In free countries, where every one is called upon, more or less, to give his opinion on affairs of state; in democratic republics, where public and private life are intimately blended, where the sovereign is everywhere accessible, and to reach his ear one has only to raise one’s voice, many more persons are tempted to speculate upon the sovereign’s weaknesses, and live at the expense of his passions, than in absolute monarchies. It is not that men are naturally worse there than elsewhere; but the temptation is stronger, and offers itself to more persons at once. There results a much more general degradation of soul.
Mill’s hopes for an early acceptance of the new principles were singularly unrealistic. Yet for the remainder of his life he continued to be an undaunted advocate of the single transferable vote and constantly encouraged and helped his friends like Hare and Fawcett in their efforts. Although women’s suffrage and the Hare system of electoral reform were not the sole practical causes that occupied him in the 1860s, they were pre-eminent in appeal, and when in the House of Commons he strove to further both. Despite his efforts parliament never took the action he wanted, and the reasons are not far to seek. At the time when Mill was advocating a new electoral system, party managers gradually began to remould the organization of the two major parties to render them more disciplined and effective instruments for shaping policies and winning elections. For them the Hare-Mill electoral ideas seemed too revolutionary, too complicated, and their effects on party fortunes too uncertain to be acceptable. Hence, except for some of their members, they showed little interest in proportional representation of the type that Mill supported and were unwilling to incorporate it as an essential element in their political plans. Gladstone, for example, although in some reforms he was evidently influenced by Mill, rejected proportional representation when he considered electoral changes. This is not to say, however, that Mill’s ideas lacked influence. Even into the twentieth century, his basic idea, as stated in continued to incite the interest of many: in a democracy, any and every section must be represented, not disproportionately, but proportionately. A majority of the electors should always have a majority of the representatives; a minority of electors should always have a minority of representatives.
Megan Kirschner is a “Voice of Democracy” Winner
That such has been the actual course of events in modern history, nobody can doubt, and as truly in England as in France. Of old, every proprietor of land was sovereign over its inhabitants, while the cultivators could not call even their bodily powers their own. It was by degrees only, and in a succession of ages, that their personal emancipation was effected, and their labour became theirs, to sell for whatever they could obtain for it. They became the rich men’s equals in the eye of the law; but the rich had still the making of the law, and the administering of it; and the equality was at first little more than nominal. The poor, however, could now acquire property; the path was open to them to quit their own class for a higher; their rise even to a considerable station, gradually became a common occurrence; and to those who acquired a large fortune, the other powers and privileges of aristocracy were successively opened, until hereditary honours have become less a power in themselves, than a symbol and ornament of great riches. While individuals thus continually rose from the mass, the mass itself multiplied and strengthened; the towns obtained a voice in public affairs; the many, in the aggregate, became even in property more and more a match for the few; and the nation became a power, distinct from the small number of individuals who once disposed even of the crown, and determined all public affairs at their pleasure. The Reformation was the dawn of the government of public opinion. Even at that early period, opinion was not formed by the higher classes exclusively; and while the publicity of all transactions, the liberty of petition and public discussion, the press—and of late, above all, the periodical press—have rendered public opinion more and more the supreme power, the same causes have rendered the formation of it less and less dependent upon the initiative of the higher ranks. Even the direct participation of the people at large in the government had, in various ways, been greatly extended, before the political events of the last few years, when democracy has given so signal a proof of its progress in society, by the inroads it has been able to make into the political constitution. And in spite of the alarm which has been taken by the possessors of large property, who are far more generally opposed than they had been within the present generation to any additional strengthening of the popular element in the House of Commons, there is at this moment a much stronger party for a further parliamentary reform, than many good observers thought there was, twelve years ago, for that which has already taken place.