Mr. Sanford to Mr. Seward.
Sir: M. Frère urban, the minister of finance, in a speech upon electoral reform, the day before yesterday, in the house of representatives, made such incorrect statements and mistaken conclusions, based upon newspaper correspondence, and Messrs. de Tocqueville’s and Macaulay’s theories respecting the condition and results of extended electoral rights in the United States, that I felt impelled not to accept his assumptions by silence, and, accordingly, wrote him a letter in reply, which I have the honor to enclose herewith, together with his speech as reported in the Moniteur.
It is curious to observe how the leaders of the “liberal’ party here, which, after the revolution that separated Belgium from Holland, sought to model their constitution upon ours, appear now to fear the influence of our system here. I had occasion to notice, in discussions in the house during the rebellion, the eager haste with which the supposed failure of self-government was accepted and commented on by some of them. Self preservation may have, as well as [Page 628] patriotism, its show in this feeling; for any considerable extension of the electoral franchise would, especially if greater facilities for voting were given those living outside of the large towns, he likely to cost the party its hold on power. The number of electors for the Belgian chambers is 107,000, which is in much less ratio to the population than in England, (1 in 46 in the former, 1 in 20, I believe, in the latter.) The proprietorship of the principal railroads and canals, the telegraph, &c, by the State, gives to the government an unusual amount of patronage, and there are about 32,000 functionaries and employés, not counting soldiers, dependent upon it, or equal to near one-third the number of electors.
The influence upon the elections, which can be exerted in this channel by those in power, it can readily be imagined would be less potent in proportion as the number was increased. Still this tendency is very decidedly to an enlarged basis for the electoral franchise.
The discussions in the house which relate to the extension of suffrage in the communal and provincial elections show that there are considerable men of both parties who are disposed to join in this universal movement for reform which is destined to give to the people of most European States a larger place in their governments.
I have the honor to be, with great respect, your most obedient servant,
Hon. William H. Seward, Secretary of State, Washington, D. C.
P, S.—On the point of mailing my despatch, I received the reply of M. Frêre-Orban to my letter, which I have barely time to send you in translation, and which I annex hereto. The speech of the minister, enclosed, will show how far its tendency was to “mislead public opinion,” and to what extent he assumed and applied as truth the newspaper statements and theories referred to.
It is satisfactory to receive his disclaimer. I add my reply.
H. S. S.