« ElőzőTovább »
fectly well that, under the influence of local self-governments thoroughly organized, it would soon disappear from the land. To the moral cripples around us under such governments, we should have only to take the tone of the apostle, when, stedfastly beholding the cripple at Listra, he cried out with a loud voice, “ Stand upright on thy feet;” and the cripple leaped and walked. So, without any miracle, would it soon be here! for poverty in England is not from physical, but solely from moral causes. Remove the multitudinous encouragements to dependence, on the one hand-open as much as possible the ways to self-advancement, on the other, and the character of those who come within the baneful influence of the poor-laws would be reversed. Parishes are little States, which ought to exhibit in finished miniature the principal features of large ones. They should be preparatory schools for the art of government, full of rivalry in themselves, and with one another, in promoting the public welfare—moral farms, divided, drained, and tilled, so as to produce the richest harvests and the fewest weeds. At present they are little better than neglected wastes. The first division I have proposed, into wards, has already a model on a larger scale in the wards of the city of London, each having an alderman, his deputy, and a certain number of common councilmen with their inferior
officers-only that many modifications would be necessary. The city model did not begin low enough, that is, in the parishes throughout the land, so that the first elements of government have remained crude and disordered, affecting upwards the whole frame with the imperfections of its parts.
With respect to a " settled inhabitancy," as a qualification for voting for the head of a parish ward, or for the governors of a whole parish not large enough to be divided into wards, I should say, that having been usually resident for six months previous to the election, and having, during that time, paid, whether weekly or otherwise, and however little, for an occupancy, would be sufficient. I think the population of each ward should not much exceed a thousand, so that the number of males, of competent age, qualified as above, could not much exceed a hundred; therefore, on the scorce of numbers, there could be no objection to so low a qualification. Then the election would only be for a year, and each voter would have a personal interest in his choice. It is desirable to exercise as many as possible in governing themselves, or in choosing those who are to govern them; and here would be a safe approach to universal suffrage in the election of those immediately in authority over their fellow-citizens, and to be their representatives in the parish, and in higher degrees of government. Now let us suppose a parish containing thirty
thousand inhabitants divided into thirty wards, the resident males of each ward, of competent age, and paying for their occupancy, electing annually one of themselves to superintend their common interests, to keep the peace, and to represent them in the parish government; there feeling himself responsible for the good order and good condition of his ward, with subordinate officers elected in like manner to assist him. I apprehend that, under such a systein, the moral influence created would go near to supersede the necessity of legal restraints, and that greatly increased powers of government, for the purposes of improvement, might be safely and advantageously granted under so much and such well-ordered popular control.
I now proceed to the consideration of the inducements of the most fitting persons to give up time sufficient to superintend the affairs of their respective communities ; and I suppose it will be universally granted that no consideration on the subject of government can be of more importance. The principal reasons which deter men of honourable feelings, and of habits of attention to their own affairs, from taking much part in public concerns, I apprehend to be—the difficulty, from want of proper organization, of effecting much good—the fleeting nature, from the same cause, of any good effected—the want of co-operation on the part of others like themselves—the opposition of the interested and the factious—and the grievous annoyance of popular elections. All these objections, it seems to me, would be obviated by such division as I propose. Each district would be so small, that an individual could with ease comprehend and watch over its interests. Whatever good he could effect, he might confidently anticipate would be preserved by the simplicity of the machinery. Uniformity of division would ensure uniformity of co-operation, whilst the interested and the factious, as I have remarked before, would be too nearly in view, and in too close contact with their fellow-citizens, to escape detection, and would soon, consequently, be put to silence. It is only in a state of disorganization that such people can thrive. The election, though strictly popular, would be subject to none of the disagreeable cir. cumstances incident to unwieldy constituencies, necessarily without direct interests, and in which the worst portion is almost always the most prominent. In parish wards the compact number of electors, their clear and substantial and common interest to make a judicious choice, their means of accurately judging, after a short working of the system, whom to choose, and the freedom and fairness of the election, would cause a very different process
from that which is witnessed amidst the corruptions, and unreasonableness, and violence of the oligarchic and ochlocratic
systems. This is the first operation of what I have called the democratic principle, or principle of self-government, fitly organized; one of the advantages of which would be the production of a new race of characters, for which at present there is no opening; and we may judge of the soundness of the ochlocratic principle by the fact, that its extension has not exhibited a single instance of an improvement of public men.
In the arrangement I propose, one strong inducement to men of character and business to take the lead in the affairs of their respective divisions would be the apprehension of personal annoyance to themselves, and of injury to their every-day interests, if they allowed ill-qualified persons to be set in authority over them. Now, whenever means can be devised to excite the respectable portion of the community to take an active part in public affairs, that portion, all experience shows, is sure to prevail. It is the general supineness of the deserving that gives to the undeserving any chance of ascendency; and that supineness cannot exist under the democratic principle fitly organized. Under any other principle it will always exist, for the reasons stated in the article on the Principles of Government,’in my first number. Compact division, under the constant inspection of men of character, would, by that inspection alone, become greatly improved. Mere authority prevails only as it presses ; but authority joined with worth dispels disorder, and, as it were, clears the moral atmosphere. What Plutarch says of the effect of Numa's virtue, I have seen enough to know is true to nature; and here I must again most strongly recommend to my reader's attention the extracts from his life given in my second number—especially the beautiful passages in pages 18, 19.
There would be other inducements to the best qualified to become the heads of wards, which I shall mention when I come to consider the heads in their capacity of representatives in the parish councils.
In point of detail, it may perhaps be objected that it would frequently be dangerous to confine the right of choosing the heads of wards to the inhabitants of the wards, instead of extendit to those of the parish generally, and in some debased divisions it might possibly for a time cause some slight inconvenience. But, in the first place, it is to be considered that the main principle of the choosers, having a strong common personal interest in their choice, can only be called into full action by such a restriction ; secondly, that the present debasement could not long continue under an improved organization; and, thirdly, that comparison on every side would soon operate beneficially on elections—besides that the lowest classes are the least jealous of
their superiors, and the most so of their equals and those only a little above them; add to which, the introduction of a few improper persons into a body of men of weight would certainly end in the confusion and retreat of the intruders. The restriction of the right of voting to those who have an immediate interest in exercising their right, is the only sound principle; and the adoption of a sound principle, though attended with some present inconvenience, must always end in sound results—whereas the admission of an unsound principle, in order to avoid partial or temporary evil, will eventually produce greater evil still.
Lastly, it is to be observed, that the institution of parish wards would be no new or doubtful experiment. It is only the combined application of two tried principles; the first, the true English one of self-government, and the second, the principle of division carried down to the point of personal control. It is a military division, and civil principle; which is the only organization by which well-ordered and real freedom can exist. A parish ward would be to a parish what a company is to a regiment ; and the head of the ward, with his deputy and inferior assistants, would answer to the captain with his lieutenant and non-commissioned officers. The company is the foundation of the discipline and well-being of the army, as the ward would be the foundation of the discipline and well-being of the State. Military division, combined with the principle of self-government, seems to have been the system perfected by Alfred ; and I have so high an idea of its efficacy, as fully to believe the accounts of the good order reported to have prevailed in his reign. Besides, if the histories of him banded down to us had been fictitious, they would, from the age in which he lived, have made him superstitious and bigoted; but though he is always stated to have been devout, his devotion is represented as pure as his love of justice. It is only under a system of moral influence such as his, that his noble saying, that men ought to be as free as their own thoughts, has any sense. It supposes perfect liberty of aetion to men made just by good government.
I shall in my next number proceed to the consideration of parish government in the aggregate.
PAROCHIAL IMPROVEMENT. The following extract is from the introduction to a pamphlet of mine on Pauperism, first published in 1826. I give it here, not on account of the particular subject, but in connexion with the preceding article, as a practical proof of what might be effected in general improvement by an organized superintendence
under the authority of the law. I was armed with no authority but that of influence of my own creating, and had no organization but a voluntary and very imperfect one. The place, when I
began, was considered in a hopeless state of demoralization, and - its name was a sort of by-word in the country round; yet a great
deal of the attention I bestowed upon it was beyond what was required for its management, and had for its object my own instruction. I made it my constant aim to establish the principle of self-government, and the consequence has been that the system I introduced works well to this day.
“ In August, 1817, an opportunity occurred to me of commencing an experiment on the subject of pauperism in the township of Stretford, in the parish of Manchester-a district partly manufacturing, but principally agricultural, and containing about 2,000 acres of land and as many inhabitants. I began by procuring the adoption of somewhat the same plan as Mr. Sturges Bourne's Select Vestry, not then legalized-a suggestion of the neighbouring magistrate, whom I consulted in the first instance, and whose co-operation, as well as that of the most respectable inhabitants, I uniformly met with, during a residence at intervals
of three years and a half. I soon found that the magistrates as É sual had no confidence in the overseers, to the great gain of the
paupers, whose appeals from the overseers to the magistrates were incessant. I found that the paupers were insolent in the extreme to the farmers, and in a great measure their masters—that the paupers were leagued together to get as much from the rates as possible, and that they practised all sorts of tricks and impositions for that purpose—that the industrious labourers were discouraged -the well-disposed inhabitants afraid, or persuaded that it was in vain to interfere-and every individual driven to do the best he could for himself or his connexions at the general expense. For some time the paupers tried every art to deceive or tire me out, and some of the rate-payers who were ousted from the management thwarted me in secret ; but the good effects of the new system became so apparent, both as to economy and good order, that opposition grew less and less, and at last suddenly and entirely ceased. I spent almost my whole time for some months in visiting the labouring classes – in making myself master of their habits-in explaining to them the causes of their distress and in enforcing, as occasions arose, the doctrines of Mr. Malthus, * which I took care to put in the most familiar and pointed manner I was able, and I was surprised to see the effect generally produced—it was as if a new light had broken in upon my hearers.
* I mean the doctrines Mr. Malthus himself laid down, not those ignorantly attributed to him.