A few remarks upon an important collateral topic, in so far as it is affected by the solution of the question in hand, may not be here out of place. The enfranchisement of the working classes is the topic alluded to.
With that large class of men, whose conclusions are determined by the dictates of expediency, rather than by the demands of justice, one of the objections to an investment of power in the hands of the people, is this—” Society is a complicated machine; the interests of its members are many and various, and so mysteriously connected and intertwined with each other, that it requires deep sagacity, and clearness of intellect, fully to comprehend and appreciate their multiplied relations. Legislation has for one of its objects, the proper regulation of these conflicting interests; and such is the difficulty of keeping everything in equilibrium, that even our most profound statesmen have been baffled in the attempt. Would it then, be prudent, to give to the uneducated classes, the power of directing the legislature in matters so difficult to understand, yet so important to the public welfare?”
Now, if it should turn out that these complex and manifold interests require no regulation at all, but that they are originally so arranged as to regulate themselves—if it should be discovered that the great difficulties encountered in the management of social concerns, arise from the disturbance of natural laws, and that governments have been foolishly endeavouring to maintain, in a condition of unstable equilibrium, things which, if let alone, would of themselves assume a condition of stable equilibrium; then must the objection be to a great extent invalidated. That the affairs of the nation are in circumstances of dreadful embarrassment, and that it may take some skill to bring them back to their normal state, is not denied; but, whilst it can be shown that this disastrous effect has resulted—not from want of legislation, but from over legislation—not from any intellectual deficiency on the part of our lawmakers, but from their everlasting selfish interference—the fact can afford no argument against complete suffrage. Take an illustration. Imagine some poor unlucky wight to be persuaded by his doctor that he could never enjoy perfect health without medical superintendence—that his digestion would not go on properly without stimulants—that he must take pectoral pills to keep his lungs in order—that he must swallow, now and then, a sudorific, to sustain the functions of his skin, and so on; and suppose that, in the abundance of his faith, our patient puts himself under the direction of this learned physician; and, in obedience to his orders, gulps down, day by day, one dose of medicine after another—first, an aperient to rectify his digestive organs, and then a tonic to strengthen them—now a vapour bath to augment his perspiration, and again a diuretic to diminish it—this week eats abundance of nourishing food to increase his energies, and the next parts with a few ounces of blood to guard against plethora—and so on, through a long course of medical treatment, taking in their turns, emetics, anodynes, cathartics, opiates, febrifuges, and alteratives, together with a due proportion of topical applications, such as plasters, blisters, liniments, emollients, and so forth. And when, after all this doctoring, the poor fellow has been brought to such a pass, as to be for ever going wrong in some way or other, and is continually requiring the attendance of his physician, to remove this pain and to rectify the other distemper—when he has come to such a state, that he no sooner gets rid of one malady, than he is seized with another, imagine this professor of the healing art to gather round the sick man’s bed-side a cluster of country clowns, and begin to harangue them upon the various and complicated functions of the human body, describing to them its numerous organs, and their individual duties, the manifold disorders to which they are liable, and the difficulties of their cure; and then, to add point to his lecture, fancy him turning to his patient, and saying, “See what a difficult thing it is to keep a man in health!” Why, even John Bull, with all his gullibility, would smile at this. And yet, when the same thing is said of society—when the invalid is a nation instead of a man, he believes it. Our state physicians have, from time immemorial, persuaded the people that social affairs would never go right without their interference; that a vigilant supervision was necessary to secure the healthy fulfilment of all the national functions; and, in accordance with all these notions, they have been for ever doctoring the affairs of the country; now prescribing a lower diet under the name of “restrictive duties,” and then letting in a surfeit of food to make up for past privations—at one time administering a stimulus to exercise, styled “encouragement to home manufactures,” and at another, raising an outcry for some remedy against over-production—here providing a tonic for the nation’s morals, called a “national church,” and there creating a war, to prevent those morals acquiring undue strength—on one part of the social body, applying a soothing ointment, in the shape of a “poor law,” and on another, inflicting an extensive bleeding, under the form of an “income tax.” And when, after all these transcendently skilful operations, the nation has been brought almost to the brink of dissolution—when its debility is showing itself in the most alarming forms—when its constitution is so weakened that it is hardly possible to cure one of its disorders without producing a worse—when, in short, it is in the state in which we now see it, we hear these sage and self-complacent legislators exclaim, “See what a difficult thing it is to govern a country!” If, then, it be admitted that our national misfortunes have not arisen from the difficulties inherent in the nature of government, but from the determination to legislate when no legislation was required, that is, if it be admitted that the administration of justice, is the sole duty of the state, we are at once relieved from one of the greatest objections, to the enfranchisement of the working classes.