Thoughts on economics and liberty

Tag: Macaulay

Macaulay’s great contribution to world democracy

In the history of democracy, the Reform Act of 1832 has played an absolutely pivotal role (along with the Second Reform Act of 1867). Without this particular reform, English democracy was but a sham, with aristocrats purchasing seats in the lower house (in addition to the seats they already had in the upper house). The members of the lower house were not compensated (paid) either, meaning that politics was quickly becoming a preserve only of the rich.

From 1688, when the English king was effectively superceded by the Parliament, to 1832, not much had changed. The power had simply transferred from the King to the aristocrats and lords.

But by 1832 the voice of the new middle class was rising in great opposition to this unrepresentative form of government. The Whigs (the classical liberals) led the reforms, bitterly opposed by the Tories (the conservatives). The leaders in favour of reform included  Lord John Russell and TH Macaulay.

The Bill passed the Commons but was twice rejected by the House of Lords (who would not tolerate the diminution of their powers). It finally (the third time) passed the upper house when the Ministers (who were from the lower house) threatened to create sufficient number of new Lords to ensure passage through the upper house. 100 Tory Lords abstained from voting in the upper house, allowing the bill to pass. 

The liberals threatened revolution. That was the underlying driver of the reforms.

Here’s an account of Macaulay’s speech in the lower house:

“[O]n the 1st of March 1831 Lord John Russell introduced the Reform Bill amidst breathless silence, which was at length broken by peals of contemptuous laughter from the Opposition benches, as he read the list of the hundred and ten boroughs which were condemned to partial or entire disfranchisement. Sir Robert Inglis led the attack upon a measure that he characterised as Revolution in the guise of a statute. …

On the evening of that day Macaulay made the first of his Reform speeches. When he sat down the Speaker sent for him, and told him that in all his prolonged experience he had never seen the House in such a state of excitement. Even at this distance of time it is impossible to read aloud the last thirty sentences [see below]without an emotion which suggests to the mind what must have been their effect when declaimed by one who felt every word that he spoke, in the midst of an assembly agitated by hopes and apprehensions such as living men have never known, or have long forgotten.”  [Source: Life and Letters of Macaulay]


[Full speech here]

… This is not government by property. It is government by certain detached portions and fragments of property, selected from the rest, and preferred to the rest, on no rational principle whatever.

All history is full of revolutions, produced by causes similar to those which are now operating in England…. Such, finally, is the struggle which the middle classes in England are maintaining against an aristocracy of mere locality,

… We have had blood. New treason's have been created. The Press has been shackled. The Habeas Corpus Act has been suspended. Public meetings have been prohibited. 

Under such circumstances, a great plan of reconciliation, prepared by the Ministers of the Crown, has been brought before us …. It takes away a vast power from a few. It distributes that power through the great mass of the middle order.

Last 30 sentences

 "The question of Parliamentary Reform is still behind. But signs, of which it is impossible to misconceive the import, do most clearly indicate that, unless that question also be speedily settled, property, and order, and all the institutions of this great monarchy, will be exposed to fearful peril. Is it possible that gentlemen long versed in high political affairs cannot read these signs? Is it possible that they can really believe that the Representative system of England, such as it now is, will last to the year 1860? If not, for what would they have us wait? Would they have us wait, merely that we may show to all the world how little we have profited by our own recent experience? Would they have us wait, that we may once again hit the exact point where we can neither refuse with authority, nor concede with grace? Would they have us wait, that the numbers of the discontented party may become larger, its demands higher, its feelings more acrimonious, its organisation more complete? Would they have us wait till the whole tragicomedy of 1827 has been acted over again? till they have been brought into office by a cry of 'No Reform,' to be reformers, as they were once before brought into office by a cry of 'No Popery', to be emancipators? Have they obliterated from their minds–gladly, perhaps, would some among them obliterate from their minds–the transactions of that year? And have they forgotten all the transactions of the succeeding year? Have they forgotten how the spirit of liberty in Ireland, debarred from its natural outlet, found a vent by forbidden passages? Have they forgotten how we were forced to indulge the Catholics in all the license of rebels, merely because we chose to withhold from them the liberties of subjects? Do they wait for associations more formidable than that of the Corn Exchange, for contributions larger than the Rent, for agitators more violent than those who, three years ago, divided with the King and the Parliament the sovereignty of Ireland? Do they wait for that last and most dreadful paroxysm of popular rage, for that last and most cruel test of military fidelity? Let them wait, if their past experience shall induce them to think that any high honour or any exquisite pleasure is to be obtained by a policy like this. Let them wait, if this strange and fearful infatuation be indeed upon them, that they should not see with their eyes, or hear with their ears, or understand with their heart

“But let us know our interest and our duty better. Turn where we may, within, around, the voice of great events is proclaiming to us, Reform, that you may preserve. Now, therefore, while everything at home and abroad forebodes ruin to those who persist in a hopeless struggle against the spirit of the age, now, while the crash of the proudest throne of the Continent is still resounding in our ears, now, while the roof of a British palace affords an ignominious shelter to the exiled heir of forty kings, now, while we see on every side ancient institutions subverted, and great societies dissolved, now, while the heart of England is still sound, now, while old feelings and old associations retain a power and a charm which may too soon pass away, now, in this your accepted time, now, in this your day of salvation, take counsel, not of prejudice, not of party spirit, not of the ignominious pride of a fatal consistency, but of history, of reason, of the ages which are past, of the signs of this most portentous time. Pronounce in a manner worthy of the expectation with which this great debate has been anticipated, and of the long remembrance which it will leave behind. Renew the youth of the State. Save property, divided against itself. Save the multitude, endangered by its own ungovernable passions. Save the aristocracy, endangered by its own unpopular power. Save the greatest, the fairest, and most highly civilised community that ever existed, from calamities which may in a few days sweep away all the rich heritage of so many ages of wisdom and glory. The danger is terrible. The time is short. If this bill should be rejected, I pray to God that none of those who concur in rejecting it may ever remember their votes with unavailing remorse, amidst the wreck of laws, the confusion of ranks, the spoliation of property, and the dissolution of social order."

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The role and responsibility of an elected representative

T.H. Macaulay wrote the following in 1932, in the shadow of the Reform Act of 1832, in supporting which he was instrumental. In this letter to his constituents he clarifies the roles and responsibilities of an elected representative of the people, something that today's representatives, whose minds change with the changing polls, would be well advised to pay heed to. Do the right thing. Always.


In this letter, and in every letter which I have written to my friends at Leeds, I have plainly declared my opinions. But I think it, at this conjuncture, my duty to declare that I will give no pledges. I will not bind myself to make or to support any particular motion. I will state as shortly as I can some of the reasons which have induced me to form this determination. The great beauty of the representative system is, that it unites the advantages of popular control with the advantages arising from a division of labour.

Just as a physician understands medicine better than an ordinary man, just as a shoemaker makes shoes better than an ordinary man, so a person whose life is passed in transacting affairs of State becomes a better statesman than an ordinary man. In politics, as well as every other department of life, the public ought to have the means of checking those who serve it. If a man finds that he derives no benefit from the prescription of his physician, he calls in another. If his shoes do not fit him, he changes his shoemaker. But when he has called in a physician of whom he hears a good report, and whose general practice he believes to be judicious, it would be absurd in him to tie down that physician to order particular pills and particular draughts. While he continues to be the customer of a shoemaker, it would be absurd in him to sit by and mete every motion of that shoemaker's hand.

And in the same manner, it would, I think, be absurd in him to require positive pledges, and to exact daily and hourly obedience, from his representative. My opinion is, that electors ought at first to choose cautiously; then to confide liberally; and, when the term for which they have selected their member has expired, to review his conduct equitably, and to pronounce on the whole taken together.

Elsewhere he wrote:

If ever there was a time when public men were in an especial measure bound to speak the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth, to the people, this is that time. Nothing is easier than for a candidate to avoid unpopular topics as long as possible, and, when they are forced on him, to take refuge in evasive and unmeaning phrases. Nothing is easier than for him to give extravagant promises while an election is depending, and to forget them as soon as the return is made. I will take no such course. I do not wish to obtain a single vote on false pretences. Under the old system I have never been the flatterer of the great. Under the new system I will not be the flatterer of the people.

The truth, or what appears to me to be such, may sometimes be distasteful to those whose good opinion I most value. I shall nevertheless always abide by it, and trust to their good sense, to their second thoughts, to the force of reason, and the progress of time. If, after all, their decision should be unfavourable to me, I shall submit to that decision with fortitude and good humour. It is not necessary to my happiness that I should sit in Parliament; but it is necessary to my happiness that I should possess, in Parliament or out of Parliament, the consciousness of having done what is right."


or, in Word: here.

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Misrepresentation of Macaulay’s entire work through a single private letter to his father

We all know the story of the five blind men who made the wildest descriptions of an elephant by feeling its trunk, leg, tail, and so on. We now have a phenomenon in India of armchair blogsphere historians who use not even ONE HAIR of the elephant to determine what that creature is! Not only that, they use FALSE HAIR! to determine the nature of that creature.

I am talking specifically about the VERY SHAMEFUL saga of thousands of bloggers in India (particularly on Hindutva blogs) using a statement that Macaulay NEVER MADE to not only misrepresent him but to go off on all kinds of tangents about history.

Historians would hang their head in shame at such 'scholarship' in the Indian blogsphere. 

But there is another statement that Macaulay DID make which was first brought to my notice here and Shantanu Bhagwat has mentioned it on his blog here. Yes, the following statement is TRUE.  In a letter to his father in October 1836, Macaulay wrote:

FIRST THIS: "In a few months,–I hope, indeed, in a few weeks,–we shall send up the Penal Code to Government. We have got rid of the punishment of death, except in the case of aggravated treason and wilful murder. We shall also get rid indirectly of everything that can properly be called slavery in India. There will remain civil claims on particular people for particular services, which claims may be enforced by civil action; but no person will be entitled, on the plea of being the master of another, to do anything to that other which it would be an offence to do to a free-man."

A most devoted son, he ends the letter by looking forward to meeting his family: "some days of intense happiness I shall surely have; and one of those will be the day when I again see my dear father and sisters"

And he also wrote, in between these two portions, the following "offensive" lines:

"Our English schools are flourishing wonderfully. We find it difficult, indeed, in some places impossible, to provide instruction for all who want it. At the single town of Hoogly fourteen hundred boys are learning English. The effect of this education on the Hindoos is prodigious. No Hindoo, who has received an English education, ever remains sincerely attached to his religion. Some continue to profess it as matter of policy; but many profess themselves pure Deists, and some embrace Christianity." [Source]


So, after getting rid of slavery, and all unnecessary death penalties, and after having worked assiduously to bring about a system of honest good governance, he is now known only as a Christian fanatic who was intent on changing Hindus WITHOUT proselytisation – through education in science!  Was Hinduism so weak that it would die merely through slight exposure to English and science. HAS IT DIED? Was his assumption true? No!

He did not ATTACK Hindus. He did not even preach.  

Note that he did not set up English schools – these had been set up BY INDIANS.

And he had, in 1831, well before this letter, looked forward to the day when India will become independent (below for more details). 

And so, this fine fighter for freedom (an enemy of slavery, a commoner who was active in the Reform Act of 1832 which took down the aristocracy in England many notches, and who advocated liberty for women at a time when that was unheard of anywhere in the world) – is today HATED by many Indians!!


Well before Macaulay came on the scene, people like Raja Ram Mohun Roy had advocated the opening of English schools.  Thus, “Ram Mohun Roy appeared in 1831 before a parliamentary committee in England studying the renewal of the company’s charter. While giving testimony on the question of free European emigration to India, Roy expressed the opinion that English emigration should be unrestricted since English settlers in India “from motives of benevolence, public spirit, and fellow feeling toward their native neighbours, would establish schools and other seminaries of education for the cultivation of the English language throughout the country, and for the diffusion of a knowledge of European arts and sciences.”" (Elmer H. Cutts, “The Background of Macaulay’s Minute”, The American Historical Review, Vol. 58, No. 4 Jul., 1953, p. 828).

Further, Macaulay is GROSSLY over-rated for his influence on Bentick (Bentick did not need Macaulay’s minute to make up his mind on something he had already decided based on extensive consultation).

Finally, acaulay is surely entitled (as are many Hindus today who oppose Madrassas) to his religious views in a PRIVATE letter to his father. Show me one Hindu who in his PRIVATE conversation with his family members (say, father) hasn’t railed against Muslims or Christians and said that we must stop their Madrassas and give them MODERN EDUCATION so they can reduce their fanaticism. 

I don’t understand why we forget the many good things that Macaulay said about India. He was the FIRST Britisher to look forward to the independence of India: “by good government we may educate our subjects into a capacity for better government; that, having become instructed in European knowledge, they may, in some future age, demand European institutions. Whether such a day will ever come I know not. But never will I attempt to avert or to retard it. Whenever it comes, it will be the PROUDEST DAY IN ENGLISH HISTORY.” (see here) [Macaulay was 33 years old when he said this]

Macaulay was one of GREATEST fighters for freedom in the 19th century, and his contributions are on par with J.S. Mill’s. Let us assess people based on their ENTIRE contributions and avoid misjudging them, or judging them by our modern standards.

Yes, he was a Christian, and did not have the highest regard for alleged Indian 'science' (which is highly questionable, anyway). But how many Hindus have a high regard for Christianity or its cosomology? Can our regard for other religions that be a standard of assessment of others?

But he DID have a high regard for freedom. To me that is a crucial thing that many Indians don't have even today.

Note that Macaulay was 36 when he wrote that letter. Now compare the writings of one of the MOST POISONOUS WRITERS THAT INDIA HAS PRODUCED:  Gowlalkar. At age 33 (the age that Macaulay was when he gave his brilliant speech on India), Golwalkar wrote the following POISON:

"The non-Hindu peoples in Hindusthan must either adopt the Hindu culture and language, must learn to respect and hold in reverence Hindu religion, must entertain no ideas but those of glorification of the Hindu race and culture, i.e. they must not only give up their attitude of intolerance and ungratefulness towards this land and its age long traditions but must also cultivate the positive attitude of love and devotion instead – in one word, they must cease to be foreigners, or may stay stay in the country, wholly subordinated to the Hindu nation, claiming nothing, deserving no privileges, far less any preferential treatment – not even citizen’s rights"

"our Race spirit has once again roused itself,' thus giving Hindus the right of excommunicating Muslims"

"'Germany has also shown how well-nigh impossible it is for Races and cultures, having differences going to the root, to be assimilated into one united whole, a good lesson for us in Hindustan to learn and profit by".

WHICH MAN OF AGE 33 WAS BETTER? ONE MAN LOVED LIBERTY, THE OTHER HATED IT. One man who was non-violent and wished to educate India, the other who was violent and wanted to kill a large chunk of Indians? 

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Indians wanted the English language in India, well before Macaulay

Macaulay's liberal contributions seem to have been entirely forgotten in India while his advocacy of the English language is decried by many Indians even today. But who really wanted English as the language of higher education in India? Was Macaulay the first one to suggest this? The facts are otherwise:

a) A number of Hindu donors including Jai Narayana, Raja Badrinath Rai and anynomyous donors funded colleges for English education WELL BEFORE Macaulay even reached India or considered this matter. That this achieved immediate good results is evident from the fact that one of the Vidyalayas' "student body bought up a sizable shipment of Thomas Paine's Rights of Man and Age of Reason." What better than educating Indians in English so they could directly understand the dramatic and far-reaching conceptions about liberty?

b) "Ram Mohun Roy did much more to promote English-language instruction in India. In 1823, he sent a long memorial to Lord Amherst attacking the policy of the General Committee of Public Instruction. Under the leadership of H. H. Wilson, that committee had founded a Sanskrit College in Calcutta in I823. Roy called for the establishment of a college devoted to European learning instead of a Sanskrit college. He questioned the usefulness of Sanskrit studies. He argued that the lakh of rupees devoted to education of Indians which Parliament had written into the East India Company's charter in 1813 should be laid out in employing European gentlemen of talents and education to instruct the natives of India in mathematics, natural philosophy, chemistry, anatomy, and other useful sciences that have raised them above the inhabitants of the rest of the world.
"Ram Mohun Roy appeared in 1831 before a parliamentary committee in England studying the renewal of the company's charter. While giving testimony on the question of free European emigration to India, Roy expressed the opinion that English emigration should be unrestricted since English settlers in India "from motives of benevolence, public spirit, and fellow feeling toward their native neighbours, would establish schools and other seminaries of education for the cultivation of the English language throughout the country, and for the diffusion of a knowledge of European arts and sciences."" (Elmer H. Cutts, "The Background of Macaulay's Minute", The American Historical Review, Vol. 58, No. 4 Jul., 1953, p. 828).
[I am reminded of the Japanese emperor in the Meiji revolution who brought Americans into Japan to teach the latest science and literature to the Japanese, so that they could modernise rapidly. The same sentiment is being expressed by Raja Ram Mohun Roy. Eminently sensible.
c) William Bentick who formally introduced this policy in India, needed no prompting from Macaulay.  "Regardless of the advice of experienced company servants, he flouted Hindu prejudice and abolished sati (suttee), and made English instead of Persian the official language of the government of Bengal. As an economy measure he hired more Indians at low salaries and less Englishmen at high salaries to operate the Indian civil service.23 These two policies combined made English-language instruction virtually mandatory in government-supported institutions of higher learning. More Indians must know English. Otherwise, either Bentinck's economy measures or his English-language policy must fail. Bentinck's very administrative policies obviously predisposed him to accept Macaulay's argument."
I want to close the discussion of the Macaulay minute by noting that there is nothing exceptionable about the minute. It was something that many of the early educated Indians wanted, it was convenient and cheaper for the British to use English as a language of instruction instead of trying to translate all their books into local languages, and it allowed, over the course of the next 150 years, many Indians to appreciate the development of liberty in England and elsewhere, and to understand advances in science.
As R.C. Majumdar (et al,1978, p.813) notes: "although confined to a few, English education produced memorable results. It not only qualified Indians for taking their share in the administration of their country, but it also inspired them with those liberal ideas which were sweeping over England."
This understanding of  the advances in political philosophy and science ultimately gave us our 1950 liberal constitution which has so far held India together, and enabled us to become a (relatively speaking) powerhouse in science and technology. I am convinced that without the disciplined governance and common language (English) introduced in India by the British, India would have been a splintered sub-continent with over 100 "nations", today, something like AfricaNothing from India's history suggests otherwise.
In thus taking India from an anarchy in the early 18th century to a strong world power of the 21st century, I can't find too much fault with the events of history, more so with the language policy of Bentick (or the minute that Macaulay wrote). Sure, had India had its own revolutions for freedom, things would have been different, but India was Old World, despotic, truly backward in thinking. The waves of freedom that landed on India's shores came in through books and education, not through British rule (although with many British liberals actively involved in India's affairs, surely the tenor of their efforts might have also led to an increased demand for liberty in India). The internet is now pushing these waves further into India. That is what ultimately matters, not who rules. When people learn that they rule themselves, no one but they can rule. That was Macaulay's vision for India, and I think while no single person can ever be responsible for such major achievements, his vision has been largely actualised.
India is moving steadily towards freedom. It has achieved the preliminary step of independence, and the clamour for freedom now arises. 
I invite your opinions if you disagree with my assessment of Macaulay's English language advocacy for India (which was NOT, to repeat once more, the sole reason why Bentick introduced English education more formally in India). I think we ought to stop all the ill-founded calumny of Macaulay and evaluate him objectively. He shines resplendently over the centuries, a well-wisher of India, a visionary hoping to bring us freedom and the capability to govern ourselves effectively. The fact that we have never understood his advocacy of freedom shows our biases, not weakness in his efforts. 
I've now uploaded the scanned extract from the original minute (published in 1876 by Macaulay's nephew), here (2.2MB). The full book from which this extract is taken is available here (57MB).
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