Political Influence—Party—Ministerial Union.

From: Essays on the Principles of Morality, and on the Private and Political Rights and Obligations of Mankind (1834).
Author: Jonathan Dymond
Published: Harper & Brothers 1834 Philadelphia


  THE system of governing by influence appears to be a substitute for the government of force,—an intermediate step between awing by the sword and directing by reason and virtue. When the general character of political measures is such that reason and virtue do not sufficiently support them to recommend them, on their own merits, to the public approbation,—these measures must be rejected, or they must be supported by foreign means: and when, by the political institutions of a people, force is necessarily excluded, nothing remains but to have recourse to some species of influence. There is another ground upon which influence becomes, in a certain sense, necessary,—which is, that there is so much imperfection of virtue in the majority of legislators,—they are so much guided by interested, or ambitious, or party motives, that, for a measure to be recommended by its own excellence is sometimes not sufficient to procure their concurrence; and thus it happens that influence is resorted to, not merely because public measures are deficient in purity, but because there is a deficiency of uprightness in public men.

  While political affairs continue to be conducted on their present, or nearly on their present, principles, I believe influence is necessary to the stability of almost all governments. How else shall they be supported? They are not sufficiently virtuous to bespeak the general and unbiased support of the nations; and without support of some kind, they must fall. That which Hume says of England is perhaps true of all civilized states: “The influence which the crown acquires from the disposal of places, honours, and preferments may become too forcible, but it cannot altogether be abolished without the total destruction of monarchy, and even of all regular authority.”1 A mournful truth it is! because it necessarily implies one of two things—either that the acts of “authority” do not recommend themselves by their own excellences, or that subjects are too little principled to be influenced by such excellences alone.

  While the generality of subjects continue to be what they are, influence is inseparable from the privilege of appointing to offices. With whomsoever that privilege is intrusted, he will possess influence, and consequently power. Multitudes are hoping for the gifts which he has to bestow; and they accommodate their conduct to his wishes, in order to propitiate his favour and to obtain the reward. When they have obtained it, they call themselves bound in gratitude to continue their deference; and thus the influence and the power is continually possessed. Now there is no way of destroying this influence but by making men good: for until they are good, they will continue to sacrifice their judgments to their interests, and support men or measures, not because they are right, but because the support is attended with reward. It matters little in morals by whom the power of bestowing office, is possessed, unless you can ensure the virtue of the bestower. Politicians may talk of taking the power from crowns and vesting it in senates; but it will be of little avail to change the hands who distribute, if you cannot change the hearts. If a man should ask whether the influence of the crown in this country might not usefully be transferred to the House of Commons, I should answer, No. Not merely because it would overthrow (for it certainly would overthrow) the monarchy, but because I know not that any security would be gained for a better employment of this influence than is possessed already. In all but arbitrary governments it appears indispensable that much of the privilege of appointing to offices should rest with the executive power. It is the peculiar source of its authority. In our own government, the peers possess power independently of their political character, and the commons possess it as representatives of the public mind; but where, without influence, would be the power of the king? So it is in America. They have two representative bodies, and a third estate in the office of their president. But that president could not execute the functions of a third estate, nor the office of an executive governor, without having the means of influencing the people. I do not know whether it was with the determinate object of giving to the president a competent share of power that the Americans invested him with the privilege of appointing to offices, but it is not to be questioned that if they had not done it the fabric of their government would speedily have fallen.

  The degree of this influence, which may be required to give stability to an executive body (and therefore to a constitution) will vary with the character of its own policy. The more widely that policy deviates from rectitude, the greater will be the demand for influence to induce concurrence in its measures. The degree of influence that is actually exerted by a government is therefore no despicable criterion of the excellence of its practice. In the United States, the degree is less than in England; and it may therefore be feared that we are inferior to them in the purity of the general administration of the affairs of state.

  But let it be constantly home in mind, that when we thus speak of the “necessity” for influence to support governments, we speak only of governments as they are, and of nations as they are. There is no necessity for influence to support good government over a good people. All influence but that which addresses itself to the judgment is wrong, wrong in morals, and therefore indefensible upon whatever plea. Influence is in part necessary to a government in the same sense as oppression is necessary to a slave-trader,-not because the captain is a man, but because he has taken up the trade in slaves:—not because the government is a government, but because it conducts so many political affairs upon unchristian principles, or in an unchristian manner. The captain says, I cannot secure my slaves without oppression:—Let them go free. The government says, I cannot conduct my system without influence:—Make the system good.

  And here arises the observation, that if a government should faithfully act upon moral principles, that demand for influence which is occasioned by the ill principles of senators or the public would be diminished or done away. The opposition which governments are wont to experience,—indefensible as that opposition frequently is,—is the result, principally, of the general character of political systems. Men, seeing that integrity and purity are sacrificed by a government to other considerations, adopt kindred means of opposing it. If I reason with a man upon that impropriety of his conduct, he will probably listen: if I use violence, be will probably use violence in return. There is no reason to doubt, that if political measures were more uniformly conformable with the sober judgments of a community, respect and affection would soon become so general and powerful, that that clamorous opposition which it is now attempted to oppose by influence would be silenced by the public voice, Besides, the very fact that influence is exercised animates opposition to measures of state. The possession of power—that is, in a great degree, of influence is a tempting bait; and it cannot be doubted that some range themselves against an executive body, not so much from objections to its measures as from desire of its power. Take away the influence, therefore, and you take away one operative cause of opposition,—one great obstacle to the free progress of the vessel of state.

  “All influence but that which addresses itself to the judgment is wrong.” Of the moral offence which this influence implies, many are guilty who oppose governments as well as those who support them, or as governments themselves. It is evidently not a whit more virtuous to exert influence in opposing governments than in supporting them: nor, indeed, is it so virtuous. To what is a man influenced? Obviously, to do that which, without the influence, he would not do;—that is to say, he is induced to violate his judgment at the request or at the will of other men. It can need no argument to show that this is vicious. In truth, it is vicious in a very high degree; for to conform our conduct to our own sober judgment is one of the first dictates of the moral law: and the viciousness is so much the greater, because the express purpose for which a man is appointed to legislate is that the community may have the benefit of his uninfluenced judgment. Breach of trust is added to the sacrifice of individual integrity. A nation can gain nothing by the knowledge or experience of a million of “influenced” legislators. It is curious that the submission to influence which men often practise as legislators they would abhor as judges. What should we say of a judge or a juryman who accepted a place or a promise as a bribe for an unjust sentence? We should prosecute the juryman, and address the parliament for a removal of the judge. Is it then of so much less consequence in what manner affairs of state are conducted than the affairs of individuals, that that which would be disgraceful in one case is reputable in another? No account can be given of this strange incongruity of public notions, than that custom has in one case blinded our eyes, and is the other has taught us to see. Let the legislator who would abhor to accept a purse to bribe him to write Ignoramus upon a true bill, apply the principle upon which his abhorrence is founded to his political conduct. When our moral principles are consistent, these incongruities will cease. When uniform truth takes the place of vulgar practice and opinion, these incongruities will become wonderful for their absurdity; and men will scarcely believe that their fathers, who could see so clearly, saw so ill. The same sort of stigma which now attaches to Lord Bacon will attach to multitudes who pass for honourable persons in the present day.

  A man may lawfully, no doubt, take a more active part in political measures in compliance with the wishes of another than he might otherwise incline to do; but to support the measures of an opposition or an administration because they are their measures can never be lawful. Nor can it ever be lawful to magnify the advantages or to expatiate upon the mischiefs of a measure, beyond his secret estimate of its demerits or its merits. That legislator is viciously influenced who says or who does any thing which he would think it not proper to say or do if he were an independent man.

  But it will be said, Since influence is inseparable from the possession of patronage, and since patronage must be vested somewhere, what is to be done? or how are the evils of influence to be done away?—a question which, like many other questions in political morality, is attended with accidental rather than essential difficulties. Patronage, in a virtuous state of mankind, would be small. There would be none in the church, and little in the state, Men would take the oversight of the Christian flock, not for filthy lucre, but of a ready mind. If the ready mind existed, the influence of patronage would be needless; and, as a needless thing, it would be done away. And as to the state, when we consider how much of patronage in all nations results from the vicious condition of mankind,—especially for military and naval appointments,—it will appear that much of this class of patronage is accidental also. Take away that wickedness and violence in which hostile measures originate, and fleets and armies would no longer be needed; and with their dissolution there would be a prodigious diminution of patronage and of influence. So, if we continue the inquiry how far any given source of influence arising from patronage is necessary to the institution of civil government, we shall find, at last, that the necessary portion is very small. We are little accustomed so consider how simple a thing civil government is,—nor what an unnumbered multiplicity of offices and sources of patronage would be cut off, if it existed in its simple and rightful state.

  Supposing this state of rectitude to be attained, and the little patronage which remained to be employed rather as an encouragement and reward of public virtue than of subserviency to purposes of party, we should have no reason to complain of the existence of influence or of its effects. Swift said of our own country, that “While the prerogative of giving all employments continues in the crown, either immediately or by subordination, it is in the power of the prince to make piety and virtue become the fashion of the age, if, at the same time, he would make them necessary qualifications for favour and preferment.”2 But, unhappily, in the existing character of political affairs in all nations, piety and virtue would be very poor recommendations to many of their concerns. “The just man,” as Adam Smith says, “the man who, in all private transactions would be the most beloved and the most esteemed, in those public transactions is regarded as a fool and an idiot, who does not understand his business.”3 It would be as absurd to think of making “piety and virtue qualifications” for these offices as to make idiocy a qualification for understanding the Principia. But the position of Swift, although it is not true while politics remain to be what they are, contains truth if they were what they ought to be. We should have, I say, no reason to complain of the existence of influence or of its effects, if it were reduced to its proper amount, and exerted in its proper direction.

  It has, I think, been justly observed that one of the principal causes of the separation of America from Britain consisted in the little influence which the crown possessed over the American States. They had popular assemblies, guided, as such assemblies are wont to be, by impatience of control as well as by zeal for independence; and the government possessed no patronage that was sufficient to counteract the democratic principles. Occasion of opposition was ministered; and the effect was seen. The American assemblies, and the corresponding temper of the people, were more powerful than the little influence which the crown possessed. What was to be done? It was necessary either to relinquish the government which could no longer be maintained without force, or to employ force to retain it. The latter was attempted; and, as was to be expected, it failed. I say failure was to be expected; because the state of America and of England too was such that a government of force could not be supposed likely to stand. Henry VIII. and Elizabeth governed England by a species of force. They induced parliamentary compliance by intimidation. This intimidation has given place to influence. But every man will perceive that it would be impossible to return to intimidation again. And it was equally impossible to adopt it permanently in the case of America.

  And here it may be observed, in passing, that the separation from the mother-country of extensive and remote dependencies is always to be eventually expected. As the dependency increases in population, in intelligence, in wealth, and in the various points which enable it to be, and which practically constitute it, a nation of itself,-it increases in the tendency to actual separation. This separation may be delayed by the peculiar nature of the parent’s government, but it can hardly be in the end prevented. It is not in the constitution of the human species to remain under the supremacy of a foreign power to which they are under no natural subordination, after the original causes of the supremacy have passed away. Accordingly, there is reason to expect that, in days to come, the possessions of the European powers on the other quarters of the globe will one after another lapse away. Happy will it be for these powers and for the world, if they take counsel of the philosophy of human affairs, and of the experience of times gone by:—if they are willing tranquilly to yield up a superiority of which the reasonableness and the propriety is past,—a superiority which no efforts can eventually maintain,—and a superiority which really tends not to the welfare of the governing, of the governed, or of the world.



  THE system of forming parties in governments is perfectly congruous with the general character of political affairs, but totally incongruous with political rectitude. Of this incongruity considerate men are frequently sensible; and accordingly we find that defences of party are sot up, and set up by men of respectable political character.4 To defend a custom is to intimate that it is assailed.

  What does the very nature of party imply? That he who adhere, to it speaks and votes not always according to the dictates of his own judgment, but according to the plans of other men. This sacrifice of individual judgment violates one of the first and greatest duties of a legislator,—to direct his separate and unbiased judgment to the welfare of the state. There can be no proper accumulation of individual experience among those who vote with a party.

  But, indeed, the justifications which are attempted do not refer to the abstract rectitude of becoming one of a party, but to the unfailing ground of defending political evil,—expediency. An administration, it is said, would not be so likely to stand, or an opposition to prevail, when each man votes as he thinks rectitude requires, as when he ranges himself under a leader. The difference is like that which subsists in war between a body of irregular peasantry and a disciplined army: each man’s arm is as strong in the one case as in the other, but each man’s is not equally effective.

  Very well. If we are to be told that it is fitting, or honest, or decent, that senates and cabinets should act upon the principles of conflicting armies, parties may easily be defended, but surely legislators have other business and other duties. It only exhibits the wideness of the general departure from the proper modes of conducting government and legislation, that such arguments are employed,—it will be said that there me no means of expelling a bad administration from office but by a systematic opposition to its measures. If this were true, it would be nothing to the question of rectitude, unless it can be shown that the end sanctions the means. The question is not whether we shall overthrow as administration, but whether we shall do what is right. But, even with respect to the success of political objects, it is not very certain that simple integrity would not be the most efficacious. The man who habitually votes on one side loses, and he ought to lose, much of the confidence of other members and of the public. At what value ought we to estimate the mental principles of a man who foregoes the dictates of his own judgment, and acts in opposition to it, in order to serve a party? What is the ground upon which we can place confidence in his integrity? Facts may furnish an answer. The speeches, and statements, and arguments of such persons are listened to with suspicion; and an habitual and large deduction is made from their weight. This is inevitable. Hearers and the public cannot tell whether the speaker is uttering his own sentiments or those of others: they cannot tell whether he believes his own statements or is convinced by his own reasoning. So that, even when his cause is good and his advocacy just, he loses half his influence because men are afraid to rely upon him, and because they still do not know whether some illusion is not underneath. The mind is kept so constantly jealous of fallacies that it excludes one-half of the truth. But when the man stands up of whom it is known that he is sincere, that what he says he thinks, and what he asserts he believes; the mind opens itself to his statements without apprehension of deceit. No deductions are made for the over-colourings of party. Integrity carries with it its proper sanction.

  Now if, generally, the measures of a party are good, the individual support of upright men would probably more effectually recommend them to a senate and to a nation, than the ranked support of men whose uprightness must always be questionable and questioned. If the measures are not good, it matters not how inefficiently they are supported. Let those who now range themselves under political leaders, of whatever party, throw away their unworthy shackles; let them convince the legislature and the public that they are absolutely sincere men; and it is probable that a vicious policy would not be able to stand before them. For other motives to opposition than actual viciousness of measures I have nothing to say; He whose principles allow him to think that other motives justify opposition may very well vote against his understanding. The principles and the conduct are congenial; but both are bad.



  The unanimous support or opposition which ordinarily is given to a measure by the members of an administration, whatever be their private opinions, is a species of party. Like other modes of party, it results from the impure condition of political affairs; like them, it is incongruous with sound political rectitude,—and, like them, it is defended upon pleas of expediency. The immorality of this custom is easily shown; because it sacrifices private judgment, involves a species of hypocrisy, and defrauds the community of that uninfluenced judgment respecting public affairs for which all public men are appointed. “Ministers have been known, publicly and in unqualified, terms, to applaud those very measures of a coadjutor which they have freely condemned in private.”5 Is this manly? Is it honest? Is it Christian? If it is not, it is vicious and criminal; and all arguments in its defence—all disquisitions about expediency—are sophistical and impertinent.

  “The necessity for the co-operation” (I use political language) results from the general impurity of political systems,—systems in which not reason, simply, and principle direct, but influence also, and the spirit of party, and the love of power. Where influence is to be employed, union among a cabinet is likely to urge it in fuller force:—Where the spirit of party is to be employed, this union is necessary to the object:—Where the love of power is the guide, consistency and integrity must be sacrificed to its acquisition or retention. But take away this influence,—which is bad; and this spirit of party,—which is bad; and this love of power,—which is bad; and the minister may speak and act like a consistent and a virtuous man. It is with this, as with unnumbered cases in life, that what is called the necessity for a particular vicious course of action is quite adventitious, resulting in no degree from the operation of sound principles, but from the diffused impurity of human institutions.

  But, indeed, the necessity is not perhaps so obvious as is supposed. The same reasons as those which make the support of a partisan comparatively inefficient, operate upon the ministerial advocate. He is regarded as a party man; and as the exertions of a party man his arguments are received. People say or think, when 1uch arguments are urged, as some men say and think of the labours of the clergy,—“What they say is a matter of course;”—“It is their business; their trade.” No one disputes that these feelings have a powerful effect in diminishing the practical effect of the labours of the pulpit; and they have the same effect with respect to the labours of a ministry. We listen to a minister rather as a pleader than as a judge; and every one knows what disproportionate regard ii paid to these. Why should not ministers be judges? Why should not senates confide in their integrity, believe their statements, give candid attention to their reasonings,—as we attend to, and believe, and confide in what is uttered from the bench? And does any man think so ill of mankind as to believe that if an administration acted thus, they would not actually possess a greater influence upon the minds of men than they do now? Even now, when men are so habituated to the operation of influence and party, I believe that a minister is listened to with much greater confidence and satisfaction when he dissents from his colleagues than when he makes common cause. We then insensibly reflect, that he is no longer the pleader but the judge. The independence of his judgment is unquestioned; and we regard it therefore as the judgment of an honest man.

  Uniformity of opinion—or, more properly, unity of exertion—is not at all necessary to the stability of a cabinet. Several recent administrations in our own country have been divided in sentiment upon great questions of national policy, and their members have opposed one another in parliament. With what ill effects? Nay, has not that very contrariety recommended the reasonings of all, as those of sincere integrity? It is usual with some politicians to declaim vehemently against “unnatural coalitions in cabinets.” As to individuals, they, no doubt, may be censurable for political tergiversation; but as to cabinets being composed of men of different sentiments,—of sentiments so different as their respective judgments may occasion,—it is both allowable and expedient. It is just what a wise community would wish, because it affords a security for that canvass of public measures which is likely to illustrate their character and tendencies. But it is a sorrowful and a sickening sight, to contemplate a number of persons frankly urging their various and disagreeing opinions at a council-board, and as soon as some resolution is come to, all proceeding to a senate, and one-half urging the very arguments against which they have just been contending, and by which they are not yet convinced. Is freedom of canvass for any reasons useful and right at the council-board? Is it not, for the very same reasons, useful and right in a senate? The answer would be, Yes, if public measures were regarded as the measures of the community, and not of the administration; because then the desire and judgment of the community would be sought by the public and independent discussion of the question. Here, then; at last is one great cause of the evil,—that a large proportion of public acts are the measures of administrations; and being such, administrations unitedly support them whatever be the individual opinions of their members. These things ought not so to be. I would not indeed say that, from the crown of the head to the sole of the foot, there is no soundness in the system,—but the evil is mingled deplorably with the good. It is sometimes in practice almost forgotten that an administration is an executive rather than a legislative body,—that their original and natural business is rather to do what the legislature and constitution directs, than to direct the legislature themselves. I say the original and natural business; for, how congenial soever the great influence of administrations in public affairs may be with the present tenor of policy, and especially of international policy, it is not at all congenial with the original purpose and simple and proper objects of civil government,—the welfare of the community, as determined by an enlightened survey of the national mind.

  Of the want of advertence to these simple and proper objects one effect has been that, in this country, administrations have frequently given up their offices when the senate has rejected their measures. This is an unequivocal indication of the wrong station in which cabinets are placed in, the legislature,—because it indicates, that if a cabinet cannot carry its point it is supposed to be unfit for its office. All this is natural enough upon the present system, but it is very unnatural when cabinets are regarded, either in their ministerial capacity, as executive officers, or in their legislative capacity, as ordinary members of the senate. Executive officers are to do what the constitution and the legislature direct; members of a senate are to assist that legislature in directing aright: in all which, no necessity is involved for ministers to resign their offices because the measures which they think best are not thought best by the majority. That a ministry should sometimes judge amiss is to be expected, because it is to be expected of all men: but surely in a sound state of political institutions, their fallibility would not be a necessary argument of unfitness for their offices, nor would the rejection of some of their opinions be a necessary evidence of a loss of the confidence of the public.

1 History of England.
2 Project for the Advancement of Religion.
3 Theo. of Mor. Sent.
4 Fox, I believe, was one of them, and the present Lord John Russell, in his Life of Lord Russell, is another.
5 Gisborne: Duties of Men.

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