from different races and countries setting in to carry it forward. Therefore, if Carlyle's view be true, it is an unfortunate fact; but the fact is that Carlyle, like many other able men, is misled by his feelings and impulses. His feelings overcome the force of his judgment. If it were not for this, he would never have misrepresented or misunderstood the real meaning of that great principle. Nobody supposes, no sane man would pretend that, to use a colloquial and vulgar representation of this principle, one man is as good as another, and better. That will not be true—can never be true. Men will really be different, and one set of men will be better than another always, and entitled to weight and respect when others deserve only contempt. But the real meaning of this great principle now actuating the whole civilised world is this, that men are equal in the sense that all start fair—so far as the state is concerned,—that no one has prescriptive rights, that no class of men are by human institutions unduly weighted in the struggle of life—that, in fact, we are all entitled to engage in this troublesome conflict for what you call success in life on equal terms. That is the real and only possible meaning of that principle, and it is, let me say, a great meaning, and for the first time practically proclaims to the human race that man, whether high-born or low-born, whatever be his race or colour (because we have only just seen a great revolution, which deluged a whole continent in blood and is supposed to have cost half-a-million of lives, to assert this equality for the blacks,) or how poor any may be in natural gifts, there is proclaimed for all a right greater than was ever given by any charter, wider and deeper and broader than was ever embodied in any muniments of political freedom—the right to start fair in the race of life, and then to depend on yourself for success or failure in that race.

It may be said, and may be said truly, that this principle can never perform satisfactorily all that it promises; that it excites hopes that can never be realised, and holds out prospects to men that are never reached. That, I think, is true. But in that respect it only resembles other kinds of hope that actuate, and actuate most effectively, the human mind. For, if we think of it, that hope which tells so much upon men, which nerves page 16 them to the greatest actions, which makes them endure all troubles exertion, and toil, and difficulty, is, in the main, a hope that is never satisfied by attainment. This hope is seldom followed up by the reality to which men look forward; and therefore, when this principle of the equality is stigmatised as exciting expectations that are never satisfied, I say that it is just like the rest of the hopes that actuate mankind, but that it is not on that account the less potent as a saving principle elevating the human race, stimulating human progress, and shedding light over the toiling, struggling, masses of men.

And, now, I have undertaken to say something about the limit of this political progress. Its tendency, I take it, is clearly towards the equality of the human race. It is a tendency actively at work, and which has by no means yet run its course; and when I come to talk of its limit, I can well understand that you may be rather sceptical, considering the purport of what I have already addressed to you; for I propose now to talk of a limit to what I have already indicated to be almost without a limit. And certainly he would be a brave man who would undertake to lay down with particularity how this political progress is to be bounded, and what is to be the end of it. I may give you an instance of how difficult it is even in the case of the greatest political thinkers to prophesy what is coming in this era of civilisation. I apprehend that there are no two men who more keenly observed and clearly understood the nature of the political movements now going on among men, than De Tocqueville and John Stuart Will. I don't mean to say that they are the best men of our age, but there are no two men who have more closely and ably analysed the nature of the political movements going on among us. Not many years ago De Tocqueville announced that, whatever difficulties and dangers might be incident to modern society, there would be no fear of the majority ever using systematic force against the minority, and putting them down permanently. John Stuart Mill commented upon this, and said he completely agreed with it, that all the minority had to fear was the transitory violence of the mob, and that once it was known that they would resist this, by force if necessary, it would never be attempted. Both these two eminent thinkers, only a few years ago, deliberately announced that as their settled opinion. What followed ? A few years afterwards came the great American war, when the very thing they said was impossible came to pass, because here you had an instance of the majority rising as one man, and permanently conquering the minority. But no wonder the human intellect is at fault when it endeavours to say how this political progress will go; and for this reason, that there has never yet been seen in the history of the world anything like what is going on now—any political progress such as prevails in the present time—because, whatever the form of the democracies in the ancient time, they were democracies in which the government was by the few. For instance, in the government of Athens, there were only 25,000 voters in a population of 500,000, and, although the voters had an extremely democratic form of government, they were merely a minority of the whole. Again, under republics of the middle ages, only the privileged class voted. It is now totally different. What is now being page 17 worked out, the principle that is now dawning upon the human mind, a principle yet imperfect, marked with defects, embarrassed with many difficulties and met on all sides by obstacles, which, however, I believe, it will ultimately overcome, is, that none are to be excluded from the privilege and responsibility of government, that the voice of all is to be heard, their wishes considered, and, if possible, their wants met.

This, I say, is something wholly new; and in connection with it we have nothing to guide us in the previous history of man. In contemplating it we may well be disposed to say, with an eminent thinker, that we feel inclined to burn all our books, and look at nothing which was past; and, in contemplating it, he would be a brave man indeed who would mark out the particular limits within which this political progress is to take place. But, notwithstanding all this, I will say that there is a limit to this political progress; and it is a limit well worthy of our consideration. I say that the real limit of all political progress in our time—in our cycle of civilisation—will be the extent of social progress. That, however, is a mere general observation. Let us look at the matter more closely. Supposing, you take a community of men who have made great advances in social condition. For example, take the case of the Pitcairn Islanders, a very small community, but they will serve to illustrate what I mean. There you have a community of persons who are not pressed by social wants, who are greatly influenced by moral and religious teaching. They are not marked (it seems strange, but it is so) by any of the fierce passions which render necessary so many means for suppressing violence among other and greater peoples. Their different disputes are settled by elders whom they select, and they talk over their affairs in common when they meet together. Now, among such a people, so advanced socially, you might have any political institutions you like. You might have justice administered in the general assembly of the people, and the legislature held in the Eastern Market—if they have an Eastern Market. In fact, no political institution could go wrong with them, the simple; reason being that their social condition is such as to make any political institutions safe. Now, take another case. Take the case of the city of New York, and in alluding to this let me say that you must not misunderstand me as desiring now to reflect either upon the American people or American institutions. I do not wish to do anything of the kind, and it would be most unjust to do so, for this reason : in New York the foreign voters as compared with the native-born are as seven to five;—the city, in fact, being populated by the outcasts of Europe—the mere scum of Europe—who come shoaling in, time after time, degrading its whole social condition. You may imagine how low is the condition of these persons who are the source of political power there, when I tell you that patriotic Americans, who have been trying to improve matters and reform abuses, suggest as a complete remedy one which they contend (and rightly so, I believe.) would revolutionise the whole state of affairs—that the voter, to qualify, should be required to be able to read a little simple English. If they are called on to do that it would clear off all the disturbing elements, and everything would go right. Therefore, do not understand me as reflecting upon the American people, or their institutions; but I state the page 18 fact in this view: There is a degraded population—a population that has not made social progress : but they have the most advanced political institutions that you can imagine. As far as democratic progress goes they could not well go further. Everything is in their own hands. They elect their judges, their executive officers, and their legislative officers; everything goes by the vote of the people, and there is no limitation and no control. But all the while that they have these advanced political institutions, the real success—the real progress—in any intelligible sensible meaning, of their institutions is limited by the fact that the people who exercise these political privileges are not socially advanced. They are not able to bear the weight of the privileges conferred upon them. The result is that corruption, ignorance and brutality govern there, and not the people. And no institutions that could be given to them; no form of constitution; no plans of statesmen can make the people rule until they become socially advanced. And this will show you that the real difficulty now of political progress is the want of social progress. In fact, the political science is every day becoming more and more a social science. The difficulty in its way is the social difficulty. They triumph or fail together. Political wrongs and difficulties are really social wrongs and difficulties; and social wrongs must be met by social remedies; and when I say this, I at once indicate the grandeur and the difficulty of the movement which is now going on amongst us.

When people talk—as you hear very well-meaning people, and persons whose views one often respects, talk—of their anxiety to set this or that political concession, I think one cannot but bear in mind that while their view is right in so far as this, that political institutions, unless greatly abused, tend of themselves to advance the people socially,—they yet don't realise the real want of our time. There is no difficulty in getting any constitution you please. The people of France have had several constitutions—they have from time to time set up different constitutions; and the same is the case in the United States. The people there can mould and form any constitution they please; and so it will be all over the civilised world. There is no difficulty so far. There is no power outside the people to prevent them having what constitution they like; but all the while Providence is stronger than man, and the real question is—for not all the people of the world united, or all its forces combined, will be able to accomplish what is desired unless by social progress—the real question is, to make the people themselves equal and apt to the institutions of the age; and, in fact, to enable them to realise and to work out in its true sense the great principle of the equality of men. Now, I am conscious that when I go so far I am trenching upon what may be supposed to be dangerous ground, because you may say, "Well, if that be so, if the real question after all is a social question, the real difficulty a social difficulty, is there not a kind of hollowness in your talking of human equality? What is the use of telling a man whose life is a continued struggle with want (as is unfortunately the case with many in the older countries,) who is engaged in perpetual conflict with want and misery, which crushes him clown in degradation and vice, that he is equal to another man whose only trouble is that he does not know how to dispose of his leisure ? What is the use page 19 of talking of equality to miserable wretches brought up in vice and crime, who know nothing of the great principles which guide and support others? What, for example, if the use of preaching equality to men living in the purlieus of London or New York, where the very light of the sun seems to be saddened by entering their miserable habitations? Is there not a hollowness in this whole idea, and would it not be better to avow inequality in theory, when you see such marked inequality in the actual conditions of men?" I am aware that that view may be put; but while, as I have said, this principle of equality cannot satisfy all the aspirations which it raises, it is yet not the less an active living power for improvement, penetrating through the whole of the human race, and such as has never before been heralded to man. It is a principle of hope, which it animates in every heart, and penetrates to every human creature. It is a principle of hope that stimulates to effort through all classes in the only way in which you can teach men to progress. The only way in which you can improve men is putting in their hands the principle of and expectation of progress, and trusting to them then to profit and improve by it, as we trust to political progress to show that they will. I am sensible that a great problem lies as it were behind all this—a problem the difficulty of which we are comparatively free from here, but which is agitating Europe. In that problem is concerned the contest between labour and capital, between wealth and poverty. Into that, however, we need not go; it is outside my subject and not suited to this occasion. It is a difficulty which is pressing strongly on the older countries, a difficulty which is agitating greatly the minds of the humbler classes at home, and in a way that those in a higher position do not realise. I believe, myself, that a solution for it will be found, because I believe that Providence decrees the progress of the human race and the advance of civilisation. I will only say that I think we are fortunate in this country in being comparatively free from that difficulty, and in being able to shape our course, as far as by human means we can, to avoid it. More than that I will not say about it, but in the presence of that difficulty I will pause. I will only make one more observation before I sit down. I am not, of course, going to touch—and I hope in my observations I have not done so—on party politics, and yet, I think, without trenching on this limit. I may say that there is one view suggested by what I have addressed to you which it may not be out of place to make a remark about. We often find people in this country, and in other countries, complaining of politicians and of the condition of political affairs generally. Now, I think this is rather unreasonable, because, if there is any truth in what I have said, political affairs really depend on the social condition of the people themselves. Your politicians and statesmen,—they are nothing, and in this age they become more and more what the general condition of the country renders them. Not only are we the creatures of your making, and the work of your hands, but all our efforts and all our plans are limited by that social improvement which it rests with the people alone to accomplish, without which no nation can be politically progressive, and without which, indeed, in our time, no community can be safe.

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