Front Page Titles (by Subject) DISCOURSE V.: Of Governments free and arbitrary, more especially that of the Cæsars. - The Works of Tacitus, vol. 1 - Gordon's Discourses, Annals (Books 1-3)
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DISCOURSE V.: Of Governments free and arbitrary, more especially that of the Cæsars. - Publius Cornelius Tacitus, The Works of Tacitus, vol. 1 - Gordon’s Discourses, Annals (Books 1-3) [120 AD]
The Works of Tacitus. In Four Volumes. To which are prefixed, Political Discourses upon that Author by Thomas Gordon. The Second Edition, corrected. (London: T. Woodward and J. Peele, 1737). Vol. 1.
Part of: The Works of Tacitus, 4 vols.
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Of Governments free and arbitrary, more especially that of the Cæsars.
The Principle of God’s appointing and protecting Tyrants, an Absurdity not believed by the Romans.
I Do not find that a servitude so beastly and ignominious was borne by the Romans out of Principle. Their Religion, as vain and superstitious as it was, had never offered such an insult to common sense, as to teach them that their Deities, as capricious as they thought them, warranted Tyranny, and sanctified Tyrants; that the brutal and bloody Caligula, was the beloved and Vicegerent of Jove, almighty, all-wise and all-merciful; that the worst of men had a commission from Heaven to oppress all men, and to destroy the best; that murder, rapine and mis-rule were Government, and such lawless and bloody robbers were Governors divinely appointed; that Society had no remedy against devouring lust, and the raging sword, which were destroying all the ends of Society, and Society it self. These are Absurdities below Paganism and all its chimeras; even the Superstition of Pagans never broached such blasphemies and indignities to God and Man; never propagated Doctrines which would have turned men into idiots, destitute of reflection and feeling, nay, into beasts of burden, and beasts for sacrifice; turned the Deities into Devils; human society into a chaos of blood and carcasses, and this earth into a place of torments. It never entered into the heart of a Greek or a Roman, nor into any heart which felt the sentiments of virtue and humanity, that it was unlawful to defend Law; a crime to ward against murder, barbarity, and desolation; and an impiety to do the most godlike action which can be done on this side Heaven, that of disarming a Tyrant, and saving one’s Country from perishing. It is true, that the Romans flattered their Tyrants, as Tyrants ever will be flattered; but as the names and appearances of the old Government still subsisted, they pretended to believe that none but the old Laws were exercised; and by the old Laws the Emperors still pretended to act. For several generations after the State was enslaved, and even during the Reigns of the worst of the Cæsars, the Romans expressed high contempt for Nations who were avowedly slaves, and for Kings who were avowedly arbitrary; and it then continued usual to behold foreign Monarchs attending the levee and train of the Roman Magistrates and Governors of Provinces; nay, they were sometimes denied access, and treated with great scorn.
Government is doubtless a sacred thing, and justly claims all reverence and duty; but in the idea of Government is implied that of public Protection and Security; that it is the terror of evil doers, and the encouragement of such as do well. But when what was Government ceases; and what is called Government, is, in reality, general oppression, havock, and spoil; when a power prevails which is swayed by evil doers to the destruction of all who do well; when law and righteousness are banished, lust and iniquity triumph; property is violently invaded, and lives are wantonly destroyed; is this Government too? If it be, I should be glad to know what is not Government.
The reasonableness of resisting Tyrants asserted, from the Ends of Government, and the Nature of the Deity. Opinions the most impious and extravagant, why taught, and how easily swallowed.
IT is certainly unlawful to resist Government; but it is certainly lawful to resist the deviation from Government, to resist what destroys Government and men. To resist the abuse of Government, is to assist Government. It is allowed to be just to help our protectors; but it is equally just to oppose our enemies, madmen and spoilers. Now what was Nero, what Caligula and Claudius? one a bloody idiot, the other an inhuman madman; the first like the second, and all of them public robbers and butchers. If their course of cruelties and oppression was Government, so are plagues, tempests and inundations; but if their lives and actions were altogether pernicious and detestable; the exterminating of such monsters from amongst men, would have been a service to the whole race. Was Tarquin half so black and odious? yet who has ever blamed his expulsion? was the Insolence and Tyranny of Tarquin the Ordinance of God? what then was the succeeding Government of the People and Senate? if this was the Ordinance of God too; then every Government good and bad, or rather Mis-government as well as Government, public robbery and ruin, as well as public security and protection, may be equally said to be his Ordinance; and there are Ordinances of his that combat one another, like the two Angels contending in one of the Prophets. But if the Tyranny of Tarquin was, and the establishing of the free State was not the Ordinance of God, then are not the Patrons of this opinion obliged to say, and to maintain this gross and blasphemous absurdity, that the divine Being disapproves of good Government, Equity and Laws, and delights in injustice, cruelty and confusion; not in the rule of equal justice, but in the ravages of lust and iniquity?
To say that all Governments, the good and the bad, are alike to him, equally inviolable, is to say that he takes no cognizance of things below; and at this rate, there is, in his sight, no such thing as guilt and innocence. To alledge that that Government which is best for men, is disliked by him; and the rule of lust is preferable to that of Laws; is to make him worse than indifferent, the patron of wantonness and oppression; a foe to order and benevolence, fonder of one man’s caprice and violence, than of the happiness of millions; nay a professed advocate for iniquity, a professed adversary to all public righteousness. If it be said, that he approves not of Tyranny himself, and yet would not have it resisted by others; this is nonsense added to prophaneness; since what he neither checks nor allows to be checked, he may be said to approve. If I see a man going to commit murder, and by terrible threatning and penalties restrain such as would restrain him, will it not be construed, that I chose to have the murder perpetrated? It makes him besides a hard-hearted being, who forbids to remedy the highest human evil, nay, wilfully dooms human kind to the severest misery.
I never heard that he has forbid under any penalty the use of Medicines against the Plague, and I think I have found the reason why I never heard it; the Plague has no treasures, nor dignities to recompence flatterers. Had it been worth while to have made such prohibition a Doctrine of Religion; that is, had it been pleasing to Power, and the way to favour, I doubt not but it would have gained ground, and many followers, as other doctrines equally absurd have done, where the gain and craft of a few have been followed and defended by the superstition and zeal of many; witness Transubstantiation, Purgatory, Auricular Confession, blind Obedience under the rod of Tyranny, &c. The Turks out of bigotry to that of Predestination, forbear all precautions against the Plague, when raging on every side of them. It is impossible to invent a Doctrine so monstrous and mischievous, but it will meet with partizans and admirers, provided the inventors have convenient names and habiliments, without which the most illustrious and benevolent truths will hardly pass with a multitude bewitched with the magic of words and superstition.
It is impossible for the hearts of men to contrive a principle more absurd and wicked, than that of annexing divine and everlasting vengeance to the resisting of the most flagrant mischief which can possibly befal the sons of men; yet it has found inventors and vouchers. It is plain from this instance, and from a thousand more, that there is no wickedness of which the hearts of men are not capable, and that the wretchedness of the whole race weighs not so much with them as their own profit and pleasure. It would seem from hence, as if we had lived in the dregs and barbarism of time, since to the late age (at least here in Christendom) was reserved the infamy of hatching a Monster so horrible, that to its birth was sacrificed all Sense and Humanity, all the considerations, and even the essence of Truth, Order and Liberty.
The advocates for this impious tenet, which represents the great and good God as incensed with men for striving to remove their chains and sorrows, are, by defending Tyranny, so much worse than Tyrants, as a Scheme of Barbarity coolly and deliberately contrived or defended, is more heinous than particular acts of barbarity committed in the heat and hurry of passion, and as Murder is a greater crime than Manslaughter.
What avail Laws and Liberty, ever so excellently framed, when they are at the mercy of lawless rage and caprice? If we are forbid by God to defend Laws, why do we make them? Is it not unlawful to make what it is unlawful to defend? What else is the end of Government, but the felicity of men; and why are some raised higher in Society than others, but that all may be happy? Has God ever interposed against the establishment of Society upon a good foot? If he has not, but wills the good of Society, and of men, how comes he to interpose against the defence of an Establishment which he nowhere forbids, and against that good which he is said to will? What more right had Nero to take away the lives of innocent men than any other Assassin; what more title to their fortune than any other Robber; what better right to spill their blood than any Tyger? And is it unlawful to resist Robbers, and Assassins, and Beasts of Prey? Did the Almighty ever say of that beastly Tyrant, “Touch not Nero my Anointed, nor do his Ruffians any harm?” Did Nero’s station lessen or abrogate his crimes?
What idea does it give of God, the Father of mercies and of men, to represent him screening that enemy to God and man, as a person sacred and inviolable, and holding his authority from himself; the merciful and holy Jehovah protecting an inhuman Destroyer! What more relation could there be between God and Nero, than between God and an Earthquake, God and a Conflagration or Massacre? The very phrase is shocking to the soul! Is such representation likely to make the name and nature of God amiable to men, likely to excite them to love and reverence him? Satan is said to be delighted with the miseries and calamities of men; and, to suppose that wicked Being concerned for the security of a Tyrant, whose office it is to debase and afflict human race, is natural and consistent with his Character. But I wish men would not father upon the Author of all good such counsels and inclinations, as can only suit the father of cruelties and lies.
The danger of slavish Principles to such as trust in them, and the notorious insecurity of lawless Might.
NEITHER have Tyrants and Oppressors been much obliged to this enslaving Doctrine, which has generally filled them with false confidence and security; it has always made them worse, seldom safer; and, without doing any good, been the cause of much evil to their poor subjects. The Turks hold it as an Article of Faith, and it is one worthy of Turkish grossness and barbarity! yet where has the deposing and murdering of Princes been so common as in Turkey? The Monarch is told he may do what he pleases; their Religion tells him so, the holy Mufti, who explains it, tells him so, and from God he tells him so; but notwithstanding all these holy Authorities, this person so sacred, and guarded with securities human and divine, is often butchered with less form than a common male-factor, and even with the Mufti’s consent and assistance. Thus it has happened to several in a Century; had not their power been so great, their security would have been greater.
aAn absolute Prince is of all others the most insecure; as he proceeds by no rule of Law, he can have no rule of Safety. He acts by violence, and violence is the only remedy against him. Now violence which is confined to no rule, but as various and unlimited as the passions and devices of men, can never be parried by any certain provision or defence. His acts of cruelty upon particulars, whether done for revenge or prevention, do but alarm other particulars to save themselves by destroying him. Men who apprehend their lives to be in danger, will venture any thing to preserve them; or if they do more than apprehend and be already become desperate, we know to what lengths despair will push them. Thus Caligula, thus Domitian and Commodus, were slaughtered by those whom they had doomed to slaughter. Nor Armies nor Guards can prevent the machinations and efforts of a secret enemy; even amongst his Armies and Guards such a one may be found, nay, in his Houshold, in his Bed-chamber, amongst his Kindred, nay, amongst his Children.
When Princes act by Law, in case of hardship upon particulars, there is a remedy to be sought from the Law; and when the Law fairly administered will afford none, they will acquiesce; or, if they blame any thing, they will blame the Law, but a remedy they will be apt to seek; and, when they suffer not from Law, but from mere violence, they will have recourse to violence. Neither can a people be ever so sunk or deadened by Oppression, but much provocation, some management and a skilful leader, will find or raise some spirit in them, often enough to accomplish great Revolutions; witness Sicily under the French, Swisserland under the Yoke of Austria, and the Low Countries under that of Spain; nay, the most consummate and professed slaves, those of Turkey, often rouse themselves, and casting their proud rider to the earth, trample him to death.
Indeed slaves enraged are the most dangerous populace; because having no other resource against oppression, they repel violence with outrage; a little spark often raises a great flame; and a flame soon spreads to a Conflagration, where materials are prepared, as they almost eternally are in Governments that are absolute or aiming to be so. The Commotions at Paris, during the Minority of the late King, were followed by others all over France, though the whole Kingdom had been for a great while before, by the Tyranny of the Administration, frightened, despairing, and even lethargic; but the resentment and convulsions that followed this false calm, had like to have overset the Monarchy. Nor can any public calm be certain, or any Government secure, where the people are pillaged and oppressed. People that are used like beasts, will act like beasts; and be mad and furious, when buffeted and starved.
Princes of little and bad Minds, most greedy of Power. Princes of large and good Minds chuse to rule by Law and Limitations.
IT is poor and contemptible ambition in a Prince, that of swelling his Prerogative, and catching at advantages over his People; it is separating himself from the tender relation of a Father and Protector, a Character which constitutes the Glory of a King; and assuming that of a foe, and an ensnarer b . This is what a Prince of a great and benevolent spirit will consider; not himself as a lordly Tyrant, nor them as his Property and Slaves; but himself and them under the amiable and engaging ties of Magistrate and fellow Citizens. Such was the difference between a Queen Elizabeth and a Richard the second; how glorious and prosperous the Reign of the one, how infamous and unhappy that of the other! what renown accompanies her memory, what scorn his! It is indeed apparent from our History, that those of our Princes who thirsted most violently after arbitrary rule, were chiefly such as were remarkable for poor spirit, and small genius, Pedants, Bigots, the timorous and effeminate.
The French Historians observe that the worst and weakest of their Kings were fondest of Dominion, and their best and wisest contented with stinted Power, and the rule of Laws. Lewis the eleventh, says Cardinal De Retz, was more crafty than wise. He was in truth a genuine Tyrant; he trampled upon the Laws of the Kingdom, and the lives of his Subjects, pillaged and oppressed all manner of ways, and followed no Counsel but that of his Lust and Caprice. But what advantage or content, what security or fame did he draw from his exorbitant encroachments and power? No man ever lived under a blacker series of fears, and cares, and suspicions, or died in greater misery and terrors; and in his life, and death, and memory he is equally detestable c . Lewis the thirteenth, a man naturally harmless, but silly, was jealous of his authority, purely because he was ignorant about it; but Henry the fourth, who was born with a Soul great and generous, never distrusted the Laws, because he trusted in the uprightness of his own Designs. Il ne se defioit pas des loix, parce qu’il se fioit en lui même, says De Retz. Another French Monarch of great name, loved and enjoyed unbridled Dominion, but had no greatness of mind or genius answerable to the measure of his ambition. He had a sort of stiffness and perseverance, by his flatterers stiled Fortitude and Firmness, but in reality arising from arrogance or obstinacy; qualities found in the weakest women, and eminently in his mother. In Religion he was a bigot; in Politics false, suspicious, and timid; in Government insolent and oppressive; the property of his Mistresses, the Pupil of his Confessors, the Dupe of his Ministers; a sore Plague to his Neighbours; a sorer to his own People; vainly addicted to War without the talents of a Warrior; a dishonourable Enemy, a faithless Ally; and, with small Abilities, a great Troubler of the World.
It was natural to such an Imperial Wolf as Caligula, to delight in power as savage as his own bloody spirit, and to boast that he had an unlimited privilege to do whatever his will or fury suggested d ; but worthy of the benevolent and humane heart of Trajan, were the words by him used to his chief Officers, when he presented them with the sword. “This sword, this badge of Authority, you hold from me; but turn it, if I deserve it, against me e .” Now, did the challenging and exercise of this monstrous power secure Caligula; or did the disavowing of it lessen the security of Trajan? quite otherwise; the former was abhorred and assassinated as a Tyrant; the latter was adored living, and died lamented, as a public Father and Guardian: Trajan knew no other purpose of Imperial Prerogative, but that of protecting the People; nor indeed is there any other use of Emperors and Prerogatives upon earth.
Cardinal De Retz says, that with all the arguments and pains he could use, he could never bring the Queen Regent to understand the meaning of these words, the Public. She thought that to consult the interest of the People was to be a Republican, and had no notion that the Government of a Prince was any thing else but Royal Will and Authority, rampant and without bounds. Was it any wonder, that the people of France gasped under Oppressions and Taxes, when the Government was swayed by such a Woman, herself blindly governed by Mazarine, a public Thief, if ever there was any; one convicted to have stollen from the Finances nine millions in a few years; one who had spent his younger years in low rogueries; who had no maxims of rule but such as were adapted to the severest Tyranny in Italy, that of the Pope; and one, who, in the highest post of first Minister, could never help shewing the base spirit of a little Sharper. Le vilain cæur paroissoit toûjours au travers, says De Retz: the Duke of Orleans called him un Scelerat, & Ministre incapable & abhorré du genre humain; un Menteur fieffé.
The Wisdom and Safety of ruling by standing Laws, to Prince and People.
IT was a fine answer of Theopompus King of Lacedæmon to his wife, who reproached him that he would leave the Kingship diminished to his sons, by creating the Ephori: Yes, says he, I shall leave it smaller, but I shall leave it more permanent.Valerius Maximus explains this by a very just reflection; “Theopompus’s reason was full of pertinency and force; for, in reality, that Authority which bounds itself, and offers no injuries, is exposed to none. The king therefore by restraining Royalty within the just limits of Laws, did as much endear it to the Affections of his Countrymen, as he pruned it of all Licentiousness and Terror f .”
It is as rare for a Prince limited by Laws, and content with his power, to reign in sorrow, or to die tragically, as it is uncommon for those who have no bounds set them, or will suffer none, to escape a miserable Reign, and unbloody end. The power of the Roman Kings was, from the first establishment, very short; they had no negative voice in the Senate, and could neither make War nor Peace. What Tacitus says of Romulusg , can only mean his administring justice, as the chief Magistrate, between man and man, or perhaps his encroachments upon the Senate towards his latter end, for which, it is thought, he paid dear.
Where the Government is arbitrary and severe, the oppressed people will be apt to think that no change can make their condition worse; and therefore will be ready to wish for any, nay, to risque a Civil War, risque fresh evils and calamities, to get rid of the present, and to be revenged on their Oppressor. Such was the temper of the Romans upon the revolt of Sacrovir; they even rejoiced in it, and, in hatred to Tiberius, wished success to the public enemy h . People will be quiet and patient under burdens, however heavy, which Law lays on; for they suppose that laws are founded upon reason and necessity; but impositions the most reasonable will be apt to appear unreasonable and tyrannical, where they proceed from the will of one. Mere will is supposed to act without reason, and to be only the effect of wantonness; hence the acquiescence of a free people however taxed, and from their acquiescence, the safety of their Governors. Hence too the industry and wealth, and consequently the peaceableness of the country; for industry and wealth are things exceeding quiet and tame, and only aim at securing themselves; whereas idleness and indigence are uneasy, tumultuous, and desperate. Besides, he who pays twenty shillings in a free Government, and pays it chearfully, would not perhaps, were the Government changed, pay willingly ten, nay, perhaps be unable to pay it, though by the change no new taxes were added. While the Law requires it, he will imagine that no more than enough is required; and as the same Law leaves him all the rest to himself, he will be industrious to acquire more, and as much as he can; but when the quantity of his Tax depends upon the caprice or avarice of one; when the more he is worth, the more he will be taxed, or even fancies that he will be, he will grow idle, discontented and desponding, and rather live poor and lazy, than labour to make his Taxmaster rich. Not to mention the furious Monarchies of the East destructive of all Diligence and Arts; the Comte De Boulainvilliers in his Elat de la France, says, that in some Provinces in France the soil is left uncultivated, and several trades and professions are disused; because the labour of the Husbandman, and the skill and application of the Artist, are rendered abortive by rigorous impositions. They chuse rather to starve in idleness, than to work and starve.
The Condition of free States, how preferable to that of such as are not free.
NO arbitrary Prince upon earth could have raised from the States of Holland the fifth part of what they have, as a free State, paid to their own Magistrates, nor could have sound whence to have raised it. I will venture to say the same of England. Under a Monarchy of the late King James’s model, was it possible to have supported two wars so long and consuming as the two last, or to have raised sums so immense to carry them on? It would be madness to assert it. By this time numbers of our people would have been driven from their Country, much of our Soil been waste, many of our Manufactures laid aside, our Trade sunk, our Wealth fled, and the condition of England have resembled that of France, as well as our Government theirs, and for the same reason. It is in vain boasted of the House of Medicis, that in a long course of years they had laid no new tax upon a country where their power was absolute; since the Cities and Territories, under their Sovereignty, are by it reduced from great wealth and populousness to such miserable desolation and poverty, that it is downright oppression to oblige them to pay any considerable part of the old, much more all.
To reason from experience and examples, is the best reasoning i . Compare any free State with any other that is not free. Compare the former and present condition of any State formerly free; or once enslaved, and now free. Compare England with France; Holland with Denmark; or the seven Provinces under the States, with the same seven Provinces under Philip the second; you will find in these and every other instance, that happiness and wretchedness are the exact tallies to Liberty and Bondage.
Florence was a Commonwealth ill framed at first, and consequently subject to frequent convulsions, factions, parties, and subdivision of parties; yet by the mere blessing and vigour of Liberty, she flourished in people, riches and arms, till with her Liberty she lost all spirit and prosperity; and became languishing, little and contemptible under a small Prince with a great name. She has been long cured of all her former frolicks and tumults, by an effectual remedy, servitude; and beggary, the child of servitude; and by depopulation, the offspring of both k . All arguments for absolute Power, are confuted by facts; no Country governed by mere will was ever governed well; passion governs the will, the will becomes the measure of right and wrong and of all things, and caprice the ballance of the will; and I know not but it may be maintained that a free State the worst constituted, as was that of Florence, is, with all its disorders, factions, and tumults, preferable to any absolute Monarchy, however calm l .
The Misery and Insecurity of the Cæsars from their overgrown Power.
THESE Emperors of Rome, who had sacrificed their country and all things to their supreme power, found little ease and security from its being supreme. From Cæsar the Dictator, who had sacrificed public Liberty, and was himself sacrificed to her manes, till Charlemain, above thirty of them were murdered, and four of them murdered themselves; the soldiery were their masters, and upon every pique put them to death. If the Prince was chosen by the Senate, this was reason enough for shedding his blood by the Armies; or if the Armies chose him, this choice of their own never proved an obstacle against shedding it. It was the soldiers that dispatched the Emperor Pertinax, after he had been forced to accept the Empire. These lofty Sovereigns having trodden under foot the Senate, People and Laws, the best supports of legitimate Power, held their scepter and their lives upon the courtesy of their masters the soldiers. He who swayed the Universe, was a slave to his own mercenaries.
Though Augustus had reigned so long, and so thoroughly enfeebled or extinguished the maxims of Liberty, and introduced and settled those of Monarchy; Tiberius his immediate Successor, thought himself so little safe, that he lived in perpetual vassalage to his own fears. By making all men slaves, he could not make himself free, and was only the most overgrown and gaudy slave in the Empire; so much do Princes gain by being above Law! They who will be content with no terms of reigning, but such as make all men fear them, will find reasons to fear all men. Tiberius did so, and the many sacrifices which he made to his fear, far from lessening, did but encrease it, as such sacrifices did but multiply enemies and terrors.
First he dreaded Agrippa Posthumus, and murdered him; but the murder ensured not his repose, even from that quarter; for a slave of that Prince personated his master, and alarmed Tiberius more than Agrippa had done. He dreaded Germanicus, and when that excellent person was dead (by no fair means, it was supposed) he dreaded Agrippina his wife, and her little children; and when by all manner of treachery and cruelty he had oppressed them, he was seized with new dread from Sejanus, the greatest and justest of all; nor ceased his dread after the execution of Sejanus; insomuch, that he commanded a general Massacre of all his Family, Friends, and Adherents. Next, his fears still continuing, he doomed to the most barbarous death his own grandsons by Germanicus; for their being already under miserable imprisonment and exile, did not suffice. And when the Family of Germanicus was destroyed; he had remaining fears from the Friends and Dependants of that House; these were the next objects of his Vengeance, which he executed fiercely. Nor small was the Terror which he entertained of his own Mother; and when she was gone, he let loose his rage upon the Favourites and Adherents of his Mother.
Now after all these precautions, so many and so bloody, did his suspicions abate? No; they were rather whetted and inflamed m . Of the great Lords of the Senate he was under perpetual apprehensions, and making daily victims; their wealth and race, nay, their poverty, names, and qualities frightened him; he feared friends and enemies. Those who advised him in council, those who diverted him at his leisure hours; his Confidents, Counsellors, and Bottle-companions, were all Martyrs to his Jealousy and Fury. He was so afraid of considerable men, or giving them employments which made them so, that some who were appointed Governors of Provinces, were never permitted to go thither, and great Provinces, for a course of years, left destitute of their Governors; and though he dreaded stirs and innovations above all things n ; yet he suffered the loss and devastation of Provinces, the insults and invasion of enemies, rather than trust any one with the power of avenging the State, and repulsing the public foe. Thus he left Armenia to be seized by the Parthians, Mœsia by the Dacians and other barbarians, and both the Gauls to be ravaged by the Germans o , says Suetonius.
A representation of the Torments and Horrors under whichTiberiuslived.
WHAT joy, what tranquillity did Tiberius reap from his great and unaccountable Sovereignty? Did it exempt him from disquiet, or could all his efforts, all the terrors of his Power, prevent or remove his own? Did his numerous Armies protect him from the assaults of fear and apprehension? Did he sleep the sounder for his Prætorian Bands? Did the Rocks of Capreæ, hardly accessible to men, keep off those horrors of mind which haunted him at Rome, and on the Continent? Or rather, with all the eclat of Empire, with all his Policy and all his Guards, was he not the most miserable Being in his Dominions? Doubtless he was; other particulars, the most obnoxious and threatened, had but some things and some persons to fear; Tiberius dreaded all men and every thing. Was his Power unlimited? so was his Misery; the more he made others suffer, the faster he multiplied his own torments. He himself confessed, that all the anger of the Deities could not doom him to more terrible anguish than that under which he felt himself perishing daily.
Imagine this great Prince, this Sovereign of Rome, in hourly fear of secret Assassins; daily dreading and expecting the news of Armies revolted, a new Emperor created, and himself deposed: imagine him fixed upon a high rock, and watching there from day to day, with a careful eye and an anxious and boding heart, for signals from the Continent, whether he must stay or fly: imagine him every moment ready to commit himself to the waves and tempests, and to escape whither he could for life and shelter: imagine him, even after a Conspiracy suppressed, lurking for nine months together in one lodge, under such terrors as not to dare to venture an airing even in his beloved Capreæ, however walled with Rocks and defended with Guards. In short, he feared every thing but to do evil, which yet was the sole cause of his fears. Such was his situation and life, and such the blessing of lawless might! “To Tiberius not his Imperial fortune, not his gloomy and inaccessible solitude could ensure repose, nor keep him from feeling nor even from avowing the rack in his breast and the avenging furies that pursued him.” His Death too, was, like his life and reign, tragical and bloody.
The terrible Operation of lawless Power upon the minds of Princes; and how it changes them.
TIBERIUS was an able man; he had talents for Affairs; he had eminent sufficiency in War; during the Commonwealth he would have well supported the Dignity of a Senator; he would have filled the first Offices of the State; he would have probably been zealous for public Liberty. He had even under Augustus, while he was yet a Subject, acquired a signal name and estimation. Nay it is likely he might have left behind him a high reputation and applause; for he had Art enough to have hid or suppressed the ill qualities which were naturally in him; so that he might have lived happy and admired, and died in renown. But being, unhappily for himself and his Country, invested with Power without controul, he let loose all his Passions, and he, who might have proved an excellent and useful Member of a free State, became a Prince altogether merciless and pernicious; a terrible Tyrant, void of natural affection for his own Blood and Family, void of all regard and tenderness for his People, and possessed with intense hate towards the Senate and Nobility. One of his discernment was not to be deceived by Flattery; he knew that, whatever submissions and even prostrations were made him, the Yoke of Sovereignty was grating and grievous to the Romans, and he sought revenge upon their persons for hating his Usurpation. This conduct made him more hated, and this hatred enraged him so, that at last, renouncing all shame, and throwing away his beloved Arts of Dissimulation, he commenced, as it were, an open Enemy to his People, surrendered himself over to every act of Cruelty, and to every abomination, even to Rapaciousness and Plunder, a vice to which for a long time he seemed to have no biass.
But what is not to be apprehended from Power without controul, and who is to be trusted with it, when a man of such strong parts and long experience as Tiberius, was so entirely mastered and perverted by it? It is a task too mighty for the soul of man, and fit for none but God, who cannot change, cannot act passionately, cannot be mistaken, and is omnipresent. There are few instances of men who have not been corrupted and intoxicated with it, and many, of whom the highest hopes were conceived, have degenerated notoriously under it. When men are once above fear of punishment, they soon grow to be above shame. Besides, the genius and abilities of men are limited, but their passions and vanity boundless; hence so few can be perfectly good, and so many are transcendently evil. They mistake good fortune for great merit, and are apt to rise in their own conceit as high at least as fortune can raise them. Galba was, in the opinion of all men, worthy of Empire, and that opinion would have ever continued, had he never been tried; and Vespasian was, till then, the only instance of an Emperor by power changed for the better p .
The wretched Fears accompanying the Possession of arbitrary Power, exemplified inCaligulaand other Roman Emperors.
NOR was this anguish and these fears peculiar to Tiberius, his Successors felt them eminently; as did every one who reigned as he reigned. Caligula was so haunted by inward horrors, and his imagination so terrified, that he became almost a stranger to sleep, and used to roam about the palace while others slept, afraid of the night, and invoking the return of day. Upon an alarm from Germany, he prepared to run away from Rome; and was always provided with exquisite poison against an exigency. Claudius scarce lived a moment of his Reign free from affrights and suspicions; nor was there any accident so trivial, or any Man, Woman, or Slave, or Child so contemptible, as not to dismay him and set him upon sanguinary precautions and punishments; he was several times almost frighted out of his Sovereignty, and willing to creep away into safety and solitude. Even before the Senate, which upon the sight of a dagger, he had summoned in great haste and earnestness, the poor unmanly wretch burst into tears and howling, bewailed his perillous condition, that in no place or circumstance could he be out of the way of danger. His whole life was governed by fears, and his fears by his wives and freedmen; hence his excessive cruelty, according to the measure of his own timidity, or of their ambition, vindictiveness, and rapacity. The Horrors of Nero’s guilt never forsook him; they were sometimes so violent, that every joint about him trembled; he dreaded his Mother’s Ghost as much as he had her living Spirit, and made doleful complaints, that the Furies pursued him with Stripes, and Rage, and burning Torches: and that he was alarmed with horrid shrieks and groans from his Mother’s Tomb. What else did Heliogabalus apprehend but a violent death, when he went always provided with a silken halter and a golden poignard, as expedients to escape death by the hand of an enemy? For the like purpose Caracalla made himself a copious provision of poisons. This barbarous Parricide was wont to complain that the Ghost of his Father, and that of his Brother by him murdered, terrified and pursued him with drawn swords. So sorely did the bloody Horrors of their Crimes and Infamy, haunt these men of Blood, and became their Executioners! What availed their Power and Armies against the alarms of their Conscience? Could all their Titles and Might, all the Guards at their gate, scare away reflection, or rescue them from the agonies and goreings of their own breasts?
What it is that constitutes the Security and Glory of a Prince; and how a Prince and People become estranged from each other.
WHAT then is it that a Prince may rely on for the security of his Person, and the quiet of his Soul? Hear the opinion of a great and a good Prince, Marcus Antoninus, delivered to his Friends and Counsellors just before he expired: “Verily it is neither the influence of Revenue and Treasures, nor the multitude of Guards, that can uphold a Prince, or assure him of obedience, unless with the duty of obedience, the zeal and affections of his People do concur. Surely, only long and secure is the Reign of such a one as by actions of benignity stamps upon the hearts of his People the impressions of love; not those of fear by acts of cruelty.” He adds, “that a Prince has nothing to fear from his People, as long as their obedience flows from Inclination, and is not constained by Servitude; and that Subjects will never refuse obedience, when they are not treated with contumely and violence q .
A man who means no ill would not seek the Power to do it, and he who seeks that Power, or has it, will be eternally suspected to mean no good. Now the only way to obviate such suspicion, is, to act by known rules of Law; he who rules by consent is obnoxious to no blame. Such restraint may probably at some times keep a just Prince from doing good, but it certainly withholds a bad one from doing much greater mischief. An arbitrary Prince who can do what he will, is for ever liable to be suspected of willing all that he can; hence his people mistrust him; hence his indignation for their mistrust, and hence the root of eternal jealousy and uneasiness between him and them.
The People likewise expect complaisance from the Prince, expect to have their sentiments and humours considered; while the Prince probably thinks that they have no right to form any judgment of public matters, or to make any demands upon him; but, on the contrary, requires of them blind reverence and obedience to his Authority; and acquiescence in his superior Conduct and Skill; that all his doings should pass for just; himself for a person altogether sacred and unaccountable; and his words for Laws. If their behaviour towards him do not happen to square exactly with these his sovereign notions and high conceit of himself, he will be apt to think, or some officious flatterer will be ready to persuade him r , “his Royal Authority is set at nought, the People are revolted; and what remains but that they take Arms?” To punish therefore their Disobedience, he proceeds to violence, and exercises real severity for imaginary guilt. Mischief is prolific; violence in him begets resentment in them; the People murmur and exclaim; the Prince is thence provoked, and studies vengeance; when one act of vengeance is resented and exposed, as it ever will be, more will follow. Thus things go on. Affection is not only lost, but irrecoverable on either side; hatred is begun on both; and Prince and People consider themselves no longer as Magistrate and Subjects, but one another as Enemies. Hence perhaps Caligula’s inhuman wish, that he could murder all his People at a blow. The sequel of all this is easy to be guessed; he is continually destroying them; they are continually wishing him destroyed.
How nearly it behoves a Prince to be beloved and esteemed by his Subjects. The terrible Consequences of their mutual Mistrust and Hatred.
HOW much does it import Princes to preserve the good opinion of their People! when it is once lost, it is scarce ever to be recalled. When once they come to believe ill of their Prince, there is nothing so ill that they will not believe; as in the instance of Tiberius, of whom things the most improbable and horrid were believed. It is hardly possible for any merit, the most genuine and exalted, to preserve popular favour for a long time; accidents and disasters will be falling in, to sour the spirits of the populace; or some fresh merit, more new or more glaring, may appear, and lessen or intercept their admiration of the other; or the same person may not always have the same opportunities to oblige them; so that the best care and conduct can only serve to retain it to a certain degree; and this by good conduct is certainly and always to be done. But when the reputation of the Prince with his Subjects is entirely gone, something worse than the bare want of it will ensue. Between a Prince’s forfeiting the public Affection and his incurring the public Hatred, there is scarce any medium, and even that medium is a terrible one, since to be scorned is not much better than to be hated, and often infers it.
Would a Prince live in security, ease and credit? let him live and rule by a standard certain and fixed, that of Laws, nor grasp at more than is given him. Many by seeking too much have lost all, and forfeited their Crown through the wantonness and folly of loading it with false and invidious ornaments. While nothing would serve them but lawless Power, even their legitimate Authority grew odious, and was rent from them. They set their People the example of assuming what was none of theirs, to do acts of violence in defense of violated Laws, to judge for themselves, and to sanctify by the title of Right whatever they could accomplish by force. Rather than live upon bad terms, people will be apt to make their own terms, and think no fealty is due where no saith is kept. Who would not rejoice more in a free gift than in plunder? for such is the difference between Power conferred and Power usurped. What new Prerogative acquired to the Crown, or what new Revenue can make amends for the Hearts of the People estranged and embittered? This is such a loss, as no acquisition, no pomp of Power whatsoever, can atone for. We have seen under what gloom, asfright, and despair the Cæsars lived and swayed, though their sway was without check and bounds. Machiavel says, that when a Prince has once incurred the public hate, there is no person nor thing which he ought not to dread.
He who does no ill, fears none; but such as are continually creating terrors and calamities to others, have abundant reason to be under continual apprehensions themselves. How much more desirable, how much more just, and easy, and safe is the condition of a Prince, who lives and rules by Laws over a free People by their own consent? both People and Laws are his guard, and what secures them, secures him. They seel that he loves them; and he is conscious that they ought to love him. This is Government, and the effects of it; not the triumph of boundless arrogance or folly; not the insults of one over all, nor consequently his distrust of them, nor their slavish dread of him; but the equal administration of eternal Righteousness, and stated Laws; an endearing intercourse of fatherly care and protection, and of filial gratitude and duty. How amiable must it be, how refreshing to a generous Spirit, to oblige and solace a whole People, to have a whole People adore and bless him! What master of Slaves, even the highest and most unbounded master, can boast so much of himself and his slaves? The Grandeur of such a Prince is all false and tinsel, painted and hollow; he is never secure, because he is not innocent; he is not innocent, because he is an Oppressor.
To rule by mere Will, is to rule by Violence, and violence is War. He who puts himself in a state of Hostility with his Subjects, invites Hostility from them, as did the late King James, who having no Confidence in the Laws, which he had violated, nor in his People, whom he had oppressed, put himself in a posture of War against his Subjects; so that when they too had recourse to arms, they did but stand in their own defence. They had no quarrel to that King James, who had taken an Oath to rule by Law; but when that King assumed another person, and, in spite of Oaths and Laws, would oppress and spoil, they who owed this man of violence no Allegiance, opposed Might to Might, since he would abide by no Law. It was not their Prince therefore that they resisted, but their Enemy and Spoiler: he in truth, had no more Right to what the Law gave him not, than the great Turk had; they therefore opposed not an English Monarch, but an Invader and a Tyrant. Nor do I know of any People who threw off their Monarchy wantonly; and if they did it through Oppression, the Oppressor might blame himself s . Had he conquered his Subjects, what would he have gained, but the detestable Glory of a triumphant Oppressor; of seeing a rich Country reduced by servitude to poverty, and of bearing the curses of a free People oppressed? Whoever has beheld the condition of a great neighbouring Kingdom, naturally the finest in Europe, has seen in the condition of the Inhabitants, poor, pale, nasty, and naked, what genuine Glory their Princes have reaped, by reducing all the Laws of their Country into one short one, that of Royal Will and Pleasure.
Public Happiness only then certain, when the Laws are certain and inviolable.
IT is allowed that amongst the Roman Emperors, there were some excellent ones. But was not all this chance? They might have proved like the rest, who were incredibly mischievous and vile. They had nothing but their own Inclinations to restrain them; and is human Society to depend for security and happiness upon uncertain Inclinations and Will? They were good by conformity to the Laws, as Laws are the only defense against such as are bad. The bad ones had almost sunk the Empire to a chaos, before there appeared one Prince of tolerable capacity and virtue to retrieve it. Insomuch that Vespasian declared it to be absolutely necessary to raise a fund of above three hundred millions of money (of our money) purely to save the State from absolute ruin, and dissolution t . After Domitian there succeeded five good Reigns, during which Law and Righteousness prevailed, and the Emperors took nothing, neither power nor money, but what Laws long established gave them, and professed to derive every thing from the Law, and to occupy nothing in their own Name. But as the Emperor might still be a Tyrant if he would, that wild Prince Commodus resumed the old measures of violence, and, becoming a second Caligula, dissipated and overturned, in a few years, all the treasure, wise provisions and establishments, contrived and gathered by his Predecessors during the best part of a Century.
To conclude, if Princes would never encroach, Subjects would hardly ever rebel; and if the sormer knew that they would be resisted, they would not encroach. Every Subject knows that if he resist against Law, he will die by Law. It is certain mischief to both Prince and People, to assert slavish Doctrines, and no security to either; since nature oppressed will depart from passive principle. But to assert the reasonableness of vindicating violated Laws, is no more than asserting that Laws ought not to be violated, as they ever will be where there is no penalty annexed. The least attempt upon public Liberty is therefore alarming; if it is suffered once, it will be apt to be repeated often; a few repetitions create a habit; habit claims prescription and right. Such also is the nature of man, that when public Affairs are once disconcerted, it is hard, sometimes impossible, to restore them to their first firmness; numbers become engaged in the corruption, and will be trying all their Arts and Power to support it. Where it grows extensive and general, the public Authority will probably espouse and defend it; and even where that authority is against it, the torrent may be so strong as to bear down Authority itself. How many great and good men have fallen themselves while they strove to restore the State? attempts to reform the Soldiery, to reform the Clergy, to reform the Civil Administration, have often drawn down a tragical doom upon the authors of them. It is much easier to prevent than to cure.
[a ]Nunquam satis fida potentia, ubi nimia.
[b ]Non dominationem & servos, sed rectorem & cives cogitaret.
[c ]Vid.Phil. De Comines and Mezeray.
[d ]Omnia sibi in homines licere.
[e ]Pro me; si merear, in me.
[f ]Optime quidem; ea demum tuta est potentia, quæ viribus suis modum imponit. Theopompus i itur legitimis regnum vinculis constringendo, quo longius a licentia retraxit, hoc propius ad benevolentiam civium admovit. Val. Max L. 4. C. 1.
[g ]Nobis Romulus ad libitum imperitaverat.
[h ]Multi odio præsentium, & cupidine mutationis, suis quisque periculis lætabantur.
[i ]Quia pauci prudentia, honesta ab deterioribus, utilia ab noxiis discernunt; plures aliorum eventis docentur.
[k ]Instrumenta servitutis & reges habuere.
[l ]Solitudinem faciunt, pacem vocant.
[m ]Irritatus suppliciis.
[n ]Nihil æque Tiberium anxium habebat, quam ne composita turbarentur.
[o ]Magno dedecore Imperii, nec minore discrimine.
[p ]Solusque omnium ante se Principum in melius mutatus est.
[q ]See Herodian in Marc. Antonin.
[r ]Spretam voluntatem Principis, descivisse populum: quid reliquum nisi ut caperent ferium?
[s ]Quidam, postquam regum pertæsum, leges maluerunt.
[t ]Ut Respublica stare possit.