Front Page Titles (by Subject) CHAPTER I: Some Advantages peculiar to the English Constitution. 1. The Unity of the Executive Power. - The Constitution of England; Or, an Account of the English Government
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CHAPTER I: Some Advantages peculiar to the English Constitution. 1. The Unity of the Executive Power. - 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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Some Advantages peculiar to the English Constitution. 1. The Unity of the Executive Power.
We have seen in former Chapters, the resources allotted to the different parts of the English Government for balancing each other, and how their reciprocal actions and reactions produce the freedom of the Constitution, which is no more than an equilibrium between the ruling Powers of the State. I now propose to shew that the particular nature and functions of these same constituent parts of the Government, which give it so different an appearance from that of other free States, are moreover attended with peculiar and very great advantages, which have not hitherto been sufficiently observed.
The first peculiarity of the English Government, as a free Government, is its having a King,—its having thrown into one place the whole mass, if I may use the expression, of the Executive Power, and having invariably and for ever fixed it there. By this very circumstance also has the depositum of it been rendered sacred and inexpugnable;—by making one great, very great Man, in the State, has an effectual check been put to the pretensions of those who otherwise would strive to become such, and disorders have been prevented, which, in all Republics, ever brought on the ruin of liberty, and before it was lost, obstructed the enjoyment of it.
If we cast our eyes on all the States that ever were free, we shall see that the People ever turning their jealousy, as it was natural, against the Executive Power, but never thinking of the means of limiting it that has so happily taken place in England (a) , never employed any other expedient besides the obvious one, of trusting that Power to Magistrates whom they appointed annually; which was in great measure the same as keeping the management of it to themselves. Whence it resulted that the People, who, whatever may be the frame of the Government, always possess, after all, the reality of power, thus uniting in themselves with this reality of power the actual exercise of it, in form as well as in fact, constituted the whole State. In order therefore legally to disturb the whole State, nothing more was requisite than to put in motion a certain number of individuals.
In a State which is small and poor, an arrangement of this kind is not attended with any great inconveniences, as every individual is taken up with the care of providing for his subsistence, as great objects of ambition are wanting, and as evils cannot, in such a State, ever become much complicated. In a State that strives for aggrandisement, the difficulties and danger attending the pursuit of such a plan, inspire a general spirit of caution, and every individual makes a sober use of his rights as a Citizen.
But when, at length, those exterior motives come to cease, and the passions, and even the virtues, which they excited, thus become reduced to a state of inaction, the People turn their eyes back towards the interior of the Republic, and every individual, in seeking then to concern himself in all affairs, seeks for new objects that may restore him to that state of exertion which habit, he finds, has rendered necessary to him, and to exercise a share of power which, small as it is, yet flatters his vanity.
As the preceding events must needs have given an influence to a certain number of Citizens, they avail themselves of the general disposition of the people, to promote their private views: the legislative power is thenceforth continually in motion; and as it is badly informed and falsely directed, almost every exertion of it is attended with some injury either to the Laws, or the State.
This is not all; as those who compose the general Assemblies cannot, in consequence of their numbers, entertain any hopes of gratifying their own private ambition, or in general their own private passions, they at least seek to gratify their political caprices, and they accumulate the honours and dignities of the State on some favourite whom the public voice happens to raise at that time.
But, as in such a State there can be, from the irregularity of the determinations of the People, no such thing as a settled course of measures, it happens that Men never can exactly tell the present state of public affairs. The power thus given away is already grown very great, before those by whom it was given so much as suspect it; and he himself who enjoys that power, does not know its full extent: but then, on the first opportunity that offers, he suddenly pierces through the cloud which hid the summit from him, and at once seats himself upon it. The People, on the other hand, no sooner recover sight of him, than they see their Favourite now become their Master, and discover the evil, only to find that it is past remedy.
As this power, thus surreptitiously acquired, is destitute of the support both of the law and of the ancient course of things, and is even but indifferently respected by those who have subjected themselves to it, it cannot be maintained but by abusing it. The People at length succeed in forming somewhere a centre of union; they agree in the choice of a Leader; this Leader in his turn rises; in his turn also he betrays his engagements; power produces its wonted effects; and the Protector becomes a Tyrant.
This is not all; the same causes which have given a Master to the State, give it two, give it three. All those rival powers endeavour to swallow up each other; the State becomes a scene of endless quarrels and broils, and is in a continual convulsion.
If amidst such disorders the People retained their freedom, the evil must indeed be very great, to take away all the advantages of it; but they are slaves, and yet have not what in other Countries makes amends for political servitude, I mean tranquillity.
In order to prove all these things, if proofs were deemed necessary, I would only refer the reader to what every one knows of Pisistratus and Megacles, of Marius and Sylla, of Caesar and Pompey.1 However, I cannot avoid translating a part of the speech which a Citizen of Florence addressed once to the Senate: the reader will find in it a kind of abridged story of all Republics; at least of those which, by the share allowed to the People in the Government, deserved that name, and which, besides, have attained a certain degree of extent and power.
“And that nothing human may be perpetual and stable, it is the will of Heaven that in all States whatsoever, there should arise certain destructive families, who are the bane and ruin of them. Of this our own Republic affords as many and more deplorable examples than any other, as it owes its misfortunes not only to one, but to several such families. We had at first the Buondelmonti and Huberti. We had afterwards the Donati and the Cerchi; and at present, (shameful and ridiculous conduct!) we are waging war among ourselves for the Ricci and the Albizzi.
“When in former times the Ghibelins were suppressed, every one expected that the Guelfs, being then satisfied, would have chosen to live in tranquillity; yet, but a little time had elapsed, when they again divided themselves into the factions of the Whites and the Blacks. When the Whites were suppressed, new parties arose, and new troubles followed. Sometimes battles were fought in favour of the Exiles; and at other times, quarrels broke out between the Nobility and the People. And, as if resolved to give away to others what we ourselves neither could, nor would, peaceably enjoy, we committed the care of our liberty sometimes to King Robert, and at other times to his brother, and at length to the Duke of Athens; never settling nor resting in any kind of Government, as not knowing either how to enjoy liberty, or support servitude” (a) .
The English Constitution has prevented the possibility of misfortunes of this kind. Not only by diminishing the power, or rather the actual exercise of the power, of the People (a) , and making them share in the Legislature only by their Representatives, the irresistible violence has been avoided of those numerous and general Assemblies, which, on whatever side they throw their weight, bear down every thing. Besides, as the power of the People, when they have any kind of power, and know how to use it, is at all times really formidable, the Constitution has set a counterpoise to it; and the Royal authority is this counterpoise.
In order to render it equal to such a task, the Constitution has, in the first place, conferred on the King, as we have seen before, the exclusive prerogative of calling and dismissing the legislative Bodies, and of putting a negative on their resolutions.
Secondly, it has also placed on the side of the King the whole Executive Power in the Nation.
Lastly, in order to effect still nearer an equilibrium, the Constitution has invested the Man whom it has made the sole Head of the State, with all the personal privileges, all the pomp, all the majesty, of which human dignities are capable. In the language of the law, the King is Sovereign Lord, and the People are his subjects;—he is universal proprietor of the whole Kingdom;—he bestows all the dignities and places;—and he is not to be addressed but with the expressions and outward ceremony of almost Eastern humility. Besides, his person is sacred and inviolable; and any attempt whatsoever against it, is, in the eye of the law, a crime equal to that of an attack against the whole State.
In a word, since, to have too exactly completed the equilibrium between the power of the People, and that of the Crown, would have been to sacrifice the end to the means, that is, to have endangered liberty with a view to strengthen the Government, the deficiency which ought to remain on the side of the Crown, has at least been in appearance made up, by conferring on the King all that sort of strength that may result from the opinion and reverence of the people; and amidst the agitations which are the unavoidable attendants of liberty, the Royal power, like an anchor that resists both by its weight and the depth of its hold, insures a salutary steadiness to the vessel of the State.
The greatness of the prerogative of the King, by its thus procuring a great degree of stability to the State in general, has much lessened the possibility of the evils we have above described; it has even, we may say, totally prevented them, by rendering it impossible for any Citizen even to rise to any dangerous greatness.
And to begin with an advantage by which the people easily suffer themselves to be influenced, I mean that of birth, it is impossible for it to produce in England effects in any degree dangerous: for though there are Lords who, besides their wealth, may also boast of an illustrious descent, yet that advantage, being exposed to a continual comparison with the splendor of the Throne, dwindles almost to nothing; and in the gradation universally received of dignities and titles, that of Sovereign Prince and King places him who is invested with it, out of all degree of proportion.
The ceremonial of the Court of England is even formed upon that principle. Those persons who are related to the King, have the title of Princes of the blood, and, in that quality, an indisputed pre-eminence over all other persons (a) . Nay, the first Men in the Nation think it an honourable distinction to themselves to hold the different menial offices, or titles, in his Houshold. If we therefore were to set aside the extensive and real power of the King, as well as the numerous means he possesses of gratifying the ambition and hopes of individuals, and were to consider only the Majesty of his title, and that kind of strength founded on public opinion, which results from it, we should find that advantage so considerable, that to attempt to enter into a competition with it, with the bare advantage of high birth, which itself has no other foundation than public opinion, and that too in a very subordinate degree, would be an attempt completely extravagant.
If this difference is so great as to be thoroughly submitted to, even by those persons whose situation might incline them to disown it, much more does it influence the minds of the people. And if, notwithstanding the value which every Englishman ought to set upon himself as a Man, and a free Man, there were any whose eyes were so very tender as to be dazzled by the appearance and the arms of a Lord, they would be totally blinded when they came to turn them towards the Royal Majesty.
The only Man therefore, who, to those who are unacquainted with the Constitution of England, might at first sight appear in a condition to put the Government in danger, would be a Man who, by the greatness of his abilities and public services, might have acquired in a high degree the love of the people, and obtained a great influence in the House of Commons.
But how great soever this enthusiasm of the public may be, barren applause is the only fruit which the Man whom they favour can expect from it. He can hope neither for a Dictatorship, nor a Consulship, nor in general for any power under the shelter of which he may at once safely unmask that ambition with which we might suppose him to be actuated,—or, if we suppose him to have been hitherto free from any, grow insensibly corrupt. The only door which the Constitution leaves open to his ambition, of whatever kind it may be, is a place in the administration, during the pleasure of the King. If, by the continuance of his services, and the preservation of his influence, he becomes able to aim still higher, the only door which again opens to him, is that of the House of Lords.
But this advance of the favourite of the people towards the establishment of his greatness, is at the same time a great step towards the loss of that power which might render him formidable.
In the first place, the People seeing that he is become much less dependent on their favour, begin, from that very moment, to lessen their attachment to him. Seeing him moreover distinguished by privileges which are the object of their jealousy, I mean their political jealousy, and member of a body whose interests are frequently opposite to their’s, they immediately conclude that this great and new dignity cannot have been acquired but through a secret agreement to betray them. Their favourite, thus suddenly transformed, is going, they make no doubt, to adopt a conduct entirely opposite to that which has till then been the cause of his advancement and high reputation, and, in the compass of a few hours, completely renounce those principles which he has so long and so loudly professed. In this certainly the People are mistaken; but yet neither would they be wrong, if they feared that a zeal hitherto so warm, so constant, I will even add, so sincere, when it concurred with their Favourite’s private interest, would, by being thenceforth often in opposition to it, become gradually much abated.
Nor is this all; the favourite of the people does not even find in his new acquired dignity, all the increase of greatness and eclat that might at first be imagined.
Hitherto he was, it is true, only a private individual; but then he was the object in which the whole Nation interested themselves; his actions and words were set forth in the public prints; and he every where met with applause and acclamation.
All these tokens of public favour are, I know, sometimes acquired very lightly; but they never last long, whatever people may say, unless real services are performed; now, the title of Benefactor to the Nation, when deserved, and universally bestowed, is certainly a very handsome title, and which does no-wise require the assistance of outward pomp to set it off. Besides, though he was only a Member of the inferior body of the Legislature, we must observe, he was the first; and the word first is always a word of very great moment.
But now that he is made Lord, all his greatness, which hitherto was indeterminate, becomes defined. By granting him privileges established and fixed by known laws, that uncertainty is taken from his lustre which is of so much importance in those things which depend on imagination; and his value is lowered, just because it is ascertained.
Besides, he is a Lord; but then there are several Men who possess but small abilities and few estimable qualifications, who also are Lords; his lot is, nevertheless, to be seated among them; the law places him exactly on the same level with them; and all that is real in his greatness, is thus lost in a croud of dignities, hereditary and conventional.
Nor are these the only losses which the favourite of the People is to suffer. Independently of those great changes which he descries at a distance, he feels around him alterations no less visible, and still more painful.
Seated formerly in the Assembly of the Representatives of the People, his talents and continual success had soon raised him above the level of his fellow Members; and, being carried on by the vivacity and warmth of the public favour, those who might have been tempted to set up as his competitors, were reduced to silence, or even became his supporters.
Admitted now into an Assembly of persons invested with a perpetual and hereditary title, he finds Men hitherto his superiors,—Men who see with a jealous eye the shining talents of the homo novus,2 and who are firmly resolved, that after having been the leading Man in the House of Commons, he shall not be the first in their’s.
In a word, the success of the favourite of the People was brilliant, and even formidable; but the Constitution, in the very reward it prepares for him, makes him find a kind of Ostracism. His advances were sudden, and his course rapid; he was, if you please, like a torrent ready to bear down every thing before it, but this torrent is compelled, by the general arrangement of things, finally to throw itself into a vast reservoir, where it mingles, and loses its force and direction.
I know it may be said, that, in order to avoid the fatal step which is to deprive him of so many advantages, the favourite of the People ought to refuse the new dignity which is offered to him, and wait for more important successes from his eloquence in the House of Commons, and his influence over the People.
But those who give him this counsel, have not sufficiently examined it. Without doubt there are Men in England, who in their present pursuit of a project which they think essential to the public good, would be capable of refusing for a while a dignity which would deprive their virtue of opportunities of exerting itself, or might more or less endanger it: but woe to him who should persist in such a refusal, with any pernicious design! and who, in a Government where liberty is established on so solid and extensive a basis, should endeavour to make the People believe that their fate depends on the persevering virtue of a single Citizen. His ambitious views being at last discovered (nor could it be long before they were so), his obstinate resolu-lution to move out of the ordinary course of things, would indicate aims, on his part, of such an extraordinary nature, that all Men whatever, who have any regard for their Country, would instantly rise up from all parts to oppose him, and he must fall, overwhelmed with so much ridicule, that it would be better for him to fall from the Tarpeian rock (a) .3
In fine, even though we were to suppose that the new Lord might, after his exaltation, have preserved all his interest with the People, or, what would be no less difficult, that any Lord whatever could, by dint of his wealth and high birth, rival the splendor of the Crown itself, all these advantages, how great soever we may suppose them, as they would not of themselves be able to confer on him the least executive authority, must for ever remain mere showy unsubstantial advantages. Finding all the active powers in the State concentered in that very seat of power which we suppose him inclined to attack, and there secured by formidable provisions, his influence must always evaporate in ineffectual words; and after having advanced himself, as we suppose, to the very foot of the Throne, finding no branch of independent power which he might appropriate to himself, and thus at last give a reality to his political importance, he would soon see it, however great it might have at first appeared, decline and die away.
God forbid, however, that I should mean that the People of England are so fatally tied down to inaction, by the nature of their Government, that they cannot, in times of oppression, find means of appointing a Leader. No; I only meant to say that the laws of England open no door to those accumulations of power, which have been the ruin of so many Republics; that they offer to the ambitious no possible means of taking advantage of the inadvertence, or even the gratitude, of the People, to make themselves their Tyrants; and that the public power, of which the King has been made the exclusive depositary, must remain unshaken in his hands, so long as things continue to keep in the legal order; which, it may be observed, is a strong inducement to him constantly to endeavour to maintain them in it (a) .
[(a) ]The rendering that power dependent on the People for its supplies.—See on this subject Chapter vi. Book I.
[1. ]De Lolme invokes famous examples from antiquity of paired political leaders, first allies and then rivals, who undermined republican systems by exercising autocratic power: Meglaces and Pisastratus, tyrants of Athens, in the mid-sixth century b.c.e.; Gaius Marius and Lucius Cornelius Sulla (or Sylla), popular generals who served as consuls and tyrants of Rome in the early first century b.c.e.; and Julius Caesar and Gnaeus Pompeius Magnus (Pompey the Great), Roman generals who opposed each other in the civil war of 49–45 b.c.e. that preceded Caesar’s final consolidation of power over the Roman Senate.
[(a) ]See the History of Florence, by Machiavel, lib. iii. [[De Lolme quotes the discussion in book 3, chapter 5, of Machiavelli’s 1525 History of Florence, which treated at length the destructive power of factions to undermine republican liberty and the public good. De Lolme earlier referred to this material in book 1, chapter 8, p. 78.]]
[(a) ]We shall see in the sequel, that this diminution of the exercise of the power of the People has been attended with a great increase of their liberty.
[(a) ]This, by Stat. of the 31st of Hen. VIII. extends to the sons, grandsons, brothers, uncles, and nephews, of the reigning King. [[The 1539 legislation, “for the precedence of the lords in the Parliament chamber,” specified the order of precedence for royal officials and blood relations who sat in the House of Lords.]]
[2. ]“New man.”
[(a) ]The Reader will perhaps object, that no Man in England can possibly entertain such views as those I have suggested here: this is precisely what I intended to prove. The essential advantage of the English Government above all those that have been called free, and which in many respects were but apparently so, is, that no person in England can entertain so much as a thought of his ever rising to the level of the Power charged with the execution of the Laws. All Men in the State, whatever may be their rank, wealth, or influence, are thoroughly convinced that they must in reality as well as in name, continue to be Subjects; and are thus compelled really to love, to defend, and to promote, those laws which secure the liberty of the Subject. This latter observation will be again introduced in the sequel.
[3. ]The Tarpeian Rock, an elevated cliff overlooking the Roman Forum, was used during the Roman Republic as the execution site for traitors, who were thrown to their death from it.
[(a) ]There are several events, in the English History, which put in a very strong light this idea of the stability which the power of the Crown gives to the State.