Front Page Titles (by Subject) SECT. II.: The Danger to Free Government from popular Maxims, and popular Men; with the Advantages it furnishes against itself. - The Works of Sallust (Gordon's Discourses, Cicero's Orations against Catiline)
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SECT. II.: The Danger to Free Government from popular Maxims, and popular Men; with the Advantages it furnishes against itself. - Gaius Sallustius Crispus (Sallust), The Works of Sallust (Gordon’s Discourses, Cicero’s Orations against Catiline) 
The Works of Sallust, translated into English with Political Discourses upon that Author. To which is added, a translation of Cicero’s Four Orations against Catiline (London: R. Ware, 1744).
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The Danger to Free Government from popular Maxims, and popular Men; with the Advantages it furnishes against itself.
IN free Countries it is a Maxim, That it is better to letseveral guilty Persons escape, than to punish one who is innocent: A benevolent Maxim, but full of Encouragement to Factionists, Traitors, and other Criminals; since all the Laws, and Proceedings of the State, are to be framed and softened agreeably to that Maxim. The Trial of a State Criminal must be slow and solemn; his Character, the Credibility of the Witnesses, Laws and Precedents, must be all coolly and carefully examined. Possibly his great Power and Popularity, and the Tenderness of the Laws, and of those who administer them, make it dangerous to seize him, and difficult to confine him: So that an able Traitor may execute his Treason, before it can be proved that he designed any; and he may still enjoy his own Liberty, whilst he is contriving the Destruction of public Liberty: He may even make himself popular, whilst he is pursuing popular Mischief, and Measures destructive to the People. For as Liberty, amongst its many Advantages, furnisheth great Men, so, amongst its other Disadvantages, it is often weakened, sometimes extinguished, by Heroes of its own forming: It produces false Patriots, as well as true; and the former are frequently too hard for the latter.
It was a strange Declaration to come from a Roman, ‘That Men were mistaken, to think that the Senate (the Roman Senate) had any Power in the Roman Republic.’ It was still more strange from the Mouth of a Senator, and a Consul: Yet the Consul Gabinius was not ashamed to make that strange Declaration in Public. The Truth is, he was the Creature of Cæsar, and the Associate of Clodius, who had purchased him into a League against his Country, by the Bait of a great Government. After this, it can be no Wonder to hear, that the same Gabinius, still in his Consulship, used to celebrate, in his Cups, with Piso his Brother Consul, (no better than himself) the Names, and Memory, and brave Attempts, of Catiline, Cethegus, and the other Conspirators, all executed for Treason.
In a free State, as well as in one not free, whoever has Power to serve it, has Power to hurt it. They who administer it, will often weaken the Power of the State, to keep or increase their own; and will sometimes rather destroy it, than lose their Power in it. The Decemvirate, or College of Ten at Rome, established for a Time limited, with absolute Power, to settle a Body of Laws, attempted to turn that temporary Trust into perpetual Tyranny. The annual Tribunes often made the same Attempts. The Nobles, for a great while, engrossed all Power, and abused it; acted like Masters, and treated the Plebeians like Slaves: The Plebeians, in their turn, seized the Power of the Commonwealth, and exercised it licentiously. Nor was it likely to be otherwise. In popular Governments, such as admit of Appeals to the People, there can be no certain Stability; because the People are always unstable; always subject to be led, and deceived, and inflamed, by Demagogues; such as are never wanting in that sort of Government.
In Rome, for a great while, no Ordinance of the People could pass, without the Authority and Sanction of the Senate; a most reasonable Restraint, to keep popular Passion and Folly from gaining the Force and Terror of Law. Afterwards, by the Violence of popular Faction, this wise Precaution was lost; and the People could make Laws, without the Senate; but the Senate none, without the Consent of the People. Thenceforward, whoever could alarm and mislead the People, governed or misgoverned the State.
Laws extending throughout the Empire, and binding to the whole Roman People, were sometimes passed by a wild Rabble; such was that for the Banishment of Cicero: The Title of the Law was taken from a ragged Profligate, who wanted a Habitation, and a Bed. By the like Rabble, Armies, Treasure, and Provinces, were allotted to their own Favourites; that is, whomsoever any turbulent Tribune recommended to their Choice. All sober and substantial Citizens were, upon such Occasions, kept off by Violence and Arms.
The Government of Carthage was firm and good, till it fell into the Hands of the People: From that Moment it proved violent, fluctuating, and perishing. The Senate was despised; and then, what Anacharsis observed to be the Case in all popular Governments, was the Case there; ‘Wise Men proposed, but Fools disposed.’ The Answer of Lycurgus was lively and sound, to a Fellow-Citizen, who proposed a popular Government for Sparta. ‘Try it, says Lycurgus, in your own House.’ As that great Man judged very wisely upon this Subject, how to reform his native State, fallen, through popular Licentiousness, into Impotence and Decay, he had the Policy to procure a Judgment from the Oracle of Delphos, allowing the Spartans ‘to vote, but not to debate.’ He knew how unfit the Populace were to make Laws; how unfit to propose; how unfit to abrogate. By this wise Negative upon the People, the State of Sparta continued long firm and glorious: For want of it, that of Athens was always tumultuous and unsettled. Lycurgus took Warning from the tragical Fate of the King his Father, murdered by his own Subjects in a Riot, for attempting to quell it. The Spartans had been long used to defy the Government, and been countenanced in it, or, which is the same thing, not checked and discouraged, by their former Kings. ‘The People, says Plutarch, were so far from growing more tractable by such Indulgence, and false Courtesy, (as these Princes hoped they would) that the Government fell under popular Contempt.’ The great Task, and great Merit, of Lycurgus, was to recover its lost Authority; since every Government without Authority must be lost.
It is with the People as with Princes; whatever they have gained upon one another, they both still want to gain more. They both strive to acquire more (call it Liberty, or call it Power) than they can manage or keep; and they lose by seeming to get. Monarchy sometimes produces Tyranny; Tyranny often produces the Destruction of the Tyrant. Popular Government is apt to beget Licentiousness; Licentiousness destroys popular Government. All Power, breaks when stretched too high; and finally sinks, when let down too low.
In the most complete Governments there will be always something to mend, and many to pretend, that many things want mending, even when they do not; or, which is the same thing, cannot be mended, at least with Safety, and without risquing the Whole. Even such State-Physicians as mean well, may be unskilful in the Choice, or in the Application, of the Remedy. Free States particularly are liable to be undone, and have been undone, by Attempts to reform them, at least covered and carried on under that Pretence. Such Attempts too, as they are generally popular, and thence judged to be safe to those who make them, will therefore be often made and repeated. Even the Miscarriage of some, does not always discourage others, but only serves to suggest different and more wary Measures. The Romans, who were frequently making Changes in their Constitution, proceeded at last to one fatal to it, and lost their Liberty by false Measures taken to increase it; Measures chiefly proposed and promoted by the most popular Romans.
Such are the Advantages which a free State furnisheth against itself. In an arbitrary State, every Attempt to mend it is high Treason; and it is secured by continual Jealousy, and sudden Executions; as I have already observed.
It is better to bear some Inconveniences, and even very palpable Faults, than to introduce worse, by endeavouring to remove them. Most Reformations as certainly imply future Danger, as they infer present Defects and Depravity. Whoever has Power to mend a State, hath Power to hurt it, and may do so without designing it. The Populace, particularly, are very insufficient, very rash Reformers; nor can any State be steady or tolerable, where the Populace can sway the State: For, besides their own rapid and incompetent Judgment, they are eternally liable to be charmed, and roused, and seduced, by some dangerous and selfish Prompter, who loudly professes their Interest, and sincerely means his own, though it be ever so irreconcilable to, ever so destructive of, theirs.
In truth, considering the Frailty, and Folly, and Selfishness, of Men, the Arts of some, and the Stupidity of others, it is a Wonder how any good Government should have any Duration. There can be but one effectual Way to secure it; that is, by making it evident to every Man, that it is more the Interest of all Men to preserve it, than to hurt and destroy it; a Felicity, I doubt, never to be attained by any Government. No Government can so convince, and so gratify, all Men; and all Men, disappointed by the best Government, will be apt to see many Faults in it.
Whenever any State judges as favourably of all its Subjects, as each of its Subjects does of himself, and rewards all so, as all think they ought to be rewarded, we may then expect to see what has never yet been seen, a State without Flaw or Complaints. Every State will want reforming, in the Eyes, at least in the Language, of those who are dissatisfied with the State. Even such as seek to destroy it, will pretend to reform it: Such was the horrible Purpose, yet such the plausible Professions, of Catiline.
Whoever can best deceive the People, is the most popular Man, and has most Influence over them. The false Patriots are often louder, often better heard, than the true. In a Competition for the great popular Offices at Rome, the worst Romans frequently carried them from the best. In all popular Projects, in all public Commotions, some one Person will be trusted more than the rest, and than all; and then he may make his own Interest the Measure of the Public Weal; a Consideration of infinite Force (if there were no other) against a Civil War, and whatever tends to produce it, as it naturally throws all into the Hands of a single Person, Marius, Sylla, Cromwell, Cæsar.
I question whether any Civil Government was originally framed upon any well-concerted Scheme, or upon any wise Plan, laid down by competent and disinterested Judges, but rather formed upon Exigences, mended and improved by Accident, as well as always liable to be altered and undone by Accidents. Even those of Theseus and Romulus were adapted to the Genius of the Rustics, their Followers, whose Humours were consulted, and their Habits preserved; else they would not probably have parted with their boundless Freedom, and complied with the Council, or submitted to the Institutions of these, or of any Law-givers. Neither are these Law-givers to be supposed to have been exempt from Ambition, and Views of their own, but to have found their Gratification in leading, as well as in civilizing, the People. They were Men, and they were Heroes, who are not always the most disinterested Men, or the most tender of their Species.
Men like best what they have been accustomed to, and care not to part with what they have long reverenced. The Turks love absolute Monarchy, because they were bred under it: They love the Mahometan Religion, because they were bred in it. It is thus with most Men, at least with all Men brought up in false Religions, and with many who profess the true. In the Settling of Colonies, in the Transmigration of Nations, People carry with them their Customs and Usages, both Domestic and Public. The new State is generally set up upon the Model of that at Home. The Athenian Communities in Asia were popular, like the Mother Community. Those from Sparta were settled upon the Spartan Foot. The Tyrians, who founded Carthage, set up the Government of Tyre. And the many Settlements of the Goths were all Gothic.
Absolute Monarchy, being always the same, and unchanging in its Frame, does, by such Constancy, produce a Constancy in the People towards it. Free States are more subject to vary, and to be altering at least something in their Plan. As there is nothing perfect at once, nor, I doubt, ever can be amongst Men, new Laws will be frequently wanting: Every new Law is, or will be thought, an Alteration in the State: And the Affections of the People are not likely to be fixed to that which is, at least seems to them to be, unfixed. Besides, they may be taught to believe, that the best Laws, and the wisest Changes, are hurtful, and even pernicious, and to clamour for some which literally are so; and thus come to destroy their precious Liberty, by wrong Measures taken to improve and secure it, or by opposing and defeating Measures which are necessary and wholsome.