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CHAPTER VI.: OPINIONS OF HISTORIANS. - 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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OPINIONS OF HISTORIANS.
My design is more extensive than barely to show the imperfection of M. Turgot’s idea. This might be done in a few words and a very short process of reasoning; but I wish to assemble together the opinions and reasonings of philosophers, politicians, and historians, who have taken the most extensive views of men and societies, whose characters are deservedly revered, and whose writings were in the contemplation of those who framed the American constitutions. It will not be contested that all these characters are united in Polybius, who, in a fragment of his sixth book, translated by Edward Spelman, at the end of his translation of the Roman Antiquities of Dionysius Halicarnassensis, says,—
“It is customary, with those who professedly treat this subject, to establish three sorts of government,—kingly government, aristocracy, and democracy. Upon which one may very properly ask them, whether they lay these down as the only forms of government, or as the best; for in both cases they seem to be in an error; since it is manifest that the best form of government is that which is compounded of all three. This is founded not only in reason, but also in experience, Lycurgus having set the example of this form of government in the institution of the Lacedæmonian commonwealth.” . . .
“Six kinds of government must be allowed,—kingly government and monarchy, aristocracy and oligarchy, democracy and the government of the multitude. . . .
“Lycurgus concluded that every form of government that is simple, by soon degenerating into that vice that is allied to it, must be unstable. The vice of kingly government is monarchy; that of aristocracy, oligarchy; that of democracy, rage and violence; into which, in process of time, all of them must degenerate. Lycurgus, to avoid these inconveniences, formed his government not of one sort, but united in one all the advantages and properties of the best governments; to the end that no branch of it, by swelling beyond its due bounds, might degenerate into the vice which is congenial to it; and that, while each of them were mutually acted upon by opposite powers, no one part might incline any way, or outweigh the rest; but that the commonwealth being equally poised and balanced, like a ship “or a wagon,” acted upon by contrary powers, might long remain in the same situation; while the king was restrained from excess by the fear of the people, who had a proper share in the commonwealth; and, on the other side, the people did not dare to disregard the king, from their fear of the senate, who, being all elected for their virtue, would always incline to the justest side; by which means, that branch which happened to be oppressed became always superior, and, by the accessional weight of the senate, outbalanced the other. This system preserved the Lacedæmonians in liberty longer than any other people we have heard of ever enjoyed it.
“All the three principal orders of government were found in the Roman commonwealth; every thing was constituted and administered with that equality and propriety by these three, that it was not possible, even for a Roman citizen, to assert positively, whether the government, in the whole, was aristocratical, democratical, or monarchical. For, when we cast our eyes on the power of the consuls, the government appeared entirely monarchical and kingly; when on that of the senate, aristocratical; and when any one considered the power of the people, it appeared plainly democratical.
“The consuls, when they are at Rome, and before they take the field, have the administration of all public affairs; for all other magistrates obey them, except the tribunes of the people. They introduce ambassadors into the senate. They also propose to the senate those subjects of debate that require immediate despatch; and are solely intrusted with the execution of their decrees. To them belongs the consideration of all public affairs of which the people have cognizance; whom they are to assemble upon all occasions, and lay before them the decrees of the senate, then pursue the resolutions of the majority. They have almost an absolute power in every thing that relates either to the preparations of war, or to the conduct of it in the field; for they may give what orders they please to their allies, and appoint the tribunes; they may raise forces, and enlist those who are proper for the service. They also have power, when in the field, of punishing any who serve under them; and of expending as much as they please of the public money, being always attended by a quæstor for that purpose, whose duty it is to yield a ready obedience to all their commands. So that whoever casts his eyes on this branch may with reason affirm, that the government is merely monarchical and kingly.
“The senate have, in the first place, the command of the public money. For they have the conduct of all receipts and disbursements; since the quæstors cannot issue money for any particular service without a decree of the senate, except those sums they pay by the direction of the consuls. The senate have also the power over all disbursements made by the censors, every fifth year, in erecting and repairing public buildings; takes cognizance of all crimes committed in Italy, such as treasons, conspiracies, poisonings, and assassinations; sends embassies out of Italy to reconcile differences, use exhortations, signify commands, admit alliances, or declare war; determines when ambassadors come to Rome, in what manner they are to be treated, and the answer to be given them. For these reasons, when a foreigner comes to Rome, in the absence of the consuls, the government appears to him purely aristocratical.
“There is still a share in the government left for the people, and that the most considerable. They only have the power of distributing honors and punishments, to which alone both monarchies and commonwealths, and, in a word, all human institutions, owe their stability. For, wherever the difference between rewards and punishments is not understood, or injudiciously applied, there nothing can be properly administered, since the worthy and unworthy are equally honored!
“They often take cognizance of those causes where the fine is considerable, if the criminals are persons who have exercised great employments; but in capital cases they alone have jurisdiction; and a custom prevails with them, to give those who are tried for their lives a power of departing openly to voluntary banishment.
“They have the power of conferring the magistracy upon those they think worthy of it, which is the most honorable reward of merit any government can bestow.
“They have the power of rejecting and confirming laws, and determine concerning peace and war, alliances, accommodations, and conventions.
“So that, from hence again, one may with reason assert, that the people have the greatest share in the government, and that the commonwealth is democratical.
“These orders, into which the commonwealth is divided, have the power to oppose, assist, and balance each other, as occasion may require.
“Though the consul, at the head of his army in the field, seems to have an absolute power to carry every thing he proposes into execution; yet he still stands in need of the people and senate, and without their assistance can effect nothing; for, neither corn, clothes, nor pay can be furnished to the army without the consent of the senate; who have also the power of sending another general to succeed him, as soon as the year is expired, or of continuing him in the command. Again, they may either magnify and extol, or obscure and extenuate, the victories of the generals; for these cannot celebrate their triumphs, unless the senate consents to it, and furnishes the necessary expense.
“As the power of putting an end to the war is in the people, the generals are under a necessity of having their approbation, who have the right of ratifying and annulling all accommodations and conventions. It is to the people that the generals, after the expiration of their command, give an account of their conduct; so that it is by no means safe for them to disregard the favor either of the senate or of the people.
“The senate is under a necessity of showing a regard to the people, and of aiming at their approbation; as, not having the power to punish crimes of the first magnitude with death, unless the people confirm the previous decree. If a law is proposed, by which part of the power of the senate is to be taken away, their dignities abolished, or even their fortunes diminished, the people have it in their power either to receive or reject it. If one of the tribunes of the people opposes the passing of a decree, the senate are so far from being able to enact it, that it is not even in their power to consult or assemble at all. For all these reasons, the senate stands in awe of the people.
“The people, also, are subject to the power of the senate, and under an obligation of cultivating the good-will of all the senators, who have many opportunities both of prejudicing and advantaging individuals. Judges are appointed out of the senate in most causes that relate to contracts, public or private. There are many rivers, ports, gardens, mines, and lands, and many works relating to erecting and repairing public buildings, let out by the censors, under the care of the senate; all these are undertaken by the people; some are purchasers, others partners, some sureties for the contracts. All these things are under the control of the senate, which has power to give time, to mitigate, and, if any thing has happened to render the performance of the contract impracticable, to cancel it. The people, thus dependent on the senate, and apprehending the uncertainty of the occasions in which they may stand in need of their favor, dare not resist or oppose their will.
“In like manner, they are not easily brought to obstruct the designs of the consuls; because all of them in general, and every one in particular, become subject to their authority, when in the field.
“Such being the power of each order to hurt and assist each other, their union is adapted to all contingencies, and it is not possible to invent a more perfect system. When the common fear of a foreign enemy compels them to act in concert, such is the strength of the government, that nothing necessary is omitted, or comes too late, since all vie with each other in directing their thoughts to the public good, and their endeavors to carry their designs into execution. The commonwealth, from the peculiar frame of it, becomes irresistible, and attains whatever it proposes.
“When, in consequence of victory, they live in prosperity and affluence, enjoying their good fortune free from the fear of a foreign enemy, they grow, through ease and flattery, insolent and proud; their commonwealth is then chiefly observed to relieve itself. For, when any branch of it becomes ambitious, and, swelling beyond its bounds, aims at unwarrantable power, being subject to the control of the other two, it cannot run into any excess of power or arrogance; but all three must remain in the terms prescribed by the constitution.”
Thus, my dear sir, you see that Polybius’s opinion of different orders, checks, and balances, in a commonwealth, is very different from that of M. Turgot. The Roman constitution formed the noblest people and the greatest power that has ever existed. But if all the powers of the consuls, senate, and people had been centred in a single assembly of the people, collectively or representatively, will any man pretend to believe that they would have been long free, or ever great?
The distribution of power was, however, never accurately or judiciously made in that constitution. The executive was never sufficiently separated from the legislative, nor had these powers a control upon each other defined with sufficient accuracy. The executive had not power to interpose and decide between the people and the senate.
As we advance, we may see cause to differ widely from the judgment of Polybius, ‘that it is impossible to invent a more perfect system of government.’ We may be convinced that the constitution of England, if its balance is seen to play, in practice, according to the principles of its theory; that is to say, if the people are fairly and fully represented, so as to have the power of dividing or choosing, of drawing up hill or down, instead of being disposed of by a few lords, is a system much more perfect. The constitutions of several of the United States, it is hoped, will prove themselves improvements both upon the Roman, the Spartan, and the English commonwealths.
The generation and corruption of governments, which may, in other words, be called the progress and course of human passions in society, are subjects which have engaged the attention of the greatest writers; and whether the essays they have left us were copied from history, or wrought out of their own conjectures and reasonings, they are very much to our purpose, to show the utility and necessity of different orders of men, and of an equilibrium of powers and privileges. They demonstrate the corruptibility of every species of simple government, by which I mean a power without a check, whether in one, a few, or many. It might be sufficient to show this tendency in simple democracy alone, for such is the government of one assembly, whether of the people collectively or representatively; but, as the generation and corruption of all kinds of government have a similitude with one another, and proceed from the same qualities in human nature, it will throw the more light upon our subject, the more particularly we examine it. I shall confine myself chiefly to the writings of Plato, Polybius, and Sir Thomas Smith.
Polybius thinks it manifest, both from reason and experience, that the best form of government is not simple, but compounded, because of the tendency of each of the simple forms to degenerate. Even democracy, in which it is an established custom to worship the gods, honor their parents, respect the elders, and obey the laws, has a strong tendency to change into a government where the multitude have a power of doing whatever they desire, and where insolence and contempt of parents, elders, gods, and laws soon succeed.
“From whence do governments originally spring? From the weakness of men, and the consequent necessity to associate; and he who excels in strength and courage, gains the command and authority over the rest; as among inferior animals, who are not influenced by opinion, the strongest are, by common consent, allowed to be masters. This is monarchy. But when the nation, by living together, acquire some tincture of honor and justice, gratitude, duty, and their opposites; and the monarch countenances these moral qualities, and treats every one according to his merit, they are no longer afraid of violence, but submit to him, and unite in supporting his government, although he may again become weak and advanced in years. By this means, a monarch insensibly becomes a king, that is, when the power is transferred from courage and strength to reason. This is the origin of true kingly government; for the people preserve the command, not only to them, but to their descendants, being persuaded, that those who have received their birth and education from such men will resemble them also in their principles. But if they are dissatisfied with their descendants, they then choose magistrates and kings with regard only to superior sense and reason, and not to bodily strength and courage; having, by experience, been convinced of the difference between them. Those who were once chosen, and invested with the royal dignity, grew old in the enjoyment of it, possessed themselves of a territory, surrounded it with walls, and fortified advantageous posts; thus consulting the security of their subjects, and supplying them with plenty of provisions, differing little in their clothes or table from the people with whom they passed their lives, they continued blameless and unenvied. But their posterity, succeeding to the government by right of inheritance, and finding every thing provided for security and support, they were led by superfluity to indulge their appetites, and to imagine that it became princes to appear in a different dress, to eat in a more luxurious manner, and enjoy, without contradiction, the forbidden pleasures of love. The first produced envy, the other resentment and hatred. By which means kingly government degenerated into tyranny.
“At the same time a foundation was laid, and a conspiracy formed, for the destruction of those who exercised it; the accomplices of which were, not men of inferior rank, but persons of the most generous, exalted, and enterprising spirit; for such men can least bear the insolence of those in power. The people, having these to lead them, and uniting against their rulers, kingly government and monarchy were extirpated, and aristocracy began to be established.
“For the people, as an immediate acknowledgment to those who had destroyed monarchy, chose these leaders for their governors, and left all their concerns to them. These, at first, preferred the advantage of the public to all other considerations, and administered all affairs, both public and private, with care and vigilance. But their sons, having succeeded them in the same power, unacquainted with evils, strangers to civil equality and liberty, educated from their infancy in the splendor of the power and dignities of their parents, some giving themselves up to avarice, others to intemperance, and others to the abuse of women, by this behavior changed the aristocracy into an oligarchy.
“Their catastrophe became the same with that of the tyrants; for, if any person, observing the general envy and hatred which these rulers have incurred, has the courage to say or do any thing against them, he finds the whole body of the people inspired with the same passions they were before possessed with against the tyrant, and ready to assist him. Thereupon, they put some of them to death, and banish others; but dare not, after that, appoint a king to govern them, being still afraid of the injustice of the first. Neither dare they intrust the government with any number of men, having still before their eyes the errors which those had before committed. So that, having no hope but in themselves, they convert the government from an oligarchy to a democracy, and take upon themselves the care and charge of public affairs.
“And as long as any are living who felt the power and dominion of the few, they acquiesce under the present establishment, and look upon equality and liberty as the greatest of blessings. But when a new race of men grows up, these, no longer regarding equality and liberty, from being accustomed to them, aim at a greater share of power than the rest, particularly those of the greatest fortunes, who, grown now ambitious, and being unable to attain the power they aim at by their own merit, dissipate their wealth in alluring and corrupting the people by every method; and when, to serve their wild ambition, they have once taught them to receive bribes and entertainments, from that moment the democracy is at an end, and changes to force and violence. For the people, accustomed to live at the expense of others, and to place their hopes of a support in the fortunes of their neighbors, if headed by a man of a great and enterprising spirit, will then have recourse to violence, and, getting together, will murder, banish, and divide among themselves the lands of their adversaries, till, grown wild with rage, they again find a master and a monarch.
“This is the rotation of governments, and this the order of nature, by which they are changed, transformed, and return to the same point of the circle.
“Lycurgus observing that all this was founded on necessity and the laws of nature, concluded that every form of government that is simple, by soon degenerating into that vice that is allied to it, and naturally attends it, must be unstable. For as rust is the natural bane of iron, and worms of wood, by which they are sure to be destroyed, so there is a certain vice implanted by the hand of nature in every simple form of government, and by her ordained to accompany it. The vice of kingly government is monarchy; that of aristocracy, oligarchy; and of democracy, rage and violence; into which all of them, in process of time, must necessarily degenerate. To avoid which, Lycurgus united in one all the advantages of the best governments, to the end that no branch of it, by swelling beyond its bounds, might degenerate into the vice that is congenial to it, and that, while each was mutually acted upon by opposite powers, no one part might outweigh the rest. The Romans arrived at the same end by the same means.”
Polybius, you perceive, my dear sir, is more charitable in his representation of human nature than Hobbes, Mandeville, Rochefoucauld, Machiavel, Beccaria, Rousseau, De Lolme, or even than our friend Dr. Price. He candidly supposes that the first kingly government will be wisely and honestly administered, during the life of the father of his people; that the first aristocracy will be conducted with caution and moderation, by the band of patriots to whom is due the glory of the expulsion of the tyrant; and that the people, for a generation at least, who have deposed the oligarchy, will behave with decorum.
But perhaps it might be more exactly true and natural to say, that the king, the aristocracy, and the people, as soon as ever they felt themselves secure in the possession of their power, would begin to abuse it.
In M. Turgot’s single assembly, those who should think themselves most distinguished by blood and education, as well as fortune, would be most ambitious; and if they found an opposition among their constituents to their elections, would immediately have recourse to entertainments, secret intrigues, and every popular art, and even to bribes, to increase their parties. This would oblige their competitors, though they might be infinitely better men, either to give up their pretensions, or to imitate these dangerous practices. There is a natural and unchangeable inconvenience in all popular elections. There are always competitions, and the candidates have often merits nearly equal. The virtuous and independent electors are often divided; this naturally causes too much attention to the most profligate and unprincipled, who will sell or give away their votes for other considerations than wisdom and virtue. So that he who has the deepest purse, or the fewest scruples about using it, will generally prevail.
It is from the natural aristocracy in a single assembly that the first danger is to be apprehended in the present state of manners in America; and with a balance of landed property in the hands of the people, so decided in their favor, the progress to degeneracy, corruption, rage, and violence, might not be very rapid; nevertheless it would begin with the first elections, and grow faster or slower every year.
Rage and violence would soon appear in the assembly, and from thence be communicated among the people at large.
The only remedy is to throw the rich and the proud into one group, in a separate assembly, and there tie their hands; if you give them scope with the people at large or their representatives, they will destroy all equality and liberty, with the consent andacclamations of the people themselves. They will have much more power, mixed with the representatives, than separated from them. In the first case, if they unite, they will give the law and govern all; if they differ, they will divide the state, and go to a decision by force. But placing them alone by themselves, the society avails itself of all their abilities and virtues; they become a solid check to the representatives themselves, as well as to the executive power, and you disarm them entirely of the power to do mischief.
DIONYSIUS OF HALICARNASSUS.
Dionysius Halicarnassensis, in his seventh book, has given us an excellent speech in the senate, made by Manlius Valerius, a man venerable for his age and wisdom, and remarkable for his constant friendship for the people.
“If any of you, fathers, are alarmed with an apprehension that you will introduce a pernicious custom into the commonwealth, if you grant the people a power of giving their suffrages against the patricians, and entertain an opinion that the tribunitian power, if considerably strengthened, will prove of no advantage, let them learn that their opinion is erroneous, and their imagination contrary to sound reasoning. For if any measure can tend to preserve this commonwealth, to assure both her liberty and power, and to establish a perpetual union and harmony in all things, the most effectual will be to give the people a share in the government; and the most advantageous thing to us will be, not to have a simple and unmixed form of government; neither a monarchy, an oligarchy, nor a democracy, but a constitution tempered with all of them; for each of these forms, when simple, very easily deviates into abuse and excess; but when all of them are equally mixed, that part which happens to innovate and to exceed the customary bounds, is always restrained by another that is sober, and adheres to the established order. Thus monarchy, when it becomes cruel and insolent, and begins to pursue tyrannical measures, is subverted by an oligarchy, consisting of good men; and an oligarchy, composed of the best men, which is your form of government, when, elated with riches and dependents, it pays no regard to justice or to any other virtue, is destroyed by a wise people. And in a democracy, when the people, from being modest in their deportment, and observant of the laws, begin to run into disorders and excesses, they are forced to return to their duty by the power with which, upon those occasions, the best man of the commonwealth is invested.
“You, fathers, have used all possible precautions to prevent monarchical power from degenerating into tyranny; for, instead of a single person, you have invested two with the supreme power; and though you committed this magistracy to them, not for an indefinite time, but only for a year, you nevertheless appointed three hundred patricians, the most respectable both for their virtue and their age, of whom this senate is composed, to watch over their conduct; but you do not seem hitherto to have appointed any to watch over your own, and to keep you within proper bounds. As for yourselves, I am as yet under no apprehensions, lest you should suffer your minds to be corrupted by great and accumulated prosperity, who have lately delivered your country from a long tyranny; and, through continual and lasting wars, have not as yet had leisure to grow insolent and luxurious. But with regard to your successors, when I consider how great alterations length of time brings with it, I am afraid, lest the men of power in the senate should innovate, and silently transform our constitution to a monarchical tyranny.
Whereas, if you admit the people to a share in the government, no mischief can spring from the senate; but the man who aims at greater power than the rest of his fellow citizens, and has formed a faction in the senate of all who are willing to partake of his councils and his crimes, (for those who deliberate concerning public affairs ought to foresee every thing that is probable,) this great, this awful person, I say, when called upon by the tribunes to appear before the people, must give an account both of his actions and thoughts to this people, inconsiderable as they are, and so much his inferiors; and, if found guilty, suffer the punishment he deserves. And, lest the people themselves, when vested with so great a power, should grow wanton, and, seduced by the worst of demagogues, become dangerous to the best citizens, (for the multitude generally give birth to tyranny,) some person of consummate prudence, created dictator by yourselves, will guard against this evil, and not allow them to run into excess; and being invested with absolute power, and subject to no account, will cut off the infected part of the commonwealth, and not suffer that which is not yet infected to be vitiated; reform the laws; excite the citizens to virtue, and appoint such magistrates as he thinks will govern with the greatest prudence. And having effected these things within the space of six months, he will again become a private man, without receiving any other reward for these actions than that of being honored for having performed them.
“Induced, therefore, by these considerations, and convinced that this is the most perfect form of government, debar the people from nothing; but as you have granted them a power of choosing the annual magistrates who are to preside over the commonwealth, of confirming and repealing laws, of declaring war, and making peace, which are the greatest and most important affairs that come under the consideration of our government, not one of which you have submitted to the absolute determination of the senate, allow them, in like manner, the power of trying offenders, particularly such as are accused of crimes against the state, of raising a sedition, of aiming at tyranny, of concerting measures with our enemies to betray the commonwealth, or of any other crimes of the like nature; for the more formidable you render the transgression of the laws and the alteration of discipline, by appointing many inspectors and many guards over the insolent and the ambitious, the more will your constitution be improved.”
It is surprising that Valerius should talk of an equal mixture of monarchical, aristocratical, and democratical powers, in a commonwealth where they were so unequally mixed as they were in Rome. There can be no equal mixture without a negative in each branch of the legislature. But one example of an equal mixture has ever existed in Europe, and that is in England. The consuls in Rome had no negative; the people had a negative, but a very unequal one, because they had not the same time and opportunity for cool deliberation. The appointment of tribunes was a very inadequate remedy. What match for a Roman senate was a single magistrate seated among them? His abilities could not be equal; his firmness could not always be depended on. But, what is worse, he was liable to be intimidated, flattered, and bribed. It is really astonishing that such people as Greeks and Romans should ever have thought four or five ephori, or a single tribune, or a college of ten tribunes, an adequate representation of themselves. If Valerius had proposed that the consul should have been made an integral part of the legislature, and that the Roman people should choose another council of two or three hundred, equally representing them, to be another integral part, he would then have seen that the appointment of a dictator could never, in any case, become necessary.
Plato has given us the most accurate detail of the natural vicissitudes of manners and principles, the usual progress of the passions in society, and revolutions of governments into one another.
In the fourth book of his Republic, he describes his perfect commonwealth, where kings are philosophers, and philosophers kings; where the whole city might be in the happiest condition, and not any one tribe remarkably happy beyond the rest; in one word, where the laws govern, and justice is established; where the guardians of the laws are such in reality, and preserve the constitution instead of destroying it, and promote the happiness of the whole city, not their own particularly; where the state is one, not many; where there are no parties of the poor and the rich at war with each other; where, if any descendant of the guardians be vicious, he is dismissed to the other classes, and if any descendant of the others be worthy, he is raised to the rank of the guardians; where education, the grand point to be attended to, produces good geniuses, and good geniuses, partaking of such education, produce still better than the former; where the children, receiving from their infancy an education agreeable to the laws of the constitution, grow up to be worthy men, and observant of the laws; where the system, both of laws and education, is contrived to produce the virtues of fortitude, temperance, wisdom, and justice, in the whole city, and in all the individual citizens; where, if among the rulers or guardians of the laws, there be one surpassing the rest, it may be called a monarchy, or kingly government; if there be several, an aristocracy.
Although there is but one principle of virtue, those of vice are infinite; of which there are four which deserve to be mentioned. There are as many species of soul as there are of republics,—five of each. That which is above described is one.
In the eighth book of his Republic he describes the other four, and the revolutions from one to another. The first he calls the Cretan or Spartan, or the ambitious1 republic; the second oligarchy;2 the third democracy; and the fourth tyranny, the last disease of a city.
“As republics are generated by the manners of the people, to which, as into a current, all other things are drawn, of necessity there must be as many species of men as of republics. We have already, in the fourth book, gone over that which we have pronounced to be good and just. We are now to go over the contentious and ambitious man, who is formed according to the Spartan republic; and then him resembling an oligarchy; then the democratic; and then the tyrannic man; that we may contemplate the most unjust man, and set him in opposition to the most just, that our inquiry may be completed! The ambitious republic is first to be considered. It is indeed difficult for a city constituted in this manner, that is, like Sparta, to be changed; but, as every thing which is generated is liable to corruption, even such a constitution as this will not remain forever, but be dissolved.”
I shall pass over all the astrological and mystical whimsies which we meet with so often in Plato, interspersed among the most sublime wisdom and profound knowledge, and insert only what is intelligible. The amount of what he says in this place about numbers and music is, that mistakes will insensibly be made in the choice of persons for guardians of the laws; and by these guardians, in the rewards and promotion of merit. “They will not always expertly distinguish the several species of genius,—the golden, the silver, the brazen, and the iron. Whilst iron shall be mixed with silver, and brass with gold, dissimilitude and discord arise, and generate war, and enmity, and sedition. When sedition is risen, two of the species of genius, the iron and brazen, will be carried away after gain, and the acquisition of lands and houses, gold and silver. But the golden and silver geniuses, as they are not in want, but naturally rich, will lead the soul towards virtue and the original constitution. Thus divided, drawing contrary ways, and living in a violent manner, will not this republic be in the middle, between aristocracy and oligarchy, imitating, in some things, the former republic, and in others oligarchy? They will honor their rulers; their military will abstain from agriculture and mechanic arts; they will have common meals, gymnastic exercises, and contests of war, as in the former republic; but they will be afraid to bring wise men into the magistracy, because they have no longer any such as are truly simple and inflexible, but such as are of a mixed kind, more forward and rough, more fitted by their natural genius for war than peace, esteeming tricks and stratagems. Such as these shall desire wealth, and hoard up gold and silver, as those who live in oligarchies. While they spare their own, they will love to squander the substance of others upon their pleasures. They will fly from the law as children from a father, who have been educated not by persuasion but by force. Such a republic, mixed of good and ill, will be most remarkable for the prevalence of the contentious and ambitious spirit.”
“What now shall the man be, correspondent to this republic? He will be arrogant and rough towards inferiors, mild towards equals, but extremely submissive to governors; fond of dignity and the magistracy, but thinking that political management and military performances, not eloquence, nor any such thing, should entitle him to them. While young, he may despise money; but the older he grows, the more he will value it, because he is of a covetous temper, and not sincerely affected to virtue and reason. Such an ambitious youth resembles such a city, and is formed somehow in this manner:—His father, a worthy man in an ill-regulated city, shuns honors, and magistracies, and law-suits, and all public business, that, as he can do no good, he may have no trouble. The son hears his mother venting her indignation, and complaining that she is neglected among other women, because her husband is not in the magistracy, nor attentive to the making of money; that he is unmanly and remiss, and such other things as wives are apt to whine about concerning husbands. The domestics, too, privately say the same things to the sons, stimulating them to be more of men than their father, and more attentive to their money. When they go abroad, they hear the same things, and see that those who mind their own affairs are called simple, and such as mind not their affairs are commended. The young man, comparing the conduct, speeches, and pursuits of his father with those of other men, the one watering the rational part of his soul, and the other the concupiscible and irascible, he delivers up the government within himself to a middle power, that which is irascible and fond of contention, and so he becomes a haughty and ambitious man.”
We have now the second republic, and the second man.
“This second republic will be succeeded by oligarchy, founded on men’s valuations, in which the rich bear rule, and the poor have no share in the government. The change from the ambitious republic to oligarchy is made by that treasury which every one has filled with gold. For, first of all, they and their wives find out methods of expense, and to this purpose strain and disobey the laws, one observing and rivalling another, the generality become of this kind; and, proceeding to greater desires of making money, the more honorable they account this to be, the more will virtue be thought dishonorable. Virtue is so different from wealth, that they always weigh against each other. Whilst wealth and the wealthy are held in honor in the city, both virtue and the good must be more dishonored, and what is honored is pursued, and what is dishonored is neglected. Instead, then, of ambitious men, they will become lovers of gain. The rich they praise and admire, and bring into the magistracy; but the poor man they despise. They then make laws, marking out the boundary of the constitution, and regulating the quantity of oligarchic power according to the quantity of wealth; more to the more wealthy, and less to the less. So that he who hath not the valuation settled by law is to have no share in the government.
“What think you of this constitution? If we should appoint pilots according to their valuation, but never intrust a ship with a poor man, though better skilled in his art, we should make very bad navigation. Again, such a city is not one, but of necessity two; one, consisting of the poor, and the other of the rich, dwelling in one place, and always plotting against one another. They are, moreover, incapable to wage war, because of the necessity they are under, either of employing the armed multitude, and of dreading them more than the enemy, or to appear in battle, truly oligarchic, and at the same time be unwilling to advance money for the public service, through a natural disposition of covetousness.
“In such a government almost all are poor, except the governors; and where there are poor, there are somewhere concealed thieves and pursecutters and sacrilegious persons and workers of all other evils; these the magistracy with diligence and force restrains; these are drones in a city, with dangerous stings.
“This is oligarchy. Now let us consider the man who resembles it. The change from the ambitious to the oligarchic man is chiefly in this manner,—the ambitious man has a son who emulates his father and follows his steps; afterwards he dashes on the city, as on a rock, wasting his substance in the office of a general or some other principal magistracy; then falling into courts of justice, destroyed by sycophants, stripped of his dignities, disgraced, and losing all his substance. When he has thus suffered and lost his substance, in a terror he pushes headlong from the throne of his soul that ambitious disposition; and, being humbled by his poverty, turns to the making of money, lives sparingly and meanly, and applying to work, scrapes together substance. He then seats in that throne the avaricious disposition, and makes it a mighty king within himself, decked out with Persian crowns, bracelets, and sceptres. Having placed the virtuous and ambitious disposition low on the ground, he reasons on nothing but how lesser substance shall be made greater, admires and honors nothing but riches and rich people. This is the change from an ambitious youth to a covetous one, and this is the oligarchic man.
“Democracy is next to be considered, in what manner it arises, and what kind of man it produces when arisen. The change from oligarchy to democracy is produced through the insatiable desire of becoming as rich as possible. As those who are governors in it govern on account of their possessing great riches, they will be unwilling to restrain by law such of the youth as are dissolute, from having the liberty of squandering and wasting their substance; that so, by purchasing the substance of such persons, and lending them on usury, they may still become richer, and be held in greater honor. While they neglect education, and suffer the youth to grow licentious, they sometimes lay under a necessity of becoming poor, such as are of no ungenerous disposition. These sit in the city, some of them in debt, others in contempt, hating and conspiring against those who possess their substance, and with others very desirous of a change. But the money-catchers, still brooding over it, and drawing to themselves exorbitant usury, fill the city with drones and poor. They neglect every thing but making of money, and make no more account of virtue than the poor do. When these governors and their subjects meet on the road, at public shows, in military marches, as fellow-soldiers or sailors, or in common dangers, the poor are by no means contemned by the rich. A robust fellow, poor and sunburnt, beside a rich man, bred up in the shade, swollen with flesh, and panting for breath, and in agony in battle, thinks it is through his own and his fellows’ fault that such men grow rich, and says, Our rich men are good for nothing. The city soon grows into sedition between the oligarchic and democratic parties; and the poor prevailing over the rich, kill some and banish others, and share the places in the republic and the magistracies equally among the remainder, and for the most part the magistracies are disposed in it by lot. In what manner do these live, and what sort of republic is this? A democracy. The city is full of all freedom of action and speech, and liberty to do in it what any one inclines. Every one will regulate his own method of life in whatever way he pleases. In such a republic will arise men of all kinds. This is the finest of all republics, variegated like a robe with all kinds of flowers, and diversified with all sorts of manners. The multitude, it is likely, judge this republic the best, like children and women gazing at variegated things. In truth, it contains all kinds of republics, and it appears necessary for any one, who wants to constitute a city, as we do at present, to come to a democratic city, as to a general fair of republics, and choose the form that he fancies; he will not be in want of models. Is not this a sweet and divine manner of life for the present? To be under no necessity to govern, although you were able to govern; nor to be subject, unless you incline; nor to be engaged in war when others are; nor to live in peace when others do so, unless you be desirous of peace; and though there be a law restraining you from governing or administering justice, to govern nevertheless, and administer justice if you incline? Have you not observed, in such a republic, men condemned to death or banishment continuing still, or returning like heroes, and walking up and down openly, as if no one observed them? Is not this indulgence of the city very generous, in magnificently despising all care of education and discipline, and in not regarding from what sort of pursuits one comes to act in public affairs, but honoring him, if he only say he is well affected towards the multitude? These things, and such as these, are to be found in a democracy; and it would be a pleasant sort of republic, anarchical and variegated, distributing a certain equality to all alike, without distinction.
“Let us consider now the character of a democratical man, and how he arises out of that parsimonious one who, under the oligarchy, was trained up by his father in his manners. Such a one by force governs his own pleasures, which are expensive, and tend not to making money, and are called unnecessary. Eating, so far as conduces to preserve life, health, and a good habit of body, is a pleasure of the necessary kind; but the desire of these things beyond these purposes, is capable of being curbed in youth; and, being hurtful to the body and to the soul, with reference to her attaining wisdom and temperance, may be called unnecessary. In the same manner we shall say of venereal desires and others. We just now denominated a drone the man who was full of such desires and pleasures; but the oligarchic man, him who was under the necessary ones. The democratic appears to arise from the oligarchic man in this manner.
When a young man, bred up without proper instruction, and in a parsimonious manner, comes to taste the honey of the drones, and associates with those vehement and terrible creatures, who are able to procure pleasures every way diversified, from every quarter; thence imagine there is the beginning of a change in him, from the oligarchic to the democratic. And as the city was changed by the assistance of an alliance from without, with one party of it, with which it was of kin, shall not the youth be changed in the same manner, by the assistance of one species of desires from without to another within him, which resembles it, and is akin to it? By all means. If any assistance be given to the oligarchic party within him, by his father or the others of his family admonishing and upbraiding him, then truly arises sedition and opposition and a fight within him with himself. Sometimes the democratic party yields to the oligarchic; some of the desires are destroyed, others retire on the rise of a certain modesty in the soul of the youth, and he is again rendered somewhat decent. Again, when some desires retire, there are others akin to them which grow up, and, through inattention to the father’s instructions, become both many and powerful, draw towards intimacies, and generate a multitude. They seize the citadel of the soul of the youth, finding it evacuated of noble learning and pursuits and of true reasoning, which are the best watchmen and guardians in the understandings of men beloved of the gods; and then false and boastful reasonings and opinions, rushing up in their stead, possess the same place in this person. These false and boastful reasonings, denominating modesty to be stupidity; temperance, unmanliness; moderation, rusticity; decent expense, illiberality; thrust them all out disgracefully, expel them their territories, and introduce insolence and anarchy, luxury and impudence, in triumph, with encomiums and applauses, shining with a great retinue, and crowned with crowns. Insolence they denominate education; anarchy, liberty; luxury, magnificence; and impudence, manhood. In this manner, a youth bred up with the necessary desires, changes into the licentiousness and remissness of the unnecessary and unprofitable pleasures; his life is not regulated by any order, but deeming it pleasant, free, and happy, he puts all laws whatever on a level; like the city, he is fine and variegated, and many men and women too would desire to imitate his life, as he hath in him a great many patterns of republics and of manners.
“It remains that we go over the most excellent republic, which is tyranny, and the most excellent man, who is the tyrant. The change is from democracy to tyranny, as from oligarchy to democracy. An insatiable desire of riches, and a neglect of other things, through attention to making money, destroys oligarchy; and an insatiable thirst of liberty destroys democracy. When a city is under a democracy, and is thirsting after liberty, and happens to have bad cup-bearers, and grows drunk with an insufficiently diluted draught of it, it punishes even the governors, if they will not be entirely tame, and afford a deal of liberty, accusing them as corrupted, and leaning towards oligarchy. Such as are obedient to magistrates are abused, as willing slaves and good for nothing. Magistrates who resemble subjects, and subjects who resemble magistrates, are commended and honored, both in public and private; in such a city they of necessity soon go to the highest pitch of liberty, and this inbred anarchy descends into private families. The father resembles the child, and is afraid of his sons. The sons accustom themselves to resemble the father, and neither revere nor stand in awe of their parents. Strangers are equalled with citizens. The teacher fears and flatters the scholars, and the scholars despise their teachers and tutors. The youth resemble the more advanced in years, and rival them in words and deeds. The old men, sitting down with the young, are full of merriment and pleasantry, mimicking the youth, that they may not appear to be morose and despotic. The slaves are no less free than those who purchase them; and wives have a perfect equality and liberty with their husbands, and husbands with their wives. The sum of all these things, collected together, makes the souls of the citizens so delicate, that if any one bring near to them any thing of slavery, they are filled with indignation, and cannot endure it; and at length they regard not the laws, written or unwritten, that no one whatever, by any manner of means, may become their master. This is that government so beautiful and youthful, whence tyranny springs. But any thing in excess, in animal or vegetable bodies, in seasons or in republics, is wont to occasion a mighty change to the reverse; and excessive liberty seems to change into nothing but excessive slavery, both with a private person and a city. Thus licentiousness destroys the democracy.
“Out of no other republic is tyranny constituted but out of democracy; and out of the most excessive liberty, the greatest and most savage slavery. The race of idle and profuse men, one part of which was more brave, and were leaders, the other more cowardly, and followers, we compared to drones, the one with, and the other without stings. These two springing up in a republic, raise disturbance, as phlegm and bile in a natural body. Let us divide a democratic city into three, as it really is; for one such species as the above grows through licentiousness in it, no less than in the oligarchic, but is much more fierce. In oligarchy, because it is not in places of honor, but is debarred from the magistracies, it is unexercised, and does not become strong; but in a democracy this is the presiding party, excepting a few; and now it says and does the most outrageous things. Some other party is now always separated from the multitude; and while the whole are somehow in pursuit of gain, such as are the most temperate become the wealthiest, and have the greatest quantity of honey; hence the greatest quantity of honey, and what comes with the greatest case, is pressed out of these by the drones. Such wealthy people are the pasture of the drones. The people who mind their own affairs, and meddle not with any others, who have not much property, but yet are the most numerous and the most prevalent in democracy, whenever it is fully assembled, would be a third species; but it will not often fully assemble, if it does not get some share of the honey. It does, however, always get a share, for their leaders rob those who have substance, and give it to the people, that they may have the most themselves. These, then, who are thus despoiled, are obliged to defend themselves, saying and doing all they can among the people. Others, then, give them occasion to form designs against the people, and so they become oligarchic, even although they should have no inclination to introduce a change of government; thence they go to accusations, lawsuits, and contests, one with another, the leaders slandering and the drones stinging.
“The people are wont always to set some one in a conspicuous manner over themselves, to cherish him, and greatly to increase his power. Whenever a tyrant rises, it is from this root, and from nothing else, that he blossoms. What, then, is the beginning of a change, from a president into a tyrant? The wolf in the temple of Arcadia, dedicated to Lycæan Jupiter, had this inscription: “That whoever tasted human entrails, mixed with other sacrifices, necessarily became a wolf.” In the same manner, he who, being president of the people, and receiving an extremely submissive multitude, abstaineth not from kindred blood, but unjustly accusing them, and bringing them into courts of justice, stains himself with bloodshed, and banishes and slays, and proposes the abolition of debts, and division of lands, must not such a one either be destroyed by his enemies, or exercise tyranny, and from being a man become a wolf? He now becomes seditious towards those who have substance, and when he fails, he goes against his enemies with open force, and becomes an accomplished tyrant; and if they be unable to expel him, or put him to death by an accusation before the city, they conspire to cut him off privately, by a violent death. On this account, all those who mount up to tyranny, invent the celebrated tyrannical demand of the people, certain guards for their persons, that the assistance of the people may be secured to them. The people, afraid of his safety, but secure as to their own, grant them. Then those who have substance, and the crime of hating the people, fly; and if any one of them is caught he is put to death. This president of a city, thus not behaving like a truly great man, tumbles down many others, and sits in his chair a consummate tyrant, instead of a president of a city.
“Consider, now, the happiness of the man and the city in which such a mortal arises. In the first days, he smiles and salutes every one he meets; says he is no tyrant; promises many things, both in private and in public; frees from debts; distributes lands, both to the people in general, and those about him; affects to be mild, and of the patriot spirit, towards all. But when he has reconciled to himself some of his foreign enemies, and tranquillity is restored, he raises wars, that the people may want a leader, and that, being rendered poor by the payment of taxes, they may be under a necessity of becoming intent on a daily sustenance, and less ready to conspire against him. If he suspects any of them, who are of free spirits, will not allow him to govern, in order to have some pretext for destroying them, he exposes them to the enemy. On these accounts, a tyrant is always under a necessity of raising war. While he is doing these things, he must become more hateful to his citizens. Some of those who have been promoted along with him, and are in power, speak out freely, both to him and among themselves, finding fault with the transactions. It behoves the tyrant, then, to cut off all those who are of a more manly spirit, if he means to govern, till he leave no one, friend or foe, worth any thing. He must carefully observe who is courageous, magnanimous, wise, rich, and of necessity he must be an enemy to all these, and lay snares, until he cleanse the city of them. Thus he must live with wicked people, and be hated by them too, or not live at all. The more he is hated, the more guards he will want. But the worthy men being destroyed, the worst must be his guards. What a blessed possession! But this army of the tyrant, so beautiful, so numerous, and multiform, must be maintained. If there be any sacred things in the city, these they will spend, and the people obliged to pay the lighter taxes. When these fail, he and his drunken companions and associates, male and female, shall be maintained out of the paternal inheritance; and the people who have made the tyrant shall nourish him. If the people be enraged, and say that they did not make him to be slaves to his slaves, but that they might be set at liberty from the rich in the city, who are now called good and worthy men, and order him and his companions to be gone out of the city, as a father drives out of his house his son, with his tumultuary, drunken companions; then, indeed, the people shall know what a beast they are themselves, and what a beast they have generated, hugged, and bred up. While they are the weaker, they attempt to drive out the stronger. The tyrant will strip them of their armor. The people, defending themselves against the smoke of slavery, have fallen into the fire of despotism; instead of that excessive and unseasonable liberty, embracing the most rigorous and wretched slavery of bondmen. Thus, to speak modestly, we have sufficiently shown how tyranny arises out of democracy, and what it is after it is risen.
“The tyrannical man, himself, remains yet to be considered, in what manner he arises out of the democratic, and what kind of man he is, and whether he is wretched or happy. Of those pleasures and desires which are not necessary, some are repugnant to law. These, indeed, appear to spring up in every one; but, being chastised by the laws and the better desires, along with reason, they either forsake some men altogether, or are less in number and feeble; in others they are in greater number and more powerful. These lawless desires are such as are excited in sleep, when the rational part of the soul which governs it is asleep, and the part which is brutal and savage, being filled with meats and drunkenness, frisks about, and, pushing away sleep, wants to go and accomplish its practices. In such a one, it dares to do every thing, as being loosed and disengaged from all modesty and discretion; for it scruples not the embraces, as it imagines, of gods, men, or beasts; nor to kill any one; in one word, is wanting in no folly nor impudence. There is in every one a certain species of desires, which is terrible, savage, and irregular, even in some who seem to us to be entirely moderate.
“Recollect, now, what kind of man we said the democratic one was; educated from his infancy under a parsimonious father, who valued the avaricious desires alone; but being afterwards conversant with those who are more refined, running into their manner, and all sort of insolence, from a detestation of his father’s parsimony. However, having a better natural temper than those who corrupt him, and being drawn opposite ways, he settles into a manner in the middle of both, and participating moderately, as he imagines, of each of them, he leads a life neither illiberal nor licentious, becoming a democratic man from an aristocratic. His son is educated in his manners; but the same things happening to him as to his father, he is drawn into all kinds of licentiousness, which is termed, however, by those who draw him off, the most complete liberty. His father, the domestics, and others, are aiding to those desires which are in the middle. But when the tyrant-makers have no hopes of retaining the youth in their power any other way, they contrive to excite in him a certain love, which presides over the indolent desires, and such as minister readily to their pleasures; and when other desires make a noise about him, full of their odors and perfumes, and crowns and wines, and the pleasures of the most dissolute kind, then, truly, he is surrounded with madness as a life-guard, and that president of the soul rages with frenzy, till he kills all modesty, is cleansed of temperance, and filled with additional madness. This is the formation of a tyrannical man. After this, there are feastings among them, and revellings, banqueting, and mistresses, and all such things as may be expected where the tyrant’s love, drunkenness, and madness govern all in the soul. After this, there is borrowing and pillaging of substance, and searching for every thing which they are able, by rage and frenzy, deceit and violence, to carry off; pilfering and beguiling parents. When the substance of father and mother fails, he will break into houses, rob in the streets, rifle temples. Those desires which heretofore were only loose from their slavery in sleep, when he was yet under the laws and his father, when under democratic government, now, when he is tyrannized over by his passions, shall be equally loose when he is awake, and from no horrid slaughter or deed shall he abstain; but the tyrant within him, living without any restraint of law and government, shall lead him on to every mad attempt. Such as these establish as tyrant the man who among them hath himself most of the tyrant, and in greatest strength, within his own soul. If the city relucts, he shall bring in other young people, and chastise his formerly beloved mother and father country, as the Cretans say. But liberty and true friendship the tyrannic disposition never tasted. Let us finish then our worst man. He will be awake such as we described him asleep, and he who appears the most wicked, shall really be the most wretched; as many men, as many minds; as city is to city, in regard to virtue and happiness, so will man be to man; kingly government is the best, and tyranny is the worst. No city is more wretched than that which is under tyranny, nor any more happy than that under regal power. Both the city and the tyrant shall be slavish, poor, timorous; and you will find more lamentations and groans, weepings and torments, than in any other city. We should not merely conjecture about matters of such importance, but most thoroughly inquire into them, by reasoning of this kind, for the inquiry is concerning the most important matter, a good life and a bad.
“Such private men as are rich, and possess many slaves, have this resemblance at least of tyrants, that they rule over many. If they live securely, and are not afraid of their domestics, it is because the whole city gives assistance to each particular man. But if a god should lift a man, his wife, and children, with fifty slaves, out of the city, and let them down in a desert, in what kind of fear would he be about himself, his wife, and children, lest they should be destroyed by the domestics!
“Such, and much worse is the tyrant in his tyrannical city; envious, faithless, cowardly, unjust, unfriendly, unholy, and a sink and breeder of all wickedness.
“Now tell me which is the first and which the last, as to happiness, the regal, the ambitious, the oligarchic, the democratic, and the tyrannic man and city. The best and justest is the happiest.”
Let me add to the researches of Polybius and Plato, concerning the mutability of governments, those of Sir Thomas Smith, who, as he tells us, on the twenty-eighth of March, 1565, in the seventh of Elizabeth and fifty-first year of his age, was ambassador from that queen to the court of France, and then published, “The Commonwealth of England,” not as Plato made his republic, Xenophon his kingdom of Persia, or Sir Thomas More his Utopia, feigned commonwealths, such as never were nor shall be, vain imaginations, fantasies of philosophers, but as England stood and was governed at that day.
In his seventh chapter and the two following he gives us his opinion of the origin of a kingdom, an aristocracy and democracy. The third he supposes to grow naturally out of the second, and the second out of the first, which originated in patriarchal authority. But as there is nothing remarkable, either in favor of our system or against it, I should not have quoted the book in this place, but for the sake of its title. The constitution of England is in truth a republic, and has been ever so considered by foreigners, and by the most learned and enlightened Englishmen, although the word commonwealth has become unpopular and odious, since the unsuccessful and injudicious attempts to abolish monarchy and aristocracy, between the years 1640 and 1660.
Let me proceed then to make a few observations upon the Discourses of Plato and Polybius, and show how forcibly they prove the necessity of permanent laws, to restrain the passions and vices of men, and to secure to the citizens the blessings of society, in the peaceable enjoyment of their lives, liberties, and properties; and the necessity of different orders of men, with various and opposite powers, prerogatives, and privileges, to watch over one another, to balance each other, and to compel each other at all times to be real guardians of the laws.
Every citizen must look up to the laws, as his master, his guardian, and his friend; and whenever any of his fellow-citizens, whether magistrates or subjects, attempt to deprive him of his right, he must appeal to the laws; if the aristocracy encroach, he must appeal to the democracy; if they are divided, he must appeal to the monarchical power to decide between them, by joining with that which adheres to the laws; if the democracy is on the scramble for power, he must appeal to the aristocracy and the monarchy, which by uniting may restrain it. If the regal authority presumes too far, he must appeal to the other two. Without three divisions of power, stationed to watch each other, and compare each other’s conduct with the laws, it will be impossible that the laws should at all times preserve their authority and govern all men.
Plato has sufficiently asserted the honor of the laws and the necessity of proper guardians of them; but has nowhere delineated the various orders of guardians, and the necessity of a balance between them. He has, nevertheless, given us premises from whence the absolute necessity of such orders and equipoises may be inferred; he has shown how naturally every simple species of government degenerates. The aristocracy, or ambitious republic, becomes immediately an oligarchy. What shall be done to prevent it? Place two guardians of the laws to watch the aristocracy,—one, in the shape of a king, on one side of it; another, in the shape of a democratical assembly, on the other side. The aristocracy become an oligarchy, changes into a democracy. How shall it be prevented? By giving the natural aristocracy in society its rational and just weight, and by giving it a regal power to appeal to, against the madness of the people. Democracy becomes a tyranny. How shall this be prevented? By giving it an able, independent ally, in an aristocratical assembly, with whom it may unite against the unjust and illegal designs of any one man.
Chimerical systems of legislation are neither new nor uncommon, even among men of the most resplendent genius and extensive learning. It would not be too bold to say, that some parts of Plato and Sir Thomas More are as wild as the ravings of Bedlam. A philosopher may be perfect master of Descartes and Leibnitz, may pursue his own inquiries into metaphysics to any length, may enter into the inmost recesses of the human mind, and make the noblest discoveries for the benefit of his species; nay, he may defend the principles of liberty and the rights of mankind with great abilities and success; and, after all, when called upon to produce a plan of legislation, he may astonish the world with a signal absurdity. Mr. Locke, in 1663, was employed to trace out a plan of legislation for Carolina; and he gave the whole authority, executive and legislative, to the eight proprietors, the Lords Berkley, Clarendon, Albemarle, Craven, and Ashley; and Messieurs Carteret, Berkley, and Colleton, and their heirs. This new oligarchical sovereignty created at once three orders of nobility; barons,1 with twelve thousand acres of land; caciques, with twenty-four thousand, &c.; and landgraves, with eighty thousand. Who did this legislator think would live under his government?* He should have first created a new species of beings to govern, before he instituted such a government.
A man may be a greater poet than Homer, and one of the most learned men in the world; he may spend his life in defence of liberty, and be at the same time one of the most irreproachable moral characters; and yet, when called upon to frame a constitution of government, he may demonstrate to the world that he has reflected very little on the subject. There is a great hazard in saying all this of John Milton; but truth and the rights of mankind demand it. In his “Ready and Easy Way to Establish a Free Commonwealth,” this great author says, “I doubt not but all ingenuous and knowing men will easily agree with me, that a free commonwealth, without single person or house of lords, is by far the best government, if it can be had; . . .
“For the ground and basis of every just and free government, is a general council of ablest men chosen by the people to consult of public affairs, from time to time, for the common good. In this grand council must the sovereignty, not transferred, but delegated only, and, as it were, deposited, reside; with this caution, they must have the forces by sea and land committed to them for preservation of the common peace and liberty; must raise and manage the public revenue, at least with some inspectors deputed for satisfaction of the people how it is employed; must make or propose civil laws, treat of commerce, peace, or war with foreign nations; and, for the carrying on some particular affairs with more secrecy and expedition, must elect, as they have already, out of their own number and others, a council of state.
“And although it may seem strange at first hearing, by reason that men’s minds are prepossessed with the notion of successive parliaments, I affirm that the grand or general council, being well chosen, should be perpetual; for so their business is, or may be, and ofttimes urgent; the opportunity of affairs gained or lost in a moment. The day of council cannot be set as the day of a festival; but must be ready always to prevent or answer all occasions. By this continuance they will become every way skilfullest, best provided of intelligence from abroad, best acquainted with the people at home and the people with them. The ship of the commonwealth is always under sail; they sit at the stern, and if they steer well, what need is there to change them, it being rather dangerous? Add to this, that the grand council is both foundation and main pillar of the whole state; and to move pillars and foundations, not faulty, cannot be safe for the building. I see not, therefore, how we can be advantaged by successive and transitory parliaments; but that they are much likelier continually to unsettle, rather than to settle a free government; to breed commotions, changes, novelties, and uncertainties; to bring neglect upon present affairs and opportunities, while all minds are in suspense with expectation of a new assembly, and the assembly, for a good space, taken up with the new settling of itself. . . . But if the ambition of such as think themselves injured, that they also partake not of the government, and are impatient till they be chosen, cannot brook the perpetuity of others chosen before them; or if it be feared that long continuance of power may corrupt sincerest men, the known expedient is, that annually, (or if the space be longer, so much perhaps the better,) the third part of senators may go out,” &c.
Can one read, without shuddering, this wild reverie of the divine, immortal Milton? If no better systems of government had been proposed, it would have been no wonder that the people of England recalled the royal family, with all their errors, follies, and crimes about them. Had Milton’s scheme been adopted, England would have been a scene of revolutions, carnage, and horror, from that time to this, or its liberties would have been at this hour the liberties of Poland, or the island would have been a province of France. What! a single assembly to govern England? an assembly of senators for life too? What! did Milton’s ideas of liberty and free government extend no further than exchanging one house of lords for another, and making it supreme and perpetual? What! Cromwell, Ireton, Lambert, Ludlow, Waller, and five hundred others of all sects and parties, one quarter of them mad with enthusiasm, another with ambition, a third with avarice, and a fourth of them honest men, a perpetual council to govern such a country! It would have been an oligarchy of decemvirs on the first day of its sitting; it would have instantly been torn with all the agitations of Venice, between the aristocracy and oligarchy, in the assembly itself. If, by ballots and rotations and a thousand other contrivances, it could have been combined together, it would have stripped the people of England of every shadow of liberty, and grown in the next generation a lazy, haughty, ostentatious group of palatines; but if they had fallen into divisions, they would have deluged the nation in blood, till one despot would have ruled the whole. John Milton was as honest a man as his nation ever bred, and as great a friend of liberty; but his greatness most certainly did not consist in the knowledge of the nature of man and of government, if we are to judge from this performance, or from “The Present Means and Brief Delineation of a Free Commonwealth,” in his letter to General Monk.
Americans in this age are too enlightened to be bubbled out of their liberties, even by such mighty names as Locke, Milton, Turgot, or Hume; they know that popular elections of one essential branch of the legislature, frequently repeated,* are the only possible means of forming a free constitution, or of preserving the government of laws from the domination of men, or of preserving their lives, liberties, or properties in security; they know, though Locke and Milton did not, that when popular elections are given up, liberty and free government must be given up. Upon this principle, they cannot approve the plan of Mr. Hume, in his “Idea of a Perfect Commonwealth.” “Let all the freeholders of twenty pounds a year in the county, and all the householders worth five hundred pounds in the town parishes, meet annually in the parish church, and choose, by ballot, some freeholder of the county for their member, whom we shall call the county representative. Let the hundred county representatives, two days after their election, meet in the county town, and choose by ballot, from their own body, ten county magistrates and one senator. There are, therefore, in the whole commonwealth, one hundred senators, eleven hundred county magistrates, and ten thousand county representatives; for we shall bestow on all senators the authority of county magistrates, and on all county magistrates the authority of county representatives. Let the senators meet in the capital, and be endowed with the whole executive power of the commonwealth; the power of peace and war, of giving orders to generals, admirals, and ambassadors, and, in short, all the prerogatives of a British king, except his negative. Let the county representatives meet in their particular counties, and possess the whole legislative power of the commonwealth; the greater number of counties deciding the question; and where these are equal, let the senate have the casting vote. Every new law must first be debated in the senate; and, though rejected by it, if ten senators insist and protest, it must be sent down to the counties. The senate, if they please, may join to the copy of the law their reasons for receiving or rejecting it,” &c.
The senate, by the ballot of Venice or Malta, are to choose a protector, who represents the dignity of the commonwealth, and presides in the senate; two secretaries of state and a council of state, a council of religion and learning, a council of trade, a council of laws, a council of war, a council of the admiralty—each of five persons, all senators; and seven commissioners of the treasury.
If you compare this plan, as well as those of Locke and Milton, with the principles and examples, you will soon form a judgment of them; it is not my design to enlarge upon them. That of Hume is a complicated aristocracy, and would soon behave like all other aristocracies. It is enough to say that the representatives of the people may by the senators be deprived of a voice in the legislature; because the senate have their choice of sending the laws down, either to the county magistrates or county representatives. It is an ingenious device, to be sure, to get rid of the people and their representatives; besides that the delays and confusions would be endless, in sending the laws to be debated in as many separate commonwealths as there are counties. But the two decisive objections are,—1. Letting the nobility or senate into the management of the executive power; and 2. Taking the eyes of the people off from their representatives in the legislature. The liberty of the people depends entirely on the constant and direct communication between them and the legislature, by means of their representatives.
The improvements to be made in the English constitution lie entirely in the house of commons. If county members were abolished,1 and representatives proportionally and frequently chosen in small districts, and if no candidate could be chosen but an established, long-settled inhabitant of that district, it would be impossible to corrupt the people of England, and the house of commons might be an immortal guardian of the national liberty. Instead of projects to abolish kings and lords, if the house of commons had been attended to, wild wars would not have been engaged in, nor countless millions thrown away, nor would there have remained an imperfection, perhaps, in the English constitution. Let the people take care of the balance, and especially their part of it. But the preservation of their peculiar part of it will depend still upon the existence and independence of the other two. The instant the other branches are destroyed, their own branch, their own deputies, become their tyrants.
[1 ]Here are slight errors. The barony was a geographical division, and not a title. There were no barons in Mr. Locke’s plan; and the landgraves had forty-eight, and not eighty, thousand acres assigned them.
[* ]“It cannot be imagined that Mr. Locke considered this as the best plan of government, but that he was employed to lay out a plan of legislation, and was under the necessity of forming such a one as would best suit the oligarchical views of the proprietors. A similar plan was formed by the late Lord Egmont for the settling the island of St. John, by which his nobles had almost an arbitrary power of punishing their dependents. And this being made by his lordship an inducement to an acquaintance of mine to go thither and carry with him a number of settlers, he answered that he had not, for his own part, any objection in possessing the power of whipping and scourging those who might be under him, but he doubted whether he should be able to get anybody to submit to it.”
[* ]“Not less frequently than for every session.”
[1 ]“Why the county members should be abolished is not easy to say.”