Front Page Titles (by Subject) CHAP. XVI.: A FREE AND LEGISLATIVE PEOPLE. - The Ruins: or a Survery of the Revolutions of Empires
The Online Library of Liberty
A project of Liberty Fund, Inc.
CHAP. XVI.: A FREE AND LEGISLATIVE PEOPLE. - Constantin-François Chasseboeuf, marquis de Volney, The Ruins: or a Survery of the Revolutions of Empires 
The Ruins: or a Survery of the Revolutions of Empires, 3rd ed. (London: J. Johnson, 1796).
About Liberty Fund:
Liberty Fund, Inc. is a private, educational foundation established to encourage the study of the ideal of a society of free and responsible individuals.
The text is in the public domain.
Fair use statement:
This material is put online to further the educational goals of Liberty Fund, Inc. Unless otherwise stated in the Copyright Information section above, this material may be used freely for educational and academic purposes. It may not be used in any way for profit.
A FREE AND LEGISLATIVE PEOPLE.
I now reflected with myself that public power was at a stand, that the habitual government of this people was annihilated, and I shuddered at the idea of their falling into the dissolution of anarchy. But taking their affairs immediately into their consideration, they quickly dispelled my apprehensions.
“It is not enough, said they, that we have freed ourselves from parasites and tyrants, we must prevent for ever the revival of their power. We are human beings, and we know, by dear-bought experience, that every human being incessantly grasps at authority, and wishes to enjoy it at the expence of others. It is therefore necessary to guard ourselves beforehand against this unfortunate propensity, the prolific parent of discord; it is necessary to establish rules by which our rights are to be determined and our conduct governed. But in this investigation abstruse and difficult questions are involved, which demand all the attention and faculties of the wisest men. Occupied in our respective callings, we have neither leisure for these studies, nor are we competent of ourselves to the exercise of such functions. Let us select from our body certain individuals, to whom the employment will be proper. To them let our common powers be delegated, to frame for us a system of government and laws: let us constitute them the representatives of our interests and our wills; and that this representation may be as accurate as possible, and have comprehended in it the whole diversity of our wills and interests, let the individuals that comprize it be numerous, and citizens like ourselves.”
The selection being made, the people thus addressed their delegates: “We have hitherto lived in a society formed by chance, without fixed clauses, without free conventions, without stipulation of rights, without reciprocal engagements; and a multitude of disorders and evils have been the result of this confused state of things. We would now, with mature deliberation, frame a regular compact; and we have made choice of you to draw up the articles of it. Examine then with care what ought to be its basis and principles. Investigate the object and tendency of every association; observe what are the rights which every individual brings into it, the powers he cedes for the public good, and the powers which he reserves entire to himself. Communicate to us equitable laws and rules of conduct. Prepare for us a new system of government, for we feel that the principles, which to this day have guided us, are corrupt. Our fathers have wandered in the paths of ignorance, and we from habit have trod in their steps. Every thing is conducted by violence, fraud, or delusion; and the laws of morality and reason are still buried in obscurity. Do you unfold the chaos; discover the time, order, and connexion of things; publish your code of laws and rights; and we will conform to it.”
And this people raised an immense throne in the form of a pyramid, and seating upon it the men they had chosen, said to them: “We raise you this day above us, that you may take a more comprehensive view of our relations, and be exalted above the atmosphere of our passions.
“But remember that you are citizens like ourselves; that the power which we confer upon you belongs to us; that we give it as a trust for which you are responsible, not as exclusive property, or hereditary right; that the laws which you make, you will be the first to submit to; that tomorrow you will descend from your stations, and rank again with us; that you will have acquired no distinguishing right, but the right to our gratitude and esteem. And oh! with what glory will the universe, that reveres so many apostles of error, honour the first assembly of enlightened and reasonable men, who shall have declared the immutable principles of justice to mankind, and consecrated in the very face of tyrants the rights of nations!”