From John Stuart Mill's letters: proportional representation, and other issues.

Extracts from The Letters of John Stuart Mill
edited by Hugh S R Elliot. Published by Longmans, Green and Co. 1910.

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John Stuart mill


Hare's system: proportional representation as personal representation.

To Thomas Hare, 3 march 1859:

You appear to me to have exactly, and for the first time, solved the difficulty of popular representation - and by doing so, to have raised up the cloud of gloom and uncertainty which hung over the future of representative government and therefore of civilization.

To James Lorimer, 7 april 1859:

You do not at all exaggerate the English dislike of theory, and of any particular suggestion which is at all out of the common way.
...when, as in the case of Hare's plan, there is really no obstacle to its adoption but the novelty of the idea, we should always, I think, talk and write about it as if that were no obstacle at all.

To Thomas Hare, 17 june 1859:

I suppose you will give brief and pungent answers to the popular objections against this plan, which are only expressions in varied phrase of the popular inability to understand it. When there is anything definite in the objections the truth is generally the reverse of what is asserted. For instance, it is supposed the plan would enable minorities to govern, when the fact is that now a minority very often governs ( by being the majority of a majority ), while under your plan a minority never could by any possiblity do so. It is the only plan that ensures government by the majority.

All parties seem to have joined in working the vices and weak points of popular representation for their miserably low selfish ends, instead of uniting to free representative institutions from the mischief and discredit of them.

To C A Cummings ( Boston U.S. ) 23 feb. 1863:

But I attach far more importance to Mr Hare's system of election, which it gives me the greatest pleasure to see you appreciate as I do. It would be worthy of America to inaugurate an improvement which is at once a more complete application than has ever been made of the democratic principle, and at the same time its greatest safeguard. With the system of representation of all instead of majorities only, and of the whole people instead of only the male sex, America would afford to the world the first example in history of true democratic equality.

To Earl Grey, 13 may 1864:

Mr Hare's plan...has been several times discussed in the legislatures of the two principal Australian colonies; and, though not yet adopted, I have been struck by the proof given in the debates how perfectly the great majority of speakers, both Conservative and Radical, understood it, and how generally the best of them on both sides supported it. I feel confident that it would require nothing for success but a real desire in the public to make it succeed. This does not yet exist in England, but in a colony there is far less prejudice against novelties. In Australia, Conservatives favour the plan as a check to the absolute power of numerical majorities, and Democrats because it is a direct and obvious corollary from the democratic principle.

To Max Kyllman, 15 feb. 1865:

( After refering to 'the progress of Mr Hare's system among the working classes of Manchester'. ) When any portion or body of the working classes chooses as its programme a reading and writing ( or rather writing and ciphering ) qualification, adult instead of manhood suffrage, and Hare's system, I will gladly give to such a noble scheme all the help I possibly can.

To Max Kyllman, 30 may 1865:

Numbers of country papers are sent to me in which Hare's system, representation of minorities, in all its shapes, and women's suffrage are mooted - sometimes with approbation, and often ( especially as to women's suffrage ) with much less hostility than was to be expected. You have probably seen Mr Hughes' declaration in favour of Hare's system, and Francis Newman's commendation of me for adhering to it.

To Henry Fawcett, 1 jan. 1866:

I have just seen that Lord Hobart has come out decidedly...for Hare's system.

To G K Holden, Member of Legislative Council of New South Wales, 5 july 1868:

I well remember your exertions for the adoption of Mr Hare's system in the election of the Legislative Council, and the very valuable report in which you discussed the subject. The debates in the British Parliament which have since occurred may well have struck you with the amount of ignorance they disclosed; but great and daily progress is making in the correction of that ignorance, and many political men, including some of the most active and intelligent leaders of the working classes are now converted to Mr Hare's system in principle at least, and frequently even in its detail. The doctrine of personal representation is making the same rapid progress among thinking minds on the Continent and in America.

( Note: Baden minister, Prof. Mohl of Heidelburg advocated Hare's plan in the Zeit of Frankfort.
It was also publically supported in France by Louis Blanc and Laboulaye. These three are among those refered to, in the footnote at the end of chapter VII to Representative Government. But Mill did not give their names there. )

To General Secretary of Chelsea Working Men's Parliamentary Electoral Association, 7 dec. 1868, replying to their condolances on his defeat:

Public opinion will in time demand the only complete remedy, the adoption of Personal Representation, by which the electors would be enabled to group themselves as they pleased, and any electors who chose to combine could be represented in exact proportion to their number by men of their own personal choice... The real cause of the failure of working-class candidates and of so many of the advanced Liberals in the late contests is the inordinate expense of elections.

Economy, environment and women's suffrage.

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In a letter of jan. 1850,

Mill said: '...when productive employment can be claimed by everyone from the public as a right, it can only be rendered undesirable by being made virtually slave labour'. Mill was against such a right being enforced, until society makes 'the production and distribution of wealth a public concern.'

To W T Thornton, 23 oct. 1863:

You are aware that I would, if I could exempt savings from income tax, and make the tax on income virtually a tax on expenditure. By this rule any portion of income should be only taxed if spent on private uses, but should be free from taxation ( at least at its origin ) when devoted to public ends.

To Secretary of the Co-operative Plate-Lock Manufactory, Wolverhampton, 22 march 1865:

Sir, - I beg to enclose a subscription of £10 to aid, as far as such a sum can do it, in the struggle which the Co-operative Plate-Lock Makers of Wolverhampton are maintaining against unfair competition on the part of the masters in the trade...To carry on business at a loss in order to ruin competitors is not fair competition... Having the strongest sympathy with your vigorous attempt to make head against what in such a case may justly be called the tyranny of capital, I beg you to send me a dozen copies of your printed appeal, to assist me in making the case known to such persons as it may interest in your favour.

Note:The last section of my web page on Constitutional Economics quotes Mill's letter on industrial partnership.

To the secretary, 22 jan. 1866, to support the founding of the Commons Preservation Society:

I have all my life been strongly impressed with the importance of preserving as much as possible of such free space for healthful exercise and for the enjoyment of natural beauty as the growth of population and cultivation has still left to us. The desire to engross the whole surface of the earth in the mere production of the greatest possible quantity of food and the materials of manufacture, I consider to be founded on a mischievously narrow conception of the requirements of human nature.

( In a letter on his visit to William Wordsworth, Mill observed the views from the poet's pavilion form an abridgement of the whole Westmoreland side of the mountains; every spot visible from it has been immortalised in his poems. )

To Judge Chapman, 7 jan. 1866:

Your account of the Middle Island and its impassable range of high Alps is very attractive to me, and if New Zealand were an island in the Northern Atlantic would speedily send me on a visit there... There is now almost no place left on our own planet that is mysterious to us and we are brought within sight of the practical questions which will have to be faced when the multiplied human race shall have taken full possession of the earth ( and exhausted its principal fuel ).

To J K H Willcox, of New York, 20 jan. 1871:

I have long been of the opinion expressed by you 'that the cause of over-population,' or at all events a necessary condition of it, 'is woman's subjugation, and that the cure is her enfranchisement.'

Letter on women's aspirations, 14 july 1869:

The most important thing women have to do is to stir up the zeal of women themselves. We have to stimulate their aspirations - to bid them not despair of anything, nor think anything beyond their reach, but try their faculties against all difficulties. In no other way can the verdict of experience be fairly collected, and in no other way can we excite the enthusiasm in women which is necessary to break down the old barriers.

English aristocratic and reactionary sentiment.

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To John Austin, 13 april 1847:

England has never had any general break-up of old associations, and hence the extreme difficulty of getting any ideas into its stupid head.

To F Lucas, 28 march 1851. Reply to invitation from the Council of the Tenant League, to stand for an Irish constituency of parliament.

If it were in my power to go into Parliament at present, I should be highly gratified by being returned for a purpose so congenial to my principles and convictions as the reform of the pernicious system of land tenure which, more than any other cause, keeps the great body of the agricultural population of Ireland always on the verge of starvation.

To Giuseppi Mazzini on an International Society for political objects, april 1858:

The English, of all ranks and classes, are at bottom, in all their feelings, aristocrats. They have the conception of liberty, and set some value on it, but the very idea of equality is strange and offensive to them. They do not dislike to have many people above them as long as they have some below them, and therefore they have never sympathised and in their present state of mind never will sympathise with any really democratic or republican party in other countries. They keep what sympathy they have to those whom they look upon as imitators of English institutions - Continental Whigs who desire to introduce constitutional forms and some securities against personal oppression - leaving in other aspects the old order of things with all its inequalities and social injustices; and any people, who are not willing to content themselves with this, are thought unfit for liberty.

To J F D Maurice, 11 may 1865:

I sympathise with the feeling of ( if I may so call it ) mental loneliness, which shows itself in your letter and sometimes in your published writings. In our age and country every person with any mental power at all, who both thinks for himself and has a conscience, must feel himself, to a very great degree, alone.

To Parke Godwin, 15 may 1865, in a letter of tribute to the assassinated President Lincoln:

( Lincoln was ) the great citizen who had afforded so noble an example of the qualities befitting the first magistrate of a free people, and who in the most trying circumstances had gradually won not only the admiration, but almost the personal affection of all who love freedom and appreciate simplicity and uprightness.
...though there is a portion of the higher and middle classes of Great Britain who so dread and hate democracy that they cannot wish prosperity or power to a democratic people, I firmly believe that this feeling is not general even in our privileged classes.

To David Urquhart, the diplomat, 4 oct. 1866:

You approve of my speech because you say I am not on this occasion standing up for the negroes, or for liberty, deeply as both are interested in the subject - but for the first necessity of human society, law. One would have thought that when this was the matter in question, all political parties might be expected to be unanimous. But my eyes were first opened to the moral condition of the English nation ( I except in these matters the working classes ) by the atrocities perpetrated in the Indian Mutiny, and the feelings which supported them at home. Then came the sympathy with the lawless rebellion of the Southern Americans in defence of an institution which is the sum of all lawlessness, as Wesley said it was of all villainy - and finally came this Jamaica business, the authors of which, from the first day I knew of it, I determined that I would do all in my power to bring to justice if there was not another man in Parliament to stand by me. You rightly judge that there is no danger of my sacrificing such a purpose to any personal advancement...

To the Secretary of the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, 26 july, 1868:

I do not feel it consistent... to identify myself to any greater extent with the management, while it is thought necessary or advisable to limit the Society's operations to the offences committed by the uninfluential classes of society. So long as such scenes as the pigeon- shooting exhibitions lately commented upon in the newspapers take place under the patronage and in the presence of the supposed elite of the higher classes, male and female, without attracting the notice of your Society, this respect of persons, though it may be prudent, is too foreign to my opinions and feelings to allow of my sharing in any, even indirect, responsibility for it.

To Edwin Chadwick, 2 may 1869:

Lord Russell's Bill, and its favourable reception by the Lords, was no otherwise of importance than of showing the need which the Lords feel of strengthening their position. So small a number of life members would do little good even if they were always honestly selected, which they will not be. A few good names may be put in at first, but as a rule the life peerage will be a refuge for the mediocrities of past administrations. If now and then a thoughtful and vigorous man gets in, he will no doubt have the means of publicly speaking his thoughts, but to an inattentive audience; for the peers are too stupid and too conservative to be moved except by a party leader who they think wil carry obstructiveness to the utmost limits of practicability; and the public pay little attention to speeches in the House of Lords. I doubt if a second chamber can ever again carry weight in English politics unless popularly elected...These are my opinions, but I do not wish to throw cold water on anything which acknowledges an evil and points in the direction of an improvement.

A short selection by Richard Lung

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