Front Page Titles (by Subject) 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. - The Constitution of England; Or, an Account of the English Government
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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. - 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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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.
It may not be sufficient to have proved by arguments the advantages of the English Constitution: it will perhaps be asked, whether the effects correspond to the theory? To this question (which I confess is extremely proper) my answer is ready; it is the same which was once made, I believe, by a Lacedemonian, Come and see.
If we peruse the English History, we shall be particularly struck with one circumstance to be observed in it, and which distinguishes most advantageously the English Government from all other free governments; I mean the manner in which Revolutions and public commotions have always been terminated in England.
If we read with some attention the History of other free States, we shall see that the public dissensions that have taken place in them, have constantly been terminated by settlements in which the interests only of a few were really provided for; while the grievances of the many were hardly, if at all, attended to. In England the very reverse has happened, and we find Revolutions always to have been terminated by extensive and accurate provisions for securing the general liberty.
The History of the ancient Grecian Commonwealths, but above all of the Roman Republic, of which more complete accounts have been left us, afford striking proof of the former part of this observation.
What was, for instance, the consequence of that great Revolution by which the Kings were driven from Rome, and in which the Senate and Patricians acted as the advisers and leaders of the People? The consequence was, as we find in Dionysius of Halicarnassus,2 and Livy, that the Senators immediately assumed all those powers, lately so much complained of by themselves, which the Kings had exercised. The execution of their future decrees was intrusted to two Magistrates taken from their own body, and entirely dependent on them, whom they called Consuls, and who were made to bear about them all the ensigns of power which had formerly attended the Kings. Only, care was taken that the axes and fasces,3 the symbols of the power of life and death over the Citizens, which the Senate now claimed to itself, should not be carried before both Consuls at once, but only before one at a time, for fear, says Livy, of doubling the terror of the People (a) .
Nor was this all: the Senators drew over to their party those Men who had the most interest at that time among the People, and admitted them as Members into their own body (b) ; which indeed was a precaution they could not prudently avoid taking. But the interests of the great Men in the Republic being thus provided for, the Revolution ended. The new Senators, as well as the old, took care not to lessen, by making provisions for the liberty of the People, a power which was now become their own. Nay, they presently stretched this power beyond its former tone; and the punishments which the Consul inflicted in a military manner on a number of those who still adhered to the former mode of Government, and even upon his own children, taught the People what they had to expect for the future, if they presumed to oppose the power of those whom they had thus unwarily made their Masters.
Among the oppressive laws, or usages, which the Senate, after the expulsion of the Kings, had permitted to continue, those which were most complained of by the People, were those by which those Citizens who could not pay their debts with the interest (which at Rome was enormous) at the appointed time, became slaves to their Creditors, and were delivered over to them bound with cords: hence the word Nexi,4 by which that kind of Slaves were denominated. The cruelties exercised by Creditors on those unfortunate Men, whom the private calamities caused by the frequent wars in which Rome was engaged, rendered very numerous, at last roused the body of the People: they abandoned both the City, and their inhuman fellow-citizens, and retreated to the other side of the River Anio.
But this second Revolution, like the former, only procured the advancement of particular persons. A new office was created, called the Tribuneship. Those whom the People had placed at their head when they left the City, were raised to it. Their duty, it was agreed, was for the future to protect the Citizens; and they were invested with a certain number of prerogatives for that purpose. This Institution, it must however be confessed, would have, in the issue, proved very beneficial to the People, at least for a long course of time, if certain precautions had been taken with respect to it, which would have much lessened the future personal importance of the new Tribunes (a) : but these precautions the latter did not think proper to suggest; and in regard to those abuses themselves which had at first given rise to the complaints of the People, no farther mention was made of them (a) .
As the Senate and Patricians, in the early ages of the Commonwealth, kept closely united together, the Tribunes, for all their personal privileges, were not able, however, during the first times after their creation, to gain an admittance either to the Consulship, or into the Senate, and thereby to separate their condition any farther from that of the People. This situation of their’s, in which it was to be wished they might always have been kept, produced at first excellent effects, and caused their conduct to answer in a great measure the expectations of the People. The Tribunes complained loudly of the exorbitancy of the powers possessed by the Senate and Consuls; and here we must observe, that the power exercised by these latter over the lives of the Citizens, had never been yet subjected (which will probably surprise the Reader), to any known laws, though sixty years had already elapsed since the expulsion of the Kings. The Tribunes therefore insisted, that laws should be made in that respect, which the Consuls should thenceforwards be bound to follow; and that they should no longer be left, in the exercise of their power over the lives of the Citizens, to their own caprice and wantonness (b) .
Equitable as these demands were, the Senate and Patricians opposed them with great warmth, and either by naming Dictators, or calling in the assistance of the Priests, or other means, they defeated for nine years together, all the endeavours of the Tribunes. However, as the latter were at that time in earnest, the Senate was at length obliged to comply; and the Lex Terentilla was passed, by which it was enacted that a general Code of Laws should be made.5
These beginnings seemed to promise great success to the cause of the People. But, unfortunately for them, the Senate found means to have it agreed, that the office of Tribune should be set aside during the whole time that the Code should be framing. They moreover obtained, that the ten Men, called Decemvirs, to whom the charge of composing this Code was to be given, should be taken from the body of the Patricians.6 The same causes, therefore, produced again the same effects; and the power of the Senate and Consul was left in the new Code, or laws of the Twelve Tables, as undefined as before. As to the laws above mentioned, concerning debtors, which never had ceased to be bitterly complained of by the People, and in regard to which some satisfaction ought in com-mon justice, to have been given them, they were confirmed, and a new terror added to them from the manner in which they were worded.
The true motive of the Senate, when they thus trusted the framing of the new laws to a new kind of Magistrates, called Decemvirs, was that, by suspending the ancient office of Consul, they might have a fair pretence for suspending also the office of Tribune, and thereby rid themselves of the People, during the time that the important business of framing the Code should be carrying on: they even, in order the better to secure that point, placed the whole power in the Republic, in the hands of these new Magistrates. But the Senate and Patricians experienced then, in their turn, the danger of entrusting Men with an uncontrolled authority. As they themselves had formerly betrayed the trust which the People had placed in them, so did the Decemvirs, on this occasion, likewise deceive them. They retained, by their own private authority, the unlimited power that had been conferred on them, and at last exercised it on the Patricians as well as the Plebeians. Both parties therefore united against them, and the Decemvirs were expelled from the City.
The former dignities of the Republic were restored, and with them the office of Tribune. Those from among the People who had been most instrumental in destroying the power of the Decemvirs, were, as it was natural, raised to the Tribuneship; and they entered upon their offices possessed of a prodigious degree of popularity. The Senate and the Patricians were, at the same time, sunk extremely low in consequence of the long tyranny which had just expired; and those two circumstances united, afforded the Tribunes but too easy an opportunity of making the present Revolution end as the former ones had done, and converting it to the advancement of their own power. They got new personal privileges to be added to those which they already possessed, and moreover procured a law to be enacted, by which it was ordained, that the resolutions taken by the Comitia Tributa7 (an Assembly in which the Tribunes were admitted to propose new laws) should be binding upon the whole Commonwealth:—by which they at once raised to themselves an imperium in imperio,8 and acquired, as Livy expresses it, a most active weapon (a) .
From that time great commotions arose in the Republic, which, like all those before them, ended in promoting the power of a few.—Proposals for easing the People of their debts, for dividing with some equality amongst the Citizens the lands which were taken from the enemy, and for lowering the rate of the interest of money, were frequently made by the Tribunes. And indeed all these were excellent regulations to propose; but, unfortunately for the People, the proposals of them were only pretences made use of by the Tribunes for promoting schemes of a fatal though somewhat remote, tendency, to public liberty. Their real aims were at the Consulship, the Praetorship, the Priesthood, and other offices of Executive power, which they were intended to control, and not to share. To these views they constantly made the cause of the People subservient:—I shall relate among other instances, the manner in which they procured to themselves an admittance to the office of Consul.
Having during several years, seized every opportunity of making speeches to the People on that subject, and even excited seditions in order to overcome the opposition of the Senate, they at last availed themselves of the circumstance of an interregnum (a time, during which there happened to be no other Magistrates in the Republic besides themselves) and proposed to the Tribes, whom they had assembled, to enact the three following laws:—the first for settling the rate of interest of money; the second for ordaining that no Citizen should be possessed of more than five hundred acres of land; and the third, for providing that one of the two Consuls should be taken from the body of the Plebeians. But on this occasion it evidently appeared, says Livy, which of the laws in agitation were most agreeable to the People, and which, to those who proposed them; for the Tribes accepted the laws concerning the interest of money, and the lands; but as to that concerning the Plebeian Consulship, they rejected it: and both the former articles would from that moment have been settled, if the Tribunes had not declared, that the Tribes were called upon, either to accept, or reject, all their three proposals at once (a) . Great commotions ensued thereupon, for a whole year; but at last the Tribunes, by their perseverance in insisting that the Tribes should vote on their three rogations, jointly, obtained their ends, and overcame both the opposition of the Senate, and the reluctance of the People.
In the same manner did the Tribunes get themselves made capable of filling all other places of executive power, and public trust, in the Republic. But when all their views of that kind were accomplished, the Republic did not for all this enjoy more quiet, nor was the interest of the People better attended to, than before. New struggles then arose for actual admission to those places; for procuring them to relations, or friends; for governments of provinces, and commands of armies. A few Tribunes, indeed, did at times apply themselves seriously, out of real virtue and love of their duty, to remedy the grievances of the People; but both their fellow Tribunes, as we may see in History, and the whole body of those Men upon whom the People had, at different times, bestowed Consulships, Aedileships, Censorships, and other dignities without number, united together with the utmost ve-hemence against them; and the real Patriots, such as Tiberius Gracchus, Caius Gracchus, and Fulvius, constantly perished in the attempt.9
I have been somewhat explicit on the effects produced by the different Revolutions that have happened in the Roman Republic, because its History is much known to us, and we have either in Dionysius of Halicarnassus, or Livy, considerable monuments of the more ancient part of it. But the History of the Grecian Commonwealths would also have supplied us with a number of facts to the same purpose. That Revolution, for instance, by which the Pisistratidae were driven out of Athens—that by which the Four hundred, and afterwards the Thirty, were established, as well as that by which the latter were in their turn expelled, all ended in securing the power of a few.—The Republic of Syracuse, that of Corcyra, of which Thucydides has left us a pretty full account, and that of Florence, of which Machiavel has written the History, also present us a series of public commotions ended by treaties, in which, as in the Roman Republic, the grievances of the People, though ever so loudly complained of in the beginning by those who acted as their defenders, were, in the issue, most carelessly attended to, or even totally disregarded (a) .10
But if we turn our eyes towards the English History, scenes of a quite different kind will offer to our view; and we shall find, on the contrary, that Revolutions in England have always been terminated by making such provisions, and only such, as all orders of the People were really and indiscriminately to enjoy.11
Most extraordinary facts, these! and which, from all the other circumstances that accompanied them, we see, all along, to have been owing to the impossibility (a point that has been so much insisted upon in former Chapters) in which those who possessed the confidence of the People, were, of transferring to themselves any branch of the Executive authority, and thus separating their own condition from that of the rest of the People.
Without mentioning the compacts which were made with the first Kings of the Norman line, let us only cast our eyes on Magna Charta, which is still the foundation of English liberty. A number of circumstances which have been described in the former part of this work, concurred at that time to strengthen the Regal power to such a degree that no Men in the State could entertain a hope of succeeding in any other design than that of setting bounds to it. How great was the union which thence arose among all orders of the People!—what extent, what caution, do we see in the provisions made by the Great Charter! All the objects for which men naturally wish to live in a state of Society, were settled in its thirty-eight Articles. The judicial authority was regulated. The person and property of the individual were secured. The safety of the Merchant and stranger was provided for. The higher class of Citizens gave up a number of oppressive privileges which they had long since accustomed themselves to look upon as their undoubted rights (a) . Nay, the imple-ments of tillage of the Bondman, or Slave, were also secured to him; and for the first time perhaps in the annals of the World, a civil war was terminated by making stipulations in favour of those unfortunate Men to whom the avarice and lust of dominion inherent in human Nature, continued, over the greatest part of the Earth, to deny the common rights of Mankind.
Under Henry the Third great disturbances arose; and they were all terminated by solemn confirmations given to the Great Charter. Under Edward I. Edward II. Edward III. and Richard II. those who were intrusted with the care of the interests of the People, lost no opportunity that offered, of strengthening still farther that foundation of public liberty, of taking all such precautions as might render the Great Charter still more effectual in the event.—They had not ceased to be convinced that their cause was the same with that of all the rest of the People.
Henry of Lancaster having laid claim to the Crown, the Commons received the law from the victorious party. They settled the Crown upon Henry, by the name of Henry the Fourth; and added to the Act of Settlement, provisions which the Reader may see in the second Volume of the Parliamentary History of England. Struck with the wisdom of the conditions demanded by the Commons, the Authors of the Book just mentioned, observe (perhaps with some simplicity) that the Commons of England were no fools at that time. They ought rather to have said,—The Commons of England were happy enough to form among themselves an Assembly in which every one could propose what matters he pleased, and freely discuss them;—they had no possibility left of converting either these advantages, or in general the confidence which the People had placed in them, to any private views of their own: they, therefore, without loss of time endeavoured to stipulate useful conditions with that Power by which they saw themselves at every instant exposed to be dissolved and dispersed, and applied their industry to insure the safety of the whole People, as it was the only means they had of procuring their own.
In the long contentions which took place between the Houses of York and Lancaster, the Commons remained spectators of disorders which, in those times, it was not in their power to prevent: they successively acknowledged the title of the victorious parties; but whether under Edward the Fourth, under Richard the Third, or Henry the Seventh, by whom those quarrels were terminated, they continually availed themselves of the importance of the services which they were able to perform to the new established Sovereign, for obtaining effectual conditions in favour of the whole body of the People.
At the accession of James the First, which as it placed a new Family on the Throne of England, may be considered as a kind of Revolution, no demands were made by the Men who were at the head of the Nation, but in favour of general liberty.
After the accession of Charles the First, discontents of a very serious nature began to take place, and they were terminated in the first instance, by the Act called the Petition of Right, which is still looked upon as a most precise and accurate delineation of the rights of the People (a) .
At the Restoration of Charles the Second, the Constitution being re-established upon its former principles, the former consequences produced by it, began again to take place; and we see at that aera, and indeed during the whole course of that Reign, a continued series of precautions taken for securing the general liberty.
Lastly, the great event which took place in the year 1689, affords a striking confirmation of the truth of the observation made in this Chapter. At this aera the political wonder again appeared—of a Revolution terminated by a series of public Acts in which no interests but those of the People at large were considered and provided for;—no clause, even the most indirect, was inserted, either to gratify the present ambition, or favour the future views, of those who were personally concerned in bringing those Acts to a conclusion. Indeed, if any thing is capable of conveying to us an adequate idea of the soundness, as well as peculiarity, of the principles on which the English Government is founded, it is the attentive perusal of the System of public Compacts to which the Revolution of the year 1689 gave rise,—of the Bill of Rights with all its different clauses, and of the several Acts which under two subsequent Reigns, till the accession of the House of Hanover, were made in order to strengthen it.
[1. ]This chapter first appeared in the original English-language edition of 1775.
[2. ]Greek historian and rhetorician of the late first century b.c.e., whose Antiquitates Romanae charted the history of Rome from its mythic beginnings to the period of the First Punic War in 264–241 b.c.e.
[3. ]On the “axes and fasces,” see above, book 2, chapter 3, p. 157, note a.
[(a) ]“Omnia jura (Regum) omnia insignia, primi Consules tenuere; id modò cautum eft ne si ambo fasces haberent, duplicatus terror videretur. Tit. Liv. lib. ii. § 1. [[Titus Livius (Livy) Ab urbe condita, book 2, chapter 18. De Lolme’s English text provides an approximate translation of the passage quoted in his note.]]
[(b) ]These new Senators were called conscripti: hence the name of Patres Conscripti, afterwards indiscriminately given to the whole Senate.—Tit. Liv. ibid. [[The patres conscripti, who started to be made senators at the time of the expulsion of the Tarquin kings in 510 b.c.e., were not members of the patrician class that composed the original Roman senate. The term conscripti was used to distinguish these senators from the patricians (patricii). See Titus Livius (Livy), Ab urbe condita, book 2, chapter 1.10–11.]]
[4. ]“Bonds.” The term applied to persons delivered bound to their creditors, for default of payment, until satisfaction was made.
[(a) ]Their number, which was only Ten, ought to have been much greater; and they never ought to have accepted the power left to each of them, of stopping by his single opposition the proceedings of all the rest. [[On the Roman tribunes, see above, book 2, chapter 2, p. 151, note 1; book 2, chapter 3, p. 157, note a; book 2, chapter 12, p. 200, note a.]]
[(a) ]A number of seditions were afterwards raised upon the same account.
[(b) ]“Quod Populus in se jus dederit, eo Consulem usurum; non ipsos libidinem ac licentiam suam pro lege habituros.”—Tit. Liv. lib. iii. § 9. [[Titus Livius (Livy), Ab urbe condita, book 3, chapter 9.5. The quoted passage reads: “Such authority over them as the people had granted the consuls, they should enjoy. But they should not make a law of their own whims and caprices.”]]
[5. ]De Lolme refers to legislation proposed in 462 b.c.e. by Gaius Terentilius Harsa that “five men be appointed to write down laws on the powers of consuls.” According to Livy’s account, the proposed law was not adopted; see Titus Livius (Livy), Ab urbe condita, book 3, chapter 9.
[6. ]The decemvirs began work in 451 b.c.e. on a summation of basic legal rules and procedure that eventually resulted in the Twelve Tables. As De Lolme reports, while the decemvirs held office, other Roman magistracies—such as the office of consul and tribune—were suspended.
[7. ]See above, book 2, chapter 5, p. 170, note 3.
[8. ]“A power within a power.”
[(a) ]Acerrimum telum. [[Titus Livius (Livy), Ab urbe condita, book 3, chapter 55.5.]]
[(a) ]“Ab Tribunis, velut per interregnum, concilio Plebis habito, apparuit quae ex promulgatis Plebi, quae latoribus, gratiora essent; nam de foenore atque agro rogationes jubebant, de plebeio Consulatu antiquabant (antiquis stabant): & perfecta utraque res esset, ni Tribuni se in omnia simul consulere Plebem dixissent.”—Tit. Liv. lib. vi. § 39. [[Titus Livius (Livy), Ab urbe condita, book 6, chapter 39.1–3. De Lolme’s text provides an approximate translation of the passage quoted in his note.]]
[9. ]For Tiberius Gracchus and Caius Gracchus, see above, book 2, chapter 7, p. 181, note 2. Marcus Fulvius Flaccus was an ally of Caius Gracchus, with whom he served as tribune in 122 b.c.e. He was murdered by his political opponents in 121 b.c.e.
[(a) ]The Revolutions which have formerly happened in France, have all ended like those above mentioned: of this a remarkable instance may be seen in the note (a) p. 29, 30. of this Work. The same facts are also to be observed in the History of Spain, Denmark, Sweden, Scotland, &c.; but I have avoided mentioning States of a Monarchical form, till some observations are made, which the Reader will find in the XVIIth Chapter. [[See above, book 1, chapter 2, p. 37, note a; and below, book 2, chapter 17.]]
[10. ]In giving examples of ancient and early modern republics in which the interests of the populace were neglected by the political elites, De Lolme refers to Thucydides’ (ca. 460 b.c.e.–ca. 400 b.c.e.) History of the Peloponnesian War and to Machiavelli’s 1525 History of Florence, as well as to the previously cited writings of Livy and Dionysius of Halicarnassus.
[11. ]De Lolme, here and in the paragraphs which complete the chapter, returns to the English constitutional history he set out more fully in book 1, chapters 1–3.
[(a) ]All possessors of lands took the engagement to establish in behalf of their Tenants and Vassals (erga suos) the same liberties which they demanded from the King.—Mag. Char. cap. xxxviii. [[Magna Carta, chap. 38. See above, book 1, chapter 2, pp. 35–37.]]
[(a) ]The disorders which took place in the latter part of the reign of that Prince, seem indeed to contain a complete contradiction of the assertion which is the subject of the present Chapter; but they, at the same time, are a no less convincing confirmation of the truth of the principles laid down in the course of this whole Work. The above mentioned disorders took rise from that day in which Charles the First gave up the power of dissolving his Parliament; that is, from the day in which the Members of that Assembly acquired an independent, personal, permanent authority, which they soon began to turn against the People who had raised them to it. [[See De Lolme’s previous discussion of this episode in book 2, chapter 3, p. 155, note a.]]