Ward's Book of Days.

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What happened on this day in history.

MAY 8th  

On this day in history in 1873, died John Stuart Mill.  

Mill was a philosopher who dictated Nineteenth Century liberal thinking and created modern concepts of political philosophy.    

Mill was the son of philosopher James Mill and the godson of Jeremy Bentham who brought up the young Mill with the explicit aim of creating a genius who would implement the cause of Utilitarianism. In his Autobiography, Mill describes the extraordinary education given to him by his father and Bentham. Mill started to learn Greek at three and at eight years old, he could read Plato and other philosophical works in the original. He read various works on history and had even mastered the basics of arithmetic. At the age of ten, he was familiar with the works of Adam Smith and David Ricardo and wrote papers with his own views on the factors of production. At the age of twenty-one, Mill suffered a mental breakdown.  

Mill ascribes his illness to the gruelling study programme which left no room for spirituality. He took to reading the works of Wordsworth and the ‘cloud gradually drew off’.  

Mill worked for a brief period at The British East India Company and later entered Parliament. He was the first ever parliamentarian to call for women to be given the vote. He called for proportional representation, single transferable votes and extension of the franchise to the working class. Mill married Harriet Taylor after a twenty-year courtship. Harriet reinforced his advocacy of women’s rights prompting him to write On The Subjection Of Women, an early feminist tract. Mill’s great work was On Liberty, in which he lays down the important principals of political philosophy. He stated that people should be able to engage in any activity they wished as long as they did no harm. He stated that the purpose of government is to remove barriers to freedom. He argued that free speech was vital to ensure political progress and that false opinions should not be suppressed as they would wither naturally in a climate of free expression. Mills argued that without free speech, beliefs would become dead and we would forget why we held them. 

Harriet died in 1858, whilst on holiday in France and was buried in Avignon. Mill was distraught. He then spent half of each year in France so that he could be near her grave. Mill died in 1873 in Avignon and is buried next to Harriet.

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