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CHAPTER II.: ARISTOCRATIC REPUBLICS. - John Adams, The Works of John Adams, vol. 4 (Novanglus, Thoughts on Government, Defence of the Constitution) 
The Works of John Adams, Second President of the United States: with a Life of the Author, Notes and Illustrations, by his Grandson Charles Francis Adams (Boston: Little, Brown and Co., 1856). 10 volumes. Vol. 4.
Part of: The Works of John Adams, 10 vols.
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THE CANTON OF BERN.
It is scarcely possible to believe that M. Turgot, by collecting all authority into one centre, could have intended an aristocratical assembly. He must have meant, however, a simple form of government of some kind or other; and there are but three kinds of simple forms, democracy, aristocracy, and monarchy. As we have gone through most, if not all, the governments in Europe in which the people have any share, it will throw much light upon our subject if we proceed to the aristocracies and oligarchies; for we shall find all these under a necessity of establishing orders, checks, and balances, as much as the democracies. As the people have been always necessitated to establish monarchical and aristocratical powers, to check themselves from rushing into anarchy, so have aristocratical bodies ever been obliged to contrive a number of divisions of their powers to check themselves from running into oligarchy.
The canton of Bern has no other sovereign than the single city of Bern. The sovereignty resides in the grand council, which has the legislative power and the power of making peace, war, and alliances, and is composed of two hundred counsellors and ninety-nine assessors, the election of whom is made, by the seizeniers and the senate, from the citizens, from whom they are supposed virtually to derive their power; but a general assembly of the citizens is never called together, on any occasion, or for any purpose, not even to lay taxes, nor to make alliances or war. To be eligible into the grand council, one must be a citizen of Bern, member of one of the societies or tribes, and at least in the thirtieth year of his age.
The executive power is delegated by the grand council to the senate or little council, which is composed of twenty-seven persons, including the two avoyers or chiefs of the republic, the two treasurers of the German country and of the Pays de Vaud, and the four bannerets or commanders of the militia, taken from the first four tribes, for the four districts of the city.1 Vacancies in this senate are filled up by a complicated mixture of ballot and lot; twenty-six balls, three of which are gold, are drawn out of a box by the several senators; those who draw the golden ones nominate three electors out of the little council; in the same manner, seven members are designated from the grand council, who nominate seven electors from their body; these ten nominate ten candidates to be voted for in the grand council; the four of these who have the most votes, draw each of them a ball out of a box, which has in it two of gold and two of silver; the two who draw the gold are voted for in the grand council, and he who has the most votes is chosen, provided he be married, and has been ten years in the grand council.
Vacancies in the grand council are filled up at certain periods of about ten years, and two new members are appointed by each avoyer, one by each seizenier and senator, and two or three others by other officers of state; if there are more vacancies, they are filled by the election of the seizeniers and senators.
The seizeniers, who have this elective power, are drawn by lot from among those members of the grand council who have held the office of bailiffs, and who have finished the term of their administration. The bannerets and seizeniers have, by the constitution, an authority, for three days in Easter, resembling that of the censors in ancient Rome, and may deprive any member of either council of his place; but, as their sentence must be confirmed by the great council, they never exercise their power. There are six noble families at Bern, who enjoy the precedence of all the other senators although more ancient members, and have rank immediately after the bannerets.
The principal magistrates are, the two avoyers, who hold their offices for life; the two treasurers, who continue for six years; and the four bannerets, who remain only four. The avoyers officiate alternately a year; and the reigning avoyer, although he presides in council, in an elevated seat under a canopy, and has the public seal before him, has no vote, except in cases of equal divisions, and never gives his opinion unless it is required. The avoyer, out of office, is the first senator and president of the secret council.
The secret council is composed of the avoyer out of office, the four bannerets, the two treasurers, and two other secret counsellors taken from the senate. In this body all affairs that require secrecy,—and some of these are of great importance,—are debated and determined.
The grand council assembles and deliberates by its own authority at stated times, and superintends all affairs, although the most important are delegated generally to the senate. The whole administration is celebrated for its uncommon moderation, precision, and despatch.1
There are seventy-two bailiwicks, distributed in four classes, comprehending a country of sixty leagues in length, or a third part of all Switzerland, subject to this city. The bailiffs are appointed by lot from the grand council. They were formerly chosen, but this method, rendering all the members dependent upon a few, who had the most influence, had too strong a tendency to an oligarchy. The bailiwicks are the most profitable places, and are filled from the grand council. The bailiffs live in much splendor, and are able to lay up two or three thousand pounds sterling a year, besides discharging all their expenses. They represent the sovereign authority, put the laws in execution, collect the revenues, and act as judges in civil and criminal causes. An appeal lies to Bern, in civil causes to the courts of justice, and in criminal to the senate; but as the judges on appeal are persons who either have been or expect to be bailiffs, there is great reason to be apprehensive of partiality.
There is no standing army, but every male of sixteen is enrolled in the militia, and obliged to provide himself a uniform, a musket, powder, and ball; and no peasant is allowed to marry without producing his arms and uniform. The arms are inspected every year, and the men exercised. There are arsenals of arms at Bern, and in every bailiwick, sufficient for the militia of the district, and a sum of money for three months’ pay. The dragoons are chosen from the substantial farmers, who are obliged to provide their own horses and accoutrements. There is a council of war, of which the avoyer out of place is president in peace; in war, a general is appointed to command all the forces of the state.
There is a political seminary for the youth, called the exterior state, which is a miniature of the whole government. The young men assemble and go through all the forms; they have their grand council, senate, avoyers, treasurers, bannerets, seizeniers, &c.; the post of avoyer is sought with great assiduity. They debate upon political subjects, and thus improve their talents by exercise, and become more capable of serving the public in future life.1
The nobility in this country are haughty, and much averse to mixing in company, or any familiar conversation with the common people; the commons are taught to believe the nobles superiors, whose right it is to rule; and they believe their teachers, and are very willing to be governed.
The canton of Fribourg is aristocratical, not having more than forty families who can have any part in the government. These all live very nobly; that is to say, without commerce, manufactures, or trades.
The sovereignty and legislative authority reside in the council of two hundred persons, composed of the two avoyers, who are for life; twenty-two counsellors; four bannerets; sixty other counsellors, from whom the twenty-four who compose the senate, in which resides the executive power, are taken when they are to be replaced; and one hundred and twelve others, whom they call the grand senate of two hundred.
The two avoyers are elected by the plurality of suffrages of all the citizens. They hold their offices for life, and preside alternately a year. The twenty-two counsellors are also for life, and are designated by lot, as well as the bannerets, whose charges continue but three years. The sixty also are nominated by lot, and are drawn from the hundred and twelve, called the two hundred. These last come forward in the state by the presentation and nomination of the secret chamber, composed of twenty-four, besides the bannerets, who are the chiefs of it. This chamber, which is sovereign, besides the right of nomination to the state, has alone that of correction and of proposing regulations.
The two avoyers, the twenty-two counsellors, and the four bannerets, form the little senate, which hears and determines civil causes, and assembles every day.
The affairs of state are carried before the grand senate of two hundred.
The tribes are corporations of tradesmen, who have no part in government, and who assemble in the abbays, only for the affairs of their occupations, and all their statutes are approved or rejected by the senate.
There are thirty-one bailiwicks subject to this canton. The method of determining the members of the little senate and secret council is another check. The names of the candidates in nomination are placed in a box, containing as many partitions as there are persons; the ballots are thrown into this box by the electors, without knowing how the names are placed; and the candidate whose name occupies the division, which receives by accident the most ballots, has the lot. This is to guard against the influence of families; for, among those few families from which alone any candidate can be taken, some have more influence than others. The canton contains sixty-six thousand souls. Its land produces good pasture, some corn, and little wine; it has no commerce, and not much literature. It has more troops in foreign service than any other canton in proportion. As the rivers and lakes have a direct communication with the sea, they might have a valuable commerce; but as none of the persons concerned in government can be merchants, no commerce can ever be in fashion, except that of their noble blood to foreign sovereigns. It is no doubt much to the honor of their fidelity and valor to be chosen so generally to be the lifeguards of princes; but whether they can vindicate such a traffic upon principles of justice, humanity, or policy, from the imputation of a more mercenary spirit than that of ordinary commerce, is for them to consider. The conservation of the oligarchy, however, is entirely owing to this custom; for a youthful, fiery nobility, at home in idleness, would necessarily become ambitious of popularity, and either procure, by intrigues and insurrections, a greater share of importance to the people, or set up one of the greatest genius and enterprise among them for a despot. In foreign service they exhaust their restless years, and return, after the death of their fathers, fatigued with dissipation, to enjoy their honors and estates; to support those laws which are so partial to their wishes; and to reassume the manly simplicity of manners of their native country.
The canton of Soleure, seven leagues in breadth and twelve in length, contains fifty thousand souls, and the patrician families are in quiet possession of all the public offices. The sovereign is the city of Soleure; and the sovereignty resides in the grand council, consisting of two avoyers, who preside alternately, and whose election depends upon the council, and all the citizens in general, who are divided into eleven tribes; of twenty-three of the thirty-three senators taken from the tribes, each of which furnishes three; and of sixty-six members who represent the citizens, and are taken also from the tribes in equal numbers, namely, six from each tribe.1
The senate is composed of the two avoyers, and the thirty-three senators taken from the tribes, making thirty-five in all, who are called the little council, conduct the affairs of state, and judge causes, civil and criminal. The two councils make together the number of one hundred, without computing the avoyer in office, who presides in chief. This body, named the grand council, makes laws and statutes; treats of alliances, peace, and war; decides appeals in the last resort; elects the treasurer, the fourth in rank in the estate, and the exterior bailiffs. The thirty-three senators consist of eleven alt-raths or senior counsellors, and twenty-two junk-raths or juniors. Upon the removal, by death, of one of the alt-raths, the eldest of the junkraths succeeds him, and this vacancy is filled out of the great council, by election of the eleven alt-raths. From among the alt-raths, the two avoyers, the banneret, and the treasurer, the four principal magistrates of the commonwealth, are chosen; and on the death of an avoyer, the banneret succeeds to his place, after having gone through the formality of a nomination by the general assembly of citizens. Vacancies in the grand council are supplied by the alt-raths, from the same tribe to which the deceased member belonged. There is an annual meeting of the whole body of the citizens, in which the avoyers and banneret are confirmed in their places; the senior and junior counsellors, at the same time, mutually confirm each other.1 All these confirmations are matters of course, and mere form. All other public employments are disposed of by the senate.
The revenues of the public and salaries of officers are very considerable, and afford the few distinguished families very profitable emoluments. The grand sautier is annually elected by all the citizens. There are several tribunals and chambers,—the secret council, formed of the two avoyers, the banneret, the treasurer, the most ancient of the senators of the first order, or alt-raths, the secretary of state, and attorney-general; the council of war; the council of justice, which is composed of six members of the little council, and eleven members of the grand council, one of whom is furnished by each tribe; the grand sautier presides in it, instead of the avoyer in office; the consistory and the chamber of orphans. This canton has a large country subject to it, comprehending eleven bailiwicks.
The soil is extremely fertile; yet there is a want of hands for agriculture, and population decreases; although commodiously situated for commerce, they have none. These circumstances are enough to show the blessings of a government by a few noble families. They show another thing, still more curious, to wit,—the consequence of mixing the nobles and commons together. The latter have been led to reduce their own constitutional share in the government to a mere form, and complaisantly to resign all the substance into the hands of those whom they think their natural superiors; and this will eternally happen, sooner or later, in every country in any degree considerable for extent, numbers, or wealth, where the whole legislative and executive power are in one assembly, or even in two, if they have not a third power to balance them.
Let us by no means omit, that there is a grand arsenal at Soleure, as there is at Bern, well stored with arms, in proportion to the number of inhabitants in the canton, and ornamented with the trophies of the valor of their ancestors.
Nor should it be forgotten, that a defensive alliance has subsisted between France and several of these cantons for more than a century, to the great advantage of both. These republicans have found in that monarchy a steady, faithful, and generous friend. In 1777, the alliance was renewed in this city of Soleure, where the French ambassador resides, and extended to all the cantons. In the former treaty an article was inserted, that, if any dissensions should arise between the cantons, his majesty should, at the request of one of the parties, interpose his mediation, by all gentle means, to bring about a reconciliation; but if these should fail, he should compel the aggressor to fulfil the treaties between the cantons and their allies. As this article was manifestly incompatible with that independence which republicans ought to value above all things, it has been wisely omitted in the new treaty; and it would have become the dignity of the Swiss character to have renounced equally those pensions, which are called Argents de Paix et d’Alliance, as inconsistent, not only with a republican spirit, but with that equality which ought to be the foundation of an alliance.
The canton of Lucerne comprehends a country of sixteen leagues long and eight wide, containing fifteen bailiwicks, besides several cities, abbeys, monasteries, signories, &c. The inhabitants are almost wholly engaged in agriculture and the exportation of their produce. Their commerce might be greatly augmented, as the river Reuss issues from the lake, passes through the town, and falls into the Rhine.
The city contains less than three thousand souls, has no manufactures, little trade, and no encouragement for learning; yet the sovereign is this single city, and the sovereignty resides in the little and great council, having for chiefs two avoyers, who are alternately regents. There are five hundred citizens in the town, from whom a council of one hundred are chosen, who are nominally the sovereignty; out of this body are formed the two divisions, the little council, senate, or council of state, consisting of thirty-six members, divided into two equal parts, of eighteen each, one of which makes choice of the other every half year. The whole power is actually exercised by this body, the two divisions of which administer the government by turns. They are subject to no control; are neither confirmed by the sovereign council nor by the citizens; the division which retires confirming that which comes in. As the vacancies in the senate are filled up by themselves, all power is in possession of a few patrician families. The son succeeds the father, and the brother his brother.
The grand council consists of sixty-four persons, taken from the citizens, who are said to have their privileges; but it is hard to guess what they are, as the elections are made by the little and great council conjointly.1
The administration, the police, the finances, and the whole executive power is in the senate, which is constantly sitting.
The grand council is assembled only upon particular occasions, for the purpose of legislation. The senate has cognizance of criminal causes; but in capital cases, the grand council is convoked to pronounce sentence; in civil causes an appeal lies from the senate to the grand council; but these appeals can be but mere forms, the same senators being in both courts.
As the senate constitutes above a third of the grand council, chooses its own members, confers all employments, has the nomination to ecclesiastical benefices, and two thirds of the revenues of the canton belonging to the clergy, its influence must be uncontrollable.1
The two avoyers are chosen from the senate by the council of one hundred, and are confirmed annually. The relations of the candidates are excluded from voting; but all such checks against influence and family connections in an oligarchy are futile, as all laws are ciphers. There are also certain chambers of justice and police.
In some few instances, such as declaring war and making peace, forming alliances, or imposing taxes, the citizens must be assembled and give their consent, which is one check upon the power of the nobles.
The canton of Zurich contains one hundred and fifty thousand souls, upon an area of forty miles by thirty, and abounds in corn, wine, and all the ordinary productions of excellent pastures. Literature has been encouraged, and has constantly flourished in this country, from the time of Zuinglius to that of Gesner and Lavater. The inhabitants are industrious, their manufactures considerable, and their commerce extensive.
In the city is a public granary, an admirable resource against scarcity; and a magnificent arsenal, well filled with cannon, arms, and ammunition, particularly muskets for thirty thousand men, the armor of the old Swiss warriors, and the bow and arrow with which William Tell shot the apple on the head of his son:
The sovereign is the city of Zurich. The sovereignty resides in the two burgomasters, in the little council, composed of forty-eight members, and the grand council, composed of one hundred and sixty-two members; all taken from thirteen tribes, one of which is of the nobles, and the other twelve of citizens.
Although there are twelve thousand souls in the capital, and one hundred and fifty in the canton, there are not more than two thousand citizens. In early times, when the city had no territory round it, or a small one, the citizens were in possession of the government; when they afterwards made additions, by conquest or purchase, they still obstinately held this power, and excluded all their new subjects. It is a hundred and fifty years since a new citizen has been admitted; besides electing all the magistrates, and holding all offices, they have maintained a monopoly of commerce, and excluded all strangers, and even subjects of the canton, from conducting any in the town. Such are commons, as well as nobles and princes, whenever they have power unchecked in their hands!1
There is, even in this commercial republic, a tribe of nobles, who consider trade as a humiliation.
The legislative authority is vested in the grand council of two hundred and twelve, including the senate.
The senate consists of twenty-four tribunes and four counsellors, chosen by the nobles; to these are added twenty, elected by the sovereign council, making in all, with the two burgomasters, fifty;2 half of them administer six months, and are then succeeded by the rest. The burgomasters are chosen annually by the sovereign council, and one of them is president of each division of the senate, which has the judicial power in criminal matters, without appeal, and in civil, with an appeal to the grand council.
The members of the senate are liable to be changed, and there is an annual revision of them, which is a great restraint.
The state is not only out of debt, but saves money every year, against any emergency. By this fund they supported a war in 1712 without any additional taxes. There is not a carriage in the town, except it be of a stranger.
Zurich has great influence in the general diet, which she derives more from her reputation for integrity and original Swiss independence of spirit, than from her power.
The sovereign is the city of Schaffhause. The citizens, about sixteen hundred, are divided into twelve tribes, one of which consists of nobles, and eleven are ordinary citizens.
The sovereignty resides in the little and grand councils.
The senate, or little council of twenty-five, has the executive power.
The great council, comprising the senate, has the legislative, and finally decides appeals.
The burgomasters are the chiefs of the republic, and alternately preside in both councils.
Besides these there are, the secret council of seven of the highest officers; the chamber of justice, of twenty-five, including the president; the prætorian chamber, of thirteen, including the president; the consistory, of nine; and the chamber of accounts, of nine. The city has ten bailiwicks subject to it.1
THE CITY OF MULHOUSE.
The sovereign is the city; the sovereignty resides in the little and the grand council. The lesser council is composed of twenty-four persons, namely,—three burgomasters who preside by turns, each one six months, nine counsellors, and twelve tribunes, who succeed by election, and are taken from the grand council.
The grand council is composed of seventy-eight, namely,—the twenty-four of the lesser council, thirty-six members of the tribes, six from each, and eighteen taken from the body of the citizens, and elected three by each of the six tribes.
THE CITY OF BIENNE.
The republic of Bienne contains less than six thousand souls.
The regency is composed of the great council, in which the legislative authority resides, consisting of forty members; and of the little council, composed of twenty-four, who have the executive.
Each of these councils elect its own members from the six confraternities of the city.
The burgomaster is chosen by the two councils, presides at their meetings, and is the chief of the regency; he continues in office for life, although he goes through the form of an annual confirmation by the two councils, when the other magistrates submit to the same ceremony. The burgomaster keeps the seal, and, with the banneret, the treasurers, and the secretary, forms the economical chamber and the chamber of orphans.
This town sends deputies to the general diets, ordinary and extraordinary.1
THE REPUBLIC OF ST. GALL.
The republic of St. Gall is a league and a half in circumference, and contains nine thousand souls. The inhabitants are very industrious in manufactures of linen, muslin, and embroidery, have an extensive commerce, and arts, sciences, and literature are esteemed and cultivated among them. They have a remarkable public library, in which are thirteen volumes of original manuscript letters of the first reformers. To see the different effects of different forms of government on the human character, and the happiness and prosperity of nations, it would be worth while to compare this city with Constance, in its neighborhood.
This happy and prosperous, though diminutive republic, has its grand council of ninety persons, its little council of twenty-four, and three burgomasters. The little council consists of the three burgomasters, nine senators, and twelve tribunes. The grand council consists of all the little council, and eleven persons from each tribe; for the city is divided into the society of the nobles and six tribes of the artisans, of whom the weavers are the principal.1
Besides these, there are the chamber of justice, the chamber of five, and some others.*
In the republic of Geneva the sovereignty resides in the general council, lawfully convened, which comprehends all the orders of the state, and is composed of four syndics, chiefs of the republic, presidents of all the councils; of the lesser council of twenty-five; of the grand council of two hundred, though it consists of two hundred and fifty when it is complete; and of all the citizens of twenty-five years of age. The rights and attributes of all these orders of the state are fixed by the laws. The history of this city deserves to be studied with anxious attention by every American citizen. The principles of government, the necessity of various orders, and the fatal effects of an imperfect balance, appear nowhere in a stronger light. The fatal slumbers of the people, their invincible attachment to a few families, and the cool, deliberate rage of those families, if such an expression may be allowed, to grasp all authority into their own hands, when they are not controlled or overawed by a power above them in a first magistrate, are written in every page.*
The petty council is indifferently called the council of twenty-five, the petit council, or the senate.
The council of sixty is a body elected by the senate, and meets only for the discussion of foreign affairs.
The grand council and council of two hundred are one and the same body; it is still called the council of two hundred, though it now consists of two hundred and fifty members.
The general council, called indiscriminately the sovereign council, the general assembly, the sovereign assembly, the assembly of the people, or the council general, is composed of all the citizens or freemen of twenty-five years of age.
At the time of the Reformation, every affair, important or trifling, was laid before the general assembly; it was both a deliberating and acting body, that always left the cognizance of details to four syndics; this was necessary, in that time of danger, to attach the affections of the citizens to the support of the commonwealth by every endearing tie. The city was governed by two syndics of its own annual election. The multiplicity of affairs had engaged each syndic to nominate some of the principal citizens to serve as assessors during his administration; these assessors, called counsellors, formed a council of twenty-five persons. In 1457, the general council decreed that the council of twenty-five should be augmented to sixty. This body, in 1526, was augmented to two hundred.
Thus far the aristocratical gentlemen proceeded upon democratical principles, and all is done by the general assembly. At this instant commences the first overt act of aristocratical ambition. Warm in their seats, they were loath to leave them, or hold them any longer at the will of the people. With all the subtlety and all the sagacity and address which is characteristic of this order of men, in every age and nation, they prevailed on the people to relinquish for the future the right of electing counsellors in the general assembly; and the people, with their characteristic simplicity and unbounded confidence in their rulers when they love them, became the dupes, and passed a law, that the two councils should for the future elect, or at least approve and affirm, each other. This is a natural and unavoidable effect of doing all things in one assembly, or collecting all authority into one centre. When magistrates and people meet in one assembly, the former will forever do as they please, provided they proceed with any degree of prudence and caution.
The consequence was, that the annual reviews were a farce. Only in a very few instances, and for egregious faults, were any excluded; and the two councils became perpetual, and independent of the people entirely. The illusions of ambition are very subtle. If the motives of these magistrates, to extend the duration of their authority, were the public good, we must confess they were very ignorant. It is most likely they deceived themselves, as well as their constituents, and mistook their own ambition for patriotism. But this is the progressive march of all assemblies; none can confine themselves within their limits, when they have an opportunity of transgressing them. These magistrates soon learned to consider their authority as a family property, as all others, in similar circumstances, ever did, and ever will.
They behaved like all others in another respect, too; their authority being now permanent, they immediately attacked the syndics, and transferred their power to themselves.
The whole history of Geneva, since that period, follows of course. The people, by their supineness, have given up all balances and betrayed their own privileges, as well as the prerogatives of their first magistrates, into the hands of a few families.
The people of Geneva, as enlightened as any, have never considered the necessity of joining with the syndics, nor the syndics, that of joining the people; but have constantly aimed at an impossibility, that of balancing an aristocratical by a democratical assembly, without the aid of a third power.1
The government of this republic is said to be purely aristocratical; yet the supreme power is lodged in the hands of two hundred and forty nobles, with the chief magistrate at their head, who is called gonfaloniero, or standard-bearer, and has the executive power. This magistrate is assisted by nine counsellors, called anziani, whose dignity lasts but nine months; he has a life-guard of sixty Swiss, and lives in the republic’s palace, as do his counsellors, at the public expense; after six years he may be rechosen. The election of all officers is decided in the senate by ballot.1
The legislative authority of Genoa is lodged in the great senate, consisting of signors, or the doge and twelve other members, with four hundred noblemen and principal citizens, annually elected. All matters of state are transacted by the signori, the members of which hold their places for two years, assisted by some other councils; and four parts in five of the senate must agree in passing a law. The doge is obliged to reside in the public palace the two years he enjoys his office, with two of the signors and their families. The palace where he resides, and where the great and little council, and the two colleges of the procuratori and rettori assemble, is a large stone building in the centre of the city. At the expiration of his time, he retires to his own house for eight days, when his administration is either approved or condemned; and in the latter case, he is proceeded against as a criminal. At the election of the doge, a crown of gold is placed on his head, and a sceptre in his hand, as King of Corsica; he is attended with life-guards, is clothed in crimson velvet, and styled Most Serene, the senators Excellencies, and the nobility Illustrious.
The nobility are allowed to trade in the wholesale way; to carry on velvet, silk, and cloth manufactures; and to have shares in merchant ships; and some of them, as the Palavicini, are actually the greatest merchants in Genoa.
The extent is about one hundred and fifty-two miles, the breadth from eight to twenty miles.1
The republic of Venice has existed longer2 than that of Rome or Sparta, or any other that is known in history. It was at first democratical; and its magistrates, under the name of tribunes, were chosen by the people in a general assembly. A tribune was appointed annually to distribute justice on each of those islands which this people inhabited. Whether this can be called “collecting all authority into one centre,” or whether it was not rather dividing it into as many parcels as there were islands, this simple form of government sufficed for some time, in so small a community, to maintain order; but the tyrannical administration of the tribunes and their eternal discords rendered a revolution necessary; and after long altercations and many projects, the people, having no adequate idea of the only natural balance of power among three orders, determined that one magistrate should be chosen as the centre of all authority—the eternal resource of every ignorant people, harassed with democratical distractions or aristocratical encroachments.
This magistrate must not be called king, but duke, and afterwards doge; he was to be for life, but at his death another was to be chosen; he was to have the nomination of all magistrates, and the power of peace and war. The unbounded popularity and great real merit of Paul Luc Anafeste added to the pressure of tribune tyranny and the danger of a foreign enemy, accomplished this revolution. The new doge was to consult only such citizens as he should judge proper; this, instead of giving him a constitutional council, made him the master;1 he, however, sent polite messages to those he liked best, praying that they would come and advise him. These were soon called pregadi, as the doge’s council is still called, though they are now independent enough of him.
The first and second doge governed mildly; but the third made the people repent of their confidence. After serving the state by his warlike abilities, he enslaved it; and the people, having no constitutional means to restrain him, put him to death in his palace, and resolved to abolish the office. Hating alike the name of tribune and of doge, they would have a master of the militia, and he should be annually eligible. Factions too violent for this transient authority arose; and, only five years after, the people abolished this office, and restored the power of the doge, in the person of the son of him whom in their fury they had assassinated. For a long course of years after this, the Venetian history discloses scenes of tyranny, revolt, cruelty, and assassination, which excite horror. Doges endeavoring to make their power hereditary, associating their eldest sons with them in office, and both together oppressing the people; these rising, and murdering them, or driving them into banishment, never once thinking of introducing a third order between them and their first magistrate, nor any other form of government, by which his power or theirs might be limited.2 In the tenth century, a son of their doge took arms against his father, but was defeated, banished, and declared incapable of ever being doge; yet, no sooner was the father dead, than this worthless son was elected, and brought back in great pomp to Venice.3 He soon became a tyrant and a monster, and the people tore him to pieces, but took no measure to frame a legal government. The city increased in commerce, and by conquests, and the new subjects were not admitted to the privileges of citizens; this accession of dominion augmented the influence of the doge. There was no assembly but that of the people, and another called the council of forty, for the administration of justice. This body, in the twelfth century, formed something like a plan of government.
Although the descendants of the ancient tribunes and doges were generally rich, and had a spontaneous respect shown to the antiquity of their families, they were not properly a nobility, having no legal rights, titles, or jurisdictions. As any citizen might be elected to a public office, and had a vote in the assemblies, it was necessary for the proudest among them to cultivate the good-will of the multitude, who made and murdered doges. Through all these contests and dissensions among a multitude, always impatient, often capricious, demanding at the same time all the promptitude and secrecy of an absolute monarchy, with all the license of a simple democracy, two things wholly contradictory to each other, the people had, to their honor, still maintained their right of voting in assembly, which was a great privilege, and nobody had yet dared to aim a blow at this acknowledged right of the people.
The council of forty now ventured to propose a plan like that of Mr. Hume, in his Idea of a Perfect Commonwealth, and like that which our friend, Dr. Price, informs us was proposed in the convention of Massachusetts.
The city was divided into six districts, called sestiers. The council of forty proposed that each of these partitions should name two electors, amounting to twelve in all, who should have the power of choosing from the whole city four hundred and seventy. These should have the whole power of the general assembly, and be called the grand council.
The people were amused with fine promises of order and regularity, and consoled with assertions that their right of election still continued, and that those who should not be chosen one year, might be the next. Not perceiving that this law would be fatal to their power, they suffered that aristocracy to be thus founded, which subsists to this hour. The next proposal was, that a committee of eleven should be appointed to name the doge. Though the design of reducing the people to nothing might have been easily seen in these manœuvres, yet, wearied, irritated, and discouraged by eternal discords, they agreed to both.
The council of forty, having thus secured the people, turned their eyes to the doge, whose authority had often been perverted to the purposes of oppression; and, having no legal check, had never been restrained but by violence, and all the confusions which accompany it. They proposed that a privy council of six should be appointed for the doge, one from each division of the city, by the grand council themselves, and that no orders should be valid without their concurrence. This passed into a law, with unanimous applause. They then proposed a senate of sixty, who were to be elected out of the grand council, and to be called the pregadi.1 This, too, was approved. The grand council of four hundred and seventy, the senate of sixty, the six counsellors, and eleven electors, were accordingly all chosen, and the last were sworn to choose the doge, without partiality, favor, or affection; and the new-chosen doge, having taken care to distribute money among the multitude, was received with universal acclamations. In his reign was instituted, by permission of the pope, the curious ceremony of wedding the sea, by a ring cast into it, in signum veri et perpetui imperii. Under the next doge, the avogadori2 were instituted, to see that the laws were fully executed.
In the thirteenth century, six new magistrates, called correctors, were created by the senate, to inquire into all abuses during the reign of a deceased doge, and report them to the senate; and it was enacted, that the fortune of the doge should indemnify the state for whatever damage it had suffered during his administration; and these correctors have been appointed at the decease of every doge since that time. In the next reign, a new tribunal of forty was erected, for the trial of civil causes.
In the same century, a new method of appointing the doge, by the famous ballot of Venice, a complicated mixture of choice and chance, was adopted. Each of the grand counsellors, now augmented to forty-one, to avoid the inconvenience of an equal division, draws a ball out of a box, containing thirty gilt and the rest white; those who draw the gilt ones go into another room, where is a box with thirty balls, nine of which are gilt, and draw again; and those who obtain the gilt balls are the first electors. They choose forty, comprehending themselves in that number; the forty, by repeating the whole process, are reduced to twelve second electors, the first of whom names three, and the rest two apiece; these twenty-five draw again from as many balls, nine of which are gilt; this reduces them to nine third electors, each of whom chooses five; which forty-five are reduced, by a repetition of the ballot, to eleven fourth electors, and they have the appointment of forty-one, who are the direct electors of the doge. The choice generally turns upon two or three candidates, whose names are put into another box, and drawn out. The first whose name is drawn retires, and proclamation is made for objections against him; if any are made, he comes in, and is heard in his defence. Then the electors proceed to determine by ayes and noes; if there are twenty-five ayes, he is chosen; if not, another name is read, and the same action taken, until there are twenty-five in the affirmative.1
The grand council, ever anxious to limit the power of the doge, soon thought it improper that the public acts should be signed by a chancellor appointed by him, and accordingly determined to appoint this officer themselves.1
The senate then began to think it too great a respect to the people, to have the new doge presented to them for their acclamations, and ordained that a syndic should congratulate him in the name of the people on his election. The populace, who had weakly surrendered their rights, were very angry at being deprived of this show, and proclaimed a doge of their own; but he was afraid of the contest, and retired; and the people, having no man of weight to head them, gave up this point.
The new doge, who had much contempt for popular government, and some resentment for the slight opposition he had met with, procured a law to be passed, that all the members of the grand council should hold their places for life, transmit them to their posterity, and that their elections by the people’s electors should cease. This establishment of a hereditary legislative nobility, no doubt, shocked the citizens in general, but chiefly those of ancient families, who were not at that moment members of the grand council. To silence these, the most powerful of them were received into the grand council, and others had a promise that they should be admitted at a future time. Commerce and wars soon turned the attention of the rest of the people from all thought about the loss of their privileges. A few, however, some time after, formed a plan, not to convene the people in a body, and new-model the constitution, but to assassinate the doge and council all together. The plot, which was carried on by the plebeians, was discovered, and the chiefs executed. Another originated among the nobles, some of them of the grand council, who, being of very ancient families, could not bear to see so many citizens raised to a level with themselves, and others of them, the most distinguished of those who were not of the grand council, and had not been afterwards received, according to promise. This produced a skirmish in the city. A few of the conspiring nobles were killed, the rest routed, and many executed; but it was thought prudent to admit several from the most distinguished families. These two conspiracies produced a council of ten, upon which were afterwards engrafted the state inquisition.
Great care is taken in Venice to balance one court against another, and render their powers mutual checks to each other. The college called the signory, was originally composed of the doge and six counsellors; to these were added six of the grand council chosen by the senate, and called the savii, or sages; then five more for land affairs; and then five for sea affairs, in the room of whom five young noblemen are now chosen every six months, who attend, without a vote, for their education; to these were added the three chiefs of the criminal court, from a jealousy of the power of the college, which is both the cabinet council and the representative of the state, gives audience and answers to ambassadors, to agents of towns and generals of the army, receives all petitions, summons the senate, and arranges its business.
There is one instance of a doge’s concerting a conspiracy to shake off the control of the senate; but as it was an old man of fourscore, whose young wife, on whom he doted, was not treated with sufficient respect by the nobility, we need not wonder that he had not sense enough to think of introducing a regular, well-balanced constitution, by a joint concurrence of the people and the nobility. The whole plan was to massacre the grand council; and, although he engaged in his design some of the highest officers, and a large party, the plot was discovered, the doge himself tried, condemned, and beheaded, as so infamous a piece of mad villany justly deserved.
A punctual execution of the laws is no doubt essential to the existence of this state; and there are striking instances of persons punishing their nearest relations with the most unrelenting severity; without this, the doge on one hand, or the people on the other, would soon think of a union against the ruling nobility. The aristocracy is always sagacious, and knows the necessity of a rigorous impartiality in order to preserve its power, and all the barriers we have described have been erected for this purpose. But all would be insufficient to restrain the popular passions, without the lions’ mouths and the state inquisitors, which were ingrafted on the council of ten.
This terrible tribunal is sovereign in all crimes against the state; it consists of ten, chosen yearly by the grand council; the six of the signory assist, and the doge presides when he pleases. Three chiefs, appointed monthly by lot, to open all letters, seize the accused, take examinations, and prosecute the prisoner, who is closely confined, allowed no council, and finally acquitted or condemned to death, in public or private, by the plurality of voices. This was the original tribunal; but it was not found sufficient, and (in the beginning of the sixteenth century)1 the state inquisitors were created. This tribunal consists only of three persons, all taken from the council of ten, who have2 authority to decide, without appeal, on the life of every citizen, the doge himself not excepted. They employ what spies they please. If they are unanimous, they may order a prisoner to be strangled in jail or drowned in the canal, hanged in the night or by day, as they please. If they are divided, the cause must go before the council of ten; but even here, if the guilt is doubtful, the rule is to execute the prisoner in the night. The three may command access to the house of every individual in the state,3 and have even keys to every apartment in the palace of the doge, may enter his bed-chamber, break his cabinet, and search his papers. By this tribunal have doge, nobility, and people been kept in awe, and restrained from violating the laws, and to this is to be ascribed the long duration of this aristocracy.
Such are the happy effects of the spirit of families, when they are not bridled by an executive authority, in the hands of a first magistrate on one hand, and by an assembly of the people in person, or by adequate representation, on the other! Such are the blessings which, in course of ages, spring from a neglect in the beginning to establish three orders, and a perfect balance between them! There can be, in the nature of things, no balance without three powers. The aristocracy is always more sagacious than an assembly of the people collectively, or by representation, and sooner or later proves an overmatch in policy. It is always more cunning, too, than a first magistrate, and always makes of him a doge of Venice, a mere ceremony, unless he makes an alliance with the people, to support him against it. What is the whole history of the wars of the barons but one demonstration of this truth? What are all the standing armies in Europe but another? These were all given to kings by the people, to defend them against aristocracies. The people have been generally of M. Turgot’s mind, that balances and different orders were unnecessary; and, harassed to death by the domination of noble families, they have generally surrounded the throne with troops to humble them. They have commonly succeeded so far as to make the nobles dependent on the crown; but, having given up the balance which they might have held in their own hands, they are still subject to as much aristocratical domination as the crowns think proper to permit. In Venice, the aristocratical passion for curbing the prince and the people has been carried to its utmost length.1 It is astonishing to many that any man will accept the office of doge. Sagacious nobles, who always know, at least, the vices and weaknesses of the human heart better than princes or people, saw that there would generally be vanity enough in an individual to flatter himself, that he had the qualities to go through his administration without incurring censure, and with applause; and, further, that the frivolous distinction of living in the ducal palace, and being the first man in the nation,2 though it were only the first among equals, would tempt most men to risk their lives and fortunes; and accordingly it has so happened. There has been an uncommon solicitude all along to restrain his power. This, no doubt, was to prevent him from a possibility of negotiating with the people against them; on the other hand, there have been uncommon exertions to annihilate every power, every hope in the people. This was to prevent them from having a legal possibility of applying to the doge for assistance. All this together would not, however, have succeeded, if death, in the shape of the inquisition, had not been made to stare both doge and people in the face, upon the first thought of their conferring together.
The nobles are divided into six classes,—1. Twelve of the most ancient families. 2. Four families that in the year 880 subscribed to the building of the abbey of St. George. 3. Those whose names were written in the golden book, in 1296. 4. Those that were ennobled by the public in 1385. 5. Those who purchased their nobility for one hundred thousand ducats in 1646. And, 6. The strangers who have been received into the number of nobility. The whole make about two thousand five hundred.
There are four councils,—1. The doge and the signoria of six. 2. The consiglio grande, in which all the nobles have seats and voices. 3. The consiglio de’ pregadi, of two hundred and fifty, and is the soul of the republic. 4. The consiglio proprio delli dieci—and the state inquisitors.1
THE REPUBLIC OF THE UNITED PROVINCES OF THE LOW COUNTRIES.
Here were a stadtholder, an assembly of the states-general, a council of state; the stadtholder hereditary had the command of armies and navies, and appointment of all officers, &c.
Every province had an assembly besides, and every city, burgomasters, counsellors, and schepens or judges, besides an hooft officer and his dienders, for the police.
The history of this country, and its complicated constitutions, affords an inexhaustible store of materials to our purpose, but, considering the critical situation of it, prudence dictates to pass it over. With all the sagacity, and more wisdom than Venice or Bern, it has always had more consideration for the people than either, and has given more authority to the first magistrate. It has never had any exclusive preferences of families or nobles. Offices have, by law at least, been open to all men of merit.1
[1 ]The senate is now elected by the grand council, and is subject to annual confirmation.
[1 ]The government of Bern, though extremely aristocratic in its character, seems until lately to have been satisfactory to the great mass of the people. The doctrines of the French revolution excited little sympathy, and the invasion which followed was resisted by the whole nation, although feebly seconded by the government itself. The old system was overturned by the French power, which imposed upon the people a new one. The people of Switzerland were ordered by General Brune, at the head of thirty thousand French troops, to enjoy a free government, “one and indivisible.” It was not until after the general settlement of Europe, in 1816, that any part of the old form was permanently reëstablished. Certain modifications were then introduced, all of them of a popular character, without materially changing the nature of the government. Yet, as they serve to show the progress of liberal principles, it may not be without use to point them out.
[1 ]A Berne, il y a un exercice bien singulier pour les jeunes patriciens qui sortent du collége. C’est ce qu’on appelle l’état extérieur. C’est une copie en petit de tout ce qui compose le gouvernement de la république. Un sénat, des avoyers, des officiers, des huissiers, des orateurs, des causes, des jugemens, des solemnités. L’état extérieur a même un petit gouvernement et quelques rentes, et cette institution, autorisée et protégée par le souverain, est la pepinière des hommes d’état qui dirigeront un jour les affaires publiques dans les mêmes emplois qu’ils n’exercent d’abord que par jeu.” Rousseau, Considérations sur le Gouvernement de Pologne.
[1 ]The constitution of Soleure has undergone some change since this was written.
[1 ]The most important change made in the government is found in the abolition of all distinctions between the old and new burghers, and in the extension of the mutual privilege of gaining citizenship among the respective tribes in city and country.
[1 ]The government of Lucerne has undergone changes, although none which materially alter the principle at its foundation. The most important is the extension of the right of election of members of the great council of one hundred, so that fifty are taken from the burghers of the city, and fifty from the country. Of these, thirty-one are chosen by the citizens of the respective towns or districts to which they are apportioned; the remaining sixty-nine are chosen by the council itself. They hold their places for life.
[1 ]The qualifications for the grand council are, over and above the preceding, the age of twenty-five; and, in default of the requisite property, some valuable service to the state.
[1 ]The exclusive character of this system has been very much changed. The right of election is extended to the population of the whole canton, divided into sixty-five tribes, the number of representatives being apportioned, as nearly as possible, to the number of citizens. The city of Zurich chooses two for each of the thirteen tribes; the tribe of Winterthur chooses five; and each of the fifty-one remaining tribes chooses one. The grand council chooses the rest, one hundred and thirty in number.
[2 ]The senate now consists of only twenty-five chosen from and by the great council. The members of both bodies hold their places for six years, one third going out every two years.
[1 ]This organization is done away by the constitution adopted in 1814. A provision is therein made for a revision by the two bodies once in twelve years.
[1 ]By the act of the congress of Vienna, the city and territory of Bienne was annexed and made a part of the canton of Bern.
[1 ]By the act of the congress of Vienna, St. Gall was constituted a canton, and its constitution confirmed. By this constitution the territory was divided into eight districts and subdivided into forty-four circles.
[* ]Let me add here, that the facts relating to the Swiss cantons and their environs, are taken from Quarante Tables Politiques de la Suisse, par C. E. Faber, Bernois, Pasteur à Bishviller, in 1746; with some additional observations from the beautiful Sketches of Mr. Coxe, which are as instructive as they are entertaining.
[* ]To prove this, I need only refer to the Historical and Political View of the Constitution and Revolutions of Geneva in the Eighteenth Century, by F. D’Ivernois.
[1 ]The French revolution, which broke out not long after the composition of these volumes, swept over Switzerland, overturning much of the old system, and introducing new features, which have not yet acquired a great share of stability. Napoleon remodelled the forms of government of all the different cantons, consulting the advantage of the people far more than their prejudices. The consequence was, that, with the fall of his power, his system ceased to have any support. Yet one fundamental change has survived all the conflicts and shocks of the last half century. The act of mediation decreed in 1803, that “there should be no longer, in Switzerland, any subject countries, nor special privileges of place or of birth, of persons or of families”; and the subsequent congress of the allied sovereigns at Vienna, in the reestablishment of the various powers of Europe, acknowledged this principle in Switzerland, by organizing some of those subject countries as new cantons, with constitutions partaking of the general character of all the rest.
[1 ]By the act of the Congress of Vienna, Lucca was granted to the Infanta Maria Louisa, with the title of a duchy, and with complete sovereignty. In case of the extinction of her family, it was to be united to Tuscany.
[1 ]The government was finally overturned, in 1799, by the armies of France. Genoa was granted by the allies, at Vienna, to the King of Sardinia, with certain conditions.
[2 ]The republic ceased to exist in 1798.
[1 ]Les historiens vénitiens se sont fait un point d’honneur de prouver que, par ce changement, Venise n’avait perdu ni son titre de république, ni sa liberté. Ceci ne serait qu’une dispute de mots. Qui gouverne seul est un monarque; la liberté n’est pas impossible dans la monarchie, ni la tyrannie dans la république. Venise elle-même nous fournira l’un et l’autre exemple. Daru, Histoire de la République de Venise, vol. i. p. 50.
[2 ]Out of fifty successively exercising the powers of this office during this period, five were massacred, nine deposed, five of whom were banished with deprivation of sight, five voluntarily abdicated, and one was killed in foreign war.
[3 ]Piero Candiano. See Daru, Hist. de Venise, vol. i. pp. 104-107.
[1 ]“Quant aux attributions de ce conseil, il est probable qu’on ne les considéra d’abord que comme une délégation de l’assemblée générale, et que toute l’autorité du sénat s’établit par prescription.” Daru, Hist. de Vénise.
[2 ]This most important modification of the system deserves a little more notice. Count Daru describes it thus:—
[1 ]This singularly complicated mode of election lasted for five centuries and a half.
[1 ]“Cette institution offre une particularité rémarquable sous un autre rapport. En même temps qu’on donnait au grand-chancelier la prééminence sur les membres de tous les conseils excepté les conseillers du doge et les procurateurs de Saint-Marc, on réglait que le titulaire de cette dignite serait toujours choisi dans le corps des secrétaires. Or les secrétaires n’étaient pas tirés des familles nobles, mais de la bourgeoisie, qu’on appelait à Venise la citadinance. Daru.
[1 ]Daru, in his history, assigns the year 1454 as the true date of this tribunal.
[2 ]In specified cases. There were other cases in which the power given was more limited. The patricians could not be condemned to death by this tribunal, nor by the council of ten.
[3 ]Any one of them might order the arrest and imprisonment of whom he pleased.
[1 ]‘De tous les gouvernemens de l’Europe, celui de Venise était seul réglé, stable, et uniforme. Il n’avait qu’un vice radical qui n’en était pas un aux yeux du sénat; c’est qu’il manquait un contre-poids à la puissance patricienne, et un encouragement aux plébéiens. Le mérite ne put jamais dans Venise élever un simple citoyen.” Voltaire.
[2 ]“Rex in purpurâ, senator in curiâ, in urbe captivus, extra urbem privatus.”
[1 ]The storm which raged all over Europe carried with it the remnants of the once haughty and formidable aristocracy of Venice. By the act of the Congress of Vienna, Venice was transferred to Austria, which, on the twenty-fourth of April, 1815, promulgated a constitution for what was denominated the Lombardo-Venetian kingdom. Of this the Milanese made one part, and the Venetian territory the other. Its principal feature consists in what are called congregations. These are of two kinds, the central and the provincial. The central congregation is composed of nobles, of land owners not noble, and of representatives of royal towns. Each province sends one noble and one not noble. They are selected by the Austrian sovereign from lists of three candidates named by the corporate authorities. They serve for six years; one half go out every three years. The provincial congregation is composed in much the same way. The powers of both these bodies are merely advisory. In truth, it is the shadow of a popular form, whilst the substantial power is retained in the hands of the sovereign.
[1 ]The government of Holland grew out of the immediate necessities of the heroic struggle with the power of Spain. It never could be presented as a model for imitation by any people. It was a singular combination of corporation and aristocratic influence with the federal principle. The author had good reasons for avoiding at the moment of publication any analysis of the system, which was then crumbling, and has been since swept completely away. The present government is constructed somewhat, though not entirely, upon the principles advocated in this work. The executive power is vested in one person. The legislative department consists of two bodies,—one of one hundred and ten deputies, and the other of not less than forty. The former are elected by the states; one third go out yearly. The latter are appointed by the king, and serve for life. The system has worked sufficiently well thus far to resist the pressure which is again heaving the social foundations of Europe.