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CHAPTER VIII.: ANCIENT ARISTOCRATICAL REPUBLICS. - John Adams, The Works of John Adams, vol. 4 (Novanglus, Thoughts on Government, Defence of the Constitution) 
The Works of John Adams, Second President of the United States: with a Life of the Author, Notes and Illustrations, by his Grandson Charles Francis Adams (Boston: Little, Brown and Co., 1856). 10 volumes. Vol. 4.
Part of: The Works of John Adams, 10 vols.
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ANCIENT ARISTOCRATICAL REPUBLICS.
Dionysius Halicarnassensis, in the speech which he puts into the mouth of Valerius, has not only given us his own judgment, that the most perfect form of government is that which consists of an equal mixture of monarchy, aristocracy, and democracy, but he has repeated the same sentiment, in his own name, in other parts of his work. In the seventh section of his second book of the Roman Antiquities, he says of Romulus, that he was extremely capable of instituting the most perfect form of government. And, again; “I shall first speak of the form of government he instituted, which I look upon, of all others, to be the most self-sufficient to answer all the ends both of peace and war.” This is a mixture of monarchy, aristocracy, and democracy, extolled by Polybius; and is nearly the same with that of Lycurgus, instituted at Sparta about a hundred years before. As the constitutions of Rome and Sparta lasted so many centuries longer than others of Greece and Italy, and produced effects so amazing upon the human character, we may rationally ascribe that duration and those effects to this composition, although the balance was very imperfect in both. The legal power, both of the kings and people, in both, was unequal to that of the senate, and, therefore, the predominant character in both was aristocracy. In Sparta, the influence of the monarchy and democracy was derived chiefly from the oath taken by the kings and ephori to support each other. An authority founded thus, in opinion, in religion, or rather in superstition, and not in legal power, would keep the senate in some awe, but not in any certain restraint.
Romulus divided all the people into three parts, and appointed a person of the first rank to be the chief of each of them. Then he subdivided each of these into ten others, and appointed as many of the bravest men to be the leaders of these. The greater divisions he called tribes, and the lesser curiæ. The commanders of the tribes were called tribuni; and those of the curiæ, curiones. He then divided the land into thirty portions, and gave one of them to each curia. He distinguished those who were eminent for their birth, virtues, and riches; and to these he gave the name of fathers. The obscure, the mean, and the poor, he called plebeians, in imitation of the government at Athens, where, at that time, those who were distinguished by their birth and fortune, were called “well-born,” to whom the administration of government was committed; and the rest of the people, who had no share in it, “husbandmen.” Romulus appointed the patricians to be priests, magistrates, and judges. The institution by which every plebeian was allowed to choose any patrician for his patron,1 introduced an intercourse of good offices between these orders, made the patricians emulate each other in acts of civility and humanity to their clients, and contributed to preserve the peace and harmony of Rome in so remarkable a manner, that, in all the contests which happened for six hundred and twenty years, they never proceeded to bloodshed.
The king, according to the institution of Romulus, had several important functions, namely,—1. Supremacy in religion, ceremonies, sacrifices, and worship. 2. The guardianship of the laws, and administration of justice, in all cases, whether founded on the law of nature, or the civil law; he was to take cognizance of the greatest crimes in person, leaving the lesser to the senate; and to observe that no errors were committed in their judgments; he was to assemble both the senate and the people; to deliver his opinion first, and pursue the resolutions of the majority. Romulus, however, wisely avoided that remarkable Spartan absurdity of two kings.
The senate were to deliberate and determine, by a majority of votes, all questions which the king should propose to them. This institution, also, Romulus took from the constitution of the Lacedæmonians. The kings, in both constitutions, were so far from being absolute, that they had not the whole executive power, nor any negative upon the legislature; in short, the whole power of the government was vested in the senate.
The people had three privileges,—to choose magistrates (yet all the great employments must be confined to patricians); to enact laws; and to determine concerning war, when proposed by the king. But the concurrence of the senate being necessary to give a sanction to their decisions, their power was not without control.
To separate the executive from the legislative power, and the judicial from both, and to give the king, the senate, and people, each a negative in the legislature, is so simple, and to us appears so obvious an improvement of this plan, that it is surprising it did not occur to Romulus as well as to Lycurgus; but, in those early times, perhaps neither kings nor nobles, nor people were willing to have their prerogatives and privileges so exactly ascertained. The nobles in both nations had almost all the influence, and were no doubt as jealous of royal as they were of popular power. It is certain that, although the government was called monarchical, it was in reality aristocratical in a high degree. There is a remarkable example of aristocratical art in the manner of obtaining the determination of the people. They were not permitted to vote in one common assembly; they were called in their curiæ; the majority of votes in a curia decided its voice; and a majority of curiæ was the resolve of the whole people.
Had Romulus died in peace, and left a son, his monarchy would probably have descended in his family. But a contest arose immediately here (as it has done in all other nations where the people had not a negative, and where the executive power has been partly in the hands of a king, and partly in a senate,) between the king and the nobles; and Romulus was put to death by the patricians for aiming, as they pretended, at more power than his share. This enabled the patricians to carry their first point; for it was always the first point of the aristocracy to make the first magistrate elective; in this they are always at first joined by the people; but, after seeing the use which the nobles make of these elections a few times, the people themselves have always made it hereditary.
Numa was chosen; a man of peace, piety, and humanity, who had address enough to make the nobles and people believe that he was married to the goddess Egeria, and received from his celestial consort all his laws and measures.
Tullus Hostilius, a man of great merit, was chosen in his stead; but after a glorious, at least a victorious, reign of thirty-two years, was murdered by the patricians, headed by Ancus Marcius, grandson of Numa by his only daughter, who thought his family right prior to that of Tullius.
Ancus was elected king, and died a natural death.
Lucius Tarquinius, after a reign of thirty-eight years, in which he had enlarged the territory, beautified the city, and shown himself worthy of the crown, was assassinated in his palace by the two sons of Ancus Marcius, who had learned the family policy. But their project was unfortunate; the people loved Lucius, execrated the instruments of the murder, banished the two sons of Ancus, and confiscated their estates.
Servius Tullius, who had married the daughter of Lucius, was now elevated to the throne by the people, much against the will of the senate and patricians, because Lucius was not one of them, but of Greek extraction. Tullius was chiefly supported by the people, always disagreeable to the patricians, who held his advancement to the throne to be illegal. The administration of Tullius is an artful system of duplicity, to preserve his character of the man of the people, and, at the same time, appease the fury of the patricians, by really undermining the authority of the people, and throwing the whole power into their hands.1 In pursuance of his principle, to please both sides, he made excellent equitable regulations for registering the people, establishing a militia, and proportioning the burdens of war according to the property and abilities of all ranks; but he subdivided the six classes into one hundred and ninety-three centuries. The first class was composed wholly of the rich, and contained ninety-eight of the centuries. If the centuries of the first class were unanimous, as they generally were, they carried every point by a majority of three; if they disagreed, the centuries of the second class were called; if they disagreed, the third came forward; and so on, till ninety-seven centuries agreed. If the numbers continued equal, ninety-six to ninety-six, the sixth class was called, which was composed wholly of the poorest people, and contained but one century; but even the votes of the fourth class were rarely called for, and the votes of the fifth and sixth were generally useless. When the people voted by curiæ, the vote of every citizen was given, and, as the poor were most numerous, they were always sure of a large majority; but, when thus taken by centuries, that numerous body of the poor, which composed the sixth century, were wholly insignificant, and those of the fifth and fourth very nearly so. By changing the votes from curiæ to centuries, Tullius wholly changed the fundamental constitution, and threw the elections of magistrates, civil and military, the power of enacting and repealing laws, declaring war, and making peace, all into the power of the rich patricians. The people had not sense enough to see this; nor to see another thing of more importance, namely,—that the king had been driven to the necessity of this artful flattery of the patricians, by his not being independent of them, and by their sharing with him in the executive power. Tullius had two daughters, married to the grandsons of his predecessor, Aruns and Tarquinius. The patricians were still caballing against Tullius, and set up Tarquin, one of his sons-in-law, against him; but as a majority were not for his deposition, Tarquin and his impious and incestuous wife joined the cabal in the murder of her first husband and her father. Tarquin, in time, murdered on all hands, patricians and plebeians. He was expelled by Brutus.
This whole history, from Romulus to Tarquin, is one continued struggle of the noble families for the first place; and another unanswerable proof of the necessity of having three orders, and each order independent, in order to form an effectual equilibrium. The people were very little regarded by the senate or patricians; the kings only now and then courted the people for support against their rivals among the patrician families. The tyranny of Tarquin made the name of king odious and unpopular. The patricians, who were the principal conductors of the revolution, took advantage of this—for what? To restore and improve Romulus’s plan of a mixed government? No; but to establish their favorite aristocracy upon the ruins of monarchy. Two consuls, in imitation of the two Spartan kings, were to be elected annually, by the votes of the people, which carried the name of a democratical power; but the votes were taken by centuries, not by tribes, which made the patricians masters of the elections, and constituted an aristocracy in reality. From this moment a haughty faction of selfish patricians appears, who affected to despise the people, to reduce them to servitude, and establish a despotic oligarchy. The people had suffered their prejudices to blind them so far as to be tricked out of their king, who was at least a better friend to them than the patricians were; and now, the contests were wholly between patricians and plebeians. The former had got the consuls, and consequently the executive power, as much in their hands as ever the nobles in Venice had their doge, or as the nobles in Poland have their king.
The plebeians were now in a most wretched situation. They were obliged to serve in the wars, to keep out the Tarquins and their allies, at their own expense, which frequently obliged them to borrow money at exorbitant interest of the patricians, who had engrossed the greater part of the wealth; and, as the country was often ravaged by the enemy, many lost all their effects. Unable to pay the principal, with loads of interest accumulated upon interest, they were frequently confined in chains by their creditors, and scourged with whips; for the law, to which they had foolishly consented, had made the debtor a slave to the creditor. The people began to demand an abolition of debts; the senate appointed a dictator. A confusion of foreign wars and domestic dissensions ensues, till we come to the story so beautifully told by Livy and Dionysius, of the man who had been in twenty-eight battles, who appeared before the people, and showed on his back the bleeding scars inflicted by a merciless creditor. At this time, the patricians had plunged into their usual difficulty, a violent contest among themselves, between a furious headlong party, which always appears for an oligarchy, and the moderate men, who desire to continue the aristocracy; the young patricians generally follow the haughty Claudius, and the mild Valerius courts the people. The oligarchy prevails, and the decemvirate is established; their tyranny drives the people to the sacred mountain; and, at last, the tribunate was established.
Here is the first symptom of any system pursued by the people. This was a balance; but what kind of a balance? Nobody thought of another council, a house of representatives, who should have a negative; and, if they had, it would not have availed without a king; for such a new assembly would soon have been either wholly subjected to the senate, or would have voted it useless. In truth, the monarchical power being suppressed, and the executive authority, as well as legislative, being now only in the senate and people, a struggle commenced between these two.
The people were on the scramble for more power; and first obtained a law, that all laws passed in their assemblies by tribes, should have equal force with those made in the assembly by centuries; then, that all posts and dignities should be enjoyed by the plebeians equally with the patricians; and that the decrees of the people should have the same force, and affect the patricians in the same manner, as those passed by the senate. All this was very just, and only brought the democracy to an equality with the aristocracy; but whenever these two are equal in legal power, numbers will soon turn the balance in favor of the democracy, unless there is a third power to intervene. Accordingly it so happened here, and the people went on from step to step, increasing their own importance, and diminishing that of the senate, until it was found shut up in Utica; but, before this, the people were divided into parties, and Cæsar, at the head of one, passed the Rubicon, that is, set the most sacred law of his country at open defiance. From this time the government became a government of men, and the worst of men.
From this example, as from all others, it appears that there can be no government of laws without a balance, and that there can be no balance without three orders; and that even three orders can never balance each other, unless each in its department is independent and absolute. For want of this the struggle was first between the king and senate; in which case the king must always give way, unless supported by the people. Before the creation of tribunes, the people were in no sense independent, and, therefore, could not support the kings. After the abolition of kings, the senate had no balance either way, and accordingly became at once a tyrannical oligarchy. When the people demanded their right, and obtained a check, they were not satisfied; and grasped at more and more power, until they obtained all, there being no monarchical power to aid the senate. But the moment the power became collected into this one centre, it was found in reality split into three; and as Cæsar had the largest of the three shares, he instantly usurped the whole.
From the days of Homer to those of Lycurgus, the governments in Greece were monarchical in name and pretension, but aristocratical in reality. The archons were impatient of regal government, constantly struggling against their kings; and they had prevailed in every other city, except Sparta, to abolish the royal authority and substitute an aristocracy of archons in its place. In Lacedæmon, too, where there were eight-and-twenty archons contending against two kings, they had brought the whole country into the utmost confusion. The circumstance of two kings, which perhaps prolonged the regal power longer in Sparta than in any other city, originated in the fondness of a mother. Aristodemus, one of the descendants of Hercules, to whose share Laconia fell, upon the division of the Peloponnesus, after the return of that family from banishment, died leaving twin sons, Eurysthenes and Procles; their mother refusing to determine which had the right of primogeniture, it was agreed that both should succeed to the crown with equal authority, and that the posterity of each should inherit. The nobles took advantage of all the jealousies which arose between the two families, obliged each to court them, and from time to time to make them concessions, until the royal authority was lost; and as the archons could not agree, each party now began to court the people, and universal anarchy prevailed.
Lycurgus, of the family of Procles, and only in the tenth descent from Hercules, succeeded his brother Polydectes; but being told his brother’s widow was with child, he declared himself protector only, and resigned the crown. Such a disinterested indifference to a crown in any one of royal or noble blood, was so unexampled in that age, that no wonder it was much admired and very popular. The ambitious princess, his sister, offered to marry him and remove out of his way the only competitor, by procuring an abortion. He deceived her by counterfeited tenderness; and diverted her from the thoughts of an abortion, by promising to take the disposition of the child upon himself when it should be born. The infant was sent to him, when at supper with the principal magistrates. He took it in his arms, and cried, “A king, Spartans, is born to you,” and placed it in his own seat. The company were touched at the tenderness of the scene, and fell into a transport of enthusiasm, both of piety to the blood of Hercules, and admiration of the disinterested integrity of Lycurgus, who, like an able statesman, perpetuates the memory of the event, and the joy at it, by the name with which, upon the spot, he christens the boy Charilaus, the people’s joy. But all this exalted merit, added to his acknowledged divine descent, and the undoubted possession of royal power, were not sufficient to overawe the jealousy of the nobles, a strong party of whom joined the irritated queen and her brother, and raised continual factions against him. Weary of cabals, and stimulated with a thirst for knowledge, he determined to travel; visited Crete and Egypt, the two sources of the theology and policy of Greece; and brought home with him, on his return to his own country, Thales, the poet, and the writings of Homer, with the resolution to adopt the martial discipline and political liberty which he read in the poet, and had seen exemplified in Crete. Nothing could be better calculated than his two poets, to inspire the nation with that enthusiasm which he wanted, and confirm the belief, that kings were from Jupiter, and beloved by him, excepting the response of the oracle, which he took care to procure. “Welcome, Lycurgus, to this happy place, thou favorite of heaven! I stand in doubt whether I shall pronounce thee god or man; inclining still to think thou art a god!”*
The disorders in Sparta were now become insupportable; the kings had as little authority as the laws. All parties, except the two kings, in despair of their private schemes, applied to the great legislator, pointed out to all, by his divine original, the inspiration of Homer and Thales, his own integrity, wisdom, knowledge, and commanding authority over the minds of men, as well as his special divine mission pronounced by the oracle, to be the only man capable of new-modelling the constitution.
In Crete he had acquired a deep insight into human nature, at least he had informed himself fully of the length and breadth, the height and depth, of the passion of ambition in the human heart. That complication of affections, which is called by so many names, the love of esteem, of praise, of fame, of glory; that sense of honor in which Montesquieu tells us monarchies are founded; which Tacitus tells us made the ancient Teutons submit quietly to be sold by their inferiors, when they had gambled away their liberty; which at this day enforces so punctual a payment of debts of honor contracted at play; which supports against all laws throughout Europe the custom of duelling, and produces more suicides than any other cause; which is commonly known by the denomination of the point of honor, and may with as much propriety be called ambition, Lycurgus appears to have understood better than any other legislator, and to have made the foundation of his institution. For this reason, Plato with great propriety calls it “The ambitious republic.”
Lycurgus in secret consulted the nobles, but not the kings; formed a powerful party, and called an assembly of the people, before whom his friends appeared in arms. Charilaus and Archelaus were not in the secret, but found themselves obliged to submit. What is all this but a body of nobles completing, by the aid of Lycurgus, that abolition of monarchy which they had been pursuing for ages, unrestrained by any legal check in the people, and unresisted by any adequate power in the crown? But what was his new institution?
In compliance with old prejudices, and from attachment to his family, he confirmed the two families on the throne, established the hereditary descent of the crown, but limited its authority. The kings were to continue high priests, to be commanders-in-chief of the armies, and presidents of the senate. Charilaus and Archelaus, terrified by the fate of all the other kings of Greece, agreed to accept of a certain, though limited authority, in lieu of pretensions more absolute and more precarious.
The ancient dignities of the nobles were confirmed and enlarged. A senate of eight-and-twenty of their chiefs was formed, at the head of whom the two kings were placed. To the people he committed the election of future senators. But as the present twenty-eight were for life, and the influence of kings and senators would be commonly used with great unanimity, in favor of the eldest son, to fill up a vacancy made by the death of his father; and as the people were not permitted to debate, their choice was perhaps* little more than a consent by acclamation to a nomination made by the king, and amounted to the same thing with a hereditary house of peers. To this senate the whole executive power was committed, and the most important part of the legislative; for as all laws were to originate there only, they had a negative before debate. Here is indeed all authority nearly collected into one centre, and that centre the nobility; for the king was but the first among equals, having no negative upon the senate.
If the legislator had rested here, his institution would have been in effect a simple hereditary oligarchy, possessed of the whole legislative, executive, and judicial power, and probably as restless as ever, to reduce the kings to elections for life or years, then to take from them the power of religion, the command of armies, and lastly to change the title from king to archon, or from the family of Hercules to other houses. With a view to counterbalance this dangerous authority, he instituted assemblies of the people, but intrusted them only with the power of confirming or rejecting what the senate proposed, and expressly forbade them all debate. The citizens were to give their simple ayes or noes, without being allowed to speak, even so far as to give a reason for their vote. He instituted, moreover, as a farther check upon the senate, five magistrates to inspect the administration and maintain the constitution; to convoke, prorogue, and dissolve both the greater assembly of the people, composed of nine thousand inhabitants of the city, and the lesser, consisting of thirty thousand inhabitants of the country or inferior villages. These magistrates were called the ephori, and were to be annually appointed. But the lawgiver saw that the king and people were both too weak, and the senate would still have power to scramble after both; he therefore contrived a kind of solemn alliance to be perpetually renewed between the monarchical and democratical branches, by which the senate might be awed into moderation. He ordered an oath to be taken every month, by the kings and the ephori. The former swore to observe the laws, and the latter swore, for themselves and the people whom they represented, to maintain the hereditary honors of the race of Hercules, to revere them as ministers of religion, to obey them as judges, and follow them as leaders. This was indeed a balance founded in opinion and in religion, though not a legal and independent check; as it was not a negative in either.
In this constitution, then, were three orders, and a balance, not indeed equal to that of England, for want of a negative in each branch; but the nearest resembling it of any we have yet seen. The kings, the nobles, the senate, and the people, in two assemblies, are surely more orders than a governor, senate, and house. The balance here attempted was as strong as religion operating on human nature could make it, though not equivalent to a negative in each of three branches. Another balance was attempted, in the rigorous separation of the city from the country, in two assemblies. It avoided the danger of jealousies between town and country in the deliberations of the people, and doubled the chances both of the monarchy and democracy, for preserving their importance in case of encroachments by the senate. If the senate and nobles should prevail in one assembly of the people, so far as to carry any unconstitutional point, the kings and ephori would find a resource in the other to lead them back. The Lacedæmonian republic may then, with propriety, be called monarchical, and had the three essential parts of the best possible government; it was a mixture of monarchy, aristocracy, and democracy. It failed, however, in that essential particular, the balance. The aristocracy had a legal power so eminent above that of king or people, that it would soon have annihilated both, if other precautions had not been taken, which destroyed all the real merit of this celebrated institution.
That the glory of the descendants of Hercules and of their republic might be the pride of every citizen, and that a superstitious attachment to both might be perpetuated, it was necessary to extinguish every other appetite, passion, and affection in human nature. The equal division of property; the banishment of gold and silver; the prohibition of travel and intercourse with strangers; the prohibition of arts, trades, and agriculture; the discouragement of literature; the public meals; the incessant warlike exercises; the doctrine that every citizen was the property of the state, and that parents should not educate their own children; although they served to keep up the constant belief of the divine mission of Lycurgus, and an enthusiastic passion for the glory of the republic, and the race of Hercules; and although they are celebrated by the aristocratical philosophers, historians, and statesmen of antiquity; must be considered as calculated to gratify his own family pride rather than promote the happiness of his people. Four hundred thousand slaves must be devoted to forty thousand citizens; weak and deformed children must be exposed; morality and humanity, as well as all the comforts, elegancies, and pleasures of life must be sacrificed to this glaring phantom of vanity, superstition, and ambition. Separated from the rest of mankind, they lived together, destitute of all business, pleasure, and amusement, but war and politics, pride and ambition; and these occupations and passions they transmitted from generation to generation, for seven hundred years; as if fighting and intriguing, and not life and happiness, were the end of man and society; as if the love of one’s country and of glory were amiable passions, when not limited by justice and general benevolence; and as if nations were to be chained together forever, merely that one family might reign among them. Whether Lycurgus believed the descent of his ancestor from Jupiter, the divine inspiration of Homer and Thales, or the divinity of the Oracle, any more than Mahomet believed his divine mission, may well be doubted. Whether he did or not, he shackled the Spartans to the ambitious views of his family for fourteen successions of Herculean kings, at the expense of the continual disturbance of all Greece, and the constant misery of his own people. Amidst the contradictions of ancient and modern writers, that account has been followed concerning the institution of the ephori, which appears most favorable to Lycurgus.1 The Roman tribunes, and perhaps the Venetian inquisitors, were borrowed from this institution.
Human nature perished under this frigid system of national and family pride. Population, the surest indication of national happiness, decreased so fast, that not more than one thousand old Spartan families remained, while nine thousand strangers had intruded, in spite of all their prohibitory laws. The conquest of Athens gave them a taste of wealth, and even the fear of the penalty of death could not restrain them from travelling. Intercourse with strangers brought in foreign manners. The ephori were sometimes bribed. Divisions arose between the two kings, Agis and Leonidas; one joined with the people, the other with the nobles, and the sedition proceeded to blood. Kings became so fond of subsidies from foreign powers, that Agesilaus received them from a King of Egypt, and his enemy at the same time. Agis was murdered by the order of the ephori, who, instead of honoring the blood of Hercules, according to their oath, took the sovereign power into their own hands. Here the balance broke; Cleomenes, who endeavored, like Agis, to restore the old laws and maxims, fell a sacrifice; and nothing appears afterwards in the history of Sparta but profligacy, tyranny, and cruelty, like that in Rome under the worst of the Cæsars.
The institution of Lycurgus was well calculated to preserve the independence of his country, but had no regard to its happiness, and very little to its liberty. As the people’s consent was necessary to every law, it had so far the appearance of political liberty; but the civil liberty of it was little better than that of a man chained in a dungeon—a liberty to rest as he is. The influence of this boasted legislation on the human character was to produce warriors and politicians, and nothing else. To say that this people were happy, is to contradict every quality in human nature except ambition. They had no other gratification. Science and letters were sacrificed, as well as commerce, to the ruling passion; and Milton had no reason to “wonder how museless and unbookish they were, minding nought but the feats of war;” since it was not so much because Lycurgus was “addicted to elegant learning, or to mollify the Spartan surliness with smooth songs and odes, the better to plant among them law and civility,” that he brought the scattered works of Homer from Ionia, and Thales from Crete; but merely to propagate his own and his family imposture. The plan was profound, and means were with great ability fitted to the end; but, as a system of legislation, which should never have any other end than the greatest happiness of the greatest number, saving to all their rights, it was not only the least respectable, but the most detestable in all Greece. To do it justice, however, it is much to be desired, that exercises like those established by Lycurgus, running, wrestling, riding, swimming, skating, fencing, dancing, should be introduced into public and private education in America, which would fortify the bodies and invigorate the minds of youth; instead of those sedentary amusements which debilitate, and are taking entire possession of society all over the world. The ladies, too, might honor some of these entertainments, though not all, with their presence and participation, to the great advantage of their own health, and that of posterity, without injury to their charms or their reputations. But, above all, the existence of an all-perfect Intelligence, the parent of nature, the wise and moral ruler of it; the responsibility of every subordinate intellectual and moral agent; a future state of rewards and punishments; and the sacred obligation of oaths, as well as of the relative duties of social life, cannot be too clearly fixed by rational arguments in the minds of all the citizens. In this respect Lycurgus merits praise.
But, as a civil and political constitution, taken all together, it is infinitely inferior to another, which Americans have taken for their model. The English constitution is the result of the most mature deliberation on universal history and philosophy. If Harrington’s council of legislators had read over the history, and studied the constitution of every nation, ancient and modern, remarked the inconveniences and defects of each, and bent the whole force of their invention to discover a remedy for it, they would have produced no other regulations than those of the English constitution, in its theory, unless they had found a people so circumstanced as to be able to bear annual elections of the king and senate. This improvement, the Americans, in the present stage of society among them, have ventured on; sensible, however, of the danger, and knowing perfectly well a remedy, in case their elections should become turbulent. Of this, at present, there is no appearance.
Pythagoras, as well as Socrates, Plato, and Xenophon, was persuaded that the happiness of nations depended chiefly on the form of their government. They were fully sensible of the real misery, as well as dangerous tendency, both of democratical licentiousness and monarchical tyranny; they preferred a well-tempered aristocracy to all other governments. Pythagoras and Socrates, having no idea of three independent branches in the legislature, both thought, that the laws could neither prevent the arbitrary oppressions of magistrates, nor turbulent insolence of the people, until mankind were habituated, by education and discipline, to regard the great duties of life, and to consider a reverence of themselves, and the esteem of their fellow-citizens, as the principal source of their enjoyment. In small communities, especially where the slaves were many, and the citizens few, this might be plausible; but the education of a great nation can never accomplish so great an end. Millions must be brought up, whom no principles, no sentiments derived from education, can restrain from trampling on the laws. Orders of men, watching and balancing each other, are the only security; power must be opposed to power, and interest to interest. Pythagoras found this by experience at Crotona, where the inferior ranks, elated with the destruction of Sybaris, and instigated by an artful, ambitious leader, Cylon, clamored for an equal partition of the conquered territory. This was denied them, as inconsistent with an aristocratical government; a conspiracy ensued against the magistrates, who were surprised in the senate-house, many put to death, and the rest driven from their country. Pythagoras was one of the banished, and died soon afterwards, in extreme old age, at Metapontum. The Crotonians had soon cause to repent their insurrection; for they were defeated, with all their forces, by the Locrians and Rhegians, with smaller numbers.
The other Greek cities of Italy, which had imitated the example of Crotona, in deposing their magistrates, were harassed with wars against each other, and against their neighbors. In consequence of these distresses, the disciples of Pythagoras again recovered their reputation and influence; and about sixty years afterwards, Zaleucus and Charondas, the one in Locris, and the other in Thurium, revived the Pythagorean institutions. In forty years more, a new revolution drove the Pythagoreans entirely from Italy, and completed the misery of that beautiful country. Thus, experience has ever shown, that education, as well as religion, aristocracy, as well as democracy and monarchy, are, singly, totally inadequate to the business of restraining the passions of men, of preserving a steady government, and protecting the lives, liberties, and properties of the people. Nothing has ever effected it but three different orders of men, bound by their interests to watch over each other, and stand the guardians of the laws. Religion, superstition, oaths, education, laws, all give way before passions, interest, and power, which can be resisted only by passions, interest, and power.
It is no wonder that M. Turgot should have entertained very crude conceptions of republican legislation; it is a science the least understood of any in the whole circle. All other orders of men of letters in Europe, as well as physicians, for a long time, have thought it “litteræ nihil sanantes.” It is a kind of erudition which neither procures places, pensions, embassies, chairs in academies, nor fame nor practice in the pulpit, at the bar, nor in medicine. A minister of state, of great abilities and merit, as well as reputation, advanced to the head of the affairs of a respectable monarchy, by one of the greatest princes that have ever lived, I mean the Baron de Hertzberg, has, within a few years, set an example, in a royal academy of sciences, of inquiry into this subject. In a learned and ingenious discourse,1 delivered by himself, he has attempted to show the advantages of simple monarchy over all kinds of republican governments, even that best species of them, limited monarchies. But did this worthy minister expect that any of his brother academicians would contest with him the merits of such governments? Men of letters are not fond of martyrdom in this age, nor of ruining their reputations. It is not, however, my design to discuss any questions at present concerning absolute monarchies, though the principles I contend for might be traced through the history of every monarchy and empire in Europe. Even in these there are orders, checks, and balances contrived, at least against abuses in administration, and for the preservation of the laws.
The science of government has received very little improvement since the Greeks and Romans. The necessity of a strong and independent executive in a single person, and of three branches in the legislature instead of two, and of an equality among the three, are improvements made by the English, which were unknown, at least never reduced to practice, by the ancients. Machiavel was the first who revived the ancient politics. The best part of his writings he translated almost literally from Plato and Aristotle, without acknowledging the obligation; and the worst of the sentiments, even in his Prince, he translated from Aristotle, without throwing upon him the reproach. Montesquieu borrowed the best part of his book from Machiavel, without acknowledging the quotation. Milton, Harrington, Sidney, were intimately acquainted with the ancients and with Machiavel. They were followed by Locke, Hoadley, &c. The reputation which is to be acquired by this kind of learning may be judged of by the language of Mr. Hume:—“Compositions the most despicable, both for style and matter, such as Rapin Thoyras, Locke, Sidney, Hoadley, &c., have been extolled and propagated and read, as if they had equalled the most celebrated remains of antiquity.”* Such is the style in which this great writer speaks of writings which he most probably never read. But although the time is long since passed when such writings were extolled, propagated, or read, the contempt of them is as fashionable, as likely to procure places and pensions, and to make a book sell now, as it was when Mr. Hume wrote.†
M. Turgot was as little conversant in this kind of erudition as Mr. Hume. The former, however, was a lover of liberty; but it was of that kind of liberty which he meditated to introduce into France, and could reconcile with a simple monarchy. He was too good a subject to think of introducing a free constitution of government into his own country. For the liberty of commerce, the liberty of religious sentiments, and the personal liberty of the subject, such as are established by the laws, in a monarchy, he was an enthusiast; and enthusiasm for liberty, the common cause of all mankind, is an amiable fervor, which is pardonable even when it is not according to knowledge. But he was neither an enthusiast for a free constitution of government, nor did he know in what it consisted.
[1 ]Upon this relation, as well as the story of the early kings, much has been written of late years, calculated to throw doubt upon former impressions, but not to substitute entirely clear ideas.
[1 ]“Deinde equitum magno numero ex omni populi summa separato, reliquum populum distribuit in quinque classes, senioresque a junioribus divisit; eosque ita disparavit, ut suffragia non in multitudinis sed in locupletium potestate essent; curavitque, quod semper in republica tenendum est, ne plurimum valeant plurimi.” Cicero, De Rep. ii. 22.
[* ]“No authority for this ‘perhaps.’ ” S.
[1 ]“That opinion is continually gaining ground, which in the main regards Lycurgus as the regulator of existing institutions, and in particular instances only, as the author of original laws.” Wachsmuth, Historical Antiq. of the Greeks, vol. i. p. 322.
[1 ]“Sur la forme des gouvernemens, et quelle en est la meilleure?”
[* ]History of England, chap. lxxi. Concluding Observations.
[† ]The facts here given relative to Venice, are taken from the Abbé Laugier and Moore’s Travels; those relative to the ancient republics, excepting the authorities already quoted, are taken from Robertson, Montagu, Potter, the Universal History, and especially from Mitford, Gillies, and Ferguson, three very valuable and elegant productions, which deserve to be carefully studied by all America. I have made free use of their expressions as well as reflections, without noting them.