Front Page Titles (by Subject) SECT. VII.: The Duration of Tyrannical single Governments, and the changeable Nature of such as are Popular and Free, further considered and illustrated. - The Works of Sallust (Gordon's Discourses, Cicero's Orations against Catiline)
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SECT. VII.: The Duration of Tyrannical single Governments, and the changeable Nature of such as are Popular and Free, further considered and illustrated. - 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 Duration of Tyrannical single Governments, and the changeable Nature of such as are Popular and Free, further considered and illustrated.
WHEN Virtue and good Sense become more prevalent in the World than Vice and Folly, it will be a Wonder indeed, to see the worst Government more permanent than the best. People are generally more constant in evil Habits than in good, more persevering in Grossness and Stupidity than in the Exercise of Reason, and in useful Pursuits. In truth, the more foolish their Habits, the more wild their Tenets are, the more they are prized. The absurd Customs, and extravagant Notions, almost every-where prevailing in the World, shew this to be, in general, the Character of the World, and of most Men in it. They are rarely disposed to change for the Better; or if they be, they almost always mistake the Means: And though they did not, they will find unsurmountable Difficulties thrown in their Way, by those who have Power to do it, and Interest in doing it. Whoever is hurt by the Change, will oppose it, however advantageous it may be to the Whole; as they who gain by the worst Change, will advance the worst; and, in both Cases, the People may be sometimes either so awed as not to attempt the best Change, or so deceived as not to wish for it: At other times, they may be so managed, so seduced and inflamed, as to be hurried into a Passion for the worst.
Where such public Agitations prevail, and in the freest Governments they will always prevail most, the Government itself is constantly threatened with a Revolution, and, at length, with Dissolution, as happened to that of Rome, and had before to that of Athens; which, after all the Laws and Regulations of Solon, still continued turbulent and raging, and hastening to a Downfal. He himself owned, that the Government was bad; but said, the People would bear no better. It is a Wonder, that that of Rome held so long, under such a continual Course of Struggles, between the Leaders of the Senate, and the Leaders of the People. Sallust says expresly, ‘That they (that is, those Leaders) would rather see the State in Convulsions, than lose their superior Sway in it. The Tribunes engaged the People, nay, bribed them, and incensed them against the Senate; all to gain Influence and Popularity, and thence Power and Command, to themselves. Against the Tribunes the Nobility exerted all their Force; in Appearance, for the Authority of the Senate; in Reality, for their own Grandeur. One Side was loud for the Rights of the People; the other, for supporting the Dignity of the Senate; both pleading the Public Good, both struggling for their own particular Pre-eminence. Not was there any End, or Bounds, to this terrible Competition.’
The Faction which prevailed, must, in all good Policy, disable the defeated Faction from recovering: They would rather therefore try a new Constitution, that is, a new Government, than hazard the Re-admission of the late Governors; and risque the utter Change of the State, than lose the Rule of it.
The Romans got rid of the Tyranny of Kings, but fell under the Tyranny of Party. The History of the Commonwealth is little else but the History of Party. Even their Foreign Wars, and Conquests, arose from the continual Struggle of Parties at Home; a Struggle that early presaged the Overthrow of the Commonwealth, which fell finally under that great Party-Man, Cæsar, who, by the Force and Improvement of Party, put an End to Liberty. Sylla and Marius had shewn the Thing to be feasible: Many others had attempted it. Cæsar accomplished it; he oppressed Liberty, and oppressed it for ever.—A sad Consideration, that when Liberty is once lost, it is hardly ever to be recovered; it is the more sad, as Liberty naturally furnishes Enemies against Itself. Great Liberty always produces Faction: Faction is always dangerous, often pernicious to Liberty.
Faction, if it be not formed by some particular Head, will at least soon find a Head; or a Head will soon find the Faction. Then, as He will stick at nothing to humour Them, They will stick at nothing to exalt Him, even so as to enable Him to destroy the State, and Themselves with it. If Catiline fail, so must his Followers. They therefore desperately concur with him, in all his most desperate Measures, to destroy the Government with Fire and Sword, and, by the same dreadful Means, to set up another Government. The whole Faction were so devilishly determined, that not a Man of them, amongst so many Thousands, all desperate and poor, would betray any of the rest, though tempted to it by the Offer of Pardon, and a great Reward; as I have elsewhere observed. They even blaspheme the sacred Name of Liberty, and use it as a Stale to their savage Treason; prostitute it, yet complain of the want of it; and pretend to restore it, whilst they are extirpating it.
Indeed, by the Sound of Liberty, every enterprising Tribune could shake and endanger the State; and his most pernicious Projects were sometimes the most popular: Sicinius Dentatus proposed, upon the Conquest of the City and Territory of Veii, to divide the whole Roman People, and to send One-half of all Degrees thither: A Proposal which, had it succeeded, would have put a Period to the Roman State; yet the People, ever fond of Novelties, and popular Projects, rejoiced in the Proposal, and were hardly kept from executing it.
It was thus the worst Men made themselves popular, by offering popular Laws, and bewailing popular Grievances; Laws which were really wanted, but sometimes could not be obtained, or were attempted to be obtained in such a Way, upon such Terms, and by such Instruments, as made the Execution of them more mischievous than the Want of them; Grievances that could not be removed, without introducing worse. What seemed more reasonable, what more wanted, than the Distribution of the public Lands amongst the Roman People, who had conquered them? What more reasonable, what more just, than an Agrarian Law; limiting the monstrous Wealth of some particular Subjects, and supplying the miserable Wants of All? But, besides the great Difficulty in gaining and executing such a Law, those who were loudest and most active in pushing it, meant only their own Grandeur, and to enthrall the People with their own Consent. They knew that any popular Cry would be followed with popular Applause, with popular Confidence, and popular Authority.
Even the extravagant and enslaving Scheme of the Tribune Rullus was applauded by the People, because he declared it to be for the Benefit of the People; though nothing was ever more obviously destructive of their Liberty, and of the very Being of the State. By it, ‘He and Nine Confederates more, were to be invested, during Five Years, with absolute Power over the Commonwealth, over all its Forces and Revenues, over all the Lands and Fortunes of particular Subjects; Power to settle Colonies, to distribute the public Treasure to the People at Discretion, and to alter and transfer Property at Pleasure.’ A Scheme, which, at first View, declared these Ten to be uncontroulable Tyrants over the Republic, and All in it to be absolute Slaves to these Ten Tyrants; yet, so pleasing to the People, that it required all the Credit, all the Address and Eloquence, of Cicero, to undeceive them, and prevail with them to reject it.
There never was any human Society, which did not want something: In every Society, there will be many Men wanting many Things. These, as they will be apt to complain, will like such as pity them, and join with them in their Complaints. Such who pretend to relieve them, will be still more dear to them. The same Spirit, and the same Materials, which produce Mountebanks and false Teachers, produce false Patriots and Reformers, who, in order to gain popular Influence, must practise and promote popular Deceit; as I have already largely illustrated.
The great Unsteadiness, and, consequently, the great Insecurity, of popular Governments, as well as the sudden Gusts of Rage and Injustice, to which they are subject, is signally exemplified in the Commonwealth of the Grisons. Whenever the Peasants are heated by any malevolent Report against any Man, though it be only whispered, perhaps to be traced to no Author, or the Author never to be discovered, they flock in Crouds to the Diet, and demand a Chamber of Justice, or rather command it. For they are Masters, and this, nor any thing else, must be denied to their Fury, be their Fury ever so groundless. The Person accused, however innocent, is put upon proving himself not guilty. For the Charge is without Proof, and supported only by popular Jealousy, raised by any Incendiary, and Artizan of Falshood. Be the Person ever so guiltless, he must be tortured; and the Torture often produces Confession of false Guilt, which is followed by real Execution. Such as can stand the Rack, are indeed acquitted, but live ever afterwards bereft of their Limbs. So that here is certain Punishment, without any certain Crime, or for none: The Innocent may die by false Confession: The most Guilty may escape by making none. No Wonder, that upon such popular Alarms, such as any spiteful Slanderer may wantonly raise, the Gentry fly: For the Peasants are both Judges and Accusers; and there is no Safety, though there be no Crime. Some Sacrifices must be made, generally many are made, to asswage popular Rage, which, when it is most blind, is most carnivorous.
Here is a Republic, where, first, any Malecontent, any Incendiary, may, by any spiteful Device or Forgery, rouse the People to Insurrections and Massacre; and where, secondly, all the principal Men, who are thus least safe in it, are under a continual Temptation to abolish such popular Licentiousness, and to introduce a quieter Government, for their own Security. Besides, we have an Instance from the same Country, how easily, and readily, and madly, the People themselves are drawn to change the most popular Government, and to submit to absolute Tyranny. A Community of the Grisons, under the gentlest Yoke in the World, without any Grievance to complain of, but that their Magistrates were now-and-then of a different Religion, and that Protestants were tolerated amongst them, were such surprising Bigots, as to throw off their just and mild Governors, cut the Throats of their unoffending Neighbours, and cast themselves into the Hands of the Spaniards, the most terrible Masters in the World.
Upon the Whole, Free Governments are indeed difficult to be conquered, but subject to change; and it is scarce possible to frame, or even to conceive, one of them free from the Materials of Change, and internal Dissolution. They may conquer great Monarchies: The Roman Republic conquered many, but, at last, conquered itself, by the very Means and Instruments of its Conquests, even its own victorious Armies and Commanders. That State, like others, equally Popular and Free, produced Great Men: Those Great Men often threatened, at last effected, the Ruin of the State. They proved equally dangerous at the Head of Factions, as at the Head of Armies; and frequently came to lead Armies, by having led Factions.
Great absolute Monarchies cannot properly be called Government, because they can never be well and equally administred, even where the Monarch most sincerely intends it; a Case which seldom happens, or can be presumed. He who directs All, cannot be exactly acquainted how All is executed, and cannot answer for the Virtue and Sufficiency of all the infinite Instruments employed by him, and under him. Absolute Power is generally absolute Misrule, a Train of public Spoilers, preying upon one another, certainly upon all others; and, under the Name of Protecting, in fact, Distressing and Consuming Men.—Yet this Sort of Monarchy is generally lasting; it is subject indeed to be conquered, but is obnoxious, within itself, to no essential Change. The Monarch himself is frequently changed, and for ever liable to be so; to be dethroned, imprisoned, slain: But such Changes, however frequent, are but Personal: The Power and Policy is the same, and continues. Civil Wars and Revolutions have been frequent in India, Persia, and Turkey; but, in all of them, the Constitution remains unvaried; and the Successor of an Emperor, deposed for abusing his Power, is still at Liberty to abuse it as much.
There never was a freer, or a braver People, under the Sun, than the Cossacks. Oppression at Home from their Polish Lords, drove them to seek Shelter in the Ukrain, from their Courage, and into a League of mutual Defence. It is wonderful, what great Defeats small Bands of them have given to great Armies, and what amazing Exploits they have performed against the Turks, upon the Black Sea, where, in small open Boats, without the Help or Possibility of Ordnance, they have awed, surprised, and beaten, the Turkish Navy, and often taken and destroyed their proud Gallies, full of Men and Artillery. But their Government is too free to be steady and lasting. Their Hetman, or Chief, is elective; and a terrible Station he holds; since, upon every public Disaster and Miscarriage, which must frequently happen from their frequent and desperate Excursions, he is almost sure to be cut to pieces, however able and faultless he be. Yet this Honour, which no Wise Man would chuse, the Wisest Man dare not refuse. If he do, he is as surely cut to pieces for Not serving, as if he had served ever so Ill. So that any factions Member, may, from private Spite or Ambition, propose his Enemy, or Rival, to be their Chief, on purpose to have him staughtered. Thus daily Commotions, and continual Tragedies, are to be apprehended amongst them; and the Chief is under constant Temptations to save his Life, and consult his own Security, by conspiring against that of the Public, and by betraying the State to some powerful Neighbour, able to protect him against his own People; and many such Neighbours there are, ready to combine with and encourage him, in Moscovy, Turkey, Tartary, and Poland.
Crotona, an antient Greek City in Italy, famous for the Birth of Pythagoras, was a Commonwealth, administered by a Council of a Thousand: That of Locris had one as numerous: The Seres, a People in Scythia, had one of Five thousand. What Union, what Peace and Secrecy, could be expected in such tumultuous Councils? We may guess, and indeed find, by their History, to what Factions and Struggles, to what intestine Changes and Calamities, these popular States were subject; what Scope and Encouragement was given to Demagogues; what Danger attended their best Magistrates, what evil Constructions the best Measures; and, thence, what Temptation to these Magistrates to make themselves independent; and thus introduce a Single Tyranny, or that of a Few.
Syracuse was the proudest and most opulent of all the Greek Cities; till the People, wanton with Plenty and Prosperity, and impatient of any Restraint upon their Liberty, (though, without Restraint, no Liberty can subsist) ruined All, Themselves, their Liberty, and their State, by setting up a popular Government; which, whilst it lasted, was little better than Anarchy, and naturally produced, what, from the Beginning, it naturally tended to produce, Single Tyranny. The Multitude made War and Peace; gave and resumed Governments, and military Command; made and abolished Treaties; were Masters of Life and Death; declared and pardoned Criminals; despised real Merit, and exalted Favourites without Merit.
This popular Liberty, or rather this Madness, this wild Power in the Many, could not hold, when every loud Son of the Rabble was first heard; and, minding only his own little Interest, trusted most in those who flattered him best. All lived in a continual Intercourse of deceiving, and being deceived: He who could best deceive All, was in a Way to be Master of All. Dionysius proved to be the Man; a Man ever since renowned and detested, by the Name of the Tyrant. He cajolled the Multitude, and the Multitude adored him. For Their sake, and for his Attachment to them, he told Them, (and this was Argument enough to gain their Belief) that he went in hourly Peril of his Life; and begged them to appoint him a Guard: They readily granted him what he wanted, and he readily took what they had thus helped him to; even the Prerogative of putting Chains upon them All. He even entailed the Tyranny upon his Son. When they were released from this Second crazy and contemptible Tyrant, by the virtuous Timoleon, the People, bewitched with the Notions of unbounded Liberty, (a Thing which can never last; and, whilst it does, is in continual Combination against itself) struggling for the old popular Government, Agathocles, once a Pathic, a Haunter of Brothels, then a common Soldier, now an Officer, adopting the fashionable Cry for Liberty and the People, charmed them, cheated them, enslaved them, and then butchered them by Centuries.
Sybaris was a populous and thriving State; the City contained Three hundred thousand Inhabitants. The Government was popular and unsteady. The People, provoked and deceived by one Telys, a designing Citizen, banished Five hundred Citizens at once, the most wealthy of the Whole; Men whom He disliked, and whom he taught the Populace to hate. The Exiles were protected and patronized by the Crotonians; a War ensued; an Army of Three hundred thousand Sybarites were utterly routed and slaughtered, by a Third of the Number of Crotonians, commanded by the famous Wrestler Milo. The City itself of Sybaris was sacked, and laid desolate: It was not rebuilt for almost Sixty Years; and then again razed by the Crotonians. The fugitive Sybarites, assisted by a Colony from Athens, built another City, with another Name; and, using the New-comers insolently, lost the chief Sway to them. So much they got and lost, by their Possession of popular Liberty, and by their Faith in Telys their popular Leader.
The Populace at Argos, in one wild Sedition, destroyed most of the considerable Argives, without other Evidence, than the Insinuations and bold Calumnies of their Orators. All the Rich were accused; all the Accused were found guilty; all the Guilty were put to Death. Even the inhuman Orators were, at last, terrified with such infinite Executions, no less than 1600 in a Train; and, growing slack in their Pursuit of more, became thence suspected; Suspicion was Guilt enough; and they were themselves slaughtered; they who were the Authors of so much Slaughter!
An Aristocracy, or a Government of the Nobles, is more secure, as it is more steady, than a popular Government; and though generally very strict and severe, yet nothing so terrible as absolute Monarchy. That of Sparta lasted many Ages, after it was rescued, by the Wisdom and Courage of Lycurgus, from the Weakness and Violence of Popularity, into which it had lapsed; and was therefore hastening to Dissolution, as I have before observed. One Part of the Spartan Policy seems extremely unjust and cruel: As the genuine Spartans were not very numerous, all bred only to Arms; the Grounds were cultivated, and all servile Offices were performed, by the Helotes, their Slaves, the Natives of the Country, first conquered by the Heraclides. These Slaves were very numerous, and presumed not to be well-affected to their proud Masters; who therefore used, from time to time, to employ the most trusty Spartan Youth on secret and nightly Expeditions, to massacre quietly such of these Slaves, as were most obnoxious for Strength, Capacity, and Spirit; even Two thousand at a time.
The Venetians, with all their Experience and Refinements, their great Council, their Senate, and their College; with all their Checks, Rotations, and Ballotings; their extraordinary Maxims, and Jealousy; could not boast much Security and Permanence, but for the supreme and unaccountable Authority of the Council of Ten; the constant Terror of all turbulent Subjects, and the great Bulwark of the Commonwealth.
The Government of the Argives was, in a great measure, the same with that of Sparta; but through One Defect, I mean the Want of a Senate, like that of the Ephori there, was subject to terrible Agitations and Insurrections. Any popular Jealousy and Rage, always easily raised by any evil Instruments amongst the Populace, for want of such a Council to intercept it, discharged itself directly upon the King, and ended not, but in his Murder, or Deposition. It was therefore just Policy in one of the Kings of Sparta, to institute the Ephori; for, though that Institution checked the Royal Authority, as his Queen weakly upbraided him, it secured and prolonged it: And the Spartan Government, which lasted so long, might have lasted still longer, but for its Attempts to make Conquests; which introduced new Maxims, with the Means and Examples of Luxury; let loose the Ambition of particular Spartans, and unsettled all Things. It was admirably framed for Self-preservation, but not for Inlargement.
The Roman Government was itself enslaved by the same Spirit and Instruments, by which it enslaved so many other Nations; I mean, by popular Heroes and Armies. Thenceforwards the Roman Government could not be said to exist, even with a Roman Emperor at the Head of it. It was lost in Imperial Frolic and Fury; in the Humour, Whim, or Appetite, of a Fool, or a Madman, Claudius, or Nero. Neither could the wisest Prince alter it, much less restore it: This was, indeed, impossible; and some such were destroyed for attempting it; not could the best do more, than shew their Pity and Generosity, by particular Acts of Justice and Benevolence, which died with them. The best Reigns were only Intervals of Violence, Robbery, and Bloodshed. Yet this Tyranny, this Inversion and Suppression of Government, proved lasting. The Tyrants were frequently destroyed, but the Tyranny never.
This is the Lot and Curse of Tyrants, without bringing Relief to the People; unless, perhaps, it prove some Consolation to them, to see, that their grand Oppressor, that the proudest Ruler, holds a more precarious Life, and is hourly threatened with a more ignominious Death, than his meanest Slave. There are eternal Changes in such Government, but never of it; and the same Hands which preserve the Monarchy unchangeable, may change the Monarch every Day.
The Prætorian Bands, the Turkish Janizaries, the Russian Strelitzes, as they can make and unmake Sovereigns, are rather the Masters, than the Servants, of their Sovereigns: And a Prince, thus at the Mercy of his Soldiery, must, to save Himself, give up All to their Mercy; his Subjects, his Revenue, his Prerogative, his Ministers, and his Favourites. Sometimes, after all these Sacrifices, he is sacrificed Himself. A dreadful Situation, both for Princes and Subjects; the more dreadful, as it never, never mends. It is a Sort of Government which destroys Government, and all Things; Princes, as well as People; but is Itself never destroyed, till it hath destroyed All. It may change its Name, from Roman to Greek, from Greek to Saracen, from Saracen to Turkish, from Persian to Parthian; but its Nature doth not change: It is still military; still arbitrary and violent; perpetual, and unchangeable.
A free People may conquer an absolute Monarchy: The Romans conquered many; indeed all that they attacked. But the same Way that leads to foreign Conquest, leads to domestic Slavery; and where Slavery is so established, it is established for ever; as it was at Rome: Vestigia nulla retrorsum. It is not likely, that the Soldiers will let the Laws govern the King, when They cannot govern the Laws. With them, the Opportunity of making Princes infers the Power of doing it: Power is Right; Right is perpetual and sacred. The Roman Emperors continued to be made by them, or were deposed and destroyed by them, to the last. Where the Son succeeded the Father, he did it by their Fiat and Approbation.
In Turky, Superstition has confined the Janizaries, in the Choice of their Princes, to the Line of Othman: But they have dethroned, imprisoned, and butchered their Princes, as freely as if they had been chosen from the Army, or the Rabble. It must be owned, too, that History furnishes not such an able and brave Race of Princes, as have been found of that Line. For Three hundred Years they were all Heroes: A Wonder indeed! The greatest Wretches are commonly the Descendents of the greatest Heroes. Such, literally, were those of Cæsar, of Sesostris, of Cyrus, of Tamerlane, and Charlemagne. Yet, during the Successors of these great Princes, the Dread and Infamy of their several Reigns put no Period to their dreadful Form of Reigning, though it often did to their Lives. Sometimes the immediate Successor is only conspicuous for being unworthy of his Ancestors: Witness Edward II. the weak and unhappy Son of Edward I. Richard II. the hopeful Heir of Edward III. Also Henry VI. the wretched Son and Successor of Henry V.
This Consideration is alone sufficient to expose the horrid Nature and Claim of despotic Sway in any one Man. For, Once that it falls into the Hands of an able Prince, it may fall Ten times into the Hands of Fools; who consider the Country as their Estate, and Men as their Cattle. In this Light the Emperor Severus (one of the best, too, that the Romans knew) seems to have considered the Roman Empire, and the Romans themselves: His last Advice to his Two Sons was, To fill the Treasury; (without limiting them to any honest Methods of doing it) To feed and gratify the Soldiery; and to take no further Care or Concern for any thing else. He did not so much as name the Roman People, or Senate: He even knew, that these very Youths were likely to rend and waste the Empire; for they hated one another mortally, and were already in a State of War; and the Elder had attempted to poison, then to assassinate his Father. Soon after his Father’s Death he butchered his Brother, even in the Arms of their common Mother; proved a Tyrant, and a Butcher, to the Romans, but a liberal Slave to the Army; agreeably to the Advice of his Father. He died, however, in Blood, as became such a bloody Man. His Successor proved worse than He, and had the like Fate; which, in a long Succession, scarce any escaped.
But though the Imperial Tyrants were still falling, the Imperial Tyranny stood still firm. The Soldiers would brook no other: How should they? Whenever they murdered one Emperor, they were sure of being well paid for setting up another; and then murdered Him, too, when they had left him no more to give them. It was a fine Government to Them: From it they had the Spoils of the World.
Why did the free Romans, why did the free Greeks, hate Monarchy, and despise Monarchs, but because they were lawless, absolute Tyrants; their Subjects absolute Slaves, and their great Armies for ever defeated, by Handfuls of Men born free, and therefore brave? An Athenian valued himself more upon being the Son of an Athenian, than upon the Blood he derived, by his Mother, from the Kings of Thrace: And the Daughter of a Roman Citizen refused to be the Wife of a King.