Front Page Titles (by Subject) GOVERNMENT. - The Works of Voltaire, Vol. V (Philosophical Dictionary Part 3)
The Online Library of Liberty
A project of Liberty Fund, Inc.
GOVERNMENT. - Voltaire, The Works of Voltaire, Vol. V (Philosophical Dictionary Part 3) 
The Works of Voltaire. A Contemporary Version. A Critique and Biography by John Morley, notes by Tobias Smollett, trans. William F. Fleming (New York: E.R. DuMont, 1901). In 21 vols. Vol. V.
About Liberty Fund:
The text is in the public domain.
Fair use statement:
The pleasure of governing must certainly be exquisite, if we may judge from the vast numbers who are eager to be concerned in it. We have many more books on government than there are monarchs in the world. Heaven preserve me from making any attempt here to give instruction to kings and their noble ministers—their valets, confessors, or financiers. I understand nothing about the matter; I have the profoundest respect and reverence for them all. It belongs only to Mr. Wilkes, with his English balance, to weigh the merits of those who are at the head of the human race. It would, besides, be exceedingly strange if, with three or four thousand volumes on the subject of government, with Machiavelli, and Bossuet’s “Policy of the Holy Scripture,” with the “General Financier,” the “Guide to Finances,” the “Means of Enriching a State,” etc., there could possibly be a single person living who was not perfectly acquainted with the duties of kings and the science of government.
Professor Puffendorf, or, as perhaps we should rather say, Baron Puffendorf, says that King David, having sworn never to attempt the life of Shimei, his privy counsellor, did not violate his oath when, according to the Jewish history, he instructed his son Solomon to get him assassinated, “because David had only engaged that he himself would not kill Shimei.” The baron, who rebukes so sharply the mental reservations of the Jesuits, allows David, in the present instance, to entertain one which would not be particularly palatable to privy counsellors.
Let us consider the words of Bossuet in his “Policy of the Holy Scripture,” addressed to Monseigneur the Dauphin. “Thus we see royalty established according to the order of succession in the house of David and Solomon, and the throne of David is secured forever—although, by the way, that same little joint-stool called a ‘throne,’ instead of being secured forever, lasted, in fact, only a very short time.” By virtue of this law, the eldest son was to succeed, to the exclusion of his brothers, and on this account Adonijah, who was the eldest, said to Bathsheba, the mother of Solomon, “Thou knowest that the kingdom was mine, and all Israel had recognized my right; but the Lord hath transferred the kingdom to my brother Solomon.” The right of Adonijah was incontestable. Bossuet expressly admits this at the close of this article. “The Lord has transferred” is only a usual phrase, which means, I have lost my property or right, I have been deprived of my right. Adonijah was the issue of a lawful wife; the birth of his younger brother was the fruit of a double crime.
“Unless, then,” says Bossuet, “something extraordinary occurred, the eldest was to succeed.” But the something extraordinary, in the present instance, which prevented it was, that Solomon, the issue of a marriage arising out of a double adultery and a murder, procured the assassination, at the foot of the altar, of his elder brother and his lawful king, whose rights were supported by the high priest Abiathar and the chief commander Joab. After this we must acknowledge that it is more difficult than some seem to imagine to take lessons on the rights of persons, and on the true system of government from the Holy Scriptures, which were first given to the Jews, and afterwards to ourselves, for purposes of a far higher nature.
“The preservation of the people is the supreme law.” Such is the fundamental maxim of nations; but in all civil wars the safety of the people is made to consist in slaughtering a number of the citizens. In all foreign wars, the safety of a people consists in killing their neighbors, and taking possession of their property! It is difficult to perceive in this a particularly salutary “right of nations,” and a government eminently favorable to liberty of thought and social happiness.
There are geometrical figures exceedingly regular and complete in their kind; arithmetic is perfect; many trades or manufactures are carried on in a manner constantly uniform and excellent; but with respect to the government of men, is it possible for any one to be good, when all are founded on passions in conflict with each other?
No convent of monks ever existed without discord; it is impossible, therefore, to exclude it from kingdoms. Every government resembles not merely a monastic institution, but a private household. There are none existing without quarrels; and quarrels between one people and another, between one prince and another, have ever been sanguinary; those between subjects and their sovereigns have been sometimes no less destructive. How is an individual to act? Must he risk joining in the conflict, or withdraw from the scene of action?
More than one people are desirous of new constitutions. The English would have no objection to a change of ministers once in every eight hours, but they have no wish to change the form of their government.
The modern Romans are proud of their church of St. Peter and their ancient Greek statues; but the people would be glad to be better fed, although they were not quite so rich in benedictions; the fathers of families would be content that the Church should have less gold, if the granaries had more corn; they regret the time when the apostles journeyed on foot, and when the citizens of Rome travelled from one palace to another in litters.
We are incessantly reminded of the admirable republics of Greece. There is no question that the Greeks would prefer the government of a Pericles and a Demosthenes to that of a pasha; but in their most prosperous and palmy times they were always complaining; discord and hatred prevailed between all the cities without, and in every separate city within. They gave laws to the old Romans, who before that time had none; but their own were so bad for themselves that they were continually changing them.
What could be said in favor of a government under which the just Aristides was banished, Phocion put to death, Socrates condemned to drink hemlock after having been exposed to banter and derision on the stage by Aristophanes; and under which the Amphyctions, with contemptible imbecility, actually delivered up Greece into the power of Philip, because the Phocians had ploughed up a field which was part of the territory of Apollo? But the government of the neighboring monarchies was worse.
Puffendorf promises us a discussion on the best form of government. He tells us, “that many pronounce in favor of monarchy, and others, on the contrary, inveigh furiously against kings; and that it does not fall within the limits of his subject to examine in detail the reasons of the latter.” If any mischievous and malicious reader expects to be told here more than he is told by Puffendorf, he will be much deceived.
A Swiss, a Hollander, a Venetian nobleman, an English peer, a cardinal, and a count of the empire, were once disputing, on a journey, about the nature of their respective governments, and which of them deserved the preference: no one knew much about the matter; each remained in his own opinion without having any very distinct idea what that opinion was; and they returned without having come to any general conclusion; every one praising his own country from vanity, and complaining of it from feeling.
What, then, is the destiny of mankind? Scarcely any great nation is governed by itself. Begin from the east, and take the circuit of the world. Japan closed its ports against foreigners from the well-founded apprehension of a dreadful revolution.
China actually experienced such a revolution; she obeys Tartars of a mixed race, half Mantchou and half Hun. India obeys Mogul Tartars. The Nile, the Orontes, Greece, and Epirus are still under the yoke of the Turks. It is not an English race that reigns in England; it is a German family which succeeded to a Dutch prince, as the latter succeeded a Scotch family which had succeeded an Angevin family, that had replaced a Norman family, which had expelled a family of usurping Saxons. Spain obeys a French family; which succeeded to an Austrasian race, that Austrasian race had succeeded families that boasted of Visigoth extraction; these Visigoths had been long driven out by the Arabs, after having succeeded to the Romans, who had expelled the Carthaginians. Gaul obeys Franks, after having obeyed Roman prefects.
The same banks of the Danube have belonged to Germans, Romans, Arabs, Slavonians, Bulgarians, and Huns, to twenty different families, and almost all foreigners.
And what greater wonder has Rome had to exhibit than so many emperors who were born in the barbarous provinces, and so many popes born in provinces no less barbarous? Let him govern who can. And when any one has succeeded in his attempts to become master, he governs as he can.
In 1769, a traveller delivered the following narrative: “I saw, in the course of my journey, a large and populous country, in which all offices and places were purchasable; I do not mean clandestinely, and in evasion of the law, but publicly, and in conformity to it. The right to judge, in the last resort, of the honor, property, and life of the citizen, was put to auction in the same manner as the right and property in a few acres of land. Some very high commissions in the army are conferred only on the highest bidder. The principal mystery of their religion is celebrated for the petty sum of three sesterces, and if the celebrator does not obtain this fee he remains idle like a porter without employment.
“Fortunes in this country are not made by agriculture, but are derived from a certain game of chance, in great practice there, in which the parties sign their names, and transfer them from hand to hand. If they lose, they withdraw into the mud and mire of their original extraction; if they win, they share in the administration of public affairs; they marry their daughters to mandarins, and their sons become a species of mandarins also.
“A considerable number of the citizens have their whole means of subsistence assigned upon a house, which possesses in fact nothing, and a hundred persons have bought for a hundred thousand crowns each the right of receiving and paying the money due to these citizens upon their assignments on this imaginary hotel; rights which they never exercise, as they in reality know nothing at all of what is thus supposed to pass through their hands.
“Sometimes a proposal is made and cried about the streets, that all who have a little money in their chest should exchange it for a slip of exquisitely manufactured paper, which will free you from all pecuniary care, and enable you to pass through life with ease and comfort. On the morrow an order is published, compelling you to change this paper for another, much better. On the following day you are deafened with the cry of a new paper, cancelling the two former ones. You are ruined! But long heads console you with the assurance, that within a fortnight the newsmen will cry up some proposal more engaging.
“You travel into one province of this empire, and purchase articles of food, drink, clothing, and lodging. If you go into another province, you are obliged to pay duties upon all those commodities, as if you had just arrived from Africa. You inquire the reason of this, but obtain no answer; or if, from extraordinary politeness, any one condescends to notice your questions, he replies that you come from a province reputed foreign, and that, consequently, you are obliged to pay for the convenience of commerce. In vain you puzzle yourself to comprehend how the province of a kingdom can be deemed foreign to that kingdom.
“On one particular occasion, while changing horses, finding myself somewhat fatigued, I requested the postmaster to favor me with a glass of wine. ‘I cannot let you have it,’ says he; ‘the superintendents of thirst, who are very considerable in number, and all of them remarkably sober, would accuse me of drinking to excess, which would absolutely be my ruin.’ ‘But drinking a single glass of wine,’ I replied, ‘to repair a man’s strength, is not drinking to excess; and what difference can it make whether that single glass of wine is taken by you or me?’
“ ‘Sir,’ replied the man, ‘our laws relating to thirst are much more excellent than you appear to think them. After our vintage is finished, physicians are appointed by the regular authorities to visit our cellars. They set aside a certain quantity of wine, such as they judge we may drink consistently with health. At the end of the year they return; and if they conceive that we have exceeded their restriction by a single bottle, they punish us with very severe fines; and if we make the slightest resistance, we are sent to Toulon to drink salt-water. Were I to give you the wine you ask, I should most certainly be charged with excessive drinking. You must see to what danger I should be exposed from the supervisors of our health.’
“I could not refrain from astonishment at the existence of such a system; but my astonishment was no less on meeting with a disconsolate and mortified pleader, who informed me that he had just then lost, a little beyond the nearest rivulet, a cause precisely similar to one he had gained on this side of it. I understood from him that, in his country, there are as many different codes of laws as there are cities. His conversation raised my curiosity. ‘Our nation,’ said he, ‘is so completely wise and enlightened, that nothing is regulated in it. Laws, customs, the rights of corporate bodies, rank, precedence, everything is arbitrary; all is left to the prudence of the nation.’
“I happened to be still in this same country when it became involved in a war with some of its neighbors. This war was nicknamed ‘The Ridicule,’ because there was much to be lost and nothing to be gained by it. I went upon my travels elsewhere, and did not return till the conclusion of peace, when the nation seemed to be in the most dreadful state of misery; it had lost its money, its soldiers, its fleets, and its commerce. I said to myself, its last hour is come; everything, alas! must pass away. Here is a nation absolutely annihilated. What a dreadful pity! for a great part of the people were amiable, industrious, and gay, after having been formerly coarse, superstitious, and barbarous.
“I was perfectly astonished, at the end of only two years, to find its capital and principal cities more opulent than ever. Luxury had increased, and an air of enjoyment prevailed everywhere. I could not comprehend this prodigy; and it was only after I had examined into the government of the neighboring nations that I could discover the cause of what appeared so unaccountable. I found that the government of all the rest was just as bad as that of this nation, and that this nation was superior to all the rest in industry.
“A provincial of the country I am speaking of was once bitterly complaining to me of all the grievances under which he labored. He was well acquainted with history. I asked him if he thought he should have been happier had he lived a hundred years before, when his country was in a comparative state of barbarism, and a citizen was liable to be hanged for having eaten flesh in Lent? He shook his head in the negative. Would you prefer the times of the civil wars, which began at the death of Francis II.; or the times of the defeats of St. Quentin and Pavia; or the long disorders attending the wars against the English; or the feudal anarchy; or the horrors of the second race of kings, or the barbarity of the first? At every successive question, he appeared to shudder more violently. The government of the Romans seemed to him the most intolerable of all. ‘Nothing can be worse,’ he said, ‘than to be under foreign masters.’ At last we came to the Druids. ‘Ah!’ he exclaimed, ‘I was quite mistaken: it is still worse to be governed by sanguinary priests.’ He admitted, at last, although with sore reluctance, that the time he lived in was, all things considered, the least intolerable and hateful.”
An eagle governed the birds of the whole country of Ornithia. He had no other right, it must be allowed, than what he derived from his beak and claws; however, after providing liberally for his own repasts and pleasures, he governed as well as any other bird of prey.
In his old age he was invaded by a flock of hungry vultures, who rushed from the depths of the North to scatter fear and desolation through his provinces. There appeared, just about this time, a certain owl, who was born in one of the most scrubby thickets of the empire, and who had long been known under the name of “luci-fugax,” or light-hater. He possessed much cunning, and associated only with bats; and, while the vultures were engaged in conflict with the eagle, our politic owl and his party entered with great adroitness, in the character of pacificators, on that department of the air which was disputed by the combatants.
The eagle and vultures, after a war of long duration, at last actually referred the cause of contention to the owl, who, with his solemn and imposing physiognomy, was well formed to deceive them both.
He persuaded the eagles and vultures to suffer their claws to be a little pared, and just the points of their beaks to be cut off, in order to bring about perfect peace and reconciliation. Before this time, the owl had always said to the birds, “Obey the eagle”; afterwards, in consequence of the invasion, he had said to them, “Obey the vultures.” He now, however, soon called out to them, “Obey me only.” The poor birds did not know to whom to listen: they were plucked by the eagle, the vultures, and the owl and bats. “Qui habet aures, audiat.”—“He that hath ears to hear, let him hear.”
“I have in my possession a great number of catapultæ and balistæ of the ancient Romans, which are certainly rather worm-eaten, but would still do very well as specimens. I have many water-clocks, but half of them probably out of repair and broken, some sepulchral lamps, and an old copper model of a quinquereme. I have also togas, pretextas, and laticlaves in lead; and my predecessors established a society of tailors; who, after inspecting ancient monuments, can make up robes pretty awkwardly. For these reasons thereunto moving us, after hearing the report of our chief antiquary, we do hereby appoint and ordain, that all the said venerable usages should be observed and kept up forever; and every person, through the whole extent of our dominions, shall dress and think precisely as men dressed and thought in the time of Cnidus Rufillus, proprietor of the province devolved to us by right,” etc.
It is represented to an officer belonging to the department whence this edict issued, that all the engines enumerated in it are become useless; that the understandings and the inventions of mankind are every day making new advances towards perfection; and that it would be more judicious to guide and govern men by the reins in present use, than by those by which they were formerly subjected; that no person could be found to go on board the quinquereme of his most serene highness; that his tailors might make as many laticlaves as they pleased, and that not a soul would purchase one of them; and that it would be worthy of his wisdom to condescend, in some small measure, to the manner of thinking that now prevailed among the better sort of people in his own dominions.
The officer above mentioned promised to communicate this representation to a clerk, who promised to speak about it to the referendary, who promised to mention it to his most serene highness whenever an opportunity should offer.
The establishment of a government is a matter of curious and interesting investigation. I shall not speak, in this place, of the great Tamerlane, or Timerling, because I am not precisely acquainted with the mystery of the Great Mogul’s government. But we can see our way somewhat more clearly into the administration of affairs in England; and I had rather examine that than the administration of India; as England, we are informed, is inhabited by free men and not by slaves; and in India, according to the accounts we have of it, there are many slaves and but few free men.
Let us, in the first place, view a Norman bastard seating himself upon the throne of England. He had about as much right to it as St. Louis had, at a later period, to Grand Cairo. But St. Louis had the misfortune not to begin with obtaining a judicial decision in favor of his right to Egypt from the court of Rome; and William the Bastard failed not to render his cause legitimate and sacred, by obtaining in confirmation of the rightfulness of his claim, a decree of Pope Alexander II. issued without the opposite party having obtained a hearing, and simply in virtue of the words, “Whatsoever thou shalt bind on earth, shall be bound in heaven.” His competitor, Harold, a perfectly legitimate monarch, being thus bound by a decree of heaven, William united to this virtue of the holy see another of far more powerful efficacy still, which was the victory of Hastings. He reigned, therefore, by the right of the strongest, just as Pepin and Clovis had reigned in France; the Goths and Lombards in Italy; the Visigoths, and afterwards the Arabs in Spain; the Vandals in Africa, and all the kings of the world in succession.
It must be nevertheless admitted, that our Bastard possessed as just a title as the Saxons and the Danes, whose title, again, was quite as good as that of the Romans. And the title of all these heroes in succession was precisely that of “robbers on the highway,” or, if you like it better, that of foxes and pole-cats when they commit their depredations on the farm-yard.
All these great men were so completely highway robbers, that from the time of Romulus down to the buccaneers, the only question and concern were about the “spolia opima,” the pillage and plunder, the cows and oxen carried off by the hand of violence. Mercury, in the fable, steals the cows of Apollo; and in the Old Testament, Isaiah assigns the name of robber to the son whom his wife was to bring into the world, and who was to be an important and sacred type. That name was Mahershalalhashbaz, “divide speedily the soil.” We have already observed, that the names of soldier and robber were often synonymous.
Thus then did William soon become king by divine right. William Rufus, who usurped the crown over his elder brother, was also king by divine right, without any difficulty; and the same right attached after him to Henry, the third usurper.
The Norman barons who had joined at their own expense in the invasion of England, were desirous of compensation. It was necessary to grant it, and for this purpose to make them great vassals, and great officers of the crown. They became possessed of the finest estates. It is evident that William would rather, had he dared, have kept all to himself, and made all these lords his guards and lackeys. But this would have been too dangerous an attempt. He was obliged, therefore, to divide and distribute.
With respect to the Anglo-Saxon lords, there was no very easy way of killing, or even making slaves of the whole of them. They were permitted in their own districts, to enjoy the rank and denomination of lords of the manor—seignieurs châtelans. They held of the great Norman vassals, who held of William.
By this system everything was kept in equilibrium until the breaking out of the first quarrel. And what became of the rest of the nation? The same that had become of nearly all the population of Europe. They became serfs or villeins.
At length, after the frenzy of the Crusades, the ruined princes sell liberty to the serfs of the glebe, who had obtained money by labor and commerce. Cities are made free, the commons are granted certain privileges; and the rights of men revive even out of anarchy itself.
The barons were everywhere in contention with their king, and with one another. The contention became everywhere a petty intestine war, made up out of numberless civil wars. From this abominable and gloomy chaos appeared a feeble gleam, which enlightened the commons, and considerably improved their situation.
The kings of England, being themselves great vassals of France for Normandy, and afterwards for Guienne and other provinces, easily adopted the usages of the kings from whom they held. The states of the realm were long made up, as in France, of barons and bishops.
The English court of chancery was an imitation of the council of state, of which the chancellor of France was president. The court of king’s bench was formed on the model of the parliament instituted by Philip le Bel. The common pleas were like the jurisdiction of the châtelat. The court of exchequer resembled that of the superintendents of the finances—généraux des finances—which became, in France, the court of aids.
The maxim that the king’s domain is inalienable is evidently taken from the system of French government.
The right of the king of England to call on his subjects to pay his ransom, should he become a prisoner of war; that of requiring a subsidy when he married his eldest daughter, and when he conferred the honor of knighthood on his son; all these circumstances call to recollection the ancient usages of a kingdom of which William was the chief vassal.
Scarcely had Philip le Bel summoned the commons to the states-general, before Edward, king of England, adopted the like measure, in order to balance the great power of the barons. For it was under this monarch’s reign that the commons were first clearly and distinctly summoned to parliament.
We perceive, then, that up to this epoch in the fourteenth century, the English government followed regularly in the steps of France. The two churches are entirely alike; the same subjection to the court of Rome; the same exactions which are always complained of, but, in the end, always paid to that rapacious court; the same dissensions, somewhat more or less violent; the same excommunications; the same donations to monks; the same chaos; the same mixture of holy rapine, superstition, and barbarism.
As France and England, then, were for so long a period governed by the same principles, or rather without any principle at all, and merely by usages of a perfectly similar character, how is it that, at length, the two governments have become as different as those of Morocco and Venice?
It is, perhaps, in the first place to be ascribed to the circumstance of England, or rather Great Britain, being an island, in consequence of which the king has been under no necessity of constantly keeping up a considerable standing army which might more frequently be employed against the nation itself than against foreigners.
It may be further observed, that the English appear to have in the structure of their minds something more firm, more reflective, more persevering, and, perhaps, more obstinate, than some other nations.
To this latter circumstance it may be probably attributed, that, after incessantly complaining of the court of Rome, they at length completely shook off its disgraceful yoke; while a people of more light and volatile character has continued to wear it, affecting at the same time to laugh and dance in its chains.
The insular situation of the English, by inducing the necessity of urging to the particular pursuit and practice of navigation, has probably contributed to the result we are here considering, by giving to the natives a certain sternness and ruggedness of manners.
These stern and rugged manners, which have made their island the theatre of many a bloody tragedy, have also contributed, in all probability, to inspire a generous frankness.
It is in consequence of this combination of opposite qualities that so much royal blood has been shed in the field, and on the scaffold, and yet poison, in all their long and violent domestic contentions, has never been resorted to; whereas, in other countries, under priestly domination poison has been the prevailing weapon of destruction.
The love of liberty appears to have advanced, and to have characterized the English, in proportion as they have advanced in knowledge and in wealth. All the citizens of a state cannot be equally powerful, but they may be equally free. And this high point of distinction and enjoyment the English, by their firmness and intrepidity, have at length attained.
To be free is to be dependent only on the laws. The English, therefore, have ever loved the laws, as fathers love their children, because they are, or at least think themselves, the framers of them.
A government like this could be established only at a late period; because it was necessary long to struggle with powers which commanded respect, or at least, impressed awe—the power of the pope, the most terrible of all, as it was built on prejudice and ignorance; the royal power ever tending to burst its proper boundary, and which it was requisite, however difficult, to restrain within it; the power of the barons, which was, in fact, an anarchy; the power of the bishops, who, always mixing the sacred with the profane, left no means unattempted to prevail over both barons and kings.
The house of commons gradually became the impregnable mole, which successfully repelled those serious and formidable torrents.
The house of commons is, in reality, the nation; for the king, who is the head, acts only for himself, and what is called his prerogative. The peers are a parliament only for themselves; and the bishops only for themselves, in the same manner.
But the house of commons is for the people, as every member of it is deputed by the people. The people are to the king in the proportion of about eight millions to unity. To the peers and bishops they are as eight millions to, at most, two hundred. And these eight million free citizens are represented by the lower house.
With respect to this establishment or constitution—in comparison with which the republic of Plato is merely a ridiculous reverie, and which might be thought to have been invented by Locke, or Newton, or Halley, or Archimedes—it sprang, in fact, out of abuses, of a most dreadful description, and such as are calculated to make human nature shudder. The inevitable friction of this vast machine nearly proved its destruction in the days of Fairfax and Cromwell. Senseless fanaticism broke into this noble edifice, like a devouring fire that consumes a beautiful building formed only of wood.
In the time of William the Third it was rebuilt of stone. Philosophy destroyed fanaticism, which convulses to their centres states even the most firm and powerful. We cannot easily help believing that a constitution which has regulated the rights of king, lords, and people, and in which every individual finds security, will endure as long as human institutions and concerns shall have a being.
We cannot but believe, also, that all states not established upon similar principles, will experience revolutions.
The English constitution has, in fact, arrived at that point of excellence, in consequence of which all men are restored to those natural rights, which, in nearly all monarchies, they are deprived of. These rights are, entire liberty of person and property; freedom of the press; the right of being tried in all criminal cases by a jury of independent men—the right of being tried only according to the strict letter of the law; and the right of every man to profess, unmolested, what religion he chooses, while he renounces offices, which the members of the Anglican or established church alone can hold. These are denominated privileges. And, in truth, invaluable privileges they are in comparison with the usages of most other nations of the world! To be secure on lying down that you shall rise in possession of the same property with which you retired to rest; that you shall not be torn from the arms of your wife, and from your children, in the dead of might, to be thrown into a dungeon, or buried in exile in a desert; that, when rising from the bed of sleep, you will have the power of publishing all your thoughts; and that, if you are accused of having either acted, spoken, or written wrongly, you can be tried only according to law. These privileges attach to every one who sets his foot on English ground. A foreigner enjoys perfect liberty to dispose of his property and person; and, if accused of any offence, he can demand that half the jury shall be composed of foreigners.
I will venture to assert, that, were the human race solemnly assembled for the purpose of making laws, such are the laws they would make for their security. Why then are they not adopted in other countries? But would it not be equally judicious to ask, why cocoanuts, which are brought to maturity in India, do not ripen at Rome? You answer, these cocoanuts did not always, or for some time, come to maturity in England; that the trees have not been long cultivated; that Sweden, following her example, planted and nursed some of them for several years, but that they did not thrive; and that it is possible to produce such fruit in other provinces, even in Bosnia and Servia. Try and plant the tree then.
And you who bear authority over these benighted people, whether under the name of pasha, effendi, or mollah, let me advise you, although an unpromising subject for advice, not to act the stupid as well as barbarous part of riveting your nations in chains. Reflect, that the heavier you make the people’s yoke, the more completely your own children, who cannot all of them be pashas, will be slaves. Surely you would not be so contemptible a wretch as to expose your whole posterity to groan in chains, for the sake of enjoying a subaltern tyranny for a few days! Oh, how great at present is the distance between an Englishman and a Bosnian!
The mixture now existing in the government of England—this concert between the commons, the lords, and the king—did not exist always. England was long a slave. She was so to the Romans, the Saxons, Danes, and French. William the Conqueror, in particular, ruled her with a sceptre of iron. He disposed of the properties and lives of his new subjects like an Oriental despot; he prohibited them from having either fire or candle in their houses after eight o’clock at night, under pain of death: his object being either to prevent nocturnal assemblies among them, or merely, by so capricious and extravagant a prohibition, to show how far the power of some men can extend over others. It is true, that both before as well as after William the Conqueror, the English had parliaments; they made a boast of them; as if the assemblies then called parliaments, made up of tyrannical churchmen and baronial robbers, had been the guardians of public freedom and happiness.
The barbarians, who, from the shores of the Baltic poured over the rest of Europe, brought with them the usage of states or parliaments, about which a vast deal is said and very little known. The kings were not despotic, it is true; and it was precisely on this account that the people groaned in miserable slavery. The chiefs of these savages, who had ravaged France, Italy, Spain, and England, made themselves monarchs. Their captains divided among themselves the estates of the vanquished; hence, the margraves, lairds, barons, and the whole series of the subaltern tyrants, who often contested the spoils of the people with the monarchs, recently advanced to the throne and not firmly fixed on it. These were all birds of prey, battling with the eagle, in order to suck the blood of the doves. Every nation, instead of one good master, had a hundred tyrants. The priests soon took part in the contest. From time immemorial it had been the fate of the Gauls, the Germans, and the islanders of England, to be governed by their druids and the chiefs of their villages, an ancient species of barons, but less tyrannical than their successors. These druids called themselves mediators between God and men; they legislated, they excommunicated, they had the power of life and death. The bishops gradually succeeded to the authority of the druids, under the Goth and Vandal government. The popes put themselves at their head; and, with briefs, bulls, and monks, struck terror into the hearts of kings, whom they sometimes dethroned and occasionally caused to be assassinated, and drew to themselves, as nearly as they were able, all the money of Europe. The imbecile Ina, one of the tyrants of the English heptarchy, was the first who, on a pilgrimage to Rome, submitted to pay St. Peter’s penny—which was about a crown of our money—for every house within his territory. The whole island soon followed this example; England gradually became a province of the pope; and the holy father sent over his legates, from time to time, to levy upon it his exorbitant imposts. John, called Lackland, at length made a full and formal cession of his kingdom to his holiness, by whom he had been excommunicated; the barons, who did not at all find their account in this proceeding, expelled that contemptible king, and substituted in his room Louis VIII., father of St. Louis, king of France. But they soon became disgusted with the new-comer, and obliged him to recross the sea.
While the barons, bishops, and popes were thus harassing and tearing asunder England, where each of the parties strove eagerly to be the dominant one, the people, who form the most numerous, useful, and virtuous portion of a community, consisting of those who study the laws and sciences, merchants, artisans, and even peasants, who exercise at once the most important and the most despised of occupations; the people, I say, were looked down upon equally by all these combatants, as a species of beings inferior to mankind. Far, indeed, at that time, were the commons from having the slightest participation in the government: they were villeins, or serfs of the soil; both their labor and their blood belonged to their masters, who were called “nobles.” The greater number of men in Europe were what they still continue to be in many parts of the world—the serfs of a lord, a species of cattle bought and sold together with the land. It required centuries to get justice done to humanity; to produce an adequate impression of the odious and execrable nature of the system, according to which the many sow, and only the few reap; and surely it may even be considered fortunate for France that the powers of these petty robbers were extinguished there by the legitimate authority of kings, as it was in England by that of the king and nation united.
Happily, in consequence of the convulsions of empires by the contests between sovereigns and nobles, the chains of nations are more or less relaxed. The barons compelled John (Lackland) and Henry III to grant the famous charter, the great object of which, in reality, was to place the king in dependence on the lords, but in which the rest of the nation was a little favored, to induce it, when occasion might require, to range itself in the ranks of its pretended protectors. This great charter, which is regarded as the sacred origin of English liberties, itself clearly shows how very little liberty was understood. The very title proves that the king considered himself absolute by right, and that the barons and clergy compelled him to abate his claim to this absolute power only by the application of superior force. These are the words with which Magna Charta begins: “We grant, of our free will, the following privileges to the archbishops, bishops, abbots, priors, and barons, of our kingdom,” etc. Throughout the articles of it, not a word is said of the house of commons; a proof that it did not then exist, or that it existed without power. The freemen of England are specified in it, a melancholy demonstration that there were men who were not free. We perceive, from the thirty-seventh article, that the pretended freemen owed service to their lord. Liberty of such a description had but too strong a similarity to bondage. By the twenty-first article, the king ordains that henceforward his officers shall not take away the horses and ploughs of freemen, without paying for them. This regulation was considered by the people as true liberty, because it freed them from a greater tyranny. Henry VII., a successful warrior and politician, who pretended great attachment to the barons, but who cordially hated and feared them, granted them permission to alienate their lands. In consequence of this, the villeins, who by their industry and skill accumulated property, in the course of time became purchasers of the castles of the illustrious nobles who had ruined themselves by their extravagance, and, gradually, nearly all the landed property of the kingdom changed masters.
The house of commons now advanced in power every day. The families of the old nobility became extinct in the progress of time; and, as in England, correctly speaking, peers only are nobles, there would scarcely have been any nobles in the country, if the kings had not, from time to time, created new barons, and kept up the body of peers, whom they had formerly so much dreaded, to counteract that of the commons, now become too formidable. All the new peers, who compose the upper house, receive from the king their title and nothing more, since none of them have the property of the lands of which they bear the names. One is duke of Dorset, without possessing a single foot of land in Dorsetshire; another is an earl under the name of a certain village, yet scarcely knowing where that village is situated. They have power in the parliament, and nowhere else.
You hear no mention, in this country, of the high, middle, and low courts of justice, nor of the right of chase over the lands of private citizens, who have no right to fire a gun on their own estates.
A man is not exempted from paying particular taxes because he is a noble or a clergyman. All imposts are regulated by the house of commons, which, although subordinate in rank, is superior in credit to that of the lords. The peers and bishops may reject a bill sent up to them by the commons, when the object is to raise money, but they can make no alteration in it: they must admit it or reject it, without restriction. When the bill is confirmed by the lords, and assented to by the king, then all the classes of the nation contribute. Every man pays, not according to his rank—which would be absurd—but according to his revenue. There is no arbitrary taille or capitation, but a real tax on lands. These were all valued in the reign of the celebrated King William. The tax exists still unaltered, although the rents of lands have considerably increased; thus no one is oppressed, and no one complains. The feet of the cultivator are not bruised and mutilated by wooden shoes; he eats white bread; he is well clothed. He is not afraid to increase his farming-stock, nor to roof his cottage with tiles, lest the following year should, in consequence, bring with it an increase of taxation. There are numerous farmers who have an income of about five or six hundred pounds sterling, and still disdain not to cultivate the land which has enriched them, and on which they enjoy the blessing of freedom.
The reader well knows that in Spain, near the coast of Malaga, there was discovered, in the reign of Philip II., a small community, until then unknown, concealed in the recesses of the Alpuxarras mountains. This chain of inaccessible rocks is intersected by luxuriant valleys, and these valleys are still cultivated by the descendants of the Moors, who were forced, for their own happiness, to become Christians, or at least to appear such.
Among these Moors, as I was stating, there was, in the time of Philip, a small society, inhabiting a valley to which there existed no access but through caverns. This valley is situated between Pitos and Portugos. The inhabitants of this secluded abode were almost unknown to the Moors themselves. They spoke a language that was neither Spanish nor Arabic, and which was thought to be derived from that of the ancient Carthaginians.
This society had but little increased in numbers: the reason alleged for which was that the Arabs, their neighbors, and before their time the Africans, were in the practice of coming and taking from them the young women.
These poor and humble, but nevertheless happy, people, had never heard any mention of the Christian or Jewish religions; and knew very little about that of Mahomet, not holding it in any estimation. They offered up, from time immemorial, milk and fruits to a statue of Hercules. This was the amount of their religion. As to other matters, they spent their days in indolence and innocence. They were at length discovered by a familiar of the Inquisition. The grand inquisitor had the whole of them burned. This is the sole event of their history.
The hallowed motives of their condemnation were, that they had never paid taxes, although, in fact, none had ever been demanded of them, and they were totally unacquainted with money; that they were not possessed of any Bible, although they did not understand Latin; and that no person had been at the pains of baptizing them. They were all invested with the san benito, and broiled to death with becoming ceremony.
It is evident that this is a specimen of the true system of government; nothing can so completely contribute to the content, harmony, and happiness of society.