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[PART SECOND.]: [OF THE THEORY OF GOVERNMENT, OR POLITICS PROPER. * ] - Dugald Stewart, Lectures on Political Economy, vol. 2 
Lectures on Political Economy. Now first published. Vol. II. To which is Prefixed, Part Third of the Outlines of Moral Philosophy, edited by Sir William Hamilton (Edinburgh, Thomas Constable, 1856).
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[OF THE THEORY OF GOVERNMENT, OR POLITICS PROPER.* ]
OF THE SIMPLE FORMS OF GOVERNMENT.
Of the Legislative, Judicial, and Executive Powers.]
Before I proceed to make any remarks on the different forms of Government, it is proper to observe in general, that in every political establishment the laws must be enacted, interpreted, and executed. Hence, the functions of Government are three, Legislation, Jurisdiction, and Execution. Some writers comprehend the two last under the head of Execution, but the former division is the more distinct, and is now almost universally followed. It will afterwards appear, that the great object of the Theory of Government is to separate and distribute these powers properly, so as to guard against the abuses to which they might otherwise be liable; more particularly to organize the Legislative power, which, wherever it is freely and independently exercised, possesses, from its nature, a supremacy both over the Judicial and the Executive. It will also appear, that these ends can only be accomplished by a mixed government; that is, by a system of policy which combines the simple forms in such a manner as to correct the inconveniences which, in their separate states, they seem all to threaten. Instead, therefore, of beginning with the abstract consideration of the functions of government, it appears to me to be a more natural and intelligible arrangement, to introduce the general principles which I have to state concerning the division and distribution of powers, under those heads of the subject which are best calculated to illustrate their practical application. In the meantime, I shall only observe, that this doctrine of the division and distribution of Powers is very ingeniously illustrated by Montesquieu,* and that some of his fundamental principles are ably and eloquently commented on by Mr. Ferguson in his Essay on the History of Civil Society.†
Of the Simple Forms of Government in Theory and in general.]
The ancient Politicians enumerated three simple forms of government,—Democracy, Aristocracy, and Monarchy. In the first of these the sovereign power is supposed to be lodged in the whole body of the people; in the second, in one particular order, (such as a body of nobility in some of the governments of modern Europe;) in the third, in a single person.
Montesquieu‡ likewise reduces the forms of government to three, the Republican, the Aristocratical, and the Monarchical. The Republican he defines in such a manner, as to comprehend both Democracy and Aristocracy. “It is a form of government,” says he, “in which the whole body of the people, or a part of the body of the people, has the supreme power.”§ I think it better for me, however, to follow the ancient Politicians in this particular, stating these two forms of government as essentially distinct, and assigning an appropriate definition to each. And, indeed, I cannot easily conceive what induced Montesquieu to confound them together under one generic term, when he was so completely aware of the striking contrast they present in their spirit and tendency.
Montesquieu* distinguishes Monarchy from Despotism; and the distinction is, undoubtedly, solid and important. I think, however, it may bear dispute, whether Monarchy (by which he means limited Monarchy) should have a place among the simple forms, as the limitations of the sovereign power can only arise from a mixture in the government; and, therefore, I shall, in this instance, also, follow the arrangement of the ancients, excluding limited Monarchy from my enumeration of the simple forms, and employing the word Monarchy (while I am treating of these) as synonymous with Despotism. Montesquieu was led to add limited Monarchy to the ancient enumeration by the history of Modern Europe, which has afforded examples of such governments, moderated and restrained by checks, of the nature and efficacy of which the Politicians of former times were unable to form an idea. To what purposes this speculation concerning the simple forms is subservient, will, I hope, appear sufficiently from the following considerations.
I before observed, that, as the political establishments which have actually taken place in the history of mankind, have been all distinguished from each other by various peculiarities, and as their number exceeds the comprehension of our limited faculties, it becomes necessary for those who wish to make them an object of study, to abstract from their more minute differences, and to reduce them to general classes according to their prevailing tendency. By doing so, while we circumscribe the field of observation, and abridge the labour of minute research, we gain another advantage of the utmost importance to the justness and comprehensiveness of our conclusions,—that of separating what appears to be essential from accessory circumstances of a more secondary and incidental nature. Abstractions and classifications of a similar kind are found to be useful in examining all other subjects of observation, which are very complicated in their details; in examining, for example, the agricultural qualities of different soils, the medical peculiarities of different constitutional temperaments, or the intellectual and moral varieties of human character.
It does not furnish any objection to this view of the subject, that no governments are to be found among mankind corresponding exactly to the definitions which are now to be given. Notwithstanding the diversity of political establishments, when we come to examine the subordinate details of their administration, they may all be resolved or analyzed (as far as the spirit of the government is concerned) into three simple governing powers; inasmuch as all power must be exercised, either by a single person, or by a select body, or by the mass of the people; and these governing powers, although, in fact, always more or less blended together, may be conceived to exist apart, exhibiting their peculiar and characteristic tendencies, without any checks or modifications. In this manner, the nature and effects of each may be expected to be more clearly and distinctly comprehended than when they are all studied in their joint results; and the conclusions we thus obtain may serve as general maxims or principles, to fix the attention and guide the judgment in the examination and comparison of the complex forms exhibited in the history of human affairs. It is with a view somewhat analogous to this, that, in the theory of mechanics, we begin with studying the simple mechanical powers, before we proceed to the study of their various combinations, as they are exemplified in the contrivances of the engineer; and it is thus that the effects of these engines, even in their most complicated forms, are easily subjected to computation, when the theory of those simple powers, which enter into their composition, has been previously familiarized to the mind.
OF THE SIMPLE FORMS OF GOVERNMENT IN SPECIAL.]
Of Democracy and Democratic States.
From the foregoing observations, it may be easily inferred, that as no governments are to be found, actually existing, which correspond exactly to the general definitions of Democracy, Aristocracy, and Monarchy, these definitions are to be understood as expressing merely ideal constitutions, which exist nowhere but in the imagination of the speculative politician. The fact is, that all the governments we know are mixed governments; and, perhaps, it may even be asserted, that every government contains some mixture, in a greater or less proportion, of all the three simple forms. In some, however, the power of the people is much greater than in others, where, by a train of accidents, it has been gradually brought under subjection to the body of the nobles, or to a single monarch; and, in like manner, where the popular branch of the government is comparatively feeble and insignificant, constitutions may differ very widely from each other, according as the supreme authority is exercised by an individual, by a few, or by a multitude of rulers. Now, the words Democracy, Aristocracy, and Monarchy, are commonly employed, in a loose and popular way, to express to which of the simple forms a particular government approaches most nearly, or which of the three governing powers prevails in its constitution.
I mention this circumstance, because, in treating of the simple forms, I only follow the example of Montesquieu and all other theoretical Politicians, who are obliged to borrow their illustrations from those which are mixed in fact. This consideration, however, does not render these illustrations the less applicable to the support of their general principles; as the inconveniences resulting from those governments in which any one of the simple forms predominates beyond its due proportion, would be felt still more severely, if this simple form existed altogether pure and unmixed. The conclusions, therefore, resulting from such facts are applicable, a fortiori, to the theoretical view of Governments which these authors have exhibited.
In treating of Democracy, I shall begin with the consideration of a State, approaching as nearly to the definition as possible; but, as the subject when considered in this light affords a very narrow field for speculation, I shall proceed, after a very few general observations, to remark the various deviations from the standard that experience has suggested, in order to remedy its inconveniences, and, at the same time, to maintain the ascendency of the people, by excluding every tendency to the other forms of government.1
First, then, it may be observed, that when the supreme power in a Democracy is said to be vested in the people, it is not to be supposed that each man is his own master; for in every form of government whatever, it must be universally understood, that the minority are to abide by the determinations of the majority. If they do not, Government is at an end, and men are left in a state of anarchy. It is evident, therefore, that this is a limit beyond which Democracy cannot be carried even in theory.
I do not know, however, that this theory has ever been exactly realized in the history of mankind; or, in other words, that there has ever been a constitution in which the people met together on every affair of public concern, and where the majority exercised in their own persons all the functions of government. Indeed, we may venture to assert that no such thing ever existed; and, therefore, if we wish our reasonings to apply to facts, we must enlarge somewhat our definition of Democracy.
“As to popular government, in the strictest sense,” says [Algernon] Sidney, “that is pure Democracy; where the people in themselves, and by themselves, perform all that belongs to government, I know of no such thing.”2 And in another passage, “Being no way concerned in the defence of Democracy, I may leave our knight, like Don Quixote, fighting against the phantasms of his own brain, and saying what he pleases against such Governments as never were, unless in such a place as San Marino, near Sinigaglia in Italy, where a hundred clowns govern a barbarous rock that no man invades, and relates nothing to our question.”1 He might have added, that San Marino is by no means a pure Democracy, according to the general definition, as sufficiently appears from Addison’s account of it.
The same author, (Sidney,) after remarking, that every good government is a mixture of all the three forms, adds;—“More ignorance surely cannot be expressed than by giving the name of Democracy to those governments that are composed of the three simple species; for in a strict sense, it can only suit with those where the people retain to themselves the administration of the supreme power; and morely largely, when the popular part, as in Athens, greatly overbalances the other two, and the denomination is taken from the prevailing part.”2
From these considerations we may infer, that the most perfect Democracy which can be realized, must admit of certain delegations of power to select councils, or to individual magistrates. At the same time, to entitle a constitution to the name of Democracy, even in the more extensive sense of the word, it seems to be essential to it, that the people should appoint the councils and the magistrates, and that every person who exercises power in the State, should be accountable to the people for his conduct. This, I apprehend, forms the definition of as perfect a Democracy as is compatible, even in theory, with the circumstances of mankind;—and of a Democracy much more perfect, than seems to be compatible with the imperfections inseparable from human character, when men are called on to act in a corporate or political capacity.
In some Democracies, it has been thought necessary, on account of the numbers, to delegate, at least for a time, even the Legislative power; or, in other words, the Sovereignty of the state. At Rome and Athens, the determinations of the Senate had the force of a law for a year, but to render them perpetual, the sanction of the people was necessary.
As the determinations of the people in their public assemblies must be ascertained by their votes, and as it is these determinations which constitute law, Montesquieu reckons, among the fundamental laws of a Republic, those which fix the number of voters, and the manner of collecting their suffrages. “In this form of government,” says he, “it is as important to fix, in what manner, and by whom the suffrages are to be given, as it is in a limited monarchy to know who is the prince, and after what manner he ought to govern.”* Of this prerogative of legislation, the Athenians were so jealous that they punished with death any stranger who presumed to intrude himself into an assembly of the people.
In Sparta the number of citizens forming the public assembly was fixed at ten thousand. In Rome the number never was fixed, and this circumstance is considered by Montesquieu as one of the principal causes of her ruin.
It has been disputed among political writers, in what manner the suffrages of the people should be given; in particular, whether they should be public or private. Montesquieu decides that they should be public, and that this should be a fundamental law in a Democracy. “The body of the people,” he observes, “ought to be directed by those of better education, and to be restrained within bounds by a respect for the opinion of their superiors.”† At Athens the people voted by holding up their hands; at Rome, towards the conclusion of the Republic, different laws were passed called Leges Tabellariæ, which rendered the suffrages of the people secret. Two tablets were presented to each citizen—the first marked with an “A” for “Antiquo,” or “I forbid it;” and the other with a “U” and “R,” for “Uti rogas,” “Be it as you desire.” Cicero tells us in his oration Pro Plancio, that the people were fond of this method of voting. “Populo grata est Tabella, quæ frontes aperit, hominum mentes tegit; datque eam libertatem, ut quod velint faciant.”1 The same author, in his Third Book, De Legibus, considers these laws as having contributed to the decay of the Republic. “Quis autem non sentit, auctoritatem omnem Optimatium Tabellariam legem abstulisse?—quam populus liber nunquam desideravit, idem oppressus dominatu ac potentia principum, flagitavit. . . . Itaque isti rationi neque lator quisquam est inventus, nec auctor unquam bonus. Sunt enim quatuor leges Tabellariæ.” In this passage he also makes it a principle in his imaginary Commonwealth: “Suffragia esse nota Optimatibus, Populo libera. . . . Qua lege, libertatis species datur, bonorum auctoritas retinetur.”1
Montesquieu indeed observes, that in an Aristocracy when the body of the nobles are to vote, the suffrages cannot be too secret, for there, the great object is to exclude intrigue and faction; but in a Democracy, while the people retain their zeal for the public, these are unavoidable; and indeed, when they disappear altogether, it is a mortal symptom of the constitution.*
As it is the object of a Democracy to preserve as great an equality among the citizens as is consistent with political order, it is necessary to take some precautions against the growth of particular families,—a circumstance which can hardly fail to happen in process of time, whatever rules are adopted with respect to the transmission of property. Lycurgus and Romulus, and some other ancient legislators, are said to have made an equal division of lands. It is evident that such a measure could only be executed in some very unusual combinations of circumstances. But supposing the thing accomplished at the commencement of a Republic, how is this equality to be maintained? For if individuals are allowed to dispose of their property at pleasure, an unequal distribution of wealth will soon be introduced. Hence in such a form of government, it becomes necessary that there should be some regulations concerning women’s dowries, donations, successions, and testamentary settlements. Many laws of this kind are mentioned in the history of the Ancient States, some of which Montesquieu has very ingeniously illustrated in the fifth chapter of his Fifth Book. “In most States, however,” says Dr. Ferguson, “even the democratical spirit could attain no more than to prolong the struggle for Agrarian Laws; to procure, on occasion, the expunging of debts; and to keep the people in mind, under all the distinctions of fortune, that they still had a claim to equality.
“The citizen of Rome, at Athens, and in many Republics, contended for himself and his order. The Agrarian Law was moved and debated for ages. It served to awaken the mind, it nourished the spirit of equality, and furnished a field on which to exert its force, but was never established with any of its other and more formal effects.”
The same author very justly subjoins, that “many of the establishments which serve to defend the weak from oppression, contribute, by securing the possession of property, to favour its unequal division, and to increase the ascendency of those from whom the abuse of power may be feared. Those abuses were felt very early both at Athens and Rome.”1
Nor is it sufficient for the preservation of a Democracy, that the division of lands should be equal. Without frugality, this equality cannot long be maintained, and frugality can only be secured by the smallness of the possession belonging to each proprietor. To this general rule Montesquieu mentions one exception, that of a Democracy founded on commerce. Here he thinks private citizens may acquire great riches without a corruption of morals; for the spirit of commerce is naturally attended with that of frugality, economy, moderation, labour, prudence, tranquillity, and order; and while this spirit subsists, the riches it produces have no bad effects. These begin only to be felt when excessive wealth damps the ardour of lucrative industry, and gives birth to other pursuits less favourable to the peace of society.
For supporting the spirit of commerce, it is necessary that it should be carried on by the principal citizens, the laws making every possible provision, that the fortune of no individual should place him above the temptation of increasing it by industry; and that every man, however poor, should have an opportunity of employing his labour and his skill to the best advantage. For this purpose it is a wise law in a trading republic, to make an equal division of the father’s estate among the children, in consequence of which exorbitant fortunes are broken down, and a general spirit of industry is promoted.
The great advantage of this form of government, when we consider it merely in theory, is the happy influence it seems likely to have on the human character. A sense of the common relation in which all mankind stand to the Great Author of their being, is deeply engraved on every heart; and the conscious independence inspired by this consideration, can only be controlled by a long course of education in the world, or by a strong philosophical conviction of the utility of a subordination of ranks. Even under the deepest sense of this utility, it is a sentiment which ought never to be banished completely from the mind, for in every state of society, and under every form of government, the observation of Dr. Ferguson will be found to hold true, that “he who has forgotten the original equality of mankind, easily degenerates into a slave; or, in the capacity of a master, is not to be trusted with the rights of his fellow-citizens.”1 And surely, if it were possible to class men only according to their personal qualities, and at the same time to attain the great ends of government, such a constitution would attach men to it more than any other, by being more agreeable to their natural feelings; would secure more effectually the dignity of the human character, and would encourage and promote every respectable and useful endowment both of the understanding and the heart.
But the misfortune is, such a form of government presupposes a degree of virtue which is not to be found among men; and therefore, although some may approach nearer than others to the description, yet the thing itself exists only in imagination.
It may be fairly questioned too, how far, in the actual circumstances of mankind, those constitutions in which the deviations from the abstract theory are the least striking, are practically fitted to accomplish the important ends for which governments are instituted,—wise and equitable laws, and a vigorous and effectual execution of them. In proof of this observation, it may be remarked, in the first place, that supposing the disposition of the people to be ever so virtuous and patriotic, they are perfectly incapable, when collected into numerous assemblies, of deliberating coolly and rationally about any public measure; “all numerous assemblies,” according to an excellent remark of Cardinal de Retz, “being mere mob, and swayed in their debates by the least motive.”* It is very remarkable, that when men are in this situation, and when their physical force is the greatest, they should be more completely than at any other time under the influence of respect for their superiors in wisdom and virtue, insomuch, that Virgil in describing the powers of Neptune in stilling the waves of a tempestuous sea, has been led to borrow a comparison from this moral phenomenon,—the influence of a man of authority in a popular assembly.† The intention of this part of our constitution was obviously to fit us for government, and to enable men, when collected together in numerous bodies, to act with order and unanimity. But it is easy to see, that although it is subservient to wise purposes, it affords a fair opportunity for the intrigues of factious and ambitious demagogues. The people are incapable of making the distinction between the reality and the shew of virtue, and those are commonly the loudest in their professions, and the best acquainted with the various arts of popularity, who are at bottom the most deficient in principle. Xenophon‡ informs us that the vulgar and the vicious were uniformly more powerful at Athens than the noble and the good; that those were chosen to command who could expend the most in banquets or in pageantry; and that the wicked and the crafty could please the vulgar most, and were always the most successful: he adds, that their demagogues were commonly in the pay of their enemies.
But it is not only by misleading the affections of the multitude that demagogues have been enabled to hurry them into ruinous measures. Every person who is at all acquainted with the manner in which affairs are transacted in numerous assemblies, will readily subscribe to the reasonableness of the following reflections, with which a judicious and enlightened citizen of Geneva (M. de Lolme) concludes his account of the success of a very bold experiment of this sort in the history of his own republic:—“That, in popular deliberations, the few who are united together, who take an active part in public affairs, and whose station is conspicuous, have such an advantage over the many who turn their eyes towards them, and are without union among themselves, that even with a middling degree of skill, they can at all times direct at their pleasure the general resolutions; that, as a consequence of the very nature of things, there is no proposal, however absurd, to which a numerous assembly of men may not, at one time or other, be brought to assent, and that laws would be wiser, and more likely to procure the advantage of all, if they were to be made by drawing of lots, or casting dice, than by the suffrages of a multitude.”1
Mr. Hume, in one of his Essays, takes notice of a very singular circumstance in the Athenian government, which has escaped the attention of antiquaries and commentators. By the Γραϕὴ Παρανόμων, or indictment of illegality, “any man was tried and punished by any common court of judicature, for any law which had passed upon his motion in the assembly of the people, if that law appeared to the Court unjust or prejudicial to the public.” Of this sort of trial he gives several instances, and subjoins to them the following observations:—
“The Athenian Democracy was such a tumultuary government as we can scarce form notion of in the present age of the world. The whole collective body of the people voted in every law, without any limitation of property, without any distinction of rank, without control from any magistracy or senate, and, consequently, without regard to order, justice, or prudence. The Athenians soon became sensible of the mischiefs attending this constitution; but being averse to the checking themselves by any rule or restriction, they resolved at least to check their demagogues or counsellors, by the fear of future punishment and inquiry. They accordingly instituted this remarkable law, a law esteemed so essential to their government, that Æschines insists on it as a known truth, that were it abolished or neglected, it were impossible for the democracy to subsist.”
“The people,” he adds, “feared not any ill consequence to liberty from the authority of the criminal courts, because these were nothing but very numerous juries, chosen by lot from among the people; and they considered themselves justly as in a state of perpetual pupillage, where they had an authority, after they came to the use of reason, not only to retract and control whatever had been determined, but to punish any guardian for measures which they had embraced by his persuasion. The same law had place in Thebes, and for the same reason.”*
It is in consequence of experiencing this incapacity of large assemblies to transact business, that we find in all free governments two councils, a less and a greater; or, in other words, a Senate and a People. “The people,” as Harrington observes, “would want wisdom without the senate, the senate without the people would want honesty.”*
But here another inconvenience occurs. It appears from what has been said, that a liberty of debate in a very numerous assembly can hardly answer any good purpose. The senate, therefore, we shall suppose, deliberates, and the people only reserve to themselves the privilege of resolving. But if the senate deliberates, and the people only resolves without debating, the latter have indeed the shew of liberty, but the senate possesses, in fact, the legislative authority. This inconvenience no government, of which we have any account, has yet been able fully to remedy. There is, indeed, a plan for that purpose, and one that seems very practicable in theory, proposed by Mr. Hume in his Idea of a Perfect Commonwealth, an Essay that contains many original and profound observations. “If the people debate,” says he, “all is confusion. If they do not debate they can only resolve, and then the senate carves for them. Divide the people into many separate bodies, and then they may debate with safety, and every inconvenience seems to be prevented.” . . . .
“When an absurdity,” he continues, “strikes a member of a numerous assembly, he conveys it to his neighbour, and so on till the whole be infected. Separate this great body, and though every member be only of middling sense, it is not probable that anything but reason can prevail over the whole. Influence and example being removed, good sense will always get the better of bad among a number of people. Good sense is one thing, but follies are numberless, and every man has a different one. The only way of making a people wise, is to keep them from uniting into large assemblies.”†
Besides the inconveniences which have been hitherto mentioned as incident to democratical governments, there is another which seems to be essential to their nature. In the English constitution, it is well known that the great security we have for our liberty, and for the enactment of equitable laws, is that our lawgivers have no share whatever in the executive branch of government, but are bound by the laws, when made, in common with the rest of their fellow-citizens. But this advantage never can be enjoyed in a Democracy, because there are no persons qualified by their influence to defend the rights of the people, and, at the same time, called upon to do so by motives of self-interest. The favour of the people is indeed the road to eminence, but the moment that this eminence is attained by any individual, he is placed above that rank in life which exposes to the danger of oppression from the executive magistrates; nay, he becomes unwilling to curtail their authority, as he naturally looks forward to the time when he himself shall be placed in some similar station. In all Democratical Governments too, it will naturally be the policy of those in power to draw over to their party those aspiring men who have acquired an influence among the people. De Lolme remarks, that,—“At Rome, the only end which the tribunes ever pursued with any degree of sincerity and perseverance, was to procure to the people, that is, to themselves, an admission to all the different dignities in the Republic. After having obtained a law for admitting the plebeians to the consulship, they procured for them a liberty of intermarrying with the patricians. They afterwards got them admitted to the dictatorship, to the office of military tribune, to the censorship; in a word, the only use they made of the power of the people, was to increase prerogatives, which they called the prerogatives of all, but which they and their friends alone were ever likely to enjoy.
“But we do not find that they ever employed the power of the people in things really beneficial to the people. We do not find that they ever set bounds to the terrible power of its magistrates; that they ever repressed that class of citizens who knew how to make their crimes pass uncensured; in a word, that they ever endeavoured to regulate the judicial power,—that power which is the sure criterion of the goodness of a government, and which was always at Rome a mere instrument of tyranny.”*
It would seem, therefore, that the advantage of the English constitution in placing all executive authority out of the hands of those to whom the people entrust their liberties, cannot be obtained in a Democracy, in which the people will almost necessarily be betrayed by those whom they trust, as by this very confidence they elevate them above their own rank, and as the attainment of the executive offices is the ultimate object of ambition to which the favourites of the people naturally aspire.
From the observations which have been made, it appears how very difficult it must be in a Democracy to secure the enactment of equal laws. But supposing such laws to be enacted, it is still more difficult to secure the faithful interpretation and application of them. When the passions of the people are roused, their rulers will find it necessary to gratify them by popular regulations; but unless there are proper checks on the judicial power, the most salutary laws are perfectly inefficacious; and how to impose such checks, and, at the same time, to secure to judges that independence which is necessary for the pure administration of justice, is a problem which does not seem to have been successfully solved in any democratical establishment recorded in history. On this subject, some very judicious observations, illustrated chiefly by the history of the Roman Commonwealth, may be found in De Lolme.†
Let us now consider how far a Democratical Constitution is fitted for employing the Executive Power of the state in defending it against foreign enemies.
It is one of the most evident maxims in politics, that the executive power, in order to be exercised with vigour, secrecy, and despatch, must be entrusted to very few hands. And hence the extraordinary powers which the freest governments have found it expedient to commit to single persons in times of public alarm. This policy, however, although, in such cases, not only useful, but sometimes essentially necessary to the existence of the state, is always a measure fraught with danger to public liberty, which is thus confided to that very executive power, against the encroachments of which it is the great object of free constitutions to provide.
In the ancient commonwealths, the established principle was to provide against this danger by limiting the duration of the office; but, in such cases, not only the supreme power, but the actual exercise of it, remains with the people; and the affairs of the state may legally be thrown into confusion by any individual who is able, by popular arts, to inflame the passions of the multitude. We shall afterwards see how beautifully this danger is provided against in the theory of the English Constitution, by rendering the executive power dependent for the necessary supplies on the people. It is remarkable, that the Romans, who were always extremely jealous about the legislative power, seem to have had little or no jealousy about the executive. This they left almost entirely to the senate and to the consuls, reserving little to themselves but the right of choosing the magistrates, and of confirming the acts of the senate and of the generals. The share, indeed, which the senate took in the executive power was so great, that Polybius informs us, foreign nations imagined that Rome was an Aristocracy.*
This circumstance in the Roman government is accounted for by Montesquieu, from the ruling passion of that people, which was the lust of conquest, and from the constant jealousy and alarm in which they were kept with respect to their foreign enemies. “The people,” says he, “disputed every branch of the legislative power with the senate, because they were jealous of their liberty; but they had no disputes about the executive, because they were jealous of their glory.”*
It is evident, however, that when the executive power is committed to a separate body, or to a single person without a check, in so far the government ceases to be Democratical; and we may add, that when a single person acquires such an ascendant in the public councils as to carry on everything according to his own will and pleasure, the constitution differs from Monarchy only in name. This happens more frequently in democracies than is generally imagined. “Athens, from the battle of Marathon, was governed by a series of artful and intriguing men, who possessed themselves, from time to time, of the whole power of the state. Thucydides (Book II.) asserts, in direct terms, that Athens, under Pericles, was a perfect Monarchy, and that those who succeeded him in the government, being more on an equality, ruined the state by contention.”1
In England, in like manner, the long Parliament was under the necessity of intrusting a select council with the whole conduct of foreign affairs. Indeed, it appears that these affairs were chiefly transacted by a single person, Sir Henry Vane.2
The danger in a Government professedly regulated by Republican forms, of such anomalous deviations from the genuine spirit of the constitution, needs little illustration. It is justly remarked by Montesquieu, that “an exorbitant authority suddenly conferred upon a citizen in a Republic, produces something more than a monarchy:” he means something more than a limited monarchy. “In the latter the laws have provided for, or in some measure adapted themselves to the constitution, and the principle of government checks the monarch; but in a Republic, where a private citizen has attained an exorbitant power, the abuse of this power is much greater because the laws foresaw it not, and consequently made no provision against it.”1 He has shewn in his Considerations on the Causes of the Grandeur and Decline of the Romans, that it was this circumstance which ruined the Republic.
We must not therefore conclude, from the splendid exertions made in war by nominal Democracies, that this form of government is well fitted for the management of the executive power, for war can only be carried on successfully when this power is entrusted to few hands; and in so far as this is done, the government departs, at least for a time, from the idea of a perfect Democracy.
Demosthenes in one of his orations, gives a lively picture of the irresolute and dilatory operations of a State embarrassed by the deliberations of popular councils, and the intrigues of ambitious and corrupt demagogues. “You resemble,” says he to the Athenians, “an unskilful bruiser, who, when he finds himself struck in one part, endeavours to defend that, and leaves the rest defenceless. In like manner, you are never prepared beforehand, and when Philip invades one part of your dominions, before you determine on its defence, he is gone to another.”2
In a state which is poor and of small extent, such a form of government may be conceived to exist with advantage. Individuals will be too much occupied with private concerns to form plans of ambition, and the general simplicity of manners will check an inordinate love of power or of exterior distinction. The simplicity likewise of their political arrangements will prevent demagogues from attempting to mislead them by misrepresentations of facts;—and the perfect knowledge which every individual may possess of the character of those who engage in public business, will be an additional security for their tranquillity. To this we may add, that it is in a small State that the advantages of the social union are most sensibly felt, and where the patriotic attachment operates most powerfully in stifling the selfish dispositions.
In a state which is wealthy and extensive, individuals may be expected to form ambitious projects, and they will be favoured in the execution of them by the extent of territory; by the complicated nature of the political arrangements; by the ignorance of the people with respect to the real character of their leaders, and their disposition in such cases to gratify their capricious humours, by patronizing every new candidate in preference to those whose abilities have been tried; and probably by that general passion for wealth which facilitates the secret arts of corruption. The elections for public offices will become a scene of intrigue and faction. The candidates for power will attempt to supplant their predecessors by detraction and by professions of patriotism; and when they have obtained their object, will, in their turn, forget the engagements they came under, and endeavour to maintain the power they have acquired, by availing themselves of those means of supporting it which their stations put in their hands. In the midst of such intrigues, the power of the state is likely to fall into the worst hands, and genius as well as virtue to be proscribed from the public service. Thucydides remarks, in speaking of the factions throughout all the Grecian Commonwealths:—“That in these contests, those who were the dullest and most stupid, and had the least foresight, commonly prevailed. For being conscious of this weakness, and dreading to be overreached by those of greater penetration, they went to work hastily, without premeditation, by the sword and poniard, and thereby got the start of their antagonists, who were forming fine schemes and projects for their destruction.”*
This observation has been praised by Mr. Hume, as possessing at once the merit of refinement and solidity; and it has been strikingly verified by some events which have happened in our own times.
The following passage from Machiavel is so apposite to our present subject, that I shall make no apology for the length of the quotation. It is part of a speech addressed by a citizen of Florence to the Senate, and contains (as De Lolme observes) a kind of abridged history of all Republics.*
“And that nothing human may be perpetual and stable, it is the will of heaven, that in all states whatsoever, there should arise certain destructive families, who are the bane and ruin of them. Of this our Republic can afford as many and more deplorable examples than any other, as it owes its misfortunes not only to one but to several of such families. We had at first the Buondelmonti and the Huberti: we had afterwards the Donati and the Cerchi. And at present we are waging war among ourselves for the Ricci and the Albizzi.
“When, in former times, the Ghibelins were suppressed, every one expected that the Guelfs, being then satisfied, would have chosen to live in tranquillity; yet, but a little time had elapsed, when they again divided themselves into the factions of the Whites and Blacks. When the Whites were suppressed, new parties arose, and new troubles followed. Sometimes battles were fought in favour of the exiles, and at other times quarrels broke out between the nobility and the people, and as if resolved to give away to others what we ourselves neither could, nor would peaceably enjoy, we committed the care of our liberty, sometimes to King Robert, and at other times to his brother, and at length to the Duke of Athens, never settling or resting in any kind of government, nor knowing either how to enjoy liberty or support servitude.”†
Upon a general review of the foregoing considerations, it appears, that whether a Democracy be great or small, there is an essential defect in this form of government. If it be small, it is destroyed by a foreign force; if it be large, it is ruined by an internal imperfection.
Montesquieu remarks, that both Democracies and Aristocracies are equally liable to this twofold inconvenience, and that whether they be good or bad, the evil is in the very thing itself, and no form can redress it.
“It is therefore,” he continues, “very probable that mankind would have been at length obliged to live constantly under the government of a single person, had they not contrived a constitution that has all the internal advantages of a Republican, together with the external force of a monarchical government; I mean a Confederate Republic.
“This form of government is a convention, by which several small states agree to become members of a larger one which they intend to form. It is a kind of assemblage of societies that constitute a new one, capable of increasing, by means of new associations, till they arrive at such a degree of power as to be able to provide for the security of the united body.
“It was these associations that contributed so long to the prosperity of Greece. . . . .
“A Republic of this kind, able to withstand an external force, may support itself without any internal corruption. . . . As it is composed of petty Republics, it enjoys the internal happiness of each; and with respect to its external situation, it is possessed by means of the association of many, of the advantages of large monarchies.”1
In the observations which have hitherto been made, I have considered it as essential to the notion of a Democracy, that the power of legislation should be lodged in the whole body of a people. This I conceive to be the abstract or theoretical idea of this form of government, although it has never been completely realized in the history of mankind. In illustrating its tendency, I have been obliged to borrow my facts from the proceedings of popular assemblies in different states, some of which may have approached nearer than others to the general definition, but all of which have departed from it in very important respects. This, however, forms no objection to the view of the subject I have taken, or to the fitness of these illustrations; for the proceedings of a popular assembly in any form of government, may serve equally well to illustrate the advantages or the disadvantages that might be expected from a constitution in which such an assembly formed the whole body of the people, and retained in itself the power of legislation.
If we should enlarge the definition of a Democracy, and admit the people only to act by their representatives, the nature of the government becomes essentially changed, and many of the foregoing objections fall to the ground.
“It was one great fault,” says Montesquieu, “in most of the ancient Republics, that the people had a right to influence immediately the public resolutions;—a thing of which they are absolutely incapable. They ought to have no hand in the government but for the choosing of representatives.”*
If this principle of Montesquieu be admitted, that “an indirect share in the legislation, by means of delegates or representatives, is the utmost length of political freedom that is consistent with the ends of government,” some of the inconveniences now stated as incident to democratical constitutions, may undoubtedly be obviated. And it affords a curious and interesting subject of philosophical speculation, to devise the most effectual and advantageous mode of carrying the representative system into execution, a problem (by the way) of which the solution must necessarily vary with the circumstances of the country in question. A very ingenious theory on this subject is proposed by Mr. Hume, in one of his Political Discourses, and is supported by him by many plausible arguments. The Essay concludes with an observation, in which the author controverts the common opinion, that no large state could ever be modelled into such a form of government, and that it is compatible only with a single city, or a very small territory. “The contrary,” says he, “seems probable. Though it is more difficult to form a Republican Government in an extensive territory than in a city, there is more facility, when once it is formed, of preserving it steady and uniform, without tumult and faction. It is not easy for the distant parts of a large state to combine in any plan of free government, but they easily conspire in the esteem and reverence for a single person, who, by means of this popular favour, may seize the power, and forcing the more obstinate to submit, may establish a monarchical government. On the other hand, a city readily concurs in the same notions of government, the natural equality of property favours liberty, and the nearness of habitation enables the citizens mutually to assist each other. Even under absolute princes, the subordinate government of cities is commonly Republican, while that of counties and provinces is Monarchical. But these same circumstances, which facilitate the erection of commonwealths in cities, render their constitutions more frail and uncertain. Democracies are turbulent. For however the people may be separated or divided into small parties either in their votes or elections, their near habitation in a city will always make the force of popular tides and currents very sensible. Aristocracies are better adapted for peace and order, and accordingly were most admired by ancient writers, but they are jealous and oppressive. In a large government which is modelled with masterly skill, there is compass and room enough to refine the democracy, from the lower people who may be admitted into the first elections, or first concoction of the commonwealth, to the higher magistrates who direct all the movements. At the same time, the parts are so distant and remote, that it is very difficult, either by intrigue, prejudice, or passion, to hurry them into any measures against the public interest.”*
To these reasonings of Mr. Hume’s many very strong objections might be made; but I shall only mention one at present, which has always had more weight with me than any other. It is founded on an observation, (which I was formerly [supra, Vol. I. p. 21, seq.] at some pains to illustrate,) that the happiness of mankind depends immediately, not on the form of government, but on the particular system of law and policy which that form introduces; and that the advantage which one form of government possesses over another, arises chiefly from the facility it affords to the introduction of such legislative improvements as the general interests of the community recommend. Now, I do not think that in the present state of the world, Democratic constitutions in any form which it is possible to give them, are favourable to the establishment of those systematic and enlightened principles of Political Economy which are subservient to the progressive happiness and improvement of mankind. Under every form of government, (whatever it may be,) provided its general spirit be favourable to liberty, and allows an unrestrained freedom of discussion, these enlightened views of Political Economy will gradually and slowly prevail in proportion to the progress of reason and the diffusion of knowledge. And they will command the general assent of mankind soonest in those countries where a strong executive power and a vigilant police allow men to prosecute calmly and dispassionately those important but difficult studies, which lead to the melioration of the human race.
I shall prosecute this subject further when I come to treat of the peculiar advantages of the English Constitution. In the meantime, I proceed to make a few remarks on the nature and spirit of Aristocratic Governments.
In an Aristocracy, the supreme power is vested in a select body of the citizens, or (to express myself in the language of modern Europe) in a body of Nobility; but the nature and spirit of such a form of government may be widely diversified in different instances, while the general character of the constitution remains the same.
1. If the nobles be numerous, a senate will be necessary for the management of those kinds of business which cannot be transacted in a large assembly, and for preparing the business which is to come under the general consideration of the order. “Where this is the case,” says Montesquieu, “the Aristocracy is, in some measure, in the senate, the Democracy in the body of the nobles, and the people are nothing at all.”*
2. With respect to the manner in which the power of the nobles is vested in them, two suppositions may be formed. First, that it belongs to them in their collective capacity only, individuals possessing no separate authority but what they derive from the whole body; and secondly, that each nobleman has a separate and independent authority belonging to himself. The former supposition took place in the old Venetian government; the latter in that of Poland, in which every nobleman, by means of his fiefs, had a certain hereditary authority over his vassals, and the whole body had no authority but what it received from the concurrence of its parts.1
Of the two, it is easy to see that the former is likely to be by far the more tolerable; for where the whole authority of the nobles is vested in them in their collective capacity, although the laws which are made will probably be calculated to favour the interests of the ruling order, yet such acts of wanton oppression are not to be dreaded as often proceed from the bad passions of uncontrolled individuals. In the latter case, the nobles will set up as little tyrants in every corner of the country, extending their oppressions to all descriptions of men, and even to those individuals who, in an extensive monarchy, would derive some security from their insignificance. It is therefore with good reason that Mr. Hume, in his Essay entitled Politics a Science, lays it down as a universal political axiom, that the best aristocracy is that in which the nobility have no vassals. In further illustration of this maxim, Mr. Hume observes, that “a nobility who possess their power in common will preserve peace and order, both among themselves and their subjects; and no member can have authority enough to control the laws for a moment. The nobles will preserve their authority over the people, but without any grievous tyranny, or any breach of private property; because such a tyrannical government promotes not the interest of the whole body, however it may that of some individuals. There will be a distinction of rank between the nobility and people; but this will be the only distinction in the state. The whole nobility will form one body, and the whole people another, without any of those private feuds and animosities which spread ruin and desolation everywhere. It is easy to see the disadvantages of a Polish nobility in every one of these particulars.”*
3. Montesquieu remarks,† that those aristocracies are the best in which they who have no share in the legislature are so few and inconsiderable that the governing party have no interest in oppressing them. Thus, when Antipater made a law at Athens, that whosoever was not worth two thousand drachmas (about £60 sterling1 ) should have no power to vote, he formed, by this means, the best Aristocracy possible; because this was so small a sum as excluded very few, and not one of any rank or consideration in the city. The truth is, that such an aristocracy carries political liberty as far, perhaps, as is compatible with the great ends of government. In every society there must be distinctions and subordinations among men, founded on their personal qualities; and the perfection of government undoubtedly would be, to arrange men as nearly as possible by this standard. To give political power, therefore, to those who, from their situation and education, may be presumed best qualified to exercise it, and to exclude from a share in the government those who are incapable of thinking and judging for themselves, is not to counteract, but to fall in with the obvious intentions of Nature.
The invidious and unjust distinctions of an Aristocracy consist in those disqualifications founded on birth, which prevent a man, however eminent for virtue and ability, from serving his country in particular situations. No form of government secures completely the rights of mankind, in which there is not a fair field opened to a laudable ambition; but provided this is done,—provided it is in the power of every individual to raise himself to all the honours of the state, by personal merit, the constitution cannot be censured as partial or oppressive; nay, the interest even of the lower orders imperiously requires, that they should be excluded from those functions which they could only exercise to their own ruin.
But whatever be the particular nature of the Aristocracy, it will be the interest, as it undoubtedly is the duty, of the governing order, to conceal as much as possible, in the intercourse of private life, every circumstance in their situation which may have a tendency to mortify the pride, and to rouse the jealousy of their inferiors. Particular constitutions may require, that certain political functions should be confined to a particular order of men; and in such a situation, it may be the duty of this order to maintain these privileges against every encroachment; but it is their duty, at the same time, to shew, by the uniform tenor of their manners, that they consider the distinctions they enjoy, not as the rightful appendage of a separate caste, but as a trust committed to them for the purpose of general utility.
This, I presume, was in part the idea of Montesquieu, when he said that moderation is the principle of Aristocracy.† He has indeed left us in this, as in many other instances, in some measure to conjecture his meaning; but he has expressed the same sentiments, which I have now been stating, very explicitly in other parts of his writings. “Aristocratical families,” says he in one place, “ought, as much as possible, to level themselves in appearance with the people. The more an Aristocracy borders on Democracy, the nearer it approaches to perfection.”* In another place he remarks, that as “the pomp and splendour with which kings are surrounded form a part of their power, so modesty and simplicity of manners constitute the strength of an aristocratical nobility. When they affect no distinction, when they mix with the people, dress like them, and with them share all their pleasures, the people are apt to forget their subjection and weakness.” To illustrate this observation, he mentions an anecdote of the Venetians, “who, in many respects,” says he, “may be said to have been a very wise government, and who, in the present age, decided a dispute between a noble Venetian and a gentleman in Terra Firma, with respect to precedency in a church, by declaring, that out of Venice a noble Venetian had no pre-eminence over any other citizen.”†
Dr. Ferguson, too, in commenting on Montesquieu’s doctrine concerning the principles of the different forms of government, puts the same interpretation on the word moderation, in this instance, which I have done.
“To maintain for himself, and to admit in his fellow-citizens a perfect equality of privileges and station, is not the leading maxim of the member of an Aristocracy. The rights of men are modified by their condition. One order claims more than it is willing to yield; the other must be ready to yield what it does not assume to itself; and it is with good reason that Montesquieu gives to the principle of such government the name of moderation, not of virtue.”
“The elevation of one class is a moderated arrogance; the submission of the other a limited deference. The first must be careful, by concealing the invidious part of their distinction, to palliate what is grievous in the public arrangement, and by their education, their cultivated manners, and improved talents, to appear qualified for the stations they occupy. The other must be taught to yield, from respect and personal attachment, what could not otherwise be extorted by force. When this moderation fails on either side, the constitution totters.”1
It follows evidently from what has been said, that the less invidious the legal distinctions are which are made between the two orders, the more quiet and permanent the government is likely to be. How mortifying, for example, was the law at Rome, inserted by the Decemvirs in the two last tables, by which the patricians were forbidden to marry plebeians;—“a law,” says Montesquieu, “that had no other effect than to render the patricians, on the one side, more haughty, and on the other, more odious.”* It is a grievance still more liable to be abused, when an unjust distinction is made between the two orders in respect of taxation, as when the nobles assume the privilege of paying none, or when, as in some aristocracies of Italy, they commit frauds to exempt themselves. Montesquieu observes, that while Rome inclined towards Aristocracy she avoided all these inconveniences. “The magistrates never received any emoluments from their office. The chief men of the Republic were taxed like the rest, nay heavier, and sometimes the taxes fell upon them alone. In a word,” says he, “far from sharing among themselves the revenues of the state, all they could draw from the public treasure, and all the wealth that fortune threw in their way, they bestowed freely on the people, that they might not envy them their honours.”† The same author remarks, how very essential a point it is in an Aristocracy that the nobles should not levy the taxes. If they did, the property of the people would be at the discretion of those in public employments, and there would be no superior tribunal to check their power.‡
The most favourable view which can be taken of an Aristocratical government is, when we confine the attention solely to the character and manners of the superior order. There is, undoubtedly, a set of virtues, and of very splendid virtues, naturally connected with hereditary rank and the pride of family:—Independence and elevation of mind, sincerity, disinterestedness, generosity, and personal intrepidity and gallantry. I acknowledge, too, that there are aristocratical vices, originating in what a patrician historian of Rome represents as the constitutional disease of his own order;—“Contemptor animus et superbia; commune nobilitatis malum.”* But the effects of these operate chiefly in the narrow circle of private life, and are not apt to strike the attention of foreign nations. Where the lucrative arts are abandoned to an inferior description of men, the nobles may be expected to be free from those defects which are often connected with the commercial character; but it must be remembered, that in proportion as we elevate in this way one class of the community, we depress another, which is far more numerous; and it is surely not compatible with an equitable government, to sacrifice the dignity and the happiness of one order of men to those of another. We are, indeed, too often apt to forget this consideration; and, when the imagination is dazzled with the splendour of aristocratic qualities, to overlook the immense price at which they have been purchased.
In Sparta, where every freeman was relieved completely of all solicitude about private interest, a national character was formed, which, in point of elevation and heroism, exceeds everything else in the history of mankind; and although in our cooler moments, our indignation rises at the cruel and unjust degradation of the Helots; yet, “when,” in the language of Dr. Ferguson, “we think only of the superior order of men in the state; when we attend to that elevation and magnanimity of spirit, for which dangers had no terror, interest no means to corrupt; when we consider them as friends, or as citizens, we are apt to forget, like themselves, that slaves have a title to be treated like men.”†
If we should suppose an Aristocracy in which the nobles applied themselves to commerce, the evils of this form of government would be greatly aggravated, as they would probably add rapacity and fraud to the vices connected with their elevated rank. Accordingly, Montesquieu mentions this as a fundamental principle in an Aristocracy, that the nobles should be prohibited every kind of commerce. “Merchants,” says he, “of such unbounded credit, would monopolize all to themselves. Commerce is the profession of people who stand on an equality. Hence, among despotic States, the most miserable are those in which the prince applies himself to trade.
“The laws of Venice debar the nobles from commerce. One of their laws, in particular, forbids the Senatus to have any ship at sea that holds above forty bushels.”1
I before took notice [supra, p. 366, seq.] of the difficulty of securing in a Democracy a faithful execution of equitable laws after they are enacted. This has given rise to the Censorial Office. The same difficulty occurs in an Aristocracy, and has suggested the institution, either of temporary or perpetual magistrates, as a check upon the nobles. Hence the State inquisitors at Venice, magistrates who are subject to no formalities. Hence, too, the Ephori at Sparta.2
For the preservation, however, of an Aristocracy, it is necessary not only that the nobles should have a spirit of Moderation towards the people: it is farther necessary that they should have a spirit of moderation with respect to their own order; for if one family should aspire to an elevation above the rest, the constitution would be changed into a mixed monarchy. Accordingly, it appears from a variety of passages in Montesquieu, that he also included this circumstance in the principle he has assigned to this form of government. It is much to be regretted that this ingenious and profound writer is not always precise and uniform in his use of words, and sometimes employs the same expression in very different senses.
In order to maintain, as far as possible, an equality among the nobles, Montesquieu* remarks that no countenance should be given by the laws to the distinctions which vanity founds upon the nobility or antiquity of families. Pretences of this nature ought to be ranked among the weaknesses of private persons. It is farther expedient, that the right of primogeniture should be abolished, (which is the case at Venice,) that by a continual division of the inheritances, the fortunes of the nobles may be kept nearly on a level; and generally, that all those contrivances should be excluded which have been introduced into monarchical governments for the purpose of perpetuating the grandeur of families.
The corruption of Aristocracy in the language of the ancient politicians is called Oligarchy. It has been sometimes defined to be the government of the rich over the poor; but the true idea of it seems to be a government where the ruling order have in view not the public interest, but the maintenance of their own influence and authority. According to Aristotle,1 “a constitution may be excellent, whether the executive power rest in the hands of one person; whether it be divided among many; or whether it continue in the hands of the people; but that power will become fatal if monarchy degenerates into tyranny, if Aristocracy is turned into Oligarchy, or if the Democratic authority, falling again into the lower classes of the people, produces nothing but tumult and anarchy.”
He afterwards tells us more explicitly, that “a tyrant is a monarch who rules with no other view than the benefit of himself and his family. Aristocracy degenerates into Oligarchy, when the few, who are rich, govern the State as best suits the interests of their avarice and ambition; and a Republic degenerates into a Democracy, when the many, who are poor, make the gratification of their own passions the only rule of their administration. Wherever wealth alone opens the road to preferment, Oligarchy prevails; poverty, on the other hand, is the constant attendant of Democracy, and the distinctive character of those governments consists not in this, that the many or the few bear sway, but in the one case, that rapacious poverty be armed with power; and in the other, that contemptuous opulence be invested with authority. But as eminence in wealth can only fall to the share of a few, and as all may participate the advantages of equal freedom, the partisans of the rich and of the multitude agitate republican states, each faction striving to engross the government.”—(Gillies’s translation.)
Hence it appears, that by an Oligarchy, Aristotle meant an aristocratical government, in which the common good of the state (which ought to be the end of every political establishment) is sacrificed to the interest or to the passions of the rulers. That all hereditary Aristocracies have a strong tendency to degenerate into Oligarchies, is confirmed by the universal experience of mankind, and is acknowledged by the violent and tyrannical regulations (such as the institution of Inquisitors, &c.) which have been devised as a remedy against this source of corruption. At the same time it must be confessed, that an hereditary aristocratical assembly is less in danger of running into Oligarchy, than a single assembly chosen at short intervals by the people, and vested completely with the authority of the state. The leading members of the assembly possessing (in such democratic establishments) the appointment of judges, and the appointment to all lucrative and honourable offices, they have thus the power to bend the whole executive and judicial authority to their own private interest, and by this means to increase their own reputation, 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 the management of elections.1 An aspiring chief, for the same reasons, in an hereditary Aristocracy, has more obstacles in the way of his ambition, than an aspiring demagogue in a pure Democracy. We may add, that if he should succeed in the attainment of his object, the danger to the public is infinitely less alarming; for the power of a demagogue over men who acknowledge no adventitious distinctions, is but another name for despotism; whereas in an hereditary aristocracy, the elevation of an individual to the throne may prepare the way for a mixed government, composed, like our own, by a happy union of the three simple forms.
The experience which the ancient Politicians had of the turbulence of Democracies, joined to their ignorance of such Mixed Monarchies as have arisen in modern Europe, naturally produced a strong partiality in favour of Aristocracy; and, undoubtedly, in ages when the art of printing was unknown, and of consequence the general instruction of the people was impossible, much might be advanced in support of their opinion. It must, too, be acknowledged, that notwithstanding the tendency of Aristocratical Constitutions to foster in the rulers a spirit of jealousy and oppression, they have, in some instances, been administered for a long course of time with such exemplary wisdom and moderation, as to secure, in an eminent degree, all the most essential ends for which governments are instituted. The history of the Canton of Berne, which (a few years ago) was unquestionably one of the happiest and most prosperous states in Europe, furnishes a striking illustration of the truth of this remark.
By the word Monarchy, (as I employ it at present, in considering theoretically the simple forms of government,) is to be understood a political establishment, where a single person, without being limited by any law, directs everything agreeably to his own inclination, and where his subjects are understood to have no rights which they are entitled to state in opposition to his authority.
That such a form of government may, in particular combinations of circumstances, be attended with the most fortunate effects, it is impossible to deny. In certain respects, it possesses important advantages over every other that imagination can conceive; in particular, in the vigour, secrecy, and despatch which it communicates to the operations of the executive magistrate. Nay, farther, it may be safely affirmed, that it has been under a government approaching to this description that the internal happiness of large empires has been sometimes carried to the highest pitch. “If a man,” says Mr. Gibbon,* “were called to fix the period in the history of the world during which the condition of the human race was most happy and prosperous, he would, without hesitation, name that which elapsed from the death of Domitian to the accession of Commodus. The vast extent of the Roman empire was governed by absolute power, under the guidance of virtue and wisdom. The armies were restrained by the firm but gentle hand of four successive emperors, whose character and authority commanded involuntary respect. The forms of the civil administration were carefully preserved by Nerva, Trajan, Hadrian, and the Antonines, who delighted in the image of Liberty, and were pleased with considering themselves as the accountable ministers of the laws.” In general, it must be granted to the advocates for this form of government, that if it were possible to secure perfect virtue and unerring wisdom in a prince, and if his subjects, at the same time, were of such a character as to be capable of enjoying the blessings of a mild and equitable government, the internal tranquillity and prosperity of an extensive empire, as well as the force it would be capable of employing against its foreign enemies, would be secured to a greater degree under such a constitution than under any other.
On the other hand, it is no less evident that this form of government rests the happiness of the people on the most precarious of all foundations;—and that as it is capable, when well administered, of doing more good, so it is also capable, on the opposite supposition, of doing infinitely more mischief, than any other species of government whatever. And, accordingly, the eloquent historian now quoted, after remarking, that “the labours of these monarchs (the princes to whom the foregoing passage refers) were overpaid by the immense reward that inseparably waited on their success, by the honest pride of virtue, and by the exquisite delight of beholding the general happiness, of which they were the authors,” immediately subjoins,—“A just but melancholy reflection embittered the noblest of human enjoyments. They must often have recollected the instability of a happiness which depended on the character of a single man. The fatal moment was perhaps approaching when some licentious youth, or some jealous tyrant, would abuse, to the destruction, that absolute power which they had exerted for the benefit, of their people. The ideal restraints of the senate and the laws, might serve to display the virtues, but could never correct the vices of the emperor. The military force was a blind and irresistible instrument of oppression, and the corruption of Roman manners would always supply flatterers eager to applaud, and ministers prepared to serve the fear or the avarice, the lust or the cruelty, of their masters.
“These gloomy apprehensions had been already justified by the experience of the Romans. The annals of the emperors exhibit a strong and various picture of human nature, which we should vainly seek among the mixed and doubtful characters of modern history. In the conduct of these monarchs we may trace the utmost lines of vice and virtue, the most exalted perfection, and the meanest degeneracy of our own species. The golden age of Trajan and the Antonines had been preceded by an age of iron. It is almost superfluous to enumerate the unworthy successors of Augustus: their unparalleled vices, and the splendid theatre on which they were acted, have saved them from oblivion. The dark, unrelenting Tiberius, the furious Caligula, the feeble Claudius, the profligate and cruel Nero, the beastly Vitellius, and the timid, inhuman Domitian, are condemned to everlasting infamy. During fourscore years, excepting only the short and doubtful respite of Vespasian’s reign, Rome groaned beneath an unremitting tyranny, which exterminated the ancient families of the republic, and was fatal to almost every virtue and every talent that arose in that unhappy period.”*
Independently of these considerations, so forcibly stated by Mr. Gibbon, much might be urged in opposition to that argument, which the example of a few virtuous monarchs has furnished to some writers in favour of absolute power. It was only in an empire placed in the very peculiar circumstances in which Rome then stood, that such characters as Trajan and the Antonines were likely to be formed; or that they could have found themselves placed at the head of a people qualified to receive from them the happiness which they were willing to bestow. Among a people whose liberty has been suddenly overturned by a military force, the characters both of sovereigns and subjects may continue, for ages, to be influenced by the recollection of earlier and happier times. This, as we have seen, was the case in the Roman empire, under which the people long retained the independent and elevated ideas of their ancestors,—ideas which were more firmly rivetted in some of them by the study of the Greek philosophy; while, in the catalogue of sovereigns, among a multitude of the most execrable scourges of mankind, we find some of the most illustrious names that have ever adorned humanity. In order to form a judgment of the genuine nature and effects of pure Monarchy, we must suppose the government to be so long established as to obliterate, both in the case of the sovereign and his subjects, all the ideas and manners which might have been derived from earlier and happier institutions. This supposition is realized among different nations of the East. In the Persian language, it is said there is no word for any form of government but Absolute Monarchy; and excepting some faint ideas which have been communicated to the people by European travellers, of the freedom and mildness of our establishments, they believe that such has ever been the condition of mankind. It is to the East, accordingly, we must turn our views, if we wish to collect illustrations of the genuine tendency of this form of government with respect to human happiness and improvement. On this branch of our subject, I have nothing to add at present to the profound remarks of Montesquieu and Ferguson.
Where an individual is so far elevated above a community as to consider its members as born merely for his use and pleasure, it is not to be supposed that he will embarrass himself much with the cares of government. It is more natural to presume that he will make choice of some one person, to whom he will entrust the administration, and devote himself entirely to indolence and voluptuousness. Montesquieu,* therefore, states it as a fundamental law in this government, that the sovereign creates a vizier, to whom an unlimited power is delegated; and, in fact, we find that among the eastern despots the practice is universal. Among them, indeed, other circumstances concur to make it absolutely necessary; in particular, the education which is systematically bestowed on them,—an education calculated both to enfeeble their understandings and corrupt their hearts. Upon their elevation, accordingly, to the throne, finding themselves incapable of holding the reins of government, they relieve themselves of the whole burden, and abandon themselves to the pleasures of the seraglio.
The same effects which are felt in the extreme, under these despotic governments of the East, may be expected everywhere, though in a less degree, among princes possessed of sovereign authority, and not properly prepared for the exercise of it by a youth of exertion and enterprise. This observation is well illustrated by Helvetius in the following passage:—
“A despotic prince being in possession of all the pleasures which glory can promise to other men, has not motives sufficient to enable him to undergo the tiresome task of business, and to expose himself to that fatigue of attention necessary to his obtaining instruction. Such princes, therefore, are seldom reckoned among great sovereigns, except where they have cleared the way to the throne, or been long instructed in the school of misfortune. They always owe their knowledge to the interest they have in acquiring it.
“Why are little princes generally more able men than the most powerful despots? It is, because they have in a manner their fortunes to make; because they are obliged, with an inferior force, to resist that which is superior; because they live in perpetual fear of having their dominions taken from them; and because their interest, being more strictly united with that of their subjects, must enlighten them with respect to the various parts of their administration. Thus we might, in consequence of what I have said, prepare Geographico-political maps of the merit of the princes in the several empires of the East. Their understanding, measured by the scale of their power, would decrease in proportion to the extent and strength of their empires, to the difficulty of penetrating into them, and to the degree of absolute authority they have over their subjects; this scale being once established, would afford us very just conclusions. The Sophis and Moguls, for example, would be placed in the lowest rank; because, excepting some in singular circumstances, where they have accidentally had a good education, the most powerful must commonly be the most ignorant.”1
Under a despotical government, it is farther evident that an unlimited authority, in many respects, must be delegated by the vizier to his inferior officers. There is no established law but the will of the sovereign, and as this cannot be known in every instance, magistrates will necessarily follow their own. Hence the whole country will groan under the oppression of little despots, and of the most intolerable of all despots, men who are themselves slaves to their employers.
In some despotic governments the Prince is considered as proprietor of all the lands, and heir to all his subjects. Here, the extreme of servitude is felt, and every inducement, even to the practice of the lucrative arts and the acquisition of property, is taken away. Agriculture is neglected, and the earth is left in a state of nature. “Under this form of government,” says Ricaut, speaking of the Ottoman empire, “nothing is repaired or improved. Houses are built only for the necessity of habitation; there is no such thing as digging of ditches, or planting of trees; everything is drawn from, but nothing restored to the earth: the land lies untilled, and the whole country becomes a desert.”1
The river Menam, in the kingdom of Siam, overflows annually like the Nile, depositing a quantity of slime, which proves a rich manure. The river seems to rise gradually as the rice grows, and retires to its channel, when the rice, approaching to maturity, needs no longer to be watered. Nature beside has bestowed on that rich country variety of delicious fruits, requiring scarce any culture.2 “In such a paradise,” says Lord Kames, “would one imagine that the Siamites are a miserable people?” “The government,” says the same author in answer to his own question, “the government is despotic, and the people are slaves. They must work for their monarch six months every year, without wages, and even without receiving any food from him. What renders them still more miserable is, that they have no protection either for their persons or their goods. The grandees are exposed to the rapacity of the king and his courtiers, and the lower ranks are exposed to the rapacity of the grandees. When a man has the misfortune to possess a tree remarkable for good fruit, he is required, in the name of the king or a courtier, to preserve the fruit for their use. Every proprietor of a garden in the neighbourhood of the capital, must pay a yearly sum to the keeper of the elephants, otherwise it will be laid waste by those animals, whom it is high treason to molest. From the sea-port of Merguin to the capital, one travels ten or twelve days, through immense plains of a rich soil, finely watered. That country appears to have been formerly cultivated, but is now quite depopulated, and left to tigers and elephants. Formerly an immense commerce was carried on in that fertile country: historians attest, that in the middle of the sixteenth century above a thousand foreign ships frequented its ports annually. But the king, tempted with so much riches, endeavoured to engross all the commerce of his country, by which means he annihilated successively mines, manufactures, and even agriculture. The country is depopulated, and few remain there but beggars.”1 In this manner, the unlimited desire of power and of wealth frustrates its own designs. The real grandeur of a sovereign can only be founded on the wealth, the happiness, and the attachment of his subjects, and these can only be secured by civil liberty. When the savages of Louisiana wish for the fruit of a tree, they lay the axe to its root. “Behold,” says Montesquieu, “an emblem of despotic government!”* “A sentiment,” as Dr. Warton has well remarked, “worthy of the spirit of Demosthenes, and an image worthy of the genius of Homer.”
When we review, in this manner, the tendency of despotism with respect to the happiness of mankind, it cannot fail to excite our wonder how such a species of government should be suffered to exist, or by what fascination millions of men should continue for ages under its yoke. It appears, however, from the fact, that the thing is possible, and that the human mind may be so trained by education, or subdued by external circumstances, as to lose all sense of its natural rights in a childish admiration of rank and magnificence, or in a servile depression and abjectness of spirit. Tacitus informs us, that in the reign of Tiberius, the servility and adulation even of the higher orders was carried to such an excess, as to become disgusting to the tyrant himself. “Ceterum tempora illa adeo infecta, et adulatione sordida fuêre, ut non modo primores civitatis, quibus claritudo sua obsequiis protegenda erat; sed omnes consulares, magna pars eorum qui prætura functi, multique etiam pedarii senatores certatim insurgerent, fœdaque et nimia censerent. Memoriæ proditur, Tiberium, quoties curià egrederetur, Græcis verbis in hunc modum eloqui solitum:—O homines ad servitutem paratos! Scilicet etiam illum, qui libertatem publicam nollet, tam projectæ servientium patientiæ tædebat.”2
The principles in human nature on which education operates in producing this servility, were undoubtedly intended for the most valuable purposes; to fit men for government, and to give to wisdom and virtue an ascendant over the physical force of the multitude. That they have produced more good than harm, on the whole, there is no reason to doubt; but experience shews, that in some unfortunate combinations of circumstances they may be rendered subservient to the establishment of a political order, infinitely more ruinous to the happiness and the virtue of mankind, than anarchy itself. The latter may, indeed, for a time, dissolve still more completely the moral elements of social life; but the violence and bloodshed which it inevitably occasions, lead, sooner or later, by a natural and necessary process, to their own correction. The chief danger which attends it, in its ultimate result, arises from the strong tendency of the human mind to pass from one extreme to another, and which has repeatedly, in the past history of our species, hurried men at once from the insubordination and misrule of a lawless licentiousness, into the dead and hopeless repose which despotism secures.
Montesquieu has said, that the Principle of Despotism is Fear.* I before observed, [p. 379, seq.,] that by the principle of a government, this author seems to have meant that national character which is favourable to the government, and which contributes to support it. In the present instance, therefore, Montesquieu’s observation implies, that the most striking feature in the character of a people reduced to political slavery, is a universal timidity, jealousy, and mutual distrust; and the more we reflect on the remark, we shall be the more sensible of its significancy and importance. That in a despotism, the government could not subsist for a moment, unless the sovereign and his inferior officers were objects of dread to the body of the people, is a consideration too obvious to have formed the leading idea in Montesquieu’s mind, when he stated this as a fundamental maxim in the theory of government. It is more than probable, that what he chiefly alluded to was the mutual dread and distrust diffused among the members of the community by the jealousy of the prince,—a jealousy which renders it necessary in such an establishment, to prevent every combination, which, by making the subjects conscious of their own strength, might excite a spirit of liberty, and which naturally suggests the dreadful policy of destroying, as far as possible, the easy intercourse of social life, and even the confidence of domestic society. Such was the feeling of Tiberius when he called spies and informers the guardians of the state; and such was the condition of the Roman people during that melancholy period which led Tacitus to lament that “his Annals must want the grandeur and the variety of those histories which detail the transactions of free states; being little more,” as he himself observes, “than the disgusting repetition of continued acts of cruelty, accusations, breaches of trust, violated friendships, and the ruin of the innocent.”1
The idea which despotic governments have themselves entertained of the necessity of maintaining their empire over men, by a skilful management of their opinions and habits, appears remarkably from the anxious care they have uniformly taken to prevent every circumstance which might diminish the influence of royalty over the mind, by too great a familiarity with the person, or even with the name of the sovereign, and to check every idea which, by the most remote association, might lead men to conceptions unfavourable to the established authority. At Rome, it was high treason to sell a statue of an emperor; and it was doubted whether it was not high treason to hit an emperor’s statue with a stone thrown at random.2
The account which Herodian gives of the funeral rites which were observed at Rome upon the death of an emperor, illustrates still more remarkably the anxiety of despotical governments to consecrate the prince in the opinion of his subjects.3
“In Persia,” says Sir John Chardin, “when the king has condemned a person, it is no longer lawful to intercede in his favour, or even to mention his name. Though he was drunk at the time he pronounced the sentence, the decree must be executed.” “This,” he adds, “has been the established practice in that country in all ages.”1
While such is the condition of the subjects of a despotic government, that of the tyrant cannot be very secure. Where the minds of men, indeed, are completely darkened by ignorance and superstition, and where a long established despotism has deprived them of all recollection that they were born to be happy and free, the condition of the prince will necessarily be less perilous than in an empire, like that of Rome, where the memory of better times kept alive, in the breasts of a few individuals, a sense of the dignity and the rights of human nature. It is probable that the constant apprehensions and alarms which this circumstance must necessarily have produced in the minds of the Roman tyrants, was the occasion of those incredible and frantic acts of cruelty which are generally ascribed to a malignant and unrelenting disposition, delighting, for its own gratification, to diffuse misery among mankind,—a disposition, of which, I am inclined to think, human nature, in its worst state, is altogether incapable. The histories, therefore, of the cruelties of a Caligula, a Nero, and a Domitian, while they illustrate the misery of the subjects in a despotical government, illustrate, at the same time, the apprehensions which it is natural for the sovereign to entertain with respect to his own safety.2
In stating the evils of despotical governments, I must not omit to mention the violence and bloodshed which take place at the commencement of every new reign. In countries where there is no established law, it is impossible that there should be a fixed order of succession.3 The election depends on the will of the prince; but it is often productive of a civil war; and even where it is not, the new sovereign finds it expedient, for the security of his crown, either to despatch his nearest relations, or by some acts of violence on their persons, to disqualify them from ever aspiring to the government. In Turkey it is usual for him to strangle his brothers; in Persia, to put out their eyes; and in the Mogul’s country, precautions are taken to deprive them of their understanding;—where these severities are not exercised, a civil war seems to be almost inevitable. Accordingly, this is said to take place in Morocco upon every vacancy in the throne.1
After the view which has been given of the nature and consequences of despotism, how painful the reflection that this should have been the melancholy condition of so great a proportion of mankind in every age of the world, and that it should continue, at this hour, to depopulate and desolate the fairest regions of the earth! How painful the reflection, that, with all their natural and irresistible desires of happiness, and with all their capacities of attaining it, mankind should have been so often blind to their own real and best interests! We are mortified to think, that even we ourselves are indebted for the most valuable privileges we enjoy, rather to a fortunate and rare concurrence of accidental circumstances, than to the general course of human affairs; and while we feel the warmest gratitude to Providence for our own peculiar felicity, we can scarcely avoid trembling for the calamities which, amidst the possible revolutions of the world, may, at some future period, await our posterity. But is not this, in some measure, the language of a melancholy and desponding imagination; and do not both reason and experience concur in assuring us, that the condition of man is more likely to change for the better than for the worse, in that part of his history which is yet to come? Notwithstanding the lamentable effects of that awful political convulsion which has now, for so many years, agitated Europe, and which does not seem as yet to have spent its force, many important circumstances conspire to render the present situation of the human race essentially different from what it ever was in former times, and to promise a stability to science and civilisation which they never before possessed. The invention of printing is alone sufficient to change the whole face of human affairs. Formerly, the experience of each particular state was, in a great measure, confined to itself, and even there, was so completely lost to the body of the people, in the course of a few generations, that while the world was growing older, it had but little opportunity of accumulating political knowledge. It is only now that the advantages of historical information are extended to all ranks of men, and that the contemporary transactions of the various civilized nations upon earth are become subjects of daily interest and discussion to each other. The influence of this circumstance on the literary taste of the age has been very remarkable, tending everywhere, more or less, to turn the attention of speculative men from the idle subtleties of the schools, and the comparatively uninteresting pursuits of physical knowledge, to those studies which aim at the improvement and the happiness of society.
The conclusions to which these studies have already led, are, many of them, of the highest importance, and probably many more remain in store to reward the industry of our successors. But abstracting entirely from these more recondite doctrines, how incalculable is the value of those simple and elementary principles which, in this part of the world, (and more particularly in this fortunate island,) are interwoven by the daily operation of the press with all our habits of thinking; and which are sufficient of themselves, while the same cause exists to keep them in remembrance, to oppose an effectual barrier to the more violent usurpations of civil and religious tyranny? To attempt, indeed, to extirpate from the world the knowledge of such truths as these, would be no less extravagant than to think of extirpating those grains and roots to which mankind trust as the staff of life.
These comfortable views with respect to the future state of the world, receive much additional encouragement from that liberal and enlightened commercial spirit which begins now to animate the different nations of Europe, and which will probably animate, at least in an equal degree, the inhabitants of another quarter of the globe: and we may add, from that communication which has been lately opened with distant and unknown nations, in consequence of a laudable spirit of curiosity and adventure, and, it is to be hoped, in some instances, from a still more laudable spirit of beneficence. The more we can unite mankind together by their common interest, the more effectual is the security we provide for the prosperity of the human race. If it is a necessary and inevitable law imposed on all political societies, that they shall have their vicissitudes of good and bad fortune, we may, at least, by a mutual communication of light, of spirit, and of virtue, prevent the extremity of ignorance, of slavery, and corruption. Genius will be always somewhere inventive and active for the benefit of the human race; and there will be always some happy corner where the sacred sparks of liberty will be kept alive, ready to rekindle its expiring flame in other nations. In the present state of the commercial world, we no longer dread the miseries of famine, because we find that where nature withholds her bounty from one quarter, she lavishes it on another. When a more perfect intercourse among nations is established, may we not hope for a similar remedy to those melancholy vicissitudes of fortune to which human affairs have always hitherto been subject?
But what I would chiefly rest my hopes upon, in looking forward to the future condition of mankind, is the influence which the science of Political Economy (a science in a great measure of modern origin) must necessarily have, in directing the rulers of nations to just principles of administration, by shewing them how intimately the interests of government are connected with those of the people, and the authority which this science must gradually acquire over the minds both of the governors and the governed, in proportion as its fundamental principles are generally diffused and understood.
Mr. Hume has observed, that “though all kinds of government be improved in modern times, yet Monarchical governments seem to have made the greatest advances towards perfection. It may now be affirmed of civilized monarchies, what was formerly said in praise of republics alone, that they are a government of laws, not of men. They are found susceptible of order, method, and constancy, to a surprising degree. Property is there secure; industry encouraged; the arts flourish; and the prince lives secure among his subjects, like a father among his children. There are, perhaps, and have been for two centuries, nearly two hundred absolute princes, great and small, in Europe, and allowing twenty years to each reign, we may suppose that there have been in the whole, two thousand monarchs or tyrants, as the Greeks would have called them; yet there has not been one, not even Philip II. of Spain, so bad as Tiberius, Caligula, Nero, or Domitian, who were four in twelve among the Roman Emperors.”*
For this very remarkable fact, [as previously observed,] I can assign no cause equal to the effect, but the diffusion of knowledge among all orders of men by means of the press, which has everywhere raised a bulwark against the oppression of rulers in the light and spirit of the people; and the influence which the study of Political Economy has had in guiding the councils even of absolute princes, to the improvement and happiness of their subjects;—considerations which open the most encouraging prospects with respect to the future history of the world, and which furnish, at the same time, an additional proof of what I have often remarked, that the science of Political Economy, much more than the theory of government, is entitled in the present circumstances of mankind, to the attention of the speculative politician.
So much with respect to the Simple Forms of Government, and the inconveniences connected with those constitutions which approach nearly to those ideal models. I now proceed to consider in what manner the simple forms may be combined together, so as to secure the peculiar advantages of each, and to correct the evils which I have endeavoured to illustrate in the foregoing analysis.
OF MIXED GOVERNMENTS.
OF MIXED GOVERNMENTS IN GENERAL.]
I before observed, [p. 353,] in stating the definitions of the Three Simple Forms of Government, that they do not apply literally to any establishments which have actually existed in the history of mankind, but are merely abstractions, formed by the speculative politician, in order to simplify the objects of his attention when employed in examining and comparing the constitutions of different states. The definition of Democracy (for example) admits no ground of distinction but personal qualities; and yet we may confidently affirm, that no state was ever to be found so popular as to exclude completely all regard to wealth, to birth, and to other adventitious sources of estimation. How difficult, or rather impossible, it is to eradicate this strong bias of our nature, appears remarkably from what Xenophon himself acknowledges concerning the character and manners of the Spartans, among whom he is obliged to confess (notwithstanding his strong partiality in their favour) that there was the same love of riches and of power which are complained of in other communities. There never surely was an Aristocracy so pure as to maintain such an exact equality among the members of the governing order, as might exclude entirely every tendency to Monarchy; nor was there ever an aristocracy in which superior talents and virtues might not procure to an individual of the lower order, a certain respect and influence in the society; and where the nominal rulers were not obliged, in some measure, to share their power, by courting the friendship of the popular favourites. I need scarcely add, that there never was a Despotism in which the sovereign was literally, with respect to his subjects, absolute and omnipotent, and in which he lay under no restraint whatever, either from established customs and manners, or from political and religious opinions, or from apprehensions concerning his own personal security.
Every government, therefore, which has existed in the history of mankind, is more or less a mixed government; nay, every government will be found, if attentively examined, to contain a mixture of all the three simple forms. But as it is impossible, in common discourse, to convey, in a few words, a distinct idea of a particular constitution, and equally impossible to have separate names for all the varieties of government that may be imagined, we are obliged to use the expressions Democracy, Aristocracy, and Monarchy, with a considerable degree of latitude; and to distinguish different constitutions from each other, by the names of these simple forms to which they approach most nearly. It is easy to see, however, that it is only a very vague and imperfect notion of a constitution which we can form from merely hearing its name. We call, for example, the Athenian Government a Democracy, and perhaps there never was any which approached more nearly to the theory. “The people had both the executive and legislative power committed to them; they voted in a collective body in every law, without any limitation of property, without any distinction of rank; without control from any magistracy or senate; and the meanest among them might be raised, by the votes of his fellow-citizens, to the command of armies, or the dignity of ambassador.”* Yet, in Athens, as I already observed, [p. 369, seq.,] from the battle of Marathon, the government was carried on by a series of ambitious and intriguing men, who possessed themselves of the whole power of the state, so that the government, though nominally Democracy, was in fact a Monarchy. Thucydides affirms, in direct terms, that, under Pericles, it differed from monarchy only in name. In Athens, too, adventitious sources of distinction were admitted, as well as in other constitutions; and we are even assured by Xenophon, that those in general were chosen to command who could expend most in banquets and pageantry. Nor is this all; the freemen at Athens bore but a small proportion to the slaves, and these surely ought to be considered as a part of the community. In this boasted constitution, therefore, a great majority of the people not only had no share in the legislature, but were deprived of their rights as men. And, consequently, however jealous the free citizens might be of their own rights, their independent spirit did not arise from the avowed principle of a democracy, a regard to justice, and a sense of that equality of rights which republican writers profess to consider as the common inheritance of mankind.
The names of the other simple forms of government, when applied to particular constitutions, are used with the same latitude.
There is another circumstance which deserves our particular attention in studying this branch of politics. The nature and spirit of a government, as it is actually exercised at a particular period, cannot always be collected (perhaps it can seldom be collected) from an examination of written laws, or of the established forms of a constitution. These may continue the same for a long period of ages, while the government may be modified in its exercise, to a great extent, by gradual and indescribable alterations in the ideas, manners, and character of the people. The truth is, that besides the established laws of a country, the political state of the people is affected by an infinite variety of circumstances, of which no words can convey a conception, and which must be collected from actual and personal observation. Even in this way, it is not easy to collect them. On the contrary, nothing is more difficult than for a person who has received his education in one country, to enter into all the associations which influence the mind of a subject of a different government, or to ascertain, especially on political subjects, all the combinations of ideas he annexes to his words. One striking proof of this is the imperfect and erroneous notions which the ablest and best instructed French writers have formed of the constitution of England. Some of the articles of the Encyclopédie upon this subject, contain mistakes which must appear ludicrous to the most imperfectly informed inhabitants of this country.1 These mistakes have undoubtedly arisen, in part, from the theoretical views of the constitution which have been given by some of our own writers, and which by no means apply to the government as it is carried on at present, and partly from the different views which a Frenchman and an Englishman annex to the corresponding words in their languages. Thus, a person who conceives that the English word commoner is synonymous with the French word roturier, must necessarily have a very false notion of the constituent members of our House of Commons. A similar mistake is committed by those writers who imagine that the French and the English annex the same idea to the word gentleman. In the former country, it was a maxim, that every French Gentleman was a Nobleman, but that every French Nobleman was not a Gentleman.* A person to whom nobility was granted by the sovereign, or who was appointed to a charge conferring nobility, the transmissibility of which was suspended till it vested in his second descendant, was noble; but neither he nor his son was a gentleman: the grandson was the first gentleman of the family. In England, on the other hand, as no gentleman is a nobleman unless he is a peer of Parliament, the word nobility expresses an order in the state specifically and highly elevated, both by law and by public opinion, above the order of gentry. Various other illustrations of the same thing might easily be offered; but the instances we have already produced are sufficient to shew the extreme difficulty of studying the political history of mankind, and of drawing inferences, with justness, from the supposed experience of one country for regulating the conduct of another. At the same time, it is proper to observe, before I conclude this head, that the remarks which have been made do not apply to the constitutions of the ancient states, with nearly the same force with which they apply to the great monarchies of modern Europe, which are incomparably more complicated in their actual structure, in consequence of that infinite diversity of ranks which has taken rise from the feudal ideas and institutions.
From what has been now said, it sufficiently appears, that where the speculative plan of a government, as expressed in its laws, approaches to the definition of one of the simple forms, there may, in fact, be a mixture in the exercise of the government, in consequence of the ideas, manners, and character of the people. What political writers, indeed, commonly call Mixed Governments, are constitutions which professedly share, by their fundamental principles, the supreme or legislative power among different orders of the community; such, for example, as the constitutions of those petty states in different parts of Europe, which divide this power between the collective body of the people and a privileged order; and the constitution of our own country, so strikingly distinguished from all others, by the systematic rigour with which it requires, in every legal enactment, the co-operation of all its three branches. Without, however, attending to the various incidental circumstances which may contribute to modify or restrain the administration of the government, we shall have a very imperfect and erroneous notion of the history of mankind.
Of the truth of this remark, no better illustration can be mentioned than the contrast presented by what are called pure Monarchies in this part of the world, to those despotical establishments which have been already under our review. In the former, although the same language be frequently applied to them, and to the absolute monarchies of the East, the power of the sovereign is, in truth, very effectually counteracted and restrained by a variety of circumstances,—by the independent spirit which is kept alive in Europe by the free states it contains, and which, by means of the press, extends its influence even to the subjects of absolute governments, and, perhaps, in some degree, by that regular subordination of ranks which took its rise from the feudal institutions. It is this particular species of government, unknown to the politicians of antiquity, that Montesquieu has in his eye, when he speaks of monarchy as distinguished from despotism. “A monarchical government supposes,” says he, “pre-eminences, ranks, and an hereditary nobility.”*
The origin of that particular species of hereditary nobility which exists in the monarchies of modern Europe, was formerly explained. In its first form, undoubtedly, it was an institution oppressive and vexatious to the mass of the people; but a variety of circumstances have, in the progress of society, rendered it the mean of tempering the rigour of Monarchical government, and of diffusing refinement and civilisation among the inferior orders. The different ranks, too, in the state, have (more particularly in those countries where commerce is protected and honoured) been gradually blended together; and those distinctions which were formerly so wide and revolting, have been so softened, that it is often difficult to say where one rank ends and another begins. Other scales of estimation, also, beside birth, come in for their share in determining a man’s rank:—wealth (for example) or official dignity, not to mention talents and virtue; and all these circumstances are combined together in adjusting the relative pretensions of individuals. Hence, in the monarchies of modern Europe, there is an infinite number of gradations of rank, from the lowest order of the community to the sovereign; the whole fabric of society bearing a resemblance (according to the happy allusion of Sir William Temple) to a pyramid, of which the undistinguished multitude forms the basis, and the prince the apex.
In such a state of society, an individual is trained from his infancy to acknowledge the influence of adventitious distinctions,—to consider every man as entitled to the rank which he inherits, or which is connected with his official situation,—to maintain with firmness that which belongs to himself, and to look forward to an advancement of it, as the great and ultimate object of his ambition. This regard to adventitious circumstances as the principal ground of distinction, is, I apprehend, what Montesquieu means by the word honour, when he says that it is the principle of a monarchy. “It is the nature of honour,” says he, “to aspire to preferments and distinguishing titles.”* It is evident that by the word virtue, when applied to express the principle of a democracy, he means the love of equality, or a disposition to class men according to their personal qualities; and, as he always contrasts the principles of Democracy and Monarchy, it would seem that the apprehended that the latter form of government is chiefly supported by a regard to those distinctions which birth and fortune, and official dignities, create. In what manner this principle influences the conduct in a monarchy, and how it contributes to distinguish it from a despotism, he has explained in Book III. chapters vii. viii.1
It was in consequence of such ideas and sentiments, arising from a regular subordination of ranks, aided by established opinions and customs, and by the fire which the people all over Europe had caught from the free states in their neighbourhood, that the power of the sovereign in France was limited under the monarchical government. In the language of the French law, he was the vicegerent of God, and accountable to Him alone for the exercise of his authority; nor was there any constitutional check on his authority of much importance, for the registering of his Edicts, in order to give them the force of laws, had become, in a great measure, matter of form, and was but a poor relic of the ancient power of the States, by which, in former times, the regal authority was so effectually restrained. The great check, in fact, upon government in that country, arose from established opinions and customs, and from the character and manners of the people.
I cannot help taking this opportunity of remarking, that Montesquieu was led by an excusable partiality, perhaps, in favour of the government under which he had been educated, and probably in some degree also by prudential considerations, to insist too much on the distinction between Monarchy and Despotism. If, indeed, by monarchy he had meant such a government as the English, in which the authority of the king is subjected to constitutional checks, the distinction would have been as complete and as essential as between any two forms of government whatever. But the monarchy which he describes is restrained and moderated only by the character and circumstances of the people among whom it is established; in other words, a government which—although, in its ordinary exercise, it may, from prudential considerations, respect the claims and the happiness of such orders of its subjects as can combine together in opposition to its oppressions—acknowledges no legal or constitutional restraints, and wherever it can safely exert its authority, exhibits all the spirit of despotism. In reading this part of his writings, indeed, it is difficult to know when to praise or to blame: for he seems to have been actuated by a variety of motives in his reflections; sometimes by a sincere desire to justify that political order to which he had been accustomed; sometimes by a wish to strengthen those opinions and prejudices, which, however ineffectual to accomplish uniformly the purposes of a good government, had yet been found by experience to be, in ordinary cases, of material advantage to the public; and sometimes (one would imagine from the ironical, though apparently dispassionate, account he gives of the effects of the actual establishment) by a secret design to suggest indirectly to his countrymen the superior excellence of a monarchy subjected, like that of England, to constitutional limitations. While we regret, therefore, the ambiguous and enigmatical style in which this great man occasionally expresses himself, we ought at the same time to recollect, that at the period when he wrote, it was necessary for an author who was really anxious to be useful to his country, to draw occasionally a slight veil over the truth; or at least, to content himself with stating premises to his readers, leaving it to themselves to draw the inferences. I mention these circumstances, partly because they appear to me to furnish a key to many apparent inconsistencies in the Spirit of Laws, and partly from a desire of vindicating the character of Montesquieu against the censures which it has incurred from some authors in our own country, who, enjoying the unrestrained liberty of the press, and supported in their sentiments by public opinion, do not make proper allowances for their predecessors in the same line of study, who did not possess the same advantages.
The following quotations will serve, at once, to explain my meaning in the foregoing remarks, and to shew that they are not without foundation.
It may be proper to observe, before we proceed, that as Turkey is Montesquieu’s model of Despotism, so France is the country which he has in his eye when he speaks of the spirit of Monarchy.
“In a monarchical government, intermediate bodies of men between the king and the lower orders of the people, the jurisdiction of the clergy, luxury, the venality of offices, the multiplicity of laws, appear to be indispensable.”*
“The state exists independently of the love of one’s country, of the desire of true glory, of self-denial, and of a disinterested spirit. The laws supply the place of all these virtues.”† He adds, “that idleness, meanness, an aversion for the truth, flattery, treason, perfidy, a contempt of the duties which belong to the citizen, a dread of the virtues of the prince, an interested satisfaction in his weaknesses, a delight in turning virtue into ridicule, form the character of the greater number of courtiers. Now,” says he, “it is difficult to suppose that the majority of the leading men in the state should be dishonest, and their inferiors men of virtue. And indeed, Cardinal Richelieu insinuates in his Political Testament, that if among the people an individual should be found who is so unfortunate as to be honest, the prince should be cautious how he avails himself of his services; so true it is, that virtue is not the principle of this species of government.”*
Montesquieu farther remarks, that “in place of virtue, monarchy has for its principle honour, or in other words, the prejudices arising from the education and the condition of each individual. . . . Thus,” says he, “in a well-regulated monarchy, you will everywhere meet with men who approach to the character of good citizens: but good men will occur very rarely; for to be good one must have the disposition to be so.”† He adds, that “philosophically speaking, it is a false honour which conducts all the parts of which the state is composed.”‡ In another part of this work, he points out the education which is fitted for a monarchy. He observes, that “the virtues which there appear, always result more from a sense of what we owe to ourselves, than of what we owe to others; that the actions of men are less valued for their rectitude than for their splendour; that honour is either the judge who renders them lawful, or the sophist who pleads their apology; that it sanctions gallantry, intrigue, flattery; that it admits of a certain species of openness, but despises that of the people which is founded on truth and simplicity:—and above all, that it exalts that politeness which originates from pride and the love of distinction. . . . To communicate all these qualities, is the great object of education in forming the man of honour, (pour faire ce qu’on appele l’honnête homme,) who has all the virtues which are necessary under this form of government.”§
In the last place, Montesquieu remarks, that “monarchies encourage, in the other sex, a licentiousness of morals.”∥
For supporting that honour which is the principle of this government, he recommends the preservation of all those hereditary privileges which have arisen from the Feudal system. He does not even leave the people the right of granting their consent to the taxes they are to pay; he only recommends to those who are in authority, “not to make their burdens heavier than what is necessary.”*
In these passages, as well as in various others, there is unquestionably a mixture of delicate satire, which has been often overlooked by Montesquieu’s commentators. He seems indeed to have dreaded nothing so much as a hasty perusal of his political speculations. “I entreat,” says he in his Preface, “one favour of my readers, which I fear will not be granted me;—that they may not judge by a few hours’ reading of the labour of twenty years.” Voltaire, too, although he has on various occasions expressed himself sarcastically with respect to this great man, particularly on account of the inaccuracy of his facts and quotations, has, in one instance, remarked in strong and beautiful terms that depth of reflection which he often conceals from common observers by a style epigrammatic and oracular, and adorned with the delicate lights and graces which so frequently accompany superficial attainments:—“That masculine and rapid genius, which dived to the bottom of every subject, while it seemed only to glance upon the surface.”1
From what has been already said of the Athenian government, considered as a model of Democracy, and of the French Government as a model of Monarchy, it appears how difficult it is to judge of the political state of a nation from an examination of their written laws; and that a constitution approaching in theory to one of the simple forms may, in fact, be a mixed constitution in its exercise. We now proceed to make some remarks on governments, which are professedly mixed, and which, by the plan of their constitution, admit different orders of the community to a share in the legislative authority.
That those governments which approach nearly to the simple forms, are all attended with inconvenience, and that the business of political wisdom lies in properly combining them together, was remarked by some of the great writers of antiquity. On this subject they have left us many valuable observations, although their limited acquaintance with the history of mankind necessarily rendered their views of the subject, in many respects, partial and erroneous. The history of modern Europe has furnished us with many important experiments and facts unknown to them, and has pointed out to us clearly a variety of their mistakes. But still our stock of facts is small when compared with the boundless field of speculation which the theory of government presents to the mind; and therefore it is highly probable that many of the maxims which are now current among our most enlightened politicians, will be treated with ridicule by our wiser posterity. Nor is it. going too far to say with Mr. Hume, that “the world is too young as yet to entitle us to form political predictions with confidence from the history of past ages.”*
“It is customary among writers to establish three sorts of government,” says Polybius, “Kingly governments, Aristocracy, and Democracy; upon which one may very properly ask them, whether they mean to state these as the only forms of government, or as the best; for in both cases they seem to be in an error, since it is manifest that the best form of government is that which is compounded of all three. This,” says he, “is founded not only on reason, but in experience; Lycurgus having set the example of this form of government in the institution of the Lacedemonian Commonwealth.”
“This legislator then,” Polybius continues, “having considered with himself, that, according to the necessary and established course of all things, the several accidents and changes that have now been mentioned were inevitable, formed this conclusion; that every simple and single kind of government was insecure, on account of its proneness to degenerate into that more vicious kind, which was most nearly allied to it by nature. For as rust is the inbred bane of iron, and worms of wood; and as these substances, even though they should escape all external violence, at last fall a prey to the evils that are, as it were, congenital with them; in the same manner likewise, every single kind of government breeds within itself some certain kind of vice, which is attached by nature to its very form, and which soon causes its destruction. Thus Royalty degenerates into tyranny; Aristocracy into oligarchy; and Democracy into savage violence. Nor is it possible, as we have already shewn, but that, in the course of time, these conversions must be thus produced. Lycurgus, therefore, foreseeing this necessity, instead of adopting any one of the single forms of government, collected what was excellent in them all, and so joined together the principles that were peculiar to each several form, that no one of them might be extended beyond proper bounds, and slide into the evil to which it was inclined by nature. But that each separate power, being still counteracted by the rest, might be retained in due position, and the whole government be preserved in equal balance, as a vessel when impelled to either side by the wind, is kept steady by a contrary force. Thus, the dread of the people, to whom a certain share was allotted in the government, restrained the excesses and the abuse of royalty. The people, on the other hand, were retained in a due submission to the kings, by their apprehension of the power of the senate. For the members of the senate being all selected from the best among the citizens, were always ready to support the cause of justice; and by throwing their own weight into the scale when either was in danger of being oppressed by the other, to give such strength to the weakest party as the constitution of the state required. By these means the Lacedemonians preserved their liberty entire for a much longer time than other people.”1
The same author remarks, that “all the three forms were blended in the Roman Commonwealth, in such a manner as to render it impossible even for a Roman citizen to assert positively whether the Government was on the whole Aristocratical, Democratical, or Monarchical; for when we attend to the power of the consuls, the government plainly appears to approach to a monarchical description; when we attend to the senate, it seems to be an Aristocracy; and when to the people, a Democracy.”
This observation of Polybius with respect to the state of the Roman Government, at the time when he had an opportunity of studying it, has always appeared to me to reflect peculiar honour on his penetration, and that on account of the very circumstance which has led Grotius to criticise it. “But neither,” says Grotius, “in this instance, do I follow the authority of Polybius, who refers the Roman Commonwealth to the class of mixed governments; for at the time of which Polybius speaks, it was purely a popular government, if, abstracting from its actual administration, we attend to the constitutional claims of the people.”1
Among the numerous commentators of Grotius, there is one who has very modestly suggested the true answer to this objection.
“Auctor inter eos qui circa formas imperii falluntur, etiam Polybium refert, qui Rempublicam Romanam suis temporibus mixtam fuisse dicent. At bene notandum, Polybium non loqui de mixtura status, sed administrationis; forma enim reipublicæ erat mere popularis, sed administratio divisa fuit inter Consules, Senatum et Populum.”* It is here very justly observed, that Polybius is not, in the foregoing passage, speaking of the theory of the Roman Constitution, (about which there could be no diversity of opinion,) but of what common observers (as I formerly remarked [supra, p. 404,]) are so apt to overlook,—the actual state of that constitution, modified as it was by time, and chance, and experience. That he was perfectly aware, too, of this distinction himself, appears from the following passage, (immediately following that already quoted concerning the constitution of Sparta,) in which, with admirable sagacity, he contrasts the Roman Government, which was the gradual result of circumstances and emergencies, with that of the Lacedemonians, which he considered (whether justly or not is a different question) as planned by the foresight and sagacity of Lycurgus. “And thus it was that Lycurgus, having been taught by reason to foresee a certain train of causes and events, was able to give a lasting strength to his establishments. The Romans, on the other hand, though they arrived, indeed, at the same perfection in the constitution of their state, were not led to it by foresight or by reason. But, during the course of many contests and disorders, in which they were engaged, having been careful always to adopt, upon every change, such improvements as the occasion itself suggested to them, they at last obtained the same end likewise, as that which Lycurgus had proposed, and completed the most beautiful frame of government of all that are in our times known.”1
In the writings of Cicero, various passages occur to the same purpose with that which I have now quoted from Polybius. “Statuo,” says he in one of his fragments,2 “esse optime constitutam rempublicam quo ex tribus generibus illis, Regali, Optimo, et Populari, est modice confusa.” And in another passage he has endeavoured to illustrate this observation by comparing the political order which results from such a combination of powers, to the harmony resulting from the different parts in a musical concert. “Ut in fidibus ac tibiis, atque cantu ipso ac vocibus, concentus est quidam tenendus ex distinctis sonis, quem immutatum ac discrepantem aures eruditæ ferre non possunt, isque concentus ex dissimillimarum vocum moderatione concors tamen efficitur et congruens: sic ex summis et infimis et mediis interjectis ordinibus, ut sonis, moderata ratione civitas consensu dissimillimorum concinit; et quæ harmonia a musicis dicitur in cantu, ea est in civitate concordia; arctissimum atque optimum, omni in republica, vinculum incolumitatis; quæ sine justitia nullo pacto esse potest.”*
To these quotations I shall only add the well-known passage in Tacitus, in which, though he expresses his doubts concerning the possibility of reducing the theory to practice, he admits the advantages which a mixed government, formed by a combination of the three simple forms, appears to possess in speculation. “Cunctas nationes et urbes, populus, aut primores, aut singuli regunt. Delecta ex his et consociata reipublicæ forma, laudari facilius quam evenire; vel, si evenit, haud diuturna esse potest.”1
These passages may at first view appear somewhat extraordinary, when we consider that the English Constitution affords the first instance in the history of mankind in which the theory delineated by the ancient philosophers has been realized with success. But the truth is, that however difficult it may be to find such a combination of circumstances, as is favourable to the establishment of such a government, the advantages likely to result from it, supposing it to exist, are abundantly obvious. Indeed, the general idea of it is suggested to us by the principles of human nature, and the common course of human affairs.
I before took notice [supra, p. 402] of that natural aristocracy which we find in every community, arising from the original differences among men, in respect of intellectual and moral qualities. That these were intended to lay a foundation for civil government, no man can doubt who does not reject altogether the inferences which are drawn from the appearances of design in the human constitution.
As the possession of power, however, is to the best of men a source of corruption, the general utility requires that some checks should be imposed on the pretensions of the aristocracy; and the only effectual checks may be easily perceived to be, a popular assembly, on the one hand, to secure the enactment of equal laws, and a single magistrate, on the other, possessing the sole executive power, to prevent the competitions and rivalships among the order of nobility.
The fact which I have now stated with respect to the existence of a natural Aristocracy in every community, as well as the advantages to be derived from it, if properly restrained and regulated, and the mischiefs to be apprehended from it, on a contrary supposition, are eloquently described in the following passage from Lord Bolingbroke:—“It seems to me, that, in order to sustain the moral system of the universe, at a certain point, far below that of ideal perfection, (for we are made capable of conceiving what we are not capable of attaining,) it has pleased the author of Nature to mingle, from time to time, among the societies of men, a few, and but a few, of those on whom He has been graciously pleased to confer a larger portion of the ethereal spirit than, in the ordinary course of His providence, He bestows on the sons of men. These are they who engross almost the whole reason of the species; who are born to direct, to guide, and to preserve. . . . If they retire from the world, their splendour accompanies them, and enlightens even the darkness of their retreat. If they take a part in public life, the effect is never indifferent. They either appear the instruments of Divine vengeance, and their course through the world is marked by desolation and oppression, by poverty and servitude; or they are the guardian angels of the country they inhabit, studious to avert the most distant evil, and to procure peace and plenty, and the greatest of human blessings,—Liberty.”*
Since, then, there is in every society a natural aristocracy, arising partly from original inequalities among men, and partly from the influence of birth and fortune, in what manner shall the legislator avail himself of the assistance of those who compose it, and, at the same time, guard against the dangers to be apprehended from their uncontrolled authority? The answer seems obvious. Form that order of men who, from their situation in life, are most likely to comprehend the greatest number of individuals of this description, into a senate possessing no share of the executive power, and control their legislative proceedings by the executive magistrate, on the one hand, and by an assembly of popular representatives on the other.
“The people without the senate,” says Harrington, “would want wisdom; the senate without the people would want honesty.”*
In stating these general principles, I would not be understood to insinuate, that it is possible to devise a plan of government universally applicable to all the situations of mankind. On the contrary, nothing can be more certain or more evident than this,—that as the form of a government has an influence on the character of the people, so there is a certain national character necessary to support the government, and which, while it continues the same, will render all violent innovations impracticable. Even where a Despotism is established, the situation of the people can be improved only-by very slow degrees; and any violent attempt to alter it has, in general, produced only a change of masters, after a short paroxysm of bloodshed and anarchy.
Neither would I wish it to be understood, that governments have, in general, taken their rise from political wisdom. On the contrary, almost every one of which we have any account has been the gradual result of time and experience, of circumstances and emergencies. This we may affirm to have been universally the case with those which have taken their rise in the rude periods of society; for surely no person, without extreme credulity, can listen to the accounts in ancient historians, of those fabulous legislators, who, by the force of eloquence, or the reputation of wisdom, assembled together a set of savages, who formerly wandered in the woods, convinced them of the utility of government, and persuaded them to submit to any regulations they should think proper to prescribe. The case is considerably different in a more enlightened age. A statesman may avail himself of the power he possesses in introducing new institutions which, in process of time, may produce important effects on the character of a nation; or a people who have been trained to political order under one form of government, may, after a violent revolution, choose (like the American States) to introduce among themselves a new set of usages and institutions. But even in such instances, there are certain limits within which innovations are practicable. They must have a certain degree of reference to the character and manners of the people, otherwise it is impossible that they should permanently maintain the good order or secure the happiness of the community.
Of the necessity of accommodating every new institution to the character of those for whom it is intended, Bacon has taken notice in the First Book, De Augmentis Scientiarum, in which he also remarks the danger which literary men run of overlooking this consideration, from the familiar acquaintance they acquire in the course of their studies with the ideas and sentiments of better ages. He says:—
“Solon interrogatus, an optimas civibus suis dedisset Leges? ‘Optimas,’ inquit, ‘ex illis, quas ipsi voluissent accipere.’ Ita Plato, videns corruptiores suorum civium mores quam ut ipse ferre posset, ab omni publico munere abstinuit, dicens: ‘Sic cum Patria agendum esse ut cum Parentibus; hoc est, suasu, non violentia, obtestando, non contestando.’ Atque hoc ipsum cavet ille, qui a consiliis Cæsari: ‘Non,’ inquit, ‘ad vetera instituta revocans, quæ jampridem corruptis moribus ludibrio sunt.’ Cicero etiam hujus erroris arguit Catonem secundum, Attico suo scribens; ‘Cato optime sentit, sed nocet interdum Reipublicæ; loquitur enim, tanquam in Republica Platonis, non tanquam in fæce Romuli.’ ”*
We may observe, farther, as a proof of the impossibility of establishing general political rules, which are to apply universally to mankind, that the institutions which it is expedient for a state to adopt, are often determined by circumstances external to itself; by the relation, for example, in which it stands to the states in its neighbourhood.
Thus when Charles the Seventh of France, under the pretence of keeping always on foot a force sufficient to defend the kingdom against the sudden invasions of the English, established the first standing army known in Europe,1 self-preservation made it necessary for the other nations of the Continent to follow his example; and in this manner a change which essentially affected their internal policy was recommended to them, or rather forced upon them, by the measures of a foreign prince.
The extent of territory too, and the amount of population which a state may possess with advantage, (in either of which a change will require a correspondent change in the political institutions,) may frequently depend on circumstances external to itself. In the case of states placed in the neighbourhood of each other, a certain equality is necessary to procure to each that degree of consideration which may secure its independence. In the opinions of many politicians, the happiest situation, and the most favourable to the human character, in which mankind have ever been placed, is where they have been formed into small and independent Republics; but in modern Europe, the Republics of the same extent, with those of ancient Greece, appear so insignificant when compared with the extensive monarchies with which they are surrounded, that they resemble (to borrow an allusion of Dr. Ferguson’s) the shrubs in a wood which are choked by the trees under whose shadow they grow.* The disproportion is so great as to frustrate the advantages with which they would otherwise be attended. The same author remarks, that “when the kingdoms of Spain were united; when the great fiefs in France were annexed to the Crown, it was no longer expedient for the nations of Great Britain to continue disjoined.”† Abstracting entirely from their relative interests, or the comparative advantages which they derived from the union of the crowns, the alterations in the state of the great continental powers rendered that event equally necessary to the safety of both.
These miscellaneous remarks may, I hope, be of some use as a supplement to the theoretical views of government given by Montesquieu and his commentators.
I now proceed to make a few observations on the peculiar advantages of that combination of political powers which takes place in our own constitution.
Before, however, I enter on this subject, it may be proper for me to explain the idea I annex to the word Constitution, a word often used in a very vague and inaccurate manner, and which has sometimes been defined in such a way as to convey a false notion of the origin of our government. Such an explanation is the more necessary, as in consequence of an erroneous conception of the true import of this expression, some foreign politicians have been led to assert, that in England there is no constitution at all; inasmuch as there are no fundamental laws of superior authority to the Acts of the existing legislature. The English Government (it is said) has been the gradual offspring of circumstances and events, and its different parts arose at different times;—some of them from acts of the legislature prompted by emergencies, and some of them from long established customs or usages, of which it is not always possible to trace the origin, so that no part of it is sanctioned by an authority paramount to that which gives force to every other law by which we are governed. It is pretended, therefore, that there are no fundamental or essential principles in our government, which fix a limit to the possibility of legislative encroachment, and to which an appeal could be made, if a particular law should appear to be hostile to the rights and liberties of the people. But surely the conclusion in this argument does not follow from the premises. For do we not every day speak of laws being constitutional or unconstitutional; and do not these words convey to men of plain understanding a very distinct and intelligible meaning, a meaning which no person can pretend to misapprehend, who is not disposed to cavil about expressions?
It appears to me, that what we call the constitution differs from our other laws, not in its origin, but in the importance of the subject to which it refers, and in the systematical connexion of its different principles. It may, I think, be defined to be that form of government, and that mode of administrating it, which is agreeable to the general spirit and tendency of our established laws and usages.
According to this view of the subject, I apprehend that the constitution, taken as a whole, ought to modify every new institution which is introduced, so that it may accord with its general spirit; although every part of this constitution taken separately, arose itself from no higher authority than the common acts of our present legislature.
To illustrate this proposition it may be proper to remark, that although the Constitution was the gradual result of circumstances which may be regarded as accidental and irregular, yet that the very mode of its formation necessarily produced a certain consistence and analogy in its different parts, so as to give to the whole a sort of systematical appearance. For unless every new institution which was successively introduced, had possessed a certain reference or affinity to the laws and usages existing before, it could not possibly have been permanent in its operation. Wherever a Constitution has existed for ages, and men have enjoyed tranquillity under it, it is a proof that its great and fundamental principles are all animated by the same congenial spirit. In such a constitution, when any law contrary to the spirit of the rest is occasionally introduced, it soon falls into desuetude and oblivion; while those which accord in their general character and tendency, acquire additional stability from the influence of time, and from the mutual support which they lend to each other. Of such a law we may say with propriety that it is unconstitutional, not because we dispute the authority from which it proceeds, but because it is contrary to the spirit and analogy of the laws which we have been accustomed to obey.
Something similar to this obtains with respect to languages. These, as well as governments, are the gradual result of time and experience, and not of philosophical speculation; yet every language, in process of time, acquires a great degree of systematical beauty. When a new word, or a new combination of words, is introduced, it takes its rise from the same origin with every other expression which the language contains;—the desire of an individual to communicate his own thoughts or feelings to others. But this consideration alone is not sufficient to justify the use of it. Before it is allowed by good writers or speakers to incorporate itself with those words which have the sanction of time in their favour, it must be shewn that it is not disagreeable to the general analogy of the language, otherwise it is soon laid aside as an innovation, revolting, anomalous, and ungrammatical. It is much in the same manner that we come to apply the epithet unconstitutional to a law.
The zeal, therefore, which genuine patriots have always shewn for the maintenance of the Constitution, so far from being unreasonable, will be most strongly felt by the prudent and intelligent, because such men know that political wisdom is much more the result of experience than of speculation; and that when a Constitution has been matured by such slow steps as ours has been, in consequence of the struggles of able and enlightened individuals, jealous of their liberties, and anxious to preserve them, it may be considered as the result of the accumulated experience and wisdom of ages; possessing on that very account the strongest of all possible recommendations and sanctions, an experimental proof of its excellence, of its fitness to perpetuate itself, and to promote the happiness of those who live under it.
ON, IN SPECIAL; AND PARTICULARLY] OF THE ENGLISH CONSTITUTION.
In illustrating the peculiar advantages of our own mixed Government, I have been accustomed to employ several lectures in describing its structure or organization, and in shewing how its different parts have been gradually systematized and perfected, partly by experience, and partly by a train of fortunate accidents, during a succession of ages. At this period of the season, however, I must not enter on so extensive a field; nor do I regret the omission much, as it is in my power to refer, with such advantage, to the excellent accounts given of our Constitution by Blackstone and De Lolme. I flatter myself, too, that all of my hearers are sufficiently acquainted with its great outlines to follow the general reflections I have now to offer on its spirit and tendency.
Among the various excellences of the English Constitution, that which deserves our attention in the first place, is the unity of the executive power, and the division of the legislative. On both of these subjects some very judicious remarks have been made by De Lolme;* but the political discussions that have taken place since his work was first published, have furnished abundant matter for some additional observations.
I.—i. It is from the executive power that the principal dangers to liberty are always to be apprehended; and, therefore, the greater the facility which the constitution affords of tracing its abuses to their proper source, the greater is the security which the people enjoys. In states where the executive power is lodged in different hands, the personal consequence of each individual magistrate is indeed proportionally diminished, and on a superficial view of the subject, it might be imagined that the danger of an arbitrary Government is diminished of consequence. But in truth the case is otherwise. By this division of the executive power, its different depositaries are furnished with the means of committing abuses which cannot be brought home to the real delinquent; and the inconveniences suffered by the people have no effect in suggesting the means of guarding against them for the future.
The inconveniences resulting from this arrangement of things were universally experienced in what are commonly called the Free States of Antiquity, among whom the executive power, instead of being one, permanent and indivisible, was exercised by assemblies and senates, or by them delegated to an almost indefinite number of mutually independent ministers and generals. The consequence was, that the Government exercised an unlimited authority over rich and poor; and when the occasion required, put in a state of requisition (if I may adopt a modern phrase) both their persons and fortunes.1 It is, however, extremely worthy of remark, that this very circumstance, which rendered their constitutions so inadequate to all the ends of good government, put it in their power, on various emergencies, to employ in times of war all the force of the state against their foreign enemies. The maxim, therefore, that the executive power in constitutions of a Republican form is necessarily weakened by being divided, although a most important maxim when properly understood, is so far from being just in the unqualified terms in which it is commonly stated, that it may with truth be affirmed, that in some instances this very division, by rendering its operations irregular and often invisible, removes the possibility of any check or control, and produces a military despotism, at once formidable abroad and oppressive at home. Additional illustrations of these remarks might be easily collected from the history of our own times.2
That there is nothing in these occasional exceptions inconsistent with the general principles formerly stated, (under the article of Monarchy, [supra, p. 386,]) concerning the vigour, secrecy, and despatch which the executive power derives from its unity, it is scarcely necessary for me to mention. The history of the Grecian Commonwealths itself, while it shews that the weakness likely to result from a plurality of executive magistrates may sometimes be counteracted by a concurrence of extraordinary circumstances, bears ample testimony to the inexpediency of such an arrangement as an established rule of policy in a military state.
But what I wish chiefly to remark, at present, is the fatal consequence of a division in the executive power, with respect to the rights and liberties of the people subjected to its authority. Proofs of this may be collected from almost every page of the Grecian history.
In England, on the contrary, the threatening aspect of the executive power has constantly kept alive the jealousy of the people; and while its unity exposed to their view the real causes of the grievances they felt, it reduced to one uniform system the precautions they took to bring it under proper restraint and regulation. “The executive power in England,” says De Lolme, “is formidable, but then it is for ever the same; its resources are vast, but their nature is known; it is the indivisible and inalienable attribute of one person alone; but then all other persons, of whatever rank or degree, become really interested to restrain it within its proper bounds.”*
ii.—Another advantage of the royal prerogative in our Constitution is, that the men to whom the people delegate their share in the legislation are bound, in common with themselves, by the laws which are made. Nay, all orders in the state are interested in the common cause of liberty, as they have nothing but the laws to protect them from the power of the executive magistrate.
iii.—By the same wise arrangement the Constitution has precluded (as far, perhaps, as any possible contingency in human affairs can be said to be precluded) those civil conflicts, by which the happiness and liberty of other states have been subverted. The minister, however aspiring; the popular leader, however turbulent; the general, however intoxicated by that idolatry which splendid military successes command, sees every channel obstructed by which he might hope to raise himself to dominion over his fellow-citizens. In Rome and other ancient republics, the want of a common superior encouraged popular and military leaders successively to aim at the sovereign authority, till the people at length sought a refuge from the miseries brought on them by the dissensions of the contending parties, in submission to absolute despotism. In this view, the monarchical part of our Constitution (restrained and limited as it is by the checks to be mentioned afterwards) is one of the strongest bulwarks of British liberty.
From these observations it sufficiently appears how important are the effects which depend on the Unity of the Executive Power. The salutary consequences resulting from the Division of the Legislative Power are not less deserving of attention.
II.—i. Of these advantages, one of the most obvious is the steadiness which is secured to our laws by the different views and interests of the several bodies of which our Legislature is composed. In this manner, indeed, obstacles may sometimes arise to laws which are highly salutary; but the mischiefs to be apprehended from this are trifling when compared with the evils connected with a fluctuation of laws, or with sudden and rash changes in established institutions. The inconveniences experienced in the ancient republics from a want of steadiness in the legislative code are well known, and were, indeed, of so alarming a nature, that they suggested some very extraordinary and seemingly absurd expedients for diminishing the dangers they threatened. Of this kind were the attempts which the Legislature made to tie up its own hands, from a mistrust of its future wisdom. “It appears,” says Mr. Hume, “to have been a usual practice at Athens, on the establishment of any law esteemed very useful or popular, to prohibit for ever its abrogation or repeal. Thus the demagogue who diverted all the public revenues to the support of shows and spectacles, made it criminal so much as to move for a repeal of this law. Thus, Leptines moved for a law, not only to recall all the immunities formerly granted, but to deprive the people, for the future, of the power of granting any more. Thus, all bills of attainder were forbid, or laws that affected one Athenian, without extending to the whole commonwealth. These absurd clauses, by which the Legislature vainly attempted to bind itself for ever, proceeded from a universal sense in the people of their own levity and inconstancy.”*
Were it not for the division of our Legislature, similar inconveniences would be experienced in England. I before took notice [supra, p. 362, seq.] of those sudden fits of enthusiasm and of frenzy to which all large bodies of men are subject. Nations such as ours, among whom a constant and almost instantaneous communication of intelligence and of opinions is kept up by the unrestrained liberty of the press, are liable to fits of enthusiasm and of frenzy scarcely less violent. “Opinions,” says a late very ingenious writer, Mr. Paley, “are sometimes circulated amongst a multitude without proof or examination, acquiring confidence and reputation merely by being repeated from one to another; and passions founded on these opinions, diffusing themselves with a rapidity which can neither be accounted for nor resisted, may agitate a country with the most violent commotions. For obviating this danger, the most obvious of all expedients (if not the only expedient) is to erect different orders in the community, with separate prejudices and interests. And this may occasionally become the use of an hereditary nobility, invested with a share in the legislation. . . . Were the voice of the people always dictated by reflection; did every man, or even one man in a hundred, think for himself, or actually consider the measure he was about to approve or censure; or even were the body of the people tolerably stedfast in the judgment which they formed, I should hold the interference of a superior order to be not only superfluous, but wrong; for when everything is allowed to rank and education which the actual state of these advantages deserves, that after all is most likely to be right and expedient which appears to be so to the separate judgment and decision of a great majority of the nation; at least that in general is right for them, which is agreeable to their fixed opinions and desires. But when we observe what is urged as the public opinion, to be in truth the opinion only, or perhaps the feigned profession of a few crafty leaders,—that the numbers who join in the cry serve only to swell and multiply the sound, without any accession of judgment or exercise of understanding,—and that oftentimes the wisest councils have been thus overborne by tumult and uproar, we may conceive occasions to arise in which the commonwealth may be saved by the reluctance of the nobility to yield to the vehemence of temporary clamours. In expecting this advantage from an order of nobility, we do not suppose the nobility to be more unprejudiced than others. We only suppose that their prejudices will be different from, and may occasionally counteract the variable prejudices of the multitude.”*
These observations suggest an argument (which appears to me to have great force) against all constitutions that vest the legislative power entirely in assemblies of a popular description. I have repeatedly remarked, that the happiness of mankind depends immediately not on the form of government, but on the particular system of law and policy which that form introduces; and that the advantages which one form of government possesses over another, arise chiefly from the facility it affords for the accomplishment of such legislative improvements as the general interests of the community recommend. Under every form of government, (whatever it may be,) provided its general spirit be favourable to liberty, and allows an unrestrained freedom of discussion, these enlightened views of Political Economy will gradually and slowly prevail, in proportion to the progress of reason and the diffusion of knowledge. And they will command the general assent of mankind soonest in those countries where the constitution of the legislative branch renders its proceeding slow, deliberate, and systematical; and where a strong but regulated police allows men to prosecute those studies that relate to human affairs with the same calm and dispassionate temper with which truth is investigated in the abstract sciences.
ii.—A second advantage which we derive from this division of the Legislature is, that it establishes a sort of balance in the Constitution, so that if either of the three branches should attempt to extend its power too far, the other two might be expected to unite in opposing it. If the King should attempt to render himself independent of the House of Commons, the Lords (however little interested they might feel themselves in the cause of general liberty) would see the danger with which their own order was threatened. It is from the weight which the people have in the Constitution that the Peers derive their legislative authority; and if the House of Commons were annihilated, they would feel themselves degraded from the important station they now hold, to the insignificant distinction of adding to the parade of a despotic court. If, on the other hand, the Commons should attempt to reduce too far the King’s prerogative, he might reckon with certainty on the support of his nobility. The attachment which they may all be supposed to feel to the monarchy from which they derived their titles and rank, and with which their titles and rank must inevitably fall, will, independently of better motives, secure their exertions in defence of the Constitution. Lastly, if we could conceive it to be possible, in the present state of society, for the House of Lords to revive their old aristocratical pretensions, the Crown and the People would unite in resisting a power, by which the one has in former times been so often insulted, and the other oppressed.1
Various instances might be mentioned in which the balance of our Constitution has been actually preserved in consequence of this opposition of interests. Thus, in the reign of Charles II., the attempts which the House of Commons made to annihilate the King’s negative, by tacking Bills to money-bills, was checked by the House of Lords, who made it a standing order of the House to reject, upon the sight of them, all Bills that are tacked to money-bills. In the reign of William III., the House of Lords attempted to abridge the prerogative of the Crown in calling Parliaments, and judging of the proper times of doing it. They accordingly framed and carried in their House a bill for ascertaining the sitting of Parliament every year; but it was rejected by the Commons. Another attempt was made in the House of Lords soon after the accession of George I., to abridge the royal prerogative by limiting the number of the peerage. The Bill passed that House, and great pains were taken to ensure its success in the other; but fortunately for the Constitution, it was thrown out. I say fortunately, as this power of the Crown to create peers at pleasure is the most effectual check on the dangerous views which that House might form.
Of the advantages resulting from a division of the Legislature in a free government, some experimental proofs have occurred within these few years in the states beyond the Atlantic, of too striking a nature to be overlooked in a disquisition concerning the general principles of the British Constitution.
We are told, that in 1776, in the Convention of Pennsylvania, of which Dr. Franklin was President, a form of government by one assembly was before them in debate. A motion was made to add another assembly under the name of a Senate or Council, and was warmly supported by several members; when the President, at last, before the question was put, threw the weight of his authority into the opposite scale.* On this occasion it does not appear that he entered into any discussion on the subject; but the illustration he had recourse to was probably better fitted than any argument to make an impression on his hearers. “The expedient of two assemblies,” he said, “appeared to him like a practice he had somewhere seen, of certain waggoners, who, when about to descend a steep hill with a heavy load, took off one pair of their cattle from before, and chained them to the hinder part of the waggon, so that the remaining horses might draw it, thus secured from the violence of its own momentum, slowly and safely down the descent.”
It is a very curious circumstance, that the state of Pennsylvania, after having adopted a Constitution with but one legislative branch, should afterwards, from actual experience of its inconveniences, have divided the legislative power between a Senate of twenty-three members, and a House of Representatives of seventy-nine. The factions and disorders which the former Constitution produced were so violent, that in the Convention of 1790, which made the alteration, there appeared only four members in favour of the unity of legislation. All the other states in the Union which formerly had but a single branch, (one state alone excepted, that of Vermont,) have followed in this respect the example of Pennsylvania; so that the general sense and experience of the American politicians is now decidedly in favour of a division of the Legislature, as analogous as their circumstances enabled them to make it, to that which exists in the Constitution of England.
In reviewing the various modes in which this improvement has been effected in the several states, it is extremely interesting to consider the different expedients by which they have attempted to accomplish the ends secured in this country by a hereditary nobility. The Constitution of Maryland, in this respect, as well as in various others, reflects peculiar honour on the wisdom of its framers; and (if I have not been misinformed) the result has corresponded, in a very remarkable degree, to their expectations. “The appointment of electors for the express purpose of choosing the senators; the oath they take to select men most distinguished for their experience, talents, and virtues; their voting by ballot, in order to exclude the danger of influence; and the duration of five years:—these are almost peculiar to the Constitution of this state, and are, certainly, all of them very happily calculated to ensure a well-constituted senate.”1 Upon several occasions, accordingly, we are told that “their integrity and firmness have withstood the dangerous and tumultuous shocks of the more numerous branch;” and that “although they have at the moment been the subjects of popular indignation, yet returning reason and moderation have always rewarded them with the public esteem and affection. In the other States, the election of senators immediately by the people, has been found not only liable to cabal, but to make the senators too dependent on leading and intriguing characters in the several districts.”2
It was long ago observed by Mr. Jefferson, in his Notes on Virginia, that “as the senate is intended to be a check on the popular branch, it ought to be constituted in some mode different from the other, either by electors, or by the people restricted by particular qualifications.” He condemns also the Constitution of Virginia for having overlooked this important consideration. “The Senate,” says he, “is too homogeneous with the House of Delegates. Being chosen by the same electors, at the same time, and out of the same subjects, the choice falls of course on men of the same description. The purpose of establishing different houses of legislature, is to introduce the influence of different interests and different principles. In some of the American States, the delegates and senators are so chosen, as that the first represent the persons, and the second the property of the State. But with us in Virginia, wealth and wisdom have an equal chance for admission into both Houses. We do not, therefore, derive from the separation of our legislature those benefits which a proper combination of principles is capable of producing, and those which can alone compensate the evils that may be produced by their dissensions.” In Maryland and Kentucky alone, the mode of choosing by electors prevails. In several of the other States, the voters for senators must have a greater pecuniary qualification than the voters for the other branch; and the senators more property than the representatives.
Another respectable American statesmen (Mr. William Smith of South Carolina, who was lately minister from the United States at the Court of Lisbon) has remarked, that “while in other countries” (he plainly alludes to England) “the upper or checking house emanates from a different source than the people, with us all power must flow mediately or immediately from the same source; in order, therefore, to invigorate this branch with an adequate power of control, it is necessary that it should be less dependent on the people than the popular branch. The means employed for this purpose in Maryland and Kentucky appear to be the best. The time of greatest danger in representative governments is, when the violent passions which agitate the people have got possession of the popular branch. If the Senate be elected immediately by the people, it is not to be doubted that generally the same passions will pervade the Senate, or render all checks ineffectual. The longer duration of the Senate which exists in many states, is certainly a considerable remedy to this evil; and the experience of the American people has, in all their revisions of their constitutions, (except that of Georgia,) invited them to make this inequality as great as may be thought to be consistent with a proper responsibility and dependence.”1
The indirect eulogium which these facts and authorities convey on the constitution of our Upper House, is too obvious to require illustration.
III. A third circumstance which distinguishes the English Constitution from most other political establishments, is the power which the people have (by means of their representatives) not only of deliberating on new laws, and giving them their sanction, but of proposing laws to the consideration of the other branches of the Legislature.
In most of the ancient free states, the share of legislative power possessed by the people consisted merely in approving or rejecting the propositions made to them by those who were intrusted with the executive power. In the first times of the Roman Republic, the power of preparing the laws that were to be proposed was constantly exercised by the Senate. Laws were made Populi jussu ex auctoritate Senatus. “Senatus censuit,” says Livy,* “populus jussit.” Even in cases of elections, the previous approbation of the Senate, with regard to the candidates, was required. “Tum enim magistratum non gerebat is, qui ceperat, si patres auctores non erant facti.”2
At Venice, under the old government, the Senate also exercised powers of the same kind with regard to the Grand Council or Assembly of the Nobles. In the Canton of Berne, all propositions were discussed in the Little Council (which was composed of twenty-seven members) before they were laid before the Council of the Two Hundred, in whom resided the sovereignty of the whole Canton. And in Geneva the law was, that nothing should be treated in the General Council or Assembly of the Citizens, which had not been previously treated and approved in the Council of the Two Hundred; and that nothing should be treated of in the Council of the Two Hundred, which had not been previously treated and approved in the Council of Twenty-Five.
Something of this kind seems, indeed, to be necessary in Republican governments, to prevent rash acts of legislation, and to give stability to the laws. But the remedy threatens evils scarcely less alarming than those which it is intended to correct. They are well described in the following passage of De Lolme:—“These magistrates or bodies, at first, indeed, apply frequently to the Legislature for a grant of such branches of power as they dare not of themselves assume, or for the removal of such obstacles to their growing authority as they do not yet think it safe for them peremptorily to set aside. But when their authority has at last gained a sufficient degree of extent and stability, (as farther manifestations of the will of the legislative body could then only create obstructions to the exercise of their power,) they begin to consider the legislature as an enemy whom they must take great care never to rouse. They, consequently, convene the assembly as seldom as they can; and when they do convene it, they carefully avoid proposing anything favourable to public liberty. Soon they entirely cease to convene the assembly at all; and the people, after thus losing the power of legally asserting their rights, are exposed to that which is the highest degree of political ruin, the loss of even the remembrance of them, unless some indirect means are devised, by which they may, from time to time, give life to their dormant privileges,—means which may be found tolerably successful in small states, where provisions can more easily be made to answer their intended ends, but which, in states of considerable extent, have always proved in the event, a source of disorders of the same kind with those which were at first intended to be prevented.”*
Here, then, there seems to be a dilemma in the theory of government, which presents to us only a choice of evils. “If the People debate,” says Hume, “all is confusion. If they do not debate they can only resolve, and then the Senate carves for them.”* Both evils are avoided (as far as it seems possible for human wisdom to guard against them) in the plan of our Constitution.
I already said, that the people have (by means of their representatives) a complete power of proposing whatever laws they please, to the consideration of the Legislature. But this is not all. They have prevailed on the executive power to renounce all claim to the initiative in acts of legislation, with the single exception of acts of grace or pardon.1 The king, indeed, occasionally sends messages to either House; but these messages are always expressed in very general terms, desiring the House to take certain subjects under their consideration, without specifying any particular articles or clauses. The House proceeds in the same way as in the case of a petition from a private individual, some member making a motion upon it, and the bill being framed in the usual manner, and considered, during its discussion, as originating in this motion, not in the proposition of the sovereign. It is an understood principle, too, that neither the king nor his privy council can make any amendment on bills that have passed the two Houses, and that his prerogative extends only to a simple acceptance or rejection.
While a security is thus provided against the undue weight of the King or of the Upper House in acts of legislation, the evils resulting in most free states from popular deliberation, are prevented by the delegation of the power of the people to their representatives. Rousseau, indeed, in his Social Contract, considers this delegation as a renunciation of political freedom. “The people of England,” says he, “think that they are free. They are much mistaken: they are so only during the election of members of parliament: so soon as these are elected the people are nothing.”† In opposition to this very extravagant doctrine, it is justly observed by Rousseau’s ingenious fellow-citizen, De Lolme, that it is “in consequence of delegating the power to a representative body, that the people of England have been enabled to resist the phalanx who would engross to themselves the honours and dominion of the state. This phalanx is, comparatively speaking, a small number, and therefore easily united. A small number must therefore be opposed to them, that a like union may be obtained. It is because they are a small number that they can deliberate on every occurrence, and never come to any resolution but such as are maturely weighed; it is because they are few that they can have forms which continually serve them for general standards to resort to, approved maxims to which they invariably adhere, and plans which they never lose sight of: here, therefore,” continues De Lolme, “I repeat it, oppose to them a small number, and you will obtain the like advantages.”*
The sum of De Lolme’s general argument on the subject amounts to this:—That “a representative constitution places the remedy against the usurpations of those who govern in the hands of those who feel the disorder: whereas a popular constitution places it in the hands of those who cause it. And it is necessarily productive, in the event of the political calamity of trusting the means of repressing the invasions of power to the men who have the enjoyment of power.”†
IV. A fourth and most important circumstance in the English Constitution distinguishes it from the other Monarchies of Europe, and is attended with advantages of so essential a nature, that I am surprised so little stress has in general been laid upon it by our political writers. What I allude to at present is the regular gradation of rank, from the lowest to the highest, which produces a far more intimate connexion between the different orders of the community than takes place under any other monarchical form of government.
It is very remarkable that England is the only country in Europe where the distinction of noble and not noble is carried no further than the nature of the established government requires it should; because there the nobility do not, as such, form a caste, or class distinct from the rest of the nation, but only a separate order, by being an integrant part of the constitution. The prerogatives which the English Peers possess belong to them in their corporate capacity, whereas in other countries, the privileges of the noblesse being attached to them as individuals, are not apparently subservient to any purpose of political utility. In England, besides, the honours and privileges of the peerage are confined to the head of each noble family; and, of consequence, the rank of nobility is attached, not to noble descent considered abstractly, but to that situation alone in the state which renders an individual an hereditary legislator. The younger branches of these families, as they have no share in the legislature, are Commoners in the eye of the law; and as, in the course of a generation or two, they are lost in the general mass of the community, they serve as a link to connect together the interests of the two orders into which our constitution supposes the whole body of the people to be divided.
In other countries, where those who have been once ennobled transmit the honours and privileges of nobility to all their posterity alike, there is no link to connect the nobles with the rest of the nation; on the contrary, a line is drawn between them which separates them for ever, opposing an insurmountable obstacle to that harmony of views and interests which forms the principal security of a free Constitution.
The civil wars in England, and the usurpation of Oliver Cromwell, compensated, in some degree, for the many miserable consequences they produced, by discriminating, still more strongly than before, the ideas and manners of the English nation from those which were prevalent over the rest of Europe. “It is consolatory to reflect,” says Sir Frederic Eden, “that amidst the desolating effects of civil dissension, the nation got rid of the prejudice, (which had too long prevailed both in England and on the Continent,) that the pursuits of trade were incompatible with the advantages of birth.” Hume remarks, from Lord Clarendon, that “the influence of those ideas which the civil wars introduced, engaged the country gentlemen to bind their sons apprentices to merchants.”* And it has been observed by a late writer, Mr. Chalmers, that “the civil wars which began in 1640 (unhappy as they were, while they continued, both to king and people) produced in the end the most salutary effects, by bringing the higher and lower ranks closer together, and by inspiring all of them with an activity and vigour that in former ages had no example.”†
Having now endeavoured to illustrate some of the characteristical excellences of our Constitution, I shall offer a few remarks on an objection to the division of our Legislature, which was much insisted on by some foreign writers about the period when the French Revolution commenced. If the legislative power (it was urged) is really composed of three branches, which form constitutional and irresistible checks on each other, and if this division be not merely nominal and nugatory, one of two consequences must inevitably happen in every case where there is a difference in their views; either that the legislative power must be paralyzed and suspended for the moment, or that the political system must suffer a shock inconsistent with the order and stability of a well-constituted government. The objection was probably suggested by the following passage in Montesquieu’s panegyric on the Constitution of England, in which, though he has indirectly hinted at the difficulty, he does not seem to have been fully aware of its true solution:—“The legislative body,” he observes, “being composed of two parts, one checks the other by the mutual privilege of rejecting. They are both checked by the executive power, as the executive is by the legislative. These three powers,” he adds, “should naturally form a state of repose or inaction. But as there is a necessity for movement in the course of human affairs, they are forced to move, but still to move in concert.”‡ As Montesquieu has, in this instance, rather eluded than obviated the difficulty which he has pointed out to his readers, it is not surprising that this very vulnerable part of his theory should have presented a stumbling-block to such of them as derived their whole knowledge of our government from The Spirit of Laws; and accordingly, the objection to which it manifestly leads has been enlarged upon by some foreign politicians of no inconsiderable note. I shall therefore avail myself of this opportunity to point out at some length the mistaken views of our Constitution in which it has originated, more especially as the illustration of this argument will lead me to some criticisms, which appear to myself of importance, on the theoretical accounts of our government, to be found not only in Montesquieu, but in Blackstone and other constitutional lawyers of our own country, when these accounts are applied to the actual state of our political establishment. The same criticisms may be extended, though by no means equally applicable, to what has been written on this subject by the late ingenious and judicious De Lolme.
Before, however, I enter on this discussion, it is proper for me to observe, that I do not mean, by the remarks I am to offer, to convey the slightest censure on the writings of the eminent politicians I have now mentioned. Indeed, I apprehend it is absolutely necessary for every political student to begin his researches concerning our Constitution, by the perusal of some such general account of it as they have given; were it for no other reason than this, that their account is the common one given by political writers, and that, on questions of this nature, it is necessary not only to know what is true, but to know what has been thought and said by writers of reputation. In the present case, however, a farther and more important advantage may be derived from the speculations I refer to; because, although they are very far from being realized in our present government, yet they bear a certain resemblance to it; and as they do not distract the attention with a variety of anomalies which exist in reality, they lead the mind, easily and gradually, to a more distinct and just idea of the whole, than we should obtain if we attempted to comprehend so complicated a fabric, by examining in detail all the different parts which compose it. From the remarks which are now to be made, it will appear that they have, moreover, a tendency to simplify the subject of our examination, by stating, as separate and distinct objects of attention, parts of the Constitution which are blended together in their actual operation.
The difference between the theory of our Government and its actual state, is owing to various causes. 1°.—Many of our ancient laws and forms remain, while the ideas of the people have undergone important changes; and great alterations have taken place in the relations which different orders of the community bear to each other. The two branches, for example, of our legislature still continue to be described in our laws in the same terms as they were formerly in a very different form of society; terms which certainly are apt to convey to those who look merely at the outside of things, very false ideas of their comparative rank and importance in the state at present. And, accordingly, if I am not much mistaken, they do convey, in general, to foreigners, ideas of a distinction analogous to that suggested by the words patrician and plebeian at Rome, or noble and roturier in France. 2°.—There are many essential circumstances in the actual state of our Government, which are not professedly parts of the Constitution, and which are not even mentioned in any of our laws; nay, some of which are directly contrary to our written laws, and to the plan of our Constitution as it exists on paper. It is sufficient for me to mention as an instance, the indirect influence of the King and Lords in the Lower House.
I shall endeavour to point out, as clearly and concisely as I can, some of the most important respects in which the actual state of our Government differs from the theory; after which, I shall offer a few remarks on the circumstances by which these differences have been produced, during the long period which has elapsed since its great outlines began first to attract the notice of the world, in the rough but bold and original draft of our barbarous progenitors.
i.—In the theoretical accounts of the Constitution, it is always supposed that the three branches of the legislature are perfectly distinct from each other; and that the preservation of the Constitution depends on the different directions, and the relative proportions of these three powers. All this is perfectly agreeable to the language of the Constitution; for it ascribes to each of the branches an absolute negative on the determinations of the two others. But is this really the fact? or will any man pretend, that each of the three branches can exercise the veto with equal effect and equal advantage? With respect to one branch of the Legislature, the King, it seems now to be an acknowledged fact, that he never can exercise his negative without endangering the public tranquillity. The last time it was exerted was in the year 1692, by William III., who at first refused his assent to the Bill for Triennial Parliaments, but was prevailed on to sanction its enactment two years afterwards.1 The power, indeed, vested in the sovereign, of dissolving Parliament at pleasure, amounts to a virtual negative on those acts of the legislature of which he disapproves; but this prerogative, it is manifest, wherever it accomplishes its object, supposes the voice of the people (to whom the appeal is made) to be at variance with the measures of their constitutional representatives. It must, therefore, be evidently an experiment, fraught with danger to those legitimate authorities, whose proceedings are thus subjected to the immediate discussions and censures of an inflamed and unthinking multitude. The power of dissolving Parliament, accordingly, is pronounced by Mr. Burke in one of his ablest and most judicious productions, to be “of all the trusts vested in his Majesty, the most critical and delicate.”* “It is an experiment full of peril to put the representative wisdom and justice of his Majesty’s people in the wrong; to set up the representative and constituent bodies of the Commons of this kingdom as two separate and distinct powers, formed to counterpoise each other, leaving the preference in the hands of secret advisers of the crown.”†
In ancient times the case was widely different. At the close of one session, Queen Elizabeth (as we are informed by D’Ewes) gave her assent to twenty-four public and nineteen private bills, and at the same time rejected forty-eight which had passed the two Houses of Parliament.1 No fact can illustrate more strongly the change which has since taken place in the practical spirit of our Government.
With respect to the House of Lords, it is equally evident, that if they were to attempt to oppose their negative to the decided wishes of the King and Commons, it would be impossible for them to render their opposition effectual. Against such an event, indeed, some security is provided by the Constitution in the King’s prerogative of adding at pleasure to the number of the peerage; but abstracting from all considerations of this sort, the truth is, in the present state of things, that the ministry (if they are understood to carry the sovereign along with them cordially in their measures) may reckon with confidence on the support of a majority of the peers. And even were the fact, in any extraordinary combination of circumstances, to turn out otherwise, the Upper House could oppose but a shadow of resistance to the combined strength of the two other branches of the Legislature, supported as they always must be by public opinion, when their views happen completely to coincide. “As to the House of Lords,” says Mr. Hume, “they are a very powerful support to the Crown, so long as they are, in their turn, supported by it; but both experience and reason shew that they have no force or authority sufficient to maintain themselves alone, without such support.”*
If these observations be just, it necessarily follows, that neither the King nor the House of Lords possess now that independence and co-ordinate importance which our popular language and popular theories ascribe to them; and, consequently, that the whole practical efficiency of our Government is either centered within the walls of the House of Commons, or operates by the intermediation of that assembly.
Agreeably to this view of the subject, it was long ago remarked by Mr. Hume, that “the share of power allotted by our constitution to the House of Commons, is so great, that it absolutely commands all the other parts of the Government.”* “How much,” says he, “would it have surprised such a genius as Cicero or Tacitus, to have been told, that in a future age there should arise a very regular system of mixed Government, where the authority was so distributed, that one rank, whenever it pleased, might swallow up all the rest, and engross the whole power of the Constitution. Such a government, they would say, will not be a mixed government. For so great is the natural ambition of men, that they are never satisfied with power; and if one order of men, by pursuing its own interest, can usurp upon every other, it will certainly do so, and render itself as far as possible absolute and uncontrollable.
“But in this opinion,” he adds, “experience shews they would have been mistaken. For this is actually the case with the British Constitution.”†
Shall we therefore conclude, that the whole theory of our Constitution, as commonly stated, is a mere chimera; and that the three powers, of which so much has been said, have no real operation? By no means. The common theory of our Constitution is perfectly sound in its fundamental principles, although it requires a more full development than is to be collected from the general outline of it delineated by systematical writers. The three powers which have been so long regarded as the distinguishing feature of the English plan of policy, do all exist in fact, and all operate in a most effectual and important manner, but not in the manner expressed in our laws, or in general supposed by our speculative politicians. In consequence of the changes which time has produced, they do not now, as formerly, operate separately and ostensibly; but restraining and modifying each other’s effects, they operate in a manner not so palpable, though equally real, by being blended together in the composition of the House of Commons; an assembly which is no longer composed of men whose habits and connexions can be supposed to attach them exclusively to the people, but of men, some of whom, from their situation, may be presumed to lean to the regal part of a government, others to the aristocratical; while, on important questions, the majority may be expected to maintain the interests of the community at large.
To illustrate this, it may not be improper to consider of what descriptions of persons the two Houses of Parliament are at present composed; which, when compared with the original composition of those Houses, will at the same time clearly point out the cause of the great difference that exists between the actual state of the Constitution, and the language and forms handed down to us from our ancestors.
This discussion is the more necessary, as the solution given by Mr. Hume of the paradox, just quoted from his works, (although unexceptionable as far as it goes,) is stated in terms much too concise and general, to convey complete satisfaction to those who have not corrected their theoretical views of our Government, by an attentive study of this singular machine in its actual movements. “How,” he asks, “shall we resolve this paradox? And by what means is the House of Commons confined within the proper limits, since from our very Constitution it must necessarily have as much power as it demands, and can only be confined by itself? How is this consistent with our experience of human nature? I answer, that the interest of the body is here restrained by that of the individuals, and that the House of Commons stretches not its power, because such an usurpation would be contrary to the interest of the majority of its members.”* The question, however, still recurs, how does all this happen, and to what causes is it owing that the theory of our Constitution, which we know was in former times nearly realized, should now be so little applicable to its practical administration? The truth, I apprehend, will appear from the following observations to be this; that in the present, as in numberless other instances, the natural course of events, unfettered in this fortunate country by those restraints which, in other parts of the world, cramp the energies of the human mind, has gradually and insensibly adapted our existing institutions to the varying circumstances of a progressive society, and has thus preserved their original spirit, even where they appear on a superficial view to be most incompetent to their end.
In the earlier ages of the English history, it is of essential importance for us to recollect, that the Peers comprehended the great nobility and principal proprietors of the country, and formed not only the nominal, but the real aristocracy of the state. The House of Commons, on the other hand, was composed of men who were really of the plebeian order—of merchants and traders, and gentry of small fortunes. In one of the ancient writs, they are described as follows:—“Dubbed Knights, or the most worthy, honest, and discreet Esquires in each county, the most expert in feats of arms, and no others; and of every city two citizens, and of every borough two Burgesses, discreet and sufficient, and such who had the greatest skill in shipping and merchandizing.” Even so far down as the time of Edward III., (during which reign, by the way, they seem first to have formed a distinct body,) they appear to have been summoned for no other purpose than to assess aids of money, and to present humble petitions with respect to their grievances. In the year 1332, we find this prince retaining his lords and councillors to advise him in some matters of moment he had to propose to them, after he had dismissed the representatives of the people; and a few years afterwards, they themselves declined giving their advice upon the Ardua Regni, promising “to confirm implicitly the advice of the nobles, conscious of the weakness of their abilities to advise the best.” “The petitions of the Commons,” says Mr. Christian,1 “frequently began with, ‘Your poor Commons beg and pray,’ and conclude with, ‘for God’s sake, and as an act of charity.’ It appears, that prior to the reign of Henry V., it had been the practice of the kings to add and enact more than the Commons petitioned for. In consequence of this, there is a very memorable petition from the Commons in 2 Henry V., which states, that it is the liberty and freedom of the Commons, that there should be no statute without their assent, considering that they have ever been as well assenters as petitioners; and, therefore, they pray that for the future there may be no additions or diminutions to their petitions. And in answer to this, the king granted, that from henceforth they should be bound in no instance without their assent, saving of his royal prerogative to grant and deny what he pleased of their petitions.”1 The same author adds, that “it was long after its creation, or rather separation from the barons, before the House of Commons was conscious of its own strength and dignity;” and such was their modesty and diffidence, that they used to request the Lords to send them some of their members to instruct them in their duty, “on account of the arduousness of their charge, and the feebleness of their own powers and understandings.”2
At present, it is hardly necessary for me to remark how much the case is altered in both Houses. In the Upper House there are peers, who, so far from possessing great landed property, are supported by the bounty of the Crown. Nay, it is not unusual, on the creation of new peers, for the king to assign to them pensions, for the express purpose of enabling them to support their dignity. Nor are all the members of this House men of illustrious descent; for many of them have been raised from a very obscure origin, in consequence of their public services, or their address in courting ministerial favour; and, therefore, the condition of a peer of Great Britain neither implies the possession of landed property, nor the distinction connected with ancient ancestry. If we examine the House of Commons, we find that a change no less remarkable has taken place in its composition since the period of its first institution, for there we find individuals of the oldest families in the country, possessing landed estates of £20,000, or £30,000, or £40,000 a year. We find in the same House, men who, even in the order of precedence, are superior to the majority of the House of Lords. Such, for example, as the eldest sons of Dukes, who are commoners in the eye of the law, and yet who have the right of precedence by Act of Parliament over every Peer under the rank of Marquis. With these men are united, in the same House, a few of the more eminent merchants of England,—a few lawyers, (who consider a seat in it as putting them in the way of professional preferment,)—a great many sons and younger brothers of peers,—a number of country gentlemen of independent fortune, and a few individuals of splendid abilities, introduced by the influence of the Crown, or of the great families.
From the account which has been given of the composition of this assembly, it is evident that both King and Peers must possess a very great indirect influence on its proceedings; and, in so far as the one or the other influence prevails, the actual state of the constitution leans to Monarchy or to Aristocracy. If the Crown disposed of all the seats, the Constitution, under the forms of a mixed government, would be a pure Monarchy; or if, on the other hand, the Peers disposed of all the seats, the Constitution, under the same forms, would be a pure Aristocracy. It was formerly shewn, however, [supra, p. 443, seq.,] that the different parts of our constitution cannot, in the present state of things, operate as checks on each other, in the way that our constitutional laws suppose, and that the whole efficiency of government must necessarily be in the House of Commons. If the Crown and Peers, therefore, had no influence in that House, the constitution, under the forms of a mixed government, would be a pure Democracy; whereas, if each has a certain influence, the three powers may balance each other, and may produce the happy result aimed at in the theory of our constitution, in a way still more advantageous than if it were exactly realized, by saving the machine of government from those violent shocks it must occasionally suffer if king, lords, and commons were openly and avowedly to draw, in any instance, in different directions.
The perfection of our government, while its present forms continue, consists in properly balancing these influences, by giving to the Sovereign a sufficient degree of parliamentary weight to produce a general support to public measures, without an implicit confidence in ministers;—to the Aristocracy such a weight as may be necessary to secure a due respect to landed property, and to ancient establishments;—and to the People such a preponderance as may enable them to secure equal liberty and impartial justice to every subject, without permitting them to run into the extravagances of popular tumult and violence.
How far this description is realized in the actual state of our Government we have not at present leisure to examine. In the opinion of some very eminent politicians, “a new principle of authority (unknown to the constitution before) may be traced from the time of the Revolution.” “Before that period,” (it has been remarked,) “the friends of liberty dreaded only the direct encroachments of the prerogative; they have since learned to entertain stronger apprehensions of the secret motives of interest which the Crown may hold up to individuals, and by which it may seduce them from the duty which they owe to the public.”1 On this subject, it was long ago remarked by Sir William Blackstone, (and the observation has been still more forcibly stated by various writers since his time,) that “if the instruments of power are not so open and avowed as they formerly were, they are not the weaker on that account; and that our national debt and taxes have, in their natural consequences, thrown such a weight of power into the executive scale of government, as we cannot think was intended by our patriot ancestors, who gloriously struggled for the abolition of the then formidable parts of the prerogative, and by an unaccountable want of foresight, established this system in its stead.” In this observation it cannot be denied, that there is much and very important truth; but it does not affect the justness of the speculative, or rather the hypothetical principle, which I have been attempting to establish, that supposing the indirect influences of the king and of the peers to be carried no further than is necessary to preserve a due balance among the three powers essential to our constitution,—so far from being abuses, they seem to be absolutely requisite for preserving the ancient spirit of our mixed government under the important changes which time has produced in the condition and manners of the different orders of the community.
On these grounds, therefore, I am strongly inclined to agree with Mr. Hume, that “instead of asserting absolutely that the dependence of Parliament, in every degree, is an infringement of British liberty, the country party should have made some concessions to their adversaries, and have only examined what was the proper degree of this dependence, beyond which it became dangerous to liberty.”* If this moderate language had been less suited to the purposes of a political party, it would at least have had a fairer chance of being substantially useful to the public.
The further prosecution, however, of this argument would be altogether foreign to my present purpose, as it is not on any speculative or dubious views of the constitution that I would wish to rest its substantial and characteristical merits. I have repeatedly observed, that forms of government are of importance chiefly, as they lead to wise systems of internal policy, or, as I have elsewhere expressed it, “the only infallible criterion of the excellence of a constitution is to be found in the detail of its municipal code.”† Judging by this test, by the actual effect of the government in securing the happiness and promoting the improvement of its subjects, the English Constitution is unquestionably entitled to a preference over all those which have been hitherto realized in the history of mankind. “During the last sixty years,” says Mr. Hume, in an Essay published in 1752, and the remark may be now repeated, with all the additional sanction of our subsequent experience, “during the last sixty years,” (or rather, we may now say, since the beginning of the last century,) “an uninterrupted harmony has been preserved between our princes and our parliaments. Public liberty, with internal peace and order, has flourished almost without interruption,—trade and manufactures and agriculture have increased,—the arts and sciences and philosophy have been cultivated,—even religious parties have been necessitated to lay aside their mutual rancour, and the glory of the nation has spread itself all over Europe. . . . So long and so glorious a period no nation can boast of; nor is there another instance in the whole history of mankind, that so many millions of people have, during such a space of time, been held together in a manner so free, so rational, and so suitable to the dignity of human nature.”1
I have now finished the plan which I proposed to myself at the opening of this Course of Lectures; and in the last part of it have introduced some discussions concerning various questions of Political Economy,* which I have generally reserved for a more advanced class of students. I could have wished, before taking my leave, to indulge myself in a short retrospect of the principal subjects to which I have endeavoured to draw your attention; but this it is impossible for me now to attempt, without trespassing more than would be proper on your time and patience. The field we have surveyed together is indeed an ample one, and comprehends the most interesting questions which can possibly employ the human faculties. If my ability to do justice to these questions had corresponded in any degree to my wishes, or to the idea with which I have been uniformly impressed of the peculiar importance of that station which I hold in this University, I should now close the labours of this session, not only with the agreeable recollection of the hours which I have spent in reviewing once more the fundamental principles of a favourite study; but with the satisfaction of having discharged a duty of as extensive an utility as most individuals in the private situations of life can be called on to execute.
And now, gentlemen, when the connexion is to be dissolved which has for some months past subsisted between us, may I not be permitted to express the hope which I am encouraged to entertain by the attention with which you have honoured me: that, long after the period of your academical education, you will recollect with satisfaction these studies of your youth; and that by fixing in some measure your principles concerning the nature, the duties, and the prospects of man, they may contribute, under the various vicissitudes of fortune that may yet await you, to fortify your virtuous resolutions, to elevate your views above the pursuits of a vulgar ambition, and to cherish in your minds those habitual sentiments of religion, of humanity, of justice, and of fortitude, which can alone render the talents and accomplishments, (to the cultivation of which so many of your early years have been already devoted,) a source of permanent happiness and honour to yourselves, a blessing to your friends, and a pledge to your country for the perpetuity of that political fabric reared by the hands and cemented with the blood of your ancestors, now, alas! standing alone amid the wreck of surrounding establishments, the last asylum and the only remaining bulwark of the liberties of Europe.—18th April 1808.
[* ] [It will be observed, that in relegating the discussion on the Theory of Government, or Politics Proper, to this Second Part, I am deviating from the order which may seem to have been preferred by Mr. Stewart in the last corrected copy of these Lectures; (see p. xii. of Editorial Advertisement prefixed to their Vol. I.) The reason, in fact the necessity, of this change is explained in notes* and relative texts at pp. 21, 24, and 29 of that volume. It is also to be remembered that this second section of the Lectures on Political Economy, to wit, Politics Proper, was delivered by Mr. Stewart as pertaining to his course of Moral Philosophy.]
[* ] [In his Esprit des Loix, Liv. II., &c.]
[† ] [Part I. sect. x. p. 108, seq., sixth edition.]
[‡ ] [Esprit des Loix, Liv. II. chap. i.]
[§ ] [Ibid.]
[* ] [See Esprit des Loix, Liv. II. chap. iv.]
[1 ] Consult Filangieri, [Scienza della Legislazione,] Vol. I. p. 121.
[2 ] [Discourses of Government,] p. 160.
[1 ] [Ibid.] p. 165.
[2 ] [Ibid.] p. 258.
[* ] [Esprit des Loix, Liv. II. chap. ii.]
[† ] [Ibid.]
[1 ] Cap. vi.
[1 ] See his sentiments on the subject at length in the De Legibus, Lib. III. cc. xv., xvi., xvii.
[* ] [Esprit des Loix, Liv. II. chap. ii.]
[1 ] [Essay on Civil Society, Part III. sect. vi.] p. 262, seq., fourth edition.
[1 ] [Ibid. Part II. sect. ii.] p. 147, fourth edition.
[* ] [See Hume’s Essay, Idea of a Perfect Commonwealth.]
[† ] [This affords indeed a good example of the πίστις ἠθιϰὴ, and may be quoted. It is from the Æneid, i. 148.
[‡ ] [Atheniensium Respublica, Capp. i., ii., iii.]
[1 ] [On the Constitution of England, B. II. chap. v. p. 255, edit. 1816.]
“In the year 1707, a law was enacted, that a general assembly of the people should be held every five years, to treat of the affairs of the Republic; but the magistrates, who dreaded these assemblies, soon obtained from the citizens themselves the repeal of that law; and the first resolution of the people, in the first of these periodical assemblies, (1712,) was to abolish them for ever. The profound secrecy with which the magistrates prepared their proposal to the citizens on that subject, and the sudden manner in which the latter, when assembled, were acquainted with it, have indeed accounted but imperfectly for this strange determination of the people; and the consternation which seized the whole assembly when the result of the suffrages was proclaimed, has confirmed many in the opinion, that some unfair means had been used. The whole transaction has been kept secret to this day; but the common opinion on the subject, which has been adopted by M. Rousseau in his Lettres de la Montagne, is this—The magistrates, it is said, had privately instructed the secretaries, in whose ears the citizens were to whisper their suffrages; when a citizen said ‘Approbation,’ he was understood to approve the proposal of the magistrates, when he said ‘Rejection,’ he was understood to reject the periodical assemblies.”—De Lolme, [Ibidem. p. 254, note.]
[* ] [Essays, &c., Part II., Essay x. Of some Remarkable Customs.]
[* ] [Oceana.]
[† ] [In the edition of the Essays, London, 1788, vol. i. p. 456. But in that edition, the last two sentences, beginning with “Good,” &c., do not appear. Mr. Stewart’s reference is, “Essays, vol. i. p. 533.” But I have not, at the moment, been able to ascertain whether there be a difference in the various editions. The Essay is not found in the third, that of 1748, which is at hand. It is more commonly said, “Truth is one, but Errors infinite, in number;” and in this form Hume is quoted by the Author for the apophthegm, Works, (supra,) Vol. VII. p. 212.]
[* ] [On the Constitution of England, Book II. chap. ix.]
[† ] [Ibidem, Book II. chap. xvi. seq.]
[* ] [Hist. Rom. Liv. VI. cap. xv.]
[* ] [Spirit of Laws, Book XI. chap. xvii.]
[1 ] Gregory’s Essays, p. 190, [first edit. Not the Essays Philosophical and Literary, 1793, by Mr. Stewart’s friend and colleague, the learned physician, Dr. James Gregory, but the Essays Historical and Moral, 1788, by the Anglican divine, the Rev. George Gregory. The passage quoted is from Part I. Essay viii., Republican Government compared with Monarchy, p. 168, second edition. For the example of the Roman Republic, Mr. Stewart, after Gregory, refers to Tacitus, Hist., Lib. II. cap. xxxviii.]
[2 ] [Mrs.] Macaulay, quoted by Gregory. [Ibidem, Essay vii., Of the Theory of Government, p. 147.]
[1 ]Esprit des Loix, Liv. II. chap. iii.
[2 ] I quote this passage on the authority of Gregory, who says in his Essays, that it is in the Olynthian Orations [Part I. Essay viii. p. 179, second edition.]
[* ] [Hist. Lib. III.; translated by Mr. Hume in his Essay, Of the Populousness of Ancient Nations.]
[* ] [Constitution of England, Book II. chap. i. p. 200, edit. 1816.]
[† ] Machiavel’s History of Florence, I. iii. From this passage Voltaire has borrowed the remark he applies to the English in his Henriade. Speaking of Queen Elizabeth—
“Et fit aimer son joug à l’Anglois indompté, Qui ne peut ni servir, ni vivre en Liberté.”
[As observed by Hume, (Essay, Of the Liberty of the Press,) Voltaire copied Tacitus,—“Nec totam servitutem, nec totam libertatem pati possunt.” But Machiavel also, only follows the same original.]
[1 ] [Esprit des Loix, Liv. IX. chap. i.] See the rest of Montesquieu’s remarks on this subject;—Liv. IX. chapitre ii., seq.
[* ] [Ibid. Liv. IX. chap. vi.]
[* ] [Essay, On the Idea of a Perfect Commonwealth, towards the end.]
[* ] [Esprit, &c., Liv. II. chap. iii.]
[1 ] Hume’s Essays, Vol. I. [Part I. Essay iii., Politics a Science.]
[* ] [Ibidem.]
[† ] [Esprit, &c., Liv. II. chap. iii.]
[1 ] See Hume’s Essay, On the Populousness of Ancient Nations. “This government, however, was so disagreeable to the people, that about two-thirds of them immediately left their country. Cassander reduced that census to the half; yet still the government was considered as an Oligarchical tyranny, and the effect of foreign violence.”—Hume, ibid.
[* ] [Goldsmith, Traveller, 383.]
[† ] [Esprit, &c., Liv. III. chap. iv.]
[* ] [Esprit, &c., Liv. III. chap. viii.]
[† ] [Ibid. Liv. V. chap. viii.]
[1 ]Essay on Civil Society, Part I. sect. x.
[* ] [Esprit, &c., Liv. V. chap. viii.]
[† ] [Ibid.]
[‡ ] [Ibid.]
[* ] [Sallust, Jug. cap. 64.]
[† ] [Essay on Civil Society, Part IV. sect. ii.]
[1 ]Esprit, &c., Liv. V. chap. viii.
[2 ] Montesquieu, ibid. See also De Lolme, [Constitution of England, II. xii.]
[* ] [Ibid.]
[1 ]Politics, Book III. chap. v.
[1 ] Adams On the American Constitution, Vol. III. p. 286.
[* ] [Decline and Fall, &c., Chap. iii.]
[* ] [Ibid.—Aristotle, in his Politics, clearly shews how a pure or Autocratic Monarchy is naturally either the best or the worst form of government. Hence, though unnoticed by Erasmus, the adage,—Corruptio optimi pessima.]
[* ] [Esprit, &c., Liv. II. chap. v.]
[1 ]De L’Esprit, Essai IV. chap. xiv.
[1 ]State of the Ottoman Empire, quoted by Montesquieu, [Esprit, &c., V. xiv.] This precarious state of property naturally produces usury and exorbitant interest, as each person will raise the value of his money in proportion to the danger he sees in lending it. Hence poverty is deprived even of the resource of borrowing, and extensive commerce is rendered impracticable.
[2 ] See on this subject Raynal, [Histoire Philosophique, &c.,] Book ix.
[1 ] Kames’ Sketches, Vol. I. p. 399. [Book II. sketch iii.]
[* ] [Esprit, &c., V. xiii.]
[2 ]Annales, III. lxv.
[* ] [Esprit, &c., Liv. III. chap. ix.]
[1 ] Lib. IV. cap. xxxiii., quoted by [George] Gregory, p. 345.
[2 ] [Pandectæ,] Lib. V., Ad Legem Juliam Majestatis, quoted by Kames, Sketches, Vol. I. p. 397.—[Book II. sk. iii.]
[3 ] [Historia,] Lib. IV., quoted by Kames, Sketches, Vol. I. p. 398.—[Book II. sk. iii.]
[1 ]Travels, &c., as quoted by Montesquieu, Book III. chap. x.
[2 ] Suetonius, Vit. Cel., capp. xxvii., xxviii., xxx.; Vit. Ner., capp. xxvi., xxxiii., xxxiv.; Vit. Dom., capp. x., xi.
[3 ] Gibbon, Decline and Fall, cap. vii.
[1 ] Montesquieu, Esprit, &c., Liv. V. chap. xiv.
From the fourth emperor of the Turks there has been none who has ascended the throne without the murder of some of his brothers, and hardly any who have died a natural death. Solymus I. dethroned and murdered his father, strangled his brother, and, afterwards repenting, put to death fifteen of those who had betrayed his brother into his hands. The five brothers of Amurath III. were strangled in his presence, and his mother, through grief, immediately stabbed herself. Mahomet III. began his reign by the murder of his brother, and of all his father’s concubines.—[G.] Gregory’s Essays, 1st edit. p. 348, [Essay, Of certain Causes which may Subvert British Liberty; 2d edit. p. 187.]
[* ] [Essays, Vol. I.—Essay, Of Civil Liberty.]
[* ] [Hume’s Essays, Vol. I.—Essay, Of some remarkable Customs.]
[1 ] The following passage is to be found in Encyclopédie Méthodique, Commerce, Tom. III. Art. Noblesse:—“En Angleterre la loi des successions attribue aux aînés dans les familles nobles les biens immeubles à l’exclusion des cadets qui n’y ont aucune part. Ces cadets sans bien cherchent à réparer leurs pertes dans l’exercice du négoce, et c’est pour eux un moyen presque sûr de s’enrichir. Devenus riches, ils quittent la profession, ou même sans la quitter, leurs enfans rentrent dans tous les droits de la noblesse de leur famille; leurs aînés prennent le titre de Milord si leur naissance et la possession d’une terre pairie le leur permettent. Il faut néanmoins remarquer, que quelque fière que soit la noblesse Angloise, lorsque les nobles entrent en apprentissage, qui selon le réglement doit être de septs ans entiers, jamais ils ne se couvrent devant leur Maîtres, leur parlant et travaillant tête nue, quoique souvent le maître soit roturier, et de race marchande, et que les apprentis soient de la première noblesse.”
[* ] [And—that “the King can create a Nobleman, but is unable to make a Gentleman;” i.e., a man of family.]
[* ] [Esprit, &c., Liv. III. chap. vii.]
[* ] [Ibid.]
[1 ] See also Book II. chap. iv., and Book IV. chap. ii.
[* ] [Esprit, &c., Liv. III. chap. iv.]
[† ] [Ibid. chap. v.]
[* ] [Ibid.]
[† ] [Ibid. chap. vi.]
[‡ ] [Ibid. chap. vii.]
[§ ] [Ibid. Liv. IV. chap. ii.]
[∥ ] [Ibid.]
[* ] [Ibid. Liv. V. chap. ix.]
[1 ] “Ce génie male et rapide qui approfondit tout en paroissant tout effleurer.”—[Discours à l’Académie Française, (Œuvres, Tome VIII. p. 661, edit. 1817.)]
[* ] [Essays, Vol. I.—Essay, Of Civil Liberty; apparently quoted from memory.]
[1 ] Hampton’s Polybius, Vol. III. p. 19.—[In the original History, Book VI. chapter ix., seq.]
[1 ] “Sed nec Polybii hic utor auctoritate, qui ad mixtum genus reipublicæ refert Romanam rempublicam, quæ illo tempore, si non actiones ipsas, sed jus agendi respicimus, mere fuit popularis: Nam et senatus auctoritatis, quam ad optimatum regimen refert, et consulum, quos quasi reges fuisse vult, subdita erat populo. Idem de aliorum politica scribentium sententiis dictum volo, qui magis externam speciem et quotidianam administrationem quam jus ipsum summi imperii spectare, congruens ducunt suo instituto.”—[De Jure Belli, &c.,] Lib. I. cap. iii. [§ 19.]
[* ] [See the Commentary of Henry de Cocceii, on Lib. I. c. iii. § 19.]
[1 ] “On a injustement accusé les ancions de n’avoir pas eu l’idée d’une monarchie temporée.
“Aristotle en a posé l’équilibre sur la distinction des trois pouvoirs, et Lycurgue en avoit fait la base du gouvernement de Lacedomène.”—See Barthélemi, Voyages d’Anacharsis.
[2 ]De Republica, [Lib. II.]
[* ] [Ibid.]
[1 ]Annales, Lib. IV. [cap. xxxiii.]
[* ] [Letter on the Spirit of Patriotism, Works, Vol. IV. pp. 187, 190.]
[* ] [Oceana.]
[* ] [Works, Vol. VIII. p. 22, Montagu’s edition.]
[1 ] ad 1445. See Robertson, Vol. I. p. 94, [Dublin edit. 1770. Charles V., Preliminary View of the State of Europe, Sect. ii.]
[* ] [Essay on Civil Society, Part I. Sect. ix. p. 100, edit. 1793.]
[† ] [Ibid. p. 99.]
[* ] [On the Constitution of England, Book II. chaps. i.-iii. p. 195, seq., edit. 1816.]
[1 ] Many striking instances of this are mentioned by Dr. Gillies in the Introduction to his Translation of the Orations of Lysias.
[2 ] See also Gillies’s Aristotle.
[* ] [On the Constitution of England, Book II. chap. ii. p. 218, edit. 1816.]
[* ] [Essays, Vol. I.—Essay, Of some Remarkable Customs.]
[* ] [Moral and Political Philosophy, Book VI. chap. vii.; Works, Vol. I. p. 429, seq.]
[1 ] See Paley, [Ibid. p. 427, seq.]
[* ] [I do not apprehend the implied purport of the argument.]
[1 ]A Comparative View of the Constitutions of the Several States with each other, and with that of the United States. By William Smith. Philadelphia, 1796, pp. 15, 16.
[2 ] Ibid.
[1 ] Ibid. p. 17.
[* ] [Hist., Lib. XXXVII. cap. lv., et passim.]
[2 ] Cicero, Pro Plancio, [cap. iii.]
[* ] [On the Constitution of England, Book II. chap. iv. p. 231, seq., edit. 1816.]
[* ] [Essays, Vol. I.—Essay, Idea of a Perfect Commonwealth.]
[1 ] “When an Act of grace or pardon is passed, it is first signed by his Majesty, and then read once only in each of the Houses, without any new engrossing or amendment.”—Blackstone, Vol. I. p. 183, 12th ed.
[† ] [Chap. xv.]
[* ] [On the Constitution of England, B. II. chap. vi. p. 256, edit. 1816.]
[† ] [Ibid. Book II. chap. viii. p. 270, edit. 1816.]
[* ] [History of England, Commonwealth, chap. iii.]
[† ] [Estimate, &c., c.iii. p. 44, ed. 1812.]
[‡ ] [Esprit des Loix, Liv. XI. c. vi.]
[1 ] De Lolme, [On the Constitution of England, Book II. chap. xvii. p. 400, edit. 1816.]
[* ] [Motion relative to the Speech from the Throne, Works, Vol. III. p. 525, edit. 1852.]
[† ] [Ibid.]
[1 ]Blackstone, Vol. I. p. 184.
[* ] [Essays, Vol. I.—Essay, Of the Independency of Parliament.]
[* ] [Ibid.]
[† ] [Ibid.]
[* ] [Ibid.]
[1 ]Notes on Blackstone, Vol. I. p. 181.
[1 ] Christian—ubi supra.
[2 ] Ibid.
[1 ] Millar’s English Government, Vol. IV. p. 95.
[* ] [Essays, Vol. I.—Essay, Of the Independence of Parliament.]
[† ] [Account of the Life and Writings of Adam Smith, 1793, sect. iv.; infra, Vol. X. p. 55.]
[1 ]Essays, Vol. I.—Essay, Of the Protestant Succession.
[* ] [There are extant two conclusions to the Lectures on Politics Proper; which Lectures, it will be remembered, were always delivered by Mr. Stewart at the end of, but in connexion with his general Course of Moral Philosophy. Of these conclusions, the one here given is dated 18th April 1808; the other marked as for the Session 1803-4, will be found in the Appendix, p. 459.]