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plainly indicate, if not an existing defect, yet a source of future defect in our representative system: if there was a just proportion between the two halves of England in 1832, there is not that just proportion now; in the long run, public opinion will be much more influenced by the growing portion of the country than by the stationary. It is an indistinct perception of this fact that stimulates whatever agitation for reform at present exists. The manufacturers of Leeds and Manchester do not give levees and entertainments to Mr. Bright from any attraction towards abstract democracy, — the rate-paying franchise which Mr. Bright desires would place these classes under the irresistible control of their work people: what our great traders really desire is, their own due weight in the community; they feel that the country squire and the proprietor of a petty borough have an influence in the nation above that which they ought to have, and greater than their own. A system arranged a quarter of a century ago presses with irritating constraint on those who have improved with half-magical rapidity during that quarter of a century, is unduly favorable to those who have improved much less or not at all.
Subject, however, to these two exceptions, the House of Commons of the present day coincides nearly —or sufficiently nearly-in habitual judgment with the fairly intelligent and reasonably educated part of the community. Almost all persons except the avowed holders of the democratic theory would think that this is enough. Most people wish to see embodied in Parliament the true judgment of the nation; they wish to see an elected legislature fairly representing - that is, coinciding in opinion with the thinking part of the community: what more, they would inquire, is wanted? We answer that though this is by much the most important requisite of a good popular legislature, it is not absolutely the only one.
At present the most important function of the representative part of our legislature—the House of Commons- is the ruling function. By a very well known progress of events, the popular part of our Constitution has grown out of very small beginnings to a practical sovereignty over all the other parts. To possess the confidence of the House of Commons is all that a minister desires: the power of the Crown is reduced to a kind of social influence; that of the House of Lords is contracted to a suspensive veto. For the exercise of this ruling function, the substantial conformity of the judgment and opinion of the House of Commons with that of the fairly cultivated and fairly influential part of the people at large is the most important of possible conditions, - is in fact the one condition on which the satisfactory performance of that function appears to depend. No legislature destitute of this qualification, whatever its other merits may be, can create that feeling of diffused satisfaction which is the peculiar happiness of constitutional countries, or can insure that distinct comprehension of a popular policy which is the greatest source of their strength. Nothing can satisfy which is not comprehended; no policy can be popular which is not under
This is a truth of every-day observation. We are nowadays so familiar with the beneficial results of the ruling action of Parliament that we are engrossed by it; we fancy that it is the sole duty of a representative assembly: yet so far is this from being the case that in England it was not even the original one.
The earliest function of a House of Commons was undeniably what we may call an expressive function. In its origin it was (matters of taxation excepted) a petitioning body: all the early statutes, as is well known, are in this form ; the Petition of Right is an instance of its adoption in times comparatively recent. The function of the popular part of the legislature was then to represent to the king the wants of his faithful Commons; they were called to express the feelings of those who sent them, and their own. Of course, in its original form this function is obsolete; and if something analogous to it were not a needful element in the duties of every representative assembly, it would be childish to refer to it. But in every free country it is of the utmost importance-and in the long run a pressing necessity — that all opinions extensively entertained, all sentiments widely diffused, should be stated publicly before the nation. We may attribute* the real decision of questions, the actual adoption of policies, to* the ordinary and fair intelligence of the community or to the legislature which represents it: but we must also take care to bring before that fair intelligence and that legislature the sentiments, the interests, the opinions, the prejudices, the wants, of all classes of the nation; we must be sure that no decision is come to in ignorance of real facts and intimate wants. The diffused multitude of moderate men, whose opinions taken in the aggregate form public opinion, are just as likely to be tyrannical towards what they do not realize, inapprehensive of what is not argued out, thoughtless of what is not brought before them, as any other class can be. They will judge well of what they are made to understand; they will not be harsh to feelings that are brought home to their imagination: but the materials of a judgment must be given them, the necessary elements of imagination must be provided, otherwise the result is certain. A free government is the most stubbornly stupid of all governments to whatever is unheard by its deciding classes; on this account it is of the utmost importance that there should be in the House of Commons some persons able to speak and authorized to speak the wants, sentiments, and opinions of every section of the community, delegates, one might almost say, of that section. It is only by argument in the legislature that the legislature can be impressed; it is by argument in the legislature that the attention of the nation is most easily attracted and most effectually retained.
If with the light of this principle we examine our present system of representation, it seems unquestionable that it is defective. We do not provide any mode of expression for the sentiments of what are vaguely but intelligibly called the “working classes”; we ignore them. The Reform Act of 1832 assumed that it was expedient to give a representation to the wants and feelings of those who live in £10 houses, but that it was not expedient to give any such expression to the wants and feelings of those who live in houses rated below that sum. If we were called to consider that part of this subject, we should find much to excuse the framers of that Act, in the state of opinion which then prevailed and the general circumstances of the time, – it was necessary to propose a simple measure, and this numerical demarcation has a trenchant simplicity ; but if we now considerately review our electoral organization, we must concede that however perfectly it may provide an appropriate regulator for our national affairs, it omits to provide a befitting organ of expression for the desires and convictions of these particular classes.
The peculiar characteristics of a portion of the working classes render this omission of special importance. The agricultural laborers may have no sentiments on public affairs; but the artisan classes have. Not only are their circumstances peculiar, and their interests sometimes different from those of the high[er*] orders of the community,- both which circumstances are likely to make them adopt special opinions, and are therefore grounds for a special representation, but the habit of mind which their pursuits and position engender is of itself not unlikely to cause some eccentricity of judgment. Observers tell us that those who live by manual ingenuity are more likely to be remarkable for originality than for modesty. In the present age--and to some extent, we must expect, in every age-such persons must be self-taught; and self-taught men are commonly characterized by a one-sided energy and something of a self-sufficient disposition. The sensation of perfection in a mechanical employment is of itself not without an influence tending towards conceit: and however instructed in definite learning energetic men in these classes may become, they are not subjected to the insensible influences of cultivated life; they do not live in the temperate zone of society, which soon chills the fervid [heat of*] ideas of unseasonable originality. Being cooped up within the narrow circle of ideas that their own energy has provided, they are particularly liable to singular opinions. This is especially the case on politics. They are attracted to that subject in a free country, of necessity: their active intellects are in search of topics for reflection; and this subject abounds in the very atmosphere of our national life, is diffused in newspapers, obtruded at elections, to be heard at every corner of the street. Energetic minds in this class are therefore particularly likely to entertain eccentric opinions on political topics; and it is peculiarly necessary that such opinions should by some adequate machinery be stated and made public. If such singular views be brought into daily collision with ascertained facts and the ordinary belief of cultivated men, their worth can be tested, the weakness of their fallacious part exposed, any new grain of truth they may contain appreciated. On some subjects (possibly, for example, on simple questions of foreign policy) the views of self-taught men may be very valuable, for their moral instincts sometimes have a freshness rarely to be found. At any rate, whatever may be the abstract value of the special sentiments and convictions of the operative classes, their very speciality is a strong indication that our Constitution is defective in providing no distinct outlet for their expression.
* So, preferably, in the Review.- ED.