% LaTeX source for Courtney at Saratoga Springs





   to a Conference of friends and advocates of Proportional Representation,
   held under the auspices of the Proportional Representation Society of
   New York, and the American Proportional Representation League, at
   Saratoga Springs, 27th August, 1895, and following days.}

\textsc{The} present is not an inopportune time to send a greeting
from the Old World to your Conference at Saratoga. We have just gone
through a General Election. We have been ascertaining the mind of the
people.  After more than sixty years of incessant change our methods of
discovering the national will were believed to he pretty nearly perfect.
The United Kingdom is roughly divided into districts of approximately
equal population, each electing one Member to the House of Commons;
every male householder is an elector; and the voting is given under a
sacred secret ballot so that our serfs and hirelings may promise one way
and vote another without fear of detection and punishment at the hands
of a brutal aristocracy, whether feudal or industrial.  The picture is
perhaps a little ideal, as such pictures are apt to be. There are
lingering discrepancies in population among the districts, but these
variations would not interest you; and, indeed, from your distance they
would appear quite unimportant.  The householder must have lived in his
house twelve months before he is put on the register, which is thought
severe on persons of migratory habits.  Substantially, however, our
First Chamber is chosen after the most approved democratic pattern. 
Here you may see the representative organism of a nation discharging its
functions with a promptitude, a celerity and an exactness that may
excite the envy of the world. You set your machine in motion, and out
comes at once the express image of the people's brain; and it is born
full-grown and full armed to fulfil forthwith the well-measured purpose
of the nation. We have none of the checks and hindrances which your
slower Conscript Fathers devised when they framed the Constitution of
the United States.  And what has been the result? Six weeks ago we had a
House of Commons with a Home Rule majority (any other name will do as
well) bravely backing up the Government that possessed its confidence.
To-day that Govern- 


ment has gone, another has taken its place, and the constituencies have
elected a House of Commons with an enormous majority to support the new
Administration.  Before this reaches you the new Parliament and the new
Government will have met, exchanged greetings, and settled down in their
courses.  This is Triumphant Democracy indeed---quick, firm, certain; and
if the change has been overwhelming, a Great Nation is surely entitled
to make Great Changes.  Everybody is astonished, and those who love
whirlwinds rejoice.  It is true that some two or three (these units are
always to the fore) tell us they knew long since exactly what was going
to happen; but the most of us frankly confess our surprise.  It was
foreseen that there would be a shifting of the balance in the House of
Commons.  It was not foreseen that the overturn would be so
multitudinous.  For some days the prophets were left staggering,
especially those of the defeated party.  Then they presented to the
public the unedifying spectacle of friends falling out and  berating one
another as the causes of the catastrophe.  It was not long however,
before another vein of discussion was opened which we and our friends
may watch with singular satisfaction. If nothing else has been done
during the last ten years, this much has been gained: that the least
dull among our public instructors---the elect ones not absolutely
besotted with use and wont---have learnt the trick of looking behind
the achieved result of the balance of the elected to see how the balance
of the electors went.  They jump over the House to count the voters up
and down the land.  It is not so long since that this was a rare
enquiry. It is getting to be a commonplace.  Almost every newspaper
writer understands it.  Some of our Parliamentary leaders occasionally
recognize it.  So it came to pass that after the first shock some of the
defeated pulled themselves together to count the masses.  And it must be
owned our General Election has been a wonderful quickening of
intelligence in this direction.  The enquiry, once started, has been
pursued with eagerness.  Such a ``totting'' up of figures.  Such rows
and cross-rows of comparison.  Analysis, synthesis, hypothesis---all
called in aid.  And such beaming satisfaction at the result.  The
surprising discovery has been made that the balance of parties in the
House of Commons is a caricature of the balance of parties among the
voters of the Kingdom.  In the House of Commons the victorious party
number more than 60 per cent.\ of the whole; but the political
arithmeticians tell us (and their figures have not been seriously
questioned) the same party cannot be credited with more than 51
per cent.\ of the electorate.  We, Proportional Representationists, are
not astonished.  The fact does not come as a revelation to us, for,
indeed, we have realized stranger things; but I hope my


friends in Conference in Saratoga will not be too much disposed to smile
at the importance I attach to the setting forth and popular learning of
this object lesson here.  I do so relish a good stroke of education.  We
cannot always get a blackboard on which the figures can be drawn so
broadly and so clearly.  We cannot always get a united class of
journalists and politicians with eyes fastened on that board, following
and learning learning the lesson.  The class may not go very far, but
everything learnt is something gained, and I think it worth while to
note this insular progress.

Our friends have learnt that a big majority in the House of Commons may
mean only a small majority among the people; and for the present they go
no further.  The use they make of their discovery is to encourage one
another not to be downhearted.  The waves are nothing compared with the
bulk of the ocean; and if the whirlwind continues to whirl, what is
against us to-day may be with us tomorrow.  This seems the limit of the
moral drawn by the men of addition.  On the other hand, their critics
say this exaggeration of popular majorities is useful and even
necessary.  It is not new, and it is so good if it did not happen it
would have to be created.  If you want a strong Government, it must be
strongly supported, and---here the reasoning begins to waver a bit---a
Government is strongly supported when it has a mob of Members behind it
depending, for their      power on the smallest majority of the people. 
Both sides are thus pleased.  Those who have been defeated are content
for the moment with the proof that their defeat has been exaggerated. 
Those that have won rejoice in the greatness of their power.  This
diffused satisfaction is interesting, but what will the next lesson of
experience be?  Perhaps it will show that our most approved system can
with about equal facility work out not only an exaggeration of
majorities, but a contradiction of them.  In spite of equal districts,
vote by ballot, and all the rest of it, you may find that the majority
of elected members are of one party and the majority of elected voters
are against them.  But this is droll?  A nation directly consulted by
\textit{plebiscite} choosing, one path, and the same nation consulted
through  the election of representatives refusing that path---is it
possible?  The thing is not merely possible: it is bound to happen now
and then., indeed it has happened.\footnote{If in the election of a
Chamber of 500 Members 200 of one party are returned with an average
majority of 1,000 a piece, and 300 of the opposite party with an average
majority of 500, the majority of 300 to 200 in the Chamber is in a
minority of 50,000 in the country.} It is believed to have happened here
in former elections, though the process has been so disguised  that the
truth has not been recognized and confessed.  Nay, this very election
which has just been completed affords ample proof 


of this strange possibility.  Not every district was fought.  Some were
abandoned to the predominant party.  But the districts that were fought
make up together a sufficiently large community, and what was the
experience of their contests?  The party that numbered an aggregate of
1,800,000 voters as against 1,775,000 given to their opponents secured
only 202 seats against no less than 279 captured by the 
minority.\footnote{This startling, fact was first brought out by Sir
John Lubbock, and it is not yet commonly understood.  Lord Rosebery's
last speech shows that he is quite ignorant of it.}  It may be presumed
that the balance of voters in uncontested seats somehow corrected this
falsification, but the bare fact of experience is enough to demonstrate
the utter untrustworthiness of our electoral methods.  I believe you
could cite many examples of similar miscarriages in the elections of
your State Legislatures.  Sometimes they are put down to gerrymandering,
but gerrymandering is not necessary.  It may make misrepresentation
certain, but such misrepresentation is possible with the most honest
allotment of districts.  Your President, again, has more than once been
invested with his extended power though the popular vote was against
him; and, although this result his been facilitated by the disparity of
the representation of States in the Electoral College (New York with a
small popular majority being able to outweigh many small States with a
much larger aggregate popular majority), the falsification of the
national vote does not depend upon this disparity.  You have been able
to survive all such mischances, for your national life has been hitherto
apart and above your political machinery, but a few years ago there was
the same miscarriage in a Swiss Canton---the balance of the people was
one way, the  balance of their elected representatives another---and
there was a splutter of revolution; some lives were lost; whereupon the
system was changed, Proportional Representation was adopted, and the new
principle has spread fast from Canton to Canton, promising soon to be
accepted universally by the Swiss Democracy.  What a pity it is that
some one man must have a knock on the head before other men will open
their eyes. Meanwhile I muse as to what my calculating friends would say
if our next General Election gave us a House of Commons in opposition to
the balance of the popular vote. If these good people while winning in
the country were left in a minority in the House, they would scarcely be
content to comfort one another with good words. As for those
deeper-seeing folk who hive such excellent reasons for finding  strength
in an exaggeration of the popular vote, would they invent some new and
equally good reason for approving a result in contradiction of that
vote?  I dare say they would. The ingenuity of  


apologists is beyond belief. It seems, though one might not have
thought it, much less trouble to invent some topsy-turvy argument in
favour of things as they are than to brace up our intellectual energies
to consider the simplest proposal of chance.  Human nature may be
different with you, but I have great confidence in its fertility of
subterfuges in this Older World.  And with good reason.  I shiver myself
at the thought of being thrust naked out into the cold.  What a jolly
awakening there will be some few years hence, when the inevitable
argument of experience will show us a nation contradicting itself
through the voices of its chosen representatives!  The stupidest
politician will sit up, rubbing his eyes.  After all, facts are facts,
and although we may quote one to another with a chuckle the words of the
Wise Statesman, ``Lies---damned lies---and statistics,'' still there are
some easy figures the simplest must understand, and the astutest cannot
wriggle out of.  So we may be led to the serious consideration of change
by the evolution of materials of conviction which those who run may
reed, though some who read may wish to run away from them. And when the
means of cure are found to be easy and practicable, the end ought to be
near.  In view of this forecast I hesitate, even in addressing my
fellow-believers at Saratoga, to add another word.  And yet the truth
must be told.  We may confess to one another that in our judgment the
worst vice of the common electoral system is not displayed when it is
shown that it constantly distorts and often contradicts the very purpose
of its existence.  Let these freshly-awakened innocents ``chortle'' over
their discovery if they will.  They are still in shallow waters.  We may
blunder on in spite of repeated miscalculations of the popular will. 
More penetrating and pernicious is the influence our ill-devised
machinery has upon the character of our national life.  It eats in and
into it.  It degrades candidates and electors alike.  It does its worst
to reduce to sterility of influence many of the best of the component
elements of the people.  The individuals survive, but with their
political activity dead or dying, no opportunities of life and growth
being afforded them.  Finally it presents as an embodiment of the nation
an  assembly or assemblies into which none can enter who have not been
clipped, and pared, and trimmed, and stretched out of natural shape and
likeness to slip along the grooves of supply.  A free press, free
pulpits, and a free people outside help to correct what would otherwise
become intolerable but press, pulpits and people, free as they are, work
and live in strict limits of relation to the machinery established among
them.  ``The world revolves on its axis subject to the Constitution of
the United States,'' and the most Radical newspaper man in London, if
such there be, never 


lets his imagination range out of hearing of the Clock Tower. But, oh,
King Charles's head! how persuade the average politician of the truth of
these sayings?  Glimpses do not often visit him of a life different from
his own. He is contented with his environment. Whatever nature may have
intended at first, he has passed through years of preparation, for the
atmosphere in which he lives. It would he rude to tell him that he has
no sense of defect because he is habituated to the lower level; although
his complacency would be probably proof against any such home-truth.
Here and there we may perhaps find a Brutus who has schooled himself to
be the dullard of party, before whose mind receding visions of
emancipation occasionally flit; but this is rare.  We may not hope for
an instant acknowledgement of the justice of criticism of common
political life, though we may look to the callow young to receive an
impression against which the callous old are proof.  Still how stands
the fact?  It matters not whether Congress or Parliament, the House of
Representatives or the House of Commons be under consideration. The
young man who is moved in any way to contemplate an entry into public
life, whose creed is not in absolute inheritance from his fathers,
learns first of all to understand that there are two great political
organizations, with one of which he must associate  himself, learning
and echoing its catch-words, accepting its leadership, and steeping
himself in the belief that in it are wisdom and truth while the other
party is void of both.  It is not everyone whose ductile mind takes him
through this training, and a goodly number of up-growing men of not the
worst promise for the future have to step aside.  The man who has
sufficient pliancy and power of self-persuasion to reach a second stage
is perhaps accepted as a candidate.  He and someone else are pitted
against one another for the representation of a particular district. 
The mass of the electors are already divided into two camps, and the
party creeds have been so adjusted that there shall be a fair chance of
victory through winning the unattached minority that hangs loose outside
both armies.  What an education follows!  It is really a fine comedy,
though the players rarely know it. I am but a clumsy performer myself,
and have to confess to incurable defects of training, so that I
sometimes wonder I have not been hissed off the stage; still I have seen
the performance through more than once or twice, and know something
about it. Such tender and delicate adjustments and readjustments of
convictions to keep the party balance sure!  Such abundance of spoonmeat
on the one hand, and such careful economy on the other of truths that
may prove too strong for weak digestions!  Such avowals of readiness to
consider seriously any opinion, however obviously absurd, broached by a
possible supporter!  Such prompt denunciations of all the devices of an


cilable opponent!  But I forbear. It is an education, and an education
which has to be maintained and sedulously developed if the aspirant
succeeds in being chosen as one of the voices of the national life.  Is
it surprising that many an elector should be brought to say ``A plague
on both your candidates,'' and that the ultimate question should often
be, which is the less unsatisfactory of the two?  As for life within a
Legislature,---who can tell how warped and bent and twisted, and
accommodated to the exigencies of party struggle become the faculties of
belief?  Strong and courageous natures know it, and remain strong and
courageous in spite of knowledge and practice; but the pliancy of man is
beyond admiration, and is nowhere better seen than under the
schooling of Parliament.  

All this will be said to be very much overstrained. At best it is  a
gross exaggeration, and it may perhaps be more accurately   described as
a caricature from which remembrance of the original has departed.  It is
true---it has been already admitted---that the picture will not be
universally recognized; but it has been suggested that the failure of
recognition lies rather in the degeneracy of the faculty of seeing than
in the misrepresentation of the vision to be seen.  It may be also
confessed that life often survives all the perversities of training.  We
cannot absolutely nullify the prodigality of nature, try as hard as we
may.  In spite of most careful management, untractable growths survive
in the most provoking way, and intrude themselves into fields believed
to be kept free from their presence.  And sometimes it happens that the
poor party managers have to accommodate themselves to the genius they
curse.  Thanks for the indestructible gift of life!  But if it be not
all true; if all that we have to confess is that we deliberately uphold
political methods, which being invented to tell us what the people think
and wish, cannot be trusted to declare the force or even the direction
of their desires; which designed to cherish and sustain in healthful
life all the political activities up-growing year by year for the
service of man exclude many, sterilize more, and, but for a bounty that
cannot be wholly repressed, would leave none to survive but the least
generous, the least vital, the least beneficent; and if side by side
with this revelation of forms that fail in their primary, purpose, and
are yet operative to starve and choke the most wholesome and precious of
the vitalities vouchsafed us, we were offered a way of living which
should secure a trusty reflex of the national will in its intensity and
its aims; which should give us a real presentment of the national life
drawing up and incorporating within itself all the influences that work
together to make the nation;---why it is not singular that those who
have received this vision, those 


whose eyes are opened to see what is and what may be, should be moved,
as you are moved to-day, to call their friends and neighbours together
to rejoice in the prize of their discovery.  Neighbours and friends will
not come all at once, but some are straggling in, others are thinking of
enquiring what these babblers say, though the wondrous wise and wary
ones are very reluctant to enter upon lines of thought that may lead
them to troublesome conclusions.  I cannot blame them, though all
history laughs at their hesitation.  In the end the troublesome paths 
will be trod, and I hope your Conference will let not a few brave and
adventurous spirits to enter upon them.
  \textsc{Leonard Courtney.}
  \textit{The National Review} (London) \textbf{26} (1895), 21--26.


\textit{See also}\\