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Considerations on Representative Government



Redacted by Curtis A. Weyant <>

[Redactor's note: Italics are indicated by underscores surrounding the _italicized text_.]

[Footnotes initially found throughout the text have been numbered and placed at the end of the text.]





Those who have done me the honor of reading my previous writings will probably receive no strong impression of novelty from the present volume; for the principles are those to which I have been working up during the greater part of my life, and most of the practical suggestions have been anticipated by others or by myself. There is novelty, however, in the fact of bringing them together, and exhibiting them in their connection, and also, I believe, in much that is brought forward in their support. Several of the opinions at all events, if not new, are for the present as little likely to meet with general acceptance as if they were.

It seems to me, however, from various indications, and from none more than the recent debates on Reform of Parliament, that both Conservatives and Liberals (if I may continue to call them what they still call themselves) have lost confidence in the political creeds which they nominally profess, while neither side appears to have made any progress in providing itself with a better. Yet such a better doctrine must be possible; not a mere compromise, by splitting the difference between the two, but something wider than either, which, in virtue of its superior comprehensiveness, might be adopted by either Liberal or Conservative without renouncing any thing which he really feels to be valuable in his own creed. When so many feel obscurely the want of such a doctrine, and so few even flatter themselves that they have attained it, any one may without presumption, offer what his own thoughts, and the best that he knows of those of others, are able to contribute towards its formation.


CHAPTER I. To What Extent Forms of Government Are a Matter of Choice.

CHAPTER II. The Criterion of a Good Form of Government.

CHAPTER III. That the Ideally Best Form of Government is Representative Government.

CHAPTER IV. Under What Social Conditions Representative Government is Inapplicable.

CHAPTER V. Of the Proper Functions of Representative Bodies.

CHAPTER VI. Of the Infirmities and Dangers to Which Representative Government Is Liable.

CHAPTER VII. Of True and False Democracy; Representation of All, and Representation of the Majority Only.

CHAPTER VIII. Of the Extension of the Suffrage.

CHAPTER IX. Should There Be Two Stages of Election?

CHAPTER X. Of the Mode of Voting.

CHAPTER XI. Of the Duration of Parliaments.

CHAPTER XII. Ought Pledges to Be Required from Members of Parliament.

CHAPTER XIII. Of a Second Chamber.

CHAPTER XIV. Of the Executive in a Representative Government.

CHAPTER XV. Of Local Representative Bodies.

CHAPTER XVI. Of Nationality as Connected with Representative Government.

CHAPTER XVII. Of Federal Representative Governments.

CHAPTER XVIII. Of the Government of Dependencies by a Free State.

Chapter I

To What Extent Forms of Government are a Matter of Choice.

All speculations concerning forms of government bear the impress, more or less exclusive, of two conflicting theories respecting political institutions; or, to speak more properly, conflicting conceptions of what political institutions are.

By some minds, government is conceived as strictly a practical art, giving rise to no questions but those of means and an end. Forms of government are assimilated to any other expedients for the attainment of human objects. They are regarded as wholly an affair of invention and contrivance. Being made by man, it is assumed that man has the choice either to make them or not, and how or on what pattern they shall be made. Government, according to this conception, is a problem, to be worked like any other question of business. The first step is to define the purposes which governments are required to promote. The next, is to inquire what form of government is best fitted to fulfill those purposes. Having satisfied ourselves on these two points, and ascertained the form of government which combines the greatest amount of good with the least of evil, what further remains is to obtain the concurrence of our countrymen, or those for whom the institutions are intended, in the opinion which we have privately arrived at. To find the best form of government; to persuade others that it is the best; and, having done so, to stir them up to insist on having it, is the order of ideas in the minds of those who adopt this view of political philosophy. They look upon a constitution in the same light (difference of scale being allowed for) as they would upon a steam plow, or a threshing machine.

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