Front Page Titles (by Subject) CHAPTER III.: MONARCHICAL OR REGAL REPUBLICS. - The Works of John Adams, vol. 4 (Novanglus, Thoughts on Government, Defence of the Constitution)
Return to Title Page for The Works of John Adams, vol. 4 (Novanglus, Thoughts on Government, Defence of the Constitution)
The Online Library of Liberty
A project of Liberty Fund, Inc.
Search this Title:
CHAPTER III.: MONARCHICAL OR REGAL 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.
About Liberty Fund:
Liberty Fund, Inc. is a private, educational foundation established to encourage the study of the ideal of a society of free and responsible individuals.
The text is in the public domain.
Fair use statement:
This material is put online to further the educational goals of Liberty Fund, Inc. Unless otherwise stated in the Copyright Information section above, this material may be used freely for educational and academic purposes. It may not be used in any way for profit.
MONARCHICAL OR REGAL REPUBLICS.
Poland and England. The history of these countries, the last especially, would confirm the general principle contended for. But who can think of writing upon this subject after De Lolme, whose book is the best defence of the political balance of three powers that ever was written?
If the people are not equitably represented in the house of commons, this is a departure in practice from the theory. If the lords return members of the house of commons, this is an additional disturbance of the balance. Whether the crown and the people in such a case will not see the necessity of uniting in a remedy,1 are questions beyond my pretensions. I only contend that the English constitution is, in theory, both for the adjustment of the balance and the prevention of its vibrations, the most stupendous fabric of human invention; and that the Americans ought to be applauded instead of censured, for imitating it as far as they have done. Not the formation of languages, not the whole art of navigation and ship-building does more honor to the human understanding than this system of government. The Americans have not indeed imitated it in giving a negative upon their legislature to the executive power;2 in this respect their balances are incomplete, very much I confess to my mortification; in other respects, they have some of them fallen short of perfection, by giving the choice of some militia officers, &c. to the people;1 these are, however, small matters at present. They have not made their first magistrates nor their senators hereditary. Here they differ from the English constitution, and with great propriety.2
The agrarian3 in America is divided among the common people in every state, in such a manner, that nineteen twentieths of the property would be in the hands of the commons, let them appoint whom they could for chief magistrate and senators. The sovereignty then, in fact, as well as morality, must reside in the whole body of the people; and a hereditary king and nobility, who should not govern according to the public opinion, would infallibly be tumbled instantly from their places. It is then not only most prudent, but absolutely necessary, in order to avoid continual violence, to give the people a legal, constitutional, and peaceable mode of changing these rulers, whenever they discover improper principles or dispositions in them. In the present state of society, and with the present manners, this may be done, not only without inconvenience, but greatly for the happiness and prosperity of the country. In future ages, if the present states become great nations, rich, powerful, and luxurious, as well as numerous, their own feelings and good sense will dictate to them what to do; they may make transitions to a nearer resemblance of the British constitution, by a fresh convention, without the smallest interruption to liberty. But this will never become necessary, until great quantities of property shall get into few hands.4
The truth is, that the people have ever governed in America; all the force of the royal governors and councils, even backed with fleets and armies, has never been able to get the advantage of them, who have stood by their houses of representatives in every instance, and have always carried their points. No governor ever stood his ground against a representative assembly. So long as he governed by their advice he was happy; so soon as he differed from them he was wretched, and was soon obliged to retire.
The king of Poland is the first magistrate in the republic, and derives all his authority from the nation. He has not the power to make laws, raise taxes, contract alliances, or declare war, nor to coin money, nor even to marry, without the ratification of the diet.
The senate is composed of the clergy and nobility; the third estate, or people, is not so much as known. The grand marshal, the marshal of the court, the chancellor, vice chancellor, and the treasurer, are the first senators.
The nobility or gentry possess the dignities and employments, in which they never permit strangers or the commonalty to have any participation; they elect their king, and never suffer the senate to make themselves masters of this election. The peasants are slaves to the gentry. Having no property, all their acquisitions are made for their masters; they are exposed to all their passions, and are oppressed by them with impunity.
The general diets, which are usually held at Warsaw or Grodno, are preceded by particular assemblies of palatinates, in which the deputies are chosen for the general assembly, and instructed; the deputies assembled in general diet, proceed to the election of a marshal, who has a very extraordinary power, that of imposing silence on whom he pleases; he is the chief or speaker of the assembly.
At the death, abdication, or deposition of a king, the primate calls the assembly of the electors to an open field near Warsaw. Here the electors take an oath, not to separate until they shall have unanimously elected a king, nor to render him when elected any obedience, until he has sworn to observe the pacta conventa and the laws.
The candidates must let their gold glitter, and give splendid entertainments, which must be carried into debauch; the nobility are captivated with the attractions of magnificence and Hungarian wine, and infallibly declare in favor of the candidate who causes it to flow in the greatest profusion. The ambassadors enter upon intrigues, even in public; the nobility receive their presents, sell their suffrages with impunity, and render the throne venal; but they often behave with little fidelity to the candidate in whose interest they pretend to be engaged, and, forgetting the presents they have received, espouse, without hesitation, the cause of a more wealthy competitor. When the candidate has gained all the suffrages, he is declared king, is sworn to observe the pacta conventa and the laws, and then crowned. The Poles are polite and friendly; but magnificence is the foible of the nobility, and they sacrifice all things to luxury; as they seldom see any person superior to them in their own country, and treat their inferiors with an air of absolute authority, they live in all the splendor of princes. This is the account of the Abbé des Fontaines, in the year 1736; it is to be hoped things have since changed for the better; but if this account was true then, who can wonder at what has happened since?
Here again is no balance; a king, and an assembly of nobles, and nothing more. The nobles discover their unalterable disposition whenever they have the power to limit the king’s authority; and there being no mediating power of the people, collectively or representatively, between them, the consequence has been what it always will be in such a case, confusion and calamity.
1 In the most ancient times which records or history elucidate, the monarchy of Poland, like all others denominated feudal, was, in theory and pretension, absolute. The barons, too, in this country as in all others, were very often impatient under such restraint. When the prince was an able statesman and warrior, he was able to preserve order; but when he was weak and indolent, it was very common for two or three barons in conjunction to make war upon him;1 and sometimes it happened that all together leagued against him at once. In every feudal country, where the people had not the sense and spirit to make themselves of importance, the barons became an aristocracy, incessantly encroaching upon the crown; and, under pretence of limiting its authority, they took away from it one prerogative after another, until it was reduced to the state of a mere doge of Venice, or avoyer of Bern; until the kings, by incorporating cities and granting privileges to the people, set them up against the nobles, and obtained by their means standing armies, sufficient to control both nobles and commons.
The monarchy of Poland, nearly absolute, sunk in the course of a few centuries, without any violent convulsion, into an aristocracy.
It came to be disputed whether the monarchy was hereditary or elective, and whether its authority was sovereign or limited. The first question is resolved by supposing that the crown continued always in the same family, although, upon the death of a king, his successor was recognized in an assembly of the nobles. The second may be answered by supposing, that when the king was active and capable, he did as he pleased; but when he was weak, he was dictated to by a licentious nobility. Casimir the Great retrenched the authority of the principal barons, and granted immunities to the lesser nobility and gentry; well aware that no other expedient could introduce order, except a limitation of the vast influence possessed by the palatines or principal nobility. If this prince had been possessed of any ideas of a free government, he might easily have formed the people and inferior gentry into an assembly by themselves, and, by uniting his power with theirs against the encroachments of the nobles upon both, have preserved his own. His nephew, Louis of Hungary, who succeeded him, being a foreigner, was, at his accession, obliged by the nobility to subscribe conditions, not to impose any taxes by his royal authority, without the consent of the nation, that is, of the nobles, for no other nation is thought on; and in case of his demise without male heirs, the privilege of appointing a king should revert to the nobles. In consequence of this agreement, Louis was allowed to ascend the throne. Having no son, with a view of insuring the succession to Sigismund, his son-in-law, he promised to diminish the taxes, repair the fortresses at his own expense, and to confer no offices or dignities on foreigners.
Louis died; but Sigismund was emperor, and therefore powerful, and might be formidable to the new immunities. The Poles, aware of this, violated the compact with Louis, neglected Sigismund, and elected Ladislaus, upon his ratifying Louis’s promises, and marrying his daughter.
Ladislaus, having relinquished the right of imposing taxes, called an assembly of prelates, barons, and military gentlemen, in their respective provinces, in order to obtain an additional tribute. These provincial assemblies gave birth to the dietines; they now no longer retain the power of raising money in their several districts, but only elect the nuncios or representatives for the diet.
Ladislaus III., the son of the former, purchased his right to the succession, during the life of his father, by a confirmation of all the concessions before granted, which, at his accession, he solemnly ratified. Casimir III., brother of Ladislaus III., consented to several further innovations, all unfavorable to regal prerogative. One was the convention of a national diet, invested with the sole power of granting supplies. Each palatinate or province was allowed to send to the general diet, besides the palatines and other principal barons, a certain number of nuncios or representatives, chosen by the nobles and burghers. Is it not ridiculous, that this reign should be considered by the popular party as the era at which the freedom of the constitution was permanently established? This freedom, which consists in a king without authority, a body of nobles in a state of uncontrolled anarchy; and a peasantry groaning under the yoke of feudal despotism; the greatest inequality of fortune in the world; the extremes of riches and poverty, of luxury and misery, in the neighborhood of each other; a universal corruption and venality pervading all ranks; even the first nobles not blushing to be pensioners of foreign courts; one professing himself publicly an Austrian, another a Prussian, a third a Frenchman, and a fourth a Russian; a country without manufactures, without commerce, and in every view the most distressed in the world!
But, to proceed with an enumeration of the measures by which they have involved themselves in these pitiable circumstances.
Casimir was involved in several unsuccessful wars, which exhausted his treasures. He applied to the diet for subsidies.
Every supply was accompanied with a list of grievances, and produced a diminution of the royal prerogative. The barons, at the head of their vassals, were bound to fight, and the king could require such feudal services in defence of the kingdom. But Casimir III., to obtain pecuniary aids, gave up the power of summoning the nobles to his standard, and of enacting any law without the concurrence of the diet. John Albert, to procure an election in preference to his elder brother, assented to all the immunities extorted from his predecessors, and in 1469 swore to their observance. Alexander, his successor, in 1505, declared the following limitations of sovereign authority to be fundamental laws of the kingdom: 1. The king cannot impose taxes. 2. He cannot require the feudal services. 3. Nor alienate the royal domains. 4. Nor enact laws. 5. Nor coin money. 6. Nor alter the process in the courts of justice. Sigismund I. succeeded Alexander, and under his reign the Polish constitution was the most tolerable, as the property of the subject was best secured, and the crown had considerable influence; but this did not satisfy the nobles. Under Sigismund Augustus, son and successor of Sigismund I., that favorite object of the Polish nobles, the free election of the king, was publicly brought forward; and the king was obliged to agree, that no future monarch should succeed to the throne, unless freely elected by the nation. Before this, the sovereigns, upon their accession, though formally raised by the consent of the nation, still rested their pretensions upon hereditary right, always styling themselves heirs of the kingdom of Poland. Sigismund Augustus was the last who bore that title; at his death, in 1572, all title to the crown from hereditary right was formally abolished, and the absolute freedom of election established upon a permanent basis. A charter of immunities was drawn up at a general diet, a ratification of which it was determined to exact of the new sovereign, prior to his election. This charter, called pacta conventa, contained the whole body of privileges obtained from Louis and his successors, with the following additions: 1. That the king should be elective, and that his successor should never be appointed during his life. 2. That the diets, the holding of which depended solely upon the will of the kings, should be assembled every two years. 3. That every nobleman or gentleman in the realm should have a vote in the diet of election. 4. That in case the king should infringe the laws and privileges of the nation, his subjects should be absolved from their oaths of allegiance. From this period the pacta conventa, occasionally enlarged, have been confirmed by every sovereign at his coronation.
Henry of Valois, brother of Charles IX. of France, who ascended the throne after the constitution was thus new modelled, secured his election by private bribes to the nobles, and by stipulating an annual pension to the republic from the revenues of France. His example has been followed by every succeeding king; who, besides an unconditional ratification of the pacta conventa, has always been constrained to purchase the crown by a public largess and private corruption. Such is Polish liberty, and such the blessings of a monarchy elective by a body of nobles.
Under Stephen Bathori, the royal authority, or rather the royal dignity, was further abridged by the appointment of sixteen senators, chosen at each diet, to attend the king, and to give their opinion in all matters of importance, so that he could not issue any decree without their consent. Another fatal blow was given to the prerogative in 1578, by taking from the king the supreme jurisdiction of the causes of the nobles. It was enacted that, without the concurrence of the king, each palatinate should elect in its dietines its own judges, who should form supreme courts of justice, called tribunalia regni, in which the causes of the nobles should be decided without appeal, a mode which prevails to this day.
In the reign of John Casimir, in 1652, was introduced the liberum veto, or the power of each nuncio to interpose a negative and break up a diet, a privilege which the king himself does not enjoy. When the diet was debating upon transactions of the utmost importance, which required a speedy decision, a nuncio cried out, “I stop the proceedings,”1 and quitted the assembly. And a venal faction who supported his protest, unheard of as it was, obtained the majority, and broke up the assembly in confusion. The constitution was thus wholly changed, and an unlimited scope given to faction. The innovation was supported by the great officers of state, the general treasurer and marshal, who, being once nominated by the king, enjoyed their offices for life, responsible only to the diets, conscious that they could at all times engage a nuncio to protest, and thus elude an inquiry into their administration. It was also supported by the adherents of many nobles, accused of capital crimes before the diet, the only tribunal before which they could be tried. All the nuncios who opposed the raising of additional subsidies by taxes, which the exigencies of the state then demanded, seconded the proposal of putting an end to the assembly. But the principal cause of all was the foreign powers, interested to foment confusion in the Polish councils. Before this, they were obliged to secure a majority; afterwards, they might put an end to any diet unfriendly to their views, by corrupting a single member. This veto broke up seven diets in the reign of John Casimir, four under Michael, seven under John Sobieski, and thirty during the reigns of the two Augusti. In consequence of this necessity of unanimity, which they call the dearest palladium of Polish liberty, Poland has continued above a hundred years almost without laws.
But as the king still bestowed the starosties, or royal fiefs, which are held for life, and conferred the principal dignities and great offices of state, he was yet the fountain of honor, and maintained great influence in the councils of the nation; but this last branch of the royal prerogative was lately wrested from the crown by the establishment of the permanent council.
Thus it appears, in the history of Poland, as in that of Venice, Genoa, Bern, Soleure, and all others, that the nobles have continued, without interruption, to scramble for diminutions of the regal authority, to grasp the whole executive power, and augment their own privileges; and they have attained a direct aristocracy under a monarchical name, where a few are above the control, while the many are deprived of the protection of the laws.1
The present wretched state of the towns, compared with their former flourishing condition; the poverty of the peasants, whose oppressions have increased in proportion to the power of the nobles, having lost a protector when the king lost his weight in the constitution; the total confusion in all public affairs; the decline of importance and loss of territory; all show that absolute monarchy is preferable to such a republic. Would twelve millions of inhabitants, under an English constitution, or under the constitution of any one of the United States, have been partitioned and dismembered? No; not by a league of all the absolute sovereigns of Europe against them at once. Such are the effects of “collecting all authority into one centre,” of neglecting an equilibrium of powers, and of not having three branches in the legislature.
The practice of cantoning a body of soldiers near the plain where the kings are elected, has been adopted by several foreign powers for near a century; and, although it may be galling to the nobility, it prevents the effusion of blood that formerly deluged the assembly. This was done at the election of Stanislaus Augustus, by the Empress of Russia and the King of Prussia; five thousand Russian troops were stationed at a small distance from the plain of Vola.
Stanislaus was in the thirty-second year of his age when, in 1764, he ascended the throne. From his virtues and abilities, the fairest hopes were conceived of his raising Poland from its deplorable situation; but his exertions for the public good were fettered by the constitution, by the factions of a turbulent people, and the intrigues of neighboring powers. His endeavors to introduce order at home and independence abroad, which would have increased the power of his country and her consideration with foreign nations, alarmed the neighboring powers. The spirit of religious intolerance produced a civil war, and the senate petitioned the ambassador from Petersburg not to withdraw the Russian troops. The royal troops, aided by the Russians, whose discipline was superior, were in favor of religious liberty. The confederates, secretly encouraged by Austria, assisted by the Turks, and supplied with money and officers by the French, were able to protract hostilities from 1768 to 1772; during which period the attempt was made to assassinate the king.
Count Pulaski, who was killed in the service of the United States, is said to have planned an enterprise so much to his dishonor. No good cause ever was, or ever will be, served by assassination; and this is happily, in the present age, the universal sense of mankind. If a papal nuncio was found in Poland, capable of blessing the weapons of conspirators against this tolerant king, he was a monster, whose bloody bigotry the liberal spirit of the pope himself must, at this enlightened period, abominate. The king did himself immortal honor by his intercession with the diet to remit the tortures and horrid cruelties decreed by the laws of most kingdoms in Europe against treason, and by his moderation towards all the conspirators.
We are now arrived at the consummation of all panegyrics upon a sovereignty in a single assembly—the partition.
Prussia was formerly in a state of vassalage to this republic; Russia once saw its capital and throne possessed by the Poles; and Austria was indebted to John Sobieski, a sovereign of this country, but a century ago, for compelling the Turks to raise the siege of Vienna. A republic so lately the protector of its neighbors would not, in an age of general improvement, without the most palpable imperfections in the orders and balances of its government, have declined, and become a prey to any invader—much less would it have forced the world to acknowledge that the translation of nearly five millions of people from a republican government to that of absolute empires and monarchies, whether it were done by right or by wrong, is a blessing to them. The partition was projected by the King of Prussia, who communicated it to the emperor and empress. The plague was one circumstance, and the Russian war against the Turks another, that favored the design; and the partition treaty was signed at Petersburg, in February, 1772, by the Russian, Austrian, and Prussian plenipotentiaries. The troops of the three courts were already in possession of the greatest part of Poland, and the confederates were soon dispersed. The partitioning powers proceeded with such secrecy, that only vague conjectures were made at Warsaw, and Lord Cathcart, the English minister at Petersburg, obtained no authentic information of the treaty until two months after its signature. The formal notification was made to the king and senate at Warsaw by the imperial and Prussian ambassadors, in September, 1772, of the pretensions of their courts to the Polish territory. Their remonstrances, as well as those of the courts of London, Paris, Stockholm, and Copenhagen, had no effect; and the most humiliating record that ever appeared in the annals of a republic, is seen in the king’s summons:—“Since there are no hopes from any quarter, and any further delays will only tend to draw down the most dreadful calamities upon the remainder of the dominions which are left to the republic, the diet is convened for the nineteenth of April, 1773, according to the will of the three courts; nevertheless, in order to avoid all cause of reproach, the king, with the advice of the senate, again appeals to the guaranties of the treaty of Oliva.” It is not to be doubted that if there had been a people in existence in Poland, as there is in Holland, to have given this amiable prince only the authority of a stadtholder, he would have said, “I will die in the last ditch.”
Of the dismembered provinces, the Russian portion, which is the largest territory, contains only one million and a half of souls; the Austrian, which is the most populous, contains two millions and a half; the Prussian, which is the most commercial, commanding the navigation of the Vistula, contains only eight hundred and sixty thousand. This has given a fatal blow to the commerce of Poland, by transferring it from Dantzic to Memel and Königsberg.
The finishing stroke of all remains.
The three ambassadors, on the thirteenth of September, 1773, delivered “A part of those cardinal laws, to the ratification of which our courts will not suffer any contradiction.
“I. The crown of Poland shall be forever elective, and all order of succession proscribed. Any person who shall endeavor to break this law shall be declared an enemy to his country, and liable to be punished accordingly.
“II. Foreign candidates to the throne, being the frequent cause of troubles and divisions, shall be excluded; and it shall be enacted, that, for the future, no person can be chosen king of Poland and great-duke of Lithuania, excepting a native Pole of noble origin, and possessing land within the kingdom. The son, or grandson, of a king of Poland, cannot be elected immediately upon the death of his father or grandfather; and is not eligible excepting after an interval of two reigns.
“III. The government of Poland shall be forever free, independent, and of a republican form.
“IV. The true principle of said government consisting in the strict execution of its laws and the equilibrium of the three estates, namely,—the king, the senate, and the equestrian order, a permanent council shall be established, in which the executive power shall be vested. In this council the equestrian order, hitherto excluded from the administration of affairs in the interval of the diets, shall be admitted, as shall be more clearly laid down in the future arrangements.”
Thus the supreme legislative authority resides in the three estates of the realm,—the king, the senate, and equestrian order, assembled in a national diet; but each estate has no negative upon the other, and, therefore, there is no balance, and very little check. The great families and principal palatines will still govern without any effectual control.
The executive power is now vested in the supreme permanent council; but neither here have they any checks, all being decided by the majority; and the same principal families will always prevail.
These august legislators have acknowledged the principle of a free republican government, that it consists in a strict execution of the laws and an equilibrium of estates or orders. But how are the laws to govern? and how is the equilibrium to be preserved? Like air, oil, and water, shaken together in one bottle and left in repose; the first will rise to the top, the last sink to the bottom, and the second swim between.
Our countrymen will never run delirious after a word or a name. The name republic is given to things, in their nature as different and contradictory as light and darkness, truth and falsehood, virtue and vice, happiness and misery. There are free republics, and republics as tyrannical as an oriental despotism. A free republic1 is the best of governments, and the greatest blessing which mortals can aspire to. Republics which are not free, by the help of a multitude of rigorous checks, in very small states, and for short spaces of time, have preserved some reverence for the laws, and have been tolerable; but there have been oligarchies carried to such extremes of tyranny, that so far as the happiness of the nation at large is concerned, the despotism of Turkey would perhaps be preferable. An empire of laws is a characteristic of a free republic only, and should never be applied to republics in general. If there should ever be a people in Poland, there will soon be a real king; and if ever there should be a king in reality, as well as in name, there will soon be a people. For, instead of the trite saying, “no bishop, no king,” it would be much more exact and important truth to say, no people, no king, and no king, no people; meaning, by the word king, a first magistrate possessed exclusively of the executive power. It may be laid down as a universal maxim, that every government that has not three independent branches in its legislature will soon become an absolute monarchy; or an arrogant nobility, increasing every day in a rage for splendor and magnificence, will annihilate the people, and, attended with their horses, hounds, and vassals, will run down the king as they would hunt a deer, wishing for nothing so much as to be in at the death.
The philosophical King Stanislaus felt most severely this want of a people. In his observations on the government of Poland,1 he laments, in very pathetic terms, the miseries to which they were reduced.
“The violence,” says he, “which the patricians at Rome exercised over the people of that city, before they had recourse to open force, and, by the authority of their tribunes, balanced the power of the nobility, is a striking picture of the cruelty with which we treat our plebeians. Yet this portion of our state is even more debased among us than it was among the Romans, where it enjoyed a species of liberty, even in the times when it was most enslaved to the first order of the republic.
“We may say, with truth, that the people are, in Poland, in a state of extreme humiliation. We must, nevertheless, consider them as the principal support of the nation; and I am persuaded, that the little value we set on them might have very dangerous consequences.
“Who are they, in fact, who procure abundance in the kingdom? who are they that bear the burdens and pay the taxes? who are they that furnish men to our armies?1 who labor our fields? who gather in the crops? who sustain and nourish us? who are the cause of our inactivity? the refuge of our laziness? the resource for our wants? the support of our luxury? and, indeed, the source of all our pleasures? Is it not that very populace that we treat with so much rigor? Their pains, their sweat, their labors, do not they merit a better return than our scorn and disdain? . . .
“We scarcely distinguish them from the brutes which they maintain for the cultivation of our lands! We frequently have less consideration for their strength than we have for that of those animals! and, too frequently, in a shameful traffic, we sell them to masters as cruel as ourselves, who immediately force them, by an excess of hard labor, to repay the price of their new slavery!
“I cannot recollect without horror, that law which imposes only a fine of fifteen livres upon a gentleman2 who shall have killed a peasant. . . . Poland is the only country where the populace are fallen from all the rights of humanity; . . . we alone regard these men as creatures of another species, and we would almost refuse them the same air which they breathe with us. . . .
“God, in the creation of man, gave him liberty; what right have we to deprive him of it? . . .
“As it is natural to shake off a yoke that is rough, hard, and heavy, may it not happen that this people will make an effort to wrest themselves from our tyranny? Their murmurs and complaints must, sooner or later, lead to this. Hitherto, accustomed to their fetters, they think not of breaking them; but let a single man, with a masculine and daring spirit, arise among these unfortunate wretches, to concert and foment a revolt, what barrier strong enough could we oppose to the torrent?
“We have a recent instance, in the insurrection in the Ukraine, which was only occasioned by the vexations of those among us who had there purchased lands. We despised the courage of the poor inhabitants of that country; they found a resource in despair; and nothing is more terrible than the despair of those who have no courage.
“What is the condition to which we have reduced the people of our kingdom? Reduced by misery to the state of brutes, they drag out their days in a lazy stupidity, which one would almost mistake for a total want of feeling. They love no art; they value themselves on no industry; they labor no longer than the dread of chastisement forces them; convinced that they cannot enjoy the fruit of their ingenuity, they stifle their talents, and do not even try to comprehend what they are. Hence that frightful scarcity of the most common artisans in which we find ourselves. Should we wonder that we are in want of things the most necessary, when those who ought to furnish them cannot hope for the smallest profit from their labor to furnish us! It is only where liberty is found that emulation can exist.”
It would be a pleasure to translate the whole; but it is too long. It is a pity that the whole people, whose misery he describes and laments, were not equally sensible of the necessity of a less circumscribed royal authority.1
The sovereign, or rather the first magistrate of this monarchical republic, is the King of Prussia. The principality is composed of two countries, Neuchatel and Valengin, which were united in one single sovereignty by the Dukes of Longueville, whose family became extinct in 1707. The country submitted to the King of Prussia, who, by right of reversion, redemanded Neuchatel as a vacant fief of the house of Châlons, inherited by the Princes of Orange, to all the rights of whom he laid claim.
The authority of the king is limited by the great privileges of the country. The sovereignty is exercised conjointly,—1. By the king’s governor, who presides in the assembly of the states. 2. By the body of the three estates, composed of twelve judges, who administer justice in the last resort, and are four counsellors of state for the nobility. Four officers of judicature for the second rank, taken from the four chatellanies and the fifteen mayories. Four counsellors of the city, which is governed by sixty-four persons, who administer ordinary justice, and who are the four ministraux. Twenty-four persons for the little council, and forty for the grand council. The relation of this republican principality with the Helvetic body consists in an ancient fellow-citizenship with the four cantons of Bern, Lucerne, Fribourg, and Soleure; but the canton of Bern is particular protector, and the declared arbiter between it and its prince, since 1406. The city of Neuchatel has also a strict alliance of fellow-citizenship with Bern.1 The whole country subject to it contains twelve leagues in length and six in breadth, and is extremely well peopled; for it contains three cities, one burgh, ninety large villages, and three thousand houses, scattered at a distance from each other. It is consolidated out of two counties, Neuchatel and Valengin; two baronies, Gorgier and Vaumarcus, which belong to a nobleman of Bern; four lordships, Travers, Noiraque, Rosières, and Colombier; one priory, Valtravers; five abbeys. At this day, this princely republic is divided into four chatellanies and fifteen mayories. The first count of Neuchatel that is known is Ulric, who lived towards the end of the twelfth century. He had a son named Berthold, who, in 1214, made a convention with the inhabitants, concerning the rights, liberties, and franchises of the citizens and people of the country.
In 1406, the inhabitants of Neuchatel obtained a confirmation of their liberties of John of Châlons, lord of the county. In 1519, they obtained another confirmation of their rights and liberties, and an acknowledgment that their princes have no power over them but with their own consent. They have even changed their religion; and, in 1530, abolished the mass and all the rites and ceremonies of the Roman Catholic church, without the consent of their prince. Yet they suffered the house of Orleans Longueville to continue to enjoy their rights and revenues. The last male of this line died in 1694. The Prince of Conti wanted to succeed by testament; but the three estates were against him, and rejected his demands in 1694 and 1699. At this time William, Prince of Orange and King of Great Britain, maintained that he had pretensions on the county, derived from the house of Châlons. At the death of this prince, in 1702, the King of Prussia declared himself his heir, as the son of the eldest sister of King William’s father; and contended that the principality of Orange and the county of Neuchatel belonged to him. In 1707, after the death of Mary of Orleans, who had been invested in this principality by the three estates in 1694, the King of Prussia demanded the investiture of Neuchatel of the three estates, who granted it him because he was of their religion, and rejected the relations of the deceased and all other pretenders. His son, by the ninth article of the peace of Utrecht, obtained from Louis XIV. an acknowledgment of him as sovereign lord of Neuchatel and Valengin.
Although the inhabitants are jealous of their liberties, they are, nevertheless, attached to their prince. It is to the body of the states alone that it belongs to make statutes, laws, and ordinances, and they represent the sovereignty, and exercise the supreme authority. The king’s governor presides in it, but enters not into consultation with the counsellors. It was this tribunal which gave the investiture to the kings, and before whom every pretender must make out his claim. Without descending to a particular account of this princely republic, let me refer to the Dictionnaire de la Martinière and to Faber, printed at the end of the sixth volume of it, and to Coxe’s Sketches, and conclude with hinting at a few features only of this excellent constitution.
None but natives are capable of holding any office, civil or military, excepting that of governor. The same incapacity is extended to natives who are in the service of any foreign prince. All the citizens have a right to enter into the service of any foreign state, even though at war with Prussia. The three estates of Neuchatel and Valengin shall be assembled every year. The magistrates and officers of justice hold their employments during good behavior; nor is the king the judge of ill behavior. The king, at his accession, takes an oath to maintain all the rights, liberties, franchises, and customs, written or unwritten. The king is considered as resident only at Neuchatel, and, therefore, when absent, can only address the citizens through his governor and the council of state. No citizen can be tried out of the country, or otherwise than by the judges. The prince confers nobility, and nominates to the principal offices of state, civil and military; the chatelains and mayors, who preside in the several courts of justice, are also of his nomination. The prince, in his absence, is represented by a governor of his own appointing. He convokes the three estates; presides in that assembly, has the casting vote and the power of pardon. In his absence, his place is supplied by the senior counsellor of state. The three estates form the superior tribunal; and to them lies an appeal from the inferior courts of justice. They are composed of twelve judges, divided into three estates:—the first consists of the four senior counsellors of state, who are noble; the second, of the four chatelains of Landeron, Boudry, Val de Travers, and Thiel; the third, of four counsellors of the town of Neuchatel. The judges in the first and second division hold their places for life; those in the third are appointed annually.
The council of state is intrusted with the execution of the laws, the administration, and police. They are nominated by the king, and not limited in number.
The legislative authority resides conjunctively in the prince, the council of state, and the town or people, each of which has a negative. Their criminal laws are mild, and the penalty marked out with precision; personal liberty is tenderly and securely protected, as it is in England or America, where the same laws, in substance and spirit, prevail. The liberties of the people, though the most absolute monarch in Germany is first magistrate, are better secured than even in the most democratical cantons of Switzerland, where there is no property to contend for beyond the value of a pail of milk, a kid, or a lamb. Liberal encouragement is given to strangers to settle in the country. They enjoy every privilege of trade and commerce. This enlarged policy has greatly augmented the population; while a narrower principle, in some of the Swiss cantons, occasions a decrease of their people. The ancient constitution of Rhodes was probably much like this of Neuchatel, in three branches, and was accordingly celebrated as one of the best models of government in antiquity, and had effects equally happy upon the order, liberty, commerce, and population of that country. This happy mixture in three branches has been the never-failing means of reconciling law and liberty, in ancient and in modern times. “Ita demum liberam civitatem fore, ita æquatas leges, si sua quisque jura ordo, suam majestatem teneat.”* This is the only constitution in which the citizens can truly be said to be in that happy condition of freedom and discipline, sovereignty and subordination, which the Greeks express so concisely by their ἄϱχειν ϰαι ἄϱχεσθαι.
As we have taken a cursory view of those countries in Europe where the government may be called, in any reasonable construction of the word, republican, let us now pause a few moments, and reflect upon what we have seen.
Among every people, and in every species of republics, we have constantly found a first magistrate, a head, a chief, under various denominations, indeed, and with different degrees of authority, with the title of stadtholder, burgomaster, avoyer, doge, gonfaloniero, president, syndic, mayor, alcalde, capitaneo, governor, or king; in every nation we have met with a distinguished officer. If there is no example, then, in any free government, any more than in those which are not free, of a society without a principal personage, we may fairly conclude that the body politic cannot subsist, any more than the animal body, without a head. If M. Turgot had made any discovery which had escaped the penetration of all the legislators and philosophers who have lived before him, he ought at least to have communicated it to the world for their improvement; but as he has never hinted at any such invention, we may safely conclude that he had none; and, therefore, that the Americans are not justly liable to censure for instituting governors.
In every form of government we have seen a senate, or little council, a composition, generally, of those officers of state who have the most experience and power, and of a few other members selected from the highest ranks and most illustrious reputations. On these lesser councils, with the first magistrate at their head, generally rests the principal burden of administration, a share in the legislative, as well as executive and judicial authority of government. The admission of such senates to a participation of these three kinds of power, has been generally observed to produce in the minds of their members an ardent aristocratical ambition, grasping equally at the prerogatives of the first magistrate, and the privileges of the people, and ending in the nobility of a few families, and a tyrannical oligarchy. But in those states, where the senates have been debarred from all executive power, and confined to the legislative, they have been observed to be firm barriers against the encroachments of the crown, and often great supporters of the liberties of the people. The Americans, then, who have carefully confined their senates to the legislative power, have done wisely in adopting them.
We have seen, in every instance, another and a larger assembly, composed of the body of the people, in some little states; of representatives chosen by the people, in others; of members appointed by the senate, and supposed to represent the people, in a third sort; and of persons appointed by themselves or the senate, in certain aristocracies; to prevent them from becoming oligarchies. The Americans, then, whose assemblies are the most adequate, proportional, and equitable representations of the people, that are known in the world, will not be thought mistaken in appointing houses of representatives.
In every republic,—in the smallest and most popular, in the larger and more aristocratical, as well as in the largest and most monarchical,—we have observed a multitude of curious and ingenious inventions to balance, in their turn, all those powers, to check the passions peculiar to them, and to control them from rushing into those exorbitancies to which they are most addicted. The Americans will then be no longer censured for endeavoring to introduce an equilibrium, which is much more profoundly meditated, and much more effectual for the protection of the laws, than any we have seen, except in England. We may even question whether that is an exception.
In every country we have found a variety of orders, with very great distinctions. In America, there are different orders of offices, but none of men. Out of office, all men are of the same species, and of one blood; there is neither a greater nor a lesser nobility. Why, then, are the Americans accused of establishing different orders of men? To our inexpressible mortification, we must have observed, that the people have preserved a share of power, or an existence in the government, in no country out of England, except upon the tops of a few inaccessible mountains, among rocks and precipices, in territories so narrow that you may span them with a hand’s breadth, where, living unenvied, in extreme poverty, chiefly upon pasturage, destitute of manufactures and commerce, they still exhibit the most charming picture of life, and the most dignified character of human nature.
Wherever we have seen a territory somewhat larger, arts and sciences more cultivated, commerce flourishing, or even agriculture improved to any great degree, an aristocracy has risen up in a course of time, consisting of a few rich and honorable families, who have united with each other against both the people and the first magistrate; who have wrested from the former, by art and by force, all their participation in the government; and have even inspired them with so mean an esteem of themselves, and so deep a veneration and strong attachment to their rulers, as to believe and confess them a superior order of beings.
We have seen these noble families, although necessitated to have a head, extremely jealous of his influence, anxious to reduce his power, and to constrain him to as near a level as possible with themselves; always endeavoring to establish a rotation, by which they may all equally be entitled in turn to the preëminence, and likewise anxious to preserve to themselves as large a share as possible of power in the executive and judicial, as well as the legislative departments of the state.
These patrician families have also appeared in every instance to be equally jealous of each other, and to have contrived, by blending lot and choice, by mixing various bodies in the elections to the same offices, and even by a resort to the horrors of an inquisition, to guard against the sin that so easily besets them, of being wholly influenced and governed by a junto or oligarchy of a few among themselves.
We have seen no one government in which is a distinct separation of the legislative from the executive power, and of the judicial from both, or in which any attempt has been made to balance these powers with one another, or to form an equilibrium between the one, the few, and the many, for the purpose of enacting and executing equal laws, by common consent, for the general interest, excepting in England.
Shall we conclude, from these melancholy observations, that human nature is incapable of liberty, that no honest equality can be preserved in society, and that such forcible causes are always at work as must reduce all men to a submission to despotism, monarchy, oligarchy, or aristocracy?
By no means. We have seen one of the first nations in Europe, possessed of ample and fertile territories at home and extensive dominions abroad, of a commerce with the whole world, immense wealth, and the greatest naval power which ever belonged to any nation, which has still preserved the power of the people by the equilibrium we are contending for, by the trial by jury, and by constantly refusing a standing army.1 The people of England alone, by preserving their share in the legislature, at the expense of the blood of heroes and patriots, have enabled their king to curb the nobility, without giving him a standing army.
After all, let us compare every constitution we have seen with those of the United States of America, and we shall have no reason to blush for our country. On the contrary, we shall feel the strongest motives to fall upon our knees, in gratitude to heaven for having been graciously pleased to give us birth and education in that country, and for having destined us to live under her laws! We shall have reason to exult, if we make our comparison with England and the English constitution. Our people are undoubtedly sovereign; all the landed and other property is in the hands of the citizens; not only their representatives, but their senators and governors, are annually chosen; there are no hereditary titles, honors, offices, or distinctions; the legislative, executive, and judicial powers are carefully separated from each other; the powers of the one, the few, and the many are nicely balanced in the legislatures; trials by jury are preserved in all their glory, and there is no standing army; the habeas corpus is in full force; the press is the most free in the world. Where all these circumstances take place, it is unnecessary to add that the laws alone can govern.
[1 ]They have, to a certain extent, already done so by the reform bill of 1830.
[2 ]“This negative was an innovation on the true limited constitution, and, therefore, the Americans have been prudent in not trusting it with any executive power.”
[1 ]“If the Americans preserve this most valuable right of electing officers in the militia, they will preserve a fundamental right of the English constitution. It is the only true means of preserving popular liberty, and of rendering the commons respectable. It is the true antidote to standing armies.”
[2 ]This would seem to be stated with sufficient distinctness; yet the author was for many years charged in the United States with favoring the very provision which he condemns.
[3 ]The land.
[4 ]“A true agrarian law is, therefore, highly necessary to be established in due time to limit the greedy monopolizers, and to invest the unoccupied lands in the community at large.”
[1 ]Much of the following account is abridged from, where it is not in the very words of Coxe. Travels into Poland, Russia, &c., vol. i. chapter 1.
[1 ]“This can never happen while the people preserve their natural right of electing their own heads, or militia officers; for this will always enable them to suppress every insurrection and partial violence, to redress every grievance without any dangerous struggles or commotions, and to withhold from any other power, but their own general assembly, the ability of opposing their will by a negative.”
[1 ]“The danger of a negative on the proceedings of a great national council.”
[1 ]“La république de Pologne, a t’on souvent dit et répété, est composée de trois ordres; l’ordre équestre, le sénat, et le roi. J’aimerois mieux dire que la nation Polonaise est composée de trois ordres; les nobles, qui sont tout; les bourgeois, qui ne sont rien; et les paysans, qui sont moins que rien.”
[1 ]This was the name given to the government of Massachusetts by a formal vote of the convention. See p. 215.
[1 ]Oeuvres du Philosophe Bienfaisant, tome iii. p. 2.
[1 ]“But unhappily they did not elect their own officers and magistrates, and therefore could not put a negative on any the most atrocious tyranny and violence.”
[2 ]“ ‘Gentleman;’ rather a landowner, to avoid, in this case, a strange perversion of the word gentleman!”
[1 ]“Les écrivains les plus éloquens, les plus savans publicistes, ont démontré les vices de la constitution de Pologne, ont indiqué les moyens de les corriger; mais les baionettes Russes, Autrichiennes, et Prussiennes n’ont pas laissé le temps d’éprouver l’effet des innovations proposées; elles ont rendu le repos à la nation Polonaise, en lui ôtant l’existence.” Précis de l’Histoire du Gouvernement de Pologne; Collection des Constitutions, etc., par MM. Dufau, etc., tome iv. p. 24.
[1 ]Neuchatel is now one of the twenty-two cantons of the Helvetic confederacy. Its form of local constitution has not been, however, materially changed. The King of Prussia ceded it, in 1806, to Napoleon, who made out of it a principality for one of his officers, Maréchal Berthier. In 1814, the sovereignty was restored, by the peace of Paris, to the King of Prussia; but in the next year, by the act of the congress of Vienna, the canton was recognized as one of three new ones joined to the confederation of Switzerland.
[* ]Liv. lib. iii. c. 63.
[* ]Pye’s Poems, vol. i. p. 154, 155.
[† ]Otway’s Fall of Marius, act i. sc. 1.
[1 ]“Would that it had constantly been refused! A standing army is dangerous in any hands! Even if the people had preserved their share in the legislature, a standing army in their pay would be inexpedient and dangerous.”