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De Lolme’s Life and Early Writings - Jean Louis De Lolme, The Constitution of England; Or, an Account of the English Government 
The Constitution of England; Or, an Account of the English Government, edited and with an Introduction by David Lieberman (Indianapolis: Liberty Fund, 2007).
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De Lolme’s Life and Early Writings
De Lolme was born in Geneva in 1741. The title page of the 1784 edition of The Constitution of England distinguished him as a “Member of the Council of the Two Hundred in the Republic of Geneva.” Service on this political body placed De Lolme within the ranks of Geneva’s most prominent families. By reputation a brilliant student, he followed family tradition and was trained in the law, beginning his professional career in the 1760s, first as a notary and later as an advocate. His customary classical education and more specialized legal learning were plainly of value to his future writing on government and constitutional liberty. But most fateful was the political training De Lolme acquired in his native city in these early years. “As a native of a free Country, I am no stranger to those circumstances which constitute or characterise liberty,” he explained to his English readers. The “Republic of which I am a member” was the setting “in which I formed my principles.”4
In its outward political forms, eighteenth-century Geneva was a republic of self-governing citizens. For the contemporary enthusiasts of republican liberty, Geneva and its independence offered a welcome exception to a European state system dominated by large and potent monarchies. In practice, however, Geneva’s government had long been an oligarchy of elite families. Political authority operated through a series of citizen councils. Although sovereignty was formally held by a General Council of all citizens, political rule was effectively exercised by two “small councils”—the Council of the Twenty-Five and the Council of the Two Hundred—under the control of the wealthiest and most powerful families. It was these smaller bodies that in practice determined Geneva’s legal and fiscal policies and selected the leading officeholders.
Throughout the eighteenth century, Geneva’s rulers faced organized challenges from excluded groups and, in moments of gravest political crisis, depended upon foreign support, particularly from the French monarchy, to sustain their power. Significant episodes of protest occurred in 1707, 1718, 1734–38, 1763–68, 1770, 1781–82, and 1789. These typically centered on a program of republican revival that called for the restoration of the sovereignty of the General Council, an enlargement of the number of citizens entitled to serve on the small councils, and a more equitable legal and fiscal treatment of the great number of propertied residents who lacked the benefits of full citizenship. In the period just before De Lolme’s birth, these conflicts had led Geneva’s government to summon military support from France and the cantons of Berne and Zurich to help “mediate” the political crisis between ruling elite and popular ascendancy. The resulting 1738 Act of Mediation stabilized oligarchic control, notwithstanding a number of political concessions to the authority of the General Council. As De Lolme later explained in The Constitution of England, the reforms proved largely cosmetic. By limiting the General Council’s legislative role to the formal approval of measures initiated only by the Council of the Twenty-Five, the governing elites easily subverted popular constraints on its rulership. “The Citizens had thus been successively stripped of all their political rights,” he observed, “and had little more left to them than the pleasure of being called a Sovereign Assembly.”5
By the time of De Lolme’s early adulthood, Geneva weathered even more serious political instability in the years 1763–68, when the forces of reform, the “Représentants” (or Party of Remonstrance), again challenged patrician rulership, now organized politically as a party of conservative “Négatifs.” Geneva’s most famous native son, Jean-Jacques Rousseau, whose writings had been condemned by the Council of the Twenty-Five in 1762, entered the controversy with a scathing critique of Geneva’s ruling oligarchy published in 1764 as Lettres de la montagne (Letters from the mountain). On this occasion, the popular cause proved successful in forcing substantive concessions from the Council of the Twenty-Five, which in 1768 granted the General Council additional powers to control the other governing bodies. “The Citizens,” De Lolme enthusiastically recorded, through “an uncommon spirit of union and perseverance . . . succeeded in a great measure to repair the injuries which they had been made to do to themselves.”6
Here De Lolme wrote not in his usual capacity as an observer and theorist of government, but as an engaged political participant. He embraced the Représentants’ call for reform and republican renewal in several anonymous polemics that contributed to the vibrant public debate that Geneva’s rulers found impossible to contain. The most important of these publications was the 1767 La purification des trois points de droit souillés par un anonyme (The purification of three soiled points of law by an anonymous author). The unrestrained tone of this attack on the constitutional authority of the ruling Négatifs produced a prompt rebuke from the Genevan government, accompanied by the recommendation that its author quit his native city. Soon after, the banished citizen of Geneva arrived in the foreign land where he was to spend the bulk of his remaining years and whose constitution served as his most important subject matter.
[4. ]See below, Constitution of England, introduction, p. 20.
[5. ]See below, book 2, chapter 5, pp. 174–75, note a.