Thursday, May 16, 2013


[* A lecture delivered recently at the Ananda College, Colombo, by Mr. P. Ramanathan, K.C., C.M.G., under the presidency of Sir Joseph Hutchinson, Chief Justice of the Ceylon Supreme Court, and specially communicated to us for publication. – Ed. L.T.]

    The subject of citizenship has been chosen by the members of the Literary Association, at whose instance the large gathering of all classes of people has met here together today. It is very creditable to their good sense and patriotism. They seem to appreciate the boon conferred upon them and their brethren by the King, and too long to know the responsibilities of their position. The boon conferred is the priceless gift of a share of the sovereign power, which as a whole is divisible into legislative, judicial, administrative and military powers. Great writers in ancient Greece and Rome, to whom modern Europe is so much beholden in politics and other departments of knowledge, have given us their views on the subject of citizenship, called in Greek politcia and in Latin civitas.

    Citizenship, according to Aristotle, consists in being a partner in the exercise of sovereign power, in the choice of high officers of State, in deciding cases on facts, and in the making of laws. Among the ancient Romans jus civitatis included, firstly jus publicum, civitatis in its two-fold aspects of jus suffragium and jus honoris, and secondly jus privatum
civitatis in its two-fold aspect of jus connubii and jus commercii.

    Today it is unnecessary to deal with the private side of citizenship, relating as it does to the right to marry and the right to carry on trade according to the laws of one's country. We should concern ourselves today with the higher form of citizenship, the public side of it, known as jus publicum civitatis, denoted by the famous expression suffragium et honores. Suffragium is the fragment of political power known as the right to vote as to the choice of high officers of State, and the right to absolve or condemn a person in a proceeding before courts of law as a judex or judger of facts; and honore, was that fragment of political power which a citizen enjoyed by virtue of his election, as a high officer of State. The manner of voting was by the tabella or voting tablet, which its voter had to mark with a punctum opposite the candidate's name.

    It will now be seen that according to the ancient Roman view citizenship, in its higher sense, is resolvable into the state of the elector and the state in the Government of the country means a power to choose a person for a high office, to decide cases on facts, and to sit as the people's representative in the National Council. These ancient ideas of citizenship still continue to govern us.

    The English people have not entertained other ideas of citizenship. Among them the work of having a share in the judicial administration of the country as judges of fact was cast out their shoulders centuries ago. That work was known as the work of grand juries and petty juries. The grand jury consisted of twenty-three good and true men, summoned to hear accusations brought against alleged offenders and to ascertain whether a prima facie case had been made out against them or not. If so made, they had the right by a majority of at least twelve, to forward the case to the high court for trial and determination. At the trial of both criminal and civil cases, the petty jury were put into requisition. It was their duty to decide upon all questions of fact and their judgment was final. Though the English had been partners with the king in the judicial administration of the country for many centuries as judges of fact, yet in regard to the Parliamentary Government they were not taken into partnership till 1832, just seventy-eight years ago. It was in that year that the first Reform Act was passed. Before 1832 Parliamentary representation was in a deplorable state. The countries and the great commercial towns alone could exercise freely the right of suffrage. Even then, the enormous expenses of contesting such constituencies left their representation in the hands of a few great local families. Pitt could not obtain a seat in Parliament except by purchasing a borough at the hands of the great borough-jobber, Lord Clive. Canning got into Parliament because he was a protégé of the Duke of Portland. Burke secured a seat through the help of Lord Rockingham, whose private secretary he was. Boroughs or chartered towns which had the right to send representatives to Parliament, were, many of them, "rotten" boroughs or "pocket" boroughs. Pocket or close boroughs were towns or villages, the representation of which was practically in the hands of some individual or family. Rotten boroughs were those towns or villages which had fallen into decay and had a mere handful of voters, but which still retained the privilege of sending members to Parliament. At the head of this list of rotten boroughs stood old arum, an abandoned town, the proprietors of which returned two representatives of their choice, though it did not contain a single inhabitant. These rotten and pocket boroughs were sold in the open market for varying sums from £4,000 downwards; and if a person of ability and ambition, standing outside the pale of certain noble and wealthy families, desired to enter Parliament, he had to buy one of these boroughs or seek the patronage of a borough owner. As early as 1766 Lord Chatham denounced the borough representation as the "rotten part of our constitution". He said: "This house is not the representation of the people of Great Britain. It is the representative of nominal boroughs and of ruined and exterminated towns; of noble families, wealthy individuals and foreign potentates."

    The Reform Act of 1832 swept away the nomination of rotten boroughs, and released 143 seats for distribution among the towns and countries requiring additional representation; created 43 new boroughs; increased country members from 95 to 159; established a £10 house-holder's qualification in boroughs; and extended the country franchise to lease-holders and to tenants-at-will paying a rent of £50 a year. Another Reform Act followed in 1867. There appears to be now in England and Wales, Scotland and Ireland 117 countries returning 283 members; 255 cities and boroughs, returning 360 members; and eight Universities returning nine members; making in all 380 electorates, 652 members, and nearly 3,000,000 electors on the register.

    It has been pointed out by writers on constitutional law that the most important function of the elected members who formed the House of Commons was to appoint the Government for the time being, that is, some forty or fifty high officers of state, to carry on the executive administration of the country. Mr. Bagebot says, "Chosen in name to make laws and vote suppliers, the House of Commons finds its principal business in making and in keeping an executive." The leading statesmen of the political party which has a majority in the House has a claim on their party to become members of the Cabinet and heads of departments. These are the honors and emoluments which draw some of the most hard-working, ablest and most brilliant men in England to undertake the burdensome duties of Parliamentary life. Without such honors and emoluments public citizenship will prove to be an unmitigated burden. Do you think that Parliamentary life in England will be so successful as it is now, if a person having the confidence of a majority of the House of Commons, has not the chance of becoming Prime Minister, or if other good and true men have not the chance of filling the other chairs in the Cabinet and the many other seats reserved for the heads of the departments outside the Cabinet? In Ceylon the elective principle has now been introduced to a limited extent. I hope the nominated seats mentioned in the ordinance now before the Legislative Council would, in the course of a few years, be all converted into elected seats. I hope still further that His Majesty the King would in a few more years grant to the elected Council the right to appoint at least a few of the Ceylonese to the high financial and legal offices which are now held by appointments made by the Secretary of State.

    The strength of citizenship consists in taking an abiding interest in the welfare of the public and in forming for ourselves, and helping to form in others, correct ideas on the public questions of the day. The organization of sound public opinion, that is, opinion on the public affairs of the country, is of vital necessity for citizenship. Each country must have its own methods of organizing public thought and public action, according to its needs and circumstances. It would be well for the citizens of Ceylon to know the different parts of the machinery which exists in England for the organization of sound public opinion. I would mention, first, the immense influence brought to bear upon Englishmen by the principals and professors of College. They are continually molding right thought in England, and President Hadley of Yale University in Connecticut observes, in a recent address, that millionaires and others will not be making their immense gifts to colleges and universities every now and then except for the fact that the universities and colleges of the United States of America are admitted on all hands to prepare students for the performance of the duties of citizens in as efficient a manner as possible. If a man is to have a share in the administration of a country, he shall be equipped for his work at the expense of the State, and therefore free education up to about the 18th year is the rule in America. The Government of Ceylon must now be prepared to spend much more than they are now spending upon higher education. When the King has graciously granted to the Ceylonese a share in the administration of the country, it will be foolishness in the highest degree to curtail the system of higher education now prevalent in the country. It is a matter deeply to be regretted that the Royal College is going to a converted into an industrial school, and that high literary training, so necessary to culture, is going to be circumscribed, if not suppressed. Carpentry is good in its own way, but it will not give to the country trained citizens. The policy of denying to the people the highest education which the country can afford is fraught with the gravest danger to the attainment of high aims and holy living. If we are not to have such an education, we shall soon lose the opportunities we have now, few as they are, of entering the Civil Services, or even the Bar, or Medical Service, with the result that we shall soon become a nation of artisans and mechanics only. Then will the country be flooded with office-seekers from aboard. Really and truly we ought to maintain our proper position in the country and live the life worthy of able citizens. The principals and professors of colleges in England are not the only forces engaged in organizing sound public opinion. There are distinguished public lecturers in all parts of England, working conjointly with numberless editors of, and writers of articles in, high-class magazines and newspapers. It is a pleasure to read the articles in these high-toned journals. They write freely, without any sign of fear or favor. In Ceylon, even editors are afraid to speak out what in their heart of hearts they believe to be right. The atmosphere in this country is so tainted that sound though and right action do not seem to find a congenial growth in it. Men in high places are so overbearing, when opposed even slightly, in the carrying out of what appears to them to be right, and are so unforgiving, that men who are able to lead the community wisely and well, are hushed into silence. Men of higher character and ability should never be irritated by criticism. They ought to be thankful for it, and weigh carefully everything that has been said against their own proposals. Unless we have an abundance of officials and unofficial of this frame of mind in high places, it will be impossible to develop easily the habit of right thought and right action in our midst. England is full of such noble characters, especially in the class of statesmen and lawyers who are on the look-out for wrong thought and for signs of tyranny and oppression, so as to save public opinion from being tampered with or gagged in any way. Broad-minded lawyers give tone and direction to public affairs in Parliament and in Municipal Councils, and are sought by the people as their natural advisors in all their difficulties, throughout the length and breadth of England. No one there dares to speak of them with disrespect, much less as a pest of the country. It would seem that in Ceylon they are to be likened unto the pestiferous snails* of Kalutara. [* Some of these are handsome rose labiate percolates and do immense credit to Ceylon as a fond habitat of land snails. - Ed. L.T.] Those of a learned, liberal and honorable profession must be greatly depressed to hear themselves compared to the slimy, destructive creatures which everybody longs to crush under his feet. The truth is that in Ceylon many a Chief Justice and other Judges of the Supreme Court have borne testimony publicly in court to the fact that without the aid of the Bar they cannot administer justice satisfactorily. The members of the Bar are the colleagues of Judges in the administration of justice, and the natural advisors of the country in all matters of law and legislation. They are devoted to the safety and well-being of the public, and how galling it is for these men to be spoken of so lightly. If a joke is needed to divert attention from the prevailing heat of the day, it need not be cracked at the expense of men who are doing their very best to serve the public under the direct supervision of the Judges of the Supreme Court.

    The rank and fashion of England called "Society", is another body of people who are devoted to the organization of sound public opinion. In the drawing rooms of the great mansions of these distinguished people, noted for their hospitality, all classes of leading men and women are drawn together in social intercourse for the purpose of enlightening each other and when the season in towns closes, there is an adjournment of the rank and fashion to the "country houses," where the same kind of liberal hospitality is kept up for the edification and amusement of different classes of citizens during what is called the hunting or shooting season. Last of all may be mentioned the great institutions known as clubs, which in London and other great cities resemble huge palaces. Some of them have as many as 5,000 or 6,000 members. It is an education in itself to enter one of these great clubs and to see the manifold activities engaging the attention of the members in its numerous halls and rooms and nooks. Incessant interchange of ideas on the topics of the day will be going on from hour to hour amongst the members coming in and going out, with their private friends. By this means error is eliminated and sound opinion formed and strengthened. Then follows action – effective action at the right moment, in the right direction. This is effected by committees of the club, or by caucuses. The term "caucus" was introduced from America, first into Birmingham, and was readily taken up by the other cities as a most useful contrivance for directing, and controlling, the affairs of citizens. A caucus is an association of rate-players or voters for the management of all the electioneering business of a party. It nominates candidates, overlooks the conduct of its members, gives them the right information at the right time, shows them what to do, and in fact it does everything that is necessary to be done to gain the good end it has in view. Such are the methods of conducting Parliamentary affairs in England.

    In Ceylon, the suffrage of absolving or condemning alleged offenders, called trial by jury, was introduced by the Ordinance No. 19 of 1844. It is the duty of the King to sit and hear the disputes between his subjects, and settle them as quickly as possible. As he cannot be here, there and everywhere, he has to depute his sovereign power in this respect to judges and jurymen. There is no grand jury in Ceylon. The functions of the grand jury have been vested by the King in the hands of the Attorney-General and Solicitor-General of Ceylon. But all questions of fact which have to be decided in the criminal cases committed for trial before the Supreme Court are decided by the special and common jurors, who shall have certain proprietary and educational qualifications. The right to sit as members of the Municipal Councils, and the right to vote for the election of such members, is conferred by the Ordinance No, 17 of 1865, and rests on a combination of household, income and educational qualifications. The bill now before the Legislative Council extends the suffrage to the choice of certain members of the Legislative Council. Neither the electors nor the elected have any voice whatever in the choice of the executive officers of the Government. Until this power of choosing some at least of the administrative officers is granted, work on the part of the elected members will be without the chief incentive for best work.

    There is hardly time left now for speaking about the responsibilities of the electors and the elected. Nevertheless, a few observations must be made. It is absolutely necessary to take as wide a view as possible of citizenship and its duties, if the boon conferred is to bear the good fruit it should. Citizenship must be looked upon as one of the most important instruments of culture offered to man by the Lord of all Mercies, for the uplifting of the spirit from the corruptions of selfishness and wickedness. How many such instruments are being desecrated in the world owing to an imperfect appreciation of their real value! Of the instruments of culture called the home, the school, matrimony, father-hood, mother-hood, profession, etc. I will have time to say only a few words about the home, to point the moral regarding citizenship. The home is obviously the scene of labor for the conversion of selfish love into neighborly love, and for developing reverence for man. The young members of most families are never taught this truth. They are therefore a prey to their respective likes and dislikes. Instead of learning to make sacrifices for each other and to regard each other with reverence, they become more and more selfish, lose esteem for each other, and being estranged at home, love to make friends abroad, out of doors, with persons who flattered them and agreed with them to gain their own ends. Owing to this condition of things at home, and to the difficulty of finding servants to help in domestic drudgery, it is getting to be the custom in the great cities of Western lands to break up the home and take apartments in hotels. This disruption of homes in the West is due to the erroneous idea that it is not worth the trouble of maintaining them. Had parents known that the home was the best training-ground for young souls in regard to habits of neighborly love, self-sacrifice and esteem for the virtue of each other, parents would not readily fly to the hotel for peace, If citizenship be regarded as an instrument of culture for broadening out the little neighborly love found in man's heart to the widest philanthropy, with its attendant peace and nobility of character, it will not be misused or prostituted for selfish purposes. According as the mind of the citizen serves his own aggrandizement or the welfare of the public, citizenship will be to him a curse or a blessing. If it proves a blessing to him in regard to the creation and growth of public spirit, it will be a blessing also to the community to which he belongs. There were men in Ceylon who were remarkable for their public spirit, whose lives are worth reading and meditating upon, like the late Lorenz, James de Alwis and Sir Kumarasvami. They were most pains-taking men in and out of the Legislative Council, devoted to the welfare of the public, staunch and independent, real leaders, who were not afraid to speak, who did not back-slide, and who maintained a high standard of work to the very last. Their example is worth copying.

    I have lots more to say as to the concrete duties of electors and of elected members, weaving into this part of the subject my own experience of the great men whom I had the honor to work with, but I must now close, and it remains for me only to thank you all, for the attentive manner in which you have all listened to me. I have also to thank the Chief Justice for taking the chair, and showing in many other ways his great sympathy with the efforts of the people to uplift themselves, and live a life worthy of good and true citizens.

P. R.


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