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into practice pretty exactly in the constitutions of America, and it is proposed for the new constitution of France. It certainly rests on a fundamental principle, and seems to preclude all farther attempts at reform. Nevertheless, I must confess to you, that the application of this principle to practice appears to me to be attended with many difficulties and some hazards. This scheme of equal representation is usually accompanied with the proposal for short periods of delegation, and other methods to make the delegate speak the sense of his representatives. But, under this system, the great majority of representatives being persons without property, the security of property to those who had it, would depend on the virtue of those who had none. If, on the other hand, it be supposed (what I am inclined to admit) that among a people considerably informed, and capable of fixed habits, such as our countrymen, the inviolability of property may be safely trusted to the sense of right, a danger presents itself of an opposite nature. Property being secured to the individual, however largely it may have accumulated, would probably operate with irresistible influence on the great mass of the labouring poor, of which three fourths of the electors would consist; and the union of two or three
men of large fortune, in every county or district, would bear down every opposition from talents, activity, or virtue. If I mistake not, something of this kind might be apprehended in every county in Scotland, and this leads one to conceive, that to make a reform radical and effectual, those mounds should be broken down that keep the landed property in such enormous
Whether a repeal of the laws of entail might alone answer this purpose, or some modification of those which regulate the descent of land, might also be required, I presume not to decide.
Supposing, however, those feudal relics effectually removed, which obstruct the principle of natural justice and general utility, and that property of every kind were merely protected by our laws from violence, but left to be accumulated by activity and industry, to be preserved by prudence, and to be dissipated by folly and extravagance, according to the order of nature, without a doubt, the enormous masses into which the surface of the soil is now partitioned, would in time diminish, and property as well as society arrange itself in its natural order. Inequalities must ever subsist, and great inequalities, because the character of the human mind is by nature unequal ; but they would not extend to that degree
which conveys the influence of property into the hands, perhaps, of a hundred individuals. In my opinion, however (you can correct me if I am wrong), if every man in Scotland had a vote, the returns for the counties, while the land continues divided as at present, would be made by the overpowering influence of a smaller number than I mention. In towns, this might not be the case: and in extraordinary crises, the influence of property might give way to the influence of talents and character; but in the ordinary peaceable condition of society, my remark would, I presume, be just.
It seems, then, that an extension of the elective franchise should be accompanied with certain reforms in the laws of property. This being conceded to me, I confess I should still not be disposed to go the length of a representation of heads.
The young, the idle, the profligate, and those wretchedly poor and ignorant, form a large class of society, that do not sufficiently understand or sympathise in the interests of the whole; and those I would propose to exclude, in a great measure, by adopting another fundamental principle: giving the elective franchise, not to persons but to families ; in a word, to the fathers of families only. Such men have a valuable stake
in the community, however small their property ; and they are (not without many exceptions, indeed,) a selection from the general mass, as to sobriety and industry.
By adopting this principle, the greater and most dangerous part of the mob of great cities would be excluded: the greater part of the army and navy, and almost all the servants of great families; perhaps as vicious and dangerous a part of the community as any other, — beings who possess, at the same time, the vices of luxury and of ignorance.
This principle has in its favour, that the qualification is an obvious one, and requires little scrutiny; that it naturally recommends itself to our notions of propriety and our sense of right; and that it would influence in its favour by far the most powerful description of society. I might show that it is also recommended by many moral considerations; that it would operate as an encouragement to marriage, and to that sobriety and industry by which marriage and a family are supported.
You will say, shall the father of ten sons have no advantage over the father of one? To this I answer, that, in good time, these sons will marry, and thus give the patriarch a more extended influence. But, in order more fully to meet this and other objections, I would go a step farther, and adopt another principle in aid of my first : I would also give a vote to every house of a certain dimension; that is, to the master of the house, whether a bachelor or married. Perhaps a qualification might be found in all houses rated to the window-tax. By this means, if the father of many sons had
many sons had property, he might procure each a vote; if he had little, he might procure some of them votes; if none, one vote would be enough.
Besides all this, I would have a test. It should not be founded on the elector's confession of faith; I would not say a word to him on that point. But I would have the Bible opened to him at hazard, on the hustings; and before he gave his vote, see if he could read.
Such a test as I propose could be generally taken in Scotland, but not here. Of forty thousand electors belonging to Lancashire, this test would probably disenfranchise one half. I was called to Wigan the other day, and saw two or three thousand men burning Tom Paine, and shouting Church and King. Of the whole of this number, I was well informed there were not ten, who knew the alphabet!
You see my scheme: it is not in itself so perfect as yours; but it goes as far as human nature