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CHAPTER FOURTH.: MACHIAVEL’S PLAN OF A PERFECT COMMONWEALTH. - John Adams, The Works of John Adams, vol. 5 (Defence of the Constitutions Vols. II and III) 
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. 5.
Part of: The Works of John Adams, 10 vols.
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MACHIAVEL’S PLAN OF A PERFECT COMMONWEALTH.
Machiavel, from his long experience of the miseries of Florence in his own times, and his knowledge of their history, perceived many of the defects in every plan of a constitution they had ever attempted. His sagacity, too, perceived the necessity of three powers; but he did not see an equal necessity for the separation of the executive power from the legislative. The following project contains excellent observations, but would not have remedied the evils. The appointment of officers in the council of a thousand would have ruined all the good effects of the other divisions of power. There is some doubt about the time when it was written; Nerli and Nardi think it was addressed to Clement VII., but the English editor supposes it was Leo X., and his opinion is here followed.
About the year 1519, Leo X.,* being informed of the discords that were ready to break out in Florence, gave a commission to Machiavel to draw up a plan for the reformation of that state. He executed this commission with great abilities, and the most exquisite subtilty of his genius; and produced a model, in the opinion of some, of a perfect commonwealth. The sovereign power is lodged, both of right and in fact, in the citizens themselves.
“There are three orders of men in every state, and for that reason there should be also three ranks or degrees in a republic, and no more; nor can that be said to be a true and durable commonwealth, where certain humors and inclinations are not gratified, which otherwise must naturally end in its ruin.
“Those who model a commonwealth, must take such provisions as may gratify three sorts of men, of which all states are composed; that is, the high, the middle sort, and the low.”
Machiavel by these observations demonstrates, that he was fully convinced of this great truth, this eternal principle, without the knowledge of which every speculation upon government must be imperfect, and every scheme of a commonwealth essentially defective. Taking this fundamental principle along with us, let us give an abridgment of this valuable discourse.
“The reason why Florence has so often changed its form of government is, because there never was yet either a commonwealth or monarchy established there upon true principles. A monarchy cannot be stable, where the business, which should be directed by one,1 is submitted to the determination of many; nor can a commonwealth be durable where humors are not gratified, which must otherwise be the ruin of it. Maso moulded the republic into a sort of aristocracy,* in which there were so many defects, that it did not continue above forty years, nor would it have lasted so long, but for wars which kept it united. The defects were, that power was continued too long in the same persons; that the elections were subject to fraud and underhand practices; there was no check upon the grandees, to deter them from forming parties and factions, which are the destruction of a state. The signori had but little reputation, while they had too much authority; they had a power of taking away the life and property of any citizen without appeal, and of calling the people together to a conference whenever they pleased; so that instead of being a defence and protection to the state, they were rather an instrument of its ruin, when they were under the influence of any popular or ambitious man; raw young men of little experience and abject condition, were introduced into the signori; but what was of the last consequence was, that the people had no share at all in the government. All these defects together occasioned infinite disorder and confusion, and if wars had not kept the state united, it must have been dissolved long before it was.
“This form was succeeded by that of Cosimo. Afterwards the city endeavored to resume the form of a republic, but the measures taken were neither calculated to gratify the humors of all the citizens, nor had sufficient force to correct them; so far from being a true and perfect commonwealth, a gonfalonier for life, if an able and bad man, might easily have made himself absolute lord; if a weak and good man, he might have been pulled from his seat, and that establishment overturned. There was not strength in that government to support the standard-bearer, if a good man, nor to check and control him if a bad one. The reforms which were made were not with any view to the public good, but to strengthen and support different factions in their turns. Even the ends of faction were not answered, because there was always a discontented party, which proved a very powerful instrument in the hands of those that were desirous to effect any change or innovation in the state.
“No form of government can be devised that will be firm and lasting, which is not either a true principality, or a true commonwealth. All intermediate forms between these two extremes will be defective; for a principality can only be ruined one way, and that is, by descending into a commonwealth; the same may be said of a commonwealth also; for the only way by which it can be ruined, is by ascending to a principality. All intermediate forms may be ruined two ways, that is, either by ascending to a principality, or descending into a commonwealth; and this is the cause of their instability.
“Those who model a commonwealth must make such provisions as may gratify three sorts of men, of which all states are composed, that is, the high, the middle sort, and the low; and though there is a great equality among the citizens of Florence, yet there are some there who think so highly of themselves, that they would expect to have the precedence of others; and these people must be gratified in regulating the commonwealth. These people then will never be satisfied, if they have not the first rank and honors in the commonwealth, which dignity they ought to support by their own personal weight and importance. It is absolutely necessary to gratify the ambition of all the three several ranks of people; which may be done by electing sixty-five citizens, of not less than forty-five years of age, in order to give dignity to the government, fifty-three out of the highest class, and twelve out of the next, who should continue in the administration for life, subject to the following restrictions:—In the first place, one of them should be appointed gonfalonier of justice for a term of two or three years, if it is not thought proper to appoint one for life; and in the next, the other sixty-four citizens, already elected, should be divided into two distinct bodies, each consisting of thirty-two; one of which divisions, in conjunction with the standard-bearer, should govern the first year, and the other the next; so that they would be changed alternately every year, and all together should be called the signoria.
“After this, let the thirty-two be divided into four parts, eight in each; every one of which should reside three months in its turn with the standard-bearer, in the palace, and not only assume the magistracy with the usual forms and ceremonies, but transact all the business which before passed through the hands of the signori, the council of eight, and the other councils, all which must be dissolved. This should be the first member, or rather the head of the state, and by this provision the dignity of the signori will be restored; for as none but men of gravity and authority will ever sit there, it will be no longer necessary to employ private men in the affairs of state (which is always of prejudice to any republic) since the thirty-two who are not in office that year may be advised with upon occasion, sent upon embassies, and made useful in other functions.
“Let us now come to the second order in the state. Since there are three orders of men in every state, there should also be three ranks or degrees in a republic, and no more; upon which account it is necessary to prevent the confusion occasioned of late by the multiplicity of councils in our city, which have been established, not because they were conducive to good order, but merely to create friends and dependents, and to gratify the humor and ambition of numbers, in a point which yet was of no service to liberty or the public, because they might all be corrupted and biased by party. The council of seventy, that of a hundred, and that of the people and commonalty, should all be abolished; and, in the room of them, I would appoint a council of two hundred, every member of which should be not less than forty years of age; a hundred and sixty of them to be taken out of the middle class, and the other forty out of the lowest, but not one out of the sixty-five. They should also continue for life, and be called the council elect; which council, in conjunction with the sixty-five, should transact all the affairs that used to be transacted by the above-mentioned councils, now supposed to be abolished, and vested with the same degree of authority, and all the members of it appointed by your holiness; for which purpose, as well as to maintain and regulate these provisions, and others that I shall mention hereafter, it is necessary that a degree of authority, equal to that of the whole collective body of the people of Florence, should be vested by a balìa in your holiness and the Cardinal de’ Medici, during the lives of both; and that the magistracy of the eight di guardia, as well as the balìa, should be appointed from time to time by your holiness. It is likewise expedient, for the support of your authority, that your holiness should divide the militia into distinct corps, over which you may appoint two commissioners, one for each.
“By these provisions two out of the three classes may be thoroughly satisfied. It remains now to satisfy the third and lowest rank of the citizens, which constitutes the greater part of the people. For this purpose it will be necessary also to revive the council of a thousand, or at least one of six hundred citizens, who should nominate all the magistrates and officers, in the same manner they used to do formerly, except the above sixty-five, the council of two hundred, the eight di guardia, and the balìa. Without satisfying the common people, no republic ever yet stood upon a stable foundation.
“The state being thus modelled, no other provisions would be wanting, if your holiness and the cardinal were to live for ever; but, as you are subject to mortality, it is necessary, if you would have the republic continue firm and strongly supported on every side, in such manner that every one may see himself perfectly secure, that there should be sixteen standard-bearers appointed over the companies of the citizens, which may be done either by your own authority, or by leaving the appointment to the great council, remembering only to increase the number of the divieri, assistants to the gonfalonier and commanding detachments of the people under him, that so they may be more spread over the city, and that none of the gonfaloniers should be of the sixty-five. After their appointment, four proposti should be drawn out of them by lot, and continue in office one month; so that at the end of four months they will all have been proposti. Out of these four, one should be drawn, to reside for a week only with the eight signors and the gonfaloniers in the palace; by which rotation all the four will have kept their residence there at the end of the month. Without the presence of this officer, the said resident signori should not be allowed to pass any act; nor should he himself have any vote there, but only be a witness and inspector of their proceedings, to which he may be suffered to put a stop till he has asked the opinion of all the thirty-two together, and had the matter fully discussed by them. But even the thirty-two, when all together, should not have power to resolve upon any thing, except two of the said proposti were present, who should have no further authority than to put a stop to their resolutions for a time, and report them to the council elect; nor should that council have a power of resolving upon any thing, except six at least of the sixteen gonfaloniers, and two proposti, were there, who should only have the liberty of taking the matter out of the hands of that council, and referring it to the great council, provided that any three of them should think it necessary so to do; and as to the great council, it should not be allowed to meet, unless twelve of the gonfaloniers and three of the proposti at least were there, who might give their votes in it like the other citizens.
“This order should be observed after the death of your holiness and the cardinal, for two reasons: In the first place, that, if the signory or other council should either disagree in their resolutions, or attempt any thing against the public good, there might be somebody vested with a power to take the matter out of their hands, and refer it to the people; for it would be a great defect in the constitution, that any one set of magistrates, or single council, should have a power to pass a law by its own authority alone, and that too without any remedy or appeal; upon which account it is highly necessary that the citizens should have some proper officers, not only to inspect their proceedings, but even to put a stop to them, if they seem to be of pernicious tendency.1
“Besides this, in order to give such a degree of stability and perfection to the commonwealth, that no part of it may shrink or fail after the decease of your holiness and the cardinal, it is necessary that a court should be erected upon occasion, consisting of the eight di guardia and a balia of thirty citizens, to be chosen by lot out of the council of two hundred and that of six hundred together; which court should have a power, in criminal cases, of summoning the accuser and accused to appear face to face before it in a certain time.
“Such a court is of great use in a commonwealth; for a few citizens are afraid to call great and powerful delinquents to account, and therefore it is necessary that many should concur for that purpose, that so, when their judgments are concealed, as they may be by balloting, every man may give his opinion freely and in security.
“The highest honor that can be attained by any man, is that which is voluntarily conferred on him by his countrymen; and the greatest good he can do, as well as the most acceptable to God, is that which he does to his country. None are to be compared to those who have reformed kingdoms and commonwealths by wholesome laws and constitutions; but as there have been but few that have had an opportunity to do this, the number is very small that have done it. This kind of glory has always been so much coveted by such as made glory the sole end of their labors, that when they have not had power either to found or reform a state, they have left models and plans in writing, to be executed by others, who should have, in future times; as Plato, Aristotle, and many others, who have shown that, if they did not found free states themselves, like Solon and Lycurgus, it was not owing either to ignorance or want of good-will to mankind, but to want of power. Heaven, then, cannot bestow a nobler gift upon any man, nor point out a fairer road to true glory.
“If things continue as they are, whenever any commotion or insurrection shall happen, either some head will be appointed in a sudden and tumultuary manner, who will rescue the state by violence and force of arms, or one part of the citizens will open the council of a thousand again, and sacrifice the other without mercy. In case either of these events should happen, your holiness will be pleased to consider how many executions, how many banishments and confiscations must of necessity ensue; a reflection which must surely shock the most hard-hearted man alive, much more a man of that remarkable humanity and tenderness which have always distinguished your holiness. The only way, then, to prevent these evils, is to establish the several classes and ordinances of the commonwealth in such a manner that they may support themselves; and they will always be able to do this when each rank has its due share in the administration, when every one knows his proper sphere of action, and whom he can confide in; and, lastly, when no one has any occasion to wish for a change of government, either because his ambition is not thoroughly gratified, or that he does not think himself sufficiently secure under such an administration.”
[* ]Discourse upon the proper Ways and Means of reforming the Government of Florence. Eng. edit. vol. iv. p. 263.
[1 ]“Dove le cose si fanno secondo che vuole uno, e si deliberano con il consenso di molti.”
[* ]Hist. of Florence, b. iii. See page 66 of this volume.
[1 ]The other reason is omitted, which is singular, as it appears to have some bearing on the reasoning of the author.