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A DEFENCE OF THE CONSTITUTIONS OF GOVERNMENT OF THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA. - John Adams, The Works of John Adams, vol. 6 (Defence of the Constitutions Vol. III cont’d, Davila, Essays on 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. 6.
Part of: The Works of John Adams, 10 vols.
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A DEFENCE OF THE CONSTITUTIONS OF GOVERNMENT OF THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA.
The English nation, for their improvements in the theory of government, has, at least, more merit with the human race than any other among the moderns. The late most beautiful and liberal speculations of many writers, in various parts of Europe, are manifestly derived from English sources. Americans, too, ought for ever to acknowledge their obligations to English writers, or rather have as good a right to indulge a pride in the recollection of them as the inhabitants of the three kingdoms. The original plantation of our country was occasioned, her continual growth has been promoted, and her present liberties have been established by these generous theories.
There have been three periods in the history of England, in which the principles of government have been anxiously studied, and very valuable productions published, which, at this day, if they are not wholly forgotten in their native country, are perhaps more frequently read abroad than at home.
The first of these periods was that of the Reformation, as early as the writings of Machiavel himself, who is called the great restorer of the true politics. The “Shorte Treatise of Politicke Power, and of the True Obedience which Subjects owe to Kyngs and other Civile Governors, with an Exhortation to all True Natural Englishemen, compyled by John Poynet, D. D.,” was printed in 1556, and contains all the essential principles of liberty, which were afterwards dilated on by Sidney and Locke. This writer is clearly for a mixed government, in three equiponderant branches, as appears by these words:—
“In some countreyes they were content to be governed and have the laws executed by one king or judge; in some places by many of the best sorte; in some places by the people of the lowest sorte; and in some places also by the king, nobilitie, and the people all together. And these diverse kyndes of states, or policies, had their distincte names; as where one ruled, a monarchie; where many of the best, aristocratie; and where the multitude, democratie; and where all together, that is a king, the nobilitie, and commons, a mixte state; and which men by long continuance have judged to be the best sort of all. For where that mixte state was exercised, there did the commonwealthe longest continue.”
The second period was the Interregnum, and indeed the whole interval between 1640 and 1660. In the course of those twenty years, not only Ponnet and others were reprinted, but Harrington, Milton, the Vindiciæ contra Tyrannos, and a multitude of others, came upon the stage.
The third period was the Revolution in 1688, which produced Sidney, Locke, Hoadley, Trenchard, Gordon, Plato Redivivus, who is also clear for three equipollent branches in the mixture, and others without number. The discourses of Sidney were indeed written before, but the same causes produced his writings and the Revolution.
Americans should make collections of all these speculations, to be preserved as the most precious relics of antiquity, both for curiosity and use. There is one indispensable rule to be observed in the perusal of all of them; and that is, to consider the period in which they were written, the circumstances of the times, and the personal character as well as the political situation of the writer. Such a precaution as this deserves particular attention in examining a work, printed first in the Mercurius Politicus, a periodical paper published in defence of the commonwealth, and reprinted in 1656, by Marchamont Nedham, under the title of “The Excellency of a Free State, or the Right Constitution of a Commonwealth.”1 The nation had not only a numerous nobility and clergy at that time disgusted, and a vast body of the other gentlemen, as well as of the common people, desirous of the restoration of the exiled royal family, but many writers explicitly espoused the cause of simple monarchy and absolute power. Among whom was Hobbes, a man, however unhappy in his temper, or detestable for his principles, equal in genius and learning to any of his contemporaries. Others were employed in ridiculing the doctrine, that laws, and not men, should govern. It was contended, that to say “that laws do or can govern, is to amuse ourselves with a form of speech, as when we say time, or age, or death, does such a thing. That the government is not in the law, but in the person whose will gives a being to that law. That the perfection of monarchy consists in governing by a nobility, weighty enough to keep the people under, yet not tall enough, in any particular person, to measure with the prince; and by a moderate army, kept up under the notion of guards and garrisons, which may be sufficient to strangle all seditions in the cradle; by councils, not such as are coördinate with the prince, but purely of advice and despatch, with power only to persuade, not limit, the prince’s will.”* In such a situation, writers on the side of liberty thought themselves obliged to consider what was then practicable, not abstractedly what was the best. They felt the necessity of leaving the monarchical and aristocratical orders out of their schemes of government, because all the friends of those orders were their enemies, and of addressing themselves wholly to the democratical party, because they alone were their friends; at least there appears no other hypothesis on which to account for the crude conceptions of Milton and Nedham. The latter, in his preface, discovers his apprehensions and feelings, too clearly to be mistaken, in these words:—“I believe none will be offended with this following discourse, but those that are enemies to public welfare. Let such be offended still; it is not for their sake that I publish this ensuing treatise, but for your sakes that have been noble patriots, fellow soldiers; and sufferers for the liberties and freedoms of your country.” As M. Turgot’s idea of a commonwealth, in which “all authority is to be collected into one centre,” and that centre the nation, is supposed to be precisely the project of Marchamont Nedham, and probably derived from his book, and as “The Excellency of a Free State” is a valuable morsel of antiquity well known in America, where it has many partisans, it may be worth while to examine it, especially as it contains every semblance of argument which can possibly be urged in favor of the system, as it is not only the popular idea of a republic both in France and England, but is generally intended by the words republic, commonwealth, and popular state, when used by English writers, even those of the most sense, taste, and learning.
Marchamont Nedham lays it down as a fundamental principle and an undeniable rule, “that the people, (that is, such as shall be successively chosen to represent the people,) are the best keepers of their own liberties, and that for many reasons. First, because they never think of usurping over other men’s rights, but mind which way to preserve their own.”
Our first attention should be turned to the proposition itself,—“The people are the best keepers of their own liberties.”
But who are the people?
“Such as shall be successively chosen to represent them.”
Here is a confusion both of words and ideas, which, though it may pass with the generality of readers in a fugitive pamphlet, or with a majority of auditors in a popular harangue, ought, for that very reason, to be as carefully avoided in politics as it is in philosophy or mathematics. If by the people is meant the whole body of a great nation, it should never be forgotten, that they can never act, consult, or reason together, because they cannot march five hundred miles, nor spare the time, nor find a space to meet; and, therefore, the proposition, that they are the best keepers of their own liberties, is not true. They are the worst conceivable; they are no keepers at all. They can neither act, judge, think, or will, as a body politic or corporation. If by the people is meant all the inhabitants of a single city, they are not in a general assembly, at all times, the best keepers of their own liberties, nor perhaps at any time, unless you separate from them the executive and judicial power, and temper their authority in legislation with the maturer counsels of the one and the few. If it is meant by the people, as our author explains himself, a representative assembly, “such as shall be successively chosen to represent the people,” still they are not the best keepers of the people’s liberties or their own, if you give them all the power, legislative, executive, and judicial. They would invade the liberties of the people, at least the majority of them would invade the liberties of the minority, sooner and oftener than an absolute monarchy, such as that of France, Spain, or Russia, or than a well-checked aristocracy, like Venice, Bern, or Holland.
An excellent writer has said, somewhat incautiously, that “a people will never oppress themselves, or invade their own rights.” This compliment, if applied to human nature, or to mankind, or to any nation or people in being or in memory, is more than has been merited. If it should be admitted that a people will not unanimously agree to oppress themselves, it is as much as is ever, and more than is always, true. All kinds of experience show, that great numbers of individuals do oppress great numbers of other individuals; that parties often, if not always, oppress other parties; and majorities almost universally minorities. All that this observation can mean then, consistently with any color of fact, is, that the people will never unanimously agree to oppress themselves. But if one party agrees to oppress another, or the majority the minority, the people still oppress themselves, for one part of them oppress another.
“The people never think of usurping over other men’s rights.”
What can this mean? Does it mean that the people never unanimously think of usurping over other men’s rights? This would be trifling; for there would, by the supposition, be no other men’s rights to usurp. But if the people never, jointly nor severally, think of usurping the rights of others, what occasion can there be for any government at all? Are there no robberies, burglaries, murders, adulteries, thefts, nor cheats? Is not every crime a usurpation over other men’s rights? Is not a great part, I will not say the greatest part, of men detected every day in some disposition or other, stronger or weaker, more or less, to usurp over other men’s rights? There are some few, indeed, whose whole lives and conversations show that, in every thought, word, and action, they conscientiously respect the rights of others. There is a larger body still, who, in the general tenor of their thoughts and actions, discover similar principles and feelings, yet frequently err. If we should extend our candor so far as to own, that the majority of men are generally under the dominion of benevolence and good intentions, yet, it must be confessed, that a vast majority frequently transgress; and, what is more directly to the point, not only a majority, but almost all, confine their benevolence to their families, relations, personal friends, parish, village, city, county, province, and that very few, indeed, extend it impartially to the whole community. Now, grant but this truth, and the question is decided. If a majority are capable of preferring their own private interest, or that of their families, counties, and party, to that of the nation collectively, some provision must be made in the constitution, in favor of justice, to compel all to respect the common right, the public good, the universal law, in preference to all private and partial considerations.
The proposition of our author, then, should be reversed, and it should have been said, that they mind so much their own, that they never think enough of others. Suppose a nation, rich and poor, high and low, ten millions in number, all assembled together; not more than one or two millions will have lands, houses, or any personal property; if we take into the account the women and children, or even if we leave them out of the question, a great majority of every nation is wholly destitute of property, except a small quantity of clothes, and a few trifles of other movables. Would Mr. Nedham be responsible that, if all were to be decided by a vote of the majority, the eight or nine millions who have no property, would not think of usurping over the rights of the one or two millions who have? Property is surely a right of mankind as really as liberty. Perhaps, at first, prejudice, habit, shame or fear, principle or religion, would restrain the poor from attacking the rich, and the idle from usurping on the industrious; but the time would not be long before courage and enterprise would come, and pretexts be invented by degrees, to countenance the majority in dividing all the property among them, or at least, in sharing it equally with its present possessors. Debts would be abolished first; taxes laid heavy on the rich, and not at all on the others; and at last a downright equal division of every thing be demanded, and voted. What would be the consequence of this? The idle, the vicious, the intemperate, would rush into the utmost extravagance of debauchery, sell and spend all their share, and then demand a new division of those who purchased from them. The moment the idea is admitted into society, that property is not as sacred as the laws of God, and that there is not a force of law and public justice to protect it, anarchy and tyranny commence. If “Thou shalt not covet,” and “Thou shalt not steal,” were not commandments of Heaven, they must be made inviolable precepts in every society, before it can be civilized or made free.
If the first part of the proposition, namely, that “the people never think of usurping over other men’s rights,” cannot be admitted, is the second, namely, “they mind which way to preserve their own,” better founded?
There is in every nation and people under heaven a large proportion of persons who take no rational and prudent precautions to preserve what they have, much less to acquire more. Indolence is the natural character of man, to such a degree that nothing but the necessities of hunger, thirst, and other wants equally pressing, can stimulate him to action, until education is introduced in civilized societies, and the strongest motives of ambition to excel in arts, trades, and professions, are established in the minds of all men. Until this emulation is introduced, the lazy savage holds property in too little estimation to give himself trouble for the preservation or acquisition of it. In societies the most cultivated and polished, vanity, fashion, and folly prevail over every thought of ways to preserve their own. They seem rather to study what means of luxury, dissipation, and extravagance they can invent to get rid of it.
“The case is far otherwise among kings and grandees,” says our author, “as all nations in the world have felt to some purpose.”
That is, in other words, kings and grandees think of usurping over other men’s rights, but do not mind which way to preserve their own. It is very easy to flatter the democratical portion of society, by making such distinctions between them and the monarchical and aristocratical; but flattery is as base an artifice, and as pernicious a vice, when offered to the people, as when given to the others. There is no reason to believe the one much honester or wiser than the other; they are all of the same clay; their minds and bodies are alike. The two latter have more knowledge and sagacity, derived from education, and more advantages for acquiring wisdom and virtue. As to usurping others’ rights, they are all three equally guilty when unlimited in power. No wise man will trust either with an opportunity; and every judicious legislator will set all three to watch and control each other. We may appeal to every page of history we have hitherto turned over, for proofs irrefragable, that the people, when they have been unchecked, have been as unjust, tyrannical, brutal, barbarous, and cruel, as any king or senate possessed of uncontrollable power. The majority has eternally, and without one exception, usurped over the rights of the minority.
“They naturally move,” says Nedham, “within the circle of domination, as in their proper centre.”
When writers on legislation have recourse to poetry, their images may be beautiful, but they prove nothing. This, however, has neither the merit of a brilliant figure, nor of a convincing argument. The populace, the rabble, the canaille, move as naturally in the circle of domination, whenever they dare, as the nobles or a king; nay, although it may give pain, truth and experience force us to add, that even the middling people, when uncontrolled, have moved in the same circle; and have not only tyrannized over all above and all below, but the majority among themselves has tyrannized over the minority.
“And count it no less security, than wisdom and policy, to brave it over the people.”
Declamatory flourishes, although they may furnish a mob with watchwords, afford no reasonable conviction to the understanding. What is meant by braving it? In the history of Holland you will see the people braving it over the De Witts; and in that of Florence, Siena, Bologna, Pistoia, and the rest, over many others.*
“Cæsar, Crassus, and another, made a contract with each other, that nothing should be done without the concurrence of all three: Societatem iniere, ne quid ageretur in republica, quod displicuisset ulli e tribus.”
Nedham could not have selected a less fortunate example for his purpose, since there never was a more arrant creature of the people than Cæsar; no, not even Catiline, Wat Tyler, Massaniello, or Shays. The people created Cæsar on the ruins of the senate, and on purpose to usurp over the rights of others. But this example, among innumerable others, is very apposite to our purpose. It happens universally, when the people in a body, or by a single representative assembly, attempt to exercise all the powers of government, they always create three or four idols, who make a bargain with each other first, to do nothing which shall displease any one; these hold this agreement, until one thinks himself able to disembarrass himself of the other two; then they quarrel, and the strongest becomes single tyrant. But why is the name of Pompey omitted, who was the third of this triumvirate? Because it would have been too unpopular; it would have too easily confuted his argument, and have turned it against himself, to have said that this association was between Pompey, Cæsar, and Crassus, against Cato, the senate, the constitution, and liberty, which was the fact.
Can you find a people who will never be divided in opinion? who will be always unanimous? The people of Rome were divided, as all other people ever have been, and will be, into a variety of parties and factions. Pompey, Crassus, and Cæsar, at the head of different parties, were jealous of each other. Their divisions strengthened the senate and its friends, and furnished means and opportunities of defeating many of their ambitious designs. Cæsar perceived it, and paid his court both to Pompey and Crassus, in order to hinder them from joining the senate against him. He separately represented the advantage which their enemies derived from their misunderstandings, and the ease with which, if united, they might concert among themselves all affairs of the republic, gratify every friend, and disappoint every enemy.* The other example, of Augustus, Lepidus, and Antony, is equally unfortunate. Both are demonstrations that the people did think of usurping others’ rights, and that they did not mind any way to preserve their own. The senate was now annihilated, many of them murdered. Augustus, Lepidus, and Antony were popular demagogues, who agreed together to fleece the flock between them, until the most cunning of the three destroyed the other two, fleeced the sheep alone, and transmitted the shears to a line of tyrants.
How can this writer say, then, that, “while the government remained untouched in the people’s hands, every particular man lived safe?” The direct contrary is true. Every man lived safe, only while the senate remained as a check and balance to the people; the moment that control was destroyed, no man was safe. While the government remained untouched in the various orders, the consuls, senate, and people, mutually balancing each other, it might be said, with some truth, that no man could be undone, unless a true and satisfactory reason was rendered to the world for his destruction. But as soon as the senate was destroyed, and the government came untouched into the people’s hands, no man lived safe but the triumvirs and their tools; any man might be, and multitudes of the best men were, undone, without rendering any reason to the world for their destruction, but the will, the fear, or the revenge of some tyrant. These popular leaders, in our author’s own language, “saved and destroyed, depressed and advanced whom they pleased, with a wet finger.”
The second argument to prove that the people, in their successive single assemblies, are the best keepers of their own liberties, is,—
“Because it is ever the people’s care to see that authority be so constituted, that it shall be rather a burden than benefit to those that undertake it; and be qualified with such slender advantages of profit or pleasure, that men shall reap little by the enjoyment. The happy consequence whereof is this, that none but honest, generous, and public spirits will then desire to be in authority, and that only for the common good. Hence it was that, in the infancy of the Roman liberty, there was no canvassing of voices; but single and plain-hearted men were called, entreated, and, in a manner, forced with importunity to the helm of government, in regard of that great trouble and pains that followed the employment. Thus Cincinnatus was fetched out of the field from his plough, and placed (much against his will) in the sublime dignity of dictator. So the noble Camillus, and Fabius, and Curius, were, with much ado, drawn from the recreation of gardening to the trouble of governing; and, the consul-year being over, they returned with much gladness again to their private employment.”
The first question which would arise in the mind of an intelligent and attentive reader would be, whether this were burlesque, and a republic travesty? But as the principle of this second reason is very pleasing to a large body of narrow spirits in every society, and as it has been adopted by some respectable authorities, without sufficient consideration, it may be proper to give it a serious investigation.
The people have, in some countries and seasons, made their services irksome, and it is popular with some to make authority a burden. But what has been the consequence to the people? Their service has been deserted, and they have been betrayed. Those very persons who have flattered the meanness of the stingy, by offering to serve them gratis, and by purchasing their suffrages, have carried the liberties and properties of their constituents to market, and sold them for very handsome private profit to the monarchical and aristocratical portions of society. And so long as the rule of making their service a burthen is persisted in, so long will the people be served with the same kind of address and fidelity, by hypocritical pretences to disinterested benevolence and patriotism, until their confidence is gained, their affections secured, and their enthusiasm excited, and by knavish bargain and sale of their cause and interest afterwards. But, although there is always among the people a party who are justly chargeable with meanness and avarice, envy and ingratitude, and this party has sometimes been a majority, who have literally made their service burdensome, yet this is not the general character of the people. A more universal fault is too much affection, confidence, and gratitude; not to such as really serve them, whether with or against their inclinations, but to those who flatter their inclinations, and gain their hearts. Honest and generous spirits will disdain to deceive the people; and if the public service is wilfully rendered burdensome, they will really be averse to be in it; but hypocrites enough will be found, who will pretend to be also loth to serve, and feign a reluctant consent for the public good, while they mean to plunder in every way they can conceal.
There are conjunctures when it is the duty of a good citizen to hazard and sacrifice all for his country. But, in ordinary times, it is equally the duty and interest of the community not to suffer it. Every wise and free people, like the Romans, will establish the maxim, to suffer no generous action for the public to go unrewarded. Can our author be supposed to be sincere, in recommending it as a principle of policy to any nation to render her service in the army, navy, or in council, a burden, an unpleasant employment, to all her citizens? Would he depend upon finding human spirits enough to fill public offices, who would be sufficiently elevated in patriotism and general benevolence to sacrifice their ease, health, time, parents, wives, children, and every comfort, convenience, and elegance of life, for the public good? Is there any religion or morality that requires this? which permits the many to live in affluence and ease, while it obliges a few to live in misery for their sakes? The people are fond of calling public men their servants, and some are not able to conceive them to be servants, without making them slaves, and treating them as planters treat their negroes. But, good masters, have a care how you use your power; you may be tyrants as well as public officers. It seems, according to our author himself, that honesty and generosity of spirit, and the passion for the public good, were not motives strong enough to induce his heroes to desire to be in public life. They must be called, entreated, and forced. By single and plain-hearted men, he means the same, no doubt, with those described by the other expressions, honest, generous, and public spirits. Cincinnatus, Camillus, Fabius, and Curius, were men as simple and as generous as any; and these all, by his own account, had a strong aversion to the public service. Either these great characters must be supposed to have practised the Nolo Episcopari, to have held up a fictitious aversion for what they really desired, or we must allow their reluctance to have been sincere. If counterfeit, these examples do not deserve our imitation; if sincere, they will never be followed by men enough to carry on the business of the world.
The glory of these Roman characters cannot be obscured, nor ought the admiration of their sublime virtues to be diminished; but such examples are as rare among statesmen, as Homers and Miltons are among poets. A free people of common sense will not depend upon finding a sufficient number of such characters at any one time, still less a succession of them for any long duration, for the support of their liberties. To make a law that armies should be led, senates counselled, negotiations conducted, by none but such characters, would be to decree that the business of the world should come to a full stand. And it must have stood as still in those periods of the Roman history as at this hour; for such characters were nearly as scarce then as they are now. The parallels of Lysander, Pericles, Themistocles, and Cæsar, are much easier to find in history, than those of Camillus, Fabius, and Curius. If the latter were with much difficulty drawn from their gardens to government, and returned with pleasure at the end of the consular year to their rural amusements, the former are as ardent to continue in the public service; and if the public will not legally reward them, they plunder the public to reward themselves. The father of Themistocles had more aversion to public life than Cincinnatus; and to moderate the propensity of his son, who ardently aspired to the highest offices of the state, pointed to the old galleys rolling in the docks. “There,” says he, “see the old statesmen, worn out in the service of their country, thus always neglected when no longer of use!”* Yet the son’s ardor was not abated, though he was not one of those honest spirits that aimed only at the public good. Pericles, too, though his fortune was small, and the honest emoluments of his office very moderate, discovered no such aversion to the service; on the contrary, he entered into an emulation in prodigality with Cimon, who was rich, in order equally to dazzle the eyes of the multitude. To make himself the soul of the republic, and master of the affections of the populace, to enable them to attend the public assemblies and theatrical representations for his purposes, he lavished his donations; yet he was so far from being honest and generous, and aiming solely at the public good, that he availed himself of the riches of the state to supply his extravagance of expense, and made it an invariable maxim to sacrifice every thing to his own ambition. When the public finances were exhausted, to avoid accounting for the public money, he involved his country in a war with Sparta.
But we must not rely upon these general observations alone; let us descend to a particular consideration of our author’s examples, in every one of which he is very unfortunate. The retirement of Cincinnatus to the country was not his choice, but his necessity. Cæso, his son, had offended the people by an outrageous opposition to their honest struggles for liberty, and had been fined for a crime; the father, rather than let his bondsmen suffer, paid the forfeiture of his recognizance, reduced himself to poverty, and the necessity of retiring to his spade or plough.1 Did the people entreat and force him back to Rome? No. It was the senate in opposition to the people, who dreaded his high aristocratical principles, his powerful connections, and personal resentments. Nor did he discover the least reluctance to the service ordained him by the senate, but accepted it without hesitation. All this appears in Livy, clearly contradictory to every sentiment of our author.* At another time, when disputes ran so high between the tribunes and the senate that seditions were apprehended, the senators exerted themselves in the centuries for the election of Cincinnatus, to the great alarm and terror of the people.† Cincinnatus, in short, although his moral character and private life were irreproachable among the plebeians, appears to have owed his appointments to office, not to them, but the senate; and not for popular qualities, but for aristocratical ones, and the determined opposition of himself and his whole family to the people. He appears to have been forced into service by no party; but to have been as willing, as he was an able, instrument of the senate.
In order to see the inaptitude of this example in another point of view, let the question be asked, What would have been the fortune of Cincinnatus, if Nedham’s “right constitution” had then been the government of Rome? The answer must be, that he would have lost his election, most probably even into the representative assembly; most certainly he would never have been consul, dictator, or commander of armies, because he was unpopular. This example, then, is no argument in favor of our author, but a strong one against him.
If we recollect the character and actions of Curius, we shall find them equally conclusive in favor of balanced government, and against our author’s plan. Manius Curius Dentatus, in the year of Rome 462, obtained as consul a double triumph, for forcing the Samnites to sue for peace. This nation, having their country laid waste, sent their principal men as ambassadors, to offer presents to Curius for his credit with the senate, in order to their obtaining favorable terms of peace. They found him sitting on a stool before the fire, in his little house in the country, and eating his dinner out of a wooden dish. They opened their deputation, and offered him the gold and silver. He answered them politely, but refused the presents.* He then added somewhat, which at this day does not appear so very polished: “I think it glorious to command the owners of gold, not to possess it myself.”
And which passion do you think is the worst, the love of gold, or this pride and ambition? His whole estate was seven acres of land, and he said once in assembly, “that a man who was not contented with seven acres of land, was a pernicious citizen.” As we pass, it may be proper to remark the difference of times and circumstances. How few in America could escape the censure of pernicious citizens, if Curius’s rule were established. Is there one of our yeomen contented with seven acres? How many are discontented with seventy times seven! Examples, then, drawn from times of extreme poverty, and a state of a very narrow territory, should be applied to our circumstances with great discretion. As long as the aristocracy lasted, a few of those rigid characters appeared from time to time in the Roman senate. Cato was one to the last, and went expressly to visit the house of Curius, in the country of the Sabines; was never weary of viewing it, contemplating the virtues of its ancient owner, and desiring warmly to imitate them.
But, though declamatory writers might call the conduct of Curius “exactissima Romanæ frugalitatis norma,” it was not the general character, even of the senators, at that time. Avarice raged like a fiery furnace in the minds of creditors, most of whom were patricians; and equal avarice and injustice in the minds of plebeians, who, instead of aiming at moderating the laws against debtors, would be content with nothing short of a total abolition of debts. Only two years after this, namely, in 465, so tenacious were the patricians and senators of all the rigor of their power over debtors, that Veturius, the son of a consul, who had been reduced by poverty to borrow money at an exorbitant interest, was delivered up to his creditor; and that infamous usurer, C. Plotius, exacted from him all the services of a slave, and the senate would grant no relief; and when he attempted to subject his slave to a brutal passion, which the laws did not tolerate, and scourged him with rods because he would not submit, all the punishment which the consuls and senate would impose on Plotius was imprisonment. This anecdote proves that the indifference to wealth was far from being general, either among patricians or plebeians; and that it was confined to a few patrician families, whose tenaciousness of the maxims and manners of their ancestors, proudly transmitted it from age to age.
In 477, Curius was consul a second time, when the plague, and a war with Pyrrhus, had lasted so long as to threaten the final ruin of the nation, and obliged the centuries to choose a severe character, not because he was beloved, but because his virtues and abilities alone could save the state. The austere character of the consul was accompanied by correspondent austerities, in this time of calamity, in the censors, who degraded several knights and senators, and among the rest, Rufinus, who had been twice consul and once dictator, for extravagance and luxury. Pyrrhus was defeated, and Curius again triumphed; and because a continuance of the war with Pyrrhus was expected, he was again elected consul, in 478. In 480, he was censor. After all, he was so little beloved, that an accusation was brought against him for having converted the public spoils to his own use, and he was not acquitted till he had sworn that no part of them had entered his house but a wooden bowl, which he used in sacrifice. All these sublime virtues and magnanimous actions of Curius, make nothing in favor of Nedham. He was a patrician, a senator, and a consul; he had been taught by aristocratical ancestors, formed in an aristocratical school, and was full of aristocratical pride. He does not appear to have been a popular man, either among the senators in general,1 or the plebeians. Rufinus, his rival, with his plate and luxury, appears, by his being appointed dictator, to have been more beloved, notwithstanding that the censors, on the prevalence of Curius’s party, in a time of distress, were able to disgrace him.
It was in 479 that the senate received an embassy from Ptolemy Philadelphus, King of Egypt, and sent four of the principal men in Rome, Q. Fabius Gurges, C. Fabius Pistor, Numer. Fabius Pistor, and Q. Ogulnius, ambassadors to Egypt, to return the compliment. Q. Fabius, who was at the head of the embassy, was prince of the senate, and on his return, reported their commission to the senate; said that the king had received them in the most obliging and honorable manner; that he had sent them magnificent presents on their arrival, which they had desired him to excuse them from accepting; that at a feast, before they took leave, the king had ordered crowns of gold to be given them, which they placed upon his statues the next day; that on the day of their departure, the king had given them presents far more magnificent than the former, reproaching them in a most obliging manner, for not having accepted them; these they had accepted, with most profound respect, not to offend the king, but that, on their arrival in Rome, they had deposited them in the public treasury; that Ptolemy had received the alliance of the Roman people with joy. The senate were much pleased, and gave thanks to the ambassadors for having rendered the manners of the Romans venerable to foreigners by their sincere disinterestedness; but decreed that the rich presents deposited in the treasury should be restored to them, and the people expressed their satisfaction in this decree. These presents were undoubtedly immensely rich; but where was the people’s care to make the service a burden? Thanks of the senate are no burdens; immense presents in gold and silver, voted out of the treasury into the hands of the ambassadors, were no “slender advantages of profit or pleasure,” at a time when the nation was extremely poor, and no individual in it very rich. But, moreover, three of these ambassadors were Fabii, of one of those few simple, frugal, aristocratical families, who neither made advantage of the law in favor of creditors, to make great profits out of the people by exorbitant usury on one hand, nor gave largesses to the people to bribe their affection on the other; so that, although they were respected and esteemed by all, they were not hated nor much beloved by any; and such is the fate of men of such simple manners at this day in all countries. Our author’s great mistake lies in his quoting examples from a balanced government, as proofs in favor of a government without a balance. The senate and people were at this time checks on each other’s avarice; the people were the electors into office, but none, till very lately, could be chosen but patricians; none of the senators, who enriched themselves by plundering the public of lands or goods, or by extravagant usury from the people, could expect their votes to be consuls or other magistrates; and there was no commerce or other means of enriching themselves; all, therefore, who were ambitious of serving in magistracies, were obliged to be poor. To this constant check and balance between the senate and people the production and the continuance of these frugal and simple patrician characters and families appear to be owing.
If our author meant another affair of 453, it is still less to his purpose, or rather still more conclusively against him. It was so far from being true, in the year 454, the most simple and frugal period of Roman history, that “none but honest, generous, and public spirits desired to be in authority, and that only for the common good,” and that there “was no canvassing for voices,” that the most illustrious Romans offered themselves as candidates for the consulship; and it was only the distress and imminent danger of the city from the Etrurians and Samnites, and a universal alarm, that induced the citizens to cast their eyes on Fabius, who did not stand. When he saw the suffrages run for him, he arose and spoke: “Why should he be solicited, an old man, exhausted with labors, and satiated with rewards, to take the command? That neither the strength of his body or mind were the same. He dreaded the caprice of fortune. Some divinity might think his success too great, too constant, too much for any mortal. He had succeeded to the glory of his ancestors, and he saw himself with joy succeeded by others. That great honors were not wanting at Rome to valor, nor valor to honors.”* It was extreme age, not the “slender advantages of honors,” that occasioned Fabius’s disinclination, as it did that of Cincinnatus on another occasion. This refusal, however, only augmented the desire of having him. Fabius then required the law to be read, which forbade the reëlection of a consul before ten years. The tribunes proposed that it should be dispensed with, as all such laws in favor of rotations ever are when the people wish it. Fabius asked why laws were made, if they were to be broken or dispensed with by those who made them; and declared that the laws governed no longer, but were governed by men.† The centuries, however, persevered, and Fabius was chosen. “May the gods make your choice successful!” says the old hero; “dispose of me as you will, but grant me one favor, Decius for my colleague, a person worthy of his father and of you, and one who will live in perfect harmony with me.”
There is no such stinginess of honors on the part of the people, nor any such reluctance to the service for want of them, as our author pretends; it was old age and respect to the law only. And one would think the sentiments and language of Fabius sufficiently aristocratical; his glory, and the glory of his ancestors and posterity, seem to be uppermost in his thoughts. And that disinterest was not so prevalent in general appears this very year; for a great number of citizens were cited by the ædiles, to take their trials for possessing more land than the law permitted. All this rigor was necessary to check the avidity of the citizens. But do you suppose Americans would make or submit to a law to limit to a small number, or to any number, the acres of land which a man might possess?
Fabius fought, conquered, and returned to Rome, to preside in the election of the new consuls; and there appear circumstances which show that the great zeal for him was chiefly aristocratical. The first centuries, all aristocratics, continued him. Appius Claudius, of consular dignity, and surely not one of our author’s “honest, generous, and public spirits,” nor one of his “single and plain-hearted men,” but a warm, interested, and ambitious man, offered himself a candidate, and employed all his credit, and that of all the nobility, to be chosen consul with Fabius; less, as he said, for his private interest, than for the honor of the whole body of the patricians, whom he was determined to reëstablish in the possession of both consulships. Fabius declined, as the year before; but all the nobility surrounded his seat, and entreated him, to be sure; but to do what? Why, to rescue the consulship from the dregs and filth of the people, to restore the dignity of consul and the order of patricians to their ancient aristocratical splendor. Fabius appears, indeed, to have been urged into the office of consul; but by whom? By the patricians, and to keep out a plebeian. The senate and people were checking each other; struggling together for a point, which the patricians could carry in no way but by violating the laws, and forcing old Fabius into power. The tribunes had once given way, from the danger of the times; but this year they were not so disposed. The patricians were still eager to repeat the irregularity; but Fabius, although he declared he should be glad to assist them in obtaining two patrician consuls, yet he would not violate the law so far as to nominate himself; and no other patrician had interest enough to keep out L. Volumnius, the plebeian, who was chosen with Appius Claudius. Thus facts and events, which were evidently created by a struggle between two orders in a balanced government, are adduced as proofs in favor of a government with only one order, and without a balance.
Such severe frugality, such perfect disinterestedness in public characters, appear only, or at least most frequently, in aristocratical governments. Whenever the constitution becomes democratical, such austerities disappear entirely, or at least lose their influence, and the suffrages of the people; and if an unmixed and unchecked people ever choose such men, it is only in times of distress and danger, when they think no others can save them. As soon as the danger is over, they neglect these, and choose others more plausible and indulgent.
There is so much pleasure in the contemplation of these characters, that we ought by no means to forget Camillus. This great character was never a popular one. To the senate and the patricians he owed his great employments, and seems to have been selected for the purpose of opposing the people.
The popular leaders had no aversion, for themselves or their families, to public honors and offices with all their burdens. In 358, P. Licinius Calvus, the first of the plebeian order who had ever been elected military tribune, was about to be reëlected, when he arose and said, “Romans, you behold only the shadow of Licinius. My strength, hearing, memory, are all gone, and the energy of my mind is no more. Suffer me to present my son to you, (and he held him by the hand,) the living image of him whom you honored first of all the plebeians with the office of military tribune. I devote him, educated in my principles, to the commonwealth, and shall be much obliged to you if you will grant him the honor in my stead.” Accordingly, the son was elected. The military tribunes acted with great ardor and bravery, but were defeated, and Rome was in a panic, very artfully augmented by the patricians, to give a pretext for taking the command out of plebeian hands. Camillus was created dictator by the senate, and carried on the war with such prudence, ability, and success, that he saw the richest city of Italy, that of Veii, was upon the point of falling into his hands with immense spoils. He now felt himself embarrassed. If he divided the spoils with a sparing hand among the soldiery, he would draw upon himself their indignation, and that of the plebeians in general. If he distributed them too generously, he should offend the senate; for, with all the boasted love of poverty of those times, the senate and people, the patricians and plebeians, as bodies, were perpetually wrangling about spoils, booty, and conquered lands; which further shows, that the real moderation was confined to a very few individuals or families.
Camillus, to spare himself reproach and envy, dictator as he was, wrote to the senate “that, by the favor of the gods, his own exertions, and the patience of the soldiers, Veii would soon be in his hands, and, therefore, he desired their directions what to do with the spoils.” The senate were of two opinions: Licinius was for giving notice to all the citizens, that they might go and share in the plunder; Appius Claudius would have it all brought into the public treasury, or appropriated to the payment of the soldiers, which would ease the people of taxes. Licinius replied, that if that money should be brought to the treasury, it would be the cause of eternal complaints, murmurs, and seditions. The latter advice prevailed, and the plunder was indiscriminate; for the city of Veii, after a ten years’ siege, in which many commanders had been employed, was at last taken by Camillus by stratagem; and the opulence of it appeared so great, that the dictator was terrified at his own good fortune and that of his country. He prayed the gods, if it must be qualified with any disgrace, that it might fall upon him, not the commonwealth. This piety and patriotism, however, did not always govern Camillus. His triumph betrayed an extravagance of vanity more than bordering on profaneness; he had the arrogance and presumption to harness four white horses in his chariot, a color peculiar to Jupiter and the Sun, an ambition more than Roman, more than human. Here the people were very angry with Camillus, for having too little reverence for religion. The next moment they were still more incensed against him, for having too much; for he reminded them of the vow he had made, to consecrate a tenth part of the spoils to Apollo. The people, in short, did not love Camillus; and the senate adored him, because he opposed the multitude on all occasions, without any reserve, and appeared the most ardent and active in resisting their caprices. It was easier to conquer enemies than to please citizens.* This mighty aristocratic grew so unpopular, that one of the tribunes accused him before the people of applying part of the spoils of Veii to his own use; and finding, upon consulting his friends, that he had no chance of acquittal, he went into voluntary banishment at Ardea. But he prayed to the gods to make his ungrateful country regret his absence. He was tried in his absence, and condemned in a fine.
Had Nedham’s constitution existed at Rome, would Camillus have taken Veii, or been made dictator, or employed at all? Certainly not. Characters much more plausible would have run him down, or have obliged him to imitate all their indulgences.
In all these examples, of Cincinnatus, Curius, Fabius, and Camillus, &c., our author quotes examples of virtues which grew up only in a few aristocratical families, were cultivated by the emulation between the two orders in the state, and by their struggles to check and balance each other, to prove the excellence of a state where there is but one order, no emulation, and no balance. This is like the conduct of a poet, who should enumerate the cheerful rays and refulgent glories of the sun in a description of the beauties of midnight.
Whether succession is or is not the grand preservative against corruption, the United States of America have adopted this author’s idea in this “reason,”1 so far as to make the governor and senate, as well as the house of representatives, annually elective. They have, therefore, a clear claim to his congratulations. They are that happy nation. They ought to rejoice in the wisdom and justice of their trustees; for certain limits and bounds are fixed to the powers in being, by a declared succession of the supreme authority annually in the hands of the people.
It is still, however, problematical, whether this succession will be the grand preservative against corruption, or the grand inlet to it. The elections of governors and senators are so guarded, that there is room to hope; but, if we recollect the experience of past ages and other nations, there are grounds to fear. The experiment is made, and will have fair play. If corruption breaks in, a remedy must be provided; and what that remedy must be, is well enough known to every man who thinks.
Our author’s examples are taken from the Romans, after the abolition of monarchy, while the government was an aristocracy, in the hands of a senate, balanced only by the tribunes. It is most certainly true, that a standing authority in the hands of one, the few, or the many, has an impetuous propensity to corruption; and it is to control this tendency that three orders, equal and independent of each other, are contended for in the legislature. While power was in the hands of a senate, according to our author, the people were ever in danger of losing their liberty. It would be nearer the truth to say, that the people had no liberty, or a very imperfect and uncertain liberty; none at all before the institution of the tribunes, and but an imperfect share afterwards; because the tribunes were an unequal balance to the senate; and so, on the other side, were the consuls. “Sometimes in danger from kingly aspirers.” But whose fault was that? The senate had a sufficient abhorrence of such conspiracies. It was the people who encouraged the ambition of particular persons to aspire, and who became their partisans. Mælius would have been made a king by the people, if they had not been checked by the senate; and so would Manlius. To be convinced of this, it is necessary only to recollect the story.
Spurius Mælius, a rich citizen of the Equestrian order, in the year before Christ 437, and of Rome the three hundred and fifteenth, a time of scarcity and famine, aspired to the consulship. He bought a large quantity of corn in Etruria, and distributed it among the people. Becoming, by his liberality, the darling of the populace, they attended his train wherever he went, and promised him the consulship. Sensible, however, that the senators, with the whole Quinctian family at their head, would oppose him, he must use force; and, as ambition is insatiable, and cannot be contented with what is attainable, he conceived that to obtain the sovereignty would cost him no more trouble than the consulship. The election came on, and as he had not concerted all his measures, T. Quinctius Capitolinus and Agrippa Menenius Lanatus were chosen by the influence of the senate. L. Minucius was continued præfectus annonæ, or superintendent of provisions. His office obliged him to do in public the same that Mælius affected to do in private; so that the same kind of people frequented the houses of both. From them he learned the transactions at Mælius’s, and informed the senate that arms were carried into his house, where he held assemblies, made harangues, and was taking measures to make himself king; and that the tribunes, corrupted by money, had divided among them the measures necessary to secure the success of the enterprise. Quinctius Capitolinus proposed a dictator, and Quinctius Cincinnatus (for the Quinctian family were omnipotent) was appointed. The earnest entreaties and warm remonstrances of the whole senate prevailed on him to accept the trust, after having long refused it, not from any reluctance to public service, but on account of his great age, which made him believe himself incapable of it. Imploring the gods not to suffer his age to be a detriment to the public, he consented to be nominated, and immediately appointed Ahala master of the horse, appeared suddenly in the forum, with his lictors, rods, and axes, ascended the tribunal with all the ensigns of the sovereign authority, and sent his master of horse to summon Mælius before him. Mælius endeavored, in his first surprise to escape; a lictor seized him. Mælius complained that he was to be sacrificed to the intrigues of the senate for the good he had done the people. The people grew tumultuous. His partisans encouraged each other, and took him by force from the lictor. Mælius threw himself into the crowd. Servius followed him, run him through with his sword, and returned, covered with his blood, to give an account to the dictator of what he had done. “You have done well,” said Cincinnatus; “continue to defend your country with the same courage as you have now delivered it,—Macte virtute esto, liberata republica.”
The people being in great commotion, the dictator calls an assembly, and pronounces Mælius justly killed. With all our admiration for the moderation and modesty, the simplicity and sublimity of his character, it must be confessed that there is in the harangue of Cincinnatus more of the aristocratical jealousy of kings and oligarchies, and even more of contempt of the people, than of a soul devoted to equal liberty, or possessed of understanding to comprehend it. It is the speech of a simple aristocratic, possessed of a great soul. It was a city in which, such was its aristocratical jealousy of monarchy and oligarchy, Brutus had punished his son; Collatinus Tarquinius, in mere hatred of his name, had been obliged to abdicate the consulship and banish himself; Spurius Cassius had been put to death for intending to be king; and the decemvirs had been punished with confiscation, exile, and death, for their oligarchy. In such a city of aristocratics, Mælius had conceived a hope of being a king. “Et quis homo?” says Cincinnatus; and who was Mælius? “quanquam nullam nobilitatem, nullos honores, nulla merita cuiquam ad dominationem pandere viam; sed tamen Claudios, Cassios, consulatibus, decemviratibus, suis majorumque honoribus, splendore familiarum sustulisse animos, quo nefas fuerit.”* Mælius, therefore, was not only a traitor but a monster; his estate must be confiscated, his house pulled down, and the spot called Æquimelium, as a monument of the crime and the punishment;† and his corn distributed to the populace, very cheap, in order to appease them. This whole story is a demonstration of the oppression of the people under the aristocracy; of the extreme jealousy of that aristocracy of kings, of an oligarchy, and of popular power; of the constant secret wishes of the people to set up a king to defend them against the nobles, and of their readiness to fall in with the views of any rich man who flattered them, and set him up as a monarch; but it is a most unfortunate instance for Nedham. It was not the people who defended the republic against the design of Mælius; but the senate, who defended it against both Mælius and the people. Had Rome been then governed by Marchamont Nedham’s “Right Constitution of a Commonwealth,” Mælius would infallibly have been made a king, and have transmitted his crown to his heirs. The necessity of an independent senate, as a check upon the people, is most apparent in this instance. If the people had been unchecked, or if they had only had the right of choosing a house of representatives unchecked, they would, in either case, have crowned Mælius.
At the critical moment, when the Gauls had approached the capitol with such silence as not to awaken the sentinels or even the dogs, M. Manlius, who had been consul three years before, was awakened by the cry of the geese, which, by the sanctity of their consecration to Juno, had escaped with their lives in an extreme scarcity of provisions. He hastened to the wall, and beat down one of the enemy who had already laid hold of the battlement, and whose fall from the precipice carried down several others who followed him. With stones and darts the Romans precipitated all the rest to the bottom of the rock. Manlius the next day received in a public assembly his praises and rewards. Officers and soldiers, to testify their gratitude, gave him their rations for one day, both in corn and wine, half a pound of corn and a quarter of a pint of wine. “Ingens caritatis argumentum, cum se quisque victu suo fraudans, detractum corpori atque usibus necessariis ad honorem unius viri conferret,” says Livy; and in the year of Rome 365, the commonwealth gave to Manlius a house upon the capitol, as a monument of his valor and his country’s gratitude.
In the year of Rome 370, fifty-five years after the execution of Mælius, and five years after the defence of the capitol from the attack of Brennus, Manlius is suspected of ambition. Those who had hitherto excited, or been excited by the people to faction, had been plebeians. Manlius was a patrician of one of the most illustrious families. He had been consul, and acquired immortal glory by his military exploits and by saving the capitol; he was, in short, the rival of Camillus, who had obtained two signal victories over the Gauls, and from the new birth of the city had been always in office, either as dictator or military tribune; and even when he was only tribune, his colleagues considered him as their superior, and held it an honor to receive his orders as their chief. In short, by his own reputation, the support of the Quinctian family, and the enthusiastic attachment to him he had inspired into the nation, he was, in fact and effect, to all intents and purposes, king in Rome, without the name, but under the various titles of consul, dictator, or military tribune. “He treats,” said Manlius, “even those created with powers equal to his own, not as his colleagues, but officers and substitutes to execute his orders.” The aristocratical Livy, and all the other aristocrats of Rome, accuse Manlius of envy. They say he could not bear such glory in a man whom he believed no worthier than himself. He despised all the rest of the nobility. The virtues, services, and honors of Camillus alone excited his haughtiness and self-sufficiency, and tortured his jealousy and pride. He was enraged to see him always at the head of affairs, and commanding armies. It is certain that this practice of continuing Camillus always at the head was inconsistent with the spirit of the constitution, by which a rotation was established, and the consuls who had the command of armies could remain in office but one year. But this is the nature of an aristocratical assembly as well as of a democratical one. Some eminent spirit, assisted by three or four families connected with him, gains an ascendency, and excites an enthusiasm, and then the spirit and letter too of the constitution is made to give way to him. In the case before us, when Camillus could not be consul, he must be military tribune; and when he could not be military tribune, he must be dictator.
Manlius is charged with envy, and with vain speeches. “Camillus could not have recovered Rome from the Gauls if I had not saved the capitol and citadel.” This was literally true; but aristocratical historians must brand the character of Manlius in order to depress the people, and extol and adore that of Camillus in order to elevate the senate and the nobles. But there is no solid reason to believe that Manlius envied Camillus, more than that Camillus and the Quinctian family were both envious and jealous of Manlius. The house upon the capitol was what the Quinctian family could not bear.
The truth is, an aristocratical despotism then ruled in Rome, and oppressed the people to a cruel decree; and one is tempted to say, that Manlius was a better man than Camillus or Cincinnatus, though not so secret, designing, and profound a politician, let the torrent of aristocratical history and philosophy roll as it will. There were two parties, one of the nobles, and another of the people; Manlius, from superior humanity and equity, embraced the weaker; Camillus, and the Quinctii, from family pride like that of Lycurgus, domineered over the stronger party, of which they were in full possession. Manlius threw himself into the scale of the people; he entered into close intimacy and strict union with the tribunes; he spoke contemptuously of the senate, and flattered the multitude. “Jam aurâ, non consilio ferri, famæque magnæ malle quam bonæ esse,” says the aristocrat Livy. But let us examine his actions, not receive implicitly the epithets of partial historians. The Roman laws allowed exorbitant interest for the loan of money; an insolvent debtor, by the decree of the judge, was put into the hands of his creditor as his slave, and might be scourged, pinched, or put to death, at discretion; the most execrable aristocratical law that ever existed among men; a law so diabolical, that an attempt to get rid of it at almost any rate was a virtue. The city had been burnt, and every man obliged to rebuild his house. Not only the poorest citizen, but persons in middle life, had been obliged to contract debts. Manlius, seeing the rigor with which debts were exacted, felt more commiseration than his peers for the people. Seeing a centurion, who had distinguished himself by a great number of gallant actions in the field, adjudged as a slave to his creditor, his indignation as well as his compassion, were aroused; he inveighed against the pride of the patricians, cruelty of the usurers, deplored the misery of the people, and expatiated on the merit of his brave companion in war; surely no public oration was ever better founded; he paid the centurion’s debt, and set him at liberty, with much ostentation to be sure, and strong expressions of vanity, but this was allowable by the custom and manners of the age. The centurion too displayed his own merit and services, as well as his gratitude to his deliverer. Manlius went further; he caused the principal part of his own patrimony to be sold, “in order, Romans,” said he, “that I may not suffer any of you, whilst I have any thing left, to be adjudged to your creditors, and made slaves.” This, no doubt, made him very popular; but, in the warmth of his democratical zeal, he had been transported upon some occasion to say in his own house, that the senators had concealed, or appropriated to their own use, the gold intended for the ransom of the city from the Gauls, alluding, probably, to the fact; for that gold had been deposited under the pedestal of Jupiter’s statue. Manlius, perhaps, thought that this gold would be better employed to pay the debts of the people. The senate recalled the dictator, who repaired to the forum attended by all the senators, ascended his tribunal, and ordered his lictor to cite Manlius before him. Manlius advanced with the people; on one side was the senate with their clients, and Camillus at their head; and on the other, the people, headed by Manlius; and each party ready for battle at the word of command. And such a war will, sooner or later, be kindled in every state, where the two parties of poor and rich, patricians and plebeians, nobles and commons, senate and people, call them by what names you will, have not a third power, in an independent executive, to intervene, moderate, and balance them. The artful dictator interrogated Manlius only on the story of the gold. Manlius was embarrassed, for the superstition of the people would have approved of the apparent piety of the senate in dedicating that treasure to Jupiter, though it was probably only policy to hide it. He evaded the question, and descanted on the artifice of the senate in making a war the pretext for creating a dictator, while their real design was to employ that terrible authority against him and the people. The dictator ordered him to prison. The people were deeply affected; but the authority was thought to be legal, and the Romans had prescribed bounds to themselves, through which they dared not break. The authority of the dictator and senate held them in such respect, that neither the tribunes nor the people ventured to raise their eyes or open their mouths. They put on mourning, however, and let their hair and beards grow, and surrounded the prison with continual crowds, manifesting every sign of grief and affliction. They publicly said, that the dictator’s triumph was over the people, not the Volsci, and that all that was wanting was to have Manlius dragged before his chariot. Every thing discovered symptoms of an immediate revolt.
Here comes in a trait of aristocratical cunning, ad captandum vulgus, much more gross than any that had been practised by Manlius. To soften the people, the senate became generous all at once, ordered a colony of two thousand citizens to be sent out, assigning each of them two acres and a half of land. Though this was a largess, it was confined to too small a number, and was too moderate to take off all Manlius’s friends. The artifice was perceived, and when the abdication of the dictatorship of Cossus had removed the fears of the people and set their tongues at liberty, it had small effect in appeasing the people, who reproached one another with ingratitude to their defenders, for whom they expressed great zeal at first, but always abandoned in time of danger; witness Cassius and Mælius. The people passed whole nights round the prison, and threatened to break down the gates. The senate set Manlius at liberty to prevent the people from doing it.
The next year, 371, dissensions were renewed with more acrimony than ever. Manlius, whose spirit was not accustomed to humiliation, was exasperated at his imprisonment; Cossus not having dared to proceed with the decision of Cincinnatus against Mælius, and even the senate having been compelled to give way to the discontent of the people, he was animated to attempt a reformation of the constitution. “How long,” said he to the people, “will you be ignorant of your own strength, of which nature has not thought fit that beasts themselves should be ignorant? Count your number and that of your adversaries; show them war, and you will have peace. Let them see that you are prepared, and they will immediately grant what you ask; determine to be bold in undertaking, or resolve to suffer the utmost injuries. How long will you fix your eyes upon me? Must I repeat the fate of Cassius and Mælius? I hope the gods will avert such a misfortune from me. But those gods will not descend from heaven to defend me. You must remove the danger from me. Shall your resistance to the senate always end in submission to the yoke? That disposition is not natural to you; it is the habit of suffering them to ride you, which they have made their right and inheritance. Why are you so courageous against your enemies abroad, and so soft and timorous in defence of your liberty at home? Yet you have hitherto always obtained what you demanded. It is now time to undertake greater things. You will find less difficulty in giving the senators a master, than it has cost you to defend yourselves against them, while they have had the power and the will to lord it over you. Dictatorsand consuls must be abolished, if you would have the people raise their heads. Unite with me; prevent debtors from suffering the rigors of those odious laws. I declare myself the patron and protector of the people. If you are for exalting your chief by any more splendid title, or illustrious dignity, you will only augment his power for your support, and to obtain your desires.” Ego me patronum profiteor plebis. Vos, si, quo insigni magis imperii honorisve nomine vestrum appellabitis ducem, eo utemini potentiore ad obtinenda ea quæ vultis. This is a manifest intention of introducing a balance of three branches.
In this oration are all the principles of the English constitution. The authority and power of the people to demolish one form of government and erect another, according to their own judgment or will, is clearly asserted. The necessity of abolishing the dictators and consuls, and giving to one chief magistrate the power to control the senate and protect the people, is pointed out. The senate is not proposed to be abolished, nor the assemblies of the people, nor their tribunes; but the abolition of cruel debtors’ laws and redress of all the people’s grievances is to be the consequence. The aristocracy was at that time a cruel tyranny; the people felt it; Manlius acknowledged it. Both saw the necessity of new-modelling the constitution and introducing the three branches of Romulus and Lycurgus, with better and clearer limitations; and both were desirous of attempting it.
If, in reading history, the glosses and reflections of historians are taken implicitly, a mistaken judgment will often be formed. Rome was an aristocracy, and Livy an aristocratical writer. The constitution of government, the principles, prejudices, and manners of the times, should never be a moment out of sight. If we believe the Romans, Manlius was actuated only by envy and ambition; but if we consider his actions, and the form of government at the time, we should be very apt to pronounce him both a greater and a better man than Camillus. To speak candidly, there was a rivalry between the Manlian and the Quinctian families, and the struggle was, which should be the first family and who the first man. And such a struggle exists, not only in every empire, monarchy, republic, but in every city, town, and village in the world. But a philosopher might find as good reason to say that Manlius was sacrificed to the envy, jealousy, and ambition of Camillus and the Quinctii, as that his popular endeavors for the plebeians sprung from envy of Camillus, and ambition to be the first man. Both were heads of parties, and had all the passions incident to such a situation. But if a judgment must be pronounced, which was the best man and citizen, there are very strong arguments in favor of Manlius.
The name of king was abhorred by the Romans. But who and what had made it so? Brutus, and his brother aristocrats, at the expulsion of Tarquin, by appointing religious execrations to be pronounced in the name of the whole state and for all succeeding ages against such as should dare to aspire to the throne. In this way, any word or any thing may be made unpopular at any time and in any nation. The senate were now able to set up the popular cry, that Manlius aspired to the throne; this revived all the religious horror which their established execrations had made an habitual part of their natures, and turned an ignorant, superstitious populace against the best friend and the only friend they had in the republic. The senate first talked of assassination and another Ahala; but, to be very gentle, they ordered “the magistrates to take care that the commonwealth sustained no prejudice from the pernicious designs of Manlius.” This was worse than private assassination; it was an assassination by the senate. It was judgment, sentence, and execution, without trial. The timid, staring people were intimidated, and even the tribunes caught the panic, and offered to take the odium off the senate, and cite Manlius before the tribunal of the people themselves, and accuse him in form. It is impossible not to suspect, nay, fully to believe, that these tribunes were bribed secretly by the senators. They not only abandoned him with whom they had coöperated, but they betrayed the people, their constituents, in the most infamous manner. They said, that in the present disposition, Manlius could not be openly attacked, without interesting the people in his defence; that violent measures would excite a civil war; that it was necessary to separate the interests of Manlius from those of the people. They themselves would cite him before the tribunal of the people, and accuse him in form. Nothing, said the tribunes, is less agreeable to the people than a king. As soon as the multitude sees that your aim is not against them; that from protectors they are become judges; that their tribunes are the accusers, and that a patrician is accused for having aspired at the tyranny, no interest will be so dear to them as that of their liberty. Their liberty! The liberty of plebeians at that time! What a prostitution of sacred terms! Yet, gross as was this artifice, it laid fast hold of those blind prejudices which patricians and aristocrats had inspired, and duped effectually a stupid populace. Manlius was cited by the tribunes before the people. In a mourning habit he appeared, without a single senator, relation, or friend, or even his own brothers, to express concern for his fate. And no wonder; a senator, and a person of consular dignity, was never known to have been so universally abandoned. But nothing can be more false than the reflections of historians upon this occasion. “So much did the love of liberty and the fear of being enslaved prevail in the hearts of the Romans over all the ties of blood and nature!” It was not love of liberty, but absolute fear, which seized the people. The senate had already condemned him by their vote, and given their consuls dictatorial power against Manlius and his friends. The tribunes themselves were corrupted with bribes or fear; and no man dared expose himself to aristocratical vengeance, unprotected by the tribunes.
To prove that it was fear, and not patriotism, that restrained his relations and friends, we need only recollect another instance. When Appius Claudius, the decemvir, was imprisoned for treason, much more clear than that of Manlius, and for conduct as wicked, brutal, and cruel, as Manlius’s appears virtuous, generous, and humane, the whole Claudian family, even C. Claudius, his professed enemy, appeared as suppliants before the judges, imploring mercy for their relation. His friends were not afraid. Why? Because Claudius was an enemy and hater of the people, and, therefore, popular with most of the patricians. His crimes were aristocratical crimes, therefore, not only almost venial, but almost virtues. Manlius’s offence was, love of the people; and democratical misdemeanors are the most unpardonable of all that can be committed or conceived in a government where the demon of aristocracy domineers. Livy himself betrays a consciousness of the insufficiency of the evidence to prove Manlius’s guilt. He says he can discover no proof, nor any other charge of any crime of treason, “regni crimen,” except some assemblies of people, seditious speeches, generosity to debtors, and the false insinuation of the concealment of the gold.
But here we see what the people are when they meet in one assembly with the senators. They dare not vote against the opinion or will of the nobles and patricians. The aristocratical part of mankind ever did, and ever will, overawe the people, and carry what votes they please in general, when they meet together with the democratical part, either in a collective or representative assembly. Thus it happened here. Superstition decided. While in sight of the capitol, their religious reverence for the abode of Jupiter, saved and inhabited by Manlius, was a counterbalance to their fears and veneration for the senators descended from the gods. The people could not condemn him in sight of the capitol. The tribunes, knowing what was in them, adjourned to another place the next day. The capitol out of sight, and the senators present, condemned their deliverer; and he died a sacrifice to the rancorous envy of his peers in the senate, the consulate, and patrician order, who could not bear the sight of so splendid a distinction and elevation above themselves in any one of their order, as Manlius’s house upon the capitol, and his title of Capitolinus. “Homines prope quadringentos produxisse dicitur, quibus sine fœnore expensas pecunias tulisset, quorum bona venire, quos duci addictos prohibuisset. Ad hæc, decora quoque belli non commemorasse tantùm, sed protulisse etiam conspicienda; spolia hostium cæsorum ad triginta, dona imperatorum ad quadraginta, in quibus insignes duas murales coronas, civicas octo. Ad hæc servatos ex hostibus cives produxisse; inter quos, C. Servilium magistrum equitum absentem nominatum; et, quum ea quoque quæ bello gesta essent, pro fastigio rerum, oratione etiam magnificâ facta dictis æquando, memorasset, nudasse pectus insigne cicatricibus bello acceptis; et identidem, Capitolium spectans, Jovem deosque alios devocasse ad auxilium fortunarum suarum; precatusque esse, ut, quam mentem sibi Capitolinam arcem protegenti ad salutem populi Romani dedissent, eam populo Romano in suo discrimine darent; et orasse singulos universosque, ut capitolium atque arcem intuentes, ut ad deos immortales versi, de se judicarent.”
By removing the assembly from the Campus Martius, where the people were assembled in centuries, (centuriatim,) to the Grove, (Petelinum Lucum,) from whence the capitol could not be seen, obstinatis animis triste judicium, with gloomy obstinacy the fatal sentence was passed, and the tribunes cast him down from the Tarpeian rock. “Such was the catastrophe,” says Livy, “of a man who, if he had not lived in a free city, would have merited fame.” He should have said, if he had not lived in a simple aristocracy, and alarmed the envy of his fellow aristocrats by superior merit, services, and rewards, especially that most conspicuous mark, his house upon the capitol, and his new title,1 or agnomen, Capitolinus, which mortal envy could not bear.
He was no sooner dead, than the people repented and regretted him. A sudden plague that broke out was considered as a judgment from Heaven upon the nation, for having polluted the capitol with the blood of its deliverer.
The history of Manlius is an unanswerable argument against a simple aristocracy; it is a proof that no man’s liberty or life is safe in such a government; the more virtue and merit he has, the more in danger, the more certain his destruction.2 It is a good argument against a standing sovereign and supreme authority in an hereditary aristocracy: so far Nedham quotes it pertinently, and applies it justly. But, when the same example is cited to prove that the people in one supreme assembly, successively chosen, are the best keepers of their liberty, so far from proving the proposition, it proves the contrary, because Camillus, the Quinctii, and Manlius will all be chosen into that one assembly by the people; the same emulation and rivalry, the same jealousy and envy, the same struggles of families and individuals for the first place, will arise between them. One of them will have the rich and great for his followers, another the poor; hence will arise two, or three, or more parties, which will never cease to struggle till war and bloodshed decide which is the strongest. Whilst the struggle continues, the laws are trampled on, and the rights of the citizens invaded by all parties in turn; and when it is decided, the leader of the victorious army is emperor and despot.
Nedham had forgotten the example of Cassius, which would have been equally apposite to prove a simple aristocracy a bad government, and equally improper to prove that the people, in their supreme assemblies, successively chosen, are the best keepers of their liberty. It is also equally proper to prove the contrary, and to show that such a simple democracy is as dangerous as a simple aristocracy. These examples all show that the natural principles of the English constitution were constantly at work among the Roman people; that nature herself was constantly calling out for two masters to control the senate, one in a king or single person, possessed of the executive power, and the other in an equal representation of the people, possessed of a negative on all the laws, and especially on the disposal of the public money. As these examples are great illustrations of our argument, and illustrious proofs of the superior excellence of the American constitutions, we will examine the story of Cassius before we come to that of the decemvirs.
The first notice that is taken of Cassius is in the year 252, when he was consul, gained considerable advantages over the Sabines, and received the honor of a triumph. In 256, he was chosen by Lartius, the first dictator, general of the horse, and commanded a division of the army with success against the Latins. In the year 261, disputes ran so high between patricians and plebeians, that no candidate appeared for the consulship, and several refused; the vessel was in such a storm, that nobody would accept the helm. The people who remained in the city at last nominated Posthumus Cominius, and Spurius Cassius, who were believed equally agreeable to plebeians and patricians. The first thing they did was to propose the affair of the debts to the senate. A violent opposition ensued, headed by Appius, who constantly insisted that all the favor shown the populace only made them the more insolent, and that nothing but inflexible severity could reduce them to their duty. The younger senators all blindly adopted this opinion. Nothing passed in several tumultuous assemblies, but altercations and mutual reproaches. The ancient senators were all inclined to peace. Agrippa, who had observed a sagacious medium, neither flattering the pride of the great, nor favoring the license of the people, being one of the new senators whom Brutus had chosen after the expulsion of Tarquin, supported the opinion, that the good of the state required the reëstablishment of concord among the citizens. Sent by the senate to treat with the people retired to the sacred mountain, he spoke his celebrated fable of the Belly and the Members. The people, at this conference, insisted that, as by the creation of dictators with unlimited authority, the law which admitted appeals to the people from the decrees of any magistrate whatever, was eluded, and in a manner made void, tribunes should be created, a new species of magistrates, whose sole duty should be the conservation of their rights. The affair of Coriolanus happened in this interval, between the first consulate of Sp. Cassius, in 261, and the second, in 268; in which, probably, he had acted in favor of the people, in establishing the tribunate, and in defending them against Coriolanus, Appius Claudius, and the other oligarchic senators. This year, 268, he marched against the Volsci and Hernici, who made peace, and the consul obtained the honor of a triumph.
Cassius, after his triumph, represented to the senate, that “the people merited some reward for the services they had rendered the commonwealth, for defending the public liberty, and subjecting new countries to the Roman power; that the lands acquired by their arms belonged to the public, though some patricians had appropriated them to themselves; that an equitable distribution of these lands would enable the poor plebeians to bring up children for the benefit of the commonwealth; and that such a division alone could establish that equality which ought to subsist between the citizens of the same state.” He associated in this privilege the Latins settled at Rome, who had obtained the freedom of the city. “Tum primum lex agraria promulgata est.”* This law, which had at least a great appearance of equity, would have relieved the misery of the people, and no doubt rendered Cassius popular. The Romans never granted peace to their enemies until they had taken some of their territory from them. Part of such conquests were sold to defray the expense of the war; another portion was distributed among the poor plebeians. Some cantons were farmed out for the public; rapacious patricians, solely intent upon enriching themselves, took possession of some; and these lands, unjustly usurped by the rich, Cassius was for having distributed anew in favor of the plebeians.1
The aristocratical pride, avarice, and ambition, were all incensed, and the senators greatly alarmed. The people discovered symptoms, that they had begun to think themselves of the same species with their rulers; and one patrician of consular dignity, dared to encourage them in such presumptuous and aspiring thoughts. Some device or other must be invented to dupe the people and ruin their leader. Virginius, the consul, soon hit upon an expedient. Rabuleius, the tribune, asked him in assembly what he thought of this law? He answered, he would willingly consent that the lands should be distributed among the Roman people, provided the Latins had no share. Divide et impera. This distinction, without the least appearance of equity, was addressed simply to the popular hatred between the Romans and Latins, and the bait was greedily swallowed. The people were highly pleased with the consul, and began to despise Cassius, and to suspect him of ambition to be king. He continued his friendly intentions towards the people, and proposed in senate to reimburse, as it was but just, out of the public treasury, the money which the poor citizens had paid for the corn, of which Gelo, King of Syracuse, had made the commonwealth a present during the scarcity. But even this was now represented by the senate, and suspected by the people, to be only soliciting popular favor; and, although the people felt every hour the necessity of a king to protect them against the tyranny of the senate, yet they had been gulled by patrician artifice into an oath against kings, and, although they felt the want of such a magistrate, they had not sense enough to see it. The agrarian law was opposed in the senate by Appius and Sempronius, and evaded by the appointment of ten commissioners to survey the lands.
The next year Cassius was cited before the people, and accused by the quæstors of having taken secret measures for opening a way to the sovereignty; of having provided arms, and received money from the Latins and Hernici; and of having made a very great party among the most robust of their youth, who were continually seen in his train.
The people heard the quæstors, but gave no attention to Cassius’s answer and defence. No consideration for his children, his relations and friends, who appeared in great numbers to support him; no remembrance of his great actions, by which he had raised himself to the first dignities; nor three consulships and two triumphs, which had rendered him very illustrious, could delay his condemnation; so unpardonable a crime with the Romans, was the slightest suspicion of aspiring at regal power!1 So ignorant, so unjust, so ungrateful, and so stupid, were that very body of plebeians, who were continually suffering the cruel tyranny of patricians, and continually soliciting protectors against it! Without regarding any moderation or proportion, the blind tools of the hatred and vengeance of their enemies, they condemned Cassius to die, and the quæstors instantly carried him to the Tarpeian rock, which fronted the forum, and threw him down, in the presence of the whole people. His house was demolished, and his estate sold to purchase a statue to Ceres; and the faction of the great grew more powerful and haughty, and rose in their contempt for the plebeians, who lost courage in proportion, and soon reproached themselves with injustice, as well as imprudence, in the condemnation of the zealous defender of their interests. They found themselves cheated in all things. The consuls neither executed the senate’s decree for distributing the lands, nor were the ten commissioners elected. They complained, with great truth, that the senate did not act with sincerity; and accused the tribunes of the last year of betraying their interests. The tribunes of this year warmly demanded the execution of the decree, to elude which a new war was invented. The patricians preserved their aristocratical tyranny for many centuries, by keeping up continually some quarrel with foreigners, and by frequently creating dictators. The patricians, in the assemblies by centuries, had an immense advantage over the plebeians. The consuls were here chosen by the patricians, as Cassius and Manlius were murdered by assemblies in centuries. In 270, Cæso Fabius, one of Cassius’s accusers, was chosen consul, though very unpopular. In 271, the other of Cassius’s accusers was chosen consul.
In these contests the steadiness of the patricians is as remarkable as the inconstancy of the plebeians; the sagacity of the former as obvious as the stupidity of the latter; and the cruelty of the former as conspicuous as the ingratitude of the latter. Prejudice, passion, and superstition, appear to have altogether governed the plebeians, without the least appearance of their being rational creatures, or moral agents; such was their total ignorance of arts and letters, all the little advantages of education which then existed being monopolized by the patricians. The aristocracy appears in precisely the same character, in all these anecdotes, as we before saw it in Venice, Poland, Bern, and elsewhere. The same indispensable necessity appears in all of them, in order to preserve even the appearance of equity and liberty, to give the patricians a master in the first executive magistrate, and another master in a house of commons; I say, master; for each of the three branches must be, in its turn, both master and servant, governing and being governed by turns.
To understand how the people were duped upon these occasions, and particularly how Manlius was condemned to death, we must recollect that the tribunes cited him before the people, not in their curiæ, but centuries. The centuries were formed on an artful idea, to make power accompany wealth. The people were divided into classes, according to the proportion of the fortunes; each class was divided into centuries; but the number of centuries in the different classes was so unequal, that those of the first, or richest class, made a majority of the whole, and when the centuries of this class were unanimous they decided the question. By this institution the rich were masters of the legislature.
So that by citing Manlius before the people by centuries, the senate were sure of a vote for his destruction, and the people had not sense to see it, or spirit to alter it.
Nedham, thus far, appears to reason fairly and conclusively, when he adduces the examples of Mælius and Manlius, and he might have added Cassius, to prove that the people are ever in danger of losing their liberty; and, indeed, he might have advanced that they never have any liberty, where they are governed by one senate. But these examples do not prove what he alleges them to prove, namely,—“that the people, in their supreme assemblies, successively chosen, are the best keepers of their liberty;” because such an assembly is subject to every danger of a standing, hereditary senate; and more, the first vote divides it into two parties, and the majority is omnipotent, and the minority defenceless. He should have adduced these examples to prove the necessity of separating the executive, legislative, and judicial, and of dividing the legislature into three branches, making the executive one of them, and independent of the other two. This is the only scientific government; the only plan which takes into consideration all the principles in nature, and provides for all cases that occur.
He is equally right, and equally wrong, in the application of his other examples. “The people,” says he, “were sometimes in danger of a surprise by a grandee cabinet or junto, as that upstart tyranny of the decemviri, where ten men made a shift to enslave the senate as well as the people.” It is no wonder that Cassius, Mælius, and Manlius, were sacrificed to the passions of the senate, for until the year of Rome 300, the Romans had no certain laws; so that the consuls and senators, acting as judges, were absolute arbiters of the fate of the citizens. Terentillus, a tribune, had proposed an ordinance that laws should be instituted, as rules of right, both in public and private affairs. The senate had eluded and postponed, by various artifices, the law of Terentillus until this year, 300, when the tribunes solicited the execution of it with great spirit; and the senate, weary of contention, or apprehensive of greater danger, at length decreed, “That ambassadors should be sent to Athens, and to the Greek cities in Italy, to collect such laws as they should find most conformable to the constitution of the Roman commonwealth; and that at their return, the consuls should deliberate with the senate upon the choice of legislators, of the power to be confided to them, and the time they were to continue in office.” Sp. Posthumius, Servius Sulpicius, and A. Manlius, three persons of consular dignity, were appointed deputies. Three galleys were prepared by the public, of a magnificence that might do honor to the Roman people.
In the year 302, the ambassadors were returned, and Appius Claudius, whose ancestors had always been haughty aristocratics, was chosen consul, with T. Genucius for his colleague. The senate assembled and resolved that decemviri should be elected out of the principal senators, whose authority should continue a year; that they should govern the commonwealth with all the power which the consuls then had, and as the kings had formerly exercised, and without any appeal from their judgments; that all other magistracies, and even the tribuneship, should be abolished. This decree was received by the people with loud acclamations. An assembly, by centuries, was immediately held, and the new magistrates created, and the old ones all abdicated their offices. Thus the constitution was wholly changed, and all authority transferred to one centre, the decemvirs. It was soon exercised like all other authorities in one centre. We see here the effect of two powers, without a third. The people from hatred to the consuls, and the senate from hatred to the tribunes, unite at once in a total abolition of the constitution.
The constitution of the decemvirs was precisely Nedham’s idea; it was annually eligible; it was the people’s government in their successive assemblies; but we find that an annual power, without any limits, was a great temptation. The decemvirs were all senators of consular dignity, and therefore, in the opinion of the people themselves, the most eminent for talents and virtues; yet their virtues were not sufficient to secure an honest use of their unbounded power. They took many precautions to preserve their own moderation, as well as to avoid exciting jealousy in their fellow-citizens; only one had the rods and axes, the others had nothing to distinguish them but a single officer, called Accensus, who walked before each of them. Their president continued only one day; and they succeeded each other daily till the end of the year.
It is much to our purpose to enlarge upon this example; because, instead of being an argument for Nedham’s inconcinnate system, it is full proof against it. The course of passions and events, in this case, were precisely the same as will take place in every simple government of the people, by a succession of their representatives, in a single assembly; and whether that assembly consists of ten members, or five hundred, it will make no difference. In the morning, the decemviri all went to their tribunal, where they took cognizance of all causes and affairs, public and private; justice was administered with all possible equity; and everybody departed with perfect satisfaction. Nothing could be so charming as the regard they professed for the interests of the people, and the protection which the meanest found against the oppression of the great. It was now generally affirmed that there was no occasion for tribunes, consuls, prætors, or any other magistrates. The wisdom, equity, moderation, and humanity of the new government, was admired and extolled. What peace, what tranquillity, what happiness were enjoyed by the public and by individuals! what a consolation! what glory to the decemvirs! Appius Claudius, especially, engrossed the whole glory of the administration in the minds of the people. He acquired so decided an ascendency over his colleagues, and so irresistible an influence with the people, that the whole authority seemed centred in him. He had the art to distinguish himself, peculiarly, in whatever he transacted, in concert with his colleagues. His mildness and affability, his kind condescension to the meanest and weakest of the citizens, and his polite attention in saluting them all by their names, gained him all hearts. Let it be remembered he had, till this year, been the open enemy of the plebeians. As his temper was naturally violent and cruel, his hatred to the people had arisen to ferocity. On a sudden he was become another man; humane, popular, obliging, wholly devoted to please the multitude and acquire their affections. Everybody delighted in the government of the decemvirs, and a perfect union prevailed among themselves. They completed their body of laws, and caused it to be engraved on ten tables. They were ratified by the senate, confirmed by the people in the comitia centuriata, engraven on pillars of brass, and placed in the forum.
The year was upon the point of expiring; and as the consuls and senators found themselves delivered by the new government from the persecutions of the tribunes, and the people from what they equally hated, the authority of the consuls, both parties agreed in the propriety of choosing ten successors. It was pretended that some further laws might be still wanting; that a year was too short to complete so great a work; and that to carry the whole into full effect, the independent authority of the same magistracy would be necessary. That which must happen upon all annual elections of such a government in one centre, happened in this case. The city was in a greater and more universal ferment than had ever been known. Senators, the most distinguished by age and merit, demanded the office; no doubt to prevent factious and turbulent spirits from obtaining it. Appius, who secretly intended to have himself continued, seeing those great persons, who had passed through all dignities, so eager in pursuit of this, was alarmed. The people, charmed with his past conduct while decemvir, openly clamored to continue him in preference to all others. He affected at first a reluctance, and even a repugnance, at the thought of accepting a second time an employment so laborious, and so capable of exciting jealousy and envy against him. To get rid of his colleagues, and to stimulate them to refuse the office, he declared upon all occasions that, as they had discharged their duty with fidelity, by their assiduity and anxious care for a whole year, it was but just to allow them repose and appoint them successors. The more aversion he discovered, the more he was solicited. The desires and wishes of the whole city, the unanimous and earnest solicitations of the multitude, were at length, with pain and reluctance, complied with. He exceeded all his competitors in artifice. He embraced one, took another by the hand, and walked publicly in the forum, in company with the Duilii and Icilii, the two families who were the principals of the people and the pillars of the tribunate. His colleagues, who had been hitherto his dupes, knowing these popular condescensions to be contrary to his character, which was naturally arrogant, began to open their eyes; but not daring to oppose him openly, they opposed their own address to his management. As he was the youngest among them, they chose him president, whose office it was to nominate the candidates to offices, relying upon his modesty not to name himself; a thing without example, except among the tribunes. But modesty and decency were found in him but feeble barriers against ambition. He not only caused himself to be elected, but excluded all his colleagues of the last year, and filled up the nine other places with his own tools, three of whom were plebeians. The senate and whole patrician body were astonished at this, as it was thought by them contrary to his own glory and that of his ancestors, as well as to his haughty character. This popular trait entirely gained him the multitude. It would be tedious to relate the manner in which they continued their power from year to year, with the most hardened impudence on their part, the most silly acquiescence of the people, and the fears of the senate and patricians. Their tyranny and cruelty became at length intolerable; and the blood of Virginia, on a father’s dagger, was alone sufficient to arouse a stupid people from their lethargy.
Is it not absurd in Nedham to adduce this example, in support of the government of the people by their successive representatives annually chosen? Were not the decemvirs the people’s representatives? and were not their elections annual? and would not the same consequences have happened, if the number had been one hundred, or five hundred, or a thousand, instead of ten? “O, but the people of Rome should not have continued them in power from year to year.” How will you hinder the people from continuing them in power? If the people have the choice, they may continue the same men; and we certainly know they will; no bonds can restrain them. Without the liberty of choice, the deputies would not be the people’s representatives. If the people make a law that the same man shall never serve two years, the people can and will repeal that law; if the people impose upon themselves an oath, they will soon say and believe they can dispense with that oath. In short, the people will have the men whom they love best for the moment, and the men whom they love best will make any law to gratify their present humor. Nay, more, the people ought to be represented by the men who have their hearts and confidence, for these alone can ever know their wants and desires. But these men ought to have some check to restrain them and the people too when those desires are for forbidden fruit—for injustice, cruelty, and the ruin of the minority. And that the desires of the majority of the people are often for injustice and inhumanity against the minority, is demonstrated by every page of the history of the whole world.
We come next to the examples of continuing power in particular persons. The Romans were swallowed up, by continuing power too long in the hands of the triumvirates of emperors or generals. The first of these were Cæsar, Pompey, and Crassus. But who continued the power of Cæsar? If the people continued it, the argument arising from the example is against a civil government of the people, or by their successive representative assemblies. Was it the senate, was it the standing permanent power in the constitution, that conferred this continuance of power on Cæsar? By no means. It is again necessary to recollect the story, that we may not be imposed on. No military station existed in Italy, lest some general might overawe the republic. Italy, however, was understood to extend only from Tarentum to the Arnus and the Rubicon. Cisalpine Gaul was not reputed to be in Italy, and might be held by a military officer and an army. Cæsar, from a deliberate and sagacious ambition, procured from the people an unprecedented prolongation of his appointments for five years; but the distribution of the provinces was still the prerogative of the senate, by the Sempronian law. Cæsar had ever been at variance with a majority of the senate. In the office of prætor he had been suspended by them. In his present office of consul, he had set them at open defiance. He had no hopes of obtaining from them the prolongation of his power and the command of a province. He knew that the very proposal of giving him the command of Cisalpine Gaul for a number of years would have shocked them. In order to carry his point, he must set aside the authority of the senate, and destroy the only check, the only appearance of a balance, remaining in the constitution. A tool of his, the tribune Vatinius, moved the people to set aside the law of Sempronius, and, by their own unlimited power, name Cæsar as pro-consul of Cisalpine Gaul and Illyricum for five years, with an army of several legions. The senate were alarmed, and in vain opposed. The people voted it. The senate saw that all was lost; and Cato cried, “You have placed a king with his guards in your citadel.” Cæsar boasted, that he had prevailed both in obtaining the consulate and the command, not by the concession of the senate, but in direct opposition to their will. He was well aware of their malice, he said. Though he had a consummate command of his temper, and the profoundest dissimulation, while in pursuit of his point, his exuberant vanity braved the world when he had carried it. He now openly insulted the senate, and no longer concealed his connection with Pompey and Crassus, whom he had overreached to concur in his appointment. Thus, one of the clearest and strongest examples in history, to show the necessity of a balance between an independent senate and an independent people, is adduced by Nedham in favor of his indigested plan, which has no balance at all. The other example of Augustus, Antony, and Lepidus, is not worth considering particularly; for the trial between them was but a struggle of arms, by military policy alone, without any mixture of civil or political debates or negotiations.
The fourth reason is, “because a succession of supreme powers destroys faction;” which is defined to be “an adhering to an interest distinct from the true interest of the state.”
In this particular, one may venture to differ altogether from our author, and deny the fact, that a succession of sovereign authority in one assembly, by popular elections, destroys faction. We may affirm the contrary; that a standing authority in an absolute monarch, or an hereditary aristocracy, is less friendly to the monster than a simple popular government; and that it is only in a mixed government, of three independent orders, of the one, the few, and the many, and three separate powers, the legislative, executive, and judicial, that all sorts of factions, those of the poor and the rich, those of the gentlemen and common people, those of the one, the few, and the many, can at all times be quelled. The reason given by our author is enough to prove this. “Those who are factious, must have time to improve their sleights and projects, in disguising their designs, drawing in instruments, and worming out their opposites.” In order to judge of this, let us put two suppositions: 1. Either the succession must be by periodical elections, simply; or, 2, by periodical elections in rotation. And, in either case, the means and opportunities of improving address and systems, concealing or feigning designs, making friends and escaping enemies, are greater in a succession of popular elections, than in a standing aristocracy or simple monarchy, and infinitely greater than in a mixed government. When the monster Faction is watched and guarded by Cerberus with his three heads, and a sop is thrown to him to corrupt or appease him, one mouth alone will devour it, and the other two will give the alarm.
But to return to our first case, a succession in one assembly, by simple annual elections. Elections are the best possible schools of political art and address. One may appeal to any man who has equal experience in elections and in courts, whether address and art, and even real political knowledge, is not to be acquired more easily, and in a shorter time, in the former than in the latter. A king of France once asked his most able and honest ambassador, D’Ossat, where he had learned that wonderful dexterity with which he penetrated into the bosoms of men of all nations and characters, unravelled every plait in the human soul, and every intricacy of affairs and events? The cardinal answered, “Sire, I learned it all in my youth, at the election of a parish officer.” It is a common observation in England, that their greatest statesmen, and their favorite Chatham among the rest, were formed by attendance on elections. The human heart is nowhere so open and so close by turns. Every argument is there exhausted; every passion, prejudice, imagination, superstition, and caprice, is easily and surely learned among these scenes. One would suspect that Shakspeare had been an electioneering agent. When these elections are in a single city, like Rome, there will be always two sets of candidates. If one set succeeds one year, the other will endeavor to succeed the next. This will make the whole year a scene of faction and intrigue, and every citizen, except, perhaps, a very few, who will not meddle on either side, a partisan or factious man. If the elections are in a large country, like England, for example, or one of the United States of America, where various cities, towns, boroughs, and corporations, are to be represented, each scene of election will have two or more candidates, and two or more parties, each of which will study its sleights and projects, disguise its designs, draw in tools, and worm out enemies. We must remember, that every party, and every individual, is now struggling for a share in the executive and judicial power, as well as legislative, for a share in the distribution of all honors, offices, rewards, and profits. Every flattery and menace, every passion and prejudice of every voter will be applied to; every trick and bribe that can be bestowed, and will be accepted, will be used; and, what is horrible to think of, that candidate, or that agent, who has fewest scruples; who will propagate lies and slanders with most confidence and secrecy; who will wheedle, flatter, and cajole; who will debauch the people by treats, feasts, and diversions, with the least hesitation; and bribe with the most impudent front, which can consist with hypocritical concealment, will draw in tools and worm out enemies the fastest. Unsullied honor, sterling integrity, real virtue, will stand a very unequal chance. When vice, folly, impudence, and knavery have carried an election one year, they will acquire, in the course of it, fresh influence and power to succeed the next. In the course of the year, the delegate in an assembly that disposes of all commissions, contracts, and pensions, has many opportunities to reward his friends among his own constituents, and to punish his enemies. The son or other relation of one friend has a commission given him in the army, another in the navy, a third a benefice in the church, a fourth in the customs, a fifth in the excise; shares in loans and contracts are distributed among his friends, by which they are enabled to increase their own and his dependents and partisans, or, in other words, to draw in more instruments and parties, and worm out their opposites. All this is so easy to comprehend, so obvious to sight, and so certainly known in universal experience, that it is astonishing that our author should have ventured to assert, that such a government kills the cankerworm Faction.
But to consider the subject in one other point of view, let us introduce the idea of a rotation, by which is here meant, not merely vacating a seat, which the electors may fill again with the same subject, but a fundamental law, that no man shall serve in the sovereign assembly more than one year, or two or three years, or one in three, or three in six, &c.; for example, suppose England, or any one of the United States, governed by one sovereign assembly, annually elected, with a fundamental law, that no member should serve more than three years in six; what would be the consequence? In the first place, it is obvious that this is a violation of the rights of mankind; it is an abridgment of the rights both of electors and candidates. There is no right clearer, and few of more importance, than that the people should be at liberty to choose the ablest and best men, and that men of the greatest merit should exercise the most important employments; yet, upon the present supposition, the people voluntarily resign this right, and shackle their own choice. This year the people choose those members who are the ablest, wealthiest, best qualified, and have most of their confidence and affection. In the course of the three years they increase their number of friends, and consequently their influence and power, by their administration, yet at the end of three years they must all return to private life, and be succeeded by another set, who have less wisdom, wealth, and virtue, and less of the confidence and affection of the people. Will either they or the people bear this? Will they not repeal the fundamental law, and be applauded by the nation, at least by their own friends and constituents, who are the majority, for so doing? But supposing so unnatural and improbable a thing, as that they should yet respect the law, what will be the consequence? They will, in effect, nominate their successors, and govern still. Their friends are the majority, their successors will be all taken from their party, and the mortified minority will see themselves the dupes. Those men who have the most weight, influence, or power, whether by merit, wealth, or birth, will govern, whether they stay at home or go to parliament. Such a rotation, then, will only increase and multiply factions.
Our author’s examples must be again examined. “What made the Roman kings factious, but a continuation of power in their persons and families?” If it is admitted that they were factious, as Tarquin no doubt was, it is certain that the nobles about them were much more so; and their factious actions were chiefly occasioned by the eternal jealousy and envy, rivalry and ambition, of the great families that were nearest to them. But the effect was produced by their powers being undefined, unlimited by law, and unchecked by constitutional power, not by its prolongation. The power of the king, and the power of the senate, were continued; and neither was checked, for the people had not a power adequate to the purpose of checking either, much less both; both grew factious, but the senate most so, and drove away the king, that they might have the exclusive power of being factious, and without the least regard to the liberty of the people.
“After the Romans became a commonwealth, was it not for the same reason that the senate fell into such heats and fits among themselves?” It may be truly answered, that it was not the continuation of power in the senate, but the powers being unlimited, that made it factious. A power without a check is a faction. The senate itself was a faction from the first moment after the expulsion of the kings. But if the senate had been annually chosen by the people, and held the same unlimited power, their factions, heats, and fits, would have been much earlier, and more violent. “Did not Appius Claudius and his junto by the same means lord it over the senate?” It was, again, the illimitation of his power that enabled him to lord it. It was granted only for one year. And who continued it? The people. And who can hinder the people, when they have no check, from continuing power? Who ought to hinder them? But if Appius’s unchecked power had grown up from step to step, by a series of popular elections, he would not have lorded it less; he might have possessed Virginia, and have murdered her father with impunity. Continuation of power, in the same persons and families, will as certainly take place in a simple democracy, or a democracy by representation, as in an hereditary aristocracy or monarchy. This evil, if it be one, will not be avoided nor remedied, but increased and aggravated, by our author’s plan of government. The continuation will be certain; but it will be accomplished by corruption, which is worse than a continuation by birth; and if corruption cannot effect the continuation, sedition and rebellion will be recurred to; for a degraded, disappointed, rich and illustrious family would at any time annihilate heaven and earth, if it could, rather than fail of carrying its point.
It is our author’s peculiar misfortune, that all his examples prove his system to be wrong. “Whence was it that Sylla and Marius caused so many proscriptions, cruelties, and combustions, in Rome, but by an extraordinary continuation of power in themselves?” Continuation of power in Marius, &c. enabled him to commit cruelties, to be sure; but who continued him in power? was it the senate or the people? By the enthusiasm of the people for Marius, he had surrounded himself with assassins, who considered the patricians, nobles, and senate, as enemies to their cause, and enabled him and his faction to become masters of the commonwealth. The better sort of people, the really honest and virtuous republicans, were discouraged and deterred from frequenting the public assemblies. He had recourse to violence, in the elections of tribunes, that he might carry the choice of a prostituted tool of his own, Apuleius, against the senate and nobles; and because their candidate, Nonius, was chosen, though now vested with a sacred character, Marius’s creatures murdered him. No man had courage to propose an inquiry into the cause of his death. Apuleius, to gratify his party, proposed new laws, to distribute lands to the poor citizens and to the veteran soldiers, to purchase more lands for the same purpose, to remit the price of corn already distributed from the public granaries, and to distribute still more, gratis, at the public expense, to the people. In vain did the quæstor and the senate represent that there would be an end of industry, order, and government. Apuleius, to extend the power of the popular assemblies, and remove every check from his own and Marius’s designs, brought forward new laws;—1. That the acts of the tribes should have the force of laws; 2. That it should be treason to interrupt a tribune; 3. That the senate should be compelled to take an oath to confirm every act of the tribes in five days. The power of the senate was thus entirely suppressed; their branch of the legislature was reduced to a mere form, and even the form they were not at liberty to refuse. Marius, though he was at the bottom of this measure at first, by the most abandoned hypocrisy declared himself in senate against taking the oath, in order to ruin Metellus and all the other honest men; and, as soon as he had accomplished this, he took the oath, and compelled the rest to do the same. It was by flattery, bribery, artifice, and violence, that Marius and Apuleius prevailed with the people to continue their power, in opposition to all that the senate could do to prevent it. What would have been the consequence, then, if there had been no senate? Would not the majority of the people in the tribes have continued their power, against all that could have been done by the minority? Would not still more of the public lands, money, and grain, have been lavished upon proper instruments among the majority, and the minority have been compelled to pay the expense?
Our author affects to say, that the “senate and people continued the powers of Pompey and Cæsar.” But Cæsar himself knew it was the people, and not the senate; and if the senate continued Pompey, it was because Cæsar and the people laid them under the necessity of doing it in their own defence. Would Cæsar have had less “command in Gallia,” if the people, or their successive assemblies, had been possessed of all power? It is most obvious, that a majority of the people, in that case, would have continued Cæsar as long as he desired, and have given him as much power as he wished; so that every step of our author’s progress demonstrates his system to be false. It is idle to say, that a continuation of power increases influence, and spreads corruption, unless you point out a way to prevent such a continuance of power. To give all power to the people’s successive single representative assemblies, is to make the continuance of power, with all its increasing influence and corruption, certain and inevitable. You may as wisely preach to the winds, as gravely exhort a triumphant majority to lay down their power.
It is undoubtedly honorable in any man, who has acquired a great influence, unbounded confidence, and unlimited power, to resign it voluntarily; and odious to take advantage of such an opportunity to destroy a free government. But it would be madness in a legislator to frame his policy upon a supposition that such magnanimity would often appear. It is his business to contrive his plan in such a manner, that such unlimited influence, confidence, and power, shall never be obtained by any man. The laws alone can be trusted with unlimited confidence; those laws, which alone can secure equity between all and every one;* which are the bond of that dignity which we enjoy in the commonwealth; the foundation of liberty, and the fountain of equity; the mind, the soul, the counsel, and judgment of the city; whose ministers are the magistrates, whose interpreters the judges, whose servants are all men who mean to be free.† Those laws, which are right reason, derived from the Divinity, commanding honesty, and forbidding iniquity; which are silent magistrates, where the magistrates are only speaking laws; which, as they are founded on eternal morals, are emanations of the Divine mind.‡
If “the life of liberty, and the only remedy against self-interest lies in succession of powers and persons,” the United States of America have taken the most effectual measures to secure that life and that remedy, in establishing annual elections of their governors, senators, and representatives. This will probably be allowed to be as perfect an establishment of a succession of powers and persons as human laws can make; but in what manner annual elections of governors and senators will operate, remains to be ascertained. It should always be remembered, that this is not the first experiment that was ever made in the world of elections to great offices of state; how they have hitherto operated in every great nation, and what has been their end, is very well known. Mankind have universally discovered that chance was preferable to a corrupt choice, and have trusted Providence rather than themselves. First magistrates and senators had better be made hereditary at once, than that the people should be universally debauched and bribed, go to loggerheads, and fly to arms regularly every year. Thank Heaven! Americans understand calling conventions; and if the time should come, as it is very possible it may, when hereditary descent shall become a less evil than annual fraud and violence, such a convention may still prevent the first magistrate from becoming absolute as well as hereditary. But if this argument of our author is considered as he intended it, as a proof that a succession of powers and persons in one assembly is the most perfect commonwealth, it is totally fallacious.
Though we allow benevolence and generous affections to exist in the human breast, yet every moral theorist will admit the selfish passions in the generality of men to be the strongest. There are few who love the public better than themselves, though all may have some affection for the public. We are not, indeed, commanded to love our neighbor better than ourselves. Self-interest, private avidity, ambition, and avarice, will exist in every state of society, and under every form of government. A succession of powers and persons, by frequent elections, will not lessen these passions in any case, in a governor, senator, or representative; nor will the apprehension of an approaching election restrain them from indulgence if they have the power. The only remedy is to take away the power, by controlling the selfish avidity of the governor, by the senate and house; of the senate, by the governor and house; and of the house, by the governor and senate. Of all possible forms of government, a sovereignty in one assembly, successively chosen by the people, is perhaps the best calculated to facilitate the gratification of self-love, and the pursuit of the private interest of a few individuals; a few eminent conspicuous characters will be continued in their seats in the sovereign assembly, from one election to another, whatever changes are made in the seats around them; by superior art, address, and opulence, by more splendid birth, reputations, and connections, they will be able to intrigue with the people and their leaders, out of doors, until they worm out most of their opposers, and introduce their friends; to this end, they will bestow all offices, contracts, privileges in commerce, and other emoluments, on the latter and their connections, and throw every vexation and disappointment in the way of the former, until they establish such a system of hopes and fears throughout the state, as shall enable them to carry a majority in every fresh election of the house. The judges will be appointed by them and their party, and of consequence, will be obsequious enough to their inclinations. The whole judicial authority, as well as the executive, will be employed, perverted and prostituted to the purposes of electioneering. No justice will be attainable, nor will innocence or virtue be safe, in the judicial courts, but for the friends of the prevailing leaders; legal prosecutions will be instituted and carried on against opposers, to their vexation and ruin; and as they have the public purse at command, as well as the executive and judicial power, the public money will be expended in the same way. No favors will be attainable but by those who will court the ruling demagogues in the house, by voting for their friends and instruments; and pensions and pecuniary rewards and gratifications, as well as honors and offices of every kind, will be voted to friends and partisans. The leading minds and most influential characters among the clergy will be courted, and the views of the youth in this department will be turned upon those men, and the road to promotion and employment in the church will be obstructed against such as will not worship the general idol. Capital characters among the physicians will not be forgotten, and the means of acquiring reputation and practice in the healing art will be to get the state trumpeters on the side of youth. The bar, too, will be made so subservient, that a young gentleman will have no chance to obtain a character or clients, but by falling in with the views of the judges and their creators. Even the theatres, and actors and actresses, must become politicians, and convert the public pleasures into engines of popularity for the governing members of the house. The press, that great barrier and bulwark of the rights of mankind, when it is protected in its freedom by law, can now no longer be free; if the authors, writers, and printers, will not accept of the hire that will be offered them, they must submit to the ruin that will be denounced against them. The presses, with much secrecy and concealment, will be made the vehicles of calumny against the minority, and of panegyric and empirical applauses of the leaders of the majority, and no remedy can possibly be obtained. In one word, the whole system of affairs, and every conceivable motive of hope and fear, will be employed to promote the private interests of a few, and their obsequious majority; and there is no remedy but in arms. Accordingly we find in all the Italian republics the minority always were driven to arms in despair.
“The attaining of particular ends requires length of time; designs must lie long in fermentation to gain the opportunity to bring matters to perfection.” It is true; but less time will be necessary in this case, in general, than even in a simple hereditary monarchy or aristocracy.
An aristocracy, like the Roman senate, between the abolition of royalty and the institution of the tribunate, is of itself a faction, a private partial interest. Yet it was less so than an assembly annually chosen by the people, and vested with all authority, would be; for such an assembly runs faster and easier into an oligarchy than an hereditary aristocratical assembly. The leading members having, as has been before shown in detail, the appointment of judges, and the nomination to all lucrative and honorable offices, they have thus the power to bend the whole executive and judicial authority to their own private interest, and by these means to increase their own reputations, wealth, and influence, and those of their party, at every new election; whereas, in a simple hereditary aristocracy, it is the interest of the members in general to preserve an equality among themselves as long as they can; and as they are smaller in number, and have more knowledge, they can more easily unite for that purpose, and there is no opportunity for any one to increase his power by any annual elections. An aspiring aristocrat, therefore, must take more time, and use more address, to augment his influence; yet we find in experience, that even hereditary aristocracies have never been able to prevent oligarchies rising up among them, but by the most rigorous, severe, and tyrannical regulations, such as the institution of inquisitions, &c.
It may sound oddly to say that the majority is a faction; but it is, nevertheless, literally just. If the majority are partial in their own favor, if they refuse or deny a perfect equality to every member of the minority, they are a faction; and as a popular assembly, collective or representative, cannot act, or will, but by a vote, the first step they take, if they are not unanimous, occasions a division into majority and minority, that is, into two parties, and the moment the former is unjust it is a faction. The Roman decemvirs themselves, were set up by the people, not by the senate; much longer time would have been required for an oligarchy to have grown up among the patricians and in the senate, if the people had not interposed and demanded a body of laws, that is, a constitution. The senate opposed the requisition as long as they could, but at last appointed the decemvirs, much against their own inclinations, and merely in compliance with the urgent clamors of the people. Nedham thinks, that “as the first founders of the Roman liberty did well in driving out their kings; so, on the other side, they did very ill in settling a standing authority within themselves.” It is really very injudicious, and very ridiculous, to call those Roman nobles, who expelled their kings, founders of the Roman liberty; nothing was farther from their heads or their hearts than national liberty; it was merely a struggle for power between a king and a body of haughty envious nobles; the interests of the people and of liberty had no share in it. The Romans might do well in driving out their king; he might be a bad and incorrigible character; and in such a case any people may do well in expelling or deposing a king. But they did not well in demolishing the single executive magistracy; they should have then demanded a body of laws, a definite constitution, and an integral share in the legislature for the people, with a precise delineation of the powers of the first magistrate and senate. In this case they would have been entitled to the praise of founders of Roman liberty; but as it was, they only substituted one system of tyranny for another, and the new one was worse than the old.
They certainly “did very ill in settling a standing ‘sovereign’ supreme authority within themselves.” Thus far our author is perfectly in the right, and the reason he gives for this opinion is very well founded; it is the same that was given thousands of years before him, by Plato, Socrates, and others, and has been constantly given by all succeeding writers in favor of mixed governments, and against simple ones, “because, lying open to the temptations of honor and profit,” or, in other words, having their ambition and vanity, avarice and lust, hatred and resentment, malice and revenge, in short, their self-love, and all their passions (“which are sails too big for any human bulk”) unrestrained by any controlling power, they were at once transported by them, and made use of their public power not for the good of the commonwealth, but for the gratification of their private passions, whereby they put the commonwealth into frequent flames of discontent and sedition.
Thus far is very well; but when our author goes on to say, “which might all have been prevented, could they have settled the state free, indeed, by placing an orderly succession of supreme authority in the hands of the people,” he can be followed by no one who knows what is in man, and in society; because that supreme authority falls out of the whole body into a majority at the first vote. To expect self-denial from men, when they have a majority in their favor, and consequently power to gratify themselves, is to disbelieve all history and universal experience; it is to disbelieve Revelation and the Word of God, which informs us, the heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked. There have been examples of self-denial, and will be again; but such exalted virtue never yet existed in any large body of men, and lasted long; and our author’s argument requires it to be proved, not only that individuals, but that nations and majorities of nations, are capable, not only of a single act, or a few acts, of disinterested justice and exalted self-denial, but of a course of such heroic virtue for ages and generations; and not only that they are capable of this, but that it is probable they will practise it. There is no man so blind as not to see, that to talk of founding a government upon a supposition that nations and great bodies of men, left to themselves, will practise a course of self-denial, is either to babble like a new-born infant, or to deceive like an unprincipled impostor.
Nedham has himself acknowledged, in several parts of this work, the depravity of men in very strong terms. In this fifth reason he avers “temptations of honor and profit” to be “sails too big for any human bulk.” Why then does he build a system on a foundation which he owns to be so unstable? If his mind had been at liberty to follow his own ideas and principles, he must have seen that a succession of supreme authority in the hands of the people, by their house of representatives, is at first an aristocracy as despotical as a Roman senate, and becomes an oligarchy even sooner than that assembly fell into the decemvirate. There is this infallible disadvantage in such a government, even in comparison with an hereditary aristocracy, that it lets in vice, profligacy, and corruption, like a torrent, with tyranny; whereas the latter often guards the morals of the people with the utmost severity. Even the despotism of aristocracy preserves the morals of the people.
It is pretended by some, that a sovereignty in a single assembly, annually elected, is the only one in which there is any responsibility for the exercise of power. In the mixed government we contend for, the ministers, at least of the executive power, are responsible for every instance of the exercise of it; and if they dispose of a single commission by corruption, they are responsible to a house of representatives, who may, by impeachment, make them responsible before a senate, where they may be accused, tried, condemned, and punished by independent judges. But in a single sovereign assembly, each member, at the end of his year, is only responsible to his constituents; and the majority of members who have been of one party, and carried all before them, are to be responsible only to their constituents, not to the constituents of the minority who have been overborne, injured, and plundered. And who are these constituents to whom the majority are accountable? Those very persons, to gratify whom they have prostituted the honors, rewards, wealth, and justice of the state. These, instead of punishing, will applaud; instead of discarding, will reëlect, with still greater eclat, and a more numerous majority; for the losing cause will be deserted by numbers. And this will be done in hopes of having still more injustice done, still more honors and profits divided among themselves, to the exclusion and mortification of the minority. It is then astonishing that such a simple government should be preferred to a mixed one, by any rational creature, on the score of responsibility.
There is, in short, no possible way of defending the minority, in such a government, from the tyranny of the majority, but by giving the former a negative on the latter,—the most absurd institution that ever took place among men. As the major may bear all possible relations of proportion to the minor part, it may be fifty-one against forty-nine in an assembly of a hundred, or it may be ninety-nine against one only. It becomes therefore necessary to give the negative to the minority, in all cases, though it be ever so small. Every member must possess it, or he can never be secure that himself and his constituents shall not be sacrificed by all the rest. This is the true ground and original of the liberum veto in Poland; but the consequence has been ruin to that noble but ill-constituted republic. One fool, or one knave, one member of the diet, which is a single sovereign assembly, bribed by an intriguing ambassador of some foreign power, has prevented measures the most essential to the defence, safety, and existence of the nation. Hence humiliations and partitions! This also is the reason on which is founded the law of the United Netherlands, that all the seven provinces must be unanimous in the assembly of the states-general; and all the cities and other voting bodies in the assemblies of the separate states. Having no sufficient checks in their uncouth constitution, nor any mediating power possessed of the whole executive, they have been driven to demand unanimity instead of a balance. And this must be done in every government of a single assembly, or the majority will instantly oppress the minority. But what kind of government would that be in the United States of America, or any one of them, that should require unanimity, or allow of the liberum veto? It is sufficient to ask the question, for every man will answer it alike.
No controversy will be maintained with our author, that “a free state is more excellent than simple monarchy or simple aristocracy.” But the question is, What is a free state? It is plain our author means a single assembly of representatives of the people, periodically elected, and vested with the supreme power. This is denied to be a free state. It is at first a government of grandees, and will soon degenerate into a government of a junto or oligarchy of a few of the most eminent of them, or into an absolute monarchy of one of them. The government of these grandees, while they are numerous, as well as when they become few, will be so oppressive to the people, that the people, from hatred or fear of the gentlemen, will set up one of them to rule the rest, and make him absolute.
Will it be asked how this can be proved? It is proved, as has been often already said, by the constitution of human nature, by the experience of the world, and the concurrent testimony of all history. The passions and desires of the majority of the representatives in an assembly being in their nature insatiable and unlimited by any thing within their own breasts, and having nothing to control them without, will crave more and more indulgence, and, as they have the power, they will have the gratification; and Nedham’s government will have no security for continuing free, but the presumption of self-denial and self-government in the members of the assembly, virtues and qualities that never existed in great bodies of men, by the acknowledgment of all the greatest judges of human nature, as well as by his own, when he says that “temptations of honor and profit are sails too big for any human bulk.” It would be as reasonable to say, that all government is altogether unnecessary, because it is the duty of all men to deny themselves, and obey the laws of nature and the laws of God. However clear the duty, we know it will not be performed; and, therefore, it is our duty to enter into associations, and compel one another to do some of it.
It is agreed that the people are the best keepers of their own liberties, and the only keepers who can be always trusted; and, therefore, the people’s fair, full, and honest consent, to every law, by their representatives, must be made an essential part of the constitution; but it is denied that they are the best keepers, or any keepers at all, of their own liberties, when they hold collectively, or by representation, the executive and judicial power, or the whole and uncontrolled legislative; on the contrary, the experience of all ages has proved, that they instantly give away their liberties into the hand of grandees, or kings, idols of their own creation. The management of the executive and judicial powers together always corrupts them, and throws the whole power into the hands of the most profligate and abandoned among themselves. The honest men are generally nearly equally divided in sentiment, and, therefore, the vicious and unprincipled, by joining one party, carry the majority; and the vicious and unprincipled always follow the most profligate leader, him who bribes the highest, and sets all decency and shame at defiance. It becomes more profitable, and reputable too, except with a very few, to be a party man than a public-spirited one.
It is agreed that “the end of all government is the good and ease of the people, in a secure enjoyment of their rights, without oppression;” but it must be remembered, that the rich are people as well as the poor; that they have rights as well as others; that they have as clear and as sacred a right to their large property as others have to theirs which is smaller; that oppression to them is as possible and as wicked as to others; that stealing, robbing, cheating, are the same crimes and sins, whether committed against them or others. The rich, therefore, ought to have an effectual barrier in the constitution against being robbed, plundered, and murdered, as well as the poor; and this can never be without an independent senate. The poor should have a bulwark against the same dangers and oppressions; and this can never be without a house of representatives of the people. But neither the rich nor the poor can be defended by their respective guardians in the constitution, without an executive power, vested with a negative, equal to either, to hold the balance even between them, and decide when they cannot agree. If it is asked, When will this negative be used? it may be answered, Perhaps never. The known existence of it will prevent all occasion to exercise it; but if it has not a being, the want of it will be felt every day. If it has not been used in England for a long time past, it by no means follows that there have not been occasions when it might have been employed with propriety. But one thing is very certain, that there have been many occasions since the Revolution, when the constitution would have been overturned if the negative had not been an indubitable prerogative of the crown.
It is agreed that the people are “most sensible of their own burdens; and being once put into a capacity and freedom of acting, are the most likely to provide remedies for their own relief.” For this reason they are an essential branch of the legislature, and have a negative on all laws, an absolute control over every grant of money, and an unlimited right to accuse their enemies before an impartial tribunal. Thus far they are most sensible of their burdens, and are most likely to provide remedies. But it is affirmed that they are not only incapable of managing the executive power, but would be instantly corrupted by it in such numbers, as would destroy the integrity of all elections. It is denied that the legislative power can be wholly intrusted in their hands with a moment’s safety. The poor and the vicious would instantly rob the rich and virtuous, spend their plunder in debauchery, or confer it upon some idol, who would become the despot; or, to speak more intelligibly, if not more accurately, some of the rich, by debauching the vicious to their corrupt interest, would plunder the virtuous, and become more rich, until they acquired all the property, or a balance of property and of power, in their own hands, and domineered as despots in an oligarchy.
It is agreed that the “people know where the shoe wrings, what grievances are most heavy,” and, therefore, they should always hold an independent and essential part in the legislature, and be always able to prevent the shoe from wringing more, and the grievances from being made more heavy; they should have a full hearing of all their arguments, and a full share of all consultations, for easing the foot where it is in pain, and for lessening the weight of grievances or annihilating them. But it is denied that they have right, or that they should have power to take from one man his property to make another easy, and that they only know “what fences they stand in need of to shelter them from the injurious assaults of those powers that are above them;” meaning, by the powers above them, senators and magistrates, though, properly speaking, there are no powers above them but the law, which is above all men, governors and senators, kings, and nobles, as well as commons.
The Americans have agreed with this writer in the sentiment, that “it is but reason that the people should see that none be interested in the supreme authority but persons of their own election, and such as must, in a short time, return again into the same condition with themselves.” This hazardous experiment they have tried, and, if elections are soberly made, it may answer very well; but if parties, factions, drunkenness, bribes, armies, and delirium come in, as they always have done sooner or later, to embroil and decide every thing, the people must again have recourse to conventions and find a remedy. Neither philosophy nor policy has yet discovered any other cure, than by prolonging the duration of the first magistrate and senators. The evil may be lessened and postponed, by elections for longer periods of years, till they become for life; and if this is not found an adequate remedy, there will remain no other but to make them hereditary. The delicacy or the dread of unpopularity that should induce any man to conceal this important truth from the full view and contemplation of the people, would be a weakness, if not a vice. As to “reaping the same benefit or burden, by the laws enacted, that befalls the rest of the people,” this will be secured, whether the first magistrate and senate be elective or hereditary, so long as the people are an integral branch of the legislature, can be bound by no laws to which they have not consented, and can be subjected to no tax which they have not agreed to lay. It is agreed that the “issue of such a constitution,” whether the governor and senate be hereditary or elective, must be this, “that no load be laid upon any, but what is common to all, and that always by common consent; not to serve the lusts of any, but only to supply the necessities of their country.”
The next paragraph is a figurative flourish, calculated to amuse a populace without informing their understandings. Poetry and mystics will answer no good end in discussing questions of this nature. The simplest style, the most mathematical precision of words and ideas, is best adapted to discover truth, and to convey it to others, in reasoning on this subject. There is here a confusion that is more than accidental—it is artful. The author purposely states the question, and makes the comparison only between simple forms of government, and carefully keeps out of sight the idea of a judicious mixture of them all. He seems to suppose, that the supreme power must be wholly in the hands of a simple monarch, or of a single senate, or of the people, and studiously avoids considering the sovereignty lodged in a composition of all three. “When a supreme power long continues in the hands of any person or persons, they, by greatness of place, being seated above the middle region of the people, sit secure from all winds and weathers, and from those storms of violence that nip and terrify the inferior part of the world.” If this is popular poetry, it is not philosophical reasoning. It may be made a question, whether it is true in fact, that persons in the higher ranks of life are more exempted from dangers and evils that threaten the commonwealth than those in the middle or lower rank? But if it were true, the United States of America have established their governments upon a principle to guard against it; and, “by a successive revolution of authority, they come to be degraded of their earthly godheads, and return into the same condition with other mortals;” and, therefore, “they must needs be the more sensible and tender of what is laid upon them.”
Our author is not explicit. If he meant that a fundamental law should be made, that no man should be chosen more than one year, he has nowhere said so. He knew the nation would not have borne it. Cromwell and his creatures would all have detested it; nor would the members of the Long Parliament, or their constituents, have approved it. The idea would have been universally unpopular. No people in the world will bear to be deprived, at the end of one year, of the service of their best men, and be obliged to confer their suffrages, from year to year, on the next best, until the rotation brings them to the worst. The men of greatest interest and influence, moreover, will govern; and if they cannot be chosen themselves, they will generally influence the choice of others so decidedly, that they may be said to have the appointment. If it is true that “the strongest obligation that can be laid upon a man in public matters, is to see that he engage in nothing but what must either offensively or beneficially reflect upon himself,” it is equally true at least in a mixed government as in a simple democracy. It is, indeed, more clearly and universally true, because in the first the representatives of the people being the special guardians of equality, equity, and liberty, for the people, will not consent to unequal laws; but in the second, where the great and rich will have the greatest influence in the public councils, they will continually make unequal laws in their own favor, unless the poorer majority unite, which they rarely do, set up an opposition to them, and run them down by making unequal laws against them. In every society where property exists, there will ever be a struggle between rich and poor. Mixed in one assembly, equal laws can never be expected. They will either be made by numbers, to plunder the few who are rich, or by influence, to fleece the many who are poor. Both rich and poor, then, must be made independent, that equal justice may be done, and equal liberty enjoyed by all. To expect that in a single sovereign assembly no load shall be laid upon any but what is common to all, nor to gratify the passions of any, but only to supply the necessities of their country, is altogether chimerical. Such an assembly, under an awkward, unwieldy form, becomes at once a simple monarchy in effect. Some one overgrown genius, fortune, or reputation, becomes a despot, who rules the state at his pleasure, while the deluded nation, or rather a deluded majority, thinks itself free; and in every resolve, law, and act of government, you see the interest, fame, and power of that single individual attended to more than the general good.
It is agreed, that “if any be never so good a patriot,” (whether his power be prolonged or not,) “he will find it hard to keep self from creeping in upon him, and prompting him to some extravagances for his own private benefit.” But it is asserted, that power will be prolonged in the hands of the same patriot, the same rich, able, powerful, and well-descended citizen, &c. as much as if he had a seat for life, or a hereditary seat in a senate, and, what is more destructive, his power and influence is constantly increasing, so that self is more certainly and rapidly growing upon him; whereas, in the other case, it is defined, limited, and never materially varies. If, in the first case, “he be shortly to return to a condition common with the rest of his brethren,” it is only for a moment, or a day, or a week, in order to be reëlected with fresh eclat, redoubled popularity, increased reputation, influence, and power. Self-interest, therefore, binds him to propagate a false report and opinion, that he “does nothing but what is just and equal,” while, in fact, he is every day doing what is unjust and unequal; while he is applying all the offices of the state, great and small, the revenues of the public, and even the judicial power, to the augmentation of his own wealth and honors, and those of his friends, and to the punishment, depression, and destruction of his enemies, with the acclamations and hosannas of the majority of the people.
“This, without controversy, must needs be the most noble, the most just, and the most excellent way of government in free states,” provided our author meant only a mixed state, in which the people have an essential share, and the command of the public purse, with the judgment of causes and accusations as jurors, while their power is tempered and controlled by the aristocratical part of the community in another house, and the executive in a distinct branch. But as it is plain his meaning was to jumble all these powers in one centre, a single assembly of representatives, it must be pronounced the most ignoble, unjust, and detestable form of government; worse than even a well-digested simple monarchy or aristocracy. The greatest excellency of it is, that it cannot last, but hastens rapidly to a revolution.
For a further illustration of this subject, let a supposition be made, that in the year 1656, when this book was printed, the system of it had been reduced to practice. A fair, full, and just representation of the people of England appears in the house of commons in Westminster Hall,—My Lord-General Cromwell is returned for Westminster or London; Ireton, Lambert, &c., for other principal cities or counties; Monk, Sir Harry Vane, &c., for others; and even Hugh Peters for some borough;—all eyes profoundly bow to my Lord-General as the first member of the house; the other principal characters are but his primary planets, and the multitude but secondary; altogether making a great majority in the interest of his Highness. If the majority is clear, and able to excite a strong current of popular rumors, ardor, and enthusiasm in their favor, their power will increase with every annual election, until Cromwell governs the nation more absolutely than any simple monarch in Europe. If there are in the house any members so daring as to differ in opinion, they will lose their seats, and more submissive characters be returned in their places; but if the great men in the house should fall into pretty equal divisions, then would begin a warfare of envy, rancor, hatred, and abuse of each other, until they divided the nation into two parties, and both must take the field.
Suppose, for a further illustration, the monarchical and aristocratical branches in England suspended, and all authority lodged in the present house of commons;—suppose that, in addition to all the great national questions of legislation, were added the promotion of all offices in the church, the law, the army, navy, excise, customs, and all questions of foreign alliance; let all the foreign ambassadors, as well as candidates for offices, solicit there. The contemplation must be amusing! but there is not a member of the house could seriously wish it, after thinking a moment on the consequence. The objects are smaller, and the present temptations less, in our American houses; but the impropriety would be equally obvious, though, perhaps, not so instantaneously destructive.
Our author proceeds to prove his doctrine by examples out of Roman history. “What more noble patriots were there ever in the world than the Roman senators were, whilst they were kept under by their kings, and felt the same burdens of their fury as did the rest of the people?”
If by the patriots are meant men who were brave and active in war to defend the commonwealth against its enemies, the Roman senators and patricians were, under the kings, as good patriots as the plebeians were, and no better. Whether they were ever kept under by their kings, or whether their kings were kept under by them, I submit to Livy and Dionysius. The whole line of their kings, Romulus, Numa, Tullus, Ancus, Lucius Tarquinius, Servius Tullius, were meritorious princes; yet the patricians and senators maintained a continual series of cabals against them, constantly conspiring to set up one and pull down another. Romulus was put to death by the patricians; Tullus Hostilius was murdered by the patricians; Lucius Tarquinius was assassinated by the patricians; and Servius Tullius too was murdered by the patricians, to make way for Tarquin. Some of these excellent princes were destroyed for being too friendly to the people, and others for not being servile enough to the senate. If it is patriotism to persecute to death every prince who had an equitable desire of doing justice and easing the burdens of the plebeians; to intrigue in continual factions to set up one king and butcher another; to consider friendship and humanity and equity to the plebeians as treason against the state, and the highest crime that could be committed either by a king or patrician; then the Roman senators under the kings were noble patriots. But the utmost degrees of jealousy, envy, arrogance, ambition, rancor, rage, and cruelty, that ever constituted the aristocratical or oligarchical character in Sparta, Venice, Poland, or wherever unbalanced aristocratics have existed and been most enormous, existed in the Roman patricians under their kings.
What can our author mean by the senate and people’s “feeling the burdens of the fury of their kings?” Surely he had read the Roman history! Did he mean to represent it? The whole line of Roman kings, until we come to Tarquin the Proud, were mild, moderate princes, and their greatest fault, in the eyes of the senators, was an endeavor now and then to protect the people against the tyranny of the senate. Their greatest fault, in the judgment of truth, was too much complaisance to the senate, by making the constitution more aristocratical. Witness the assemblies by centuries instituted by Servius Tullius.
But Nedham should have considered what would have been the fruits in Rome, from the time of Romulus, of annual elections of senators to be vested with supreme power, with all the authority of the king, senate, and people. All those persons whose names we now read as kings, and all those who are mentioned as senators, would have caballed with the people as well as one another. Their passions would not have been extinguished; the same jealousy and envy, ambition and avarice, revenge and cruelty, would have been displayed in assemblies of the people. Sometimes one junto would have been popular, sometimes another; one set of principles would have prevailed one year, and another the next; now one law, then another; at this time one rule of property, at that another; riots, tumults, and battles, would have been fought continually; the law would have been a perfect Proteus. But as this confusion could not last long, either a simple monarchy or an aristocracy must have arisen; these might not have lasted long, and all the revolutions described by Plato and Aristotle as growing out of one another, and that we see in the Greek, Roman, and Italian republics, did grow out of one another, must have taken place, until the people, weary of changes, would have settled under a single tyranny and standing army, unless they had been wise enough to establish a well-ordered government of three branches.
It is easy to misrepresent and confound things, in order to make them answer a purpose, but it was not because the authority was permanent, or standing, or hereditary, that the behavior of the senate was worse after the expulsion of the kings than it had been under them; for the dignity of patricians and the authority of senators was equally standing, permanent, and hereditary, under the kings, from the institution of Romulus to the expulsion of Tarquin, as it was afterwards, from the expulsion of Tarquin to the institution of tribunes, and indeed to the subversion of the commonwealth. It was not its permanency, but its omnipotence, its being unlimited, unbalanced, uncontrolled, that occasioned the abuse; and this is precisely what we contend for, that power is always abused when unlimited and unbalanced, whether it be permanent or temporary, a distinction that makes little difference in effect. The temporary has often been the worst of the two, because it has often been sooner abused, and more grossly, in order to obtain its revival at the stated period. It is agreed that patricians, nobles, senators, the aristocratical part of the community, call it by what name you please, are noble patriots when they are kept under; they are really then the best men and the best citizens. But there is no possibility of keeping them under but by giving them a master in a monarchy, and two masters in a free government. One of the masters I mean is the executive power in the first magistrate, and the other is the people in their house of representatives. Under these two masters they are, in general, the best men, citizens, magistrates, generals, or other officers; they are the guardians, ornaments, and glory of the community.
Nedham talks of “senate and people’s feeling the burdens of the fury of the kings.” But as we cannot accuse this writer of ignorance, this must have been either artifice or inadvertence. There is not in the whole Roman history so happy a period as this under their kings. The whole line were excellent characters, and fathers of their people, notwithstanding the continual cabals of the nobles against them. The nation was formed, their morality, their religion, the maxims of their government, were all established under these kings. The nation was defended against innumerable and warlike nations of enemies; in short, Rome was never so well governed or so happy. As soon as the monarchy was abolished, and an ambitious republic of haughty, aspiring aristocratics was erected, they were seized with the ambition of conquest, and became a torment to themselves and the world. Our author confesses, that “being freed from the kingly yoke, and having secured all power within the hands of themselves and their posterity, they fell into the same absurdities that had been before committed by their kings, so that this new yoke became more intolerable than the former.” It would be more conformable to the truth of history to say, that they continued to behave exactly as they had done; but having no kings to murder, they had only people to destroy. The sovereign power was in them under the kings, and the cause of their greatest animosity against their kings, next to the ambitious desire of getting into their places, was their too frequent patronage of the people. The only change made by the revolution was to take off a little awe which the name of king inspired. The office, with all its dignities, authorities, and powers, was in fact continued under the title of consul; it was made annually elective it is true, and became accordingly a mere tool of the senate, wholly destitute of any power or will to protect plebeians, a disposition which the hereditary kings always discovered more or less, and thereby became odious to the senate; for there is no sin or crime so heinous, in the judgment of patricians, as for any one of their own rank to court plebeians, or become their patron, protector or friend.
It is very true that “the new yoke was more intolerable than the old, nor could the people find any remedy until they procured that necessary office of the tribunes.” This was some remedy, but a very feeble and ineffectual one. Nor, if the people had instituted an annual assembly of five hundred representatives, would that have been an effectual remedy, without a plenary executive power in the consul; the senate and assembly would have been soon at war, and the leader of the victorious army master of the state. If “the tribunes, by being invested with a temporary authority by the people’s election, remained the more sensible of their condition,” the American governors and senators, vested as they are with a temporary authority by the people’s election, will remain sensible of their condition too. If they do not become too sensible of it, and discover that flattery and bribery and partiality are better calculated to procure renovations of their authority, than honesty, liberty, and equality, happy indeed shall we all be!
“What more excellent patriot could there be than Manlius, till he became corrupted by time and power?” Is it a clear case that Manlius was corrupted? To me he appears the best patriot in Roman history; the most humane, the most equitable; the greatest friend of liberty, and the most desirous of a constitution truly free; the real friend of the people, and the enemy of tyranny in every shape, as well as the greatest hero and warrior of his age; a much greater character than Camillus. Our author’s expression implies, that there was no greater patriot, until he saw the necessity of new-modelling the constitution, and was concerting measures upon the true principle of liberty, the authority of the people, to place checks upon the senate. But Manlius is an unfortunate instance for our author. It was not time and power that inspired him with his designs; the jealousy and envy of the senate had removed him from power. He was neither consul, dictator, nor general. Aristocratical envy had set up Camillus, and continued him in power, both as consul and dictator, on purpose to rival and mortify Manlius. It was discontinuance of power, then, that corrupted him, if he was corrupted; and this generally happens; disappointed candidates for popular elections are as often corrupted by their fall from power, as hereditary aristocratics by their continuance in it.
“Who more noble, courteous, and well affected to the common good, than was Appius Claudius, at first? But, afterwards, having obtained a continuation of the government in his own hands, he soon lost his primitive innocency and integrity, and devoted himself to all the practices of an absolute tyrant.” This is very true; but it was not barely continuation of power, it was absolute power that did the mischief. If the power had been properly limited in degree, it might have been continued without limitation of time, without corrupting him; though it might be better to limit it both in degree and in time; and it must never be forgotten, that it was the people, not the senate, that continued him in power.
The senate acted an arbitrary and reprehensible part, when they thought to continue Lucius Quinctius in the consulship longer than the time limited by law. By violating the law, they became tyrants, and their act was void. That gallant man acted only the part of a good citizen, in refusing to set a precedent so prejudicial to the Roman constitution. His magnanimity merits praise; but, perhaps, he was the only senator who would have refused, and we cannot safely reckon upon such self-denial in forming any constitution of government. But it may be depended on, that, when the whole power is in one assembly, whether of patricians or plebeians, or any mixture of both, a favorite will be continued in power whenever the majority wishes it, and every conceivable fundamental law, or even oath, against it will be dispensed with.
“A seventh reason, why a people qualified with a due and orderly succession of their supreme assemblies are the best keepers of their own liberties, is, because, as in other forms, those persons only have access to government who are apt to serve the lust and will of the prince, or else are parties or compliers with some popular faction; so, in this form of government by the people, the door of dignity stands open to all (without exception) that ascend thither by the steps of worth and virtue; the consideration whereof hath this noble effect in free states, that it edges men’s spirits with an active emulation, and raiseth them to a lofty pitch of design and action.”
This is a mass of popular assertions, either hazarded at random, or, if aimed at a point, very little guarded by the love of truth. It is no more true that, in other forms, those persons only have access to government who are apt to serve the lust and will of a prince or a faction, than it is that, in our author’s form, those only would obtain elections who will serve the lusts and wills of the most idle, vicious, and abandoned of the people, at the expense of the labor, wealth, and reputation of the most industrious, virtuous, and pious. The door of dignity in such a government is so far from standing open to all of worth and virtue, that, if the executive and judicial powers are managed in it, virtue and worth will soon be excluded. In an absolute monarchy, the road to preferment may lie open to all. In an aristocracy, the way of promotion may be open to all; and all offices in the executive department, as in the army, navy, courts of justice, foreign embassies, revenues, &c. may be filled from any class of the people. In a mixed government, consisting of three branches, all offices ever will be open; for, when the popular branch is destined expressly to defend the rights of the people, it is not probable they will ever consent to a law that shall exclude any class of their constituents. In this kind of government, indeed, the chance for merit to prevail is greater than in any other. The executive having the appointment to all offices, and the ministers of that executive being responsible for every exercise of their power, they are more cautious; they are responsible to their master for the recommendation they give, and to the nation and its representatives for the appointments that are made. Whereas, a single representative assembly is accountable to nobody. If it is admitted that each member is accountable to his constituents for the vote he gives, what is the penalty? No other than not to vote for him at the next election. And what punishment is that? His constituents know or care nothing about any offices or officers, but such as lie within the limits of their parish; and let him vote right or wrong about all others, he has equally their thanks and future votes. What can the people of the cities, countries, boroughs, and corporations, in England, know of the characters of all the generals, admirals, ambassadors, judges, and bishops, whom they never saw, nor perhaps heard of?
But was there never a Sully, Colbert, Malesherbes, Turgot, or Necker called to power in France? nor a Burleigh nor a Pitt, in England? Was there never a Camillus appointed by a senate? nor a De Ruyter, Van Tromp, or De Witt, by an aristocratical body? When a writer is not careful to confine himself to truth, but allows himself a latitude of affirmation and denial, merely addressed to an ignorant populace, there is no end of ingenuity in invention. In this case, his object was to run down an exiled king and a depressed nobility; and it must be confessed he is not very delicate in his means. There are, in truth, examples innumerable of excellent generals, admirals, judges, ambassadors, bishops, and of all other officers and magistrates, appointed by monarchs, absolute as well as limited, and by hereditary senates. Excellent appointments have been also made by popular assemblies; but candor must allow, that very weak, injudicious, and unfortunate choices have been sometimes made by such assemblies too. But the best appointments for a course of time have invariably been made in mixed governments. The “active emulation” in free states is readily allowed; but it is not less active, less general, or less lofty, in design or action, in mixed governments than in simple ones, even simple democracies, or those which approach nearest to that description; and the instances alleged from the Roman history are full proofs of this.
“During the vassalage of the Romans under kings, we read not of any notable exploits, but find them confined within a narrow compass, oppressed at home, and ever and anon ready to be swallowed up by their enemies.” It is really impossible to guess where this author learnt his history. The reigns of the kings are a complete confutation of his assertions. The vassalage was to the nobles, if to anybody, under the kings. The kings were friends and fathers of the people in general. If the people were oppressed at home, it was by the patricians; but they appear to have been much less oppressed than they were under the aristocracy which succeeded the abolition of monarchy, as our author himself confesses.
“But when the state was made free indeed, and the people admitted into a share and interest in the government, as well as the great ones, then it was that their power began to exceed the bounds of Italy, and aspire towards that prodigious empire.” Was Rome ever a free state, according to our author’s idea of a free state? Were the people ever governed by a succession of sovereign power in their assemblies? Was not the senate the real sovereign, through all the changes, from Romulus to Julius Cæsar? When the tribunes were instituted, the people obtained a check upon the senate, but not a balance. The utmost that can with truth be said is, that it was a mixed government, composed of three powers; the monarchical in the kings or consuls, the aristocratical in the senate, and the democratical in the people and their tribunes, with the principal share and real sovereignty in the senate. The mixture was unequal, and the balance inadequate; but it was this mixture, with all its imperfections, that “edged men’s spirits with an active emulation, and raised them to a lofty pitch of design and action.” It was in consequence of this composition, that “their thoughts and power began to exceed the bounds of Italy, and aspire towards that prodigious empire.” In such a mixture, where the people have a share, and “the road to preferment lies plain to every man, no public work is done, nor any conquest made, but every man thinks he does and conquers for himself,” in some degree. But this sentiment is as vivid and active, surely, where the people have an equal share with the senate, as where they have only an imperfect check by their tribunes.
When our author advances, “that it was not alliance, nor friendship, nor faction, nor riches, that could advance men,” he affirms more than can be proved from any period of the Roman or any other history. If he had contented himself with saying, that these were not exclusive or principal causes of advancement, it would have been as great a panegyric as any nation at any period has deserved. Knowledge, valor, and virtue, were often preferred above them all; and, if we add, generally, it is as much as the truth will bear. Our author talks of a preference of virtuous poverty; but there was no moment in the Roman, or any other history, when poverty, however virtuous, was preferred for its own sake. There have been times and countries, when poverty was not an insuperable objection to the employment of a man in the highest stations; but an absolute love of poverty, and a preference of a man for that attribute alone, never existed out of the imaginations of enthusiastic writers.
In the Roman story, some few of their brave patriots and conquerors were men of small fortune, and of so rare a temper of spirit, that they little cared to improve them, or enrich themselves by their public employment. Some, indeed, were buried at the public charge. And perhaps this race is not quite extinct; but the examples are so rare, that he who shall build his frame of government upon a presumption that characters of this stamp will arise in succession, in sufficient numbers to preserve the honor and liberty, and promote the prosperity of his people, will find himself mistaken. “The time will come,” said a Roman senator, “when Horatii and Valerii will not be found to forego their private fortunes for the sake of plebeian liberty.” His prediction was fulfilled; and a similar prophecy will be accomplished in every nation under heaven. The instances, too, of this kind in the Roman history, are all of patricians and senators. We do not find one example of a popular tribune who was so in love with poverty. Cincinnatus was a patrician, a senator of a splendid family and no mean fortune, until his son Cæso was prosecuted, and obliged to fly from his bail. The father had too noble and sublime a spirit to let the bail be ruined, and sold his fortune to pay the forfeiture. When this was done, he had only four or six acres left. But who was it that made him dictator? Not the people, nor the tribunes, but the senate, that very standing power against which our author’s whole book is written; by no means by a successive sovereignty of the people’s representatives, which our author all along contends for. Had the appointment of a dictator at that time lain with the people, most probably a richer man would have had the preference. He behaved with so much magnanimity, integrity, and wisdom, that he subdued the enemy, and quitted his authority with all willingness, and returned to painful private life. This example is a good argument for a mixed government, and for a senate as an essential part of it; but no argument for a successive sovereignty in the people’s representatives. Gracchus, Marius, Sylla, and Cæsar, whose elevation to power was by the people, in opposition to the senate, did not exhibit such moderation and contentment.
Our author’s other examples of Lucius Tarquin, and Atilius Regulus, by no means prove such disinterested and magnanimous virtue to be ordinary in that state, nor does Lucius Paulus Æmilius. Lucius Tarquin, or Lucius Tarquinius Collatinus, was not only a patrician and a senator, but of the royal family, and therefore by no means an example to show what the conduct of a general, or other officer or magistrate, will be, who shall be appointed by a majority of the people’s successive annual representatives. He was the husband of Lucretia, whose blood had expelled the king. It was in an assembly of the centuries, where the senate were all powerful, that he was appointed consul with Brutus. Valerius was the favorite of the plebeians. Collatia had been given by the king to Ancus Tarquin, because he had no estate; and from thence the family were called Collatini. At the siege of Ardea the frolic commenced between Collatinus and the other young Tarquins, over wine, which ended in the visit to their wives, which proved at first so honorable to the domestic virtues of Lucretia, and afterwards so fatal to her life; it occasioned, also, the expulsion of kings, and institution of consuls. Brutus and Collatinus were created consuls, but by whom? By the people, it is true, but it was in their assembly by centuries; so that it was the senate and patricians who decided the vote. If the people in their tribes, or by their successive representatives, had made the election, Collatinus would not have been chosen, but Valerius, who expected it, and had most contributed, next to Brutus, to the revolution.
And, by the way, we may observe here, that an aversion to public honors and offices by no means appears in the behavior of the virtuous and popular Valerius. His desire of the office of consul was so ardent, that his disappointment and chagrin induced him in a sullen ill-humor, to withdraw from the senate and the forum, and renounce public affairs; which so alarmed the people, that they dreaded his reconciliation and coalition with the exiled family. He soon removed this jealousy, by taking the oath by which Brutus wanted to bind the senate against kings and kingly government. All the art of the patricians, with Brutus at their head, was now exerted, to intoxicate the people with superstition. Sacrifices and ceremonies were introduced, and the consuls approaching the altar, swore, for themselves, their children, and all posterity, never to recall Tarquin or his sons, or any of his family; that the Romans should never more be governed by kings; that those who should attempt to restore monarchy should be devoted to the infernal gods, and condemned to the most cruel torments; and an abhorrence of royalty became the predominant character of the Romans, to such a degree, that they could never bear the name of king, even when, under the emperors, they admitted much more than the thing, in an unlimited despotism. But is the cause of liberty, are the rights of mankind, to stand for ever on no better a foundation than a blind superstition, and a popular prejudice against a word, a mere name? It was really no more in this case; for even Brutus himself intended that the consuls should have all the power of the kings; and it was only against a family and a name that he declared war. If nations and peoples cannot be brought to a more rational way of thinking, and to judge of things, instead of being intoxicated with prejudice and superstition against words, it cannot be expected that truth, virtue, or liberty, will have much chance in the establishment of governments. The monarchical and aristocratical portions of society will for ever understand better how to operate upon the superstition, the prejudices, passions, fancies, and senses of the people, than the democratical, and therefore, will forever worm out liberty, if she has no other resource.
Tarquin, by his ambassadors, solicited at least the restoration of his property. Brutus opposed it. Collatinus, the other consul, advocated the demand of his royal banished cousin. The senate was divided. The question was referred to the people assembled by centuries. The two consuls zealously supported their different opinions. Collatinus prevailed by one vote. Tarquin’s ambassadors rejoice and intrigue. A conspiracy was formed, in which a great part of the young nobility was concerned. Two of the Vitellii, sons of Collatinus’s sister, and brothers of Brutus’s wife; two of the Aquilii, sons of another sister of Collatinus, as well as two of Brutus’s sons, were engaged in it. When the conspiracy was discovered, Brutus alone was inexorable. Collatinus endeavored to save his nephews. Collatinus, as the husband of Lucretia, appears to have been actuated by resentment against the person of Tarquin, but not to have been very hearty in the expulsion of the family, or the abolition of monarchy. His warmly contending for the restitution of Tarquin’s effects, and his aversion to the condemnation of the conspirators, completed his ruin with Brutus. He assembled the people, and was very sorry that the Roman people did not think their liberties safe while they saw the name and blood of Tarquin not only safe in Rome, but vested with sovereign power, and a dangerous obstacle to liberty. Collatinus was amazed at such a speech, and prepared to defend himself from this attack; but finding his father-in-law, Spurius Lucretius, join Brutus, and other principal men, in persuading him, and fearing that he should be forced into banishment, with the confiscation of his estate, he abdicated the consulship, and retired to Lavinium; but he carried all his effects with him, and twenty talents, or £3,875 sterling, to which Brutus added five talents more, a most enormous sum, if we consider the universal poverty of that age, and the high value of money. Is it possible to find, in this character and conduct of Collatinus, such disinterested and magnanimous virtue as our author speaks of? Is this an example to prove that disinterested virtue was frequent in that state? He must have been dead to every manly feeling, if he had not resented the rape and death of his wife. He did not retire but to avoid banishment; nor was he contented without his whole estate, and a splendid addition to it; so that there is scarcely a character or anecdote in history less to our author’s purpose in any point of view.
There is an extravagance in many popular writers in favor of republican governments, which injures much oftener than it serves the cause of liberty. Such is that of our author, when he cites the example of Regulus. Let us first remember, however, that Regulus was a patrician and a senator, and that he was appointed to his command, and continued in it, by the senate; and therefore, instead of being an example in honor of a simple or a representative democracy, it operates in favor of an aristocracy, or at most, in favor of a mixed government, in which an aristocracy has one full third part. Regulus had been in a course of victory, which the senate would not interrupt, and therefore continued him in the command of the army. He wrote to the senate to complain of it. The glory of it to himself, the advantage to the public, was not reward enough for him. He demanded a successor; and what was his reason? A thief had stolen his tools of husbandry, used in manuring; his tenant was dead, and his presence was absolutely necessary to prevent his wife and children from starving. Is it possible to read this without laughter and indignation; laughter at the folly of that government which made so poor a provision for its generals, and indignation at the sordid avarice of that senate and people, who could require a threat of resignation from the conqueror of Carthage to induce them to provide for his wife and children? The senate decreed that his field should be cultivated at the public expense, that his working tools should be replaced, and his wife and children provided for. Then, indeed, Regulus’s aversion to the service was removed; to such sordid condescensions to the prejudices and the meanness of the stingy and envious parts of the community are such exalted souls, as that of Regulus, obliged sometimes to submit; but the eternal panegyrics of republican writers, as they call themselves, will never reconcile mankind to any thing so ridiculous and contemptible. The laborer is worthy of his hire. He who labors for the public should live by the public, as much as he who preaches the gospel should live by the gospel; and these maxims of equity are approved by all the generous part of mankind. And the people whose heads are turned with contracted notions of a contrary nature, will forever be the dupes of the designing; for where you will find a single Regulus, you will find ten thousand Cæsars.
The example of Paulus Æmilius is equally hostile to our author’s system, and equally friendly to that which we contend for. The first consul of that name, the conqueror of Illyricum, in 533, although he returned to Rome in triumph, yet, at the expiration of his office, he was cited before the people in their tribes, and accused of having converted part of the spoils to his own use. Æmilius had great difficulty to escape the condemnation which his colleague suffered. This great patrician and consul commanded and was killed at the battle of Cannæ. His son, of the same name, whose sister Æmilius was married to the great Scipio, distinguished himself by avoiding those intrigues, solicitations, caresses, and other artifices, practised by most candidates, even at this time, 562. His pains were employed to make himself esteemed by valor, justice, and ardor in his duty, in which he surpassed all the young men of his age. He carried the ædileship against ten competitors, every one of whom was so distinguished by birth and merit as afterwards to obtain the consulship. By his wife Papiria he had two sons, whom he procured to be adopted into the most illustrious houses in Rome; the eldest, by Fabius Maximus, five times consul and dictator; the younger by a son of Scipio Africanus. His two daughters he married, one to a son of Cato the Censor, and the other to Tubero. In 563 he gained a complete victory over the Lusitanians, in which he killed them eighteen thousand men, and took their camp, with thirteen hundred prisoners. In the offices of ædile, and of augur, he excelled all his contemporaries in the knowledge and practice of his duty; and military discipline he carried to greater perfection than had ever been known; nevertheless, when he stood for any office, even in these virtuous times, there was always an opposition; and he could not obtain the consulship till after he had suffered several repulses. Why? Because his virtue was too severe; not for the senate, but the people; and because he would not flatter and bribe the people. Before the end of the year of his first consulate he fought the Ligurians, and gained a complete victory over them, killing more than fifteen thousand men, and making near three thousand prisoners, and returned to Rome in triumph; yet with all this merit, when he stood candidate, some years after, for the consulate, the people rejected him; upon this he retired to educate his children. He was frugal in every thing of private luxury, but magnificent in expenses of public duty. Grammarians, rhetoricians, philosophers, sculptors, painters, equerries, hunters, were procured for the instruction of his children. While he was thus employed in private life, in 583, fourteen years after his first consulship, the affairs of the republic were ignorantly conducted, and the Macedonians, with Perseus at their head, gained great advantages against them. People were not satisfied with the conduct of the consuls of late years, and began to say, that the Roman name was not supported. The cry was, that the command of armies must no longer be given to faction and favor. The singular merit of Æmilius, his splendid services, the confidence which the troops had in his capacity, and the urgent necessity of the times for his wisdom and firmness, turned all eyes upon him. All his relations, and the senators in general, urged him to stand candidate. He had already experienced so much ingratitude, injustice, and caprice, that he shunned the present ardor, and chose to continue in private life. That very people who had so often ill used him, and rejected him, now crowded before his door, and insisted on his going to the forum; and his presence there was universally considered as a sure presage of victory, and he was unanimously elected consul, and appointed commander in Macedonia. He conquered Perseus and his Macedonian phalanx, and in the battle he formed Fabiuses and Scipios to be the glory and triumph of his country after him. He plundered the immense wealth of Macedonia and Epirus; he plundered seventy cities, and demolished their walls. The spoils were sold, and each soldier had two hundred denarii, and each of the horse four. The soldiers and common people, it seems, had little of that disinterestedness for which Æmilius was remarkable. They were so offended at their general for giving so little of the booty to them, and reserving so much to the public treasury, that they raised a great cry and opposition against his triumph; and Galba, the soldiers, and their friends among the plebeians, were determined to teach the great men, the consuls, generals, &c. to be less public-spirited—to defraud the treasury of its wealth, and bestow it upon them; they accordingly opposed the triumph of this great and disinterested general, and the first tribes absolutely rejected it.
Who, upon this occasion, saved the honor, justice, and dignity of the republic? Not the plebeians, but the senators. The senators were highly enraged at this infamous injustice and ingratitude, and this daring effort of popular licentiousness and avarice, and were obliged to make a noise, and excite a tumult. Servilius, too, who had been consul, and had killed three-and-twenty enemies who had challenged him in single combat, made a long speech, in which he showed the baseness of their conduct in so striking a light, that he made the people ashamed of themselves; and at length they consented to the triumph, but to all appearance more from a desire to see the show of Perseus laden with chains, led through the city before the chariot of the victor, than from any honest and public-spirited design to reward merit. The sum which he caused to be carried into the public treasury on the day of the triumph was one million three hundred thousand pounds sterling, and caused the taxes of the Roman people to be abolished. At his death, after the sale of part of his slaves, movables, and some farms, to pay his wife’s dower, the remainder of his fortune was but nine thousand three hundred and seventy-five pounds sterling. As he was descended from one of the most noble and ancient houses of Rome, illustrious by the highest dignities, the smallness of his fortune reflects honor on his ancestors as well as on himself. The love of simplicity was still supported in some of the great families, by extreme care not to ally themselves with luxurious ones; and Æmilius chose Tubero, of the family of Ælii, whose first piece of plate was a silver cup of five pounds weight, given him by his father-in-law. These few families stemmed the torrent of popular avarice and extravagance.
Let us now consider what would have been the fate of Æmilius, if Rome had been governed at this time by Nedham’s succession of the people’s representatives, unchecked by a senate. It is plain he must have given into the common practice of flattering, caressing, soothing, bribing, and cajoling the people, or never have been consul, never commanded armies, never triumphed. An example more destructive of our author’s system can scarcely be found, and yet he has the inadvertence at least to adduce it in support of his Right Constitution of a Commonwealth. It has been necessary to quote these anecdotes at some length, that we may not be deceived by a specious show, which is destitute of substance, truth, and fact, to support it.
But how come all these examples to be patricians and senators, and not one instance to be found of a plebeian commander who did not make a different use of his power?
There is a strange confusion or perversion in what follows: “Rome never thrived until it was settled in a freedom of the people.” Rome never was settled in a freedom of the people; meaning in a free state, according to our author’s definition of it, “a succession of the supreme authority in the people’s representatives.” Such an idea never existed in the Roman commonwealth, not even when or before the people made Cæsar a perpetual dictator. Rome never greatly prospered until the people obtained a small mixture of authority, a slight check upon the senate, by their tribunes. This, therefore, is proof in favor of the mixture, and against the system of our author.
“Freedom was preserved, and that interest best advanced, when all places of honor and trust were exposed to men of merit, without distinction.”
True, but this never happened till the mixture took place.
“This happiness could never be obtained, until the people were instated in a capacity of preferring whom they thought worthy, by a freedom of electing men successively into their supreme offices and assemblies.” What is meant here by supreme offices? There were none in Rome but the dictators, and they were appointed by the senate, at least until Marius annihilated the senate, by making the tribes omnipotent. Consuls could not be called supreme officers in any sense. What is meant by supreme assemblies? There were none but the senate. The Roman people never had the power of electing a representative assembly. “So long as this custom continued, and merit took place, the people made shift to keep and increase their liberties.” This custom never took place, and, strictly speaking, the Roman people never enjoyed liberty. The senate was sovereign till the people set up a perpetual dictator.
“When this custom lay neglected, and the stream of preferment began to run along with the favor and pleasure of particular powerful men, then vice and compliance making way for advancement, the people could keep their liberties no longer; but both their liberties and themselves were made the price of every man’s ambition and luxury.”
But when was this? Precisely when the people began, and in proportion as they approached to, an equality of power with the senate, and to that state of things which our author contends for; so that the whole force of his reasoning and examples, when they come to be analyzed, conclude against him.
The eighth reason, why the people in their assemblies are the best keepers of their liberty, is, “because it is they only that are concerned in the point of liberty.” It is agreed that the people in their assemblies, tempered by another coequal assembly and an executive coequal with either, are the best keepers of their liberties. But it is denied that in one assembly, collective or representative, they are the best keepers. It may be reasonably questioned, whether they are not the worst; because they are as sure to throw away their liberties, as a monarch or a senate untempered are to take them; with this additional evil, that they throw away their morals at the same time; whereas monarchs and senates sometimes by severity preserve them in some degree. In a simple democracy, the first citizen and the better sort of citizens are part of the people, and are equally “concerned” with any others “in the point of liberty.” But is it clear that in other forms of government “the main interest and concernment, both of kings and grandees, lies either in keeping the people in utter ignorance what liberty is, or else in allowing and pleasing them only with the name and shadow of liberty instead of the substance?” It is very true that knowledge is very apt to make people uneasy under an arbitrary and oppressive government. But a simple monarch or a sovereign senate which is not arbitrary and oppressive, though absolute, if such cases can exist, would be interested to promote the knowledge of the nation. It must, however, be admitted, that simple governments will rarely if ever favor the dispersion of knowledge among the middle and lower ranks of people. But this is equally true of simple democracy. The people themselves, if uncontrolled, will never long tolerate a freedom of inquiry, debate, or writing; their idols must not be reflected on, nor their schemes and actions scanned, upon pain of popular vengeance, which is not less terrible than that of despots or sovereign senators.
“In free states, the people being sensible of their past condition in former times under the power of great ones, and comparing it with the possibilities and enjoyments of the present, become immediately instructed that their main interest and concernment consists in liberty; and are taught by common sense, that the only way to secure it from the reach of great ones, is to place it in the people’s hands, adorned with all the prerogatives and rights of supremacy.” It is very true that the main interest and concernment of the people is liberty. If their liberties are well secured they may be happy if they will; and they generally, perhaps always, are so. The way to secure liberty is to place it in the people’s hands, that is, to give them a power at all times to defend it in the legislature and in the courts of justice. But to give the people, uncontrolled, all the prerogatives and rights of supremacy, meaning the whole executive and judicial power, or even the whole undivided legislative, is not the way to preserve liberty. In such a government it is often as great a crime to oppose or decry a popular demagogue, or any of his principal friends, as in a simple monarchy to oppose a king, or in a simple aristocracy the senators. The people will not bear a contemptuous look or disrespectful word; nay, if the style of your homage, flattery, and adoration, is not as hyperbolical as the popular enthusiasm dictates, it is construed into disaffection; the popular cry of envy, jealousy, suspicious temper, vanity, arrogance, pride, ambition, impatience of a superior, is set up against a man, and the rage and fury of an ungoverned rabble, stimulated underhand by the demagogic despots, breaks out into every kind of insult, obloquy, and outrage, often ending in murders and massacres, like those of the De Witts, more horrible than any that the annals of despotism can produce.
It is indeed true, that “the interest of freedom is a virgin that every one seeks to deflour; and like a virgin it must be kept, or else (so great is the lust of mankind after dominion) there follows a rape upon the first opportunity.” From this it follows, that liberty in the legislature is “more secure in the people’s than in any other hands, because they are most concerned in it:” provided you keep the executive power out of their hands entirely, and give the property and liberty of the rich a security in a senate, against the encroachments of the poor in a popular assembly. Without this the rich will never enjoy any liberty, property, reputation, or life, in security. The rich have as clear a right to their liberty and property as the poor. It is essential to liberty that the rights of the rich be secured; if they are not, they will soon be robbed and become poor, and in their turn rob their robbers, and thus neither the liberty or property of any will be regarded.
The careful attention to liberty “makes the people both jealous and zealous, keeping a constant guard against the attempts and encroachments of any powerful or crafty underminers.”
But this is true only while they are made a distinct body from the executive power, and the most conspicuous citizens mingle all together, and a scramble instantly commences for the loaves and fishes, abolition of debts, shutting up courts of justice, divisions of property, &c. Is it not an insult to common sense, for a people with the same breath to cry liberty, an abolition of debts, and division of goods? If debts are once abolished, and goods are divided, there will be the same reason for a fresh abolition and division every month and every day. And thus the idle, vicious, and abandoned, will live in constant riot on the spoils of the industrious, virtuous, and deserving. “Powerful and crafty underminers” have nowhere such rare sport as in a simple democracy or single popular assembly. Nowhere, not in the completest despotisms, does human nature show itself so completely depraved, so nearly approaching an equal mixture of brutality and devilism, as in the last stages of such a democracy, and in the beginning of that despotism that always succeeds it.
“A people having once tasted the sweets of freedom, are so affected with it, that if they discover or do but suspect the least design to encroach upon it, they count it a crime never to be forgiven.”
Strange perversion of truth and fact! This is so far from the truth, that our author himself is not able to produce a single instance of it as a proof or illustration. Instead of adducing an example of it from a simple democracy, he is obliged to have recourse to an example that operates strongly against him, because taken from an aristocracy. In the Roman state, one gave up his children, another his brother, to death, to revenge an attempt against common liberty. Was Brutus a man of the people? Was Brutus for a government of the people in their sovereign assemblies? Was not Brutus a patrician? Did he not think patricians a different order of beings from plebeians? Did he not erect a simple aristocracy? Did he not sacrifice his sons to preserve that aristocracy? Is it not equally probable that he would have sacrificed them to preserve his aristocracy from any attempt to set up such a government as our author contends for, or even against any attempt to have given the plebeians a share in the government; nay, against any attempt to erect the office of tribunes at that time?
“Divers sacrificed their lives to preserve it.”
To preserve what? The standing government of grandees, against which our author’s whole book is written.
“Some sacrificed their best friends to vindicate it, upon bare suspicion, as in the case of Mælius and Manlius.”
To vindicate what? Liberty? popular liberty? plebeian liberty? Precisely the contrary. These characters were murdered for daring to be friends to popular liberty; for daring to think of limiting the power of the grandees, by introducing a share of popular authority and a mixed constitution; and the people themselves were so far from the zeal, jealousy, and love of liberty that our author ascribes to them, that they suffered their own authority to be prostituted before their eyes, to the destruction of the only friends they had, and to the establishment of their enemies, and a form of government by grandees, under which they had no liberty, and in which they had no share.
Our author then cites examples of revenge in Greece. The year 1656 was a late age in the history of philosophy, as well as morality and religion, for any writer to preach revenge as a duty and a virtue. Reason and philanthropy, as well as religion, pronounce it a weakness and a vice in all possible cases. Examples enough of it, however, may be found in all revolutions. But monarchies and aristocracies have practised it, and, therefore, the virtue of revenge is not peculiar to our author’s plan. In Corcyra itself, the people were massacred by the grandees as often as they massacred the grandees. And of all kinds of spirits that we read of, out of hell, this is the last that an enlightened friend of liberty would philosophically inculcate. Let legal liberty vindicate itself by legal punishments and moral measures; but mobs and massacres are the disgrace of her sacred cause still more than that of humanity.
Florence, too, and Cosmus* are quoted, and the alternatives of treachery, revenge, and cruelty; all arising, as they did in Greece, from the want of a proper division of authority and an equal balance. Let any one read the history of the first Cosimo, his wisdom, virtues, and unbounded popularity, and then consider what would have been the consequence if Florence, at that period, had been governed by our author’s plan of successive single assemblies, chosen by the people annually. It is plain that the people would have chosen such, and such only, for representatives as Cosimo and his friends would have recommended; at least a vast majority of them would have been his followers, and he would have been absolute. It was the aristocracy and the forms of the old constitution that alone served as a check upon him. The speech of Uzzano must convince one, that the people were more ready to make him absolute, than ever the Romans were to make Cæsar a perpetual dictator. He confesses that Cosimo was followed by the whole body of the plebeians, and by one half of the nobles; that if Cosimo was not made master of the commonwealth, Rinaldo would be, whom he dreaded much more. In truth the government, at this time, was in reality become monarchical, and that ill-digested aristocracy, which they called a popular state, existed only in form; and the persecution of Cosimo only served to explain the secret.
Will it be denied that a nation has a right to choose a government for themselves? The question was really no more than this, whether Rinaldo or Cosimo should be master. The nation declared for Cosimo, reversed that banishment into which he had been very unjustly sent by Rinaldo, demanded his return, and voted him the father of his country. This, alone, is full proof, that if the people had been the keepers of their own liberties, in their successive assemblies, they would have given them all to Cosimo; whereas, had there been an equal mixture of monarchy, aristocracy, and democracy, in that constitution, the nobles and commons would have united against Cosimo, the moment he attempted to overleap the boundaries of his legal authority. Uzzano confesses that, unless charity, liberality, and beneficence were crimes, Cosimo was guilty of no offence; and that there was as much to apprehend from his own party as from the other, in the point of liberty. All the subsequent attempts of Rinaldo, to put Cosimo to death and to banish him, were unqualified tyranny. He saved his life, it is true, by a bribe; but what kind of patrons of liberty were these who would betray it for a bribe? His recall and return from banishment seem to have been the general voice of the nation, expressed according to the forms and spirit of the present constitution, without any appearance of such treachery, as our author suggests.*
Whether Nedham knew the real history of Florence is very problematical; all his examples from it, are so unfortunate as to be conclusive against his project of a government. The real essence of the government in Florence had been, for the greatest part of fifty years, a monarchy, in the hands of Uzzano and Maso, according to Machiavel’s own account; its form an aristocracy, and its name a popular state. Nothing of the essence was changed by the restoration of Cosimo; the form and name only underwent an alteration.
Holstein, too, is introduced, merely to make a story for the amusement of a drunken mob. “Here is a health to the remembrance of our liberty,” said the “boorish, poor, silly generation,” seventy years after they were made a duchy. Many hogsheads of ale and porter, I doubt not, were drank in England in consequence of this Holstein story; and that was all the effect it could have towards supporting our author’s argument.
How deep soever the impression may be, that is made by “the love of freedom in the minds of the people,” it will not follow that they alone are “the best keepers of their own liberties, being more tender and more concerned in their security than any powerful pretenders whatsoever.”
Are not the senators, whether they be hereditary or elective, under the influence of powerful motives to be tender and concerned for the security of liberty? Every senator who consults his reason, knows that his own liberty and that of his posterity must depend upon the constitution which preserves it to others. What greater refuge can a nation have, than in a council in which the national maxims and the spirit and genius of the state, are preserved by a living tradition? What stronger motive to virtue, and to the preservation of liberty, can the human mind perceive, next to those of rewards and punishments in a future life, than the recollection of a long line of ancestors, who have sat within the walls of the senate, and guided the councils, led the armies, commanded the fleets, and fought the battles of the people, by which the nation has been sustained in its infant years, defended from dangers, and carried, through calamities, to wealth, grandeur, prosperity, and glory? What institution more useful can possibly exist, than a living repertory of all the history, knowledge, interests, and wisdom of the commonwealth, and a living representative of all the great characters, whose prudence, wisdom, and valor are registered in the history and recorded in the archives of the country? If the people have the periodical choice of these, we may hope they will generally select those, among the most conspicuous for fortune, family, and wealth, who are most signalized for virtue and wisdom, which is more advantageous than to be confined to the eldest son, however defective, to the exclusion of younger sons, though excellent, and to one family, though decayed and depraved, to another more deserving, as in hereditary senates. But that a senate, guarded from ambition, should be objected to by a friend of liberty and republican government, is very extraordinary. Let the people have a full share, and a decisive negative; and, with this impregnable barrier against the ambition of the senate on one side, and the executive power, with an equal negative, on the other, such a council will be found the patron and guardian of liberty on many occasions, when the giddy, thoughtless multitude, and even their representatives, would neglect, forget, or even despise and insult it; instances of all which are not difficult to find.
The ninth reason is, “because the people are less luxurious than kings or grandees.”
That may well be denied. Kings, nobles, and people are all alike in this respect, and, in general, know no other bounds of indulgence than the capacity of enjoyment, and the power to gratify it. The problem ought to be, to find a form of government best calculated to prevent the bad effects and corruption of luxury, when, in the ordinary course of things, it must be expected to come in. Kings and nobles, if they are confessed to enjoy or indulge in luxury more than the commons, it is merely because they have more means and opportunities, not because they have stronger appetites, passions, and fancies, or, in other words, a stronger propensity to luxury, than the plebeians. If it should be conceded, that the passions and appetites strengthen by indulgence, it must be confessed, too, that they have more motives to restrain them; but in regard to mere animal gratification, it may well be denied that they indulge or enjoy more than the common people on an average. Eating and drinking, surely, is practised with as much satisfaction by the footman as his lord; and as much pleasure may be tasted in gin, brandy, ale, and porter, as in Burgundy or Tokay; in beef and pudding, as in ortolans and jellies. If we consider nations together, we shall find that intemperance and excess are more indulged in the lowest ranks than in the highest. The luxury of dress, beyond the defence from the weather, is a mere matter of politics and etiquette throughout all the ranks of life; and, in the higher ranks, rises only in proportion as it rises in the middle and the lowest. The same is true of furniture and equipage, after the ordinary conveniences and accommodations of life. Those who claim or aspire to the highest ranks of life, will eternally go to a certain degree above those below them in these particulars, if their incomes will allow it. Consideration is attainable by appearance, and ever will be; and it may be depended on, that rich men, in general, will not suffer others to be considered more than themselves, or as much, if they can prevent it by their riches. The poor and the middle ranks, then, have it in their power to diminish luxury as much as the great and rich have. Let the middle and lower ranks lessen their style of living, and they may depend upon it the higher ranks will lessen theirs.
It is commonly said, every thing is regis ad exemplum; that the lower ranks imitate the higher; and it is true. But it is equally true that the higher imitate the lower. The higher ranks will never exceed their inferiors but in a certain proportion; but the distinction they are absolutely obliged to keep up, or fall into contempt and ridicule. It may gratify vulgar malignity and popular envy, to declaim eternally against the rich and the great, the noble and the high; but, generally and philosophically speaking, the manners and characters of a nation are all alike. The lowest and the middling people, in general, grow vicious, vain, and luxurious, exactly in proportion. As to appearance, the higher sort are obliged to raise theirs in proportion as the stories below ascend. A free people are the most addicted to luxury of any. That equality which they enjoy, and in which they glory, inspires them with sentiments which hurry them into luxury. A citizen perceives his fellow-citizen, whom he holds his equal, have a better coat or hat, a better house or horse, than himself, and sees his neighbors are struck with it, talk of it, and respect him for it. He cannot bear it; he must and will be upon a level with him. Such an emulation as this takes place in every neighborhood, in every family; among artisans, husbandmen, laborers, as much as between dukes and marquises, and more—these are all nearly equal in dress, and are now distinguished by other marks. Declamations, oratory, poetry, sermons, against luxury, riches, and commerce will never have much effect. The most rigorous sumptuary laws will have little more. “Discordia, et avaritia, atque ambitio, et cetera secundis rebus oriri sueta mala, post Carthaginis excidium maxumè aucta sunt. Ex quo tempore majorum mores, non paulatim, ut antea, sed torrentis modo præcipitati.”*
In the late war, the Americans found an unusual quantity of money flow in upon them, and, without the least degree of prudence, foresight, consideration, or measure, rushed headlong into a greater degree of luxury than ought to have crept in for a hundred years. The Romans charged the ruin of their commonwealth to luxury; they might have charged it to the want of a balance in their constitution. In a country like America, where the means and opportunities for luxury are so easy and so plenty, it would be madness not to expect it, be prepared for it, and provide against the dangers of it in the constitution. The balance, in a triple-headed legislature, is the best and the only remedy. If we will not adopt that, we must suffer the punishment of our temerity. The supereminence of a threefold balance above all the imperfect balances that were attempted in the ancient republics of Greece and Italy, and the modern ones of Switzerland and Holland, whether aristocratical or mixed, lies in this, that as it is capable of governing a great nation and large territory, whereas the others can only exist in small ones, so it is capable of preserving liberty among great degrees of wealth, luxury, dissipation, and even profligacy of manners; whereas the others require the utmost frugality, simplicity, and moderation, to make human life tolerable under them.
“Where luxury takes place, there is a natural tendency to tyranny.”
There is a natural tendency to tyranny every where, in the simplest manners as well as the most luxurious, which nothing but force can stop. And why should this tendency be taken from human nature, where it grows as in its native soil, and attributed to luxury?
“The nature of luxury lies altogether in excess. It is a universal deprivation of manners, without reason, without moderation; it is the canine appetite of a corrupt will and phantasy, which nothing can satisfy; but in every action, in every imagination, it flies beyond the bounds of honesty, just and good, into all extremity.”
This is declamation and rant that it is not easy to comprehend. There are all possible degrees of luxury which appear in society, with every degree of virtue, from the first dawnings of civilization to the last stage of improvement and refinement; and civility, humanity, and benevolence, increase commonly as fast as ambition of conquest, the pride of war, cruelty, and bloody rage, diminish. Luxury, to certain degrees of excess, is an evil; but it is not at all times, and in all circumstances, an absolute evil. It should be restrained by morality and by law, by prohibitions and discouragements. But the evil does not lie here only; it lies in human nature; and that must be restrained by a mixed form of government, which is the best in the world to manage luxury. Our author’s government would never make, or, if it made, it never would execute laws to restrain luxury.
“That form of government,” says our author, “must needs be the most excellent, and the people’s liberty most secured, where governors are least exposed to the baits and snares of luxury.”
That is to say, that form of government is the best, and the people’s liberty most secure, where the people are poorest; this will never recommend a government to mankind. But what has poverty or riches to do with the form of government? If mankind must be voluntarily poor in order to be free, it is too late in the age of the world to preach liberty. Whatever Nedham might think, mankind in general had rather be rich under a simple monarchy, than poor under a democracy. But if that is the best form of government, where governors are least exposed to the baits and snares of luxury, the government our author contends for is the worst of all possible forms. There is, there can be no form in which the governors are so much exposed to the baits and snares of luxury as in a simple democracy. In proportion as a government is democratical, in a degree beyond a proportional prevalence of monarchy and aristocracy, the wealth, means, and opportunities being the same, does luxury prevail. Its progress is instantaneous. There can be no subordination. One citizen cannot bear that another should live better than himself; a universal emulation in luxury instantly commences; and the governors, that is, those who aspire at elections, are obliged to take the lead in this silly contention; they must not be behind the foremost in dress, equipage, furniture, entertainments, games, races, spectacles; they must feast and gratify the luxury of electors to obtain their votes; and the whole executive authority must be prostituted, and the legislative too, to encourage luxury. The Athenians made it death for any one to propose the appropriation of money devoted to the support of the theatre to any the most necessary purposes of the state. In monarchies and aristocracies much may be done, both by precept and example, by laws and manners, to diminish luxury and restrain its growth; in a mixed government more still may be done for this salutary end; but in a simple democracy, nothing. Every man will do as he pleases, no sumptuary law will be obeyed; every prohibition or impost will be eluded; no man will dare to propose a law by which the pleasures or the liberty of the citizen shall be restrained. A more unfortunate argument for a simple democracy could not have been thought of; it is, however, a very good one in favor of a mixed government.
Our author is nowhere so weak as in this reason, or under this head. He attempts to prove his point by reason and examples, but is equally unfortunate in both. First, by reason. “The people,” says he, “must needs be less luxurious than kings, or the great ones, because they are bounded within a more lowly pitch of desire and imagination; give them but panem et circenses, bread, sport, and ease, and they are abundantly satisfied.” It is to be feared that this is too good a character for any people living, or that have lived. The disposition to luxury is the same, though the habit is not, both in plebeians, patricians, and kings. When we say their desires are bounded, we admit the desires to exist. Imagination is as quick in one as in the other. It is demanding a great deal, to demand “bread, and sports, and ease.” No one can tell how far these terms may extend. If by bread is meant a subsistence, a maintenance in food and clothing, it will mount up very high; if by sports be meant cock-fighting, horse-racing, theatrical representations, and all the species of cards, dice, and gambling, no mortal philosopher can fathom the depth of this article; and if with “bread” and “sport” they are to have “ease” too, and by ease be meant idleness, an exemption from care and labor, all three together will amount to as much as ever was demanded for nobles or kings, and more than ought ever to be granted to either. But let us grant all this for a moment; we should be disappointed; the promised “abundant satisfaction” would not be found. The bread must soon be of the finest wheat; poultry and gibier must be added to beef and mutton; the entertainments would not be elegant enough after a time; more expense must be added; in short, contentment is not in human nature; there is no passion, appetite, or affection for contentment. To amuse and flatter the people with compliments of qualities that never existed in them, is not the duty nor the right of a philosopher or legislator; he must form a true idea and judgment of mankind, and adapt his institutions to facts, not compliments.
“The people have less means and opportunities for luxury than those pompous standing powers, whether in the hands of one or many.”
But if the sovereignty were exercised wholly by one popular assembly, they would then have the means and opportunities in their hands as much as the king has in a monarchy, or the senate in an aristocracy or oligarchy; and much more than either king or nobles have in the tripartite composition we contend for; because in this the king and nobles have really no means or opportunities of luxury but what are freely given them by the people, whose representatives hold the purse. Accordingly, in the simple democracy, or representative democracy, which our author contends for, it would be found, that the great leaders in the assembly would soon be as luxurious as ever kings or hereditary nobles were, and they would make partisans by admitting associates in a luxury, which they would support at the expense of the minority; and every particle of the executive power would be prostituted, new lucrative offices daily created, and larger appointments annexed to support it; nay, the power of judging would be prostituted to determine causes in favor of friends and against enemies, and the plunder devoted to the luxury. The people would be found as much inclined to vice and vanity as kings or grandees, and would run on to still greater excess and riot; for kings and nobles are always restrained, in some degree, by fear of the people, and their censures; whereas the people themselves, in the case we put, are not restrained by fear or shame, having all honor and applause at their disposal, as well as force. It does not appear, then, that they are less luxurious; on the contrary, they are more luxurious, and necessarily become so, in a simple democracy.
Our author triumphantly concludes, “it is clear the people, that is, their successive representatives,” (all authority in one centre, and that centre the nation,) “must be the best governors, because the current of succession keeps them the less corrupt and presumptuous.”
He must have forgot that these successive representatives have all the executive power, and will use it at once for the express purpose of corruption among their constituents, to obtain votes at the next election. Every commission will be given, and new offices created, and fresh fees, salaries, perquisites, and emoluments added, on purpose to corrupt more voters. He must have forgot that the judicial power is in the hands of these representatives, by his own suppositions, and that false accusations of crimes will be sustained to ruin enemies; disputes in civil causes will be decided in favor of friends; in short, the whole criminal law, and the whole civil law concerning lands, houses, goods, and money, will be made subservient to the covetousness, pride, ambition, and ostentation of the dominant party and their chiefs. “The current of succession,” instead of keeping them “less corrupt and presumptuous,” is the very thing that annually makes them more corrupt and shameless. Instead of being more “free from luxurious courses,” they are more irresistibly drawn into them; instead of being “free from oppressive and injurious practices,” their parties at elections will force them into them; and all these things they must do to hold up the port and splendor of their tyranny; and if any of them hesitate at any imprudence that his party demands, he alone will be rejected, and another found whose conscience and whose shame are sufficiently subdued.
Unfortunate in his arguments from reason, to show that the people, qualified with the supreme authority, are less devoted to luxury than the grandee or kingly powers, our author is still more unhappy in those drawn from example.
The first example is Athens. “While Athens remained free, in the people’s hands, it was adorned with such governors as gave themselves up to a serious, abstemious, and severe course of life.”
Sobriety, abstinence, and severity, were never remarkable characteristics of democracy, or the democratical branch or mixture, in any constitution; they have oftener been the attributes of aristocracy and oligarchy. Athens, in particular, was never conspicuous for these qualities; but, on the contrary, from the first to the last moment of her democratical constitution, levity, gayety, inconstancy, dissipation, intemperance, debauchery, and a dissolution of manners, were the prevailing character of the whole nation. At what period will it be pretended that they were adorned with these serious, abstemious, and severe governors? and what were their names? Was Pisistratus so serious, when he drove his chariot into the Agora, wounded by himself, and duped the people to give him his guard? or when he dressed the girl like Minerva? Was Hipparchus or Hippias, Cleisthenes or Isagoras, so abstemious? Was there so much abstinence and severity of public virtue in applying first to Sparta, and then to Persia, against their country, as the leaders alternately did? Miltiades indeed was serious, abstemious, and severe; but Xanthippus, who was more popular, and who conducted a capital accusation against him, and got him fined fifty talents, was not. Themistocles! was he the severe character? A great statesman and soldier, to be sure; but very ambitious, and not very honest. Pericles sacrificed all things to his ambition; Cleon and Alcibiades were the very reverse of sobriety, moderation, and modesty. Miltiades, Aristides, Socrates, and Phocion, are all the characters in the Athenian story who had this kind of merit; and to show how little the Athenians themselves deserved this praise, or esteemed it in others, the first was condemned by the people in an immense fine, the second to banishment, and the third and fourth to death. Aristides had Themistocles, a more popular man, constantly to oppose him. He was, indeed, made financier of all Greece; but what other arbitration had Athens? And Aristides himself, though a professed imitator of Lycurgus, and a favorer of aristocracy, was obliged to overturn the constitution, by giving way to the furious ambition of the people, and by letting every citizen into the competition for the archonship.*
“Being at the height, they began to decline;” that is, almost in the instant when they had expelled the Pisistratidæ, and acquired a democratical ascendency, though checked by the areopagus and many other institutions of Solon, they declined. The good conduct of the democracy began and ended with Aristides.
“Permitting some men to greaten themselves by continuing long in power and authority, they soon lost their pure principles of severity and liberty.”
In truth, nobody yet had such principles but Miltiades and Aristides. As soon as the people got unlimited power, they did, as the people always do, give it to their flatterers, like Themistocles, and continued it in him. To what purpose is it to talk of the rules of a free state, when you are sure those rules will be violated? The people unbalanced never will observe them.
“The thirty” were appointed by Lysander, after the conquest of Athens by Sparta; yet it was not the continuance, but the illimitation, of their power that corrupted them. These, indeed, behaved like all other unchecked assemblies. The majority destroyed Theramenes and the few virtuous members, who happened to be among them and were a reproach to them, and then ruled with a rod of iron. Nothing was heard of but murders and imprisonments. Riches were a crime that never failed to be punished with confiscation and death. More people were put to death in eight months of peace than had been slain by the enemy in a war of thirty years. In short, every body of men, every unchecked assembly in Athens, had invariably behaved in this manner: the four hundred formerly chosen; now the thirty; and afterwards the ten. Such universal, tenacious, and uniform conspiracies against liberty, justice, and the public good; such a never-failing passion for tyranny, possessing republicans born in the air of liberty, nurtured in her bosom, accustomed to that equality on which it is founded, and principled by their education, from their earliest infancy, in an abhorrence of all servitude, have astonished the generality of historians. There must be in power, say they, some violent impulse to actuate so many persons in this manner, who had no doubt sentiments of virtue and honor, and make them forget all laws of nature and religion. But there is really no room for all this surprise. It is the form of government that naturally and necessarily produces the effect. The astonishment really is, and ought only to be, that there is one sensible man left in the world who can still entertain an esteem, or any other sentiment than abhorrence, for a government in a single assembly.
“Such, also was the condition of Athens when Pisistratus usurped the tyranny.” But who was it that continued the power of Pisistratus and his sons? The people. And if this example shows, like all others, that the people are always disposed to continue and increase the power of their favorites, against all maxims and rules of freedom, this, also, is an argument for placing balances in the constitution, even against the power of the people.
From Athens, our author comes to Rome. Under Tarquin, it was “dissolved in debauchery. Upon the change of government, their manners were somewhat mended.”
This difference does not appear. On the contrary, the Roman manners were under the kings as pure as under the aristocracy that followed.
“The senate, being a standing power, soon grew corrupt, and first let in luxury, then tyranny; till the people, being interested in the government, established a good discipline and freedom both together; which was upheld with all severity till the ten grandees came in play.”
When an author writes from imagination only, he may say what he pleases; but it would be trifling to adduce proofs in detail of what every one knows. The whole history of Rome shows that corruption began with the people sooner than in the senate; that it increased faster; that it produced the characters he calls grandees,—as the Gracchi, Marius, Sylla, and Cæsar; and that the senate was for centuries the check that preserved any degree of virtue, moderation, or modesty.
Our author’s conclusion is, that “grandee and kingly powers are ever more luxurious than the popular are, or can be; that luxury ever brings on tyranny as the bane of liberty; and, therefore, that the rights of the people, in a due and orderly succession of their supreme assemblies, are more secure in their own hands than any others.”
But if the fact is otherwise, and the people are equally luxurious in a simple democracy as in a simple aristocracy or monarchy; but more especially if it be true, as it undoubtedly is, that they are more so; then the contrary conclusion will follow, that their rights are more secure when their own power is tempered by a separate executive and an aristocratical senate.
The truth relating to this subject is very obvious, and lies in a narrow compass. The disposition to luxury is so strong in all men, and in all nations, that it can be restrained, where it has the means of gratification, only by education, discipline, or law. Education and discipline soon lose their force when unsupported by law. Simple democracies, therefore, have occasion for the strictest laws to preserve the force of education, discipline, and severity of manners. This is the reason why examples of the most rigorous, the most tyrannical, sumptuary laws are found in governments the most popular. But such sumptuary laws are found always ineffectual; they are always hated by the people, and violated continually; and those who approve them neither dare repeal them, nor attempt to carry them into execution. In a simple aristocracy, the disposition to luxury shows itself in the utmost extravagance, as in Poland. But it is confined to the gentlemen; the common people are forbidden it; and such sumptuary laws are executed severely enough. In simple monarchies, sumptuary laws are made under the guise of prohibitions or imposts; and luxury is generally no otherwise restrained than by the ability to gratify it; but as the difference of ranks is established by laws and customs universally known, there is no temptation for people in the lower ranks to imitate the splendor of those in the higher. But in the mixed government we contend for, the distinction of ranks is also generally known, or ought to be. It has, therefore, all the advantage against general luxury which arises from subordination; and it has the further advantage of being able to execute prudent and reasonable sumptuary laws, whenever the circumstances of affairs require them. It is, therefore, safe to affirm, that luxury is less dangerous in such a mixed government than any other; has less tendency to prevail; and is much more easily restrained to such persons and objects as will be least detrimental to the public good.
The tenth reason is, “because, under this government, the people are ever endued with a more magnanimous, active, and noble temper of spirit, than under the grandeur of any standing power. And this arises from that apprehension which every particular man hath of his own immediate share in the public interest, as well as of that security which he possesses in the enjoyment of his private fortune, free from the reach of any arbitrary power.”
This is a good argument in favor of a government in which the people have an essential part of the sovereign power; but none at all for one in which they exercise the whole. When they have a part, balanced by a senate and a distinct executive power, it is true they have more magnanimity, activity, and spirit; they have a regard to their own immediate share in the public interest; they have an apprehension of that security they possess in the enjoyment of their private fortunes, free from the reach of any arbitrary power. Whenever success betides the public, and the commonwealth conquers, thrives in dominion, wealth, or honor, the citizen reckons all his own. If he sees honors, offices, rewards, distributed to valiant, virtuous, or learned men, he esteems them his own, as long as the door is left open to succeed in the same dignities and enjoyments, if he can attain to the same measure of desert. Men aspire to great actions when rewards depend on merit; and merit is more certain of reward in a mixed government than in any simple one. Rewards depend on the will and pleasure of particular persons, in standing powers of monarchy or aristocracy. But they depend equally on the will and pleasure of the principes populi, the reigning demagogues, in simple democracies, and for obvious reasons are oftener distributed in an arbitrary manner. In a mixed government, the ministers of the executive power are always responsible, and gross corruption in the distribution of offices is always subject to inquiry and to punishment; but in simple governments, the reigning characters are accountable to nobody. In a simple democracy, each leader thinks himself accountable only to his party, and obliged to bestow honors, rewards, and offices, not upon merit and for the good of the whole state, but merely to increase his votes and partisans in future elections. But it is by no means just, politic, or true, to say, that offices, &c. are always conferred in free states, meaning single assemblies, according to merit, without any consideration of birth or fortune. Birth and fortune are as much considered in simple democracies as in monarchies, and ought to be considered in some degree in all states. Merit, it is true, ought to be preferred to both; but, merit being equal, birth will generally determine the question in all popular governments; and fortune, which is a worse criterion, oftener still.
But what apprehension of their share in the public interest, or of their security in the enjoyment of their private fortune, can the minor party have in a simple democracy, when they see that successes, conquests, wealth, and honor, only tend to increase the power of their antagonists, and to lessen their own; when all honors, offices, and rewards, are bestowed to lessen their importance, and increase that of their opponents; when every door is shut against them to succeed to dignities and enjoyments, be their merit what it will; when they see that neither birth, fortune, nor merit can avail them, and that their adversaries, whom they will call their enemies, succeed continually, without either birth, fortune, or merit? This is surely the course in a simple democracy, even more than in a simple aristocracy or monarchy. Abilities, no doubt, will be sought and purchased into the service of fortune and family in the predominant party, but left to perish in opposition.
A mixed government is the only one where merit can be expected to have fair play. There it has three resources, one in each branch of the legislature, and a fourth in the courts of justice; whereas in all simple governments it has but one.
Our author proceeds again to Roman history, and repeats examples he had used before, with equal ill success. The examples prove the contrary of what he cites them to prove. “The Romans, under their kings, remained inconsiderable in reputation, and could never enlarge the dominion very far beyond the walls of their city. Afterwards, under the standing power of the senate, they began to thrive a little better, and for a little time. But when the people began to know, claim, and possess their liberties, in being governed by a succession of their supreme officers and assemblies, then it was, and never till then, that they laid the foundation and built the structure of that wondrous empire that overshadowed the whole world.”
In support of all this, no doubt, will be cited the splendid authority of Sallust. “Nam regibus, boni quam mali suspectiores sunt, semperque his aliena virtus formidolosa est. Sed civitas, incredibile memoratu est, adepta libertate, quantum brevi creverit; tanta cupido gloriæ incesserat. Jam primum juventus, simul laboris ac belli patiens erat, in castris per usum militiam discebat; magisque in decoris armis et militaribus equis, quam in scortis atque conviviis lubidinem habebat.” The condition and happiness of Rome under their kings, till the time of Tarquin, have been before related. It has been shown that the introduction of laws and formation of the manners of a barbarous rabble, assembled from all nations, engaged the attention both of the kings and the senate during this period. Their wars have been enumerated, and it has been shown that the nation was not in a condition to struggle with hostile neighbors, nor to contend among themselves. It has been shown that, in proportion as they became easy and safe, the nobles began to envy the kings, and to form continual conspiracies against their authority, thrones, and lives, until it became a question only whether monarchy or aristocracy should be abolished. In this manner kings were necessitated either to give up all their authority into the hands of a haughty and aspiring senate, or assert a more decisive and arbitrary power than the constitution allowed them. In the contest the nobles prevailed, and in the wars with Tarquin and his successors and their allies, soldiers and officers were formed, who became capable and desirous of conquest and glory. Sallust himself confesses this in the former chapter. “Post, ubi regium imperium, quod initio conservandæ libertatis, atque augendæ reipublicæ fuerat, in superbiam, dominationemque convertit; immutato more, annua imperia, binosque imperatores sibi fecere.”
In addition to this it should be remembered, that Sallust was an aristocratical historian, and attached to the sovereignty in the senate, or at least desirous of appearing so in his history, and an enemy to the government of a single person, of which the republic was at that time in the near prospect and the utmost danger. The question, in the mind of this writer, was not between an aristocracy and a mixed sovereignty, but between aristocracy and simple monarchy, or the empire of one. Yet all that can be inferred from the fact, as stated by our author and by Sallust, is, that aristocracy at first is better calculated for conquest than simple monarchy. It by no means follows, that aristocracy is more friendly to liberty or commerce, the two blessings now most esteemed by mankind, than even simple monarchy. But the most exceptionable sentiment of all is this,—“When the people began to possess their liberties, in being governed by a succession of their supreme officers and assemblies, then they laid the foundation of empire, and built the structure.” By this one would think that the Romans were governed by a single representative assembly, periodically chosen, which is our author’s idea of a perfect commonwealth; whereas nothing can be further from the truth. There is scarcely any constitution farther removed from a simple democracy or a representative democracy than the Roman. As has been before observed, from Romulus to Cæsar, aristocracy was the predominant feature of the sovereignty. The mixture of monarchical power in the kings and consuls, and the mixture of democratical power in the tribunes and popular assemblies, though unequal to the aristocratical ingredient, were checks to it and strong stimulants to exertions, though not complete balances. But the periods of greatest liberty, virtue, glory, and prosperity, were those in which the mixture of all three was nearest equality. Our author’s argument and example are clear and strong in favor of the triple combination, and decisive against the democracy he contends for.
“In those days the world abounded with free states more than any other form, as all over Italy, Gallia, Spain, and Africa.”
It may be questioned, whether there was then in the world one free state, according to our author’s definition of it. All that were called free states in those days, were either aristocracies, oligarchies, or mixtures of monarchy and aristocracy, of aristocracy and democracy, or of monarchy, aristocracy, and democracy. But not one do we read of which was governed by a democracy, simple or by representation. The Achaian league, and others like it, were confederated cities, each city being independent, and itself a mixed government.
Carthage is the next example; and an excellent one it is to prove that a mixed government, in which the people have a share, gives them magnanimity, courage, and activity; but it proves nothing to our author’s purpose. The suffetes, the senate, and the people, the monarchical, aristocratical, and democratical powers, nicely balanced, as Aristotle says, were the constitution of Carthage, and secured its liberty and prosperity. But when the balance was weakened, and began to incline to a dominatio plebis, the precise form of government our author contends for, they hastened to ruin. The next example quoted by our author is the Swiss; another example which proves nothing for him, and much against him. All the cantons of any extent, numbers, or wealth, are aristocratical or mixed. The little spots that are called democratical are more or less mixtures. The Hollanders, his last example, had no democratical mixture in their constitution; are entirely aristocratical; and preserved from tyranny and destruction, partly by a stadtholder, partly by the people in mobs, but more especially by the number of independent cities and sovereignties associated together, and the great multitude of persons concerned in the government and composing the sovereignty, four or five thousand; and, finally, by the unanimity that is required in all transactions. Thus, every one of these examples, ancient and modern, is a clear demonstration against our author’s system instead of being an argument for it. There is not even a color in his favor in the democratical cantons of Switzerland, narrow spots or barren mountains, where the people live on milk; nor in St. Marino or Ragusa. No precedents, surely, for England or American States, where the people are numerous and rich, the territory capacious, and commerce extensive.
Freedom produces magnanimity and courage; but there is no freedom nor justice in a simple democracy for any but the majority. The ruling party, no doubt, will be active and bold; but the ruled will be discouraged, browbeaten, and insulted, without a possibility of redress but by civil war. It is a mixed government, then, well balanced, that makes all the nation of a noble temper. Our author confesses, “we feel a loss of courage and magnanimity follow the loss of freedom;” and it is very true. This loss is nowhere so keenly felt as when we are enslaved by those whom the constitution makes our equals. This is the case of the minority always in a simple democracy.
The eleventh reason is, “because no determinations being carried but by consent of the people, therefore they must needs remain secure out of the reach of tyranny and free from the arbitrary disposition of any commanding power.”
No determinations are carried, it is true, in a simple or representative democracy, but by consent of the majority of the people or their representatives. If our author had required unanimity in every vote, resolve, and law, in that case no determination could be carried but by consent of the people. But no good government was ever yet founded upon the principle of unanimity; and it need not be attempted to be proved that none such ever can exist. If the majority, then, must govern, and consequently often near half, and almost always a party, must be governed against their consent, it is the majority only who will remain secure out of the reach of tyranny, and free from the arbitrary disposition of any commanding power. The minority, on the contrary, will be constantly within the reach of tyranny, and under the arbitrary disposition of the commanding power of the majority. Nor do the minority, under such a government, “know what laws they are to obey, or what penalties they are to undergo, in case of transgression; nor have they any share or interest in making of laws, with the penalties annexed; nor do they become the more inexcusable if they offend;” nor ought they “the more willingly to submit to punishment, when they suffer for any offence,” for the minority have no laws but what the majority please to give, any more than “when government is managed in the hands of a particular person,” or “continued in the hands of a certain number of great men;” nor do the minority “know how to walk by those laws” of the majority, “or how to understand them, because the sense is oftentimes left at uncertainty;” and it will be “reckoned a great mystery of state, in such a form of government, that no laws shall be of any sense or force, but as the great ones” among the majority “please to expound them;” so as “the people of the minority” will be “left, as it were, without law, because they bear no other construction and meaning but what suits with the interests and fancies of particular men” in the majority; “not with right reason or the public liberty.”
To be convinced of this, we should recollect that the majority have the appointment of the judges, who will be generally the great leaders in the house, or their friends and partisans, and even great exertions will be made to pack juries; but without packing, the probability is, that a majority at least of the juries will be of the ruling party in the nation and its sovereign assembly. We may go farther, and say, that as the passions and interests of the majority have no check, they will frequently make ex post facto laws; laws with a retrospect, to take in cases which at the time were not foreseen, for the mortification of the minority and the support and encouragement of their adversaries. The judges will not be less “reputed the oracles of the law” under such a government, than under kings or standing senates; and the “power of creating judges” will not indeed be “usurped,” but will be legally and constitutionally in the hands of the majority, or rather of their leader or leaders, “who will ever have a care to create such as will make the law speak in favor of them upon any occasion.” These principes populi may say, with as much arrogance and as much truth as it was ever said by Charles or James, “As long as we have the power of making what judges and bishops we please, we are sure to have no law nor gospel but what shall please us.”
The example of Henry VII. and Henry VIII., those of James and Charles, are no doubt pertinent to prove, that “the usurpation of a prerogative of expounding the laws after their own pleasure, made them rather snares than instruments of relief, like a grand catchpole, to pill, poll, and geld the purses of the people; to deprive many gallant men of their lives and fortunes.” But if we had the history of any simple democracy, or democracy by simple representation, such as our author contends for, we should find that such a prerogative was usurped by the majority and their chiefs, and applied to as bad purposes. But the truth is, no such government, that we know of, ever existed. The universal sense of mankind has deemed it so destructive or impracticable, that no nation has ventured on it. The Italian republics of the middle age approach the nearest to it. Their history is an answer. But if we consider those passions in human nature which cause despots, oligarchies, and standing senates, to make such an abuse of power, we must see that the same passions will ever exist in the majority and their leaders in a democracy, and produce the same fatal effects.
It is really astonishing, that the institution of Lycurgus should be adduced as a precedent in favor of our author’s project of the right constitution of a commonwealth; there is scarcely a form of government in the world more essentially different from it in all its parts. It is very true that the provision made by that legislator for an equality of laws, rights, duties, and burdens, among all the citizens, however imperfect it was, however inferior to the provision in the English and American constitutions, was the principal commendation of his plan; but instead of giving all power to the people or their representatives, he gave the real sovereignty to his standing senate. Our author himself is so sensible of this, that he allows the “Lacedæmonian commonwealth to be cut out after the grandee fashion, confirming the supremacy within the walls of the senate.” The senate was in some measure “restrained by laws, walking in the same even pace of subjection with the people; having very few offices of dignity or profit allowed, which might make them swell with state and ambition; but were prescribed also the same rules of frugality, plainness, and moderation, as were the common people; by which means immoderate lusts and desires being prevented in the great ones, they were the less inclined to pride and oppression; and no great profit or pleasure being to be gotten by authority, very few desired it; and such as were in it sat free from envy, by which means they avoided that odium and emulation which uses to rage betwixt the great ones and the people in that form of government.”
But how was this done? by collecting all authority into one centre? No; but by prohibiting travel and communication with strangers, which no people on earth are now barbarous and stupid enough to bear; by prohibiting commerce, which no people who have sense and feeling will now renounce; and by prohibiting money, which all people now desire, and which makes the essential instrument for guiding the world. But all this would not have succeeded, if his constitution had been only one popular assembly. This was effected by reciprocal checks and a real balance, approaching nearly to an absolute control of the senate, by a marriage between the king and people. The king, so far from being a cipher, had great authority; he was the standing and hereditary head of the commonwealth, and this alone must give him a dominion over the hearts and understandings both of senate and people, that must have amounted to a great authority. Our author is generally so sensible of the influence gained over high and low by standing authority, that it is wonderful he should forget it in this case. He was, besides, always commander-in-chief of the armies, and generally led in person; and this, in all governments, gives a general an influence bordering on royal supremacy. But, besides, there were two assemblies of the people, one for the city and one for the country, and those popular representatives, the Ephori.
But the indissoluble bond that united the king and people for ever, was the oath taken by the kings and ephori every month; the former never to violate the privileges of the people, and the latter forever to be loyal to the kings, the descendants of Hercules. This was not equivalent to an absolute negative in the king and the people both, upon the laws of the senate, but it amounted to one complete negative upon the senate; because the kings and people were both sworn to oppose all encroachments of the senate; and if these had made unequal laws, and scrambled for more power, the people would have instantly taken arms, under the command of their ephori and their kings, against the senate. This balance, this mixture, was the real cause of that equality which was preserved in Sparta. But if all authority had been in the popular assemblies, without kings or senate, the right constitution of a commonwealth which our author is an advocate for, that equality could not have existed twenty years; a majority would necessarily have risen up to carry all before them, and to depress the minority more and more, until the first man among the majority would have been king, his principal supporters nobles, and the rest not only plebeians, but slaves.
The question between us and our author, is not whether the people shall be excluded from all interest in government or not. In this point we are perfectly agreed, namely,—that there can be no constitutional liberty, no free state, no right constitution of a commonwealth, where the people are excluded from the government; where, indeed, the people have not an independent equal share with the two other orders of the state, and an absolute control over all laws and grants of money. We agree, therefore, in his next example, the commonwealth of Venice, “where the people being excluded from all interest in government, the power of making and executing of laws, and bearing offices, with all other immunities, lies only in the hands of a standing senate and their kindred, which they call the patrician or noble order. Their duke is indeed restrained.” But far from being “made just such another officer as were the Lacedæmonian kings,” he is reduced in dignity and authority much below them, “differing from the rest of the senate only in a corner of his cap, besides a little outward ceremony and splendor. The senators themselves have, indeed, liberty at random arbitrarily to ramble and do what they please with the people, who, excepting the city itself, are so extremely oppressed in all their territories, living by no law but the arbitrary dictates of the senate, that it seems rather a junta than a commonwealth; and the subjects take so little content in it, that seeing more to be enjoyed under the Turk, they that are his borderers take all opportunities to revolt, and submit rather to the mercy of a Pagan tyranny. Which disposition if you consider, together with the little courage in their subjects, by reason they press them so hard, and how that they are forced for this cause to rely upon foreign mercenaries in all warlike expeditions, you might wonder how this state hath held up so long, but that we know the interest of Christendom being concerned in her security, she hath been chiefly supported by the supplies and arms of others.”
All this is readily allowed. We concur also most sincerely in our author’s conclusion, in part, namely,—“That since kings and all standing powers are so inclinable to act according to their own wills and interests, in making, expounding, and executing of laws, to the prejudice of the people’s liberty and security, no laws whatsoever should be made but by the people’s consent, as the only means to prevent arbitrariness.” But we must carry the conclusion farther, namely,—that since all men are so inclinable to act according to their own wills and interests, in making, expounding, and executing laws, to the prejudice of the people’s liberty and security, the sovereign authority, the legislative, executive, and judicial power, can never be safely lodged in one assembly, though chosen annually by the people; because the majority and their leaders, the principes populi, will as certainly oppress the minority, and make, expound, and execute laws for their own wealth, power, grandeur, and glory, to the prejudice of the liberty and security of the minority, as hereditary kings or standing senates.
The conclusion, therefore, that “the people, in a succession of their supreme single assemblies, are the best keepers of their liberties,” must be wholly reprobated.
The twelfth reason is, “because this form is most suitable to the nature and reason of mankind.”
If Socrates and Plato, Cicero and Seneca, Hutcheson and Butler are to be credited, reason is rightfully supreme in man, and, therefore, it would be most suitable to the reason of mankind to have no civil or political government at all. The moral government of God, and his vicegerent, Conscience, ought to be sufficient to restrain men to obedience, to justice, and benevolence, at all times and in all places; we must therefore descend from the dignity of our nature, when we think of civil government at all. But the nature of mankind is one thing, and the reason of mankind another; and the first has the same relation to the last as the whole to a part. The passions and appetites are parts of human nature, as well as reason and the moral sense. In the institution of government, it must be remembered that, although reason ought always to govern individuals, it certainly never did since the Fall, and never will, till the Millennium; and human nature must be taken as it is, as it has been, and will be. If, as Cicero says, “man is a noble creature, born with affections to rule rather than obey, there being in every man a natural desire of principality,” it is yet certain that every man ought to obey as well as to rule, ἄϱχειν ϰαι ἄϱχεσθαι, and that every man cannot rule alone. Each man must be content with his share of empire; and if the nature and reason of mankind, the nobleness of his qualities and affections, and his natural desires, prove his right to a share in the government, they cannot surely prove more than the constitutions of the United States have allowed,—an annual election of the whole legislative and executive, the governor, senate, and house. If we admit them to prove more, they would prove that every man has every year a right to be governor, senator, and representative; which, being impossible, is absurd.
Even in our author’s “Right Constitution,” every man would have an equal right to be representative, chosen or not. The reason why one man is content to submit to the government of another, as assigned by our author, namely,—“not because he conceives himself to have less right than another to govern, but either because he finds himself less able, or else because he judgeth it will be more convenient for himself and the community, if he submits to another’s government,” is a proof of this; because, the moment it is allowed that some are more able than others, and that the community are judges who the most able are, you take away the right to rule, derived from the nobleness of each man’s individual nature, from his affections to rule rather than obey, or from his natural appetite or desire of principality, and give the right of conferring the power to rule to the community. As a share in the appointment of deputies is all that our author can with any color infer from this noble nature of man, his nature will be gratified and his dignity supported as well, if you divide his deputies into three orders,—of governor for the executive and an integral share in the legislative, of senators for another independent part of the legislative, and of representatives for a third;—and if you introduce a judicious balance between them, as if you huddle them into one assembly, where they will soon disgrace their own nature and that of their constituents, by ambition, avarice, jealousy, envy, faction, division, sedition, and rebellion. Nay, if it should be found that annual elections of governors and senators cannot be supported without introducing venality and convulsions, as is very possible, the people will consult the dignity of their nature better by appointing a standing executive and senate, than by insisting on elections, or at least by prolonging the duration of those high trusts, and making elections less frequent.
It is indeed a “most excellent maxim, that the original and fountain of all just power and government is in the people;” and if ever this maxim was fully demonstrated and exemplified among men, it was in the late American Revolution, where thirteen governments were taken down from the foundation, and new ones elected wholly by the people, as an architect would pull down an old building and erect a new one. There will be no dispute, then, with Cicero, when he says, “A mind well instructed by the light of nature, will pay obedience,” willingly “to none but such as command, direct, or govern for its good or benefit;” nor will our author’s inferences from these passages from that oracle of human wisdom be denied:
“1. That by the light of nature people are taught to be their own carvers and contrivers in the framing of that government under which they mean to live.
“2. That none are to preside in government, or sit at the helm, but such as shall be judged fit, and chosen by the people.
“3. That the people are the only proper judges of the convenience or inconvenience of a government when it is erected, and of the behavior of governors after they are chosen.”
But then it is insisted, that rational and regular means shall be used that the whole people may be their own carvers, that they may judge and choose who shall preside, and that they may determine on the convenience or inconvenience of government, and the behavior of governors. But then it is insisted, that the town of Berwick upon Tweed shall not carve, judge, choose, and determine for the whole kingdom of Great Britain, nor the county of Berkshire for the Massachusetts; much less that a lawless tyrannical rabble shall do all this for the state, or even for the county of Berkshire.
It may be, and is admitted, that a free government is most natural, and only suitable to the reason of mankind; but it by no means follows “that the other forms, as of a standing power in the hands of a particular person, as a king; or of a set number of great ones, as in a senate,” much less that a mixture of the three simple forms “are beside the dictates of nature, and mere artificial devices of great men, squared out only to serve the ends and interests of avarice, pride, and ambition of a few, to a vassalizing of the community.” If the original and fountain of all power and government is in the people, as undoubtedly it is, the people have as clear a right to erect a simple monarchy, aristocracy, or democracy, or an equal mixture, or any other mixture of all three, if they judge it for their liberty, happiness, and prosperity, as they have to erect a democracy; and infinitely greater and better men than Marchamont Nedham, and the wisest nations that ever lived, have preferred such mixtures, and even with such standing powers as ingredients in their compositions. But even those nations who choose to reserve in their own hands the periodical choice of the first magistrate, senate, and assembly, at certain stated periods, have as clear a right to appoint a first magistrate for life as for years, and for perpetuity in his descendants as for life.
When I say for perpetuity or for life, it is always meant to imply, that the same people have at all times a right to interpose, and to depose for maladministration—to appoint anew. No appointment of a king or senate, or any standing power, can be, in the nature of things, for a longer period than quam diu se bene gesserit, the whole nation being judge. An appointment for life or perpetuity can be no more than an appointment until further order; but further order can only be given by the nation. And, until the nation shall have given the order, an estate for life or in fee is held in the office. It must be a great occasion which can induce a nation to take such a subject into consideration, and make a change. Until a change is made, an hereditary limited monarch is the representative of the whole nation, for the management of the executive power, as much as a house of representatives is, as one branch of the legislature, and as guardian of the public purse; and a house of lords, too, or a standing senate, represents the nation for other purposes, namely, as a watch set upon both the representative and the executive power. The people are the fountain and original of the power of kings and lords, governors and senates, as well as the house of commons, or assembly of representatives. And if the people are sufficiently enlightened to see all the dangers that surround them, they will always be represented by a distinct personage to manage the whole executive power; a distinct senate, to be guardians of property against levellers for the purposes of plunder, to be a repository of the national tradition of public maxims, customs, and manners, and to be controllers, in turn, both of kings and their ministers on one side, and the representatives of the people on the other, when either discover a disposition to do wrong; and a distinct house of representatives, to be the guardians of the public purse, and to protect the people, in their turn, against both kings and nobles.
A science certainly comprehends all the principles in nature which belong to the subject. The principles in nature which relate to government cannot all be known, without a knowledge of the history of mankind. The English constitution is the only one which has considered and provided for all cases that are known to have generally, indeed to have always, happened in the progress of every nation; it is, therefore, the only scientifical government. To say, then, that standing powers have been erected, as “mere artificial devices of great men, to serve the ends of avarice, pride, and ambition of a few, to the vassalizing of the community,” is to declaim and abuse. Standing powers have been instituted to avoid greater evils,—corruption, sedition, war, and bloodshed, in elections; it is the people’s business, therefore, to find out some method of avoiding them, without standing powers. The Americans flatter themselves they have hit upon it; and no doubt they have for a time, perhaps a long one; but this remains to be proved by experience.
Our author proceeds: “A consent and free election of the people, which is the most natural way and form of governing, hath no real effect in the other forms; but is either supplanted by craft and custom, or swallowed up by a pernicious pretence of right, in one or many, to govern only by virtue of a hereditary succession.”
If the people are so unenlightened, and so corrupt, that they cannot manage one third part of a legislature, and their own purses by their representatives, how much worse would it be if they had the whole, and all the executive and judicial powers, to manage? But the assertion is not true. The consent and free election of the people have a great and decided effect in the English constitution, and would have had much more if it had been more equal. But if the present inequalities cannot be altered, nor a vote obtained to alter them in the house of commons, nor any general application of the people to have them altered, what would be the effect of the whole executive and judicial powers, were they in the hands of the house? The leading members would employ both these resources, not only to prevent the representation from being rendered more equal, but to make it still more unequal. Our author, alluding to the times of Charles and James, had some color for representing the power of the commons as of little effect; but he saw that an attempt, or suspicion of one, to grasp all power into the hands of the crown, had proved the destruction both of king and lords; this, surely, was a real and great effect. If nations will entangle their constitutions with spiritual lords, and elective lords, and with decayed boroughs, how can it be avoided? But would not the nation send bishops and elective lords into a single house as their deputies? and would not the utmost artifices of bigotry, superstition, and enthusiasm, be set at work among the people, as well as bribery and corruption at elections? If the people cannot be sufficiently enlightened, by education and the press, to despise and resent, as insults and impositions on human nature, all pretences of right drawn from uninterrupted successions, or divine missions, they will be duped by them in one assembly more than in three.
Our author has no right to call his project “the people’s form,” any more than Montesquieu, Blackstone, and De Lolme, have to call their admired system by that endearing appellation. Both are the people’s form, if the people adopt, choose, and prefer them; and neither is, if they do not. The people have liberty to make use of that reason and understanding God hath given them, in choosing governors, and providing for their safety in government, where they annually choose all; nay, they have it even where the king and senate are hereditary, so long as they have the choice of an essential branch. No law can be made, no money raised, not one step can be taken, without their concurrence; nay, there is no one act can be done by the ministers of the executive, but the people, by their representatives, can inquire into, and prosecute to judgment and to punishment if it is wrong. Our author will not consider the case of a mixed government; all governments must be simple with him; the people must exercise all power, or none. He had his reasons for this artifice at that time, which do not exist at this; his reasons, however, were not sufficient; and if the nation had been dealt with more candidly, openly, and boldly, by him, and Milton, and others, a better settlement might have been obtained. But it is plain that Milton, Nedham, and even Harrington, wrote in shackles; but had Nedham and Milton understood the science of government as well as Harrington, Charles had never been restored.
Our author, instead of considering the project of two assemblies, as Harrington did, flies from the idea, and will allow no mixtures.
“In the other forms of a standing power, all authority being entailed to certain persons and families, in a course of inheritance, men are always deprived of the use of their reason about choice of governors.” In mixed governments, even such as Sparta, Athens, Rome, Carthage, imperfect as those mixtures were, our author very well knew, that although some authority was entailed, all was not. In America none at all is entailed, or held for more than a term of years; their course, therefore, is not “destructive to the reason, common interest, and majesty, of that noble creature called man,” and has avoided “that most irrational and brutish principle, fit only to be hissed out of the world, which has transformed men into beasts, and mortified mankind with misery through all generations.”
This violent declamation, however, does not remove the danger of venality, faction, sedition, and civil war, in the choice of governors and senators, principles more brutish and irrational, more fit to be hissed out of the world, than hereditary kings and senates—evils, indeed, if you will, but the least of the two. Hereditary senators, it is certain, have not been the advocates, abettors, or erectors, in general, of absolute monarchies; no such government ever was, or will be, erected or supported but against their wills. It is the people, who, wearied and irritated with the solicitations, bribes, intrigues, and tyranny of the nobles, and their eternal squabbles with kings, have always set up monarchy, and fortified it with an army.
Our author proceeds to search for examples all over the world; and fixes first upon monarchy, absolute hereditary monarchy; but as Americans have no thoughts of introducing this form of government, it is none of their concern to vindicate the honor of such kings or kingdoms. Two quarters of the globe, Asia and Africa, are governed wholly by despotisms. There are in Europe near two hundred simple monarchs, and in the course of the two last centuries, allowing twenty years to each reign, two thousand absolute princes.* If these have been generally of such a character as our author describes, what are we to think of the pride and dignity of that rational, noble animal, man, who has submitted so quietly to their tyranny? Mr. Hume thinks more favorably of them; and he has the judgment of the species in his favor. The species, not having yet attended to the balance and tried its virtues, have almost universally determined monarchy preferable to aristocracies, or mixtures of monarchy and aristocracy; because they find the people have more liberty under the first than under the two last. They may possibly one day try the experiment of mixtures and balances; when they do, a greater improvement in society will take place than ever yet has happened.
Nations, too, have tried the experiment of elective monarchies, in Bohemia, Poland, Hungary, Sweden, &c., instances which our author adduces; but after long miseries, wars, and carnage, they have always determined chance to be better than choice, and hereditary princes preferable to elective ones. These elections, it is true, have been made by nobles, and by very inadequate methods of collecting the votes of the people; and when elected, there has been no good balance between them and the nobles, nor between the nobles and the people. The Americans have hoped that these circumstances might be arranged so as to justify one more experiment of elective executives, as well as senates and representatives. They have not adopted our author’s idea, that if any kingly form be tolerable, it must be that which is by election, chosen by the people’s representatives. They were well aware, that “present greatness would give their governors an opportunity to practise such sleights, that in a short time the government, that they received only for their own lives, will become entailed upon their families; whereby the people’s election will be made of no effect further than for fashion, to mock the poor people, and adorn the triumphs of an aspiring tyranny.” A hereditary first magistrate at once would, perhaps, be preferable to elections by legislative representatives; it is impossible to say, until it is fairly tried, whether it would not be better than annual elections by the people; or whether elections for more years, or for life, would not be better still.
Our author concludes by a very curious definition of the people.
“To take off all misconstructions, when we mention the people, observe all along, that we do not mean the confused promiscuous body of the people, nor any part of the people who have forfeited their rights by delinquency, neutrality, or apostacy, &c. in relation to the divided state of any nation; for they are not to be reckoned within the lists of the people.”
This wise precaution to exclude all royalists, prelatists, and malignants, according to the style of those times, was very sagacious; and all majorities will ever be equally penetrating in such a Right Constitution of a Commonwealth as our author contends for; the minority will seldom be accounted people.
The thirteenth reason is, “because in free states there are fewer opportunities of oppression and tyranny than in the other forms.”
This is very true, and most cordially admitted; but then the question occurs, What is a free state? In the aristocracy of Venice and Poland there are opportunities of oppression and tyranny; and although our author’s Right Constitution of a Commonwealth has never been tried, the unanimous determination of all nations having been against it, and almost the universal voice of individuals; yet the instantaneous effects of it upon human nature are so obvious, that it is easy to foresee it would afford more opportunities for tyranny and oppression, and would multiply such opportunities more than aristocracy, or even monarchy; because the leaders of the majority in the house would be supported and stimulated by their parties continually to tyrannize and oppress the minority. The reason given by our author in support of his position is directly against it: “It is ever the care of free commonwealths to preserve not an equality, (which were irrational and odious) but an equability of condition among all the members.” Equality, it seems, was not his favorite; this would not do in England, to be sure, any more than America. What his distinction is between equality and equability is not known; he defines it, “that no man be permitted to grow over-great in power.” But how much is over-great? this is reduced to no standard. “Nor any rank above the ordinary standard.” What is this? Excellencies, honorables, gentlemen, yeomen and laborers, are really as distinct ranks, and confer as different degrees of consideration, respect, and influence, among a people who have no other distinctions, as dukes, marquises, earls, and barons, in nations that have adopted these titles; and the higher are as eagerly coveted by the lower. But at last the secret comes out,—“to assume the state and title of nobility.” The house of lords had been voted useless, and it was our author’s system to keep it down; without considering that the thing would still exist, call it by what name you will.
Preserving the equability “secures the people’s liberty from the reach of their own officers, in camp or council.” But no people ever yet were provident enough to preserve either equality or equability. Their eternal fault is too much gratitude to those who study their humors, flatter their passions, and become their favorites. They never know any bounds in their praises, honors, or rewards, to those who possess their confidence, and have excited their enthusiasm. The reputation of their idol becomes as complete a tyranny as can be erected among men; it is a crime that is not to be borne, to speak a word, to betray a look, in opposition to him; nay, not to pronounce their most inflamed hyperboles in his praise, with as ardent a tone as theirs, is envy, disaffection, ambition. “Down with him! the Tarpeian rock!” as soon as Manlius dares to think a little higher of his own services, and a little lower of Camillus, than the fashion. Aristocracies are anxious and eager to prevent any one of the nobility from overtopping the rest; monarchies are jealous of any very great near the throne; but an unmixed, unbalanced people, are never satisfied till they make their idol a tyrant. An equal mixture of monarchy, aristocracy, and democracy, is the only free government which has been able to manage the greatest heroes and statesmen, the greatest individuals and families, or combination of them, so as to keep them always obedient to the laws. A Marlborough, a Pulteney, or a Pitt, are here harmless beings. But in Rome a Marlborough would have been worse than Marius, Sylla, or Cæsar; in Athens, worse than Themistocles, Pericles, or Alcibiades; because, with all their ambition, he had more avarice and less sense.
Not allowing any rank above the common standard, “secures the people from the pressures and ambition of such petty tyrants, as would usurp and claim a prerogative, power, and greatness above others, by birth and inheritance.”
These expressions have all the keenness and bitterness of party rancor; and although they were, at that time, no doubt, music to his friends and death to his enemies, they are so difficult to avoid in such times, that on the one hand, candid philosophy will extenuate their ferocity, but on the other, political wisdom will forever be on its guard against their seductions.
“These,” that is a nobility, “are a sort of men not to be endured in any well ordered commonwealth.”
If these words are true, no well ordered commonwealth ever existed; for we read of none without a nobility, no, not one, that I can recollect, without a hereditary nobility;—Sparta, Athens, Rome, Venice, Bern, Holland, even Geneva and San Marino, &c., where shall we look for one without? It would be an improvement in the affairs of society, probably, if the hereditary legal descent could be avoided; and this experiment the Americans have tried. But in this case a nobility must and will exist, though without the name, as really as in countries where it is hereditary; for the people, by their elections, will continue the government generally in the same families from generation to generation. Descent from certain parents, and inheritance of certain houses, lands, and other visible objects, will eternally have such an influence over the affections and imaginations of the people, as no arts or institutions of policy will control. Time will come, if it is now or ever was otherwise, that these circumstances will have more influence over great numbers of minds than any consideration of virtues or talents; and whatever influences numbers is of great moment in popular governments, and in all elections.
“They always bear a natural and implacable hate towards the people.”
This is too strong and universal. The Romans observed certain families, as the Valerii, &c., who were constant friends and lovers of the people, as well as others, the Claudii, &c., who as constantly hated them. It has been before admitted, that such a body naturally encroaches both ways, on the people on one side, and on the king on the other. The people hate and envy them as much, and endeavor equally to encroach. But the same sentiments, passions, and enterprises, take place between the democratical body and the aristocratical, where the last is not hereditary, but annually elective.
Our author’s next argument is still more grossly erroneous.
“If any great man arrive to so much power and confidence as to think of usurping, these are the first that will set him on, mingle interests with him, and become the prime instruments in heaving them up into the seat of tyranny.”
It is true, that some few individuals of a nobility may join such a man in his conspiracy, in hopes of enjoying high stations and great emoluments under him; but such an usurpation was never set on foot by a body of nobility. It has ever been the people who have set up single despots in opposition to the body of the nobility; and it is the people who have furnished the men and money to support the standing army by which he is defended. If any one example of the contrary is to be found, it has escaped a diligent inquiry.
It is very unnecessary to produce “examples, to show that states have lost their liberties by permitting one or a few to be over great.” Every monarchy, oligarchy, and aristocracy, is an instance and a proof of it. The very notion of a free people’s losing their liberties, implies the setting up one or a few with too much power. This will be readily admitted; but it is contended that the people in a simple democracy, collectively or by representation, are necessarily the most addicted to setting up individuals with too much power. To say that it is their duty not to do it; that their happiness forbids it; that their interest is against it; that their liberty will be ruined by it, is to exhort and to preach, to be sure. The clergy exhort and preach in favor of religion and morality, and against profaneness and vice; but there are numbers,—multitudes, we find,—who will not regard them; and laws, checks, power, are the only security against these. The thirty tyrants of Athens, Pisistratus, Hiero of Syracuse, Dionysius, and Agathocles of Sicily, are very oddly introduced here, when every despotism, empire, monarchy, oligarchy, and aristocracy that ever had a being, is as much to the purpose. Mælius and Manlius are cited very improperly. The Decemviri, Sylla, Cæsar, are no more to the purpose than all tyrannies or absolute governments;—all of which are proofs of the people’s indiscretion and constant disposition to set up idols, as much as they are of the danger of permitting individuals to be too powerful.
Florence and Cosmus, Milan and Switzerland, and Holland and the family of Orange, are all proofs against our author. There is not a stronger instance to be found than the house of Orange, which has been supported by the people, I mean the plebeians, against the aristocracy, and who in their course have sacrificed to their deified protectors, Barnevelt, Grotius, and De Witts, patriots that one need not scruple to compare to Aristides, Phocion, and Camillus; and, horrid as the sacrifice has been, one need not scruple to say, that all the liberty there has been in Holland for the common people, has been preserved by this alliance between the house of Orange and them, against the encroaching disposition of the aristocracy, as much as the liberties of Sparta were preserved by the oath of the kings and ephori. It would, nevertheless, be an infinite improvement, if the power of the prince and common people were defined, limited, and made constitutional and legal.
The author’s principle is excellent and eternal, “to keep any man, though he have deserved never so well by success or service, from being too great or popular; it is” indeed “a notable means (and so esteemed by all free states) to keep and preserve a commonwealth from the rapes of usurpation.” But the question between us still is, how it is to be done? In a simple aristocracy it is impossible; with all their pride, jealousy, and envy, some one, and some few of the nobles, obtain more influence than the rest, and would soon obtain all power, if ballots and rotations, and innumerable intricate contrivances were not used to prevent it. In a simple democracy no ballots or rotations can prevent it; one single tyrant will rule the whole commonwealth at his pleasure, respecting forms and appearances a little at first, but presently throwing off all restraint. How can you prevent a man in such a government from being too popular? There can be nothing to prevent him from making himself as popular as his abilities, fortune, or birth, will enable him to be; nothing to prevent him from employing the whole executive and judicial power, nothing to prevent him from applying the public purse, to the augmentation of his own popularity and power. In short, nothing but the mixture we contend for can prevent it. The king and lords are interested to prevent any commoner from being too popular and powerful; the king and commons are interested to keep any lord from being too popular and powerful; and the lords and commons are interested to prevent the king from being too popular and powerful, and they always have the means. There is not a stronger argument against our author’s form, nor in favor of the triple composition.
The fourteenth and last reason is, “because in this form all powers are accountable for misdemeanors in government, in regard of the nimble returns and periods of the people’s election; by which means he that erewhile was a governor, being reduced to the condition of a subject, lies open to the force of the laws, and may with ease be brought to punishment for his offence.”
In a free government, whose legislature consists of three independent branches, one of which has the whole executive, this is true. Every member of the two houses is as amenable to the laws as his poorest fellow-citizen. The king can do nothing but by ministers, who are accountable for every act they do or advise; and this responsibility is efficacious to protect the laws from being trampled on by any person or persons, however exalted in office, reputation, or popularity. But in our author’s “Right Constitution,” no member can be responsible to any but his constituents; and by means of the influence of the executive power and the offices it bestows, by means of perversions of the judicial power, and even of the public treasure, which his party will assist him in applying to his purpose, he will be able to procure a pardon among his constituents in a single city or borough, and a reëlection; nay, he will be able to procure applause and rewards for that very criminal conduct which deserved punishment. There is no form of government, not even an absolute monarchy, where a minister will find it so easy to elude inquiry; recollect the instance in Poland.
“He that was once a governor, will generally continue always a governor, because he will apply all the executive and judicial authority, and even the public money, as well as his personal and family influence, to increase that party in the legislature;” that is, the single assembly upon whose support he depends.
By a governor here is no doubt intended a person appointed by the assembly to manage the executive power. Such a governor will generally be continued; but if he is not, he will be succeeded by another of the same party, who will screen and support him, while he again takes his station in the house, and supports or rules his successor. But if opposition prevails in the house and nation, and the minority becomes the majority, they will be so weak as not to dare to look back and punish; and if they do, this will again render them unpopular, and restore the reins to their antagonist. In this way, after a few vibrations of the pendulum, they must have recourse to arms to decide the contest. These consequences are so obvious and indisputable, that it is amazing to-read the triumphant assertions which follow: “Such a course as this cuts the very throat of tyranny, and doth not only root it up when at full growth, but crusheth the cockatrice in the egg, destroys in the seed, in the principle, and in the very possibilities of its being, forever after. The safety of the people is,” indeed, “the sovereign and supreme law!” and if “laws are dispensed by uncontrollable, unaccountable persons in power,” they will “never be interpreted but in their own sense, nor executed but after their own wills and pleasure.”
But it is unaccountable that our author did not see that it is precisely in his Right Constitution of a Commonwealth that we are to expect such uncontrollable and unaccountable persons, at least as certainly as in a simple monarchy or aristocracy. The only “establishment” then, in which we may depend upon the responsibility of men in power, and upon their being actually called to account and punished when they deserve it, is the tripartite balance, the political trinity in unity, trinity of legislative, and unity of executive power, which in politics is no mystery. This alone is “the impregnable bulwark of the people’s safety, because without it no certain benefit can be obtained by the ordinary laws.” This alone is the “bank against inundations of arbitrary power and tyranny.”
Our author asserts, very truly, “that all standing powers” (meaning unlimited, unbalanced, standing powers, as hereditary simple monarchies and aristocracies,) “have, and ever do assume unto themselves an arbitrary exercise of their own dictates at pleasure, and make it their only interest to settle themselves in an unaccountable state of dominion; so that, though they commit all the injustice in the world, their custom hath been still to persuade men, partly by strong pretence of argument, and partly by force, that they may do what they list; and that they are not bound to give an account of their actions to any but to God himself.” This is perfectly true, and very important. But our author did not consider, that the leading men in a single popular assembly will make it their interest to settle themselves in a state of dominion; that they will persuade men, by strong pretence of argument, by force, by the temptations of offices, civil, military, fiscal, and ecclesiastical, and by the allurements and terrors of judgments in the executive courts of justice, to connive at them, while they do what they list, and to believe them God’s vicegerents. Our author forgets, that he who makes bishops and judges, may have what gospel and law he pleases; and he who makes admirals and generals, may command their fleets and armies. He forgets that one overgrown sagamore in the house, with his circle of subordinate chieftains, each with his clan at his heels, will make bishops, judges, admirals, generals, governors of provinces, &c. in as great number, and with as much facility, as an absolute monarch. This inadvertence in our author is the more remarkable for what follows.
“This doctrine of tyranny hath taken the deeper root in men’s minds, because the greatest part” (that is, the greatest part of mankind) “was ever inclined to adore the golden idol of tyranny in every form; by which means, the rabble of mankind being prejudicated in this particular, and having placed their corrupt humor or interest in base fawning and the favor of the present great ones, therefore, if any resolute spirit happen to broach and maintain true principles of freedom, or do at any time arise to so much courage as to perform a noble act of justice, in calling tyrants to an account, presently he draws all the enmity and fury of the world about him.”
It is really astonishing that any man could write these words, and not see that they totally overthrow the whole system of government that he calls the Right Constitution of a Commonwealth. “The greatest part of men was ever inclined to adore the golden idol;” yet his constitution places the golden idol in the midst of the people, without any check or restraint, that they may fall down and worship, as soon as they will. He places all power in the hands of that very “rabble of mankind,” who have “prejudicated in favor of tyranny;” he places “great ones” in the midst of these, who “have placed their corrupt humor and interest in base fawning, and the favor of those present great ones.” Human nature is not honored by this account of it, nor has it justice done it. Without supposing the majority so bad, if we suppose one third or one quarter of this character, and another third or quarter indifferent, neutral, lukewarm, or even enough in love with private life and their own industry to stay at home at elections, this is enough to demonstrate the tyranny and ruin to which such a simple democracy would rush.
But our author’s device for extricating himself out of this difficulty is more curious still. Although the greatest part of men always incline to worship the golden calf Tyranny, yet “in commonwealths it is, and ought to be, otherwise.” The Greeks and Romans “were wont to heap all the honors they could invent, by public rewards, consecration of statues, and crowns of laurel, upon such worthy patriots” as had the courage to call tyrants to account. Here he can only mean the stories of Harmodius and Aristogiton, Brutus and Cassius; so that all the security which freedom is to have is, that as soon as a great one arises in his assembly, and the majority begin to fawn, some Harmodius or Cassius will arise to assassinate him. But we know that the murder of Hipparchus only inflamed Hippias, and that of Cæsar entailed the empire in his family, and the murder of Alexander, by Lorenzo, completed the despotism of the Medici. The ill success of liberty, in those instances, ought to be a warning against such attempts in future, rather than precedents on which to build all the hopes of the cause of liberty.
The right of a nation to kill a tyrant, in cases of necessity, can no more be doubted, than that to hang a robber, or kill a flea. But killing one tyrant only makes way for a worse, unless the people have sense, spirit, and honesty enough to establish and support a constitution guarded at all points against tyranny; against the tyranny of the one, the few, and the many. Let it be the study, therefore, of lawgivers and philosophers, to enlighten the people’s understandings and improve their morals, by good and general education; to enable them to comprehend the scheme of government, and to know upon what points their liberties depend; to dissipate those vulgar prejudices and popular superstitions that oppose themselves to good government; and to teach them that obedience to the laws is as indispensable in them as in lords and kings.
Our author contends, that the honors decreed to tyrannicides, by the Greeks and Romans, were bestowed “out of a noble sense of commonweal interest; knowing that the life of liberty consists in a strict hand and zeal against tyrants and tyranny.” But he should have recollected, that in Rome these honors were decreed to senators, for supporting the standing authority of a hereditary senate against single men who aspired to popular favor, but never in any instance in support of such a government as he contends for. In Greece, too, there is no instance of any honors decreed for destroying tyrants in defence of any such government. The government of Athens was as different as possible from that of a single assembly of successive representatives of the people. It is agreed that “persons in power cannot be kept from all occasions of tyranny better than by leaving them liable to account;” but it is denied that persons in power can ever be brought to account, unless by assassination, (which is no account at all,) in a government by a single sovereign assembly. And it is asserted, that this “happiness was never seen yet under the sun, by any law or custom established, save only in those states where all men are brought to taste of subjection as well as rule,” ἄϱχειν ϰαι ἄϱχεσθαι, by a government of three branches, reciprocally dependent on each other.
“In Switzerland the people are free indeed, because all officers and governors in the cantons are questionable by the people in their successive assemblies.”
What does he mean? in the aristocratical assemblies? The people have no assemblies, and officers are called to account only in standing councils. In the democratical cantons, there is nothing to account for but milk and cheese. But why should England be forgotten, where all officers are questionable, and often have been questioned, by the people in their successive assemblies; and where the judicature in parliament is digested with infinitely more prudence than in any canton in Switzerland, or any other republic in the world?
It is agreed that “freedom is to be preserved no other way in a commonwealth, but by keeping officers and governors in an accountable state;” but it is insisted, that all “standing powers” in the English constitution, as the lords and ministers, who conduct the prerogative of the crown, may at any time be called to account without the least “difficulty, or involving the nation in blood and misery.” But it is denied that powerful men, in our author’s “Right Constitution,” can be called to account, without the utmost difficulty and danger of involving the nation in blood and misery; and, therefore, it is concluded, that the English constitution is infinitely preferable to any succession of the single supreme assemblies of the representatives of the people.
Our author having established his building upon fourteen solid pillars, as he seems to think, proceeds to answer objections.
The first objection is, “that such a government would set on levelling and confusion.” By levelling, he understands “levelling all men in point of estates;” “making all things common to all;” “destroying propriety;” “introducing a community of enjoyments among men.” This he allows to be an odious thing, “a scandal fastened by the cunning of the common enemy upon this kind of government, which they hate above all others.”
We are not then put to the trouble of examining the whimsies of Plato or Xenophon, about a community of goods, wives, and children; nor those of Sir Thomas More, about a community of property only. He asserts that his project is, “so far from introducing a community, that it is the only preservative of propriety in every particular.” It is agreed that it would not introduce levelling, nor a community of goods, unless the poor should be more numerous than the rich, and rise for a division. But even this would produce but a temporary level; the new acquisitions would soon be spent, and the inequality become as great as ever; and there must be a perpetual succession of divisions and squanderings, until property became too precarious to be sought, and universal idleness and famine would end it. But the pennniless, though more numerous, would probably never unite; and the principals of the majority would make use of the most artful among them, in stripping, by degrees, the minority, and accumulating for themselves. So that, instead of levelling and community of goods, the inequalities both of power and property would be constantly increasing, until they became as great as in Poland, between the gentlemen and peasants. But it is denied that this would be a preservative of property; on the contrary, property must become insecure. The ruling party, disposing of all offices, and annexing what salaries and fees they will; laying on all taxes, and distributing them according to their ideas of justice and equality; appropriating the public money to what uses they will; and deciding all causes in the courts of justice by their own judgments; in all these ways, themselves and their partisans will be found continually growing in wealth, and their antagonists, the minor party, growing poorer. These last can have no security of property at all.
This will not be prevented nor alleviated by those handsome words of our author: “It is not in reason to be imagined, that so choice a body as the representatives of a nation should agree to destroy one another in their several rights and interests.” A majority would be found to agree to destroy the rights and interests of the minority; and a man’s property is equally insecure, whether it is plundered by an arbitrary, lawless minority, or by a domineering decemvirate, triumvirate, or single despot.
“All determinations being carried by common consent, every man’s particular interest must needs be fairly provided for against the arbitrary disposition of others.”
If common consent means unanimous consent, there might be some plausibility in this. But, as unanimity is impossible, and common consent means the vote of the majority, it is self-evident that the few are at the mercy of the many; and the government of the latter being unbalanced by any equal force, interest, passion, or power, is as real a tyranny as the sovereignty of a hereditary senate, or thirty tyrants, or a single despot. Our author himself confesses this in so many words, when he says, that whatever “placeth every man’s right under the will of another is no less than tyranny;” “seating itself in an unlimited, uncontrollable prerogative over others, without their consent,” and “is the very bane of property.” Are not the property, liberty, and life of every man in the minority under the will of the majority? and may not the majority seat themselves in an unlimited, uncontrollable prerogative over the minority, without their consent?
Our author then runs all over the world in search of examples, and affirms that “a free state, or successive government of the people,” &c., expressions which he always explains to mean his Right Constitution of a Commonwealth, “or supreme representative assembly,” the same with M. Turgot’s all authority collected into one centre, the nation, “is the only preservative of property, as appears by instances all the world over.” This is a species of sophistry, grossly calculated to deceive the most ignorant of the people, that is unworthy of so great and good a cause as that of liberty and republican government. This assertion is so wide from the truth, that there was not in the world, nor had been, one example of such a government, excepting the Long Parliament; for the Italian republics, which resembled it the most, were still better constituted. We know what became of the Long Parliament; Oliver soon found they were self-seekers, and turned them out of the house.
The reader is next led on, through a series of examples, in a very curious strain of popular rant, to show that monarchies, and all standing powers, have been levellers.
“Under monarchs, subjects had nothing that they could call their own; neither lives, nor fortunes, nor wives, nor any thing else that the monarch pleased to command; because the poor people knew no remedy against the levelling will of an unbounded sovereignty.” “In France,” it is asserted, “the people have nothing of propriety, but all depends upon the royal pleasure, as it did of late here in England.”
The truth now almost breaks out, and he almost confesses that he sees it.
“It is very observable, that in kingdoms where the people have enjoyed any thing of liberty and propriety, they have been such kingdoms only, where the frame of government hath been so well tempered, as that the best share of it hath been retained in the people’s hands.”
If he had said an equal share, instead of the best share, this sentence would have been perfect; but he spoils it in the next breath, by adding, “and by how much the greater influence the people have had therein, so much the more sure and certain they have been in the enjoyment of their propriety.”
This is by no means true; on the contrary, wherever the people have had any share in the executive, or more than one third part of the legislative, they have always abused it, and rendered property insecure.
The Arragonians are quoted, as “firm in their liberties and properties, so long as they held their hold over their kings in their supreme assemblies. And no sooner had Philip II. deprived them of their share in the government, but themselves and their properties became a prey to the will and pleasure of their kings.”
It is astonishing that Arragon should be quoted as an example of a government of the people in their supreme successive assemblies. If it is to be called a republic, it was such another as Poland; it was what is sometimes called a mixed monarchy, and sometimes a limited monarchy; but as no judgment of a government can be formed by the name that is given it, we may safely pronounce it an aristocracy. Much pains were taken to balance it, but so awkwardly and unskilfully, that its whole history is a scene of turbulence, anarchy, and civil war. The king was, among the twelve rich men, little more than primus inter pares, like the king among his twelve archons in Phæacia. Although the royal dignity was hereditary, and Arragon was never an elective kingdom, yet the confirmation of the states to the title of the next heir was held necessary; and it was highly resented if he assumed the royal title, or did any public act, before he had taken an oath to preserve the privileges of the states. When any dispute arose concerning the succession, the states took upon them to decide it.
One awkward attempt to balance the influence of the king, was the institution of a chief justice,* to whom appeals might be made from the king. This judicial authority was empowered to control the king if he acted illegally; and this high officer was accountable only to the states for whatever he did in the execution of his office. This was a very powerful check.
Another attempt to form a balance against the royal authority has been celebrated as one of the most sublime and sentimental institutions of liberty. If it had been an institution of the body of the people, it would have been the most manly and noble assertion of the rights and natural and moral equality of mankind to be found in history, and would have merited immortal praise; but, in fact and effect, it was no more than a brilliant expression of that aristocratical pride which we have seen to be so common in all the nations of the earth. At the inauguration of the monarch, the chief justice was seated in his robes, on an elevated tribunal, with his head covered. The king appeared before him bareheaded, fell down upon his knees, and swore to govern according to law, and to maintain the privileges of the states. Proclamation was then made, in the name of the assembly of the states: “We, who are as good as you are, have accepted you for king and lord, upon condition that you observe our laws and protect our liberties.”*
But who were these noble assertors of rights? Not the people. And whose liberties were asserted? Not those of the people, but of a few gentlemen. The men of property, who in general had acquired their estates by their swords, were called rich men,† or barons; for whatever titles were afterwards introduced by the grants of kings, the right to seats and votes in the states arose not from the rank or dignities of dukes, marquises, or counts, but was attached to the quality of landholders, rich men, or barons. There were not more than twelve old families who were the original barons, or ricos hombres, of Arragon. In a course of time, they were distinguished into the greater and lesser nobility; the former were such as were raised by the kings to superior titles; the latter were those who retained only their ancient character of landholders. The clergy were represented in the states by the prelates, and the great cities by deputies; but the farmers, the mechanics, the merchants, in one word the common people, were, according to the doctrine of Aristotle, not admitted to the rank or rights of citizens. They had no seat in the states, nor any vote in the choice of those who had. The third estate, as it was called, or the representatives of cities, was very unskilfully composed. In some cities, the mayor of course represented the city; in others, the king appointed the representative; in others, it was either by some grant of the king, or some senseless custom of the city, a hereditary right in a single family; and the best appointments of all were made by the aristocratical regencies of the cities. In such an assembly of the states, laws were made for the government of the nation; but it was a single assembly, and neither estate had a negative. If two estates agreed, it was a law; and, indeed, the most important questions, even donations of money, were decided by a majority, and the chief justice was the only balance against the oppression of any subject, or even of the king, and the only guardian of the laws, to see them carried into execution. The rich men and the clergy, as well as the king, were such standing powers as always excite our author’s invectives; and the third estate was as distant as possible from being an adequate and equitable representative of the people, annually elected. The clergy became generally humble servants of the king, and the deputies of cities were often corrupted; so that the contest was chiefly between the crown and the nobles. In progress of time, by gaining over more and more the prelates and deputies of the cities to the interest of the crown, it became an overmatch for the nobility, and made itself absolute. This example, therefore, is as ill chosen as all the others, and instead of supporting our author’s argument, is decisive against it.
France is the next example, where, “as long as the people’s interest bore sway in their supreme assemblies, they could call their lives and fortunes their own, and no longer. For all that have succeeded since Louis XI. followed his levelling pattern so far, that in a short time they destroyed the people’s property, and became the greatest levellers in Christendom.”
It would take up too much time to give in this place a sketch of the history of France, to show in detail how inapplicable this example is to the purpose of our author. Those who have leisure and curiosity, may consult Boulainvilliers, the Abbé de Mably, and Monsieur Moreau; and many most beautiful reflections may be found in Lord Bolingbroke’s Dissertation on Parties.* It is sufficient here to say, that the states-general were composed of nobles, clergy, and a third estate, all meeting in one assembly; that the third estate consisted of representatives of cities not chosen by the people, but appointed at least by the aristocratical regencies; that in some places the mayor, in others some particular family, held it as a hereditary right. But nothing can be conceived more unlike our author’s idea of the people’s successive sovereign assemblies than these states-general. The constitution in those times was an unskilful attempt to reconcile an ill-compounded aristocracy with simple monarchy; but the states-general conducted themselves like all other single assemblies, till they were laid aside.
England comes next, where, “as long as the people’s interest was preserved by frequent and successive parliaments, so long we were in some measure secure of our properties; but as kings began to worm the people out of their share in government, by discontinuing of parliaments, so they carried on their levelling design to the destroying of our properties; and the oracles of law and gospel at last spoke it out with a good levelling grace, ‘that all was the king’s, and that we had nothing we might call our own.’ ”
There is at least wit and burlesque humor in thus ascribing levelism to monarchy; and while it is considered only as rodomontade, there is no objection to it. Nor is there any thing to say against confounding levelism with insecurity of property; for though the ideas are distinct, the things must always exist together.
From monarchy he proceeds to other standing powers, which have all produced arrant levellers.
“In Athens, as long as the people kept free indeed, in an enjoyment of their successive assemblies, so long they were secure in their properties.”
But Athens never was free, according to our author’s plan of successive assemblies. Athens never had assemblies of representatives. The collective assemblies of the people were made sovereigns, in all cases whatsoever, by Solon. But they never practised it till Aristides began and Pericles completed the plan; and as soon as it existed, it began to render property, liberty, and life insecure. Yet the ordinary administration was never conducted in these assemblies; the senate and the Areopagus and the ten other courts conducted them. Yet with all these checks, ask Demosthenes and Phocion, and Miltiades and Aristides, how the sovereign people behaved.
“After kings were laid aside, they erected another form of standing power in a single person, called a governor (archon), for life, who was accountable for misdemeanors. But yet a trial being made of nine of them, the people saw so little security by them, that they pitched upon another standing form of decimal government; and being oppressed by them too, they were cashiered. The like miseries they tasted under the standing power of thirty, which were a sort of levellers more rank than all the rest; who put to death, banished, pill’d, and poll’d whom they pleased, without cause or exception; so that the poor people, having been tormented under all the forms of standing power, were in the end forced (as their last remedy) to take sanctuary, under the form of a free state, in their successive assemblies.”
It is droll enough thus to turn the strain of popular banter upon the royalists, by charging kings, perpetual archons, annual archons, the ten archons, the thirty tyrants, &c., as levellers. It was the levelling spirit of the nobles, to be sure, that abolished kings and single archons and set up ten. But the poor people had no hand in it, but as passive instruments. As to the people’s taking sanctuary under the form of a free state, in their successive assemblies, they never did it. They never set up any such government. They did assume the sovereignty, it is true; but Pericles led them to it, only that he might govern them, and he, and successive, unprincipled wretches after him, did govern till the commonwealth was ruined. But there was as much levelling at least, indeed much more, under Themistocles, Pericles, and Alcibiades, as under kings or archons.
Our author’s conscience was always uppermost. He always betrays something which shows that he knew very well what the truth was. He judges very rightly here.
“And though it may be objected,” says he, “that afterwards they fell into many divisions and miseries, even in that form, yet whoever observes the story shall find, it was not the fault of the government, but of themselves, in swerving from the rules of a free state, by permitting the continuance of power in particular hands; who having an opportunity thereby to create parties of their own among the people, did for their own ends inveigle, engage, and entangle them in popular tumults and divisions. This was the true reason of their miscarriages; and, if ever any government of the people did miscarry, it was upon that account.”
It is plain, from this passage, that our author was well read, and judged very well upon these subjects. He knew how it was; but he has not candidly told us what he knew. That they fell into divisions and miseries he owns; but denies that it was the fault of the government—it was the fault of themselves. Is it not the fault of themselves under all governments, despotisms, monarchies, aristocracies, oligarchies, as well as democracies? Was it not the fault of themselves under their kings, their perpetual archons, their archons for life, their ten archons, as well as under the Pisistratidæ, that they were tormented with divisions and miseries? The law of nature would be sufficient for the government of men, if they would consult their reason, and obey their consciences. It is not the fault of the law of nature, but of themselves, that it is not obeyed; it is not the fault of the law of nature that men are obliged to have recourse to civil government at all, but of themselves; it is not the fault of the ten commandments, but of themselves, that Jews or Christians are ever known to steal, murder, covet, or blaspheme. But the legislator who should say the law of nature is enough, if you do not obey it, it will be your own fault, therefore no other government is necessary, would be thought to trifle.
We certainly know, from the known constitution of the human mind and heart and from uniform experience, that the law of nature, the decalogue, and all the civil laws, will be violated, if men’s passions are not restrained; and, therefore, to presume that an unmixed democratical government will preserve the laws, is as mad as to presume that a king or senate will do it. If a king or senate do not observe the laws, we may say it is not the fault of the government, but of themselves. What then? We know that themselves will commit the fault, and so will a simple democracy, and, therefore, it is in all these cases the fault of the government as well as of themselves. The government should be so constituted, that themselves cannot commit the fault. Swerving from rules is no more the fault of standing kings and senates, than it is of standing or successive popular assemblies. Of the three, the last have the strongest disposition to swerve, and always do swerve the soonest when unbalanced. But the fault of permitting the continuance of power in particular hands, is incurable in the people, when they have the power. The people think you a fool, when you advise them to reject the man you acknowledge to be the ablest, wisest, and best, and whom you and they know they love best, and appoint another, who is but second in their confidence. They ever did, and ever will continue him, nay, and augment his power; for their love of him, like all their other passions, never stands still; it constantly grows, until it exceeds all bounds. These continual reelections, this continuance of power in particular men, gives them “an opportunity to create parties of their own among the people, and for their own ends to inveigle, engage, and entangle them in popular tumults and divisions.”
Let me now ask Marchamont Nedham, or any advocate for his system: Do you believe that the people, unbalanced, ever will avoid to confer a continuance of power on their favorites? Do you believe they ever did in any age or country? The answer must be in the negative. Do you believe it possible, from the constitution of human nature, that they ever will, any more than that they will universally obey the law of nature and the ten commandments? The answer must be in the negative. Why then is the world any longer amused with a speculative phantom, that all enlightened men know never did, and never can exist? My hand is impatient of the pen, and longs to throw it down, while I am laboring through a series of popular sophisms, which disgraces a work that abounds with sense and learning, with excellent principles, maxims, and rules of government, miserably perverted to answer a present purpose, to run down one party, and support another.1 But as this book is known in America, and ought to be perused by Englishmen, in whatever part of the globe, as a valuable monument of the early period in which the true principles of liberty began to be adopted and avowed in the nation, I shall pursue the subject to the end.
Lacedæmon is next introduced as an instance of levelism.
“After they had tried the government of one king, then of two, afterwards came in the Ephori, as supervisors of their kings. After they had tried themselves through all the forms of a standing power, and found them all to be levellers of the people’s interest and property, then necessity taught them to seek shelter in a free state, under which they lived happily, till, by the error of the Athenians, they were drawn into parties by powerful persons, and so made the instruments of division among themselves, for the bringing of new levellers into play, such as were Machanidas and Nabis.”
The Ephori were supervisors of the senate, rather than of kings. They swore, both for themselves and the people, to support the kings forever against the enterprises of the senate. But when did the Lacedæmonians take shelter in a free state? Never, according to our author’s definition of a free state, until the Ephori murdered the king, instead of supporting him, according to their oath, and until the people set up Machanidas and Nabis. And it is always thus. The first thing a people broke loose from all restraints of their power do, is to look out for a chief, whom they instantly make a despot in substance, and very soon in form. The government of Sparta was as different from a free state, during the six or seven centuries that Lycurgus’s institution lasted, as the English constitution is, and much more. The people had not half the weight in it. Standing powers, both of king and senate, stood like Mount Atlas while the republic existed, and when the free state succeeded, it was the tyranny of Machanidas and Nabis, not better than that of Nero. It is droll enough to call the Spartans levellers, to be sure; they who supported a haughty aristocracy at home, and in every other city of Greece where they could negotiate. When the institution of Lycurgus was worn out, and the people began to gain in power, they used it as the Athenians and all others have done when unbalanced; they set up idols, continued and increased their power, were drawn into parties and divisions, and made themselves instruments of division, until despotism became inevitable.
Rome, in her turn, comes round.
“After the standing form of kings was extinct, and a new one established, the people found as little safety and property as ever.”
Here the fact is truly stated, and the expressions are very just, “for the standing senate and the decemviri proved as great levellers as kings.” It is burlesque again to call the senate and decemviri levellers. They were the very antithesis. But if by levellers he means arbitrary men, it is very true.
“So that they were forced to settle the government of the people by a due and orderly succession of their supreme assemblies.”
I wonder when. To quote Athens, Sparta, and Rome, as examples of a government of one sovereign representative assembly, is dishonest; nothing can be further from the purpose. The standing power of the senate existed from Romulus to Cæsar, as our author very well knew, and the people never obtained even an effectual check. So far from settling the government of the people by a due and orderly succession of their supreme assemblies, if “they ever recovered their property, in having somewhat they might call their own,” they owed the blessing to the senate’s wisdom and equity; for the people were so far from being sovereign in their successive assemblies, that they had not an equal share of power with the senate, allowing for all the assistance they derived from the tribunes. But as soon as they began to arrogate a superior power, or even an equal share, they began to run into “the error of Lacedæmonians, Athenians,” and all other people that ever lived; “swerving from the rules of a free state;” or, in other words, trampling on the laws, “lengthening of power in particular hands, they were drawn and divided into parties, to serve the lusts of such powerful men as by craft became their leaders; so that by this means, through their own default, they were deprived of their liberty long before the days of imperial tyranny. Thus Cinna, Sylla, Marius, and the rest of that succeeding gang, down to Cæsar, used the people’s favor to obtain a continuation of power in their own hands; and then, having saddled the people with a new standing form of their own, they immediately rooted up the people’s liberty and property by arbitrary sentences of death, proscriptions, fines, and confiscations; which strain of levelling, (more intolerable than the former) was maintained by the same arts of devilish policy down to Cæsar, who, striking in a favorite of the people, and, making use of their affections to lengthen power in his own hands, at length, by this error of the people, gained opportunity to introduce a new levelling form of standing power in himself, to an utter and irrecoverable ruin of the Roman liberty and property.”
Thus it is that our author accumulates examples from history, which are demonstrations against his own system, and in favor of the English and American constitutions. A good Englishman, or a good American, with the most diligent search, could not find facts more precisely in vindication of those balances to the power of the people, a senate, and an executive first magistrate. Nothing else can ever prevent the people from running into the same error, and departing from the rules of a free state, and even the fundamental laws.
Florence is again introduced to the same purpose, and with the same success; so is Pisa; so is Mantua, and its sons, Passerino and Gonzaga. We have already seen enough of these Italian republics to convince us that every page in their history is against our author’s system. His conclusion is exactly the reverse of what it should be. It should be, that a commonwealth by the people in their successive assemblies, hath never, in any age, been a preservation of liberty or property, or any remedy against usurpations of standing powers, but had, in all ages, been, in his own sense, levellers of all things to the will of a standing despot.
The second objection is, “that such a form in the people’s hands would cause confusion in government.”
This objection seems to have been started by his own party, who were afraid of the influence of royalists; and the answer to it distinguishes two states of a commonwealth; one, while it is new after a revolution, when great numbers are disaffected. These he treats with great severity, and allows the danger of confusion from their intrigues; he therefore excludes them from voting, or being chosen, and justifies it by Greek and Roman examples.
The other is a quiet state, when all the people may, he thinks, be admitted to choose and be chosen without confusion. But as this whole objection and answer to it, relate to the time and circumstances in which he wrote, it is unnecessary to enlarge upon it; it is nevertheless amusing, or provoking, to observe with what facility he asserts the right of the majority to make slaves of the minority.
“Such as have commenced war, to serve the lusts of tyrants against the people’s interest, should not be received any longer a part of the people, but may be handled as slaves when subdued, if their subduers please so to use them; because, by their treasons against the majesty of the people, they have made forfeiture of all their rights and privileges.”
The majesty of the people is a very venerable, sublime, and affecting idea; but, in human theory, every government, despotism, monarchy, aristocracy, and every mixture, is created by the people, continued by their sovereign will, and represents their majesty, their august body. Resistance, therefore, to a despotism, or simple monarchy or aristocracy, or a mixed government, is as really treason against the majesty of the people, as when attempted against a simple or representative democracy; since the right of the people to confide their authority and majesty to one man, or a few men, can no more be doubted than to a larger number. In the divine theory, upon which most of the governments of Europe still rest, it is not only treason, but impiety and blasphemy, to resist any government whatever. If the sovereignty of a nation is a divine right, there is an end of all the rights of mankind at once; and resistance to the sovereignty, wherever placed, is rebellion against God.
It is worth while to observe also a contradiction to what our author had advanced in the former part of his work. “The old commonwealth of Greece,” he says here, “were wont to heap up all honors they could vent, upon such as did or suffered any thing for the maintenance of their liberty.” Under a former head he represented it as a commendable custom of commonwealths to make their service a burden.
The third objection is, “that the management of state affairs requires judgment and experience, which is not to be expected from new members coming into those assemblies upon every election.”
The answer to this objection is of great importance, because it in effect, though not in words, gives up his whole argument in favor of a single sovereign assembly. He distinguishes between acta imperii and arcana imperii, acts of state and secrets of state. By acts of state he means the laws and ordinances of the legislative power; things that have most influence upon a commonwealth, as to its ill or well being; and the only remedies for such bad customs, inconveniences, and encroachments as afflict and grieve it. Matters of grievance being matters of common sense, and such as are obvious to the people, who best know where the shoe pinches them, there is no need of any great skill or judgment in passing or applying a law for remedy.
“But as to secrets of state, or the executive part of government, during the intervals of their supreme assemblies;—these things being of a nature remote from ordinary apprehensions, and such as necessarily require prudence, time, and experience, to fit men for management, much in reason may be said, and must be granted, for the continuation of such trusts in the same hands, as relate to matter of council or administration of justice, more or less, according to their good or ill behavior. A prudential continuation of these may, (without question,) and ought to be, allowed upon discretion; because if they do amiss, they are easily accountable to the people’s assemblies.”
Here our author’s plan begins to develop itself. Hitherto we had heard nothing but of successive sovereign assemblies of the people’s representatives. Now, indeed, we learn that this assembly is to appoint judges, generals, and admirals, and a standing committee perhaps for the treasury, the admiralty, the customs, excise, and foreign affairs. Whether these judges and committees and commanders are to be members of the sovereign assembly, or whether their appointments are to vacate their seats, is not ascertained; but in either case it is obvious they will be the friends and confidants of the prevailing party in the house. They will be persons on whose friendship the major party in the assembly can rely to promote their views, by advancing their friends among their constituents, in order to procure a new election, or, in other words, a standing power, a thing which our author dreads so much in the representative assembly; and thus the whole executive and judicial power and all the public treasure is at once applied to corrupt the legislature and its electors.
And what is it “to be accountable to the people’s assemblies?” It is to be afraid to offend the strongest party in the house, by bestowing an office or deciding a cause, civil or criminal, against their inclinations. James’s boast comes in very pertinently here. The leaders in the house having the appointment, the impeachment, censure, condemnation, reward, and pay of all the bishops, judges, and commanders in their power, they will have what law, gospel, war, peace, and negotiation they please. Corruption is let in in such a torrent, as the virtue of no people that ever lived, or will live, is able to resist, even for a few years. The gangrene spreads immediately through the whole body.
Our author proceeds to his ordinary routine of examples.
“Athens upheld constant returns and periods of succession in their supreme assemblies for remedy of grievances; and they had a standing council, called the Areopagus, to whom all the secrets of state were committed, together with the administration of government during the intervals of those assemblies, at whose return they were accountable, and warily continued or excluded, as the people found cause.”
But our author nowhere recollects the checks to the popular government of Athens, which, however, was never at any one moment so popular as his project. He nowhere recollects, that there were ten slaves to one citizen; that the education of the citizens, therefore, was superior to that which is possible in any nation that has not slaves. He nowhere recollects, that the whole of religion was saved in the hands of the nobly born, which gave a few families such an influence as no part of Christendom now affords an example of, not even in Catholic countries. He nowhere recollects, that the whole people were divided into ranks, and all magistrates taken out of the higher ranks. He nowhere recollects the senate of one hundred, and afterwards of five hundred, appointed by lot, which formed the council of state, which had the constant charge of political affairs, and particularly the preparation of business for the assembly of the people. He nowhere pays a sufficient attention to the court of Areopagus and its important powers, and the persons of whom it was composed. All the archons out of office were members for life. He nowhere recollects that a single representative assembly, being necessarily few, are more liable to corruption than even a collective assembly, who are many. He nowhere recollects that Solon’s institution was at last ruined by allowing to the fourth class of citizens an equal vote in the assembly of the people; a terrible warning against all such projects of government. These important checks, which gave such vast weight to the aristocratical part of the community in the government of Athens, have no equivalent in our author’s plan.
In Sparta and Rome, says our author, they had the like. But it is really shocking to read these affirmations so entirely without foundation. The governments of Sparta and Rome were governments as different and as opposite to our author’s “right form” as can be imagined; and the moment they obtained the least resemblance of it, all authority was seen in one centre, in Nabis and Cæsar. Florence too was after the same mode, and Holland and Switzerland. In Holland the people never had the election of any regular assemblies; and they never speak but by petition, or in bodies unknown to any written constitution; I mean mobs. A more unlucky example could not have been thought of. Their regencies, too, are for life in general, and fill up their own vacancies. In all the aristocratical cantons of Switzerland, the same. How far some of the smallest democratical cantons in any particular resemble our author’s notions, may be seen in the former volume; no sufficient justification of them will be found there. But if a parallel could, in states so small and poor, be found, it would be no precedent for nations, large, opulent, and powerful, full of great objects of ambition, and constantly exposed to the hostile envy and resentment of great and dangerous neighbors.
The fourth objection is, “that such a government brings great damage to the public, by their frequent discontents, divisions, and tumults.”
In answer to this, he considers several cases:—1. When any citizens arrogate privileges to themselves or their families, beyond the ordinary standard of the people, then discontents, divisions, and tumults arise. In Rome, the senate retaining the power of the old government in the hands of themselves and their families, upon the expulsion of the Tarquins, occasioned the subsequent discontents and tumults. “Had Brutus made them free when he declared them so, or had the senate followed the advice and example of Publicola, all occasion of discontent had been taken away.”
2. “When the people felt themselves not fairly dealt withal” by their leaders and generals. In Syracuse, Dionysius being made general, under pretence of defending the people’s liberties, and then using his power to other purposes, became the firebrand of the state, and put the people all into flames for his expulsion.
“In Sparta, the people were peaceable until they found themselves overreached, and their credulity abused, for converting liberty into tyranny under Machanidas and Nabis. In old Rome, under the people’s government, it was a sad sight to see the people swarming in tumults, their shops shut up, all trade given over, and the city forsaken, as also in Athens; the occasion was the same; for though the people naturally love ease and peace, yet finding themselves outwitted by slights, and abused by feats of the senate, they grew out of all patience. When any one of their senators or of themselves arrived to any height of power, by insinuating into the people’s favor upon specious and popular pretences, and then made a forfeiture of those pretences, as Sylla and Marius, they were the causes of those tumults and slaughters among the Romans, the infamy whereof has been cast most injuriously upon the people’s government by the profane pens of court pensioners. Cæsar, too, was the cause of all those civil broils and tragedies among the people.”
An impartial writer would have brought every one of these examples in proof of the direct contrary; for they all show, that in proportion as the people gained an authority uncontrolled, or more than a balance for the senate, they grew more discontented, divided, and tumultuous, the more inclined to stir up factious leaders, as Pericles, Alcibiades, Cleon, the Gracchi, Marius, Sylla, and Catiline and Cæsar. The people were certainly peaceable under the kings, though the archons and nobles were not. The people were peaceable under the Grecian archons and Roman senate, so peaceable as to bear extreme oppression; but their turbulence began with their aspiring at power, and increased as it grew, and grew intolerable the moment they obtained the exercise of that authority which our author contends they ought always to exercise. These examples, therefore, all show the necessity of a balance to the people’s exercise of power in a mixed government.
3. The people are tumultuous when sensible of oppression, although naturally of a peaceable temper, minding nothing but a free enjoyment; but if circumvented, misled, or squeezed by such as they have trusted, they swell like the sea, overrun the bounds of justice and honesty, ruining all before them; but unhappily they very often mistake and swell against the most honest and faithful men, and insist upon being misled by the most artful and knavish. A great majority of the people, and those as honest as any, are too fond of ease and peace to trouble themselves with public affairs, which leaves an opportunity to the profligate and dissolute to have more influence than they ought, to set up such idols as will flatter and seduce them, by gifts, by offices, and by partiality in judgments; which shows, that although they are very competent to the choice of one branch of the legislative, they are altogether incapable of well managing the executive power. It is really unaccountable, but by that party spirit which destroys the understanding as well as the heart, that our author should conclude, “there is not one precedent of tumults or sedition, which can be cited out of all stories, where the people were in fault.” It was even their fault to be drawn in or provoked; it was their fault to set up idols, whose craft or injustice, and whose fair pretences had designs upon the public liberty. They ought to know that such pretenders will always arise, and that they never are to be trusted uncontrolled.
But he seems to be aware that all this would not be quite satisfactory. In order to extenuate the evil, he admits, for argument sake, that the people were tumultuous in their own nature; and he ought to have admitted, from regard to truth, that without laws, government, and force to restrain them, they really are so.
“Tumults, when they happen, are more easily to be borne than those inconveniences that arise from the tyranny of monarchs and great ones.”
It is a great question, whether anarchy or tyranny be the greater evil? No man who reads the third book of Thucydides, or Plato’s description of a democratical city, or who considers the nature of mankind, will hesitate to say that anarchy, while it lasts, is a greater evil than simple monarchy, even exercised by tyrants. But as anarchy can never last long, and tyranny may be perpetual, no man who loves his country, and is willing to submit to a present evil for a future public good, would hesitate to prefer anarchy, provided there was any hope that the fair order of liberty and a free constitution would arise out of it. A chance of this would be preferred by a patriot to the certainty in the other case. Some men too would prefer anarchy, conscious of more address with the people than with a monarch. But if anarchy and tyranny were to be alike permanent and durable, the generality of mankind would and ought to prefer tyranny; at least monarchy, upon the principle that a thousand tyrants are worse than one.
But our author extenuates the evils of tumults:—
1. “The injury of them never extends further than some few persons, and those for the most part guilty enough, as the thirty grandees in Athens, the ten in Rome, &c.” Such tumults, however, have often proceeded to greater lengths, and have had innocent and excellent men for their objects. Examples enough have been cited from Greece and Italy, as well as Holland.
2. “Tumults are not lasting. An eloquent oration of a grave man, as Menenius Agrippa, Virginius, or Cato, may pacify them.” True sometimes, but much oftener the grave man will fall a sacrifice to their fury.
3. “Tumults usually turn to the good of the public; the great are kept in awe, the spirits of the people kept warm with high thoughts of liberty.” This has some weight in monarchies and aristocracies, where they may be quelled; but in simple democracy, where they cannot, they would be fatal.
4. “In Rome they obtained the law of the twelve tables, procured the tribunes and supreme assemblies and frequent confirmation of them.” The supreme assemblies they obtained are very unluckily quoted, because these, having no control, destroyed the commonwealth.
All this “is far otherwise under the standing power of the great ones. They, in their counsels, projects, and designs, are fast and tenacious.”
As this is an acknowledgment that the people are not fast and tenacious, that is, steady, it should seem an argument in favor of a standing senate, at least of some senate appointed from the persons of most experience, best education, most respectable families and considerable property, who may be supposed thoroughly to understand the constitution, to have the largest views, and be “fast and tenacious” of the maxims, customs, and laws of the nation, to temper the unsteadiness of the people, and even of their representatives.
“The evils under these forms are more remediless and universal.” Not at all in mixed governments. They are, on the contrary, more easily “remedied,” for the house of commons is the grand inquest of the nation.
“Those tumults and quarrels that arise among them, never end but in further oppression of the people.” Quarrels among them have commonly given more weight to the people, and must always end in relieving the people, where the people have a full share.
Upon the whole, tumults arise in all governments; but they are certainly most remediless and certainly fatal in a simple democracy. Cheats and tricks of great men will as certainly take place in simple democracy as in simple aristocracy or monarchy, and will be less easily resisted or remedied; and, therefore, our author has not vindicated his project from the objection of its danger from tumults. A mixed government, of all others, is best calculated to prevent, to manage, and to remedy tumults, by doing justice to all men on all occasions, to the minority as well as majority; and by forcing all men, majority as well as minority, to be contented with it.
The fifth objection is, “that little security is to be had for the more wealthy and powerful sort of men, in regard of that liberty which the people assume to accuse or calumniate whom they please.”
In answer to this, our author acknowledges that calumniation (by which he means ambitious slandering of men, by whisperings, reports, or false accusations) has been more or less in all forms of government, but affirms that it was never allowed or approved in his form of government; that it has been most in use under standing powers of great ones, who make it their grand engine to remove or ruin all who stand in their way, and have always instruments ready at hand; that it is marked out by Aristotle inter flagitia dominationis.
But the true and impartial answer is this, that all simple governments are addicted to this vice, and make use of it as an instrument to destroy their adversaries. In our author’s “Right Constitution” it would be as prevalent as in any monarchy or aristocracy; and in each of the simple governments it is equally impossible to prevent, palliate, or remedy the evil. In a simple democracy it must be the worst of all upon the whole, because the whole nation must necessarily be slanderers. The majority calumniate of course for the same reason that unlimited monarchs and senates do, namely,—to support their power and annoy their enemies; and the minority are necessitated to slander in their turn in self-defence. The liberty of accusation, however, in every form of government, must in some degree be admitted; without it, neither will nor pleasure nor law can govern. In a simple democracy it would be unlimited; every body belonging to the majority would be informer and accuser, and always sure of supporting his accusation. The minority, therefore, in a simple democracy, are subjected to spies, informers, accusations, and slanders, without end and without redress.
In a mixed government, like the English and American, informers from private motives are justly odious; from public motives respected. Every crime, however high, may be prosecuted and punished. The grand inquest of the nation becomes accuser against those in high places; the grand inquest of the counties for ordinary offences. No crime can be concealed; no fictitious crime can be pretended or alleged. Calumny itself is punishable as an offence against the public, and the injured individual may obtain satisfaction. It is in such a government alone that calumny is or can be managed upon principles of public safety and private justice, neither of which can ever be generally regarded in any simple government, and most certainly least of all in our author’s “Right Constitution,” or authority in one centre.
For the proof of these observations any history would serve; but it will be sufficient to attend to those anecdotes quoted by our author.
In Rome “the ten grandees, and all that succeeded them in that domineering humor over the people, ever kept a retinue, well stocked with calumniators and informers (such as we call ‘Knights of the Post’) to snap those that in any wise appeared for the people’s liberties. This was their constant trade, as it was afterwards also of their emperors. But while the people kept their power entire in the supreme assemblies, we read not of its being brought into any constant practice.”
This continued chicanery, in holding out to the people of England an idea that the Romans were ever governed by his “Right Constitution,” is really unpardonable; nothing can be more unfair. But to pass this over: Are the examples of Cassius, Mælius, Manlius, Coriolanus, the Gracchi, so soon forgot? The Scipios, indeed, he recollects. These calumnies were promoted by the senate, in some instances, it is true; but by the people, too, in all; at least the people were made the dupes and tools; which is sufficient to make the examples strong proofs against our author.
The same profligacy of a party spirit appears in his example of Athens. “By their lofty and unwary carriage, they stirred up the people’s fear and jealousy so far, as to question and send divers of them into banishment; as Alcibiades, Themistocles, and others.”
Why are Aristides, Miltiades, Socrates, and Phocion, forgotten? These would have been too grossly against him, and warnings too terrible against his paltry system.
“Whereas, if the rules of a free state had been punctually observed, by preserving a discreet revolution of powers, and an equability, or moderate state of particular persons, there had been no occasion of encroachment on one part, or of fear on the other.”
That is to say, if the rules of a free state had been observed in a city where no such rule of a free state existed; and an equability and moderation maintained, of which there is no example in history, and which is totally impracticable; then there would have been no encroachment or fear; or, in other words, if all men had been wise and virtuous, and there had been no need of government at all, then there would have been no democratical tyranny, and, he might add, monarchical or aristocratical. It is burlesque to talk of a rule of a free state, which never was, and every man of common sense knows never can be, a rule of a free state. Our conclusion must be directly contrary to that of our author; namely,—the calumniation under his “Right Constitution” must be more frequent, intolerable, and remediless, than under any form of tyranny, whether monarchical or aristocratical. The English constitution furnishes rules, means, and judicatures, in their grand and petit juries, and in impeachments of the commons before the lords, so equitable and admirable, that it is very unaccountable that any man should think of preferring to it a simple democracy of a single representative assembly, where it is so obvious that every man’s reputation, liberty, property, and life must be in constant danger of accusations by and before an omnipotent party.
“The liberty of accusation by the people before their supreme assemblies,” cannot mean that the whole people should join in such accusation. This is impossible; every man then must have liberty to accuse whom he will. The house will consider who is the accuser and who the accused; and members in the house will consider how their parties are likely to be affected by the sentence, more than truth or justice. An accuser, who is useful to the majority, will rarely be punished, let his accusation be ever so false or malicious. One of the minority will never be heard, though his complaint be ever so true.
“The liberty of accusation is, indeed, a thing so essentially necessary for the preservation of a commonwealth, that there is no possibility of having persons kept accountable without it; and, by consequence, no security of life and estate, liberty and property. Maxime interest reipublicæ libertatis ut libere possis civem aliquem accusare: it most highly concerns the freedom of a commonwealth, that the people have liberty of accusing any persons whatsoever.”
Thus far we agree, as well as in the opinion, that a great evil in governments simply monarchical or aristocratical, is the want of such liberty. But simple democracy has in it as great an evil in this respect; for the minority have too little liberty of accusation, in proportion as the majority have too much. It is therefore in a mixed government only where an equal liberty can be preserved to all, without being too great in any. It is agreed further to be a means, and the only means, of extinguishing jealousies and emulations, discontents and fury in the people, when they can bring to account their oppressors; and the instances of the Decemviri and Coriolanus are properly enough produced. The story from Florence too, of one who occasioned such calamities for want of this liberty of accusation, by which he might have been taken down; and the case of Soderini, who drove the people to call in the Spaniard to suppress him for want of such a power. To these examples there is no objection, nor to the doctrine they convey, namely,—that the liberty of accusation prevents the people very often from running in rage and despair to internal violence or foreign alliance, and in both cases to arms. But the conclusion upon the whole must be, that this objection stands in full force against our author’s plan, and wholly unanswered. There is no security for the most wealthy and powerful sort of men among the minority; they will be constantly exposed to ruin by false accusations.
The sixth objection is, “that people by nature are factious, inconstant, and ungrateful.” In answer to the charge of faction, he repeats his positions under the fourth reason; and his examples of Pompey and Cæsar; Guelph and Ghibelline in Italy; the families of Orleans and Burgundy in France; the Guises; York and Lancaster, &c., we must refer to our observations on the fourth reason.
Inconstancy he allows to be a characteristic of the people who are debauched and in a corrupted state of a commonwealth, when degenerated from its true principles, as in Athens, Rome, Florence.
“But yet in Rome you may see as pregnant instances of that people’s constancy as of any sort of men whatsoever; for they continued constant, irreconcilable enemies to all tyranny in general, and kingly power in particular. In like manner, when they had once gotten their successive assemblies, they remained firm and stiff to uphold them. In making their elections, too, they could never be persuaded to choose a known infamous, vicious, or unworthy fellow, so that they seldom or never erred in the choice of their tribunes and other officers. But it has ever been otherwise under kings and all standing powers.”
Here he must mean simple monarchies and aristocracies, because he distinguishes the case from Rome, which was a mixed government. “Standing powers usually ran into all the extremes of inconstancy upon every new project, petty humor, and occasion; shifted principles every moon; cashiered all oaths, protestations, promises, and engagements, and blotted out the memory of them with a wet finger;” he instances in Charles I.
If we speak impartially upon this head, we must say that all men are alike; that simple governments are equally inconstant, so far as they partake of the same human nature. Kings have been as inconstant as any men; so have simple senates. Simple democracies have never been tried; but, if we reason from their nature, we shall conclude that they are more inconstant than either, because the result depending on the majority of votes, the difficulty and impossibility of assembling equal numbers at all times, increases the chances of change and inconstancy. The ignorance of multitudes, who compose a part of the people, is another cause. So that if a difference must be allowed, it must be confessed that simple democracy is the least constant. But a mixed government produces and necessitates constancy in all its parts; the king must be constant to preserve his prerogatives; the senate must be constant to preserve their share; and the house theirs. Neither can go beyond its line, without being called back by the other. The legislative must be constant to preserve its rights, and the executive for the same end. The judicial too must be constant to the laws, which alone can screen it from the resentment and encroachment of one or other of the three branches in the legislature. It is to this universal vigilance and constancy, which such a constitution renders necessary and unavoidable, that the laws owe their perpetual superiority, and are able to make kings, nobles, and commoners, ministers of state and religion, and judges too, bow with reverence to its decisions. To this constancy, therefore, is due that delightful tranquillity of mind, arising from a sense of perfect security in the protection of known laws for the enjoyment of life, liberty, honor, reputation, and property.
“Ingratitude has been much charged upon this form. In Athens and Rome, unhandsome returns were made to some worthy persons that had done high services,—Alcibiades, Themistocles, Phocion, Miltiades, Camillus, Coriolanus, and both the Scipios, the cause of whose misfortunes is described by Plutarch and Livy, to be their own lofty and unwary carriage, which stirred up the people’s fear and jealousy. The Scipios were most to be pitied, because the nobles, not the people, disobliged them; as for Camillus and Coriolanus, they deserved whatever befell them, because they maligned and hated the people.”
All this is tolerably just. Our author proceeds:—
“This humor, however, is highly commended by some, as a sign of a commonwealth’s being in pure and perfect health, when the people are thus active, zealous, and jealous in the behalf of their liberties, that will permit no such growth of power as may endanger it.” Yet he adds, with great truth, “that the people have been so far from ingratitude, that they have always been excessive in their rewards and honors to such men as deserved any way of the public, whilst they conformed themselves to rules and kept in a posture suitable to liberty. Witness their consecration of statues, incense, sacrifices, and crowns of laurel, enrolling such men in the number of their deities. The crime of ingratitude cannot, in any peculiar manner, be fastened upon the people.”
This is very just; the people are no more ungrateful than kings or senates, nor more jealous; and the instances from republics of apparent ingratitude, are not fair proofs. They commonly have arisen from party; and the ill treatment of deserving men has been the work of intrigues of the aristocratical and monarchical parts of these communities, oftener than of the people themselves. The jealousy and envy of commanders and leading senators and patricians have plotted with the people, fomented their prejudices, inflamed their passions, and misrepresented by false reports, until such points have been carried.
There is another thing, too, to be considered. The real merit of public men is rarely fully known and impartially considered; empiricism is practised to an astonishing degree by some, even in the purest times. Aristides and Themistocles, Cæsar and Cato, are not upon an equal footing; but when men arise, who to real services add the arts of political empiricism, conform to the errors of the people, comply with their prejudices, gain their hearts, and excite their enthusiasm, then their gratitude is a contagion; it is a whirlwind; it is infinitely worse to the public than their ingratitude, or than the ingratitude of kings or nobles.
Our author produces, as instances of the ingratitude of princes: “Alexander hated Antipater and Parmenio, and put the latter to death; Vespasian cashiered the meritorious Antonies; the King of Portugal, Alphonsus Albuquerque; Ferdinand of Arragon, Consalvus the Great; Henry VII., Stanley of the House of Derby, who put the crown upon his head; Sylla, his instruments; Augustus, Cicero;” and he might have added many thousands of others. After all, justice and sound policy ought to be the rule and measure of rewards and punishments, not any vague sensation of gratitude or jealousy. Every simple government and every unbalanced mixture must produce frequent instances, not only of ingratitude, but of injustice and bad policy, in the article of rewards and punishments; but in a mixed government effectually balanced, it is rarely possible that real service, merit, and virtue, should go unrewarded. If the king is disposed to be ungrateful, the lords and commons will not suffer it; if the commons are ungrateful, the king and lords will do justice; if the lords are faulty, the king and commons will set all right. The chances of ingratitude, therefore, in such a government are much less, and the assurance of a just recompense of reward is much greater, while the danger of royal favoritism and popular extravagance are wholly avoided. As there is nothing of more essential importance to the preservation of liberty, the promotion of prosperity, and the exaltation of the dignity and grandeur of a state, than a just, generous, and steady rule of policy in rewards and punishments, it must, with all humble submission, be presumed that a mixed government has an infinite advantage of all others in this respect. But of all imaginable governments, that of one assembly is the worst; for every man of the minority will be sure of ingratitude and injustice, let his service be what it will; nay, he will be in danger of punishment for his merit; and every man of the majority will be safe against punishment for many misdemeanors, and sure of excessive rewards for every trifling service.
We may fairly conclude, upon the whole, that none of these six objections stand against a free government of three branches; but every one of them in full force against a single sovereign assembly.
The next chapter is entitled, “The Original of all Just Power is in the People.” This book is valuable, as it is so ancient a monument of liberty and political knowledge in England. Many of its principles were at that time extremely rare in the world, excepting in England. They have been since enlarged on, with great success, by Sidney, Locke, Hoadley, Montesquieu, Rousseau, Raynal, De Mably, Price, Priestley, Beccaria, and many others of various nations, and are now becoming universal. It is unnecessary to abridge this chapter; because, although it contains the hints on which succeeding writers have enlarged, their discourses are more ample and more satisfactory.
“The first error in ancient Christian policy, which hath indeed been a main foundation of tyranny, is that corrupt division of a state into ecclesiastical and civil.”
Our author enlarges upon this error, and his speculations are worth reading; but as this is not likely to be the error of America, I shall leave it to be read when such danger approaches.
“The second error is very frequent under all forms of government. It is this,—that care hath not been taken, upon all occasions of alteration, to prevent the passage of tyranny out of one form into another, in all the nations of the world. The interest of absolute monarchy and its inconveniences have been visible and fatal under the other forms, and given undeniable proof of this maxim by experience, in all times, that the interest of monarchy may reside in the hands of many as well as of a single person.”
The interest of absolute monarchy he defines to be,—
“An unlimited, uncontrollable, unaccountable station of power and authority in the hands of a particular person, who governs only according to the dictates of his own will and pleasure; and though it hath often been disguised by sophisters in policy, so as it hath lost its own name by shifting forms, yet the thing in itself hath been discovered under the artificial covers of every form, in the various revolutions of government. In Athens, when they had laid aside their king, the kingly power was retained still in all the after turns of government; for their decimal governors and their thirty tyrants were but a multiplied monarchy, the people being in a worse condition than before; for their kings had supervisors and senatic assemblies that did restrain and correct them; but the new governors having none, ran into all the heats and fits and wild extravagancies of an unbounded prerogative. Necessity and extremity opening the people’s eyes, they at length saw all the inconveniences of kingship wrapt up in new forms, and rather increased than diminished; so that (as the only remedy) they dislodged the power out of those hands, putting it into their own, and placing it in a constant, orderly revolution of persons elective by the community. And now, one would have thought there was no shelter for a monarchal interest, under a popular form too. But alas! they found the contrary; for the people not keeping a strict watch over themselves, according to the rules of a free state, but being won by specious pretences, and deluded by created necessities to intrust the management of affairs into some particular hands, such an occasion was given thereby to those men to frame parties of their own, that by this means they in a short time became able to do what they list without the people’s consent; and, in the end, not only discontinued, but utterly extirpated their successive assemblies.”
I have given this at length, in our author’s own words, because it is an exact compendium of the whole history of Athens, and shows that he had read it attentively, and understood it perfectly well; and because it is a complete refutation of his own system, his Right Constitution of a Commonwealth. Absolute monarchy, unlimited power in a particular person, who governed by his own will, run through all the history and changes in Athens, according to his own account, even when the people had placed the supreme power in an orderly revolution of persons elective by themselves. Why? “Because the people did not keep a watch over themselves.” Did any other people keep a strict watch over themselves? Will any people ever keep a strict watch over themselves? No, surely. Is not this, then, a sufficient reason for instituting a senate to keep a strict watch over them? Is not this a sufficient reason for separating the whole executive power from them, which they know will, and must corrupt them, throw them off their guard, and render it impossible to keep a strict watch over themselves?”
“They did not observe the rules of a free state.”
Did any people, that ever attempted to exercise unlimited power, observe the rules of a free state? Is it possible they should, any more than obey, without sin, the law of nature and nature’s God? When we find one of these sorts of obedience, we may expect the other. If this writer had been one of the enthusiasts of that day, and told the people they must pray to God for his omnipotent grace to be poured out upon them, to distinguish them from all the rest of mankind as his favorite people, more even than the Jews were, that they might be enabled to observe the rules of a free state, though all history and experience, even that of the Hebrews themselves, and the constitution of human nature, proved it impossible without a miracle; or if he had told them that they were a chosen people, different from all other men, numbers would have believed him, and been disappointed; for it is impious presumption to suppose that Providence will thus distinguish any nation; but it would have been more sensible than thus to acknowledge in effect, as he does repeatedly, the impracticability of his scheme, and still insist upon it.
“The people were won by specious pretences, and deluded by created necessities, to intrust the management of affairs into some particular hands.”
And will not the people always be won by specious pretences, when they are unchecked? Is any people more sagacious or sensible than the Athenians, those ten thousand citizens, who had four hundred thousand slaves to maintain them at leisure to study? Will not a few capital characters in a single assembly always have the power to excite a war, and thus create a necessity of commanders? Has not a general a party of course? Are not all his officers and men at his devotion so long as to acquire habits of it? When a general saves a nation from destruction, as the people think, and brings home triumph, peace, glory, and prosperity to his country, is there not an affection, veneration, gratitude, admiration, and adoration of him, that no people can resist? It is want of patriotism not to adore him; it is enmity to liberty; it is treason. His judgment, which is his will, becomes the only law; reason will allay a hurricane as soon; and if the executive and judicial power are in the people, they at once give him both, in substance at first, and not long afterwards in form. The representatives lose all authority before him. If they disoblige him, they are left out by their constituents at the next election, and one of his idolaters is chosen.
“In Rome, also, the case was the same, under every alteration; and all occasioned by the crafty contrivances of grandizing parties, and the people’s own facility and negligence in suffering themselves to be deluded; for with the Tarquins (as it is observed by Livy and others) only the name king was expelled, but not the thing; the power and interest of kingship was still retained in the senate, and engrossed by the consuls; for besides the rape of Lucretia, among the other faults objected against Tarquin, this was most considerable, that he had acted all things after his own head, and discontinued consultations with the senate, which was the very height of arbitrary power; but yet as soon as the senate was in the saddle, they forgot what was charged by themselves upon Tarquin, and ran into the same error, by establishing an arbitrary, hereditary, unaccountable, power in themselves and their posterity, not admitting the people (whose interest and liberty they had pleaded) into any share in consultation or government, as they ought to have done, by a present erecting of their successive assemblies; so that you see the same kingly interest, which was in one before, resided then in the hands of many. Nor is it my observation only, but pointed out by Livy, in his second book, and in many other places, ‘Cum a patribus non consulem sed carnificem, &c.’ when the senators strove to create, not consuls, but executioners and tormentors, to vex and tear the people, &c. And in another place of the same book, ‘Consules, immoderatâ infinitaque potestate, omnes metus legum, &c.’ the consuls, having an immoderate and unlimited power, turned the terror of laws and punishments only upon the people, themselves (in the mean while) being accountable to none but themselves, and their confederates in the senate. Then, the consular government being cashiered, came on the decemviri: ‘Cum consulari imperio ac regio, sine provocatione,’ saith my author; being invested with a consular and kingly power, without appeal to any other. And in his third book he saith, ‘Decem regum species erat,’ it was a form of ten kings; the miseries of the people being increased ten times more than they were under kings and consuls. For remedy, therefore, the ten were cashiered also; and consuls being restored, it was thought fit, for the bridling of their power, to revive also the dictatorship (which was a temporary kingship, used only now and then upon occasion of necessity) and also those deputies of the people, called tribunes, which one would have thought had been sufficient bars against monarchic interest, especially being assisted by the people’s successive assemblies; but yet, for all this, the people were cheated through their own neglect, and bestowing too much confidence and trust upon such as they thought their friends; for when they swerved from the rules of a free state, by lengthening the dictatorship in any hand, then monarchic interest stept in there, as it did under Sylla, Cæsar, and others, long before it returned to a declared monarchal form; and when they lengthened commands in their armies, then it crept in there, as it did under the aforenamed persons, as well as Marius, Cinna, and others also; and even Pompey himself, not forgetting the pranks of the two triumvirates, who all made a shift under every form, being sometimes called consuls, sometimes dictators, and sometimes tribunes of the people, to outact all the flagitious enormities of an absolute monarchy.”
This valuable passage, so remarkable as an abridgment of the Roman history, as containing the essence of the whole that relates to the constitution, as a profound judgment of what passes in all societies, has been transcribed in the author’s own words; and, it may be truly said, it contains a full confutation of his own system, and a complete proof of the necessity of the composition of three branches. It is strictly true, that there is a strong and continual effort in every society of men, arising from the constitution of their minds, towards a kingly power; it is as true in a simple democracy, or a democracy by representation, as it is in simple aristocracy, oligarchy, or monarchy, and in all possible combinations and mixtures of them. This tendency can never be eradicated; it can only be watched and controlled; and the whole art of government consists in combining the powers of society in such a manner, that it shall not prevail over the laws. The excellence of the Spartan and Roman constitutions lay in this; that they were mixtures which did restrain it, in some measure, for a long period, but never perfectly. Why? Because the mixture was not equal. The balance of three branches is alone adequate to this end; and one great reason is, because it gives way to human nature so far, as to determine who is the first man. Such is the constitution of men’s minds, that this question, if undecided, will forever disorder the state. It is a question that must be decided, whatever blood or wounds it may occasion, in every species of gregarious animals, as well as men. This point, in the triple division of power, is always determined; and this alone is a powerful argument in favor of such a form.
Our author’s Right Constitution is the worst of all possible forms in this respect. There are more pretenders; the choice of means is multiplied; the worst men have too much influence in the decision, more, indeed, than the best; and the whole executive and judicial powers, and the public treasure too, will be prostituted to the decision of this point. In the state of nature, when savage, brutal man ranged the forests with all his fellow-creatures, this mighty contest was decided with nails and teeth, fists, stones, and clubs, in single combats, between all that dared to pretend. Amidst all the refinements of humanity, and all the improvements of civil life, the same nature remains, and war, with more serious and dreadful preparations, and rencounters of greater numbers, must prevail, until the decision takes place.
“The people,” says our author, “were cheated through their own neglect, and bestowing too much confidence and trust upon such as they thought their friends.” And could he quote an instance from all history of a people who have not been cheated; who have not been negligent; who have not bestowed too much confidence and trust upon such as they thought their friends; who have not swerved from the rules of a free state, by lengthening power in hands that hold it? Can he give a plausible reason to hope that such a people will ever appear? On the contrary, is it not demonstrable that such a people is impossible, without a miracle and a renovation of the species? Why, then, should the people be bribed to betray themselves? Putting the executive power into their hands is bribing them to their own destruction; putting it into the hands of their representatives is the same thing, with this difference for the worse, that it gives more opportunity to conceal the knavery. Giving the executive power to the senate is nearly the same, for it will be in that case used in bribes, to elevate certain senatorial families.
All projects of government, formed upon a supposition of continual vigilance, sagacity, and virtue, firmness of the people, when possessed of the exercise of supreme power, are cheats and delusions. The people are the fountain of power; they must, in their constitution, appoint different orders to watch one another, and give them the alarm in time of danger. When a first magistrate, possessed of the executive, can appeal to the people in time of danger; when a senate can appeal to the people; and when a house of commons can appeal to the people; when it is the interest of each, in its turn, to appeal to the people; when self-preservation causes such appeal; then, and then only, can the people hope to be warned of every danger, and be put constantly on their guard, kept constantly vigilant, penetrating, virtuous, and steady. When their attention, too, is fixed only upon the preservation of the laws, and they cannot be diverted like apes, by throwing the nuts of the executive power among them, to divide them. When they have any thing to do with the executive power, they think of nothing else but scrambling for offices, and neglect altogether the legislature and the laws, which are their proper department. All the flagitious enormities of absolute monarchy will be practised by the democratical despot, triumvirs, decemvirs, who get possession of the confidence of the majority.
Florence testifies the same truth.
“Even when it seemed most free, it was ever the business of one upstart or other, either in the senate or among the people, to make way to their own ambitious ends, and hoist themselves into a kingly posture through the people’s favor; as Savonarola, Soderini, and the Medici, whose family fixed itself in a dukedom. Nor can it be forgotten how much of monarchy, of late, crept into the United Provinces.”
The conclusion is that, “since the interest of monarchy” (that is, arbitrary power, or the government of men) “may reside in a consul as well as in a king; in a dictator as well as in a consul; in the hands of many as well as of a single person; and that its custom hath been to lurk under every form, in the various turns of government; therefore it concerns every people in a state of freedom, to keep close to the rules of a free state for the turning out of monarchy, whether simple or compound, both name and thing, in one or many; so they ought ever to have a reverend and noble respect of such founders of free states and commonwealths, as shall block up the way against monarchic tyranny, by declaring for the liberty of the people, as it consists in a due and orderly succession of authority in their supreme assemblies;” that is, for himself, Oliver Cromwell, and their party, for no other such founders of commonwealths had then ever existed.
The true conclusion from all the reasoning and all the examples, under this second head of Error in Policy, ought to have been, that arbitrary power, or the interest of monarchy, or the government of men, cannot be prevented, nor the government of laws supported, but by mixing the powers of the one, the few, and the many, in equal proportions, in the legislature; by separating the executive from the legislative power, and the judicial department from both.
The third error in policy is, “keeping the people ignorant of those ways and means that are essentially necessary for the preservation of their liberty; for implicit faith and blind obedience hath hitherto passed current, and been equally pressed and practised by grandees, both spiritual and temporal, upon the people.”
Under this head, our author merits all the approbation and praise that can be bestowed upon him. The instruction of the people, in every kind of knowledge that can be of use to them in the practice of their moral duties, as men, citizens, and Christians, and of their political and civil duties, as members of society and freemen, ought to be the care of the public, and of all who have any share in the conduct of its affairs, in a manner that never yet has been practised in any age or nation. The education here intended is not merely that of the children of the rich and noble, but of every rank and class of people, down to the lowest and the poorest. It is not too much to say, that schools for the education of all should be placed at convenient distances, and maintained at the public expense. The revenues of the state would be applied infinitely better, more charitably, wisely, usefully, and therefore politically, in this way, than even in maintaining the poor. This would be the best way of preventing the existence of the poor. If nations should ever be wise, instead of erecting thousands of useless offices, or engaging in unmeaning wars, they will make a fundamental maxim of this, that no human being shall grow up in ignorance. In proportion as this is done, tyranny will disappear, kings and nobles will be made to feel their equitable equality with commoners, and commoners will see their interest and duty to respect the guardians of the laws; for guardians they must have as long as human nature endures. There is no room to doubt that the schools, academies, aud universities, the stage, the press, the bar, pulpit, and parliament, might all be improved to better purpose than they have been in any country for this great purpose. The emanations of error, folly, and vice, which proceed from all these sources, might be lessened, and those of wisdom, virtue, and truth, might be increased; more of decency and dignity might be added to the human character in high and low life; manners would assist the laws, and the laws reform manners; and imposture, superstition, knavery, and tyranny, be made ashamed to show their heads before the wisdom and integrity, decency and delicacy, of a venerable public opinion.
But it is in vain that our author endeavors to throw the blame of impressing implicit faith and blind obedience upon grandees, spiritual and temporal; for the grandees he contends for, both spiritual and temporal, I mean the first man and other principal members of his successive representative assemblies, will have as much occasion to keep the people in ignorance, and more opportunity to conceal truth and propagate falsehood, than those whom he calls standing powers. All intelligence and information will be directed to them; they may conceal what they will, and they will conceal every thing they can from their adversaries, the minority, and even much from their own followers. It is a mixed government alone that can bear that truth and knowledge should be communicated freely to the people; and in a mixed government alone can the people compel all men to communicate such information as ought to be laid before them. The majority in a single assembly can conceal much from the minority, indeed almost what they will; but the crown, or its ministers, can conceal nothing from a house of representatives which they ought to know.
It is very true, that a people who have declared themselves “a free state should know what freedom is, and have it represented in all its lively and lovely features, that they may grow zealous and jealous over it. They should also be made acquainted and thoroughly instructed in the means and rules of its preservation against the adulterous wiles and rapes of any projecting sophisters that may arise.” How different from this, alas! is the deplorable state of mankind! “Ce n’est qu’en Angleterre, où l’on pourroit faire ou avoir des livres sur les constitutions,” said one of the most enlightened ambassadors in Europe; and it is but a very few years since a French gentleman answered a foreigner, who inquired for the best book upon the constitution of France, “Monsieur, c’est l’Almanach Royal.”1
“The fourth error in policy hath been the regulation of affairs by reason of state, not by the strict rule of honest.”
It is unnecessary to follow our author through Greece and Italy, the Old Testament and the New, through France, Spain, and England, for instances of this raggione di stato, this kingcraft and priestcraft; it is well enough known; but it may be practised with more facility in a simple democracy than in any other government. The leaders of a majority have only to allege “reason of state” to justify themselves to their partisans for every species of tyranny and oppression over the minority, until they become strong enough to allege the same “reason of state” to justify their tyranny over their own party.
“Fifth Error. Permitting of the legislative and executive powers of a state to rest in one and the same hands and persons. By the legislative power we understand the power of making, altering, or repealing laws, which, in all well-ordered governments, hath ever been lodged in a succession of the supreme councils or assemblies of a nation. By the executive power we mean that power which is derived from the other, and by their authority transferred into the hands of one person, called a prince, or into the hands of many, called states, for the administration of government in the execution of those laws. In the keeping of these two powers distinct, flowing in distinct channels, so that they may never meet in one, save upon some short, extraordinary occasion, consists the safety of a state. The reason is evident; because, if the law-makers (who ever have the supreme power) should be also the constant administrators and dispensers of law and justice, then, by consequence, the people would be left without remedy in case of injustice, since no appeal can lie under heaven against such as have the supremacy; which, if once admitted, were inconsistent with the very intent and natural import of true policy, which ever supposeth that men in power may be unrighteous, and therefore, presuming the worst, points always, in all determinations, at the enormities and remedies of government, on the behalf of the people. For the clearing of this, it is worthy your observation, that in all kingdoms and states whatsoever, where they have had any thing of freedom among them, the legislative and executive powers have been managed in distinct hands; that is to say, the law-makers have set down laws as rules of government, and then put power into the hands of others, not their own, to govern by those rules; by which means the people were happy, having no governors but such as were liable to give an account of government to the supreme council of law-makers. And, on the other side, it is no less worthy of a very serious observation, that kings and standing states never became absolute over the people, till they brought both the making and execution of laws into their own hands; and as this usurpation of theirs took place by degrees, so unlimited, arbitrary power crept up into the throne, there to domineer over the world, and defy the liberties of the people.”
Let us pause here with astonishment. A person who had read the former part of the book with attention, would think these words a complete refutation of his whole “Right Constitution of a Commonwealth.” The whole drift of the book before this was to prove, that all authority should be collected into one centre; that the whole legislative and judicial power, as well as the executive, was to be vested in successive, supreme sovereign assemblies of the people’s representatives; and our endeavor has been to show, that this would naturally be applied to corruption in election, to promote division, faction, sedition, and rebellion. All this is now very frankly admitted, and “the safety of the state” depends upon placing the power of making laws, of executing them, and administering justice, in different hands. But how is this to be done?
“The executive power,” our author tells us, “is derived from the legislative; and by their authority transferred into the hand of one person, called a prince, or into the hands of many, called states, for the administration of government in the execution of those laws.”
This is totally denied. The executive power is not naturally, nor necessarily, and ought never to be in fact, derived from the legislative. The body of the people, according to our author and to truth, is the fountain and original of all power and authority, executive and judicial, as well as legislative; and the executive ought to be appointed by the people, in the formation of their constitution, as much as the legislative. The executive represents the majesty, persons, wills, and power of the people in the administration of government and dispensing of laws, as the legislative does in making, altering, and repealing them. The executive represents the people for one purpose, as much as the legislative does for another; and the executive ought to be as distinct and independent of the legislative, as the legislative is of that. There is no more truth, nature, or propriety, in saying that the executive is derived from the legislative, than that the legislative is derived from the executive; both are derived from the people. It is as untrue to say that the executive power is transferred by the authority of the legislative into the hands of a prince, as it would be to say that the legislative power was transferred by the authority of the prince into the hands of a legislative assembly. The people may, indeed, by their constitution, appoint the house of representatives, to represent them in watching the executive magistrates, and in accusing them of misrule and misdemeanors; they may appoint a senate to represent them, in hearing and determining upon those accusations. The people are represented by every power and body in the state, and in every act they do. So the people are represented in courts of justice by the judges and juries, grand and petit, in hearing and determining complaints against ministers of the executive power, as well as members of the senate and the house. It is true the body of the people have authority, if they please, to empower the legislative assembly or assemblies to appoint the executive power, by appointing a prince, president, governor, podestà, doge, or king, and to call him by which of these names they please; but it would be a fatal error in policy to do it, because it would in fact amount to the same thing which our author seemed to contend for through his whole book, and which he now allows to be inconsistent with the safety of the state, namely,—a union of the legislative and executive powers in the same hands.
Whoever appoints bishops and judges will dictate law and gospel. Whoever appoints a general will command the army; an admiral, the fleet. Any executor of the law will have it executed as he will. It makes the executive power a mere tool of the legislative, and the prince a weathercock blown about by the leading member of the house. Every commission will be disposed of as the lord and master in the house shall direct; military discipline will bow before his nod; and the judicial power must have the same complaisance; so that both executive and judicial powers will be prostituted to corrupt the people in elections, and the members of the house, as much as if all these powers were exercised in the house, and all the legislative, executive, and judicial powers in the same hands, the state unsafe, the people left without remedy, in case of injustice, but by an appeal to Heaven, by our author’s own confession.
“In all free states, the legislative and executive powers have been managed in distinct hands,” says our author; “that is, the law-makers have set down rules, and then put power into the hands of others to govern by those rules.”
I wonder where. In Sparta, the executive power was in the kings, hereditary kings, not appointed by the senate, or either of the popular assemblies, that of the city, or that for the country; in Athens, the executive power was in the archons; in Rome, first in kings, and then in consuls, through all the period of the republic; but, what is worse, some important executive powers were reserved in the hands of the senate in Sparta, in the popular assemblies in Athens, in the senate in Rome; that is, the executive and legislative powers were so far united, which finally produced the ruin of all of them. In short, our author is perfectly right in his rule, that the two powers ought to be distinct, and in the fatal effects of their union; but totally wrong in deriving one from the other, and in his examples to show they ever were so derived.
But as the separation and division of authority, for the preservation of equity, equality, and liberty, in opposition to the union of it simply in one, the few, or the many, is the end of all the pains we have taken upon this subject, not a word of assistance afforded us by our author ought to be lost. He goes on,—
“Cicero, in his second book, De Officiis, and his third, De Legibus, speaking of the first institution of kings, tells us, how they were at first left to govern at their own discretion, without laws. Then their wills and their words were law; the making and execution of laws were in one and the same hands. But what was the consequence? Nothing but injustice, and injustice without remedy, till the people were taught by necessity to ordain laws, as rules whereby they ought to govern. Then began the meeting of the people successively in their supreme assemblies to make laws, whereby kings, in such places as continued under the kingly form, were limited and restrained, so that they could do nothing in government but what was agreeable to law, for which they were accountable, as well as other officers were in other forms of government, to those supreme councils and assemblies. Witness all the old stories of Athens, Sparta, and other countries of Greece, where you shall find, that the law-making and the law-executing powers were placed in distinct hands under every form of government; for so much of freedom they retained still under every form, till they were both swallowed up, as they were several times, by an absolute domination.
“In old Rome we find Romulus, their first king, cut in pieces by the senate, for taking upon him to make and execute laws at his own pleasure; and Livy tells us, that the reason why they expelled Tarquin, their last king, was, because he took the executive and legislative powers both into his own hands, making himself both legislator and officer, inconsulto senatu, ‘without advice, and in defiance of the senate.’
“Kings being cashiered, then their standing senates came in play, who, making and executing laws by decrees of their own, soon grew intolerable, and put the people upon divers desperate adventures, to get the legislative power out of their hands, and place it in their own, that is, in a succession of their supreme assemblies; but the executive power they left, part in the hands of officers of their own, and part in the senate; in which state it continued some hundreds of years, to the great happiness and content of all, till the senate, by sleights and subtilties, got both powers into their own possession again, and turned all into confusion.
“Afterwards, their emperors (though usurpers) durst not at first turn both these powers into the channel of their own unbounded will; but did it by degrees, that they might the more insensibly deprive the people of their liberty, till at length they openly made and executed laws at their own pleasure, being both legislators and officers, without giving an account to any; and so there was an end of the Roman liberty.
“To come nearer home, let us look into the old constitution of the commonwealths and kingdoms of Europe. We find in the Italian states, Venice, which having the legislative and executive power confined within the narrow pale of its nobility in the senate, is not so free as once Florence was, with Siena, Milan, and the rest, before their dukes, by arrogating both those powers to themselves, wormed them out of their liberty.
“Of all those states, only Genoa remains in a free posture, by keeping the power of legislation only in their supreme assemblies, and leaving the execution of law in a titular duke and a council. The keeping of these powers asunder, within their proper sphere, is one principal reason why they have been able to exclude tyranny out of their own state, while it hath run the round in Italy.
“What made the Grand Signor absolute of old, but his engrossing both these powers? and of late the kings of Spain and France? In ancient times, the case stood far otherwise; for in Ambrosio Morales his Chronicle you will find, that in Spain the legislative power was lodged only in their supreme council, and their king was no more but an elective officer, to execute such laws as they made, and, in case of failing, to give them an account, and submit to their judgments, which was the common practice, as you may see also in Mariana. It was so, also, in Arragon, till it was united to Castile by the marriage of Ferdinand and Isabella; and then both states soon lost their liberty by the projects of Ferdinand and his successors, who drew the powers of legislation and execution of law within the verge and influence of the prerogative royal; whilst these two powers were kept distinct, then these states were free; but the engrossing of them in one and the same hands, was the loss of their freedom.
“France, likewise, was once as free as any nation under heaven; though the king of late hath done all, and been all in all, till the time of Louis XI. he was no more but an officer of state, regulated by law, to see the laws put in execution, and the legislative power rested in the assembly of the three estates; but Louis, by snatching both these powers into the single hands of himself and his successors, rooked them out of their liberty, which they may now recover again, if they have but so much manhood as to reduce the two powers into their ancient, or into better channels.
“This pattern of Louis was followed close by the late king of England (Charles I.) who, by our ancient laws, was the same here that Louis ought to have been in France, an officer in trust, to see to the execution of the laws; but by aiming at the same ends which Louis attained, and straining, by the ruin of parliaments, to reduce the legislative power, as well as the executive, into his own hands, he, instead of an absolute tyranny, which might have followed his project, brought a swift destruction upon himself and his family.
“Thus you see it appears, that the keeping of these two powers distinct hath been a ground preservative of the people’s interest, whereas their uniting hath been its ruin all along in so many ages and nations.”
This passage at large, in the author’s own words, has been quoted with pleasure, because, although the accuracy of it in every particular cannot be answered for, the principle and examples are good, and he might have added as many more examples as there were or had been simple governments in the world. It is in mixed governments alone where these two powers are separated. But the misfortune is, that our author contends for a mixed government, and a separation of the legislative and executive powers, in name and appearance only. If the executive is appointed by, or derived from, the legislative, it is still in essence but one power, and in the same hands.
It is inaccurate to say, that in “Athens and Sparta” the law-making and law-executing powers were placed in distinct hands under every form of government. It would be nearer the truth to say, that they were free and happy in proportion as they separated these powers. But the fact is, these powers were never wholly separated; part of the executive always was in the legislative, and sometimes all of it, and these errors proved their ruin.
When “the executive power was left by the people of Rome partly in the hands of officers of their own, and partly in the senate,” it was a continual object of jealousy and contention between the senate and people. Whether France was ever “as free as any nation under heaven,” or not, may be learned from Boulainvilliers,* the Abbé de Mably,† and M. Moreau.‡
To read through the voluminous histories of Father Daniel, Mezeray, Velly, and consult original authorities, as Gregory of Tours, Froissart, &c. would be a tedious enterprise, and, after all, the controversy would remain. Boulainvilliers contends that France was a republic, and that the feudal lords had a right to make war upon the kings and upon one another; but it was, according to him, but an aristocracy. M. Moreau, who examines all the other writers, as Boulainvilliers, Du Bos, De Mably, &c. contends that the monarchs have ever been absolute; but at what period the common people, such as farmers, mechanics, merchants, &c. were admitted to a vote in the choice of their rulers, even of the procurators of cities and boroughs which composed the third estate, the public would yet be glad to be informed. Louis XVI. has the unrivalled glory of admitting the people to a share in the government. Upon what grounds our author could pretend that France was ever as free as any nation under heaven is utterly incomprehensible. The kings, nobles, and clergy, were such standing powers as our author detested; and the third estate was very far from being an adequate representation of the people; so that the assemblies of the states, and the ancient parliaments, were by no means successions of the people’s sovereign assemblies. The constitutions of the cortes in Castile, Arragon, Portugal, and all the other kingdoms now united under the kings of Spain or Portugal, were equally repugnant to our author’s system, and equally destructive of it.*
“Sixth Error. Reducing transactions and the interests of the public into the disposition and power of a few particular persons. The ill consequences have been, that matters were not carried by fair debate, but by design and surprise; not by deliberation of the people in their open assemblies, but according to the premeditated resolutions and forestalments of crafty projectors in private juntos; not according to the true interest of state, but in order to the serving of men’s ends; not for the benefit and improvement of the people, but to keep them under, as ignorant of true liberty as the horse and mule, to be bridled, saddled, and ridden, under the wise pretences of being governed and kept in order. But the grand and worse consequence of all hath been this; that such colleagues, partners, and engrossers of power, having once brought about their ends by lying practices upon the people, have ever fallen into fits of emulation against themselves, and their next design hath ever been to rook their fellows and rid themselves of competitors, so that at length they have been their own executioners, and ruined one another. And the people having by this means been torn with civil dissensions and the miseries of war, by being drawn into parties, according to their several humors and affections, the usual event ever was, that in the end they have been seized as the prey of some single tyrant.”
It must be confessed our author understands himself and his subject very well. He is aware of all the difficulties and dangers, but yet he will not see, or will not confess, that his own Right Constitution remains exposed to all their ravages, without the smallest provision to defend it. How will it be possible, in a single sovereign assembly, to prevent transactions and public interests falling into the disposition of a few? How will it be possible that matters should always be carried by friendly debate, and not by design and surprise, by premeditated resolutions of crafty projectors in private cabinets; not according to public interest, but private ends; not for the benefit of the people, but to keep them in ignorance, to be bridled and ridden? How can such colleagues and partners be prevented from imposing lying practices on the people, from emulation, envy, and jealousy among themselves, and from rooking one another? How shall the people be prevented from being torn with civil dissensions, and drawn into parties, by their several humors, principles, superstitions, prejudices, fancies, and affections? and how shall all this be prevented from ending in a single tyranny? Not one check, not the least restraint, no appearance of balance or control, is once mentioned or thought of. For an executive appointed by the legislative will be none at all; it will only facilitate intrigue and artifice, to disguise and conceal the blackest designs.
The example of the thirty tyrants of Athens is a proof of this. “Xenophon tells us they drew the determinations of all things into their own closets, but seemed to manage them ‘calculis et suffragiis populi,’ by the votes of the people, which they had brought to their own devotion in the assembly, to countenance their proceedings. And their custom was, if any sort of men complained and murmured at their doings, or appeared for the public, immediately to snap them off by the loss of life or fortune, under a pretence of being seditious and turbulent fellows against the peace of their tyranny.”
But will not such thirty or less number of tyrants arise in every single sovereign assembly and behave in the same manner? In a representative assembly they may take off a troublesome member in an easier manner, by applying the executive and judicial powers and the public treasure among his constituents, to have him rejected or left out at the next election.
“The event of the thirty tyrants’ combination was a civil war, which ended in their banishment; but a new junto of ten men got into their places, whose government proving little less odious than the former, gave occasion to new changes, which never left shifting till they fell into a single tyranny.” If “the wilder sort of people, having by a sad experience felt the fruits of their own error, in following the lusts of particular powerful persons, grew wise, and combining with the honester sort, they all, as one man, set their shoulders to the work, and restored the primitive majesty and authority of their supreme assemblies,” how long did it last? Aristides himself began to destroy it, Themistocles did more, Pericles more still, and Alcibiades finished the ruin. It is not possible to say that the Athenian constitution operated as a steady system of liberty for one moment; because, although a multitude of checks played in it, there was no settled balance.
The example cited from Herodotus is still more decisive in our favor, and against our author.
“Monarchy being abolished in Egypt after the death of King Setho, and a declaration published for the freedom of the people, immediately the administration of all affairs was engrossed in the hands of twelve grandees” (or popular men, principes populi) “who, having made themselves secure against the people, in a few years fell to quarrelling with one another (as the manner is) about their share in the government. This drew the people into several parties, and a civil war ensued, wherein Psammeticus (one of the twelve) having slain all his partners, left the people in the lurch, and instead of a free state, seated himself in the possession of a single tyranny.”
Our author might have quoted the example of the apostles themselves, who fell into disputes who should be the first in the kingdom they thought approaching.
The two triumvirates are illustrious among thousands of other examples equally apposite.
“Pompey, Cæsar, and Crassus, drew the affairs of the world into their hands, determining all in a private junto, without the advice or the consent of the senate or people, unless it were now and then to make stalking-horses of them, for the more clear conveyance of some unpleasing design. These men, having made an agreement among themselves, that nothing should be done in the commonwealth but what pleased their own humor, it was not long ere the spirit of ambition set them flying at the faces of one another, and drew the whole world upon the stage to act that bloody tragedy, whose catastrophe was the death of Pompey and the dominion of Cæsar. The second triumvirate was between Octavius, Lepidus, and Antony. These having shared the world between them, presently fell a bandying against one another. Augustus, picking a quarrel with Lepidus, gave him a lift out of his authority, and confined him to a close imprisonment in the city; next he picks a quarrel with Antony, begins a new civil war, in which he ruined Antony, and seated himself in the enjoyment of a single tyranny.”
But our author should have remembered, that all this was after the senate had lost its authority, and the people, in their assemblies, assumed all power; and he should have been sensible, that thus it will and must ever be, in all simple governments, to the end of the world.
“In the great contest between Henry III. and the barons, about the liberties of themselves and the people, the king being forced at length to yield, the lords, instead of freeing the nation, indeed, engrossed all power into their own hands, under the name of the twenty-four conservators of the kingdom, and behaved themselves like totidem tyranni, acting all in their own names, neglecting or overruling parliaments. But then, not agreeing among themselves, there were three or four of them defeated the other twenty, and drew the entire management of affairs into their own hands, namely,—the Earls of Leicester, Gloucester, Hereford, and Spencer. Yet it continued so not long; for Leicester getting all into his power, fell at enmity with Gloucester, and was defeated by him.
“At length Leicester, putting his fortune to a battle, was slain; and the king thereupon getting all power back again, took advantage of that opportunity for the greatening himself and his prerogative.
“And so you see all that the people got by the effusion of their blood and loss of their peace was, that instead of one tyrant they had twenty-four, and then four; and after them a single usurper (Montfort, Earl of Leicester); and he being gone, they were forced to serve their old tyrant Henry III. again, who by this means became the more secure and firm in his tyranny.”
And are not all these examples, and millions of others that happen in every village, hamlet, and burgade in the world (for in all these there are contentions for precedence, and men who would rather be there the first than the second in Rome, as sincerely as Cæsar) enough to convince the people and popular writers of the necessity of more than one branch of power, and indeed of more than two? The single struggle for the first place must eternally distract every simple government, and must disturb every one that has only two branches. Unless there is a legal, constitutional, and habitual mode of always determining who shall be foremost, there can be no tranquillity among mankind. Grave exhortations to single assemblies, whether senates or representatives, not to permit public transactions to be engrossed, and rest in the power of a few particular persons, will be thrown away; for such are the contradictions in the human character, the multitude who have no hopes of being intrusted, are as servile as the few who have, are aspiring; and, upon the whole, there is more superiority in the world given than assumed.
“Seventh Error. Driving of factions and parties. Faction destroyed Rome. The factions, headed by the two potent families of Hannibal and Hanno, destroyed Carthage. Faction made Rome stoop to Cæsar; Athens to Pisistratus. Faction let the Turk into Constantinople and Hungary; the Goths and Vandals into Spain and Italy; the Romans into Jerusalem. It subjected Genoa to the family of Sforza, Dukes of Milan; brought the Spaniard into Sicily and Naples; and the French into Milan, where they ousted Sforza.”
To these instances might be added as many as you please; but it is amazing that all that have happened have not been sufficient to show the necessity of a government so mixed that factions may always be ruled. There can be no faction but of the one, the few, or the many; and a triple balance of equal powers affords a never-failing remedy against either; and if either of these is wanting, there is always not only a possibility and a probability, but an absolute certainty, of one species of faction arising, against which the constitution affords no defence.
“Eighth Error. Violation of faith, principles, promises, and engagements, an impiety that ought to be exploded out of all nations that bear the name of Christians; and yet we find it often pass among the less discerning sort of men for admirable policy; and those impostors that used it, have had the luck to be esteemed the only politicians.” Our author wisely and nobly condemns the reasoning of Machiavel, in his Prince, “that, because the greatest part of the world being wicked, unjust, deceitful, full of treachery and circumvention, there is a necessity that those who are downright, and confine themselves to the strict rule of honesty, must ever look to be overreached by the knavery of others.” He quotes, too, from Machiavel: “This part hath been covertly showed to princes by ancient writers, who say that Achilles, and many others of those ancient princes, were intrusted to Chiron the Centaur, to be brought up under his discipline. The moral of this having for their teacher one that was half a beast and half a man, was nothing else, but that it was needful for a prince to understand how to make his advantage of the one and other nature, because neither could submit without the other.”
Without condemning our species so far as Machiavel, by pronouncing the greatest part wicked; or going the length of the ancients, in supposing them half beasts; or of some moderns, in calling them half devils, candor, and charity itself, must allow, that in all great nations, at least, there are many both wicked, brutal, and diabolical; and enough of both to trample on the laws, and disturb the peace, liberty, and property of the good and humane, unless provision is made in the constitution to restrain them. In all simple governments, the worst part of the species are least controlled and have most temptations; and from hence arises a new and strong argument in favor of such a mixture, as shall guard every avenue to imposture and every inlet to vice. Although the vices and follies of mankind, no more than their diseases and bodily infirmities, can never be wholly eradicated in this mixed state of good and evil, and we cannot rationally hope that policy will ever change the earth into heaven, yet the balance of three branches appears to afford all that the constitution and course of things will admit; at least, all that have hitherto been discovered. It would be folly to say, that no further improvements can be discovered. The moral and intellectual world is as little known as the physical. We may hope, from education, inquiry, and experiment, great advances; but, until they are further pursued, let us adopt such as have already been found practicable and useful.
There is one alteration which will be found indispensable, before any great meliorations can be made in society and government, some more rational method of determining the people’s votes in elections, and some effectual provision against corruption. The cry of family fortune, some prejudice of superstition, some habitual fondness, a prejudice, a whim, a name, too often determine the votes of multitudes, even when grosser profligacy has no share. The people must be taught to be governed more by reason, and less by sounds. The word king, like magic, excites the adoration of some, and execration of others; some, who would obey the lawful orders of a king, would rebel against the same orders, given by the same authority, under the name of governors or president; others would cheerfully submit to a governor or president, but think rebellion against a king with only the same authority, virtue, and merit, and obedience to God. Until the nature of things is more generally understood by the people, and mere sounds have less influence, it will be in vain to expect any great improvements.
There is another particular, too, in which, I suspect, the people must change the fundamental maxim of their policy throughout the world, before much further improvements will be made. The people, in all ages and countries, have laid it down as a rule, that their service must be perfectly disinterested. No man deserves to be employed by them, who will not serve them gratis, at least, if not put himself to great expense to procure their votes. The consequences of this are many.
1. No man can serve them who is not rich. This is giving up at once their own right of election into the hands of an aristocracy, and that characteristic of aristocracy, too, which has the least merit in it, mere wealth.
2. This introduces a universal system of Machiavelian hypocrisy into popular elections; and those who are most interested, most corrupted, and most determined to carry the commodity to market, are the most liberal in their offers of a price to purchase it, the most ostentatious in professions of disinterested motives. Aristides, Fabricius, and Cincinnatus are eternally quoted, as if such characters were always to be found in sufficient numbers to protect the people’s liberties, and a cry and show of pure virtue is set up by the most profligate and abandoned of human kind, such as would sell their fathers, their country, and their God, for profit, place, and power. Hypocrisy, simulation, finesse, are not more practised in the courts of princes, than they are in popular elections; nor more encouraged by kings than people. Unless some means can be discovered to reform the people, and to enlighten them, to make rectitude, instead of chicanery, the visible, obvious interest both of governors and governed, it will be in vain to expect great changes for the better in government. To improve this, morals and science must be improved, extended, and made more general, if not universal; and, after all, perfection, we know, can never be attained in either.
“First Rule of Policy. To educate the young fry in principles of dislike and enmity against kingly government, and enter into an oath of abjuration, to abjure a toleration of kings and kingly power in time to come.”
This rule was made for Charles Stuart.
Brutus made the Romans swear, “that they never should suffer any man again to reign at Rome. The Hollanders abjured Philip, his family, and all kings, forever.”
These were inventions of aristocratical cunning, and the people were dupes for taking them. A king, meaning a single person vested with the whole executive, is the only remedy for the people, whenever the nobles get the better of them, and are on the scramble for unlimited power. Let every people have a care how they enslave themselves by such an oath, or lay themselves under the necessity of committing perjury. Let them swear, if they will, never to be governed by an absolute monarch; but even this had better be omitted, for there are cases in which an absolute monarch is a less evil than a crowd of lawless lords. A better oath for the common people would be, never to intrust any part of the executive power to a senate, or, in other words, to the body of the gentlemen.
I am not without apprehensions that I have not made myself fully understood. The people, in all nations, are naturally divided into two sorts, the gentlemen and the simplemen, a word which is here chosen to signify the common people. By gentlemen are not meant the rich or the poor, the high-born or the low-born, the industrious or the idle; but all those who have received a liberal education, an ordinary degree of erudition in liberal arts and sciences, whether by birth they be descended from magistrates and officers of government, or from husbandmen, merchants, mechanics, or laborers; or whether they be rich or poor. We must, nevertheless, remember, that generally those who are rich, and descended from families in public life, will have the best education in arts and sciences, and therefore the gentlemen will ordinarily, notwithstanding some exceptions to the rule, be the richer, and born of more noted families. By the common people we mean laborers, husbandmen, mechanics, and merchants in general, who pursue their occupations and industry without any knowledge in liberal arts or sciences, or in any thing but their own trades or pursuits; though there may be exceptions to this rule, and individuals may be found in each of these classes who may really be gentlemen.
Now it seems to be clear, that the gentlemen in every country are, and ever must be, few in number, in comparison of the simplemen. If you please, then, by the democratical portion of society we will understand the common people, as before explained; by the aristocratical part of the community we will understand the gentlemen. The distinctions which have been introduced among the gentlemen, into nobility greater or lesser, are perfectly immaterial to our present purpose; knights, barons, earls, viscounts, marquises, dukes, and even princes and kings, are still but gentlemen, and the word noble signifies no more than knowable, or conspicuous. But the gentlemen are more intelligent and skilful, as well as generally richer and better connected, and therefore have more influence and power than an equal number of the common people. There is a constant energy and effort in the minds of the former to increase the advantages they possess over the latter, and to augment their wealth and influence at their expense. This effort produces resentments and jealousies, contempt, hatred, and fear, between the one sort and the other. Individuals among the common people endeavor to make friends, patrons, and protectors among the gentlemen. This produces parties, divisions, tumults, and war. But as the former have most address and capacity, they gain more and more continually, until they become exorbitantly rich, and the others miserably poor. In this progress, the common people are continually looking up for a protector among the gentlemen, and he who is most able and willing to protect them acquires their confidence. They unite together by their feelings, more than their reflections, in augmenting his power, because the more power he has, and the less the gentlemen have, the safer they are. This is a short sketch of the history of that progress of passions and feelings which has produced every simple monarchy in the world; and, if nature and its feelings have their course without reflection, they will produce a simple monarchy forever. It has been the common people, then, and not the gentlemen, who have established simple monarchies all over the world. The common people, against the gentlemen, established a simple monarchy in Cæsar at Rome, in the Medici at Florence, &c., and are now in danger of doing the same thing in Holland; and if the British constitution should have its euthanasia in simple monarchy, according to the prophecy of Mr. Hume, it will be effected by the common people, to avoid the increasing oppressions of the gentlemen.
If this is the progress and course of things (and who does not know that it is?) it follows, that it is the true interest and best policy of the common people to take away from the body of the gentlemen all share in the distribution of offices and management of the executive power. Why? Because if any body of gentlemen have the gift of offices, they will dispose of them among their own families, friends, and connections; they will also make use of their votes in disposing of offices, to procure themselves votes in popular elections to the senate or other council, or to procure themselves appointments in the executive department. It is the true policy of the common people to place the whole executive power in one man, to make him a distinct order in the state, from whence arises an inevitable jealousy between him and the gentlemen; this forces him to become a father and protector of the common people, and to endeavor always to humble every proud, aspiring senator, or other officer in the state, who is in danger of acquiring an influence too great for the law or the spirit of the constitution. This influences him to look for merit among the common people, and to promote from among them such as are capable of public employments; so that the road to preferment is open to the common people much more generally and equitably in such a government than in an aristocracy, or one in which the gentlemen have any share in appointments to office.
From this deduction it follows, that the precept of our author, “to educate children (of the common people) in principles of dislike and enmity against kingly government, and enter into an oath of abjuration to abjure a toleration of kings and kingly powers,” is a most iniquitous and infamous aristocratical artifice, a most formal conspiracy against the rights of mankind, and against that equality between the gentlemen and the common people which nature has established as a moral right, and law should ordain as a political right, for the preservation of liberty.
By kings and kingly power is meant, both by our author and me, the executive power in a single person. American common people are too enlightened, it is hoped, ever to fall into such a hypocritical snare; the gentlemen, too, it is hoped, are too enlightened, as well as too equitable, ever to attempt such a measure; because they must know that the consequence will be, that, after suffering all the evils of contests and dissensions, cruelty and oppression, from the aristocratics, the common people will perjure themselves, and set up an unlimited monarchy instead of a regal republic.
The second rule of policy is, “not to suffer particular persons to grandize or greaten themselves more than ordinary; for that by the Romans was called ‘affectatio regni,’ an aspiring to kingship.” Mælius and Manlius are again cited. “The name of the latter was ever after disowned by his whole family, that famous family of the Manlii, and both the name and memory of him and of his consulship were razed out of all public records by decree of the senate.”
It is certainly an essential rule in a free government, to suffer no man to greaten himself above the law. But it is impossible it should ever be observed in a simple democracy or aristocracy. What might not Manlius have done, if Rome had been governed by a single sovereign assembly of representatives? It was the aristocracy that murdered Manlius, much against the will of the democracy, so that the instance is against the author. The Orange family in Holland are mentioned too; but it is the common people who have supported that family for their protection against the aristocracy. It is agreed, however, by many respectable writers, that the family of Orange have been dangerous in that state, because the people have no constitutional share in the government, and the authority exercised by the stadtholder is not legally defined. If the people, therefore, in their anger, should augment the power of that house too much above the aristocracy, it would be absolute; but if the people should expel that house, they must set up another, as well as demand a share in the legislature for themselves, or become slaves and a prey to the aristocracy. It is a good rule for Holland to beware of too great a man; but it is equally necessary to beware of five thousand men, who may easily become too great. But in our author’s Right Constitution the observance of the rule is impossible. The people, if unrestrained by a senate or a king, will set up some one man, and advance him to a greatness of dignity and authority inconsistent with liberty. As soon as any one in such a government gets the command-in-chief of an army, he has the state in his power. The common people in Holland would assist the army in making the prince absolute (if, indeed, the prince would accept of a gift that would ruin his country as well as his house) if they were not restrained by a standing aristocratical power, which our author abhors.
“Third Rule. Non diurnare imperia; not to permit a continuation of command and authority in the hands of particular persons or families.”
This rule is undoubtedly necessary to preserve a simple aristocracy or democracy; but it is impracticable in both, and, therefore, it is impracticable to preserve an aristocracy or democracy. But this is by no means a necessary or proper rule in a well constituted free government. Command and authority may be continued for any number of years, or for life, in the same person, without the least danger; because, upon the smallest symptom of an inclination to abuse his power, he may be displaced by the executive, without danger or inconvenience. But in a simple aristocracy or democracy he cannot be removed at all; the majority will support him at all events; or, if they do not, the majority that removes him will be so small, that the minority who are his friends may often raise convulsions.
It is a necessary rule, too, in such a mixed government as that of Rome, where, in the best of times, the people had an authority nearly equal to that of the senate. Where the mixture is of two powers only, and the executive is wholly in one of them, or partly in one and partly in another, they are in continual danger of the tyranny of a single person, on account of the frequent disputes between the two branches about the exercise of the executive and judicial power; but where the executive is in one hand, the legislative in three, and the judicial in hands different from both, there is rarely, if ever, any danger from a continuance of command in any one. Livy had good reason in the Roman state to say, “Libertatis magna custodia est, si magna imperia esse non sinas, et temporis modus imponatur; it is a grand preservative of liberty, if you do not permit great powers and commands to continue long, and if you limit in point of time.” And to this purpose the Æmilian law, if it could have been observed, would have been a good one. The noble Roman, in the ninth book, spoke in character, when he said, “Hoc quidem regno simile est,” and this indeed is like a kingship, that I alone should bear this great office of censorship triennium et sex menses three years and six months, contrary to the Æmilian law.” Livy, too, speaks in character, as a good citizen of an aristocratical government, when “in his third book he speaks of a monstrous business, that the ides of May were come (which was the time of their year’s choice) and yet no new election appointed. Id vero regnum haud dubie videri; deploratur in perpetuum libertas; it without doubt seems no other than a kingdom, and liberty is lost for ever. It was treason for any man to hold that high office of the dictatorship in his own hand beyond six months. Cicero’s Epistles to Atticus, concerning Cæsar, contain notable stuff to this purpose. The care of that people, in not permitting any man to bear the same office twice together,” was all in character, because continuance in high office constantly exposed the state and constitution to the danger of being overturned and converted into an absolute monarchy. In this constitution, too, in consequence of the checks between the senate, the tribunes, and the people, there was some chance for having this law observed. But an Æmilian law, in our author’s “Right Constitution,” would be made to no purpose; it would be set aside, without ceremony, when nothing but a vote of an all-powerful majority would be wanting to set it at defiance. But in a mixed constitution of three branches, such a law, if made, would be punctually executed, much more exactly and certainly than in the Roman constitution; but in such a constitution such a law would be unnecessary, as no danger can arise from the continuance of any general or admiral in command.
The same reasoning is applicable to the free states of Greece, where “Aristotle tells us this rule was observed. The speech of Cincinnatus to the people, to persuade them to let him lay down his command, now the time was come, though the enemy was almost at the gates, and never more need than at that time of his valor and prudence,” is a terrible example against our author’s system. For, though “no persuasion would serve the turn, resign he would, telling them there would be more danger to the state in prolonging his power than from the enemy, since it might prove a pernicious precedent to the Roman freedom;” yet, as no more than two or three such characters as Cincinnatus appeared in seven hundred years, a statesman would be mad who should place the existence of his form of government upon the presumption that a succession of characters so disinterested would appear to resist the people themselves in their desire to violate a law. If the people at that period could forget a rule so essential to their safety, what are we to expect when they and their idols too are more corrupt? “M. Rutilius Censorinus, although he too made a speech against it, gave way to the people, when they forced him to undergo the office of censor twice together, contrary to the intent and practice of their ancestors, and accepted it upon this condition, that a law might pass against the title in that and other officers, lest it should be drawn into precedent in time to come.”
But our author all along mistakes the spirit of this rule; it was an aristocratical regulation altogether; it was the senate and patricians who procured it to be observed, from an aristocratical motive and principle; from a jealousy of the people on one side, and of kingly power on the other. It is the same spirit which precipitated Cassius and Manlius from the rock, and put Mælius to death without ceremony. The people, or their representatives, if uncontrolled, would not probably ever make such a law; if they did, they would never long observe it. The people would not suffer it to be much or long observed in Rome, notwithstanding all the exertions of the aristocracy. The times soon came when Cincinnatuses and Censorinuses were not found to refuse power and office offered them against law, any more than Horatii and Valerii were found to postpone their private fortune to plebeian liberty. Even the Grecian aristocracies could not observe this rule. It was a law of Sparta that no man should be twice admiral; but Lysander had address enough to persuade his countrymen to give the title to Aratus, but the real command to himself, under the title of vice-admiral. Even in that which was in appearance the most democratical state of Greece, Achaia, Aratus had the real power and command when he was out of place as much as when he was in. Our author mistakes, too, the spirit of the law, “that no tribune should be continued two years together.” This law was a mere aristocratical artifice, to weaken the influence of the tribunes and their constituents, by preventing them from acquiring confidence, skill, and influence by experience. If the people had understood their own cause, they would have insisted upon the privilege of choosing the same tribune as long as they approved his conduct.
“Fourth Rule. Not to let two of one family to bear offices of high trust at one time, nor to permit a continuation of great powers in any one family.” This rule is indispensable in aristocracies, where the sovereignty is in continual danger from individuals of great influence and powerful connections, where a jealousy of popular men and measures must be constantly kept up to its highest pitch. The Roman rule, “Ne duo vel plures ex unâ familiâ magnos magistratus gerant eodem tempore, let not two or more of one family bear great offices at the same time;” and the other, “Ne magna imperia ab unâ familiâ prescribantur, let not great commands be prescribed or continued in one family;” were necessary aristocratical rules, because, as the patricians were always afraid of the people, who were continually urging for more power, a very powerful family, by joining with the people, might have changed the constitution. It is a wise and useful rule in general in all governments; but in a simple democracy, though it may be more necessary than in any other form, it is always impracticable; the people will set it aside whenever they please, and will always be sure to depart from it in favor of a favorite man or family. But in a mixed constitution of three branches there is less necessity of observing the rule with strictness, and more facility of observing it when necessary. It is very doubtful whether the constitution of Rome could have been longer preserved, if Cicero had joined Antony instead of Octavius. The people were now uncontrolled and the senate had lost its authority; and the people behaved as they always do, when they pretend to exercise the whole executive and legislative power; that is, they set up immediately one man and one family for an emperor, in effect, sometimes respecting ancient forms at first, and sometimes rejecting them altogether.
But of all rules, this is the least possible to persuade them to observe in such a case. The Florentine family of the Medici were set up in this manner by the people, who, as Machiavel informs us, aimed at all power, and a simple democracy; and in such cases, “Cosimus is always easily admitted to succeed his cousin Alexander.” It is not to be wondered at, that “Pompeius Columba stood up in the conclave, and showed them how dangerous and prejudicial it must of necessity prove to the liberties of Italy, that the popedom should be continued in one house, in the hands of two brothers, one after another;” but if the election of a pope had depended upon the people of Florence, Julian de Medici would have been chosen to succeed his brother, though Columba had harangued them with ever so much eloquence against it. A conclave of cardinals, and a body of people in a city, are very different electors. The continuation of power in the House of Orange, is another instance in point; that family have been continued in power by the will of the people, very often expressed in outrageous fury, and very often much against the inclination of the aristocracy.
In every nation, under every form of government, public affairs were always managed by a very small number of families, compared with the whole number. In a simple democracy they will ever be conducted by the smallest number of all; the people will confer all upon a very few families at first, and upon one alone at length. “The Roman senate carried all by families; so does the senate of Venice;” but the number is greater than will ever be intrusted by a people who exercise the whole executive and legislative power in one assembly. But the largest number of families that can be introduced into actual confidence and service, in any combination of the powers of society, is in the composition of three branches; because here as many families are employed to represent the people by numbers, as to represent property in the senate; and it is in such a form alone, that so many families may be employed without confusion and sedition. Here, then, this rule of policy may be best observed, not to let two or more, unnecessarily, bear high offices at once; or, if there are several of a family, whose merit is acknowledged, they may be employed without the smallest danger.
“Fifth Rule. To hold up the majesty and authority of their suffrages or votes, entire in their senators or supreme assemblies;” or, in other words, to maintain the free suffrages of senates or people, untainted with the influence or mixture of any commanding power; “for, if this were not secured from control or influence of any other power, then, actum erat de libertate.”
To maintain the independence and integrity of suffrages, without corruption from flattery, artifice, bribes, or fear, is no doubt a good rule; but if the author here means that the power of the people should be absolute, and without control from a senate or a first executive magistrate, it is begging the question, and, what is more, it is notoriously false and destructive.
“So long,” says our author, “as the Roman people kept up their credit and authority as sacred in their tribunes and supreme assemblies, so long they continued really free.” But how long was this? While they were only defending themselves from the tyranny of the senate; while they were greatly inferior to the senate in power; while they were increasing their own power by obtaining the office of tribune, by obtaining liberty to marry into patrician families, to be appointed ædiles, consuls, censors, &c. In short, while their power was inferior to that of the senate, and controllable by it, they enjoyed as much liberty as ever was enjoyed under that government; but the moment they obtained an equality of power with the senate, they began to exercise more than their half, and to give it to their idols.
“When, by their own neglect, they gave Sylla, and his party in the senate, an opportunity of power to curb them, then their suffrages (once esteemed sacred) were trodden under foot; for immediately after, they came to debate and act but by courtesy, the authority being left by Sylla, after the expiration of his dictatorship, in the hands of the standing senate, so that it could never after be regained by the people. Cæsar, when he marched to Rome, deprived them also of the authority of their suffrages; only in a formal way made use of them; and so, under a shadow of legality, he assumed that power unto himself which they durst not deny him.”
Our author is never weary of producing anecdotes and examples from history, which prove his own system to be infallibly destructive of liberty. It is a miserable consolation to a virtuous citizen who has lost his liberty, to tell him that he has lost it “by the neglect and fault of his fellow-citizens in general;” it is the most humiliating and desperate slavery of all. If he had lost it by the simple usurpation of a single man or senate, without the fault of the people (if that, indeed, is a possible or supposable case,) he might still entertain a hope of regaining it; but when we are told that a people lost their liberty by a neglect or fault that we know they will always commit when uncontrolled, is it not a conclusive argument for providing in the constitution for an effectual control? When the people exercise all powers in single assemblies, we know that the power of Sylla and Cæsar will always mix in, and influence and control; it is impossible, then, that in our author’s form of government this fifth rule of policy ever should be observed, or the suffrages kept pure and upright. “Just in the same manner dealt Cosmus in the Florentine senate. He made use of their suffrages; but he had so played his cards beforehand, that they durst not but yield to his ambition. So, also, Tiberius first brought the suffrages of the senate at his own devotion, that they durst not but consent to his establishment; and then so ordered the matter, that he might seem to do nothing, not only without their consent, but to be forced to accept the empire by their intreaty; so that you see there was an empire in effect, long before it was declared in formality.” Will duplicity be less practicable, or less common, in an assembly of the people than in a senate? May not an empire or despotism in effect, though democratical in form, be less difficult to accomplish than even under an aristocratical form? Empire of particular men will exist in effect under every simple form and every unequal mixture. An empire of laws in reality can be maintained only in an equal mixture of all three.
Sixth Rule. “That the people be continually trained up in the exercise of arms, and the militia lodged only in the people’s hands, or that part of them which are most firm to the interest of liberty, that so the power may rest fully in the disposition of their supreme assemblies.”
The limitation to “that part most firm to the interest of liberty” was inserted here, no doubt, to reserve the right of disarming all the friends of Charles Stuart, the nobles and bishops. Without stopping to inquire into the justice, policy, or necessity of this, the rule in general is excellent. All the consequences that our author draws from it, however, cannot be admitted. One consequence was, according to him,—
“That nothing could at any time be imposed upon the people but by their consent,” that is, by the consent of themselves, or of such as were by them intrusted. “As Aristotle tells us, in his fourth book of Politics, the Grecian states ever had special care to place the use and exercise of arms in the people, because the commonwealth is theirs who held the arms. The sword and sovereignty ever walk hand in hand together.” This is perfectly just. “Rome, and the territories about it, were trained up perpetually in arms, and the whole commonwealth, by this means, became one formal militia. There was no difference in order between the citizen, the husbandman, and the soldier.” This was the “usual course, even before they had gained their tribunes and assemblies; that is, in the infancy of the senate, immediately after the expulsion of their kings.”
But why does our author disguise that it was the same under the kings? This is the truth; and it is not honest to conceal it here. In the times of Tarquin, even, we find no standing army, “not any form of soldiery;” “nor do we find, that in after times they permitted a deposition of the arms of the commonwealth in any other way, till, their empire increasing, necessity constrained them to erect a continued stipendiary soldiery (abroad in foreign parts) either for the holding or winning of provinces.”
Thus we have the truth from himself; the whole people were a militia under the kings, under the senate, and after the senate’s authority was tempered by popular tribunes and assemblies; but after the people acquired power, equal, at least, if not superior to the senate, then “forces were kept up; the ambition of Cinna, the horrid tyranny of Sylla, the insolence of Marius, and the self ends of divers other leaders, both before and after them, filled all Italy with tragedies, and the world with wonder.” Is not this an argument for the power of kings and senates, rather than the uncontrollable power of the people, when it is confessed that the two first used it wisely, and the last perniciously? The truth is, as he said before, “the sword and sovereignty go together.” While the sovereignty was in the senate under kings, the militia obeyed the orders of the senate given out by the kings; while the sovereignty was in the senate, under the consuls, the militia obeyed the orders of the senate given out by consuls; but when the sovereignty was lost by the senate, and gained by the people, the militia was neglected, a standing army set up, and obeyed the orders of the popular idols.
“The people, seeing what misery they had brought on themselves by keeping their armies within the bowels of Italy, passed a law to prevent it, and to employ them abroad, or at a convenient distance. The law was, that if any general marched over the river of Rubicon, he should be declared a public enemy; and in the passage of that river this following inscription was erected, to put the men of arms in mind of their duty: ‘Imperator, sive miles, sive tyrannus armatus quisquis, sistito vexillum, armaque deponito, nec citra hunc amnem trajicito;’ general, or soldier, or tyrant in arms, whosoever thou be, stand, quit thy standard, and lay aside thy arms, or else cross not this river.”
But to what purpose was the law? Cæsar knew the people now to be sovereign, without control of the senate, and that he had the confidence both of them and his army, and cast the die, and “erected a prætorian band, instead of a public militia; and was followed in it by his successors, by the Grand Signor, by Cosmus, the first great duke of Tuscany, by the Muscovite, the Russian, the Tartar, by the French,” and, he might have added, by all Europe, “who by that means are all absolute, excepting England, because the late king Charles I., who attempted it, did not succeed;” and because our author’s “Right Constitution of a Commonwealth” did not succeed. If it had, Oliver Cromwell and his descendants would have been emperors of Old England, as the Cæsars were of Old Rome. The militia and sovereignty are inseparable. In the English constitution, if the whole nation were a militia, there would be a militia to defend the crown, the lords, or the commons, if either were attacked. The crown, though it commands them, has no power to use them improperly, because it cannot pay or subsist them without the consent of the lords and commons; but if the militia are to obey a sovereignty in a single assembly, it is commanded, paid, and subsisted, and a standing army, too, may be raised, paid, and subsisted, by the vote of a majority; the militia, then, must all obey the sovereign majority, or divide, and part follow the majority, and part the minority. This last case is civil war; but, until it comes to this, the whole militia may be employed by the majority in any degree of tyranny and oppression over the minority. The constitution furnishes no resource or remedy; nothing affords a chance of relief but rebellion and civil war. If this terminates in favor of the minority, they will tyrannize in their turn, exasperated by revenge, in addition to ambition and avarice; if the majority prevail, their domination becomes more cruel, and soon ends in one despot. It must be made a sacred maxim, that the militia obey the executive power, which represents the whole people in the execution of laws. To suppose arms in the hands of citizens, to be used at individual discretion, except in private self-defence, or by partial orders of towns, counties, or districts of a state, is to demolish every constitution, and lay the laws prostrate, so that liberty can be enjoyed by no man; it is a dissolution of the government. The fundamental law of the militia is, that it be created, directed, and commanded by the laws, and ever for the support of the laws. This truth is acknowledged by our author, when he says: “The arms of the commonwealth should be lodged in the hands of that part of the people which are firm to its establishment.”
“Seventh Rule. Children should be educated and instructed in the principles of freedom. Aristotle speaks plainly to this purpose, saying, ‘that the institution of youth should be accommodated to that form of government under which they live; forasmuch as it makes exceedingly for the preservation of the present government, whatsoever it be.’ ”
It is unnecessary to take pains to show that the “impression men receive in youth are retained in full age, though never so bad, unless they happen, which is very rare, to quell the corrupt principles of education by an excellent reason and sound judgment;” nor is it necessary to cite the testimonies “of Plutarch or Isocrates,” Plato or Solomon, or “Cæsar’s Commentaries,” nor the examples of “Greece or Gallia,” and her “Druids.” The example of the difficulty the Romans found to establish their aristocracy upon the ruins of monarchy, arising from the education of their youth (even the sons of Brutus) in different principles, and the obstructions experienced by the Cæsars in establishing despotism among a people educated under a commonwealth, are apposite enough. Education is more indispensable, and must be more general, under a free government than any other. In a monarchy, the few who are likely to govern must have some education, but the common people must be kept in ignorance; in an aristocracy, the nobles should be educated, but here it is even more necessary that the common people should be ignorant; but in a free government knowledge must be general, and ought to be universal. Yet such is the miserable blindness of mankind, that in our author’s “Right Constitution” it is very doubtful whether the pitiful motive of saving the expense would not wholly extinguish public education. If there were not a senate, but the people in one assembly ruled all, it is a serious question, whether there is one people upon earth so generally generous and intelligent, as to maintain schools and universities at the public expense. The greater number of every people are still ignorant; and although their leaders might artfully persuade them to a thousand idle expenses, they would not be able to persuade them to this. Education, then, must be supported by private munificence; and this source, although sufficient to maintain a few schools and a university in a great nation, can never be sufficient to maintain schools in sufficient numbers to educate a whole people. Where a senate is preserved, it is always a maxim with them to respect learning and educate their own families; their example is followed by all others, who are any way in easy circumstances. In a government of three branches, commoners as well as nobles are under a necessity of educating their children, because they hope to be called to public service, where it is necessary. In all the mixed governments of antiquity, education was necessary, and where the people had a share it was the most generally practised; but in a simple government it never was general. In Sparta it was far from being general; it was confined to youth of family; so it was under the aristocracy in Rome. And although we have no examples of simple democracy to recur to, we need only consider, that the majority must be ignorant and poor; and recollect the murmurs and opposition made by numbers of the lowest classes, who are often joined for sinister purposes by some men of consequence, to be convinced that a general public education never can long exist in a simple democracy; the stinginess, the envy, and malignity of the base and ignorant would be flattered by the artful and designing, and the education of every family left to its own expense, that the rich only might have their children educated.
“Eighth Rule. To use liberty with moderation, lest it turn to licentiousness; which, as it is a tyranny itself, so in the end it usually occasions the corruption and conversion of a free state into monarchical tyranny.”
This is a caution to the people, and can do no harm; but will do little more good, than “be ye warmed and be ye clothed,” will relieve the wants of the poor. Lectures and sermons and admonitions will never be sufficient to make all men virtuous; political, as well as moral writers and exhorters will spend their ink and breath, not in vain, it is to be hoped, but without completely reforming the world and restoring innocence and purity to all mankind. How then is the tyranny of licentiousness to be avoided? By the energy of laws. And where will be the energy of law, when a majority may set it aside upon every question? Will not the licentious rich man, who has perhaps greater influence in elections for his licentiousness, be protected from punishment by his party in the house? Will not the continual prostitution of judgment in the executive courts, to the views of a political party, increase and propagate licentiousness? Will not the daily prostitution of the executive power, by bestowing offices, not for virtue or abilities, but merely for party merit, daily increase licentiousness? Will not the appropriation of the public money to elections increase the means of debauchery among the vicious? Will not the minor party be necessitated to imitate the majority in these practices as much as possible, in order to keep themselves in any hopes? When their hopes are gone, they must join the other side in worshipping the same idols, who then become complete despots. In our author’s plan of government, then, his caution against licentiousness will be thrown away; but in a mixed government it will be extremely useful. The laws may be made to concur with sermons; and the scourge, the pillory, and the gallows may enforce the precepts of moral writers. The magistrate may be a terror to evil doers and a praise to them that do well, instead of being a terror only to the minority and a praise to those who oppress them. As cautions and admonitions, therefore, are undoubtedly useful in a government truly free, though idle and trifling in a simple democracy, let us proceed to consider those of our author.
His first caution under this eighth rule of policy is, “It is above all things necessary to avoid civil dissension;” and “the uttermost remedy is not to be used upon every distemper or default of those that shall be intrusted with the people’s power and authority.”
How charming it is for brothers to live in harmony! The smallest things increase by concord! How many beautiful sentiments, in heavenly numbers, from writers sacred and profane, might be said or sung in honor of peace, concord, harmony, and brotherly love! Repetitions of them from age to age have been made, no doubt, to the edification and comfort of many; but, alas! dissensions still exist and daily arise in every nation, city, village, and, I fear I may add, family, in the whole world. Something more efficacious, then, than moral song, ingenious fable, philosophic precept, or Christian ordinance, with reverence be it spoken, must be employed in society, or dissensions will still ravage and desolate the world.
In a simple democracy the citizens will not all think alike; various systems of policy will be approved by different persons; parties will be formed, even with the best intentions and from the purest motives; others will be formed from private views and from base motives. The majority must decide, and, to obtain this, the good will be obliged to unite with the bad, and probably there will be no circle or combination, no club or party in the house, but will be composed partly of disinterested men and partly of interested ones, partly by the virtuous and partly by the vicious; honest men and knaves, wise men and fools will be kneaded together in every mass. Out of the collisions of these, dissensions unavoidably grow, and, therefore, some provision must be made to decide them. An upright, independent tribunal, to judge of controversies, is indispensable; and an upright, independent, judiciary tribunal, in a simple democracy, is impossible. The judges cannot hold their commissions but durante bene placito of the majority; if a law is made that their commissions shall be quamdiu se bene gesserint, this may be repealed whenever the majority will, and, without repealing it, the majority only are to judge when the judges behave amiss, and, therefore, have them always at mercy. When disputes arise between the rich and poor, the higher and the lower classes, the majority in the house must decide them; there is no possibility, therefore, of having any fixed rule to settle disputes and compose contentions. But in a mixed government the judges cannot be displaced but by the concurrence of two branches, who are jealous of each other, and can agree in nothing but justice; the house must accuse and the senate condemn; this cannot be without a formal trial and a full defence. In the other, a judge may be removed or condemned to infamy without any defence or hearing or trial. This part of our author’s caution, then, is vain, useless, and idle, in his own form of government, but wise, just, and excellent, in a government properly mixed. Such cautions are provided by the constitution itself, that civil dissensions can scarcely ever arise; or, if they do, may be easily composed.
The other part of the caution, “that the uttermost remedy is not to be used upon every distemper or default of those that shall be intrusted with the people’s power and authority,” is, in a simple democracy, totally useless and impracticable. There is no other remedy but the uttermost for any distemper or default. The courts of justice, being tools of the majority, will give no remedy to any of the minority; petitions and remonstrances to the house itself, against its own proceedings, will be despised or resented; so that there can be absolutely no remedy but in arms or by the enormity of tumult, dissension, and sedition, which I suppose are meant by “the uttermost remedy.”
It is very true, as our author says, “if one inconvenience happen in government, the correction or curing of it by violence introduceth a thousand; and for a man to think civil war or the sword is a way to be ordinarily used for the recovery of a sick state, it were as great a madness as to give strong waters in a high fever; or as if he shall let himself blood in the heart to cure the aching of his head.” This is perfectly just, and expressed with great beauty, propriety, and force; yet it is certain, that a member of the minor party, in Nedham’s and Turgot’s government, has no chance for any other remedy; and even this is often as desperate as it is always dreadful, because the weaker must attack the stronger. If the only expedient to “confute the arguments” against such a collection of authority in one centre be, that such a people “give them the lie by a discreet and moderate behavior in all their proceedings, and a due reverence of such as they have once elected and made their superiors,” these arguments will never be confuted, and the cause of liberty is desperate; because it is as desperate to expect that a majority uncontrolled should behave always discreetly and moderately, as to expect that all men will be wise and good.
Our author’s criterion for determining the cases in which the people (in whom “all majesty and authority fundamentally resides, being only ministerially in their trustees or representatives) may use sharp and quick remedies for the cure of a commonwealth,” is very judicious, and has been the rule in all English revolutions since; “in such cases only as appear to be manifest intrenchments, either in design or in being, by men of power, upon the fundamentals or essentials of their liberty, without which liberty cannot consist.” This rule is common to him and Milton, and has been adopted by Sidney, Locke, Burnet, Hoadley; but this rule is useless in a simple democracy. The minority have no chance for justice in smaller cases, because every department is in the hands of their enemies; and when the tyranny arrives at this last extremity, they have no hope, for all the means, at least the most of the means, of quick and sharp remedies, are in the hands of their enemies too; so that the most desperate, irremediable, and forlorn condition of liberty, is in that very collection of all authority into one centre, that our author calls “a Right Constitution of a Commonwealth.”
The instance brought by our author to illustrate his meaning, proves the same thing. In that contention of three hundred years in Rome, between the senate and people, about the division of the conquered lands, the people made a law that no citizen should possess above five hundred acres of land. The senators cried it was an abridgment of liberty; the people cried it was inconsistent with liberty, that the senators should engross too much wealth and power. Livy says, “the people were right, and the senators wrong, but that both did ill in making it a ground of civil dissension;” for the Gracchi, instead of finding out moderate expedients to reduce the senators to reason, proceeded with such heat and violence, that the senate was forced to choose Sylla for their general; which being observed by the people, they also raised an army, and made Marius their general, and herein came to a civil war, “which, through fines, banishment, inhuman cruelties acted on both sides, defeats in the open field, and massacres within the city, cost the best blood and estates of the nobility and commons, and in the end, cost them their liberty, for out of the root of this sprang that civil war between Pompey and Cæsar.”
All this again, which is true and just, shows that our author had read the Roman history with discernment, and renders it more unaccountable that he should have perverted so much good sense and learning to support a fantastical image, that he must have seen could not endure. The example in question shows more than the impracticability of liberty in a simple democracy; it shows the imperfection of a mixture of two powers, a senate and people. In a simple democracy, whatever dispute arises, whether about a division of lands, or any thing else, must be decided by the majority; and if their decree is unjust, there is no remedy but to appoint Sylla and Marius generals. In the Roman mixture of two powers there is no remedy to decide the dispute, but to appoint Sylla and Marius, Pompey and Cæsar; but when there are three branches, after two have offered all possible arguments, and cannot agree, the third has only to consider which is nearest justice, and join with that, to decide the controversy and restore the peace. It shall readily be granted, that the civil war between Marius and Sylla was needless, and about an object which did not immediately affect the fundamentals of the constitution; yet indirectly it did; and the fact is, that the struggle now began to be serious which should be master. It was no longer a question, whether the senate should be restrained, but whether the people should be masters. The army under Pompey was necessary. Why? To prevent the people from being masters, and to defend the existence of the senate. The people indeed were already masters, and would have an idol. The instance of Charles I. may be equally applicable; but those times afford as melancholy an example of a dominatio plebis, as they do a successful one of resistance to a tyrant. But if any one thinks these examples and cautions, without a balance in the constitution, will instruct people how to demean themselves, and avoid licentiousness, tumult, and civil dissension, and in all the “necessary points of prudence and forbearance which ought to take place in respect of superiors, till it shall evidently appear unto a people, that there is a design on foot to surprise and seize their liberties,” he will be miserably mistaken. In a simple democracy they will rise in arms, a thousand times, about common affairs of meum and tuum, between the major and minor party, before any fundamental attack shall be made on the constitution.
“Second Caution. That in all elections of magistrates, they have an especial eye upon the public, in making choice of such persons only as have appeared most eminent and active in the establishment and love of freedom.”
But suppose any of the people should love their friends better than liberty, and themselves better than the public, as nine tenths of the people did in the purest moments of Grecian and Roman liberty, even when Aristides appeared as a rare phenomenon in one, and Cincinnatus in the other? In such case they will vote for their friends, though royalists, papists, malignants, or call them by what name you will. In our author’s “Right Constitution” many will vote for a treat, many for a job, some for exemption from punishment for a crime, some for a monopoly, and some for the promise of an office. This will not be virtuous, but how can you help that?
“In the hands of those,” says our author, “who have appeared most eminent and active in the establishment of freedom, may be safely placed the guardianship of liberty; because such men have made the public interest and their own all one, and therefore will neither betray nor desert it in prosperity or adversity.”
This was modestly bespeaking unlimited confidence for Oliver Cromwell and his associates; and such blind, rash confidence has surrendered the liberties of all nations; but it is not the language nor the maxim of liberty; her universal precept should be, trust not to human nature, without a control, the conduct of my cause.
To lay it down “as a certain rule, that if any person be admitted into power that loves not the commonwealth above all other considerations, such a man is (as we say) every man’s money; any state-merchant may have him for a factor; and for good consideration he will often make returns upon the public interest, have a stock going in every party, and with men of every opinion; and, if occasion serve, truck with the common enemy and commonwealth, both together,” is perhaps to rely upon a patriotism that never existed in any whole nation. It is to be feared the commonwealth would suffer in most countries; but admitting so exalted an opinion of the patriotism of any given country, it will still remain true, that there will be differences of sentiment concerning the good of the commonwealth; and the parties formed by these divisions, if uncontrolled, will have all the ill consequences that have been pointed out. The more sincerely parties love the republic, with so much the more ardor will they pursue their own notions of its good. Aristotle’s opinion, in the first book of his Politics, “Per negligentiam mutatur status reipublicæ, cum ad potestates assumuntur illi qui presentem statum non amant; the form of a commonwealth is then altered by negligence, when those men are taken into power who do not love the present establishment,” may be well founded; and yet it may not follow that it is safe to trust omnipotence to those who are well affected, nay, even to those who really love the commonwealth above all other things, and prefer her good to their own, since that character may change, and those virtues, too, may not be accompanied with so many motives and so many advantages of information, in what the good of the public consists, as may be had in a division and mixture of powers.
It is a good rule “to avoid those who hate the commonwealth, and those who are neutral and indifferent about it;” and no doubt “most of the broils, tumults, and civil dissensions, in free states, have been occasioned by the ambitious, treacherous, and indirect practices of such persons admitted into power, as have not been firm in their hearts to the interests of liberty.” But how shall the people know whose heart will stand the trial, when so many people have been disappointed before them? Rome is again quoted as an example; and the senate are said to have garbled, perplexed, and turmoiled the people’s affairs, concernments, and understandings; but although this is true, it is equally so that the people perplexed their own affairs, and those of the senate too.
The reader, who has pardoned already so many digressions, will easily excuse another in this place. The words virtue and patriotism might have been enumerated among those of various and uncertain signification. Montesquieu’s Spirit of Laws is a very useful collection of materials; but is it too irreverent to say that it is an unfinished work?* He defines a republican government to be “that in which the body, or only a part of the people, is possessed of the supreme power.”* This agrees with Johnson’s definition, “a state in which the government is more than one.” “When the body of the people,” says Montesquieu,† “in a republic, are possessed of the supreme power, this is called a democracy; when the supreme power is lodged in the hands of a part of the people, it is then an aristocracy.” And again,‡ “it is the nature of a republican government, that either the collective body of the people, or particular families, should be possessed of the sovereign power.” “In a popular state, virtue is the necessary spring of government. As virtue is necessary in a popular government, so it is necessary also under an aristocracy. True it is, that in the latter it is not so absolutely requisite.”§
Does this writer mean that honor and fear, the former of which he calls the principle of monarchy, and the latter of despotism, cannot exist in a republic? or that they are not necessary? Fear, surely, is necessary in a republican government; there can be no government without hopes and fears. Fear then, in truth, is at least one principle in every kind of government, in the simplest democracy as well as the simplest despotism. This arrangement, so exact and systematical in appearance, and which has been celebrated as a discovery of the principles of all government, is by no means satisfactory, since virtue and honor cannot be excluded from despotisms, nor fear nor virtue from monarchies, nor fear nor honor from republics; but at least it is apparent that in a republic, constituted as we propose, the three principles of fear, honor, and virtue, unite and produce more union among the citizens, and give greater energy to the laws.
But not to enlarge on this, let us proceed to the inquiry, what is virtue? It is not that classical virtue which we see personified in the choice of Hercules, and which the ancient philosophers summed up in four words,—prudence, justice, temperance, and fortitude. It is not Christian virtue, so much more sublime, which is summarily comprehended in universal benevolence. What is it then? According to Montesquieu,∥ it should seem to be merely a negative quality; the absence only of ambition and avarice; and he thinks that what he thus advances is confirmed by the unanimous testimony of historians. But is this matter well considered? Look over the history of any republic, and can you find a period in it, in which ambition and avarice do not appear in very strong characters, and in which ambitious men were not the most popular? In Athens, Pisistratus and his successors were more popular, as well as ambitious, than Solon, Themistocles than Aristides, &c. In Rome, under the kings, the eternal plots of the nobles against the lives of the kings, to usurp their thrones, are proofs of an ardent and unbridled ambition. Nay, if we attentively examine the most virtuous characters, we shall find unequivocal marks of an ardent ambition. The elder Brutus, Camillus, Regulus, Curius, Æmilius, Cato, all discover an ambition, a thirst of glory, as strong as that of Cæsar; an honorable ambition, an ambition governed by justice, if you will; but an ambition still. But there is not a period in Athenian or Roman annals, when great characters did not appear actuated by ambition of another kind; an unjust and dishonorable ambition; such as Pisistratus, Themistocles, Appius Claudius, &c.; and these characters were always more popular than the others, and were supported chiefly by plebeians, not senates and patricians. If the absence of avarice is necessary to republican virtue, can you find any age or country in which republican virtue has existed? That single characters, or a few among the patricians, have existed, who were exempt from avarice, has been already admitted; but that a moment ever existed, in any country, where property was enjoyed, when the body of the people were universally or even generally exempted from avarice, is not easy to prove. Every page of the history of Rome appears equally marked with ambition and avarice; and the only difference appears in the means and objects. In some periods the nation was extremely poor, in others immensely rich: but the passions existed in all; and the Roman soldiers and common people were forever quarrelling with their most virtuous generals, for refusing to indulge their avarice, by distributing the spoils among them, and for loving the public too well, by putting the booty into the public treasury.
Shall we say then that republican virtue is nothing but simple poverty; and that poverty alone can support such a government? But Montesquieu tells us,* virtue in a republic, is a love of the republic; virtue in a democracy, is a love of the democracy; and why might he not have said, that virtue in a monarchy is a love of the monarchy; in a despotism, of the despot; in a mixed government, of the mixture? Men in general love their country and its government. Can it be proved that Athenians loved Athens, or Romans, Rome, more than Frenchmen love France, or Englishmen their island?
There are two principal causes of discrimination; the first is, the greatness or smallness of the state. A citizen of a small republic, who knows every man and every house in it, appears generally to have the strongest attachment to it, because nothing can happen in it that does not interest and affect his feelings; but in a great nation, like France or England, a man is, as it were, lost in the crowd; there are very few persons that he knows, and few events that will much affect him; yet you will find him as much attached to his circle of friends and knowledge as the inhabitant of the small state. The second is, the goodness or badness of the constitution, the climate, soil, &c. Other things being equal, that constitution, whose blessings are the most felt, will be most beloved; and accordingly we find, that governments the best ordered and balanced have been most beloved, as Sparta, Athens, Carthage, Rome, and England, and we might add Holland, for there has been, in practice and effect, a balance of three powers in that country, though not sufficiently defined by law. Moral and Christian, and political virtue, cannot be too much beloved, practised, or rewarded; but to place liberty on that foundation only would not be safe; but it may be well questioned, whether love of the body politic is precisely moral or Christian virtue, which requires justice and benevolence to enemies as well as friends, and to other nations as well as our own. It is not true, in fact, that any people ever existed who loved the public better than themselves, their private friends, neighbors, &c., and therefore this kind of virtue, this sort of love, is as precarious a foundation for liberty as honor or fear; it is the laws alone that really love the country, the public, the whole better than any part; and that form of government which unites all the virtue, honor, and fear of the citizens, in a reverence and obedience to the laws, is the only one in which liberty can be secure, and all orders, and ranks, and parties, compelled to prefer the public good before their own; that is the government for which we plead.
The first magistrate may love himself, and family, and friends better than the public, but the laws, supported by the senate, commons, and judges, will not permit him to indulge it; the senate may love themselves, their families, and friends, more than the public, but the first magistrate, commons, and judges, uniting in support of public law, will defeat their projects; the common people, or their representatives, may love themselves and partial connections better than the whole, but the first magistrate, senate, and judges, can support the laws against their enterprises; the judges may be partial to men or factions, but the three branches of the legislature, united to the executive, will easily bring them back to their duty. In this way, and in no other, can our author’s rule be always observed, “to avoid all who hate the commonwealth, and those who are neutral and indifferent about it.”
Montesquieu adds,* “a love of democracy is that of equality.” But what passion is this? Every man hates to have a superior, but no man is willing to have an equal; every man desires to be superior to all others. If the meaning is, that every citizen loves to have every other brought down to a level with himself, this is so far true, but is not the whole truth. When every man is brought down to his level, he wishes them depressed below him; and no man will ever acknowledge himself to be upon a level or equality with others, till they are brought down lower than him.
Montesquieu subjoins, “a love of the democracy is likewise that of frugality.” This is another passion not easily to be found in human nature. A passion for frugality, perhaps, never existed in a nation, if it ever did in an individual. It is a virtue; but reason and reflection prove the necessity and utility of this virtue; and, after all, it is admired and esteemed more than beloved. But to prove that nations, as bodies, are never actuated by any such passion for frugality, it is sufficient to observe that no nation ever practised it but from necessity. Poor nations only are frugal, rich ones always profuse; excepting only some few instances, when the passion of avarice has been artfully cultivated, and has become the habitual national character; but the passion of avarice is not a love of frugality
Is there, or is there not, any solid foundation for these doubts? Must we bow with reverence to this great master of laws, or may we venture to suspect that these doctrines of his are spun from his imagination? Before he delivered so many grave lessons upon democracies, he would have done well to have shown when or where such a government existed. Until some one shall attempt this, one may venture to suspect his love of equality, love of frugality, and love of the democracy, to be fantastical passions, feigned for the regulation and animation of a government that never had a more solid existence than the flying island of Lagado.
Suppose we should venture to advance the following propositions, for further examination and reflection:—
1. No democracy ever did or can exist.
2. If, however, it were admitted, for argument sake, that a democracy ever did or can exist, no such passion as a love of democracy, stronger than self-love, or superior to the love of private interest, ever did, or ever can prevail in the minds of the citizens in general, or of a majority of them, or in any party or individual of them.
3. That if the citizens, or a majority of them, or any party or individual of them, in action and practice, preferred the public to their private interest, as many undoubtedly would, it would not be from any such passion as love of the democracy, but from reason, conscience, a regard to justice, and a sense of duty and moral obligation; or else from a desire of fame, and the applause, gratitude, and rewards of the public.
4. That no love of equality, at least since Adam’s fall, ever existed in human nature, any otherwise than as a desire of bringing others down to our own level, which implies a desire of raising ourselves above them, or depressing them below us. That the real friends of equality are such from reflection, judgment, and a sense of duty, not from any passion, natural or artificial.
5. That no love of frugality ever existed as a passion; but always as a virtue, approved by deep and long reflection, as useful to individuals as well as the democracy.
6. That, therefore, the democracy of Montesquieu, and its principle of virtue, equality, frugality, &c., according to his definitions of them, are all mere figments of the brain, and delusive imaginations.
7. That his passion of love of the democracy would be, in the members of the majority, only a love of the majority; in those of the minority, only a love of the minority.
8. That his love of equality would not even be pretended towards the members of the minority; but the semblance of it would only be kept up among the members of the majority.
9. That the distinction between nature and philosophy is not enough attended to; that nations are actuated by their passions and prejudices; that very few in any nation, are enlightened by philosophy or religion enough to be at all times convinced that it is a duty to prefer the public to a private interest, and fewer still are moral, honorable, or religious enough to practise such self-denial.
10. Is not every one of these propositions proved beyond dispute, by all the histories in this and the preceding volumes, by all the other histories of the world, and by universal experience?
11. That, in reality, the word democracy signifies nothing more nor less than a nation of people without any government at all, and before any constitution is instituted.
12. That every attentive reader may perceive, that the notions of Montesquieu, concerning a democracy, are imaginations of his own, derived from the contemplation of the reveries of Xenophan and Plato, concerning equality of goods, and community of wives and children, in their delirious ideas of a perfect commonwealth.
13. That such reveries may well be called delirious, since, besides all the other arguments against them, they would not extinguish the family spirit, or produce the equality proposed; because, in such a state of things, one man would have twenty wives, while another would have none, and one woman twenty lovers, while others would languish in obscurity, solitude, and celibacy.
Third Caution. A third caution is, “that in all their elections of any into the supreme court, or councils, they be not led by any bent of faction, alliance, or affection, and that none be taken in but purely upon the account of merit.”
This is the rule of virtue, wisdom, and justice; and if all the people were wise and just they would follow it; but how shall we make them so, when the law of God, in nature and in revelation, has not yet effected it? Harrington thinks, that advising men to be mannerly at the public table, will not prevent some from carving for themselves the best parts, and more than their shares. Putting “men in authority who have a clear reputation of transcendent honesty and wisdom, tends,” no doubt, “to silence gainsayers, and draw the consent and approbation of all the world;” but how shall we prevent some from getting in, who are transcendent only in craft, hypocrisy, knavery, or folly? The best way that can be conceived of surely is, to separate the executive power from the legislative; make it responsible to one part of the legislature, on the impeachment of another, for the use of its power of appointment to offices, and to appoint two assemblies in the legislature, that the errors of one may be corrected by the other.
“Fourth Caution. To avoid false charges, accusations, and calumniations against persons in authority, which are the greatest abuses and blemishes of liberty, and have been the most frequent causes of tumult and dissension;” though “it is the secret of liberty, that all magistrates and public officers be kept in an accountable state, liable to render an account of their behavior and actions, and that the people have freedom to accuse whom they please.”
Difficult as it is to reconcile these necessary rules in a free government, where an independent grand jury protects the reputation of the innocent, and where a senate judges of the accusations of the commons, how can it be done in a simple democracy, where a powerful majority, in a torrent of popularity, influences the appointment of grand and petit juries, as well as the opinion of the judges, and where a triumphant party in the legislature is both accuser and judge? Is there not danger that an accuser belonging to the minor party will be punished for calumniation, though his complaint is just; and that an accused of the minor party will be found guilty, though innocent; and an accused of the major party acquitted, though guilty? It is ridiculous to hope that magistrates and public officers will be really responsible in such a government, or that calumniations will be discountenanced except on one side of the house. The ostracisms and petalisms of antiquity, however well intended against suspected men, were soon perverted by party, and turned against the best men and the least suspicious; and in the same manner it is obvious, that responsibility and calumniation in a simple democracy will be mere instruments in the hands of the majority, to be employed against the best men of an opposite party, and to screen the worst in their own. The Romans, by their caution to retain in full force and virtue that decree of the senate, called Turpilianum, whereby a severe fine was set on the heads of all calumniators and false accusers, at the same time that they retained the freedom of keeping all persons accountable, and accusing whom they pleased, although they preserved their state a long time from usurpation of men in power on one side, and from popular clamor and tumult on the other side, we must remember, had a senate to check the people, as well as to be checked by them; and yet even this mixture did not prevent the Gracchi, Marius, Sylla, and Cæsar, from usurping, nor the people from being tumultuous, as soon as they obtained even an equality with the senate; so that their example cannot convince us that either of these rules can be observed in a simple democracy; on the contrary, it is a proof that the more perfect the balance of power, the more exactly both these necessary rules may be observed.
“Fifth Caution. A fifth caution is, that as, by all means, they should beware of ingratitude and unhandsome returns to such as have done eminent services for the commonwealth; so it concerns them, for the public peace and security, not to impose a trust in the hands of any person or persons, further than as they may take it back again at pleasure. The reason is, honores mutant mores. Accessions and continuations of power expose the mind to temptations; they are sails too big for any bulk of mortality to steer an even course by.”
How is this consistent with what is said under the head of the second caution? “In the hands of such as have appeared most eminent and active in the establishment and love of liberty, the guardianship of liberty may be safely placed; because such men have made the public interest and their own, all one, and therefore will never betray nor desert it, in prosperity or adversity.”
In short, our author inculcates a confidence and diffidence, at the same time, that seem irreconcilable. Under this head he is diffident.
“The kingdoms of the world are baits that seldom fail; none but He that was more than man could have refused them. How many free states, by trusting their own servants too far, have been forced to receive them for their masters! Immoderate power lets in high thoughts. The spirit of ambition is a spirit of giddiness; it foxes men, makes them drunk, mere sots, non compos mentis, hurried on without fear or wit. All temptations and opportunities of ambition must be removed, or there will arise a necessity of tumult and civil dissension; the common consequence whereof hath ever been a ruin of the public freedom.”
How is it possible for a man who thinks in this manner to propose his “Right Constitution,” where the whole authority being in one representative assembly, the utmost latitude, temptation, and opportunity are given to private ambition! What has a rich and ambitious man to do, but stand candidate for an election in a town where he has many relations, much property, numerous dependents? There can be no difficulty in getting chosen. When once in, he has a vote in the disposal of every office, the appointment of every judge, and the distribution of all the public money. May not he and others join together to vote for such as will vote for them? A man once in, has twice as much power to get in again at the next election, and every day adds accessions, accumulations, and continuations of power to him.
“Cæsar, who first took arms upon the public score, and became the people’s leader, letting in ambitious thoughts, soon shook hands with his first friends and principles, and became another man, and turned his arms on the public liberty.”
And has not every nation, and city, and assembly many Cæsars in it? When private men look to the people for public offices and commands, that is, when the people claim the executive power, they will at first be courted, then deceived, and then betrayed. “Thus did Sylla serve the senate, and Marius the people;” thus every simple government is served. But where the executive appoints, and the legislative pay, it is otherwise; where one branch of a legislative can accuse, and another condemn, where both branches of the legislature can accuse before the executive, private commanders must always have a care; they may be disarmed in an instant. Pisistratus, Agathocles, Cosmo, Soderini, Savonarola, Castruccio, and Orange, all quoted by our author, are all examples in point, to show that simple democracies and unbalanced mixtures can never take a trust back again, when once committed to an ambitious commander. That this caution, therefore, may be observed, and trust taken back at pleasure, when ill managed, or in danger of being so, no government is equal to the tripartite composition.
Ninth Rule. The ninth rule is, “that it be made an unpardonable crime to incur the guilt of treason against the interest and majesty of the people.”
It was treason in Brutus’s sons to conspire the restoration of Tarquin. So their father judged it; but it was the interest and majesty of the senate, here, that was held to be the interest and majesty of the people. The treason of Mælius and Manlius, too, was against the majesty of the senate, and in favor of the majesty of the people. The treason of the Decemviri, too, was against the senate, and so was that of Cæsar. In Venice, too, it is treason to think of conspiring with the people against the aristocracy, as much as it was in Rome. It is treason to betray secrets both in Venice and in Rome; the guilty were hanged upon a gibbet, or burnt alive.
No doubt a simple democracy would make it treason to introduce an aristocracy or a monarchy; but how could they punish it, when the man who commits it has the army, the judges, the bishops, and a majority of the assembly and people, too, at his devotion? How can secrecy in a simple democracy be kept, where the numbers are so great, and where constituents can call to account? or how can it be punished when betrayed, when so many will betray it; when a member of the majority betrays it, to serve the cause of the majority? “It is treason in Venice for a senator to receive gifts or pensions from a foreign prince or state.” But as, according to the heathen proverb, “the gods themselves may be taken with gifts,” how can you prevent them from being taken by the majority in a simple democracy? Thuanus, who says, “the King of France needs not use much labor to purchase an interest with any prince or state in Italy, unless it be the Venetian republic, where all foreign pensioners and compliances are punished with utmost severity, but escape well enough in other places,” might have added, that no difficulty would ever be found to purchase an interest in a simple democracy, or in any other simple, uncontrolled assembly. In a simple democracy, no great sum would would be required to purchase elections for proper instruments, or to purchase the suffrages of some already in their seats. A party pardons many crimes, as well as lesser faults. “It is treason for any Venetian senator to have any private conference with foreign ambassadors and agents; and one article of the charge, which took off Barnevelt’s head, was, for that he held familiarity and converse with the Spanish ambassador in time of war.” Although receiving bribes from foreign ambassadors ought to be punished with the utmost severity, and all uncommon familiarity with them avoided, as suspicious and dishonorable, such extremes as these of Venice and of Holland, in the case of Barnevelt, may as well be avoided. But in a simple democracy it will be found next to impossible to prevent foreign powers from making a party, and purchasing an interest. An ambassador will have a right to treat with all the members, as parts of the sovereignty, and therefore may have access to those who are least on their guard and most easily corrupted. But in a mixed government, where the executive is by itself, the ministers only can be purchased, who, being few, are more easily watched and punished; besides, that it is the executive power only that is managed by ministers; and this often cannot be completed but by concurrence of the legislature. The difficulties of corrupting such a government, therefore, are much greater, as both the legislative, executive, and judicial power must be all infected, or there will be danger of detection and punishment.
It should have been before observed, that the Western Empire fell in the fifth century, and the Eastern in the fifteenth.
Augustulus was compelled by Odoacer, King of the Heruli, in 475, to abdicate the Western Empire, and was the last Roman who possessed the imperial dignity at Rome. The dominion of Italy fell, soon afterwards, into the hands of Theodoric the Goth. The Eastern Empire lasted many centuries afterwards, till it was annihilated by Mahomet the Great, and Constantinople was taken in the year 1453. The interval between the fall of these two empires, making a period of about a thousand years, is called The Middle Age.* During this term, republics without number arose in Italy; whirled upon their axles or single centres; foamed, raged, and burst, like so many waterspouts upon the ocean. They were all alike ill constituted; all alike miserable; and all ended in similar disgrace and despotism. It would be curious to pursue our subject through all of them whose records have survived the ravages of Goths, Saracens, and bigoted Christians; through those other republics of Castile, Arragon, Catalonia, Galicia, and all the others in Spain; through those in Portugal; through the several provinces that now compose the kingdom of France; through those in Germany, Sweden, Denmark, Holland, England, Scotland, Ireland, &c. But, if such a work should be sufficiently encouraged by the public, (which is not probable, for mankind, in general, dare not as yet read or think upon Constitutions,) it is too extensive for my forces, and ought not to be done in so much haste. The preceding has been produced upon the spur of a particular occasion, which made it necessary to write and publish with precipitation, or it might have been useless to have published at all. The whole has been done in the midst of other occupations, in so much hurry, that scarce a moment could be spared to correct the style, adjust the method, pare off excrescences, or even obliterate repetitions, in all which respects it stands in need of an apology. The investigation may be pursued to any length.
All nations, from the beginning, have been agitated by the same passions. The principles developed here will go a great way in explaining every phenomenon that occurs in the history of government. The vegetable and animal kingdoms, and those heavenly bodies whose existence and movements we are as yet only permitted faintly to perceive, do not appear to be governed by laws more uniform or certain than those which regulate the moral and political world. Nations move by unalterable rules; and education, discipline, and laws, make the greatest difference in their accomplishments, happiness, and perfection. It is the master artist alone who finishes his building, his picture, or his clock. The present actors on the stage have been too little prepared by their early views, and too much occupied with turbulent scenes, to do more than they have done. Impartial justice will confess that it is astonishing they have been able to do so much. It is for the young to make themselves masters of what their predecessors have been able to comprehend and accomplish but imperfectly.
A prospect into futurity in America, is like contemplating the heavens through the telescopes of Herschell. Objects stupendous in their magnitudes and motions strike us from all quarters, and fill us with amazement! When we recollect that the wisdom or the folly, the virtue or the vice, the liberty or servitude, of those millions now beheld by us, only as Columbus saw these times in vision,* are certainly to be influenced, perhaps decided, by the manners, examples, principles, and political institutions of the present generation, that mind must be hardened into stone that is not melted into reverence and awe. With such affecting scenes before his eyes, is there, can there be, a young American indolent and incurious; surrendered up to dissipation and frivolity; vain of imitating the loosest manners of countries, which can never be made much better or much worse? A profligate American youth must be profligate indeed, and richly merits the scorn of all mankind.
The world has been too long abused with notions, that climate and soil decide the characters and political institutions of nations. The laws of Solon and the despotism of Mahomet have, at different times, prevailed at Athens; consuls, emperors, and pontiffs have ruled at Rome. Can there be desired a stronger proof, that policy and education are able to triumph over every disadvantage of climate? Mankind have been still more injured by insinuations, that a certain celestial virtue, more than human, has been necessary to preserve liberty. Happiness, whether in despotism or democracy, whether in slavery or liberty, can never be found without virtue. The best republics will be virtuous, and have been so; but we may hazard a conjecture, that the virtues have been the effect of the well ordered constitution, rather than the cause. And, perhaps, it would be impossible to prove that a republic cannot exist even among highwaymen, by setting one rogue to watch another; and the knaves themselves may in time be made honest men by the struggle.
It is now in our power to bring this work to a conclusion with unexpected dignity. In the course of the last summer, two authorities have appeared, greater than any that have been before quoted, in which the principles we have attempted to defend have been acknowledged.
The first is, an Ordinance of Congress, of the thirteenth of July, 1787, for the Government of the Territory of the United States, Northwest of the River Ohio.
The second is, the Report of the Convention at Philadelphia, of the seventeenth of September, 1787.
The former confederation of the United States was formed upon the model and example of all the confederacies, ancient and modern, in which the federal council was only a diplomatic body. Even the Lycian, which is thought to have been the best, was no more. The magnitude of territory, the population, the wealth and commerce, and especially the rapid growth of the United States, have shown such a government to be inadequate to their wants; and the new system, which seems admirably calculated to unite their interests and affections, and bring them to an uniformity of principles and sentiments, is equally well combined to unite their wills and forces as a single nation. A result of accommodation cannot be supposed to reach the ideas of perfection of any one; but the conception of such an idea, and the deliberate union of so great and various a people in such a plan, is, without all partiality or prejudice, if not the greatest exertion of human understanding, the greatest single effort of national deliberation that the world has ever seen. That it may be improved is not to be doubted, and provision is made for that purpose in the report itself. A people who could conceive, and can adopt it, we need not fear will be able to amend it, when, by experience, its inconveniences and imperfections shall be seen and felt.1
[1 ]This work was reprinted in London, in 1767, under the direction of Thomas Hollis, in a thin octavo, containing one hundred and seventy-six pages. The copy found in the author’s library bears the following inscription:—
[* ]See the political pamphlets of that day, written on the side of monarchy.
[* ]Read the Harangue, vol. ii. p. 67. In this work vol. v. p. 55.
[* ]Dio. Cass. lib. xxxvii. c. 54, 55. Plutarch in Pomp. Cæsar, and Crassus.
[1 ]Niebuhr dismisses the whole story of Cincinnatus found at his plough, as a fable.
[* ]Plebis concursus ingens fuit; sed ea nequaquam tam læta Quinctium vidit, et imperii nimium, et virum in ipso imperio vehementiorem rata. Liv. lib. iii. c. 26.
[† ]Summo patrum studio, L. Quinctius Cincinnatus, pater Cæsonis, consul creatur, qui magistratum statim occiperet. Perculsa erat plebs, consulem habitura iratum, potentem favore Patrum, virtute suâ, tribus liberis, &c.
[* ]Val. Max. iv. 5. Cic. De Senec. 16. Senec. Epist. v. Cic. pro Plancio, 25. Plin. Nat. xviii. 4.
[1 ]There is great difficulty in understanding the position of Curius, from the absence of all accounts of the period. Niebuhr considers his unpopularity with the senators to grow out of his advocacy of a further assignment of lands to the people, which formed one of the principal subjects of party divisions in early Roman times. In that case the preference of Rufinus is not surprising.
[* ]Quid se jam senem, ac perfunctum laboribus laborumque præmiis, sollicitarent? Nec corporis, nec animi vigorem remanere eundem; et fortunam ipsam vereri, ne cui deorum nimia jam in se, et constantior, quam velint humanæ res, videatur. Et se gloriæ seniorum succrevisse, et ad gloriam suam consurgentes alios lætum adspicere. Nec honores magnos viris fortissimis Romæ, nec honoribus deesse fortes viros. Liv.
[† ]Jam regi leges, non regere.
[* ]Excellentibus ingeniis citius defuerit ars quâ civem regant, quam quâ hostem superent. Liv. ii. 43.
[1 ]“A third reason why the people, in their supreme assemblies successively chosen, are the best keepers of their liberty is, because, as motion in bodies natural, so succession in civil, is the grand preventive of corruption.” Nedham, p. 4.
[* ]“Who is this man? without nobility, without honors, without merit, to open for him a way to the monarchy! Claudius, indeed, and Cassius, had their souls elevated to ambition by their consulships and decemvirates, by the honors of their ancestors, and the splendor of their families.” Is there an old maiden aunt Eleanor, of seventy years of age, in any family, whose brain is more replete with the haughty ideas of blood, than that of the magnanimous Cincinnatus appears in this speech? Riches are held in vast contempt! The equestrian order is no honor nor nobility; that, too, is held in sovereign disdain! Beneficence and charity, in a most exalted degree, at a time when his brother aristocrats were griping the people to death by the most cruel severities, and the most sordid and avaricious usury, were no merit in Mælius; but consulships, decemvirates, honors, and the splendor of family, have his most profound admiration and veneration! Every circumstance of this appears in this speech; and such was the real character of the man. And whoever celebrates or commemorates Cincinnatus as a patron of liberty, either knows not his character, or understands not the nature of liberty.
[† ]Livii Hist. lib. iv. cc. 13-16.
[1 ]This seems to be a mistake, as the title was not original with him in his family.
[2 ]This view of the career and fate of Manlius is much more clearly and strongly taken than that in the first volume. (See volume iv. p. 533.) It is very much the same with that since adopted by Niebuhr. Lectures, edited by Dr. Schmitz, vol. i. p. 280.
[* ]Liv. Hist. l. ii. c. 41.
[1 ]Niebuhr has thrown great light upon the subject of the agrarian laws since this was written; but his views, instead of weakening, very much corroborate the argument of the text.
[1 ]“Cassius was a very important man; otherwise he would not have been thrice consul, which for those times was something unheard of. With the exception of P. Valerius Poplicola, no one had been so often invested with the consulship. The manner in which Cassius concluded his treaties affords proof of a great soul; it is, therefore, very possible that he had the purest intentions of wisdom and justice. A great man, unquestionably, he was, whether he was guilty or not guilty, and the faction which condemned him was detestable.” Niebuhr, Lectures, edited by Dr. Schmitz, vol. i. p. 159.
[* ]Quod æquabile inter omnes, atque unum omnibus esse potest. Cic. pro Cœcin. cap. 25.
[† ]Hoc vinculum est hujus dignitatis, quâ fruimur in republicâ, hoc fundamentum libertatis, hic fons æquitatis. Mens, et animus, et consilium, et sententia civitatis, posita est in legibus. Ut corpora nostra sine mente; sic civitas sine lege, suis partibus, ut nervis ac sanguine et membris, uti non potest. Legum ministri, magistratus; legum interpretes, judices; legum denique idcirco omnes servi sumus, ut liberi esse possimus. Cic. pro Cluent. 146.
[‡ ]Lex nihil aliud est, nisi recta et a numine Deorum tracta ratio, imperans honesta, prohibens contraria. Cic. xi. in Anton. 28. Illa Divina mens summa lex est. De Leg. ii. 5. Magistratum legem esse loquentem; legem autem mutum magistratum. De Leg. iii. 1.
[* ]See vol. ii. p. 94. (Of this work, vol. v. p. 74.)
[* ]See vol. ii. pp. 96-99. (Of this work, vol. v. pp. 77-79.)
[* ]Sallust. in Frag.
[* ]When the city of Athens was rebuilt, the people, finding themselves in a state of tranquillity, endeavored by every means to get the whole government into their own hands. Aristides, perceiving that it would be no easy matter to restrain a people with arms in their hands, and grown insolent with victory, studied methods to appease them. He passed a decree, that the government should be common to all the citizens; and that the archons, who were the chief magistrates, and used to be chosen only out of those who received at least five hundred medimni of grain from the product of their lands, should for the future be elected from among all the Athenians, without distinction. Plut. Arist.
[* ]Hume’s Essays, vol. i. p. 98.
[* ]El Justicia de Arragon.
[* ]Nos que valemos tanto como vos os hazemos nuestro rey y segnor con tal que guardeis nuestros fueros y libertades, si no, no.
[† ]Los ricos hombres.
[* ]Letters, 13-16.
[1 ]The personal history of Nedham sufficiently proves that his work was written for no other reason. He was one of that numerous class of writers, bred in the contests of all free countries, who are ever ready to defend the strongest side for pay.
[1 ]M. de Marbois. See the anecdote in the Diary, vol. iii. p. 222.
[* ]État de la France. Lettres sur les anciens Parlemens de France.
[† ]Observations sur l’Histoire de France.
[‡ ]Discours sur l’Histoire de France.
[* ]Upon this head a judgment may be formed, by consulting Geddes’s History of the Wars of the Commons of Castile, and his View of a Cortes assembled at Toledo, in 1406. Miscellaneous Tracts, vol. i.
[* ]C’est le portefeuille d’un homme d’esprit, qui a été jeté par la fenêtre et ramasse par des sots, said Voltaire.
[* ]Spirit of Laws, book ii. c. 1.
[† ]B. ii. c. 2.
[‡ ]B. iii. c. 2.
[§ ]B. iii. cc. 3 and 4.
[∥ ]B. iii. c. 3.
[* ]Book v. cc. 2, 3.
[* ]Spirit of Laws, book v. chap. 3.
[* ]Barbeyrac’s Preface to his History of Ancient Treaties. Corps Dipl. tom. xxii. Harris’s Philological Inquiries, part iii. chap. 1.
[* ]Barlow’s Vision of Columbus.
[1 ]Dr. Price, whose publication gave rise to this work, seems to have been convinced by it. In a letter addressed to the author, he says,—