Front Page Titles (by Subject) 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. - The Constitution of England; Or, an Account of the English Government
The Online Library of Liberty
A project of Liberty Fund, Inc.
Search this Title:
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. - 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).
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 copyright to this edition, in both print and electronic forms, is held by Liberty Fund, Inc.
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.
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.
The observations made in the preceding Chapter are so obvious, that the People themselves, in popular Governments, have always been sensible of the truth of them, and never thought it possible to remedy, by themselves alone, the disadvantages necessarily attending their situation. Whenever the oppressions of their Rulers have forced them to resort to some uncommon exertion of their legal powers, they have immediately put themselves under the direction of those few Men who had been instrumental in informing and encouraging them; and when the nature of the circumstances has required any degree of firmness and perseverance in their conduct, they have never been able to attain the ends they proposed to themselves, except by means of the most implicit deference to those Leaders whom they had thus appointed.
But as these Leaders, thus hastily chosen, are easily intimidated by the continual display which is made before them of the terrors of Power, as that unlimited confidence which the People now repose in them, only takes place when public liberty is in the utmost danger, and cannot be kept up otherwise than by an extraordinary conjunction of circumstances, and in which those who govern seldom suffer themselves to be caught more than once, the People have constantly sought to avail themselves of the short intervals of superiority which the chance of events had given them, for rendering durable those advantages which they knew would, of themselves, be but transitory, and for getting some persons appointed, whose peculiar office it may be to protect them, and whom the Constitution shall thenceforwards recognize. Thus it was that the People of Lacedaemon obtained their Ephori, and the People of Rome their Tribunes.1
We grant this, will it be said; but the Roman People never allowed their Tribunes to conclude any thing definitively; they, on the contrary, reserved to themselves the right of ratifying(a) any resolutions the latter should take. This, I answer, was the very circum-stance that rendered the institution of Tribunes totally ineffectual in the event. The People thus wanting to interfere with their own opinions, in the resolutions of those on whom they had, in their wisdom, determined entirely to rely, and endeavouring to settle with an hundred thousand votes, things which would have been settled equally well by the votes of their advisers, defeated in the issue every beneficial end of their former provisions; and while they meant to preserve an appearance of their sovereignty, (a chimerical appearance, since it was under the direction of others that they intended to vote) they fell back into all those inconveniences which we have before mentioned.
The Senators, the Consuls, the Dictators, and the other great Men in the Republic, whom the People were prudent enough to fear, and simple enough to believe, continued still to mix with them, and play off their political artifices. They continued to make speeches to them (b) , and still availed them-selves of their privilege of changing at their pleasure the place and form of the public meetings. When they did not find it possible by such means to direct the resolutions of the Assemblies, they pretended that the omens were not favourable, and under this pretext, or others of the same kind, they dissolved them (a) . And the Tribunes, when they had succeeded so far as to effect an union among themselves, thus were obliged to submit to the pungent mortification of seeing those projects which they had pursued with infinite labour, and even through the greatest dangers, irrecoverably defeated by the most despicable artifices.
When, at other times, they saw that a confederacy was carrying on with uncommon warmth against them, and despaired of suc-ceeding by employing expedients of the above kind, or were afraid of diminishing their efficacy by a too frequent use of them, they betook themselves to other stratagems. They then conferred on the Consuls, by the means of a short form of words for the occasion (b) an absolute power over the lives of the Citizens, or even appointed a Dictator. The People, at the sight of the State masquerade which was displayed before them, were sure to sink into a state of consternation; and the Tribunes, however clearly they might see through the artifice, also trembled in their turn, when they thus beheld themselves left without defenders (c) .
At other times, they brought false accusations against the Tribunes before the Assembly itself; or, by privately slandering them with the People, they totally deprived them of their confidence. It was through artifices of this kind, that the People were brought to behold, without concern, the murder of Tiberius Gracchus, the only Roman that was really virtuous,—the only one who truly loved the People. It was also in the same manner that Caius, who was not deterred by his brother’s fate from pursuing the same plan of conduct, was in the end so entirely forsaken by the People, that nobody could be found among them who would even lend him a horse to fly from the fury of the Nobles; and he was at last compelled to lay violent hands upon himself, while he invoked the wrath of the Gods on his inconstant fellow-citizens.2
At other times, they raised divisions among the People. Formidable combinations broke out, on a sudden, on the eve of important transactions; and all moderate Men avoided attending Assemblies, where they saw that all was to be tumult and confusion.
In fine, that nothing might be wanting to the insolence with which they treated the Assemblies of the People, they sometimes falsified the declarations of the number of the votes; they even once went so far as to carry off the urns into which the Citizens were to throw their suffrages (a) .
[1. ]The ephori of the ancient republic of Sparta (or “Lacedaemon”) were five magistrates elected annually by the popular assembly. Like the tribunes of republican Rome, the ephori functioned to protect the interests and liberties of the populace against the power of the Spartan kings and wealthier citizens.
[(a) ]See Rousseau’s Social Contract. [[For Rousseau’s statement concerning the Roman tribunes, see The Social Contract, book 3, chapter 15.]]
[(b) ]Valerius Maximus relates that the Tribunes of the People having offered to propose some regulations in regard to the price of corn, in a time of great scarcity, Scipio Nasica over-ruled the Assembly merely by saying, “Silence Romans; I know better than you what is expedient for the Republic. Which words were no sooner heard by the People, than they shewed by a silence full of veneration, that they were more affected by his authority, than by the necessity of providing for their own subsistence.”—Tacete, quaeso, Quirites. Plus enim ego quam vos quid reipublicae expediat intelligo. Quâ voce auditâ, omnes pleno venerationis silentio, majorem ejus autoritatis quam alimentorum suorum curam egerunt. [[De Lolme cites and translates Valerius Maximus (ca. 20 b.c.e.–50 c.e.), Factorum ac dictorum memorabilium libri IX (Nine books of memorable deeds and sayings), book 3, chapter 7, section 3.]]
[(a) ]Quid enim majus est, si de jure Augurum quaerimus, says Tully, who himself was an Augur, and a Senator into the bargain, quam posse a summis imperiis & summis potestatibus Comitatus & Concilia, vel instituta dimittere, vel habita rescindere! Quid gravius, quam rem susceptam dirimi, si unus Auguralium (id est, alium diem) dixerit!—See De Legib. lib. ii. § 12. [[De Lolme quotes Marcus Tullius Cicero, De legibus, book 2, 12. The quoted passage reads: “For if we consider their legal rights, what power is greater than that of adjourning assemblies and meetings convened by the highest officials, with or without imperium, or that of declaring null and void the acts of assemblies presided over by such officials? What is of graver import than the abandonment of any business already begun, if a single augur says, ‘on another day’?”]]
[(b) ]Videat Consul ne quid detrimenti Respublica capiat. [[“Let the consul take heed that the Republic receive no injury.”]]
[(c) ]“The Tribunes of the People,” says Livy, who was a great admirer of the Aristocratical power, “and the People themselves, durst neither lift up their eyes, nor even mutter, in the presence of the Dictator.” Nec adversus Dictatoriam vim, aut Tribuni plebis, aut ipsa Plebs, attollere oculos, aut hiscere, audebant—See Tit. Liv. lib. vi. § 16. [[Titus Livius (Livy), Ab urbe condita, book 6, 16.3–4.]]
[2. ]Tiberius Gracchus (163–133 b.c.e.) and his younger brother, Caius (154–121 b.c.e.), were members of a politically important Roman family. Both served as Roman tribunes, in which capacity they promoted measures in support of the plebeian citizens and earned the fierce opposition of leading patrician families. Tiberius was killed near the Roman Forum in an armed confrontation with his political adversaries. Caius’s death, by suicide, followed a failed attempt to defeat his political opponents in the Senate.
[(a) ]The reader with respect to all the above observations, may see Plutarch’s Lives, particularly the Lives of the two Gracchi. [[Plutarch (ca. 46–ca. 120 c.e.) was the Greek essayist and moral philosopher whose Parallel Lives contained paired biographies of Greek and Roman leaders. His Lives of the brothers Tiberius and Caius Gracchus described in detail the incidents and political abuses discussed by De Lolme in this chapter. I must add, that I have avoided drawing any instance from those Assemblies in which one half of the people were made to arm themselves against the other. I have here only alluded to those times which immediately either preceded or followed the third Punic war, that is, of those which are commonly called the best period of the Republic. The Third (and final) Punic War was fought between Rome and Carthage from 149 to 146 b.c.e.]]