Direct Sovereignty of the People. Universal Suffrage; the Foundation
of the Republic—The Right. The Duty. The
Purpose. Universal Suffrage—its Meaning.
Direct Sovereignty of the People.
THE direct sovereignty of the people or
Monarchy; there are no other principles of Government. The
constitutional and representative systems with which the nations have been
afflicted are one and all either dishonest concealments under a more or
less popular mash, or bungling endeavours to establish some half
compromise between the two irreconcilable antagonisms. Monarchy, the
domination of one which is in principle precisely the same as the rule of
a part—however numerous—and the sovereignty of the whole people; between
the two there may be half-way houses for whigs, but no sure ground upon
which to found the nation.
Rousseau laid down the principle of the direct sovereignty of
the people. The French Convention of 1793 adopted it, though it did
not thoroughly carry it out. After nearly sixty years of
Governmental experiments we revert to the same point.
Here is the dogma as put forth by Rousseau in his "Social
"The sovereignty being only the exercise of the general
will can never be alienated; and the sovereign which is only a collective
being can be represented only by itself.
"The deputies of the people are not and cannot be its representatives;
they are only its commissioners; they can definitely settle nothing.
Every law which the people in person has not ratified is null; it is not a
"From the moment that a people gives itself representatives—it is no
longer free; it is no more."
And in the Jacobin Constitution of 1793 the dogma is rendered
"The sovereign people is the universality of the citizens.
"It deliberates concerning the laws.
"The legislative body proposes the law and issues decrees.
"The laws have to be accepted by the people."
Here too is the commentary of Robespierre:—
"The word representative is not applicable to any
agent of the people, because will can not be represented.
"The members of the Legislature are agents to whom the people have given
the first power; but in a true sense we cannot say that they represent it.
"The Legislature prepares laws and makes decrees: the laws have not the
character of law until the people has formally accepted them. Up to
this moment they have been only projects; they are then the expression of
the people's will. The decrees are executed without being submitted
to the Sanction of the people, only because it is presumed that it
approves them. Not remonstrating, its silence is taken for an
approval. It is impossible for a Government to have other
Shades of the ever-calumniated martyrs of Thermidor! your
genius had over-stepped your time. Your Gospel remains to be
The theory of Government, directly by the people, is
formulised by Lédru-Rollin, in La Voix du Proscrit, as follows:—
"The people exercising its sovereignty without limits in a
permanent manner in the electoral assemblies,
"Having the initiative of every law which it may judge useful.
"Expressly voting the laws, adopting or rejecting, by ay or no, the laws
discussed and prepared by an assembly of delegates.
"An assembly of delegates or commissioners appointed yearly, preparing the
laws and providing by decrees for things of a secondary importance to
"A president of the executive charged to provide for the application of
the law and the decrees, and to choose his ministers—a president elected
and always revocable by the majority of the assembley."
"Three years ago," wrote Lédru-Rollin, "we taught:—'Let us
have no president; a president elected by the nation is antagonism and
war.' Only too quickly facts have verified our anticipations."
Now impelled, by the same logic we say, "No more
representatives, but simple delegates, commissioners, not to say
clerks, appointed only to prepare the law, leaving to the people the care
of voting it: in other terms—direct Government of the people by the
people—the people voting the laws and the assembly of delegates
providing by decrees for secondary necessities."
"Let us all have but one rallying cry, one device—the direct
Government of the people; and soon the people shall do more than triumph;
for the first time, at length, it will be without a master; it will
"The people," adds Considérant," will thus have at last a
sure criterion for distinguishing everywhere the real democrat from the
aristocratic democrat, the whig-radical democrat, the sham democrat.
It will easily perceive why democrats desire that it should govern itself;
and what democrats desire to govern it."
Against this popular principle the foremost opponent is the
socialist orator and schoolmaster—Louis Blanc.
Louis Blanc would not allow the direct sovereignty of the
people; he permits it to choose representatives, but denies it the
initiative and the vote upon the laws; he would have the laws made by the
people's representatives. He cites, to support his opposition,
Montesquieu, Rousseau, and Robespierre, and concludes for his own part,
that the people as a whole is ignorant, incapable, easy to be be led
astray, full of obstinate and fatal prejudices, and that, therefore, the
more enlightened minority should govern.
Montesquieu, after establishing that the people is well
fitted for choosing its representatives, has said, "But would it—the
people—know how to manage any special business, to understand places,
occasions, moments, in order to profit by them?" No, it would not
know this. But what has this to do with the direct sovereignty of
the people as set forth by Lédru-Rollin? The people would not know
how to manage a special business; nor is it within its province.
Such are not matters of legislation but of administration, to
be conducted by the people's servants, not to say clerks.
Louis Blanc quotes the following passage from the Esprit
"The people which has the sovereign power, ought itself to
do all that it can well do, and that which it can not well do must be done
by its ministers.
"Its ministers are not its own if it does not name them. It is then
a fundamental maxim of this democratic Government that the people name its
ministers: that is to say its magistrates.
"It needs, like monarchs, and even more than they, to be conducted by a
council or senate; but in order that it may have confidence in them it
must elect the members."
From this Louis Blanc concludes that Montesquieu admits the
interference of the greater number only in the choice of these ministers
On the contrary, the author of the Espirit des Lois,
in spite of his anti-democratic tendencies, proclaims logical necessity of
the people doing for itself all that it can well do; and even his council
or senate is provided for in the formula of Lédru-Rollin.
But Montesquieu is even more precise than this, for he says,
"It is a fundamental law of Democracy that the People alone should make
the laws." In his quotations from Rousseau M. Blanc is equally
unfortunate; the Genevese philosopher asks "if the blind multitude could
itself execute an enterprize so great and so difficult as a system of
legislation?" and he concludes with the necessity of a legislator.
And yet this does not go beyond the opinion of those who would have an
assembly of delegates to prepare the constitution and the laws, but
requiring also that neither constitution nor laws should have force until
ratified by the people.
Let Rousseau himself define what he means by a legislator.
Even the decemvirs never arrogated to themselves the right of passing a
law on their own authority.
Nothing of what we propose, said they to the people, can be,
come law without your consent.
Romans! be yourselves the authors of the laws which ought to
make you happy. He, then, who draws up the laws has not or ought not
to have any legislative right; and even the people can not, if it would,
divest itself of this incommunicable right, because according to the
fundamental fact it is only the general will which obliges
individuals, and we can never be sure that an individual will is in
conformity with the general will till after having submitted it to the
free suffrages of the people.
M. Blanc refers also to Robespierre as prescribed in the most
formal manner the permanent sovereignty of the primary assemblies.
M. Blanc, however, depends upon exceptional cases which by no
means prove his position.
When at the trial of Louis XVI. the Girondins proposed an
appeal to the people, Robespierre opposed that appeal. He knew
perfectly well that to reserve the judgment of the tyrant for the people
would be only to open the arena to the loyalists to make every section a
battlefield and to discredit the assembly.
Besides—this was a question not of legislation but of
administration. And hear again how decisive Rousseau is upon this
"I would specially have avoided, as of necessity
ill-governed, a Republic where the people, believing it could do without
its magistrates or with only leaving them a precarious authority—should
have imprudently kept in its own hands the administration of civil affairs
and the execution of its own laws."
Such was the rude constitution of the first Governments
arising out of a state of need, and such also was one of the vices which
ruined the Republic of Athens.
But this distinction between the making and the
administration of law is insisted upon as much by Lédru-Rollin and
Robespierre as by Rousseau, and as no condemnation of the exercise of the
people's sovereignty in the making of the laws.
Louis Blanc, however, notes that Robespierre went
further—that he looked upon the appeal of the people as the destruction of
the convention itself; when once convoked, the primary assemblies would be
urged by all sorts of intrigues to deliberate upon all sorts of
propositions; even to the very existence of the Republic.
It should be remembered, however, that Robespierre spoke in
the face of revolted or revolting departments; in presence of a terrible
foreign war rendered yet more dangerous by intestine treasons.
This was not the moment to give the primary assemblies an
opportunity of legitimatising anarchy.
And this again is but an exceptional case. Against it
is the overpowering weight of Robespierre's support of the Constitution of
1793; without need of requoting the words we have given by beginning with
"the word representative is not applicable to any agent of the people,
because will can not be represented." Gathered not from exceptional
instances nor from garbled quotations, the opinions of Rousseau and
Robespierre and even the acknowledgments of Montesquieu are decidedly in
favour of the doctrine of direct legislation by the people. The
Convention also consecrated the same principle. Let M. Blanc now
speak for himself, since the authorities are against him.
The popular Socialist asks if it is not true that men of
intelligence are fewer than the ignorant, the devoted fewer than the
selfish, the friends of progress fewer than the slaves of habit, the
propagators of ideas fewer than the partizans of error; whence he deduces
that to demand that the greater number should govern the less is to demand
that ignorance should govern enlightenment; selfishness, devotion;
routine, progress; and error, truth. That is to say, M. Blanc is the
defender of despotism, the glorifier of the Czar, the Pontiff, and the
Patriarch. Many thanks then for his Socialism! But let us
follow out his theory of governmental capacities.
If the enlightened, the devoted, the friends of progress form
but a minority, and if the greater number is inevitably condemned to
ignorance, selfishness, routine and error—if, therefore, the few ought to
rule the rest, while the blind or vile multitude have but to obey, it
follows that universal suffrage is not right, that political equality is a
falsehood. Remarkable enough that Socialists and competitive
Whig-Radicals should find a point of agreement on this common ground of
capacity. One, truly, seeks only the liberty of the stronger;
but the other is looking for fraternity. And yet they meet in
the denial of equality. Will M. Louis Blanc allow his logic to carry
him to the end?
And if the minority is always right, is it not also right
even within the assembly? Should it not be, not only the minority of
the country, but the minority of that minority, ascending at last,
perhaps, to the Patriarch himself, which should command, in virtue of the
greater capacity? But M. Blanc would defer to a parliamentary
majority. He is, however, shrewd enough to foresee this objection,
and thus replies:—
"In an assembly composed of citizens who have been elected
as the most enlightened of all, there does not exist, there could not
exist, between the majority and the minority, that enormous disproportion
of knowledge, intelligence, education, study, experience, and ability,
which exist naturally, in the midst of a civilisation imperfect or
corrupted, between the smaller and the greater number, taken in mass.
In every assembly of elected citizens, and from the very fact of their
being elected, the majority and the minority, as regards competence,
are worthy, or are reputed worthy; and that is what renders reasonable
there this law of the majority, which elsewhere no longer
presents the same character."
Is there so very little to choose between our
representatives? We deemed them bad enough, but did not think there
had been so little difference. Are party majorities always so
enlightened and liberal? Alas, for the counter evidence of the Law
of the 31st of May (though possibly M. Blanc considers that only a step in
the right direction, toward the rule of a national minority), for our own
no House when a popular question is to be brought forward. We
might also ask the accomplished sophist how it is that so much wisdom
resides in the majority of the elected, who must be the representatives of
the ignorant majority outside. To such an absurd pass comes the
doctrine of the people's right to Choose its representative without the
right to legislate for itself.
And again, the advocate of capacity refers to the thousands
of men overwhelmed in ignorance and prejudice. What then? how came
they in this state? Was it not your government of the few—always the
enlightened few—which placed them there? And by whom, or how shall
they be redeemed except through their own exertions?
Yet still the eloquent Socialist is the advocate of universal
suffrage. Be consistent, with Thiers, Hume, Cobden, and the like;
and let as know the exact value of your intentions. There is not one
of your arguments against the direct legislation of the people, which does
not apply equally against universal suffrage; which does not go, in fact,
to the justification of every despotism, from that of the Czar to that of
the time-serving "Radical." This doctrine of an enlightened few is
the doctrine of a limited suffrage. Who shall say how limited?
For if the people are incapable of making their own laws, can
they be capable of judging who shall be fittest to make their laws for
them? Is it so easy too for them to deceive themselves in matters of
fact directly concerning their own interests, and so very difficult for
them to be deceived as to persons? Surely then the old system of a
caste set apart as hereditary legislators—not altogether unlike the
communist division of labour—must be the best, if not encroaching too much
on the divinity of the still fewer and so far wiser kings. It is an
easy course toward despotism.
We do not assert that the majority is wiser than the
minority, or that it is more devoted, or in any way better. But who
is to pick out the better minority? There lies the difficulty.
Either their capacities must be self-selected, which makes strange
work, when we call to mind what sort of animals have taken themselves to
be endowed with legislative faculties; or they must be elected by the
stupid majority, and then again recurs the question—Are you likely to
choose the best law-giver when you are so utterly unable to form any
judgment even on the nature of law?
M. Blanc finds surety in the power which the people has of
dismissing its representatives. Could he not find equal surety in
the power of revoking a bad law? But what is this power of
dismissing the offending servants, and electing better in their stead,
when you have given to the offenders the very power of preventing your
protest? What power of dismissal had the French people when their
representatives disenfranchised them on the 31st of May? Well may
Rousseau say—"From the moment that a people gives itself representatives,
it is no longer free, it is no more." Well may he say, the English
people think it is free: it deceives itself. It is so only during
the election of members of Parliament. So soon as they are elected,
it is a slave, it is nothing.
There is a story of Ninus, the Assyrian monarch, surrendering
his power to his wife for only one day. She as merely his
"representative;" but as such she took possession of the army, treasury,
and the civil government, and concluded her representation by dethroning
and decapitating her Sovereign. Like Ninus, peoples commit
suicide by proxy; and fraternal philosophers are found to argue for the
As to the exercise of revocation even where possible (and in
the worst needs it would not be possible), it would be a foolish setting
of limits to the conscience of the representative, who might as often err
in his integrity as from any dishonest motive. Besides it is
impossible to foresee all cases, even for a single year. The
people's servant must be free to act within certain bounds: what should
those bounds be but the line where matters of secondary importance or of
administration cease and the province of permanent legislation begins?
We repeat that we do not consider the majority of the people
capable of sound legislation. And when has a representative body
sown itself capable? What more tyrannical, more foolish, more
partial laws could be passed by the most tyrannical and foolishest
majority, than disgrace the codes of the best-governed of "constitutional"
countries? How shall the people without practice ever become capable
of legislating? They will blunder: be it so. They will so
learn through their experience. They will not wilfully err as their
"representatives" do now. The will, be it wise or not, of the
majority of the people will no longer be set at naught by legislative
quacks or scoundrels. Wise or blundering, the people's will would be
done. Wise or blundering: who has the right to gainsay it? If
a Louis Blanc or a million of Louis Blancs may gainsay it in virtue of any
presumed capacity, why may not a Nicholas or a Napoleon as capaciously?
What difference of principle is there between limiting the right of
humanity at one point rather than another? What difference, except
in degree, between the Humes, the Thiers, or the Louis Blancs, and the
Czar or Thibet Lama?
It is worth considering, too, how far direct government by
the people would crush the hopes of all the sects, and sectarian
politicians, who aspire to lead "the enfranchised people." Place the
power in the people's hands, and what could the pretenders do? Your
scheme of social reform may be good; mine, too, has some excellence in my
own eyes. Under the representative system you and I and all of us
would be contending for possession of the government to try our
experiments upon the body politic. But, all laws having to be made
by the people, we should be forced to content ourselves with convincing a
majority of the people, instead of intriguing to obtain a party in the
House. There is some advantage here.
Yet what time could the whole people have to consider and
make the laws? Well, Parliament sits now, making all deductions off
days and holidays, little more than four months in the year; and surely
half at least of that time is wasted upon private measures, local
measures, worthless measures, and measures intended only to amuse "our
constituents." At even such a rate of superabundant legislation, the
one Sunday in every week, with an occasional holiday in great emergencies,
would be enough for all national purposes. And the people would be
better engaged than on Sundays now; they might then find reason to meet in
their churches, and pray there together in effectual fervency that God's
will be done on earth, His kingdom come.
We cannot suppose, however, that one-tenth of the time now
consumed in legislation would be so wasted even by the most ignorant and
discordant population. There would no longer be the same object in
heaping law upon law, to feed lawyers and to provide for innumerable
partial "interests." The constitution (the statement of first
principles so far as ascertained and generally acknowledged) once framed
as the compact between the ever fluctuating majority and minority, and a
code of general laws established, there would be but seldom an occasion
for additional legislation. The good sense of the people is well
aware that great is the good of having the greatest possible multitude of
counsellors in law-making, there is no wisdom in a multitude of laws.
Universal Suffrage; The Foundation of the Republic—The Right.
The right of the franchise is the birthright of humanity.
We aim to be recognised as human beings. Universal suffrage is but
the symbol, the public and legal acknowledgment, of the natural equality
All men are born equal, equal in their common humanity; equal
in this, that each has an individuality of his own, a distinct and
independent nature, a life which it is impossible to confound with the
life of another.
Every human being has an organisation peculiar to himself, a
frame peculiar to himself, a will and motive-energy peculiar to himself, a
life which is his own and which none other can live for him, a life which
it is his duty to build up toward the most perfect beauty of which his
nature is capable. Each individual has the work of his own life to
do, the interests of his own life to consult, the conduct of his own life
to regulate. He has, in truth, his own life to live; can get no one
to live it for him; can by no cunning transfer it, by no power get it
transferred—to the shoulders of another. This is what we mean by the
natural equality of man.
We know well enough the differences that exist of height, of
form, of beauty, of intelligence, of power. Yet are all men equal.
There is no mark of the slave upon any, no natural sign branding one man
as essentially different from another. All have the same birth, the
same life, the same death, the same erect form, the same organs, the same
muscular and nervous system, the same appetites and wants and passions,
the same desires and hopes and fears, the same need of life, of growth,
and development. Differing in degree, there is no difference in
The greater natured Shakspere has more of intellect than the
Russian serf; but each in his degree has the same need of development.
Each needs to live his life, to develop his nature so far as its
capability will allow, to grow to the utmost of his capacity. Each
has the right of growth however different the capacity.
Oak and bramble have their different growth: rose and lily
their different form and hue: but each has its life to live, its separate
destiny to accomplish. So are all men, when most differing, equal.
Even more points of likeness than of difference subsist
between them. The highest man claims closer kindred with the lowest
than with ought else in creation.
They both are men. The same sun warms them; the same
stars smile upon them; the same winds breathe to them melodiously.
The storm frowns not less darkly on the monarch; the flower gives not less
fragrance to the slave.
Each toileth alike up the mountain side. The flowing
tide stays not for the king's command: the flowers bloom over the
vagabond's neglected grave. Everywhere the clear voice of equal
nature proclaims the brotherhood of men, their brotherhood of life,
however different their station, their gifts, their character.
It is a question of human reverence. He who denies the
manhood of the lowest, denies the divinity of man, surrenders the dignity
of his own manhood, degrades himself, by making his manhood to depend upon
exceptional and changeful causes, on place or special endowment, instead
of depending upon that right of birth which is inalienable and
indestructible, which no time nor chance can weaken or depose.
How shall a man abdicate his own nature? How can you
take possession of the being of another? How assume another's
existence? He is sovereign of that, be is sovereignty never so poor.
You cannot deprive him of it. Be his form never so ungainly, you
cannot make it other than his; be his soul never so dark and diminutive,
the spirit of the Eternal once breathed thereon has made him man—your
equal; for you have no higher claim to manhood than that same breath of
God, which cannot be measured, which cannot be compared, of which no man
can be deprived and live.
Poet and untaught slave, monarch and beggared serf; the oath
of life in each is his title to the dignity of man,
You cannot deny his title, while you claim that title for
yourself. Fellow-sovereigns, however wide or confined your realms,
in all that concerns you mutually—you meet upon equal footing.
Man with man, sovereign with sovereign, child with child of
the Eternal—what are your differences of to-day in the face of the eternal
future growing from the life of each?
Equal as the stars of heaven, equal as year with year, though
two days are alike in their contents; equal as the ocean waves, equal as
flower with flower; so is life with life, each springing from the womb of
the past, each pregnant with the eternity to come. When thou hast
lived one day for thy fellow—then talk of inequality, then deny your
reverence for the sacred principle of life, the sovereignty of self, that
emanation from the universal it in which we all, from the Imperial Cæsar
to the beggarliest wretch on earth, both live and move and have our being.
The acknowledgment of this common humanity, the
acknowledgment of this birthright of human life, the acknowledgment of
that self-sovereignty with which Nature has endowed us, of which it is
impossible altogether to deprive us, and without which there can be
neither conscience nor duty—this is what we demand in demanding the right
of the franchise.
As right is Universal, so is duty. Right is the ground
of duty. Duty the due growth of right. Right is the
opportunity, the means of duty. Duty the advantage taken, the use
made, the right.
There is no such thing as right without duty.
No man has a right to isolate himself, to separate from the
society of his fellows, to refuse communion and fellowship with them. Humanity—human
It is one great whole, to be organised harmoniously for the
continuous and greatest possible progress of all. It is not a mere
fortuitous jumbling together of distinct individuals, but a gathering of
one vast family under the universal law of attraction and similarity—one
vast family: all members thereof having the same aim, the same purpose,
the same idea of life: each member having his distinct place, each his
special mission, in concert with the whole, and conducive to the general
purpose: each acting in all and acted upon by all, each served by all and
capable of serving all.
No man can resign his place among men, or deny his duty to
humanity. He who would separate forgets his obligations to the past,
which bind him dutifully to the future.
There, toward the past, he has contracted a debt—a debt to
collective humanity. He has received; he is bound to render.
All the life of the past, the endeavour, the endurance, the
experience, the accumulation of knowledge and power, the gain of ages, of
all the past of mankind—all this has worked together to make him the man
he is. Be he what he may, he is the child of the past. It is
his duty, since he can return no benefit to the past, to transmit as much
as possible to the future.
There is no other way of squaring accounts, of paying the
debt incurred. We stand between the past and the future; the
business of this present life is to hand the gain of the one to the
beseeching hands of the other. This is the real mission, the duty of
No man ever lived or can live apart from and independent of
others. Had he not mother's love? How shall he repay it?
Needs he not love from his kind—the sympathy that upholds, the trust that
ennobles, the faith that purifies? Needs he not aid in sorrow and in
sickness? Has not the feebleness of his infancy been nursed?
Shall not his eyes be closed in death? Independence! Man may
isolate himself for a part of his life—seldom even for a part. He
has no right even for a part. What! wait to manhood dependent upon
the love, the care, the dutiful action of others, and then, then only,
claim a right to be independent, to separate, denying all duty, because
thou needest no help and so will render none? Return first the debt
of younger years ere thou sayest that thou owest nothing to humanity!
And not merely the debt to younger, but to former years.
How much of the world's past life has entered into thy organisation and
character? How much of what the ages have suffered and done has been
bestowed on thee? What Englishman contains not in him something
borrowed from our English past: that England, too, having borrowed from
others, from Germany, from France, from Italy, from Greece, from
Palestine, from Egypt, ay! and from all other lands?
What! has Milton lived for you, and shall not you live for
England? Have Wycliffe, Eliot, Hampden, died for you, and you not
owe your life to England?
You, fed by England's Shakspere, have you no thankful service
unto Shakspere's England?
And to the world, too! To humanity! As, a stone
dropped in, the water circles spread wider and wider, so the waves of duty
flow beyond the bounds of country till the circle fills the world.
As the star in its sphere, in its system, in the system of systems, so man
in the family, in his nation, in the system of humanity. All the
world, since life began, has worked for thee; work thou for the world.
For thee has Homer sung, for thee has Sappho loved. For thee has
Leonidas fought, and Plato spoke; for thee Galileo sought the stars.
The glorious army of martyrs gave their lives for thee.
For thee the divinest chose the dungeon and the hemlock
juice, the scourge and the crucifixion. For thee humanity has lived,
has loved, has suffered. Pay to humanity the life-debt thou hast
A debt—that—which is owed—which ought to be—a duty.
What is thy duty? DEVELOPMENT, GROWTH,
Development of all the capabilities of thy nature; growth of thy nature,
ever higher and higher, toward the divinest ideal thy soul can
contemplate; development and growth, that thou mayest be a helper, a
worthy servant of humanity, a fit and acceptable offering in the great
temple of life, to propitiate the future. This is duty; so to
develop one's powers, so to grow, that one's life may be useful to the
world, the present a sacrifice worthy of the Eternal. A sacrifice:
the joyful rendering of that which thou hast acquired, the giving to the
world the fragrance of thy own beautiful nature, the fruit that has
ripened on thee, the golden grain of thy devoted life.
All sacrifices—not denials, but offerings on the altar of
progress, at the shrine of humanity. So bear thy days even as a
wreath of flowers upon thy brows, the fillet of sacrifice, the wreath of
triumph! The joyful sacrifice be thine, the triumph the Eternal's.
Ay! even when the sheaves are scattered and the life beaten out, and the
very straw consumed, and the plough gone over thy place, some grain will
yet be sown for the world's future harvesting, and thy spirit, bruised and
ground down for the good of humanity, will haply then be conscious of the
joy to which it was abandoned.
Since all have duties, all must have the means of fulfilling
their duties. What means but freedom? what freedom but on the ground
of "equal right"? How shall you develop your powers under my
absolute or hindering will? How shall you grow to your full growth,
if I grow so rankly that there is not room for you?
To each full room for freedom of action on the common ground
of right! Liberty on the ground of equality; duty growing out of
right. Therefore must the suffrage—the recognition and expressive
symbol of our right—be universal.
Right universally assured, that duty may everywhere be done.
Nothing but the universal can satisfy us.
Because no one can be excused from his duty, because we need
at all be free to perform the duty for which all are required; that in the
chorus of life no note may be missing, that the harmony be complete.
We are ruled (when we are really ruled) for the progress of
humanity; ordered so that each may have sufficient room for growth, for
the world's advantage. We need universal suffrage, that all parts
may be brought within the rule, that there may be no exception to the law,
that no rank disorder may prevent the perfected growth, even of the
As eternity counts every hour, so needs the world that all be
ordered for the world's behoof.
The careful gardener leaves not in his trim garden one corner
for rank overgrowth, where vermin may hide who would devour his tenderest
So in the nation should be no neglected and untutored corner,
no city of refuge for a parish class, or be sure that they will devour
your hopes and ruin the fair garden of life.
One rotten sheep—one unhealthy member! The evil of one
is the evil of all; the good of the whole cannot be without the good of
How shall the musician spare one note—how admit one false
note? How more easily achieve the complicated harmony of life?
Woe to the people among whom false notes are not prevented,
whose very leaders knowingly play false! Woe to that people among
whom the vilest weeds grow rankly, where vermin live unnoticed, who devour
the tenderest hopes of the Spring, and none to prevent them! Woe to
that people among whom their enemy soweth tares!
Could each corn plant be cared for, be free to grow on its
own equal and sufficient ground, how abundant would be the harvest.
We need universal suffrage to upbuild the nation. That
temple of the Eternal, the sacred workshop wherein we serve the future of
humanity, shall not be unsightly and disgraced because of its many broken
and disfigured columns.
What is a nation? Not a mere horde of savages or serfs
driven by some imperious master. Not a Babel-gathering of trading
thieves, held together only so long as they can find withal to exercise
A nation is the free association of equals, the predestined
association of men of one race, in whom tradition and history have
breathed the prophecy of an identical life—men whose cradle songs, whose
noblest memories, whose dearest hopes, echo that charmed word of country,
which links together the various families of the earth, each in its
special bond of harmonious tendency, whose result is national vitality and
national growth, and the achievement of national purpose—the fulfilment of
the nation's work and mission in and for the world.
How shall the nation grow except all parts in the nation
share and help its growth? How shall all grow unless they have fair
room for growth—the equality on which their freedom builds, rising
uprightly like some well-proportioned column, a pillar of humanity ?
Savages build not at all. Your traders, held together
by one common interest, would sell the very foundation stones. Serfs
at some royal bidding may build pyramids, but cannot build a nation, not
even though the royalty be held in commission by so many as 800,00 of the
A nation can only be built by all of all. All the
people, each in his place. The individual first perfecting his own
upright and rounded life; the family standing as perfectly together, a
stately column-group; the parish, township, and province, the further
association for that combined work for which the family alone is not
competent; and the nation, the completed temple, built and supported by
the regulated strength of all. Only from the universal suffrage of
equals can such a building rise. The slave could not mount to the
height of the freeman, could not reach to upbear the temple roof.
The nation is indeed a living temple, with multitudinous
columns, many as individual natures, but which all unite together to
uphold the place of worship for the future. Infamous is he who
neglects his portion of the service, who upholds no part of the sacred
roof of country, the homestead of his race!
For the vote is not a mere fractional share in the election
of a master of tongue force. It is not a mere hustings delusion, the
careless or considerate dropping of some name in a ballot box. Nor
is it but a pledge for higher wages, respectabilities, and comforts.
It is the symbol of manhood, the public acknowledgment that a man's life
is his own, that all his fellow-men of that nation recognise him as a man,
a free man, their equal, to be cared for, and ruled and ordered, be he
never so insignificant, with the same care and in the same rule as the
noblest. Nay, it is symbol of far more than that.
It is not only the proclamation and fearless challenge of the
man's rights, but also the open confession of the man's duties, the public
homage (would once a year be too often for that homage?) of the individual
man to the nation and through that to the collective humanity to which he
so swears fealty and allegiance, confessing that for it he lives and moves
and has his being.
Wages, respectabilities, and comforts: freedom has better
growths than these. Let the respectable stalled ox take his due wage
and fodder, and be comfortable.
The aim of human life is higher than that. Not for the
mere material; not only for some better arrangement of land and labour
(though these things wait on freedom), not by any means to supersede the
necessity for work, is the place and dignity of manhood to be desired.
But to take the yoke from off thy neck, that thou mayest work
freely and healthfully, that all thy powers and capabilities may be
employed and perfected, that universal life may be better served; that
then mayest bear thy heavy sheaves of corn, thy full rich fruit, any way
thy worthy and acceptable sacrifice, to the mighty spirit of the future.
Rough the path of life, toilsome the ascent, and heavy the burthen that
must be carried to the distant heights.
We need the help even of the least; there is no strength to
be spared. The slave may stumble and faint by the wayside. Let
him seek his rest, his comforts, his own "well being"! What is the
general good to him?
What to him the aspiration toward the excellent and the
Eternal? But the freemen faint not nor stumble. Singing, they
journey onward, hand linked in hand, and hopeful eyes consoling hope; so
each upholds the other.
Come, my brother, my sister, cry the equal voices; aid us in
the work which is neither thine nor ours, but the Eternal's; bow down with
us in worship of the inevitable; raise thy proud head toward heaven, thy
life aspiring as the altar's flame soars skyward!
Wreathe with us the crown of future triumph; help us to
upbuild the moving temple of humanity.
It is for this that we would be ruled, for this that we need
That every human life may have its healthy growth; its
perfect bloom or pleasant store of fruit, and so the garden of the world
be well arranged and beautiful; that every columned life may be firmly
built and finished to its utmost grace; that the National Temple in which
we would worship the Eternal spirit of growth and freedom may be worthy of
its purpose, of the service to which it is dedicated, well proportioned in
all its parts, and the whole a perfect beauty, an increasing loveliness
and "a joy for ever."
Universal Suffrage—Its Meaning.
"The political question," says Lamennais, in his excellent
work on Modern Slavery, " resolves itself into the question of
electoral reform: a wide-spreading and thorough reform which shall rest,
neither upon the degraded and degrading principle of tax qualification,
nor on arbitrary formulas, nor on foolish presumptions of capacity; but
which shall rest upon the inherent right of humanity; because then no one
will be deprived of his essential liberty, of his just share in the
collective sovereignty. Then only will modern slavery be abolished."
Lamennais wrote for France. The Revolution of 1848 established that
electoral reform. Nearly fifty years later we in England are still
considering rather leisurely what small
addition to the number of privileged electors may at once satisfy the
fears of weak political monopolists and the not inordinate desires of
The Right of Universal Suffrage.
Our claim to universal suffrage may be based upon these
several grounds:—The natural quality of humankind, the right to assist in making
the laws that are to rule us, and the qualification of tax-payment.
First, and far above all else—treating this question as not only
political, but moral, we base the right—the rightness—of universal
suffrage upon the natural equality of
humankind. All are not equal in virtue, genius, stature, or muscular
power. Men are not all the same shape, the same height, the same mental
capability or muscular power,
nor do they all possess the same degree of moral beauty. Their equality
consists in their common humanity, in the distinct individuality of each;
an individuality which can not
in any way be abdicated or confounded with the individuality of another. All are born equal in this: that every human being has an independent
organisation, an independent
will, a frame which is his own, a life which is his own and none other's,
a life which it is his business to build up toward the most perfect beauty
of which his nature is
capable, which it is his business to endow with the completest nobility
his natural powers can acquire. Every man lives for himself, can get no
other to live for him. Every man
must do the work of his own life; by no specious contrivance can he
transfer that work to any other man. He is an independent being, sovereign
lord of himself, and can by no
means abdicate that sovereignty or be deprived of his individuality; can
by no cunning process either fuse himself, or be infused, into the life of
another man. Fetter him as
you will—trample upon and despise his spirit—brutify his
thought—control him so that his muscles move as obediently to your
command as the steam engine to the touch of
the engineer, so that his whole being is the slave of your dominant will,
and his thoughts the echo of your dictation, still, in spite of all this,
you can not make him one with
yourself, nor a part of yourself; you can not make him a sure possession. You can never wholly root out the individuality within him; you can never
be sure that he has
renounced altogether and abdicated his natural self-sovereignty; you can
never be certain how long that self-sovereignty shall remain disposed and
in abeyance. In the
deepest recesses of that slave's soul still burns the sacred fire of an
independent spirit, to burst forth, you know not when, perhaps when you
least expect it, to light up the
slave's eye, to warm his pale cheek, and to kindle fiery thought and
flashing speech, in indignant denial of your tyrannous boast, "I have
made this creature mine; this
wretch is no longer a man; he is my property, a thing belonging to me." O
fool, fool! you cannot tread out the soul of a living man. That one thing
is beyond the reach of
tyrants. The slave is still a man—not less so than the oppressor. You can
not make him other than a man; a sovereign, however captive, a
self-sufficient, independent being,
with duties of self-respect, with natural opportunities and hopes of
self-development, of healthy growth and happiness, with need of human
sympathy: in all these respects
like unto his fellow men.
All men are by nature free and equal. The same air is breathed by all; the
same earth is common to all; the same blue sky bends lovingly over all;
the same cloud-wrapped
tempest that lowers upon the slave, unbends not its powers for any majesty
of the tyrant; into the ear of the ploughing serf the winds whisper as
melodiously as into the ear
of the prince who devours the harvest; the same elements minister to all;
there is the same birth, the same death; the same erect form; the same
muscular action; the same
mental organisation ; the same hopes and fears and passions; the same
modes of thought, of speech, of action. Between the God-like Shakspere and
the poorest and most
imbruted slave there are more points of likeness than of difference. Each
is a man. Neither the Shakspere, the Newton, nor the Napoleon, can show
any title to possess the
beggarliest wretch upon earth. That beggar wretch—he, too, is a man. What
are they? Are they more than human? Men's equality consists in their
common humanity. Ay, in
their common humanity! Tear away the wrappings of conventional usages, the
blinds which long habits of usurpation, too long tamely endured, have set
up between us and
nature; look if you can at a just constitution of society; or look back to
what man was before a false-dealing and false-founded social system had
robbed him of his just
position—a manlike place and relation toward his fellow-men; and then
answer the question. What is the common, the original and inherent right
of humanity? What was the
natural equality of mankind? Every human being is by nature's law, by
God's warrant and prescription, a sovereign prince—lord of himself and of
his own life. True, their realms
may be of various power and grandeur, but each in his own realm is
paramount. And as, when sovereigns of nations meet together to treat of
their common affairs, an
equality subsists among them, though perhaps no two of them rule over
precisely the same extent of territory, so in treaties between human
beings (and just government is a
series of treaties between the members of society) each and every treater
is entitled to the same footing of equality—his place as a sovereign
prince—though no two of these
human beings are endowed with precisely the same sovereignty. Indeed there
can be no treaty but upon this ground of equality. All else is dictation
and overruling of some
kind: tyranny, by whatever polished name you may christen it. This is our
natural right of universal suffrage.
Our second ground for universal suffrage is the right to assist in making
the laws which, are to bind us. Laws are made for all the members of the
community. Else they are
not laws at all, but lawless privileges. If laws are meant for all, it is
manifestly just that all should assist in making them. Though you need
laws only for property, is not a
man's person his property—his inalienable property?—also a property
which may be damaged. It is idle to talk about "the rights of property"—of "having an interest in one's
country"—while this primary and most essential right of personality
remains unrecognised. The first property a man can possess is his own life; as the first interest a man
can have in his country is himself. And be he pauper or wealthiest
Rothschild, he is rightful sovereign over himself, and can in nowise
abdicate that sovereignty. Naked,
landless, and penniless, the man comes into the world. "What is it to
him," say some of you, "how he is governed? He has no stake in the
country." What is it to him how he
is governed? Is it nothing to him how he shall be clothed or fed? how he
shall be educated? whether he shall enjoy or suffer? whether he shall
obtain love or hate? be noble or
wretched? Is all this nothing? Has he no stake or interest, who has
depending on him a life to be made or marred by this government "which is
no concern of his?" A life, with
hopes praying for fruition, with energies requiring development! A life
with an eternity dependent upon it—an eternity of consequence to the
world, the human future! A life to
which, perhaps, some fellow-life is clinging for that love which peoples
earth with myriad forms of happiness or woe! And is all this nothing? Nothing, certainly, to any but the
possessor. To the possessor it is much. It is his all—this
all! Why, the one vagabond, to whom "it does not matter how he is
governed," is perhaps the founder
of a great nation. Some vagabond Ishmael whom paternal government drives
forth from home into the desert to poverty and despair and death, what
right of self-sovereignty
has he? what property or interest has he—this Ishmael? He has some
property and interest in his own life—he is sovereign prince of that—and
of the future ages of an Arab
nation, his descendants, the seed from which outgroweth a creed and a
dominion to cover one half of the world. It is something to this Ishmael
what you shall make of his
life; something to the world how this vagabond shall be governed. It is,
indeed, something to every man how he is to be governed—a something of
importance, which he
cannot put off, an interest he cannot alienate. All men, I repeat, are
equal in this matter of requiring government, and having an interest in
the how they are governed. Nay, it
is of moment to all that all should feel this government. To be equal
before the law is, then, no more than just. Will you, without consulting
me, enact a law which shall
control my life, which shall compel my obedience? It is a manifest
tyranny. The single despot orders me; his will is law. Spirit of Wycliffe,
of Hampden, and of Milton! am I
not justified in my resistance to the tyrant? I owe him no allegiance. How
much less is it a tyranny, because I am controlled by 658 tyrants—or say
658,000 tyrants, instead
of one? The tyranny is the same to me. Fellowmen! leave me my voice in the
election of those who are to represent all of us; and, if they are
honest, their laws are entitled to
my obedience. I am morally bound thereto. By excluding me from the
election of those who are to act as law-makers for their constituents, you
virtually outlaw me. I have
nothing to do with you. I, your equal, will not be bound by your laws, to
which I have not consented. You may compel my obedience, and make me your
slave; you cannot
make me your subject. I must resist you to the death. Slavery may be
upheld by despots' laws; but society only holds together by the
concurrent will of all its members.
Society is a mutual compact. It is not for a country's peace that any of
its members should be outlaws. There is more strength in harmony than
confusion. Freemen are
stronger, too, than slaves.
Even upon the lowest ground of tax-qualification, every member of the
State is entitled to a vote in the affairs of the State. Who is not taxed? Every man who works pays
taxes. Few among the veriest paupers but have paid taxes at some periods
of their lives. The absurd distinction between direct and indirect
taxation is the merest subterfuge
of one who desires to enslave his fellows. Your tax-gatherer's pound is
worth twenty shillings, however indirectly or circuitously he may have got
it. It will not be worth more
than twenty shillings for being the result of a poll-tax or an income-tax. Neither does it at all matter to me—the tax-payer—whether I pay a
twenty-shilling tax to my butcher,
who passes it to the grazier, who passes it into the pocket of that same
collector. Either way, I pay twenty shillings—just so much—neither more
nor less. Either way, the tax-collector has his twenty shillings.
And either way, since the tax is collected for the use of the State—including Me (do not forget that!)—I
am entitled to have a voice in the
appointment of those who are to state the amount required, and to regulate
and fairly apportion the burthen. As to a certain amount of taxation being
necessary to qualify a
man to be an elector, we need only require that the just sum should be
named. Say £5 a year. I shall not make a worse elector because I pay only
£4 19s. l l d. a year.
And yet, in the one case, I should possess a vote, and in the other none. Should I become more intelligent or moral, or fitter to possess a vote,
because I pay a penny more
tax—that qualifying penny? Or if, my property decreasing, I pay say twopence less toward the State, must my morality and intellect oscillate
with these fluctuations of my
property? To allow this would be to set an exact value upon a vote, and
give men one or more according to the amount of their several payments. Or
call the penny £10,000,
how is the case altered? The exclusion of any, the smallest part of the
community, for no better pretext than this is utterly ridiculous. It is a
robbery of one portion of society
by another, without the thinnest colour of justification, without the
shallowest defence of reason or common-sense. With an arbitrary
tax-qualification, however low, the veriest
scoundrel who, by the dirtiest shuffling and trickery, or by fraud and
crime, and that most notorious, has acquired the requisite amount of
property, a wretch of narrow
intellect, utterly depraved and selfish, may enjoy those rights of
citizenship from which such men as Shakspere, Milton, Locke, Newton, and
Howard, our country's best and
wisest, the beloved and revered of ages, would be excluded, if not
qualified by the possession of the precise amount of property. Need
another word be added to prove the
folly and immorality of a tax or property qualification; that intolerable
insult upon the industrious and intelligent poor, which classes them with
idiots and criminals, fit only to
be ordered or punished by the money-learned or money-moralised rich? Need
more be said to prove the justice and necessity of universal suffrage, in
order that all, men and
women, may be fairly represented and governed, that irresponsible tyranny
may have no place, and that moral beauty and intellectual majesty may no
longer be trodden
underfoot by the heartless, mindless worshippers of the foul idolatry of
And, let us ask, who are those who would fix the minimum of a
tax-qualification? Whence do they get their authority to decide upon what
constitutes a man, upon what shall
qualify him to act as a man? After all, a man's life is worth more than
five pounds a year, or any amount of direct or indirect taxes you can
squeeze out of that life. A
Rothschild's money can buy no rights. The penniless beggar is a man, too,
and has rights that are altogether independent of the tax-gatherer.
There are men who question the expediency of universal suffrage; who
allow the abstract right, but dare not reduce the right to practice,
certainly not at once—for fear of
Timid men these, if indeed they are not rather prating knaves whose wish
is father to the thought they utter. At the best they are not true men. The notable difference between
the true man and the false is this: that the false studies what is
expedient for his own little day, having no faith in anything—but only a
blind leaning upon his own fear; while
the true man dares to utter or do or allow whatsoever he sees to be just,
firmly confident in the eternal expediency of justice. Ay, it is always
expedient to act justly! Justice
takes the best care of consequences. "Let justice be done though the
heavens should fall," says a brave proverb. But the heavens will not fall. It is your half-witted fool, who
thinks justice "inexpedient," "inconvenient," and the world not quite
prepared for it, who would be just "gradually"—it is also he who does all
the mischief. Justice is
surer-footed. What else is there to be said of the expediency of universal
But yet what are the objections urged against the immediate public
recognition of the principle for which I contend? They are not many. We
are told—"The mass of the
population is not fit for the exercise of the franchise, they would make a
bad use of their freedom!" Dare any say that any class, that any portion
even of the present electors,
is either so thoroughly acquainted with the electoral duties, or so
perfectly honest, that there is no room for improvement? There is no class
exactly fit, if we are to scrutinise
severely. And I incline to think that a very large majority of the lowest
dregs of the people could not, by their uttermost, make a worse use of the
franchise than is now made
by a large proportion of the present electors—who surely are sufficiently
qualified. But the real question here is:—When will the non-electors be
fit for freedom? I answer
boldly—Never till they are free; never till they have practised how to
use their freedom. Do you learn to walk before you have put your foot to
the ground? Can you learn to
swim without going into the water? Neither can you learn to act as freemen
until you are free. Nothing is learned without practice. If you think
otherwise, try to perfect
yourself in swimming upon dry land. Even your muscles are only developed
by exercise. Take the most delicate man's arm in the world; give it
blacksmith's work to do, and
muscle will be developed, and the arm will become fitted to its work. None
but freemen can fully appreciate freedom; only by practice can come
perfectness. And if, as you
would fain persuade us, we, the non-electors, are not fit for freedom,
while you, the electors, are—is not that some evidence of our
doctrine—some evidence that your old-fashioned, exclusive system has not exactly answered? You have had a
long enough trial of fitting men for freedom, by keeping them in
slavery—teaching them to swim
upon dry land. Make an honest plunge and try what the opposite practice
"But"—says another party—a very philosophic party—"give us an
educational test of some kind—an educational qualification?" Ha! but
there is a difficulty in the way of your
wisdoms: who shall be the judges? The whole community? I suppose not. For
that would be universal suffrage. Who then? Anyone that has impudence
enough to think
himself a judge of other men's fitness? His wisdomship lacks some
qualifying modesty. Who
are to be the judges? The ignorant always think themselves wise enough;
the ignorant think none wise but themselves (ask the present electors
about that); and even the
reputed wise are but too apt to fall into the same error. "O, proscribe
some certain amount of knowledge, such as reading and writing," say you. It is no test at all. There have
been not a few men unable to read a line or to write their names, who have
yet been much more worthy of electoral trust than many a college-bred
scoundrel or clerkly
bribe-taker. I know of no scheme more likely to insure confusion and
disappointment than this most philosophic test.
"But"—cries out another fearful objector—"what improper characters would
be admitted by this universal suffrage." We should have felons, idiots,
and the veriest rabble voting.
Felons, idiots, and the veriest rabble vote even now—and in a much larger
proportion to the whole number of the electors than they would was every
man to have his right of
citizenship. Universal suffrage would swamp—not the honest men—but the
present disproportionate number of fools and felons. Certain limited and
select constituencies might
be named whose average character could hardly be rendered worse by the
admission of all their fellow-citizens. But you have no right to your
exceptions until you have
allowed the rule. After recognising the universal right, and not till
then, would be the proper time for excluding, wholly or temporarily, those
who should be proved
incapacitated by disease or by outrage upon society.
What other objections? "The confusion attendant upon the collection of so
many votes." Is there more confusion in Harwich or in Finsbury during an
election? It is not in our
largest and most popular constituencies that the greatest disorder
prevails, but in your little rotten boroughs. All England may vote in a
day, just as easily as St. Nicholas'
parish, only give them polling places enough.
What else? "The lower classes will get the upper hand!" This is the main
objection, after all. What if they do? The upper classes have been honest
and beneficent: what can
they expect but praise and gratitude from their successors in power? Think
what claims they have upon the so long unrepresented! If the upper
classes had not been honest,
that alone would be sufficient reason for dethroning them. If they have
robbed the lower classes, is it not just they should make full
restitution? Anyhow, is it just or
reasonable that the minority should govern the majority, and that one man
should rule six—and that without any pretence or seeming of
qualification? Bring your objections,
your selfish clingings to power, your fears, and your honest scruples,
face to face against the broad justice of treating every man as a man,
against the clear principle of
human equality—such as we have defined it, and answer us. What course
should be adopted by an honest citizen, a lover of freedom, and a
respecter of the majesty of man?
"Shall we admit paupers too?" I rather think they are admitted now. How
many pensioners have we, whose pensions have not been granted for services
rendered to the
community? These idlest and most impudent of paupers have the privilege of
voting, qualified by the nation's charity; why should not the same charity
qualify any other
pauper? Besides, when a man has worked some half century, during which
time he has received not one tithe of the produce of his toil, it is
somewhat hard to deprive him of
his manlike place and right of voice, because some turn of trade has
robbed him of his scanty savings and prohibited him from continuing to
labour. Let his fellow-citizens,
before they disenfranchise even him, consider well to what his poverty is
owing; whether they, rather than he, may not be really responsible for
his inability to support
himself; whether unjust and oppressive laws, excessive taxation, or the
over-grasping of selfish speculation, reckless of ill means, and others'
ruin, the consequence of
wanting that nurture and instruction which it is the duty of a Government
to provide for all the governed; let them, I say, well consider whether
these may not have reduced the
pauper to his state of penury; and let them beware of visiting his
misfortunes with punishment, of branding as a crime the suffering by
themselves produced, hypocritically
claiming credit for the charity that restores to the robbed a scanty means
of subsistence out of the competence of which he has been plundered.
But your universal suffrage includes women, too? There can be no doubt of
it. Has not woman the same right as man; the same right of every human
creature to the
undisputed exercise of its individuality, its natural self-sovereignty? Is
there any mark of the male gender in the arguments with which we have
striven to enforce the right of
human freedom? The question is not which of the sexes is the worthier. Her
right remains even if it is allowed (though I, for one, will never allow
it) that woman, as a class, is
naturally inferior to man. Is not, also, one race of men inferior to
another race; one man inferior to another man? Some men, even, inferior to
some women? If man has no
right to enslave his brother, however inferior, he has also no right to
enslave his sister—because inferior. Right is of no sex. The rights of
all human creatures are equal,
whatever inequality may prevail in the organisation or circumstances of
individuals. Man! if thou deniest this, what becomes of thy own rights? Thou assertest that all men
have equal rights. Yet all men are not born free from inequality. No two
men are alike; one has super-eminent physical strength, another his
towering intellect. But thou wilt
not, therefore, be the slave of either the man of brawn, or the man of
thought. Not of either. Rightly so; for what matters it to thee, O son of
man: whether hot-blooded Cain
slay thee to satiate his own unbridled savageness, or Iscariot coolly and
philosophically sell thee to the same cruelty? Thou wilt not submit to
either tyranny. Thou claimest
thy right of self-sovereignty, thy right of morality, desiring to become
virtuous. This, too, is thy duty; it is "the law of life, the law in
accordance with which the rational being
preserves, develops, and perfects himself;" thy duty, "because the first
of duties is to be and to continue to be human, involving the duty of
repelling slavery, which,
despoiling a rational being of his (or her) individuality, degrades him
(or her) even below the brute." On the same ground whereupon thou basest
thy own claim to freedom,
stands by thy side the claim of woman! here upon this moral equality,
under this law of life which forbids any man or woman to abdicate the
sovereignty of self, or, in other
words, to shirk their own responsibility. Duty is of no sex. If thou deniest this, go back to the ancient brutality, crouch before its
world-old privilege, confessing thy half
enfranchisement to be an inexcusable rebellion. Let the most muscular
again bear rule! Let mere bone and sinew trample upon the God-like! Let
the strong-armed savage
dash out the brains of Christ, and, laughing in God's face, assert his
unquestioned justification—I am my brother's keeper! Art thou prepared
for this? Either this or the other;
either the despotism of the stronger—no matter whether intellectual or
muscular, fraud or force—or a full allowance of human kind, of the
natural right of all. There is no
"juste-milieu," no golden mean, no mid-resting place for a principle. Either God or hell, either the truth or a lie! Thou must choose one of
them; or lose thy manhood,
degrading thyself to be the slave of expediency, the sport of
circumstance, a thing, whose false and worthless life Time scornfully
tramples out, whose soul dieth hopelessly,
unmourned, and without place in the Eternal.
But "women are not fitted for exercising their political rights!"
what made you the judge of their fitness? Brute strength, or intellectual
overreaching? That same brutality,
that same cunning, would entitle the one male despot, or the few male
privileged, to judge your fitness, you male aspirant for freedom! Who gave
you a right to prescribe "arbitrary formulas" on your "foolish presumptions of capacity?"
But "what use would such rights be to women?" What use
are they to men? What use is freedom at all? Or, who art thou that,
calling thyself a freeman, or claiming freedom, darest to doubt the worth
and use of freedom? "He
who asks of what worth is justice, profanes justice in his heart."
But, further, "women do not desire this freedom." So much the wretcheder
their condition! Surely there is, at least, one woman who desires to
possess the sovereignty of
herself, to be free, to be virtuous! Why should that woman be held in
slavery because all other women are too debased to know what freedom is,
to desire its excellence?
We must teach them to desire freedom—the first step toward its
attainment. And how long is it since men, too—all save some few
lone-standing martyrs, God's
beacons—were satisfied with their slavery? What argument is this of the
slave's content? O, that content is the most saddening! It is because the
woman slave has not, yet
learned to think; because she is too fallen to feel her wrongs; because
she wants just self-respect. "We are grieved by the gaiety of the insane. There is a sadness," says
Dr. Channing, speaking of the contented negro slave, "in the gaiety of him
whose lightness of heart would be turned to bitterness and indignation,
were one ray of light to
awaken in him the spirit of a man!" Is a woman's insanity less deplorable?
But I will not believe but there are many, many women as ardently desirous
as men call be, of the God-like attribute of freedom. A "George Sand" is
as free-souled as a
But "the political enfranchisement of women does not appear desirable to
men!" And when did enfranchisement ever appear desirable to tyrants?
But, the "consequences" are objected. Perceiving the right, what has an
honest man to do with consequences? "He who calculates the cost of liberty
has already renounced
liberty in his heart." Liberty is beyond all price. Do good, and good will
ensue! "Believe in the might of justice, and in this faith shall be your
safety!" Neither be deterred by
any presupposed absurdity in such consequences; absurd only because they
contrast with your own accustomed foolishness. To talk about "better be
husbands' stockings," is mere gabble, the sneering speech of dull fools;
coming with little grace from those who mouth out sycophantic praise of
the supremacy of a queen.
Are these the men to sneer at a woman's incapacity? Note one thing that it
is the very characteristic of ignorant folly to sneer at whatever is not
in accordance with its
Above all things beware, lest, from surrendering the rights of women, thou
become careless of the rights of thy fellow-men; lest thy love of freedom
degenerate into a mere
lust of self-interest, to be satisfied with household suffrage, or any
other suffrage that will include thyself: and so then not only render
thyself unworthy of freedom, but also
impede thy own attainment of it. For principle is the strongest lever. What disinterestedness or devotion to freedom has he who so pertinaciously
maintains a despotic
authority at home? How can he love justice for its own beauty's sake, what
dependence shall we place on him, who acts unjustly to his own family,
denying even to the one
nearest and dearest to him that self-sovereignty and liberty he so
earnestly claims for himself ?
Briefly to sum up our several arguments:—I have endeavoured to show how
the right of universal suffrage is based upon the natural equality of
humankind, and upon the equal
interest which every member of society, every contributor to the support
of society, has in ordering the social procedure. I deem universal
suffrage to be expedient, because it
is right; because men must practise freedom before they can be fully
worthy of it ; because, too, there is no party with any just title to the
exclusive possession of the
franchise, no party qualified to decide as to the fitness of others;
because, further, I think the present limited constituency contains a
larger proportion of knaves and fools
than would be comprised in a constituency including the whole population;
and because I have no fear of the domination or undue influence of our
labouring population, or of
any confusion to arise from the widest spread of political justice. For
the same reasons of justice and expediency I would neither deprive the
pauper, the worn-out and
plundered labourer, of his place of manhood; nor withhold from woman her
equally-established birthright of self-sovereignty and humanity: aware
that if we once swerve from
the great principle of equal right, of respect for the rights of others,
we sink into mere lusters after self-interest, and debase ourselves to be
slaves in soul, however invested
with the outward opportunities of freedom. And I would object to any mere
instalment, compromise or shifty arrangement; for I am convinced that any
reform that is not based
upon equal right will be, and must be, a cheat and a hindrance to the full
advent of liberty.
After all, the main question is not merely how we shall choose our
masters. The main question is to have no masters at all: to rule
I care not for universal suffrage to-morrow if we must stop short at
that, if we must consider it as the end. What great value will it be to
us, to be allowed to elect our masters
once a year? Or what use to change them every year?
They who make the laws are the masters. Let the people make their own
laws! It is not only a reform in our representative system which we
require; but the doing away with
our representative system altogether.
Laws can he made only by four classes of men. Tyrants, representatives,
delegates, or the people themselves meeting in their assemblies.
Of tyrants, pure, absolute despots, I need say nothing; but of the farce
of representation let us have some thought. Say you choose your
representative by universal suffrage.
For twelve months he acts in the name of a majority. He may consult their
views or not, they may know his views or not. If he is a representative
he stands in their place. He
makes the laws for them, not consulting their will upon every special
occasion, but acting as he thinks best. What is he but an elected tyrant?
I care not for how short a time
his tyranny may last; I care not how good he may be. If you place the
power in his hands he is your master, at least for so long as you have
elected him: it may be for longer.
Witness the doings of the representatives elected by universal suffrage in
France. It is a mere farce this electing of our tyrants.
And I deny that my will can be represented. My will needs to be exercised
upon every legislative occasion. Even during the one year unforeseen
occasions will arise. How
could I delegate my will to another, when my will was not even determined? Yes! "representation" is a farce. The representative must be either a
tyrant or a mere delegate.
Would you have a mere delegate; one that upon every occasion shall consult
his constituents? Then of what use is he? If the constituency is to meet
to express an opinion
upon every law, what remains for the delegate to do? To receive their
instructions, and to give his vote in the House under cover of the ballot,
or openly impudent, clean
contrary to the instructions of his constituents? Is this a delegate's
use? What else, but to register his constituents' decrees?
Choose representatives, and be they never so honest to those who have
elected them, they, or at best the majority of the day of election, are
masters upon all subjects for a
year to come. Today the uppermost question may be to repel Papal
Aggression, and a majority of townsmen elect a respectable Quaker for that
purpose; but before the year
of Parliament is over the question of a Russian war comes before the
House; and there may not be half-a-dozen of all the Quaker's majority
disposed to trust him to represent
them on that ground.
Let the people make their own laws. So upon every occasion the true
majority will be found. It is never found now. So there will never be a
stationary minority to complain of
their exclusion from power. I, in a minority upon one question, will be in
a majority upon another: and so the true sense of the country be
ascertained upon every point.
Our radical reformers are just an age too late. Nay, even Chartism lagged
far behind the need. The direct sovereignty of the people: that is our
requisition. Toward that the
time is marching. Everything short of that is tyranny under some disguise
or other. We want absolute freedom: the freedom of the Republic. We take
universal suffrage only
as the first step!
METHODS OF GOVERNMENT.
Local Government. Constitutional Government. Fitness for the
Franchise. Working Men's Combinations—Strikes and Co-operative
Associations. The Policy of Strikes—The Policy of the Men—The Policy
of the Masters—The Policy of the Nation.
[See note p.106]
IN the Republic all matters really
national are ruled by the whole people; every adult man and woman taking a
direct part in the national sovereignty. But the whole people, the
nation, need not be convoked to manage the affairs of every parish, nor of
The right of the individual is sacred. And individual
right stands not only in the homestead, but in the transactions of the
individual with those immediately surrounding him—his neighbours.
How neighbours, the members of the State in their several
localities, shall arrange their local affairs is their own business, not
the business of the State.
As the individual perfects his own life, grows, not dictated
to by any—as the family, the completer individual, orders its life,
uninterfered with by authority; so, and to the same extent, the little
knot of neighbouring individuals or families may be left to direct its own
affairs. The State is the harmoniser of the whole; does, with its
combined power, that of which the isolated families or local groups of
families are incapable, but does not pretend to dictate their lives.
Each sphere perfects itself so far as it can. What it
can do of itself, unaided, it does. For what it can not do by itself
it has the assistance of the whole.
The will of all (the majority), which is the power of the
State, protects one part from another, harmonises the several parts, and
gives the multiplied strength of concert where concert may be needed.
The whole and the part; each has its domain in the Republic, and neither
may encroach upon the province of the other.
To determine the nation's conduct toward other States, to
utter the national idea of right and wrong, to organise religious worship
and education, to protect (by preventing the monopoly of land and capital)
the rights of labour and property, to fix the amount of taxation for
national purposes, to hold the national purse, and to superintend the
maintenance of justice in all corners of the land; these matters come
within the function of the State; these are the business of the sovereign
people—not of any fraction of them. Beyond these things, rather
within and subordinate to them, are the affairs of the locality—call it
county, city, or parish.
The laws are made by the whole people. The business of
the national delegates (or parliament), except the ordering of
international relations, is only to draw up projects of law for the
consideration of the people (not, therefore, denying the people's right of
initiation), to frame laws after the popular will, and to appoint and
control the officers of State charged with the conduct of foreign affairs,
and with the superintendence of national matters.
The superintendence only in the administration of the law,
the actually carrying on of public business in the first instance rests
with the local authorities.
In the same manner, therefore, as the people choose their
delegates, their clerks and overseers of the public service, so will they
elect their district officers and councils to do the actual work of the
nation and to conduct the business of each locality. They will
choose directly their own magistrates, the directors of the district
banks, bazaars, and store-houses, the superintendents of home colonies,
the schoolmasters and mistresses, and the town or district council.
These town or district councils (or local parliaments) will
appoint the inferior public servants, such as police, collectors, clerks,
etc., and elect their own mayor or chairman.
The councils will supervise the management and audit the
accounts of the schools, banks, etc.—conduct the popular assemblies for
the consideration of national and local laws, and for the election of
national and local officers; take charge of the infirm and aged; collect
the national taxes, and care for the maintenance of national ways, and the
erection of national works. In these matters they will be the agents
of the State and directly responsible to it.
But besides carrying out the national programme, they will
also conduct the local business of their districts; the association of
labour, police arrangements, the, formation of bye-roads, the erection of
buildings for district purposes, lighting, cleansing, and improving, and
the collection of the taxes voted by the people for all these needs.
All these things are strictly within the province of the
local Government, and concerning them the State has no jurisdiction save
as a court of appeal, so long as they do not counteract the general scheme
and rule of the whole nation.
The organisation of the local Government will be on the same
principle as that of the national; the whole adult population will be the
sovereign. They, meeting in the assemblies, will express their
wants, their will, and elect their servants to carry out that will.
And as in the nation, so in the district all persons will be eligible for
Several councils will meet together, as a County Council,
when necessary to advise together on matters concerning several districts.
Their proceedings will be always public, and their acts open
to the censure of the people.
The inhabitants of several districts, say a county, will also
confer together upon special occasions, trusting, however, the ordinary
routine of business, police, etc., not needing an express vote, to the
general assembly of district magistrates in the County Council.
There will no longer be any purchasing of freedom.
Every one will be at liberty to establish himself in any part of town or
county, and to immediately take his place as part of the district
sovereignty. There will no longer be monopolies of corporations, nor
absurd divisions of closely connected interests, nor privileges of levying
tolls and taxes. The people (the whole adult population) in their
several localities will make their own laws and provide for their own
As to the extent of the districts, our present parishes will
need equalizing; so that while, on the one hand, the population should not
be so large as to render their association and management difficult and
complicated, so neither should it be so small as to occasion a poverty of
means of concert or to preclude sufficient room for choice of efficient
servants. The districts, also, will be more compact, not running one
into another, crossing and interlying, as our, parishes often do now.
A district of some five or ten thousand families (the town districts
having perhaps the larger population) might provide for all requirements.
For time that would be wanted to choose officers and make
laws for the localities, we have still the now unused Sundays. Men
and women meeting in their places of worship—or worthship—would find the
same occasion apt both for religiously framing their laws and
ordinances—national and local—and for electing their servants and
For our colonies the same rule would apply: with the
exception that the colonies would have part in the nation and in the
national rule only until they acquired sufficient power to need no longer
the help of the parent country. They would be to all intents and
purposes as parts of the nation, until they acquired sufficient strength
to assert their independence; an independence which the home Government
would assist to hasten.
They would stand in the position of sons, who are a part of
the family in their youth, but who in their manhood take care of
themselves, and of whose independence no wise parent can be jealous.
It seems the more important to define exactly what are
matters of local Government, and what properly appertain to the central
authority, when a large number of men, calling themselves
constitutionalists, and some hanging on the skirts of Republicanism, are
running a-muck about the word centralisation, and so are liable to fall
into the opposite extreme of anarchy.
We want a central power; how else shall we preserve the unity
of the nation? But that central power must spring directly from the
people, and be only the minister of the sovereign people, having its
functions clearly prescribed.
In a word, we want organisation; that unity of national
power, for the sake of the unity and consistency of national action, which
is compatible with the most perfect freedom of localities and individuals.
Anarchy is not perfect freedom. The Republic cares for
the whole, as well as for the parts.
Constitutionalism is but a halting place between despotism
and the Republic. It is the transition state of nations.
Over despotism—it has one immense advantage: Between the
governors and the governed (when these are two different rent classes)
there is always war. Under a despotism it is the war of the sword or
of the dagger.
Constitutionalism substitutes for this a war of words, the
liberty of speech, the opportunity of freely expressing one's thought, the
appeal to reason instead of to brute force alone: this is surely an
immense advance in the progress of humanity. And this is the result
of that compromise between arbitrary rule and universal right, which is
called constitutional Government.
Nevertheless, constitutional Government is but a compromise.
And a compromise is never final. Between two opposing principles
there must be war—until one entirely swallows up the other.
Whatever compromises, truces or conventions, may suspend the war or alter
the mode of warfare, the two opponent principles, Monarchy and
Republicanism, must fight out their irreconcilable quarrels.
Constitutional Government is a compromise. So long as
both parties are content to keep to the terms of that compromise, so long
the compromise will last.
And most constitutions have in them a remarkable elasticity,
a capability of stretching to an indefinite extent, if the framers of the
constitution or those who find their advantage therein are wise enough to
make use of it, with never so little recognition of the new powers
continually outgrowing ancient bounds.
Constitutional Government is a compromise between private or
class tyranny and the sovereignty of the whole people. By the
governing it was invented as a sort of capitulation. It was
Monarchy, like the beaver in the fable, biting off a desired morsel, to
save its life from the hunters. If the hunters could be content with
morsels—constitutional Government might be a finality.
But it has been accepted by the people only because the
people was not able to lay hold on more. The people will hunt
Monarchy to the death. It is only a little time that has been gained
for monarchs by all their charters and constitutions.
Even the great gain of constitutionalism, that of
substituting argument for force, reason for bloodshed, is not absolute.
The governing powers have not kept faith with us. They have
everywhere disarmed the people; and though they allow us only the
constitutional means of petition and remonstrance, they still uphold their
own authority by the red hand. So the constitutional compromise has
come to be only a trick, a delusion, and a snare.
We pile up our arms the while, we read the charter, and are
shot down by armed constitutional Monarchy if we dare speak too loudly of
For a compromise, or a treaty, to be final, it must be based
on enduring principles. Upon what is constitutionalism based?
Upon no principles at all.
Monarchy was beset; the people pressed so hard upon it that
it cried out for a breathing while—and the people, not knowing the
monarch's weakness or its own strength, consented to the truce.
From the days of the "good Sir Simon" till now, our history
has been a succession of these truces, broken by either side when it felt
itself strong enough. Why not? There could be no peace between
the antagonists. There never can be. One must destroy the
The principle of Monarchy is Divine right; the assertion of
an exceptional superiority.
The principle of Republicanism, which is the sovereignty of
the whole, utterly denies any exceptional superiority; asserts the equal
right of all humanity.
Between yes and no—how can there be any lasting compromise?
Monarchy, it is true, no longer believes in its right. "By the grace
of God" may still be stamped on the current coin, but they do not believe
it at the Royal Mint.
"By the grace of God " means now by the allowance of the
people—that is to say, so long as the people can be kept in ignorance and
The first charter granted by a king (that is to say, forced
from him; for kings grant no freedom but on compulsion) was the death
warrant of Monarchy. It was the acknowledgment of the falsehood of
Divine right, the admission of the popular lever which will not rest till
the throne be overturned.
Constitutional monarchs reign by the grace of the people;
that is to say, the popular right is above the regal.
The constitutional monarch is not sovereign, but sovereign's
substitute, locum tenens for the people, till the people is wise
enough to rule itself.
Governments, now-a-days, do not scruple to own this; nay, put
it impudently as preamble to their most arbitrary acts. They
calculate upon the blindness of the people, which seldom cares to see that
what it allows it could not disallow.
Monarchy exists only on sufferance.
These are the two principles—the equal sovereignty of the
whole people on the ground of natural and inalienable right, and the
sovereignty of a part of the people on the ground of some exceptional
The Divine right of the old monarchists was intelligible
enough, but is now altogether exploded. The only new ground that has
been found out by the learned is that of the constitution. But the
constitution is only a convention between the people and the monarch.
The people may be weak enough to put up with a limited monarchy, or the
monarch may be content with his limitations, but no such convention or
content can alter the nature of things. A compromise between two
principles does not make one a whit less false or the other a jot less
true than either was before the compromise.
Monarchy or Republicanism, the usurpation of a part or the
rightful sovereignty of the whole; these two adverse principles remain at
issue during all your compromises. The battle must be fought out,
the false principle must be overthrown: or there is no strength in truth
and God's great law of justice is at fault.
But when two parties make a truce they should abide by it.
It depends on the terms of the truce.
Monarchy and popular sovereignty (Republicanism) are as
opposite as black and white. If the truce stands only as an
admission that black with a slight tinge of grey is the same thing as
white; then one would say such a truce can not last.
Whatever number of men may for a time and special purpose
assent to such a mis-statement, the common sense and conscience of all men
must one day repudiate it. If the truce is solely on the ground that
neither party is at this present strong enough to utterly crush the other,
then any accession of strength on either side is sufficient reason and
justification for the resumption of hostilities. Monarchy has never
let its strength lie idle.
Between whom has the compromise of constitutional Government
been made? Between the people desirous of freedom, but too weak to conquer
its full freedom, and too ignorant (even had it been stronger) to know
what the fulness of freedom really is, and this or that monarch, or
monarchical class, whose sole object was to obtain for itself the longest
possible renewal of its lease of power.
The liberal monarchs who have granted charters and
constitutions have been very wise in their generation, and the peoples
perhaps, for the time being, could have done no better than they did.
What have we to do with that? The bargains made by the
men of former times are not binding upon the men of the present. If
we are wiser or stronger than of old, let us take the advantage of it.
If formerly they voted black to be white, or consented to the
constitutional middle term—calling grey white—what is that to us?
That did not alter the natural opposition between black and white, between
the darkness of tyranny and the sunny light of freedom.
Whatever might have been satisfactory in dark ages, how are
we bound to dwell in the twilight?
One thing is apparent on the face of every constitution—a
recognition of the peoples' consent, instead of the old pretence of Divine
prescription, as the ground of monarchical authority. The only safe
ground of Monarchy is so cut away. The new position is untenable.
If yesterday the people, in the exercise of its right, consented, to-day
the people may withdraw its consent. The House of Brunswick came in
by the choice, or, more exactly speaking, by the permission of the people.
If the people are necessary to permit its coming in, the
people may permit its going out. If Monarchy exists only by the
consent of the people, the people may at any time vote the abolition of
Monarchy. The sovereignty rests with the people; more than that,
being natural to the people and inalienable, it can only be abdicated by
an act of high treason against humanity. Monarchy therefore exists
only in virtue of a vicious compromise between the peoples' conscience and
the peoples' ignorance or weakness. Our argument is strictly
But constitutionalism is not merely to be assailed on the
ground of its instability; it is objectionable for the very reason that
every compromise is—namely, because it weakens faith in principles,
deadens the conscience and confuses the understanding.
Men have so long submitted to compromise that it seems to
them like a normal state.
Constitutionalists too have been crafty. They not only
disarmed the people, but they also took care that the liberty of speech,
which was to be instead of other weapons, should be of as little avail as
In this country they have given all the "better classes" an
interest in the Government; and to the people they have left the power of
petitioning their Parliament. The potency is about equal whether the
petition lies on or under the Commons' Table. They have brought up
the people too in a blind belief that the overthrow of the constitution
ought only to be accomplished through constitutional means, none of which
are available: and so the transition state seems more durable than was at
first to be expected.
Trusting to petitions and to parliamentary formulas, unarmed,
without conscience or daring, hoodwinked with the pretence of Government
being installed by popular consent, and blind to the social consequences
of Government, in the hands of a class—the people of this free Monarchy
(the very expression is contradictory) seems likely to enjoy its
constitution for another generation or two at least. It is content
to wait till its master enlarge the girth.
This is the sad and silly expectation of reform originating
in Parliament. The classes that now hold exclusive legislative power
know too well the material advantages of that to give it up of their own
If ever reform shall commence with them, it can be only to
Supersede and prevent revolution from without. It is the fable of
the beaver again: a fable always lost upon the people, which ever stops
the chase at the smallest instalment, and cheers the wonderful liberality
of the fugitive.
There is as little honesty or attention to principle as there
is wisdom in the popular proceeding.
But so it will continue to be till the people has become wise
enough to see that to make the laws for a nation is to rule the life of
that nation and the lives of every one within it; till it has fully
learned that its sufferings, its misery, its degradation, are early all
the natural consequences of its slavery; till it has sense enough to
perceive that it is slavery to be under any master what-ever; and till it
finds conscience, and through conscience, courage enough to refuse any
compromise between right and wrong. Then the people will renew the
too-long intermitted fight against Monarchy (for the petty skirmishes of
your radical Reformers have been only stretchings of the constitutional
compromise), and Revolution will bring in the Republic. Or it may be
only a Democracy. The difference between Democracy and Republicanism
will be worth our further consideration.
Fitness for the Franchise.
The perfection of a State is when every subject may be
trusted, when every subject is a capable and willing servant.
We speak to honest men. Argument would be thrown away
upon thieves who are afraid of justice because of their vested interest in
wrong. But to honest men there can be no more important question
than this—how to obtain the perfection of the State, when every man shall
be trustworthy, and the nation's work well done.
Let us accept the worst possible position. Not that
which actually subsists—which is, that the unrepresented are quite as
politically trustworthy as the represented, and that, however unfit they
may be to exercise the franchise, there is, at least, not the proved
unfitness of some of those who now exercise it. But let us go to the
extreme. Let us suppose that household suffrage shall be carried,
that only about a million of the people shall be excluded, that this
million men shall be of notorious ignorance, exposed to all the
temptations of poverty, and evidently every way unfitted to make good use
of the franchise.
The problem still remains—the perfecting of our State.
Our State is not sound nor secure, with these million men which may not be
trusted. How shall we fit them to become good citizens?
We would educate them.
Would we educate a child (if by education we mean anything
beyond supplying it with the merest tools of knowledge), we endeavour, in
the first place, to obtain the child's confidence. Would you go a
different way to work with the wilful grown man? You must have his
confidence before he will learn of you. Confidence springs from
confidence. If you will not trust him, how shall he trust you?
You will have his soul in your hands that you may mould it to what you
think a fitness for freedom, and you have no ground upon which to ash him
to trust you with it but this offensive assertion of yours—that he is not
fit to be trusted. At the very outset of your work you make him look
on you as an enemy.
But say you can get over this. What is the first thing
you have to teach him? The ground upon which you base that duty to
society, the knowledge whereof can alone qualify him (on your fitness
theory) to become a freeman. Upon what do you base duty to society,
if not upon the oneness, the solidarity of human life; the consequent
relation of parts to the whole, and the necessity of harmony among those
parts? Upon what do you base duty except on justice? But
ignorance is often shrewd. Your unfit million will point to your
practical definition of justice—the in-equality of your two classes—the
"fit" and the "unfit;" will laugh at your "oneness of Humanity," while you
insist on the distinction separating you and them.
Suppose you escape this too; that, even more ignorant than we
gave them credit for being, they trust you, and take your word that your
divided state of tutelage is the right preparation for national unity.
Are you any forwarder? You may preach till doomsday, you may cram
them with political justice, you may choke them with your lessons; but how
know you when they are fit? How prove their fitness except by
practice? Will not they say to you: In so difficult a matter as
this, one needing so much fitness and preparation for fitness, is practice
altogether unimportant? Can theory be so all-sufficient that we may
become masters in the art without any opportunity for even a first trial?
The duties of a citizen are then something easier than hedging and
ditching; for we needed practice to fit us there, and all the theoretical
apprenticeships in the world had not served us so much as one day with the
spade in our hands. And if we can be so easily fitted, is not that
sufficient condemnation of our long exclusion? Swimming is not
learned on dry land; to acquire the poorest handicraft needs some
hand-endeavour; would you only fit yourself to cut notches, you take a
stick and knife, and try; but this duty of citizenship for which we must
become qualified is so much easier that to learn the rules and theory is
quite enough. Fix a time then, say, three months hence, for issuing
your diplomas, and meanwhile furnish us with the fitting political
horn-books and catechisms of citizen-duties, and settle this simple
business in a practical way. Do not force us, ignorant as we are, to
see that your talk of fitness is a mere excuse for keeping us out of power
as long as possible; or, at best, a pedantic absurdity, the fallacy of
which is perceptible to any unsophisticated mind.
The poor ignorant man excluded on the score of unfitness may
have yet more to say to you. I know, sir, I am unfit. I know
how unfit I am to perform even those first duties of a son, a husband, and
a father. Why did not your kindness prevent my coming into the world
till I was fit to be a dutiful and worthy child? Why do you not
prohibit me also from marriage; or take my children away till I shall
become fit to rear them? What I know of these duties of life (and,
sir, I may modestly say I know something; many ignorant men, poor, and
open to temptation, are yet not bad sons, bad husbands, or bad
fathers):—what I know of these duties of life I have learned by practice,
for, as you are aware, I cannot read, and my little Sunday school
"learning" went but a small way in the theory. By practice I have
learned these duties; by practice I shall learn to step beyond. I
have some thought too about my duty to my country; let me work out that
thought. Cease to tell me I am unfit for this or that to which you
have never put me. Cease to wonder that while a slave I can not work
freely. That I ask for freedom is surely some proof of at least a
preparatory fitness, proof of fitness greater than his who has freedom and
yet so little values it that he hesitates to let it fill the world.
Let God who made no life a mere appendage, who made no soul the mere
moulding-clay of another, let Him judge between us, between me who desire
freedom in order that I may endeavour to do a man's duty, though my hope
may not yet have scaled all the heights of that, and you who, having
freedom, can talk so poorly and ignorantly of it, making it only the
reward of certain virtuous or learned proficiency of this or that man,
forgetful that it is itself the very soil of virtue and true wisdom.
Your theory of fitting men for freedom is a denial of the very worth of
freedom, for if men can become virtuous, wise, and happy, under others'
guardianship, that is to say, in slavery (most despots think themselves
beneficent guardians), then of what use is freedom at all?
Why want you freedom for yourself? As a mere personal
gain? Nay, but as the ground in which you may grow to your fullest
height of uprightest manhood. Because you feel that slavery is not
fit for man; because you know (or you know nothing) that a slave cannot be
a man. Be honest then. If you would be free, why not others,
even to the lowest? Or are you in the plenitude of your fitness
afraid of grappling with these poor, ignorant, unfit wretches to whom you
deign to offer so condescending a patronage? Are they ignorant and
vicious, let your virtuous capability scorn the undue advantage of a
gaoler's manacles. Is it for your sake or theirs you would wait
their fitness? Your own? Thou slave in soul, that echoest so
vilely the old egotism of the long line of tyrants: but theirs. Mind
thine own business; do thy duty, set them the example; that and the
opportunity of following virtue will fit them better and more quickly than
the most cultivated and assisted waiting. Again we say, will you
teach them faith in Humanity, love of Humanity, duty toward Humanity, by
your practical doubt of Humanity?
But, "give them the franchise, these ignorant men, and they
will not use it." At least you are innocent of the sin of preventing
them. Point at them as deserters and dishonourable if they will not
use it. Having done your part, and they free to do theirs, you call
speak with weight. You point idly now, your words are nought,
because now the franchise is held as a privilege and not as a duty.
Make its exercise an universal duty and there will be no skulking-place
Would we enfranchise also the thousands of vagabonds of
London, the vagabonds (number altogether unknown) of the rest of the
country? Yes, so long as they are not absolutely under sentence for
crime. If they only have been guilty, what then? Is not
punishment expiatory? Are they still capable of crime? So is
every one, more or less. Are they houseless, ignorant and deformed?
We have argued all that before. It is not altogether their fault;
but the fault in some measure (dare you calculate in what measure?) or
society. It is a good law maxim that one may not build a
superstructure on his own wrong-doing. Social justice would not give
them the surety of a house, nor the education which had been a guarantee
for moral pravity: social justice has no right to plead the consequences
of its own neglect in bar of their enfranchisement. Perhaps social
justice will see better to social interests when these pariahs shall be
armed with the legal power for good and evil. But "the mistakes they
will commit," will be their own—their best education. Are you
afraid again? Well, you may be, for you have let men grow up worse
than beasts, and you may well shudder at putting a man's weapon—political
freedom—in their, hands. Yet dare to do it. Those whom you
have dared to trust will learn to trust you. Your sincerest zeal to
educate, even the most unfit, will be quickened when their mistakes tell
in the balance of public will. You will be compelled then to set
your hand to things which may well wait now while so much wants filling.
Only dare be just, and know what many of your poor, unlettered, "unfit"
slaves can tell you, that God upholdeth honest wisdom.
Is there any wisdom that is not honest?
Working-men's Combinations--Strikes and Co-operative Associations.
Strikes are to be considered from two points of view: their
morality and their policy.
Morality. Workmen have a clear right to combine,
whether for less work, more wages, or other honest purposes. They
have a right also to adopt any measures in themselves moral, to make their
combination effective. Free association, by honest means to achieve
an honest end, is a natural right: and consequently moral, whatever law
may forbid it. But coercion is not a right. Men have no right
to compel others to associate. To do so is to violate individual
Policy. At the best strikes are endeavours at an
unequal combat; like trying to make ten combined shillings a match for a
single sovereign. The naked workman, with at least one hand tied,
challenges his armed master. No strike can be more than temporarily
successful. No series of successful strikes can establish a sound
state of labour. A strike of 200 men may seriously injure the
master; but that is not the end. The question is between their means
and his. They have saved £2000; and be has £2000. It is a
simple calculation to find which must be starved out first--the combined
workmen with £10 each, or the one master with £2000. As 10 is to
2000, so is the chance of success to the policy of the strike; albeit
sometimes a master will give way, and wait for his revenge. Nor is
this all the odds against a workman. The 200 workmen will not easily
find work elsewhere: the master's capital is almost certain of employment.
At most he suffers only a fine, while the men risk life. And outside
this foul-matched duel stands the Law, the master's creature, to maintain
the unequal conditions, to interfere if the workman overstep by one inch
the ill-defined legal bounds within which alone the master consents to
fight him. Whatever principles may be involved in the issue, though
to hang back should prove the workman wanting in commonest manly courage
and sense of duty, still these odds remain the same, still ever the same
is the impolicy of this method of contention.
Co-operative Associations are open to the same objection.
They are but a less openly offensive way of warring against the
capitalist. Let the labour of 200 men represent a capital of £2000,
yielding in full work, say ten per cent, a week, or twenty shillings a
week for each shareholder. The rival capitalist is worth precisely
the same. When work is slack the association falls short of very
necessaries, while the capitalist has only to discharge so many men.
Let that particular branch of trade be ruined, and, while the capitalist
takes his money to a new venture, the combined workmen are scattered, and
have each to learn a new occupation. And again, as if these
difficulties are not enough, the Law takes part with the capitalist;
hindering at every turn the most legitimate partnerships of members.
Doubtless when a co-operative association call succeed, it is an immense
advantage to the workmen; and here and there one may succeed under some
specially favourable circumstances. But it is folly to suppose that
with the tremendous odds against them they can ever be made to beat the
combination of capitalists and transform the condition of society.
To contend or compete with the masters on any likelihood of
general success, the workmen must have capital. They can never
acquire sufficient capital under the present system. So, like a
horse in a mill, they go round in a vicious circle. The only hope is
in the State supplying such capital as may be needed to redeem labour from
the profit-mongers. And the State will only do this when the State
shall mean the whole People, when political power shall be in the hands of
The Policy of Strikes.
The policy of strikes has three divisions; the policy of the
men, the policy of the masters, and the policy of the nation, which is as
much, if not as directly interested in the question.
The policy of the men. In the first place it is
not fit that either mothers or children should have to work in factories.
The mothers ought to be caring for their families; the children ought to
be at school. Strike off the labour of mothers and children, and see
if the wages of the husband and father are sufficient for the decent
Christian, respectable maintenance of his family. If they are not,
and in most cases they are not, we should be ashamed of the man who would
not strike for higher wages; for such wages as will give him means for a
manly life out of working hours, and means to bring up his children as the
sons of God should be brought up. But will the strike give him
Perhaps it may only prevent them from sinking yet lower.
That too is worth a brave man's struggling for. Men are forced into
strikes. They must fight, or be ground down to the lowest.
They suffer now a life unworthy of men, and if they do not strike, either
a rise in provisions or a lowering of wages renders their condition yet
more slave-like, beast-like and unendurable.
It is idle to talk of the policy of conduct so compelled.
Between them and their employers, while the present system continues, it
is a fight from first to last.
The policy of the masters is certainly to put down strikes if
they can. It would be best policy to deal more fairly with their
men, to treat them--as some few manufacturers have shown that they can
well and wisely do--as human beings, their brethren, their equals under
God, whatever inequalities may be established by law. But trade is
sordid; "a shilling a week from so many of you makes a small fortune for
me; if I paid you well enough, for you to live like men, to keep your
wives at home, and your children at the school, my palace might be but a
The master may not reason so, but he does so. Is it of
any use to talk to him of policy in the face of such an interest?
His policy is to make a fortune.
But the policy of the nation? Has the nation no concern
in this intestine war? Has the nation no policy? It would seem
not; if the Secretary of State for the Home Department may be taken as its
mouthpiece; and of course the Government being the servant of the nation,
its accredited Representative, the Home Secretary's word is national.
As a member of the Government, in virtue of his official position, he does
not possess sufficient information, nor any right or power to interfere in
the matter. Will he return such answer when the masters memorialise
him for troops to put down the men who may not be else reduced even by the
force of starvation? the only argument that can be brought to bear upon a
The non-intervention policy at home is then quite consistent
with the same infamous policy abroad; non-intervention when justice or
when weakness cries for aid, and prompt assistance when stronger wrong
fears to suffer inconvenience.
It is not the true policy of a nation to have two classes of
its subjects in a state of perennial warfare. It is the true policy
of a nation to put down that at any cost; to get for itself (without
waiting for memorialists) exact information as to the points in dispute;
and to bring the force of the national will to decide between the
If the men are in the wrong, let them be put down, though
bayonets be needed; if, as we think, the masters are in the wrong--let
them then be coerced, even though they only be for the State to stand
forth as capitalists to assist the men in becoming independent of
If there be wrong on both sides, let the State insist upon
fair and equal arbitration.
So one, at least, might argue if there was any nation to take
concern in the matter. But so many men scattered over English land,
without common faith, without care for right, without that
equality--wanting which there is no real union without understanding or
desire of a community of interest; so many English Ishmaels scattered over
English soil do not constitute an English nation. If there was a
nation it would have a Government, and a Government is something more than
a private "coalition." But the policy of strikes. Do you think
it good? Not good but unavoidable. Would that strikes were not
necessary, that our working-men, and some honest masters too, might have
time to see the one only step toward a remedy for all class grievances and
quarrels, all these constantly recurring dissensions which drive our best
to other lands, and leave our England to decrepitude and a deathly shame.
That one step is the meeting of men and masters upon equal
terms, not merely to patch up this present strife, not merely to negotiate
some hollow truce, some few years' peace, on the ground of a new system of
arbitration--futile while the law is in the master's hands; but as man
with man to decide upon the laws of labour, to regulate the whole
government of the country.
The working classes must be law makers with the other classes
before there can be any security for them from the rapacity of the hard
employer, or any certainty of a fair day's wage for a fair day's work.
Till then, God help them in their unequal fight.