- De Lolme’s Life and Early Writings
- The Constitution of England
- Later Writings
- Editions of the Constitution of England
- A Note On the Text
- The Constitution of England
- To the King.
- Book I
- Chapter I: Causes of the Liberty of the English Nation.—reasons of the Difference Between the Government of England, and That of France.—in England, the Great Power of the Crown, Under the Norman Kings, Created an Union Between the Nobility and the People
- Chapter II: A Second Advantage England Had Over France:—it Formed One Undivided State.
- Chapter III: The Subject Continued.
- Chapter IV: Of the Legislative Power.
- Chapter V: Of the Executive Power.
- Chapter VI: The Boundaries Which the Constitution Has Set to the Royal Prerogative.
- Chapter VII: The Same Subject Continued.
- Chapter VIII: New Restrictions.
- Chapter IX: Of Private Liberty, Or the Liberty of Individuals.
- Chapter X 1: On the Law In Regard to Civil Matters, That Is Observed In England.
- Chapter Xi 1: The Subject Continued. the Courts of Equity.
- Chapter XII: Of Criminal Justice.
- Chapter XIII: The Subject Continued.
- Chapter XIV: The Subject Concluded.—laws Relative to Imprisonment.
- Book Ii
- Chapter I: Some Advantages Peculiar to the English Constitution. 1. The Unity of the Executive Power.
- Chapter II: The Subject Concluded.—the Executive Power Is More Easily Confined When It Is One.
- Chapter III: A Second Peculiarity.—the Division of the Legislative Power.
- Chapter IV: A Third Advantage Peculiar to the English Government. the Business of Proposing Laws, Lodged In the Hands of the People.
- Chapter V: In Which an Inquiry Is Made, Whether It Would Be an Advantage to Public Liberty, That the Laws Should Be Enacted By the Votes of the People At Large.
- Chapter VI: Advantages That Accrue to the People From Appointing Representatives.
- Chapter VII: The Subject Continued—the Advantages That Accrue to the People From Their Appointing Representatives, Are Very Inconsiderable, Unless They Also Entirely Trust Their Legislative Authority to Them.
- Chapter VIII: The Subject Concluded.—effects That Have Resulted, In the English Government, From the People’s Power Being Completely Delegated to Their Representatives.
- Chapter IX: A Farther Disadvantage of Republican Governments.—the People Are Necessarily Betrayed By Those In Whom They Trust.
- Chapter X: Fundamental Difference Between the English Government, and the Governments Just Described.—in England All Executive Authority Is Placed Out of the Hands of Those In Whom the People Trust. Usefulness of the Power of the Crown.
- Chapter XI: The Powers Which the People Themselves Exercise.—the Election of Members of Parliament.
- Chapter XII: The Subject Continued.—liberty of the Press.
- Chapter XIII: The Subject Continued.
- Chapter XIV: Right of Resistance.
- Chapter Xv 1: Proofs Drawn From Facts, of the Truth of the Principles Laid Down In the Present Work.—1. the Peculiar Manner In Which Revolutions Have Always Been Concluded In England.
- Chapter Xvi 1: Second Difference—the Manner After Which the Laws For the Liberty of the Subject Are Executed In England.
- Chapter Xvii 1: A More Inward View of the English Government Than Has Hitherto Been Offered to the Reader In the Course of This Work.—very Essential Differences Between the English Monarchy, As a Monarchy, and All Those With Which We Are Acquainted.
- Chapter XVIII: How Far the Examples of Nations Who Have Lost Their Liberty, Are Applicable to England.
- Chapter Xix 1: A Few Additional Thoughts On the Attempts That At Particular Times May Be Made to Abridge the Power of the Crown, and On Some of the Dangers By Which Such Attempts May Be Attended.
- Chapter Xx 1: A Few Additional Observations On the Right of Taxation Which Is Lodged In the Hands of the Representatives of the People. What Kind of Danger This Right May Be Exposed To.
- Chapter XXI: Conclusion.—a Few Words On the Nature of the Divisions That Take Place In England.
- Guide to Further Reading
- De Lolme’s Principal Publications
- Works Cited By De Lolme
- Classical Sources
- Modern Sources
TO THE KING.
The approbation with which the Public have been pleased to favour this Work, together with the nature of the subject, embolden me to lay the present fourth and enlarged Edition of the same at your Majesty’s feet, both as an homage, and an expression of the desire I entertain, the Book may for a few minutes engage the attention of a person of your deep and extensive knowledge.
Your Majesty’s reign has, for many years past, afforded proofs in more respects than one, that, though human wisdom may not always be able to anticipate difficulties, yet, assisted by fortitude, it can succeed in terminating them in a more favourable manner than it seemed at first possible to be expected, or even in bringing them to an happy issue. According to the common course of Nature, your Majesty has only yet seen the less considerable part of the years of which your reign is to be composed: that the part which now opens before your Majesty, may be attended with a degree of satisfaction proportionate to your Majesty’s public and private virtues, to your disinterested government, and religious regard for your royal engagements, is the fond hope of
Most humble and
Most devoted Servant,
And these many Years
Subject by Choice,
J. L. DE LOLME.
The Book on the English Constitution, of which a new Edition is here offered to the Public, was first written in French, and published in Holland. Several persons have asked me the question, how I came to think of treating such a subject? One of the first things in this Country, that engages the attention of a Stranger who is in the habit of observing the objects before him, is the peculiarity of its Government: I had moreover been lately a witness of the broils which had for some time prevailed in the Republic in which I was born, and of the revolution by which they were terminated. Scenes of that kind, in a State which, though small, is independent, and contains within itself the principles of its motions, had naturally given me some competent insight into the first real principles of Governments: owing to this circumstance, and perhaps also to some moderate share of natural abilities, I was enabled to perform the task I had undertaken, with tolerable success. I was twenty-seven years old when I first came to this Country: after having been in it only a year, I began to write my work, which I published about nine months afterwards: and I have since been surprised to find that I had committed so few errors of a certain kind: I certainly was fortunate in avoiding to enter deeply into those articles with which I was not sufficiently acquainted.
The Book met with rather a favourable reception on the Continent; several successive Editions having been made of it. And it also met here with approbation, even from Men of opposite parties; which, in this Country, was no small luck for a Book on systematical politics. Allowing that there was some connection and clearness, as well as novelty, in the arguments, I think the work was of some peculiar utility, if the epoch at which it was published, is considered; which was, though without any design from me, at the time when the disputes with the Colonies were beginning to take a serious turn, both here and in America. A work which contained a specious, if not thoroughly true, confutation of those political notions by the help of which a disunion of the Empire was endeavoured to be promoted (which confutation was moreover noticed by Men in the highest places) should have procured to the Author some sort of real encouragement; at least the publication of it should not have drawn him into any inconvenient situation. When my enlarged English Edition was ready for the press, had I acquainted Ministers that I was preparing to boil my tea kettle with it, for want of being able conveniently to afford the expence of printing it, I do not pretend to say what their answer would have been; but I am firmly of opinion, that, had the like arguments in favour of the existing Government of this Country, against republican principles, been shewn to Charles the First, or his Ministers, at a certain period of his reign, they would have very willingly defrayed the expences of the publication.—In defect of encouragement from Great Men (and even from Booksellers) I had recourse to a subscription; and my having expected any success from such a plan, shews that my knowledge of this Country was at that time but very incomplete .
After mentioning the advantages with which my Work has not been favoured, it is however just I should give an account of those by which it has been attended. In the first place, as is above said, Men of high rank have condescended to give their approbation to it; and I take this opportunity of returning them my most humble acknowledgments. In the second place, after the difficulties by which the publication of the Book had been attended and followed, were overcome, I began to share with Booksellers in the profits arising from the sale of it. These profits I indeed thought to be but scanty and slow: but then I considered this was no more than the common complaint made by every Trader in regard to his gain, as well as by every Great Man in regard to his emoluments and his pensions. After a course of some years, the net balance formed by the profits in question, amounted to a certain sum, proportioned to the bigness of the performance. And, in fine, I must add to the account of the many favours I have received, that I was allowed to carry on the above business of selling my book, without any objection being formed against me from my not having served a regular apprenticeship, and without being molested by the Inquisition.—Several Authors have chosen to relate, in Writings published after death, the personal advantages by which their performances had been followed: as for me, I have thought otherwise; and, fearing that during the latter part of my life I may be otherwise engaged, I have preferred to write now the account of my successes in this Country, and to see it printed while I am yet living.
I shall add to the above narrative (whatever the Reader may be pleased to think of it) a few observations of rather a more serious kind, for the sake of those persons who, judging themselves to be possessed of abilities, find they are neglected by those having it in their power to do them occasional services, and suffer themselves to be mortified by it. To hope that Men will in earnest assist in setting forth the mental qualifications of others, is an expectation which, generally speaking, must needs be disappointed. To procure one’s notions and opinions to be attended to, and approved, by the circle of one’s acquaintance, is the universal wish of Mankind. To diffuse these notions farther, to numerous parts of the Public, by means of the press or by others, becomes an object of real ambition: nor is this ambition always proportioned to the real abilities of those who feel it; very far from it. When the approbation of Mankind is in question, all per-sons, whatever their different ranks may be, consider themselves as being engaged in the same career: they look upon themselves as being candidates for the very same kind of advantage: high and low, all are in that respect in a state of primaeval equality; nor are those who are likely to obtain some prize, to expect much favour from the others.
This desire of having their ideas communicated to, and approved by, the Public, was very prevalent among the Great Men of the Roman Commonwealth, and afterwards with the Roman Emperors; however imperfect the means of obtaining these ends might be in those days, compared with those which are used in our’s. The same desire has been equally remarkable among modern European Kings, not to speak of other parts of the World; and a long catalogue of Royal Authors may be produced. Ministers, especially after having lost their places, have shewn no less inclination than their Masters, to convince Mankind of the reality of their knowledge. Noble Persons of all denominations, have increased the catalogue. And to speak of the Country in which we are, there is it seems no good reason to make any exception in regard to it; and Great Men in it, or in general those who are at the head of the People, are we find sufficiently anxious about the success of their Speeches, or of the printed performances which they sometimes condescend to lay before the Public; nor has it been every Great Man wishing that a compliment might be paid to his personal knowledge, that has ventured to give such lasting specimens.
Several additions were made to this Work, at the time I gave the first English Edition of it. Besides a more accurate division of the chapters, several new notes and paragraphs were inserted in it; for instance in the 11th chapter of the 2d Book; and three new chapters, the 15th, 16th, and 17th, amounting to about ninety pages, were added to the same Book. These three additional chapters, never having been written by me in French, have been inserted in the third Edition made at Amsterdam, translated by a person whom the Dutch Bookseller employed for that purpose: as I never had an opportunity to peruse a copy of that Edition, I cannot say how well the Translator has performed his task. Having now parted with the copy-right of the Book, I have farther added four new chapters to it (10, 11, B. I. 19, 20, B. II.) by way of taking a final leave of it; and in order the more completely to effect this, I may perhaps, give, in a few months, a French Edition of the same (which I cannot tell why I have not done sooner) in which all the above mentioned additions, translated by myself, shall be inserted.
In one of the former additional Chapters (the 17th, B. II.) mention is made of a peculiar circumstance attending the English Government, considered as a Monarchy, which is the solidity of the power of the Crown. As one proof of this peculiar solidity, it is remarked, in that Chapter, that all the Monarchs who ever existed, in any part of the World, were never able to maintain their ground against certain powerful subjects (or a combination of them) without the assistance of regular forces at their constant command; whereas it is evident that the power of the Crown, in England, is not at this day supported by such means; nor even had the English Kings a guard of more than a few scores of Men, when their power, and the exertions they at times made of it, were equal to what has ever been related of the most absolute Roman Emperors.
The cause of this peculiarity in the English Government is said in the same Chapter, to lie in the circumstance of the great or powerful Men, in England, being divided into two distinct Assemblies, and at the same time, in the principles on which such division is formed. To attempt to give a demonstration of this assertion otherwise than by facts (as is done in the Chapter here alluded to) would lead into difficulties which the reader is little aware of. In general, the Science of Politics, considered as an exact Science, that is to say, as a Science capable of actual demonstration, is infinitely deeper than the reader so much perhaps as suspects. The know-ledge of Man, on which such a Science, with its preliminary axioms and definitions, is to be grounded, has hitherto remained surprisingly imperfect: as one instance, how little Man is known to himself, it might be mentioned that no tolerable explanation of that continual human phaenomenon, laughter, has been given, as yet; and the powerful, complicate, sensation which each sex produces in the other, still remains an equally inexplicable mystery.
To conclude the above digression (which may do very well for a Preface) I shall only add, that those Speculators who will amuse themselves in seeking for the demonstration of the political Theorem above expressed, will thereby be led through a field of observations which they will at first little expect; and in their way towards attaining such demonstration, will find the Science, commonly called Metaphysics, to be at best but a very superficial one, and that the Mathematics, or at least the mathematical reasonings hitherto used by Men, are not so completely free from error as has been thought .
Out of the four Chapters added to the present Edition, two (the 10th and 11th, B. I.) contain among other things, a few strictures on the Courts of Equity; in which I wish it may be found I have not been mistaken: of the two others, the one (19th, B. II.) contains a few observations on the attempts that may in different circumstances be made, to set new limits on the authority of the Crown; and in the 20th, a few general thoughts are introduced on the right of taxation, and on the claim of the American Colonies in that respect. Any farther observations I may hereafter make on the English Government, such as comparing it with the other Governments of Europe, and examining what difference in the manners of the inhabitants of this Country may have resulted from it, must come in a new Work, if I ever undertake to treat these subjects. In regard to the American disputes, what I may hereafter write on that account, will be introduced in a Work which I may at some future time publish, under the title of Histoire de George Trois, Roi d’Angleterre, or, perhaps, of Histoire d’Angleterre, depuis l’année 1765 (that in which the American Stamp duty was laid) jusques à l’année 178—meaning that in which an end shall be put to the present contests. .
Notwithstanding the intention above expressed, of making no additions to the present Work, I have found it necessary, in the present new Edition, to render somewhat more complete the xviith Chapter, B. II. p. 387. On the peculiar foundations of the English Monarchy, as a Monarchy, as I found its tendency not to be very well understood; and in fact, that Chapter contained little more than hints on the subject mentioned in it: the task, in the course of writing, has increased beyond my expectation, and has swelled the Chapter to about sixty pages beyond what it was in the former Edition, so as almost to make it a kind of a separate Book by itself. The reader will now find in it several remarkable new instances to prove the fact of the peculiar stability of the executive power of the British Crown; and especially a much more complete delineation of the advantages that result from this stability in favour of public liberty .
These advantages may be enumerated as follows. I. The numerous restraints the governing authority is able to bear, and extensive freedom it can afford to allow the Subject, at its expence. II. The liberty of speaking and writing, carried to the great extent it is in England. III. The unbounded freedom of the Debates in the Legislature. IV. The power to bear the constant union of all orders of Subjects against its prerogative. V. The freedom allowed to all individuals to take an active part in Government concerns. VI. The strict impartiality with which Justice is dealt to all Subjects, without any respect whatever of persons. VII. The lenity of the criminal law, both in regard to the mildness of punishments, and the frequent remitting of them. VIII. The strict compliance of the governing Authority with the letter of the law. IX. The needlessness of an armed force to support itself by, and as a consequence, the singular subjection of the Military to the Civil power.
The above mentioned advantages are peculiar to the English Government. To attempt to imitate them, or transfer them into other Countries, with that degree of extent to which they are carried in England, without at the same time transferring the whole Order and conjunction of circumstances in the English Government, would prove unsuccessful attempts. Several articles of English liberty already appear impracticable to be preserved in the new American Commonwealths. The Irish Nation have of late succeeded to imitate several very important regulations in the English Government, and are very desirous to render the assimilation complete: yet, it is possible, they will find many inconveniencies to arise from their endeavours, which do not take place in England, notwithstanding the very great general similarity of circumstances in the two kingdoms in many respects, and even also, we might add, notwithstanding the respectable power and weight the Crown derives from its British dominions, both for defending its prerogative in Ireland, and preventing anarchy. I say, the similarity in many respects between the two kingdoms; for this resemblance may perhaps fail in regard to some important points: however, this is a subject about which I shall not attempt to say any thing, not having the necessary information.
The last Chapter in the Work, concerning the nature of the Divisions that take place in this Country, I have left in every English Edition as I wrote it at first in French. With respect to the exact manner of the Debates in Parliament, mentioned in that Chapter, I should not be able to say more at present than I was at that time, as I never had an opportunity to hear the Debates in either House. In re-gard to the Divisions in general to which the spirit of party gives rise, I did perhaps the bulk of the People somewhat more honour than they really deserve, when I represented them as being free from any violent dispositions in that respect: I have since found, that, like the bulk of Mankind in all Countries, they suffer themselves to be influenced by vehement prepossessions for this or that side of public questions, commonly in proportion as their knowledge of the subjects, is imperfect. It is however a fact, that their political prepossessions and party spirit are not productive in this Country, of those dangerous consequences which might be feared from the warmth with which they are sometimes manifested. But this subject, or in general the subject of the political quarrels and divisions in this Country, is not an article one may venture to meddle with in a single Chapter; I have therefore let this subsist, without touching it.
I shall however observe, before I conclude, that there is an accidental circumstance in the English Government, which prevents the party spirit by which the Public are usually influenced, from producing those lasting and rancorous divisions in the Community, which have pestered so many other free States, making of the same Nation as it were two distinct People, in a kind of constant warfare with each other. The circumstance I mean, is, the frequent reconciliations (commonly to quarrel again afterwards) that take place between the Leaders of parties, by which the most violent and ignorant Class of their partizans are bewildered, and made to lose the scent. By the frequent coalitions between Whig and Tory Leaders, even that party distinction, the most famous in the English History, has now become useless: the meaning of the words has thereby been rendered so perplexed that nobody can any longer give a tolerable definition of them; and those persons who now and then aim at gaining popularity by claiming the merit of belonging to either party, are scarcely understood. The late Coalition between two certain Leaders has done away and prevented from settling, that violent party spirit to which the administration of Lord Bute had given rise, and which the American disputes had carried still farther. Though this Coalition has met with much obloquy, I take the liberty to rank myself in the number of its advocates, so far as the circumstance here mentioned.
The spirit of Philosophy which peculiarly distinguishes the present age, after having corrected a number of errors fatal to Society, seems now to be directed towards the principles of Society itself; and we see prejudices vanish, which are difficult to overcome, in proportion as it is dangerous to attack them . This rising freedom of sen-timent, the necessary forerunner of political freedom, led me to imagine that it would not be unacceptable to the Public, to be made acquainted with the principles of a Constitution on which the eye of curiosity seems now to be universally turned; and which, though celebrated as a model of perfection, is yet but little known to its admirers.
I am aware that it will be deemed presumptuous in a Man who has passed the greatest part of his life out of England, to attempt a delineation of the English Government; a system which is supposed to be so complicated as not to be understood, or developed, but by those who have been initiated in the mysteries of it from their infancy.
But, though a foreigner in England, yet, as a native of a free Country, I am no stranger to those circumstances which constitute or characterise liberty. Even the great disproportion between the Republic of which I am a member, and in which I formed my principles, and the British Empire, has perhaps only contributed to facilitate my political inquiries.
As the Mathematician, the better to discover the proportions he investigates, begins with freeing his equation from coefficients, or such other quantities as only perplex without properly constituting it,—so it may be advantageous to the inquirer after the causes that produce the equilibrium of a government, to have previously studied them, disengaged from the apparatus of fleets, armies, foreign trade, distant and extensive dominions, in a word from all those brilliant circumstances which so greatly affect the external appearance of a powerful Society, but have no essential connection with the real principles of it.
It is upon the passions of Mankind, that is upon causes which are unalterable, that the action of the various parts of a State depends. The machine may vary as to its dimensions, but its movement and acting springs still remain intrinsically the same; and that time cannot be considered as lost, which has been spent in seeing them act and move in a narrower circle.
One other consideration I will suggest, which is, that the very circumstance of being a foreigner, may of itself be attended, in this case, with a degree of advantage. The English themselves (the observation cannot give them any offence) having their eyes open, as I may say, upon their liberty, from their first entrance into life, are perhaps too much familiarised with its enjoyment, to enquire, with real concern, into its causes. Having acquired practical notions of their government, long before they have meditated on it, and these notions being slowly and gradually imbibed, they at length behold it without any high degree of sensibility; and they seem to me, in this respect, to be like the recluse inhabitant of a palace, who is perhaps in the worst situation for attaining a complete idea of the whole, and never experienced the striking effect of its external structure and elevation; or, if you please, like a Man who, having always had a beautiful and extensive scene before his eyes, continues for ever to view it with indifference.
But a stranger, beholding at once the various parts of a Constitution displayed before him, which, at the same time that it carries liberty to its height, has guarded against in-conveniences seemingly inevitable, beholding in short those things carried into execution, which he had ever regarded as more desirable than possible, he is struck with a kind of admiration; and it is necessary to be thus strongly affected by objects, to be enabled to reach the general principle which governs them.
Not that I mean to insinuate that I have penetrated with more acuteness into the Constitution of England than others; my only design in the above observations, was to obviate an unfavourable, though natural, prepossession; and if, either in treating of the causes which originally produced the English liberty, or of those by which it continues to be maintained, my observations should be found new or singular, I hope the English reader will not condemn them, but where they shall be found inconsistent with History, or with daily experience. Of readers in general I also request, that they will not judge of the principles I shall lay down, but from their relation to those of human nature: a consideration which is almost the only one essential, and has been hitherto too much neglected by the Writers on the subject of government.