Henry Sumner Maine

passages from
Popular Government




These are passages from the first two essays of Popular Government. The common thread is the idea that irrational faiths underpin both political parties and democratic ideology. They are the outcome of primitive ways of thinking and behaving: the party as the result of tribal or sectarian attitudes and democracy as the substitution of the allegiance to the king by the allegiance to the masses (the demos).



Politics as clashes between factions (from Chapter I)

There can be no more formidable symptom of our time, and none more menacing to popular government, than the growth of Irreconcileable bodies within the mass of the population. Church and State are alike convulsed by them; but, in civil life, Irreconcileables are associations of men who hold political opinions as men once held religious opinions. They cling to their creed with the same intensity of belief, the same immunity from doubt, the same confident expectation of blessedness to come quickly, which characterises the disciples of an infant faith. They are doubtless a product of democratic sentiment; they have borrowed from it its promise of a new and good time at hand, but they insist on the immediate redemption of the pledge, and they utterly refuse to wait until a popular majority gives effect to their opinions. Nor would the vote of such a majority have the least authority with them, if it sanctioned any departure from their principles. It is possible, and indeed likely, that if the Russians voted by universal suffrage to-morrow, they would confirm the Imperial authority by enormous majorities; but not a bomb nor an ounce of dynamite would be spared to the reigning Emperor by the Nihilists. The Irreconcileables are of course at feud with governments of the older type, but these governments make no claim to their support; on the other hand, they are a portion of the governing body of democratic commonwealths, and from this vantage ground they are able to inflict deadly injury on popular government. There is in reality no closer analogy than between these infant political creeds and the belligerent religions which are constantly springing up even now in parts of the world; for instance, that of the Tae-pings in China. Even in our own country we may observe that the earliest political Irreconcileables were religious or semi-religious zealots. Such were both the Independents and the Jacobites. Cromwell, who for many striking reasons might have been a personage of a much later age, was an Irreconcileable at the head of an army; and we all know what he thought of the Parliament which anticipated the democratic assemblies of our day.

Of all modern Irreconcileables, the Nationalists appear to be the most impracticable, and of all governments, popular governments seem least likely to cope with them successfully. Nobody can say exactly what Nationalism is, and indeed the dangerousness of the theory arises from its vagueness. It seems full of the seeds of future civil convulsion. As it is sometimes put, it appears to assume that men of one particular race suffer injustice if they are placed under the same political institutions with men of another race. But Race is quite as ambiguous a term as Nationality. The earlier philologists had certainly supposed that the branches of mankind speaking languages of the same stock were somehow connected by blood; but no scholar now believes that this is more than approximately true, for conquest, contact, and the ascendency of a particular literate class, have quite as much to do with community of language as common descent. Moreover, several of the communities claiming the benefit of the new theory are certainly not entitled to it. The Irish are an extremely mixed race, and it is only by a perversion of language that the Italians can be called a race at all. The fact is that any portion of a political society, which has had a somewhat different history from the rest of the parts, can take advantage of the theory and claim independence, and can thus threaten the entire society with dismemberment. Where royal authority survives in any vigour, it can to a certain extent deal with these demands. Almost all the civilised States derive their national unity from common subjection, past or present, to royal power; the Americans of the United States, for example, are a nation because they once obeyed a king. Hence too it is that such a miscellany of races as those which make up the Austro-Hungarian Monarchy can be held together, at all events temporarily, by the authority of the Emperor-King. But democracies are quite paralysed by the plea of Nationality. There is no more effective way of attacking them than by admitting the right of the majority to govern, but denying that the majority so entitled is the particular majority which claims the right.

The difficulties of popular government, which arise from the modern military spirit and from the modern growth of Irreconcileable parties, could not perhaps have been determined without actual experience. But there are other difficulties which might have been divined, because they proceed from the inherent nature of democracy. In stating some of them, I will endeavour to avoid those which are suggested by mere dislike or alarm: those which I propose to specify were in reality noted more than two centuries ago by the powerful intellect of Hobbes, and it will be seen what light is thrown on some political phenomena of our day by his searching analysis.

Political liberty, said Hobbes, is political power. When a man burns to be free, he is not longing for the "desolate freedom of the wild ass"; what he wants is a share of political government. But, in wide democracies, political power is minced into morsels, and each man's portion of it is almost infinitesimally small. One of the first results of this political comminution is described by Mr. Justice Stephen in a work of earlier date than that which I have quoted above [Liberty, Fraternity, and Equality. By Sir James Stephen. 1873, p. 239].

It is that two of the historical watchwords of Democracy exclude one another, and that, where there is political Liberty, there can be no equality.

The man who can sweep the greatest number of fragments of political power into one heap will govern the rest. The strongest man in one form or another will always rule. If the government is a military one, the qualities which make a man a great soldier will make him a ruler. If the government is a monarchy, the qualities which kings value in counsellors, in administrators, in generals, will give power. In a pure democracy, the ruling men will be the Wire-pullers and their friends; but they will be no more on an equality with the people than soldiers or Ministers of State are on an equality with the subjects of a Monarchy. . . . In some ages, a powerful character, in others cunning, in others power of transacting business, in others eloquence, in others a good hold upon commonplaces and a facility in applying them to practical purposes, will enable a man to climb on his neighbours’ shoulders and direct them this way or that; but under all circumstances the rank and file are directed by leaders of one kind or another who get the command of their collective force.

There is no doubt that, in popular governments resting on a wide suffrage, either without an army or having little reason to fear it, the leader, whether or not he be cunning, or eloquent, or well provided with commonplaces, will be the Wire-puller. The process of cutting up political power into petty fragments has in him its most remarkable product. The morsels of power are so small that men, if left to themselves, would not care to employ them. In England, they would be largely sold, if the law permitted it; in the United States they are extensively sold in spite of the law; and in France, and to a less extent in England, the number of "abstentions" shows the small value attributed to votes. But the political chifonnier who collects and utilises the fragments is the Wire-puller. I think, however, that it is too much the habit in this country to describe him as a mere organiser, contriver, and manager. The particular mechanism which he constructs is no doubt of much importance. The form of this mechanism recently erected in this country has a close resemblance to the system of the Wesleyan Methodists; one system, however, exists for the purpose of keeping the spirit of Grace a-flame, the other for maintaining the spirit of Party at a white heat. The Wire-puller is not intelligible unless we take into account one of the strongest forces acting on human nature - Party feeling. Party feeling is probably far more a survival of the primitive combativeness of mankind than a consequence of conscious intellectual differences between man and man. It is essentially the same sentiment which in certain states of society leads to civil, intertribal, or international, war; and it is as universal as humanity. It is better studied in its more irrational manifestations than in those to which we are accustomed. It is said that Australian savages will travel half over the Australian continent to take in a fight the side of combatants who wear the same Totem as themselves. Two Irish factions who broke one another's heads over the whole island are said to have originated in a quarrel about the colour of a cow. In Southern India, a series of dangerous riots are constantly arising through the rivalry of parties who know no more of one another than that some of them belong to the party of the right hand and others to that of the left hand. Once a year, large numbers of English ladies and gentlemen, who have no serious reason to preferring one University to the other, wear dark or light blue colours to signify good wishes for the success of Oxford or Cambridge in a cricket-match or boat-race. Party differences, properly so called, are supposed to indicate intellectual, or moral, or historical preferences; but these go a very little way down into the population, and by the bulk of partisans they are hardly understood and soon forgotten. "Guelf" and "Ghibelline" had once a meaning, but men were under perpetual banishment from their native land for belonging to one or other of these parties long after nobody knew in what the difference consisted. Some men are Tories or Whigs by conviction; but thousands upon thousands of electors vote simply for yellow, blue, or purple, caught at most by the appeals of some popular orator.

It is through this great natural tendency to take side that the Wire-puller works. Without it he would be powerless. His business is to fan its flame; to keep it constantly acting upon the man who has once declared himself a partisan; to make escape from it difficult and distasteful. His art is that of the Nonconformist preacher, who gave importance to a body of commonplace religionists by persuading them to wear a uniform and take a military title, or of the man who made the success of a Temperance Society by prevailing on its members to wear always and openly a blue ribbon. In the long-run, these contrivances cannot be confined to anyone party, and their effects on all parties and their leaders, and on the whole ruling democracy, must be in the highest degree serious and lasting. The first of these effects will be, I think, to make all parties very like one another, and indeed in the end almost indistinguishable, however leaders may quarrel and partisan hate partisan. In the next place, each party will probably become more and more homogeneous; and the opinions it professes, and the policy which is the outcome of those opinions, will less and less reflect the individual mind of any leader, but only the ideas which seem to that mind to be most likely to win favour with the greatest number of supporters. Lastly, the wire-pulling system, when fully developed, will infallibly lead to the constant enlargement of the area of suffrage. What is called universal suffrage has greatly declined in the estimation, not only of philosophers who follow Bentham, but of the à priori theorists who assumed that it was the inseparable accompaniment of a Republic, but who found that in practice it was the natural basis of a tyranny. But extensions of the suffrage, though no longer believed to be good in themselves, have now a permanent place in the armoury of parties, and are sure to be a favourite weapon of the Wire-puller. The Athenian statesmen who, worsted in a quarrel of aristocratic cliques, "took the people into partnership," have a close parallel in the modern politicians who introduce household suffrage into towns to "dish" one side, and into counties to " dish" the other.

Let us now suppose the competition of Parties, stimulated to the utmost by the modern contrivances of the Wire-puller, to have produced an electoral system under which every adult male has a vote, and perhaps every adult female. Let us assume that the new machinery has extracted a vote from every one of these electors. How is the result to be expressed? It is, that the average opinion of a great multitude has been obtained, and that this average opinion becomes the basis and standard of all government and law. There is hardly any experience of the way in which such a system would work, except in the eyes of those who believe that history began since their own birth. The universal suffrage of white males in the United States is about fifty years old; that of white and black is less than twenty. The French threw away universal suffrage after the Reign of Terror; it was twice revived in France, that the Napoleonic tyranny might be founded on it; and it was introduced into Germany, that the personal power of Prince Bismarck might be confirmed. But one of the strangest of vulgar ideas is that a very wide suffrage could or would promote progress, new ideas, new discoveries and inventions, new arts of life. Such a suffrage is commonly associated with Radicalism; and no doubt amid its most certain effects would be the extensive destruction of existing institutions; but the chances are that, in the long-run, it would produce a mischievous form of Conservatism, and drug society with a potion compared with which Eldonine would be a salutary draught. For to what end, towards what ideal state, is the process of stamping upon law the average opinion of an entire community directed? The end arrived at is identical with that of the Roman Catholic Church, which attributes a similar sacredness to the average opinion of the Christian world. "Quod semper, quod ubique, quod ab omnibus," was the canon of Vincent of Lerins. "Securus judicat orbis terrarum," were the words which rang in the ears of Newman and produced such marvellous effects on him. But did anyone in his senses ever suppose that these were maxims of progress? The principles of legislation at which they point would probably put an end to all social and political activities, and arrest everything which has ever been associated with Liberalism. A moment's reflection will satisfy any competently instructed person that this is not too broad a proposition. Let him turn over in his mind the great epochs of scientific invention and social change during the last two centuries, and consider what would have occurred if universal suffrage had been established at anyone of them. Universal suffrage, which to-day excludes Free Trade from the United States, would certainly have prohibited the spinning-jenny and the power-loom. It would certainly have forbidden the threshing-machine. It would have prevented the adoption of the Gregorian Calendar; and it would have restored the Stuarts. It would have proscribed the Roman Catholics with the mob which burned Lord Mansfield's house and library in 1780, and it would have proscribed the Dissenters with the mob which burned Dr. Priestley's house and library in 1791.

There are possibly many persons who, without denying these conclusions in the past, tacitly assume that no such mistakes will be committed in the future, because the community is already too enlightened for them, and will become more enlightened through popular education. But without questioning the advantages of popular education under certain aspects, its manifest tendency is to diffuse popular common-places, to fasten them on the mind at the time when it is most easily impressed, and thus to stereotype average opinion. It is of course possible that universal suffrage would not now force on governments the same legislation which it would infallibly have dictated a hundred years ago; but then we are necessarily ignorant what germs of social and material improvement there may be in the womb of time, and how far they may conflict with the popular prejudice which hereafter will be omnipotent.



Democracy as inverted Monarchy (from Chapter II)

Although Democracy does signify something indeterminate, there is nothing vague about it. It is simply and solely a form of government. It is the government of the State by the Many, as opposed, according to the old Greek analysis, to its government by the Few, and to its government by One. The border between the Few and the Many, and again between the varieties of the many, is necessarily indeterminate; but Democracy not the less remains a mere form of government; and; inasmuch as these forms the most definite and determinate is Monarchy - the government of the State by one person - Democracy is most accurately described as inverted Monarchy. And this description answers to the actual historical process by which the great modern Republics have been formed.

Villari [Machiavelli, i. 15, 36, 37] has shown that the modern State of the Continental type, with distinctly defined administrative departments as its organs, was first constituted in Italy. It grew, not out of the medieval Republican municipalities, which had nothing in common with modern government, but out of that most ill-famed of all political systems, the Italian tyranny or Princedom. The celebrated Italian state-craft, spread all over Europe by Italian statesmen, who were generally ecclesiastics, was applied to France by Louis XIV and Colbert, the pupils of Cardinal Mazarin; and out of the contact of this new science with an administrative system in complete disorder, there sprang Monarchical France. The successive French Republics have been nothing but the later French Monarchy, upside down. Similarly, the Constitutions and the legal systems of the several North, American States, and of the United States, would be wholly unintelligible to anybody who did not know that the ancestors of the Anglo-Americans had once lived under a King, himself the representative of older Kings infinitely more autocratic, and who had not observed that throughout these bodies of law and plans of government the People had simply been put into the King's seat, occasionally filling it with some awkwardness. The advanced Radical, politician of our day would seem to have an impression that Democracy differs from Monarchy in essence. There can be no grosser mistake than this, and none more fertile of further delusions. Democracy, the government of the commonwealth by a numerous but indeterminate portion of the community taking the place of the Monarch, has exactly the same conditions to satisfy as Monarchy; it has the same functions to discharge, though it discharges them through different organs. The tests of success in the performance of the necessary and natural duties of a government are precisely the same in both cases.

Thus in the very first place, Democracy, like Monarchy, like Aristocracy, like any other government, must preserve the national existence. The first necessity of a State is that it should be durable. Among mankind regarded as assemblages of individuals, the gods are said to love those who die young; but nobody has ventured to make such an assertion of States. The prayers of nations to Heaven have been, from the earliest ages, for long national life, life from generation to generation, life prolonged far beyond that of children's children, life like that of the everlasting hills. The historian will sometimes speak of governments distinguished for the loftiness of their aims, and the brilliancy of the talents which they called forth, but doomed to an existence all too brief. The compliment is in reality a paradox, for in matters of government all objects are vain and all talents wasted, when they fail to secure national durability.



Democracy as invented progressive destiny (from Chapter II)

The opinion that Democracy was irresistible and inevitable, and probably perpetual, would, only a century ago, have appeared a wild paradox. There had been more than 2000 years of tolerably well-ascertained political history, and at its outset, Monarchy, Aristocracy, and Democracy, were all plainly discernible. The result of a long experience was, that some Monarchies and some Aristocracies had shown themselves extremely tenacious of life. The French monarchy and the Venetian oligarchy were in particular of great antiquity, and the Roman Empire was not even then quite dead. But the democracies which had risen and perished, or had fallen into extreme insignificance, seemed to show that this form of government was of rare occurrence in political history, and was characterised by an extreme fragility. This was the opinion of the fathers of the American Federal Republic, who over and over again betray their regret that the only government which it was possible for them to establish was one which promised so little stability. It became very shortly the opinion of the French Revolutionists, for no sooner has the Constitutional Monarchy fallen than the belief that a new era has begun for the human race gives signs of rapidly fading; and the language of the Revolutionary writers becomes stained with a dark and ever-growing suspiciousness, manifestly inspired by genuine fear that Democracy must perish, unless saved by unflagging energy and unsparing severity.

Nevertheless, the view that Democracy is irresistible is of French origin, like almost all other sweeping political generalisations. It may be first detected about fifty years ago, and it was mainly spread over the world by the book of de Tocqueville on Democracy in America. Some of the younger speculative minds in France were deeply struck by the revival of democratic ideas in France at the Revolution of 1830, and among them was Alexis de Tocqueville, born a noble and educated in Legitimism. The whole fabric of French Revolutionary belief had apparently been ruined beyond hope of recovery, ruined by the crimes and usurpations of the Convention, by military habits and ideas, by the tyranny of Napoleon Bonaparte, by the return of the Bourbons with a large part of the system of the older monarchy, by the hard repression of the Holy Alliance. Yet so slight a provocation as the attempt of Charles X to do what his brother had done [by his Ordinances of September 1816] without serious resistance, brought back the whole torrent of revolutionary sentiment and dogma, which at once overran the entire European continent. No doubt it seemed as if there were something in Democracy which made it resistless; and yet, as M. Scherer has shown in one of the most valuable parts of his pamphlet, the Frenchmen of that idea did not mean the same thing as the modern French Extremist or the English Radical when they spoke of Democracy. If their view be put affirmatively, they meant the ascendency of the middle classes; if negatively, they meant the non-revival of the old feudal society. The French people were very long in shaking off their fear that the material advantages, secured to them by the first French Revolution, were not safe; and this fear it was which, as we perceive from the letters of Mallet du Pan, reconciled them to the tyranny of the Jacobins and caused them to look with the deepest suspicion on the plans of the Sovereigns allied against the Republic. Democracy, however, gradually took a new sense, chiefly under the influence of wonder at the success of the American Federation, in which most of the States had now adopted universal suffrage; and by 1848 the word had come to be used very much with its ancient meaning, the government of the commonwealth by the Many.

It is perhaps the scientific tinge which thought is assuming among us that causes so many Englishmen to take for granted that Democracy is inevitable, because many considerable approaches to it have been made in our country. No doubt, if adequate causes are at work, the effect will always follow; but, in politics, the most powerful of all causes are the timidity, the listlessness, and the superficiality, of the generality of minds. If a large number of Englishmen, belonging to classes which are powerful if they exert themselves, continue saying to themselves and others that Democracy is irresistible and must come, beyond all doubt it will come.

The enthusiasm for Democracy, which is conveyed by the figures of speech applied to it, is equally modern with the impression of its inevitableness. In reality, considering the brilliant stages in the history of a certain number of commonwealths with which Democracy has been associated, nothing is more remarkable than the small amount of respect for it professed by actual observers, who had the opportunity and the capacity for forming a judgment on it. Mr. Grote did his best to explain away the poor opinion of the Athenian Democracy entertained by the philosophers who filled the schools of Athens; but the fact remains that the founders of political philosophy found themselves in presence of Democracy, in its pristine vigour, and thought it a bad form of government. The panegyrics of which it is now the object are, again, of French origin. They come to us from the oratory and literature of the first French Revolution, which, however, soon exchanged glorification of the new birth of the human race for a strain of gloomy suspicion and homicidal denunciation. The language of admiration which prevailed for a while had still remoter sources; and it may be observed, as an odd circumstance, that, while the Jacobins generally borrowed their phraseology from the legendary history of the early Roman Republic, the Girondins preferred resorting for metaphors to the literature which sprang from Rousseau. On the whole, I think that the historical ignorance which made heroes of Brutus and Scevola was less abjectly nonsensical than the philosophical silliness which dwelt on the virtues of mankind in a state of natural democracy. If anybody wishes to know what was the influence of Rousseau in diffusing the belief in a golden age, when men lived, like brothers, in freedom and equality, he should read, not so much the writings of the sage, as the countless essays printed in France by his disciples just before 1789. They furnish very disagreeable proof that the intellectual flower of a cultivated nation may be brought, by fanatical admiration of a social and political theory, into a condition of downright mental imbecility.

The language of the Jacobins and the language of the Girondins might be thought to have perished amid ridicule and disgust; but, in fact, it underwent a rehabilitation, like that which has fallen to the lot of Catiline, of Nero, and of Richard III. Tocqueville thought Democracy was inevitable, but he looked on its approach with distrust and dread. In the course, however, of the succeeding fifteen years two books were published, which, whatever their popularity, might fairly be compared with the writings of which we have spoken above, for a total abnegation of common sense. Louis Blanc [Histoire de la Révolution Française, 1847-1862] took the homicidal pedant, Robespierre, for his hero; Lamartine [Histoire des Girondins, 1847], the feeble and ephemeral sect of Girondins; and from the works of these two writers has proceeded much the largest part of the language eulogistic of Democracy, which pervades the humbler political literature of the Continent, and now of Great Britain also.

There is indeed one kind of praise which Democracy has received, and continues to receive, in the greatest abundance. This is praise addressed to the governing Demos by those who fear it, or desire to conciliate it, or hope to use it. When it has once become clear that Democracy is a form of Government it will be easily understood what panegyrics of the multitude amount to. Democracy is Monarchy inverted, and the modes of addressing the multitude are the same as the modes of addressing kings.



Democracy as manipulation of the masses (from Chapter II)

Under the shelter of one government as of the other, all sorts of selfish interests breed and multiply, speculating on its weaknesses and pretending to be its servants, agents, and delegates. Nevertheless, after making all due qualifications, I do not at all deny to Democracies some portion of the advantage which so masculine a thinker as Bentham claimed for them. But, putting this advantage at the highest, it is more than compensated by one great disadvantage. Of all the forms of government, Democracy is by far the most difficult. Little as the governing multitude is conscious of this difficulty, prone as the masses are to aggravate it by their avidity for taking more and more powers into their direct management, it is a fact which experience has placed beyond all dispute. It is the difficulty of democratic government that mainly accounts for its ephemeral duration.

The greatest, most permanent, and most fundamental of all the difficulties of Democracy, lies deep in the constitution of human nature. Democracy is a form of government, and in all governments acts of State are determined by an exertion of will. But in what sense can a multitude exercise volition? The student of politics can put to himself no more pertinent question than this. No doubt the vulgar opinion is, that the multitude makes up its mind as the individual makes up his mind; the Demos determines like the Monarch. A host of popular phrases testify to this belief. The “will of the People,” “public opinion," the" sovereign pleasure of the nation," “Vox Populi, Vox Dei," belong to this class, which indeed constitutes a great part of the common stock of the platform and the press. But what do such expressions mean? They must mean that a great number of people, on a great number of questions, can come to an identical conclusion, and found an identical determination upon it. But this is manifestly true only of the simplest questions. A very slight addition of difficulty at once sensibly diminishes the chance of agreement, and, if the difficulty be considerable, an identical opinion can only be reached by trained minds assisting themselves by demonstration more or less rigorous. On the complex questions of politics, which are calculated in themselves to task to the utmost all the powers of the strongest minds, but are in fact vaguely conceived, vaguely stated, dealt with for the most part in the most haphazard manner by the most experienced statesmen, the common determination of a multitude is a chimerical assumption; and indeed, if it were really possible to extract an opinion upon them from a great mass of men, and to shape the administrative and legislative acts of a State upon this opinion as a sovereign command, it is probable that the most ruinous blunders would be committed, and all social progress would be arrested. The truth is, that the modern enthusiasts for Democracy make one fundamental confusion. They mix up the theory, that the Demos is capable of volition, with the fact, that it is capable of adopting the opinions of one man or of a limited number of men, and of founding directions to its instruments upon them.



Party politics as corruption (from Chapter II)

Party has many strong affinities with Religion. Its devotees, like those of a religious creed, are apt to substitute the fiction that they have adopted it upon mature deliberation for the fact that they were born into it or stumbled into it. But they are in the highest degree reluctant to come to an open breach with it; they count it shame to speak of its weak points, except to co-religionists; and, whenever it is in serious difficulty, they return to its assistance or rescue. Their relation to those outside the pale - the relation of Whig to Tory, of Conservative to Liberal - is on the whole exceedingly like that of Jew to Samaritan.
[Note: Because of their different devotion to Judaism, the Samaritans were despised by ordinary Jews and vice-versa]

But the closest resemblances are between party discipline and military discipline, and indeed, historically speaking, Party is probably nothing more than a survival and a consequence of the primitive combativeness of mankind. It is war without the city transmuted into war within the city, but mitigated in the process. The best historical justification which can be offered for it is that it has often enabled portions of the nation, who would otherwise be armed enemies, to be only factions. Party strife, like strife in arms, develops many high but imperfect and one-sided virtues; it is fruitful of self-denial and self-sacrifice. But wherever it prevails, a great part of ordinary morality is unquestionably suspended; a number of maxims are received, which are not those of religion or ethics; and men do acts which, except as between enemies, and except as between political opponents, would be very generally classed as either immoralities or sins.

Party disputes were originally the occupation of aristocracies, which joined in them because they loved the sport for its own sake; and the rest of the community followed one side or the other as its clients Now-a-days, Party has become a force acting with vast energy on multitudinous democracies, and a number of artificial contrivances have been invented for facilitating and stimulating its action. Yet, in a democracy, the fragment of political power falling to each man's share is so extremely small, that it would be hardly possible, with all the aid of the Caucus, the Stump, and the Campaign newspaper, to rouse the interests of thousands or millions of men, if Party were not coupled with another political force This, to speak plainly, is Corruption. A story is current respecting a conversation of the great American, Alexander Hamilton, with a friend who expressed wonder at Hamilton's extreme admiration of so corrupt a system as that covered by the name of the British Constitution. Hamilton is said to have, in reply, expressed his belief that when the corruption came to an end the Constitution would fall to pieces. The corruption referred to was that which had been openly practised by the Whig Ministers of George I and George II through the bestowal of places and the payment of sums of money, but which in the reign of George III had died down to an obscurer set of malpractices, ill-understood, but partially explained by the constant indebtedness of the thrifty King. Hamilton of course meant that, amid the many difficulties of popular government, he doubted whether, in its English form, it could be carried on, unless support were purchased by governments; and this opinion might very plausibly have been held concerning the early governments of the Hanoverian dynasty, so deeply unpopular did the "Revolution Settlement" soon become with large classes of Englishmen.

What put an end to this corruption was in reality not an English but a French phenomenon - the Revolution begun in 1789, which, through the violent repulsion with which it inspired the greatest part of the nation, and the half-avowed attraction which it had for the residue, supplied the English parties with principles of action which did not need the co-operation of any corrupt inducement to partisanship. The corruption which we find denounced by Bentham after the close of the great war was not bribery, but vested interest; nor did the old practices ever revive in England in their ancient shape. Votes at elections continued to be bought and sold, but not votes in Parliament.

Whether Hamilton looked forward to an era of purity in his own country, cannot be certainly known. He and his coadjutors undoubtedly were unprepared for the rapid development of Party which soon set in; they evidently thought that their country would be poor; and they probably expected to see all evil influences defeated by the elaborate contrivances of the Federal Constitution. But the United States became rapidly wealthy and rapidly populous; and the universal suffrage of all white men, native-born or immigrant, was soon established by the legislation of the most powerful States. With wealth, population, and widely diffused electoral power, corruption sprang into vigorous life. President Andrew Jackson, proclaiming the principle of “to the victors the spoils,” which all parties soon adopted, expelled from office all administrative servants of the United States who did not belong to his faction; and the crowd of persons filling these offices, which are necessarily very numerous in so vast a territory, together with the groups of wealthy men interested in public lands and in the countless industries protected by the Customs tariff, formed an extensive body of contributors from whom great amounts of money were levied by a species of taxation, to be presently expended in wholesale bribery.

A reaction against this system carried the present President of the United States into office; but the opinion of almost all the politicians who the other day supported Mr. Blaine bore probably the closest resemblance to Hamilton's opinion about Great Britain. They were persuaded that the American Party system cannot continue without corruption. It is impossible to lay down M. Scherer's pamphlet without a conviction, that the same opinion is held of France by the public men who direct the public affairs of the French Republic. The account which this writer gives of the expedients by which all French Governments have sought to secure support, since the resignation of Marshal Mac- Mahon, is most deplorable. There is a scale of public corruption, with an excessive and extravagant scheme of public works at one end of it, and at the other the open barter of votes by the electoral committees for the innumerable small places in the gift of the highly centralised French administration. The principle that the spoils belong to the victors has been borrowed from the United States, and receives a thoroughgoing application. Every branch of the public service - even, since M. Scherer wrote, the judicial bench - has been completely purged of functionaries not professing allegiance to the party in power for the time being.

We Englishmen, alone among popularly governed communities, have tried an expedient peculiar to ourselves. We have handed over all patronage to the Civil Service Commissioners, and we have adopted the Corrupt Practices Act. It is a most singular fact, that the only influences having an affinity for the old corruption, which still survive in Great Britain, are such as can be brought to bear on those exalted regions of society, in which stars, garters, ribands, titles, and lord-lieutenancies, still circulate What will be the effect on British government of the heroic remedies we have administered to ourselves, has yet to be seen. What will come of borrowing the Caucus from the United States, and refusing to soil our fingers with the oil used in its native country to lubricate the wheels of the machine? Perhaps we are not at liberty to forget that there are two kinds of bribery. It can be carried on by promising or giving to expectant partisans places paid out of the taxes, or it may consist in the director process of legislating away the property of one class and transferring it to another. It is this last which is likely to be the corruption of these latter days.


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