Front Page Titles (by Subject) 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. - The Constitution of England; Or, an Account of the English Government
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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. - 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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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.
The power of the Crown is supported by deeper, and more numerous, roots, than the generality of people are aware of, as has been observed in a former Chapter; and there is no cause anxiously to fear that the wresting any capital branch of its prerogative, may be effected, in common peaceable times, by the mere theoretical speculations of Politicians. However, it is not equally impracticable that some event of the kind we mention, may be brought about through a conjunction of several circumstances. Advantage may, in the first place, be taken of the minority, or even also the inexperience or the errors, of the person invested with the kingly authority. Of this a remarkable instance happened under the reign of King George the First, while that Bill, by which the number of Peers was in future to be limited to a certain number, was under consideration in the House of Commons, to whom it had been sent from that of the Lords, where it had been passed. So unacquainted was the King at that time with his own interest, and with the constitution of that Government over which he was come to preside, that having been persuaded by that party who wished success to the Bill, that the objection made against it by the House of Commons, was only owing to an opinion they entertained of the Bill being dis-agreeable to him, that he was prevailed upon to send a message to them, to let them know that such an opinion was ill-grounded, and that should the Bill pass in their House, it would meet with his assent (a) . Considering the prodigious importance of the consequences of such a Bill, the fact is certainly very remarkable (b) .
With those personal disadvantages under which the Sovereign may lie for defending his authority, other causes of difficulty may concur:—such as popular discontents of long continuance in regard to certain particular abuses of influence or authority. The generality of the Public bent, at that time, both upon remedying the abuses that are complained of, and preventing the like from taking place in future, will perhaps wish to see that branch of the prerogative which gave rise to them, taken from the Crown: a general disposition to applaud such a measure, if effected, will be manifested from all quarters; and at the same time Men may not be aware that the only material consequence that may arise from depriving the Crown of that branch of power which has caused the public complaints, will perhaps be the having transposed that branch of power from its former seat to another, and having trusted it to new hands, which will be still more likely to abuse it than those in which it was formerly lodged.
In general, it may be laid down as a maxim, that Power, under any form of Government, must exist, and be trusted somewhere. If the Constitution does not admit of a King, the governing authority is lodged in the hands of Magistrates. If the Government, at the same time it is a limited one, bears a Monarchical form, those shares of power that are retrenched from the King’s prerogative, most likely continue to subsist, and are vested in a Senate, or Assembly of great Men under some other name of the like kind.
Thus, in the Kingdom of Sweden, which, having been a limited Monarchy, may supply examples very applicable to the Government of this Country, we find that the power of convoking the General States (or Parliament) of that Kingdom, had been taken from the Crown; but at the same time we also find that the Swedish Senators had invested themselves with that essential branch of power which the Crown had lost.—I mean here to speak of the Govern-ment of Sweden, as it stood before the last revolution.2
The power of the Swedish King, to confer offices and employments, had been also very much abridged. But what was wanting to the power of the King, the Senate enjoyed: it had the nomination of three persons for every vacant office, out of whom the king was to choose one.
The king of Sweden had but a limited power in regard to pardoning offenders; but the Senate likewise possessed what was wanting to that branch of his prerogative; and it appointed two persons without the consent of whom the King could not remit the punishment of any offence.
The King of England has an exclusive power in regard to foreign affairs, war, peace, treaties;—in all that relates to military affairs; he has the disposal of the existing army, of the fleet, &c. The King of Sweden had no such extensive powers; but they nevertheless existed: every thing relating to the above mentioned objects was transacted in the Assembly of the Senate; the majority decided; the King was obliged to submit to it; and his only privilege consisted in his vote being accounted two (a) .
If we pursue farther our enquiry on the subject, we shall find that the King of Sweden could not raise whom he pleased to the office of Senator, as the King of England can, in regard to the office of member of the Privy Council; but the Swedish States, in the Assembly of whom the Nobility enjoyed most capital advantages, possessed a share of the power we mention, in conjunction with the King; and in cases of vacancies in the Senate, they elected three persons, out of whom the King was to return one.
The King of England may, at all times, deprive his Ministers of their employments. The King of Sweden could remove no Man from his office; but the States enjoyed the power that had been denied to the King; and they might deprive of their places both the Senators, and those persons in general who had a share in the Administration.
The King of England has the power of dissolving, or keeping assembled as long as he pleases, his Parliament. The King of Sweden had not that power; but the States might, of themselves, prolong their duration as they thought proper.
Those persons who think that the prerogative of a King cannot be too much abridged, and that Power loses all its influence on the dispositions and views of those who possess it, according to the kind of name used to express those offices by which it is conferred, may be satisfied, no doubt, to behold those branches of power that were taken from a King, distributed to several Bodies, and shared in by the Representatives of the People: but those who think that Power, when parcelled and diffused, is never so well repressed and regulated as when it is confined to a sole indivisible seat, that keeps the Nation united and awake,—those who know that, names by no means altering the intrinsic nature of things, the Representatives of the People, as soon as they are vested with independent authority, become ipso facto its Masters,—those persons, I say, will not think it a very happy regulation in the former Constitution of Sweden, to have deprived the King of prerogatives formerly attached to his office, in order to vest the same either in a Senate, or in the Deputies of the People, and thus to have trusted with a share in the exercise of the public power, those very Men whose Constitutional office should have been to watch and restrain it.
To the indivisibility of the governing authority in England, the community of interest which takes place among all orders of Men, is owing; and from this community of interest rises as a necessary consequence, the liberty enjoyed by all ranks of subjects. This observation has been insisted upon at length in the course of this Work. The shortest reflection on the frame of the human heart, suffices to convince us of its truth, and at the same time manifests the danger that would result from making any changes in the form of the existing Go-vernment by which this general community of interest might be lessened,—unless we are at the same time also determined to believe, that partial Nature forms Men in this Island, of quite other stuff than the selfish and ambitious one of which she ever made them in other Countries (a) .
But past experience does not by any means allow us to entertain so pleasing an opinion. The perusal of the History of this Country will shew us, that the care of its Legislators for the welfare of the subject, always kept pace with the exigencies of their own situation. When, thro’ the minority, or easy temper of the reigning Prince, or other circumstances, the dread of a superior Power began to be overlooked, the public cause was immediately deserted in a greater or less degree, and pursuit after private influence and lucrative offices took the place of patriotism. When, under the reign of Charles the First, the authority of the Crown was for a while utterly annihilated, those very Men who, till then, had talked of nothing but Magna Charta and Liberty, instantly endeavoured openly to trample both under foot.
Since the time we mention, the former Constitution of the Government having been restored, the great outlines of public liberty have indeed been warmly and seriously defended: but if any partial unjust laws or regulations have been made, especially since the Revolution of the year 1689, if any abuses injurious to particular classes of individuals have been suffered to continue (facts into the truth of which I do not propose to examine here), it will certainly be found upon enquiry, that those laws and those abuses were such as that from them the Members of the Legislature well knew, that neither they, nor their friends, would ever be likely to suffer.
If through the unforeseen operation of some new regulation made to restrain the royal prerogative, or through some sudden public revolution, any particular bodies or classes of individuals were ever to acquire a personal independent share in the exercise of the governing authority, we should behold the public virtue and patriotism of the Legislators and Great Men immediately cease with its cause, and Aristocracy, as it were watchful of the opportunity, burst out at once, and spread itself over the Kingdom.
The Men who are now the Ministers, then the Partners of the Crown, would instantly set themselves above the reach of the law, and soon after ensure the same privilege to their several supporters or dependants.
Personal and independent power being become the only kind of security of which Men would now shew themselves ambitious, the Habeas Corpus Act, and in general all those laws which Subjects of every rank mention with love, and to which they look up for protection and safety, would be spoken of with contempt, and mentioned as remedies fit only for Countrymen and Cits:3 —it even would not be long before they were set aside, as obstructing the wise and salutary steps of the Senate.
The pretension of an equality of right in all Subjects, of whatever rank and order to their property and to personal safety, would soon be looked upon as an old fashioned doctrine, which the Judge himself would ridicule from the Bench. And the liberty of the press, now so universally and warmly vindicated, would, without loss of time, be cried down and suppressed, as only serving to keep up the insolence and pride of a refractory people.
And let us not believe that the mistaken People, whose Representatives we now behold making such a firm stand against the indivisible power of the Crown, would, amidst the general devastation of every thing they hold dear, easily find Men equally disposed to repress the encroaching, while attainable, power of a Senate and Body of Nobles.
The time would be no more when the People, upon whatever Men they let their choice fall, are sure to find them ready sincerely to join in the support of every important branch of public liberty.
Present, or expected, personal power and in-dependence on the laws, being now the consequence of the trust of the People, wherever they should apply for servants, they would only meet with betrayers. Corrupting as it were every thing they should touch, they could confer no favour upon an individual but to destroy his public virtue; and to repeat the words used in a former Chapter, “their raising a Man would only be immediately inspiring him with views directly opposite to their own, and sending him to increase the number of their enemives.”4
All these considerations strongly point out the very great caution which is necessary to be used in the difficult business of laying new restraints on the governing authority. Let therefore the less informed part of the People, whose zeal requires to be kept up by visible objects, look if they choose upon the Crown as the only seat of the evils they are exposed to; mistaken notions on their part are less dangerous than political indifference, and they are more easily directed than roused,—but at the same time, let the more enlightened part of the Nation constantly remember, that the Constitution only subsists by virtue of a proper equilibrium,—by a line being drawn between Power and Liberty.
Made wise by the examples of several other Nations, by those which the History of this very Country affords, let the People in the heat of their struggles in the defence of liberty, always take heed, only to reach, never to overshoot, the mark,—only to repress, never to transfer and diffuse Power.
Amidst the alarms that may, at particular times, arise from the really awful authority of the Crown, let it, on the one hand, be remembered, that even the power of the Tudors was opposed and subdued,—and on the other let it be looked upon as a fundamental maxim, that, whenever the prospect of personal power and independence on the governing authority, shall offer to the view of the Members of the Legislature, or in general of those Men to whom the People must trust, even Hope itself is destroyed. The Hollander, in the midst of a storm, though trusting to the experienced strength of the mounds that protect him, shudders no doubt at the sight of the foaming Element that surrounds him; but they all gave themselves over for lost, when they thought the worm had got into their dykes (a) .5
[1. ]This chapter first appeared in the 1781 edition.
[(a) ]See the Collection of Parliamentary Debates; I do not remember exactly what Volume. [[In a message conveyed to the House of Lords on March 2, 1719, George I reported that he was “willing that his prerogative stand not in the way” of the passage of the proposed Peerage Bill; see A Collection of the Parliamentary Debates in England . . ., 21 vols. (London, 1739–42), 7:113–14.]]
[(b) ]This Bill has been mentioned in page 398. [[For De Lolme’s fuller account of the proposed legislation and its constitutional dangers, see above, book 2, chapter 17, pp. 262–63 and p. 263, note 4.]]
[2. ]That is, before the revolution of 1772, under the constitution of 1720. See above, book 2, chapter 17, p. 258, note c; pp. 263–65; and p. 265, note 7.
[(a) ]The Swedish Senate was usually composed of sixteen Members. In regard to affairs of smaller moment, they formed themselves into two divisions: in either of these when they did sit, the presence of seven Members was required for the effectual transacting of business: in affairs of importance, the assembly was formed of the whole Senate; and the presence of ten Members was required to give force to the resolutions. When the King could not, or would not, take his seat, the Senate proceeded nevertheless, and the majority continued to be equally decisive.
[(a) ]Such regulations as may capitally affect, through their consequences, the equipoise of a Government, may be brought about, even though the promoters themselves of those regulations, are not aware of their tendency. At the time the Bill was passed in the last century, by which it was enacted that the Crown should give up its prerogative of dissolving the Parliament then sitting [[De Lolme refers to the Triennial Act of 1641; see his earlier discussion at book 2, chapter 3, p. 155, note a, the generality of People had no thought of the calamitous consequences that were to follow: very far from it. The King himself certainly felt no very great apprehension on that account; else he would not have given his assent: and the Commons themselves, it appears, had but very faint notions of the capital changes which the Bill would speedily effect in their political situation.
[3. ]Cits was a shortened form of the word “citizen,” generally used to denote an inhabitant of a town or city of inferior social rank.
[4. ]See above, book 2, chapter 9, p. 190.
[(a) ]Such new forms as may prove destructive of the real substance of a Government, may be unwarily adopted, in the same manner as the superstitious notions and practices described in my Work, intitled Memorials of Human Superstition, may be introduced into a Religion, so as to entirely subvert the true spirit of it. [[De Lolme’s Memorials of Human Superstition, which first appeared in 1784, was a revised version of his 1777 The History of the Flagellants; or, the advantages of the Discipline; being a Paraphrase and Commentary on the Historia Flagellantium of the Abbé Boileau.]]
[5. ]In 1730 an infestation of “paal worms” (Teredo limmoria) threatened the wooden pilings that supported Holland’s sea dikes, which were then replaced with stone embankments.