Mill and the Secret Ballot



J.S. Mill’s transformation from a fervent advocate of the ballot to a decided opponent of secret voting, although frequently noted, has never been adequately explained. Mill himself provides a simple enough— rather too simple, one suspects—explanation of this change of opinion in Thoughts on Parliamentary Reform, which offers his fullest treatment of the question (written in the mid-1850s, this pamphlet was withheld from publication until 1859).1 There he says that the two decades following the passing of the 1832 Reform Act had fundamentally altered the social and political condition of the country. The state of English society in the 1830s had made a call for the ballot altogether fitting. By the 1850s the adoption of secret voting had been rendered both unnecessary and unde­sirable.2 Before considering the content and implications of Mill’s argument, the evolution of his position on the issue must be traced. The significance of his ultimate rejection of the ballot can be appreciated only against the backdrop of his avid support of the measure in the 1830s.


Parliamentary Election Tenant Farmer Universal Suffrage Secret Ballot Radical Party 
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  1. 3.
    Joseph Hamburger, Intellectuals in Politics: John Stuart Mill and the Philosophic Radicals ( New Haven: Yale University Press, 1965 ).Google Scholar
  2. 4.
    James Mill, The History of British India, 2nd ed., 6 vols. (London: Baldwin, Cradock, and Joy, 1820), vol. 3, 451–52.Google Scholar
  3. 62.
    T.J. Nossiter, Influence, Opinion and Political Idioms in Reformed England: Case Studies from the North East 1832–1874 (Hassocks, Sussex: Harvester Press, 1975 ), 162.Google Scholar
  4. 64.
    Charles Stuart Parker, Life and Letters of Sir James Graham, 2 vols. (London: J. Murray, 1907), vol. 2, 171.Google Scholar

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© Bruce L. Kinzer 2007

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