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PART 1: REPRESENTATIVE INSTITUTIONS IN ENGLAND, FRANCE, AND SPAIN, FROM THE FIFTH TO THE ELEVENTH CENTURY - François Guizot, The History of the Origins of Representative Government in Europe 
The History of the Origins of Representative Government in Europe, trans. Andrew R. Scoble, Introduction and notes by Aurelian Craiutu (Indianapolis: Liberty Fund, 2002).
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REPRESENTATIVE INSTITUTIONS IN ENGLAND, FRANCE, AND SPAIN, FROM THE FIFTH TO THE ELEVENTH CENTURY
Simultaneous development of history and civilization. ~ Two errors in our method of considering the past; proud disdain, or superstitious admiration. ~ Historic impartiality the vocation of the present age. ~ Divisions of the history of the political institutions of Europe into four great epochs. ~ Representative government was the general and natural aim of these institutions. ~ Object of the course; inquiry into the origin of representative government in France, Spain, and England. ~ State of mind appropriate to this inquiry.
Such is the immensity of human affairs, that, so far from exhibiting superannuation and decay with the progress of time, they seem to gain new youth, and to gird themselves afresh at frequent intervals, in order to appear under aspects hitherto unknown. Not only does each age receive a vocation to devote itself especially to a particular region of inquiry; but the same studies are to each age as a mine but little explored, or as an unknown territory where objects for discovery present themselves at every step. In the study of history this truth is especially apparent. The facts about which history concerns itself neither gain nor lose anything by being handed down from age to age; whatever we have seen in these facts, and whatever we can see, has been contained in them ever since they were originally accomplished; but they never allow themselves to be fully apprehended, nor permit all their meaning to be thoroughly investigated; they have, so to speak, innumerable secrets, which slowly utter themselves after man has become prepared to recognise them. And as everything in man and around him changes, as the point of view from which he considers the facts of history, and the state of mind which he brings to the survey, continually vary, we may speak of the past as changing with the present; unperceived facts reveal themselves in ancient facts; other ideas, other feelings, are called up by the same names and the same narratives; and man thus learns that in the infinitude of space opened to his knowledge, everything remains constantly fresh and inexhaustible; in regard to his ever-active and ever-limited intelligence.
This combined view of the greatness of events and the feebleness of the human mind, never appears so startlingly distinct as upon the occurrence of those extraordinary crises, which, so to speak, entirely delocalize man, and transport him to a different sphere. Such revolutions, it is true, do not unfold themselves in an abrupt and sudden manner. They are conceived and nurtured in the womb of society long before they emerge to the light of day. But the moment arrives beyond which their full accomplishment cannot be delayed, and they then take possession of all that exists in society, transform it, and place everything in an entirely new position; so that if, after such a shock, man looks back upon the history of the past, he can scarcely recognise it. That which he sees, he had never seen before; what he saw once, no longer exists as he saw it; facts rise up before him with unknown faces, and speak to him in a strange language. He sets himself to the examination of them under the guidance of other principles of observation and appreciation. Whether he considers their causes, their nature, or their consequences, unknown prospects open before him on all sides. The actual spectacle remains the same; but it is viewed by another spectator occupying a different place—to his eyes all is changed.
What marvel is it, gentlemen, if, in this new state of things and of himself, man adopts, as the special objects of his study, questions and facts which connect themselves more immediately with the revolution which has just been accomplished,—if he directs his gaze precisely towards that quarter where the change has been most profound? The grand crises in the life of humanity are not all of the same nature; although they, sooner or later, influence the whole mass of society, they act upon it and approach it, in some respects, from different sides. Sometimes it is by religious ideas, sometimes by political ideas, sometimes by a simple discovery, or a mechanical invention, that the world is ruled and changed. The apparent metamorphosis which the past then undergoes is effected chiefly in that which corresponds to the essential character of the revolution that is actually going forward in the present. Let us imagine, if we can, the light in which the traditions and religious recollections of Paganism must have appeared to the Christians of the first centuries, and then we shall understand the new aspects under which old facts present themselves in those times of renovation, which Providence has invested with a peculiar importance and significance.
Such is, gentlemen, up to a certain point, the position in which we ourselves are placed with regard to that subject which is to come before us in the present course of lectures. It is from the midst of the new political order which has commenced in Europe in our own days that we are about to consider, I do not say naturally, but necessarily, the history of the political institutions of Europe from the foundation of modern states. To descend from this point of view is not in our power. Against our will, and without our knowledge, the ideas which have occupied the present will follow us wherever we go in the study of the past. Vainly should we attempt to escape from the lights which they cast thereupon; those lights will only diffuse themselves around on all sides with more confusion and less utility. We will then frankly accept a position which, in my opinion, is favourable, and certainly inevitable. We attempt today, and with good reason, to reconnect what we now are with what we formerly were; we feel the necessity of bringing our habits into association with intelligent feeling, to connect our institutions with our recollections, and, in fine, to gather together the links in that chain of time, which never allows itself to be entirely broken, however violent may be the assaults made upon it. In accordance with the same principles, and guided by the same spirit, we shall not refuse the aid which can be derived from modern ideas and institutions, in order to guide our apprehension and judgment while studying ancient institutions, since we neither can, nor would wish to be separated from our proper selves, any more than we would attempt or desire to isolate ourselves from our forefathers.1
This study, gentlemen, has been much neglected in our days; and when attempts have been made to revive it, it has been approached with such a strong preoccupation of mind, or with such a determined purpose, that the fruits of our labour have been damaged at the outset. Opinions which are partial and adopted before facts have been fairly examined, not only have the effect of vitiating the rectitude of judgment, but they moreover introduce a deplorable frivolity into researches which we may call material. As soon as the prejudiced mind has collected a few documents and proofs in support of its cherished notion, it is contented, and concludes its inquiry. On the one hand, it beholds in facts that which is not really contained in them; on the other hand, when it believes that the amount of information it already possesses will suffice, it does not seek further knowledge. Now, such has been the force of circumstances and passions among us, that they have disturbed even erudition itself. It has become a party weapon, an instrument of attack or defence; and facts themselves, inflexible and immutable facts, have been by turns invited or repulsed, perverted or mutilated, according to the interest or sentiment in favour of which they were summoned to appear.
In accordance with this prevailing circumstance of our times, two opposite tendencies are observable in those opinions and writings which have passed a verdict on the ancient political institutions of Europe. On the one hand, we see minds so overpowered by the splendour of the new day which has dawned upon mankind, that they see in the generations which preceded, only darkness, disorder, and oppression,—objects either for their indignation or their contempt. Proud disdain of the past has taken possession of these minds,—a disdain which exalts itself into a system. This system has presented all the characteristics of settled impiety. Laws, sentiments, ideas, customs, everything pertaining to our forefathers, it has treated with coldness or scorn. It would seem as if reason, regard for justice, love of liberty, all that makes society dignified and secure, were a discovery of today, made by the generation which has last appeared. In thus renouncing its ancestors, this generation forgets that it will soon join them in the tomb, and that in its turn it will leave its inheritance to its children.
This pride, gentlemen, is not less contrary to the truth of things than fatal to the society which entertains it. Providence does not so unequally deal with the generations of men, as to impoverish some in order that the rest may be lavishly endowed at their expense. It is doubtless true, that virtue and glory are not shared in a uniform degree by different ages; but there is no age which does not possess some legitimate claim upon the respect of its descendants. There is not one which has not borne its part in the grand struggle between good and evil, truth and error, liberty and oppression. And not only has each age maintained this laborious struggle on its own account, but whatever advantage it has been able to gain, it has transmitted to its successors. The superior vantage-ground on which we were born, is a gift to us from our forefathers, who died upon the territory themselves had won by conquest. It is then a blind and culpable ingratitude which affects to despise the days which are gone. We reap the fruits of their labours and sacrifices—is it too much for us to hallow the memory of those labours, and to render a just recompense for those sacrifices?
If those men who affect, or who actually feel, this irreverent disdain or in difference for ancient times, were better acquainted with these times and their history, they would find themselves constrained to entertain a different opinion. When, in fact, we investigate the cause of this unnatural state of mind, only one explanation can be found. At the moment of grand social reforms, during epochs full of ambition and hope, when important changes are on all sides demanded and necessary, the authority of the past is the one obstacle which opposes itself to all tendency to innovation. The present time seems devoted to errors and abuses, and the wisdom of centuries is appealed to by one party in order to resist the future to which the aspirations of the other party are directed. Accordingly, a kind of blind hatred of the past takes possession of a great number of men. They regard it as making common cause with the enemies of present amelioration, and the weapons employed by these latter confirm this idea in their mind. Gentlemen, the notion is full of falsehood and misapprehension. It is not true that injustice and abuses alone can shelter themselves under the authority of antiquity, that they only are capable of appealing to precedent and experience. Truth, justice, and rectitude, are also graced by venerable titles; and at no period has man allowed them to be proscribed. Take in succession all the moral needs, all the legitimate interests of our society, arrange them in systematic order, and then traverse the history of our country;—you will find them constantly asserted and defended,—all epochs will afford you innumerable proofs of struggles endured, of victories won, of concessions obtained in this holy cause. It has been carried on with different issues, but in no time or place has it been abandoned. There is not a truth or a right which cannot bring forward, from any period of history, monuments to consecrate, and facts to vindicate it. Justice has not retired from the world, even when it finds there least support:—it has constantly sought and embraced, both with governments and in the midst of peoples, all opportunities for extending its dominion. It has struggled, protested, waited; and when it has had only glory to bestow upon those who have fought for it, it has bestowed that glory with a liberal hand.
Let us then, gentlemen, reassure ourselves with reference to the study of the past. It contains nothing which ought to alarm the friends of all that is good and true. It is into their hands, on the contrary, and in subservience to interests which are dear to them, that it will ever deposit the authority of antiquity and the lessons of experience.
This unjust contempt for ancient institutions, however, this wild attempt to dissever the present from its connexion with former ages and to begin society afresh, thus delivering it up to all the dangers of a position in which it is deprived of its roots and cast upon the protection of a wisdom which is yet in its infancy, is not an error of which we have been the first to give an example. In one of those ephemeral parliaments which attempted to maintain its existence under the yoke of Cromwell, it was seriously proposed to deliver up to the flames all the archives in the Tower of London, and thus to annihilate the monuments of the existence of England in former ages. These infatuated men wished to abolish the past, flattering themselves that they would then obtain an absolute control over the future. Their design was rejected, and their hope foiled; and very soon England, regaining, with new liberties, respect for all its recollections of the past, entered upon that career of development and prosperity which it has continued up to our times.
Side by side with this infatuation which has induced men, otherwise enlightened, to neglect the study of the ancient institutions of Europe, or only to regard their history with a hasty and supercilious glance, we have seen another infatuation arise, perhaps still more unreasonable and arrogant. Here, as elsewhere, impiety has been the herald of superstition. The past, so despised, so neglected by the one party, has become to the other an object of idolatrous veneration. The former desire that society, mutilating its own being, should disown its former life; the latter would have it return to its cradle, in order to remain there immovable and powerless. And as those lords of the future would in their own wild fancy create out of it, so far as regards government and social order, the most brilliant Utopias, so these, on the other hand, find their Utopia in their dreams of the past. The work might appear more difficult; the field open to the imagination may seem less open, and facts might be expected sometimes to press inconveniently against the conclusions sought. But what will not a preoccupied mind overcome? Plato and Harrington, giving to their thoughts the widest range, had constructed their ideal of a republic; and we, with still more confidence, have constructed our ideal of feudalism, of absolute power, and even of barbarism. Fully organized societies, adorned with freedom and morality, have been conceived and fashioned at leisure, in order thence to be transported into past ages. After having attempted to resolve, according to principles opposed to modern tendencies, the great problem of the harmony between liberty and power, between order and progress, we have required that ancient facts should receive these theories and adapt themselves to them. And since, in the vast number of facts, some are to be found which lend themselves with docility and readiness to the purposes which they are required to serve, the discoverers of this pretended antiquity have not lacked either quotations or proofs which might seem to give it an ascertained and definite existence in the past. Thus, France, after having spent more than five centuries in its struggles to escape from the feudal system, has all at once discovered that it was wrong in liberating itself from this system, for that in this state it possessed true happiness and freedom; and history, which believed itself to be chargeable with so many evils, iniquities, and convulsions, is surprised to learn that it only hands down to us recollections of two or three golden ages.
There is no necessity for me, gentlemen, to offer any very serious opposition to this fantastic and superstitious adoration of the past. It would hardly have merited even a passing allusion, were it not connected with systems and tendencies in which all society is interested. It is one of the collateral circumstances of the grand struggle which has never ceased to agitate the world. The interests and ideas which have successively taken possession of society have always wished to render it stationary in the position which has given it over to their rule; and when it has escaped from them, it has ever, in so doing, had to withstand those seductive images and influences which these interests have called to their aid. There is no fear that the world will allow itself to be thus ensnared—progress is the law of its nature; hope, and not regret, is the spring of its movement—the future alone possesses an attractive virtue. Peoples who have emerged from slavery have always endeavoured by laws to prevent enfranchised man from again falling into servitude. Providence has not been less careful with regard to humanity; and the chains which have not sufficed to confine it, are still less able to resume the grasp which they have lost. But the efforts of a retrograde system have often perverted the study of ancient times. The Emperor Julian saw in the popular fables of Greece a philosophy capable of satisfying those moral necessities which Christianity had come to satisfy, and he demanded that men should see and honour in the history of decayed paganism that which only existed in his dreams. The same demands have been made with as little reason on behalf of the ancient political institutions of Europe. Justice, and justice alone, is due to that which no longer exists, as well as to that which still remains. Respect for the past means neither approbation nor silence for that which is false, culpable, or dangerous. The past deserves no gratitude or consideration from us, except on account of the truth which it has known, and the good which it has aimed at or accomplished. Time has not been endowed with the unhallowed office of consecrating evil or error; on the contrary, it unmasks and consumes them. To spare them because they are ancient, is not to respect the past, but it is to outrage truth, which is older than the world itself.
If I am not mistaken, gentlemen, we are at this time in an especially favourable position for avoiding both of the general errors which I have just described. Perhaps few persons think so; but impartiality, which is the duty of all times, is, in my opinion, the mission of ours—not that cold and unprofitable impartiality which is the off spring of in difference, but that energetic and fruitful impartiality which is inspired by the vision and admiration of truth. That equal and universal justice, which is now the deepest want of society, is also the ruling idea which is ever foremost in position and influence, wherever the spirit of man is found. Blind prejudices, insincere declamation, are no longer any more acceptable in the world of literature, than are iniquity and violence in the world of politics. They may still have some power to agitate society, but they are not permitted either to satisfy or to govern it. The particular state of our own country strengthens this disposition, or, if you please, this general tendency, of the European mind. We have not lived in that state of repose in which objects appear continually under almost the same aspects, in which the present is so changeless and regular as to present to man’s view an horizon that seldom varies, in which old and powerful conventionalisms govern thought as well as life, in which opinions are well nigh habits, and soon become prejudices—we have been cast not only into new tracks, but these are continually interrupted and diversified. All theories, all practices, are displayed in union or in rivalry before our eyes. Facts of all kinds have appeared to us under a multitude of aspects. Human nature has been urged impetuously onwards, and laid bare, so to speak, in all the elements of which it is constituted. Affairs and men have all passed from system to system, from combination to combination; and the observer, while himself continually changing his point of view, has been the witness of a spectacle which changed as often as he. Such times, gentlemen, offer but little tranquillity, and prepare tremendous difficulties for those which shall follow them. But they certainly give to minds capable of sustaining their pressure, an independent disposition, and an extended survey, which do not belong to more serene and fortunate periods. The large number, and the unsettled character of the facts which appear before us, widen the range of our ideas; the diversity of trials which all things undergo within so short an interval, teach us to judge them with impartiality; human nature reveals itself in its simplicity, as well as in its wealth. Experience hastens to fulfil its course, and, in some sort, hoards its treasures; in the short space of one life, man sees, experiences, and attempts that which might have sufficed to fill several centuries. This advantage is sufficiently costly, gentlemen, to act at least as an inducement to our reaping it. It does not become us to entertain narrow views and obstinate prejudices; to petrify the form of our judgments by foregone conclusions; in fine, to ignore that diffusion of truth, which has been attested by so many vissicitudes, and which imposes on us the duty of seeking it everywhere, and rendering it homage wherever we meet it, if we would have its sanction to our thoughts, and its aid to our utterance.
In this spirit, gentlemen, we shall attempt to consider the ancient political institutions of Europe, and to sketch their history. While for this purpose we appropriate such lights as our age can furnish, we shall endeavour to carry with us none of the passions which divide it. We shall not approach past times under the guidance of such impressions belonging to the present, as those whose influence we have just deplored; we shall not address to them those questions which, by their very nature, dictate the answers which they shall receive. I have too much regard for those who listen to me, and for the truth after which I, in common with them, am seeking, to suppose that history can in any sense consent to suppress that which it has asserted, or to utter what is not affirmed by the voice of truth. We must interrogate it freely, and then leave it to full independence.
This study, gentlemen, requires a centre to which it may stand in relation—we must find for so large a number of facts, a bond which may unite and harmonize them. This bond exists in the facts themselves—nothing can be less doubtful. Unity and consecutiveness are not lacking in the moral world, as they are not in the physical. The moral world has, like the system of celestial bodies, its laws and activity; only the secret according to which it acts is more profound, and the human mind has more difficulty in discovering it. We have entered upon this inquiry so late, that events already accomplished may serve us as guides. We have no need to ask of some philosophical hypothesis, itself perhaps uncertain and incomplete, what, in the order of political development, has been the tendency of European civilization. A system which evidently, from a general view of the subject, adheres continually to the same principles, starts from the same necessities, and tends to the same results, manifests or proclaims its presence throughout the whole of Europe. Almost everywhere the representative form of government is demanded, allowed, or established. This fact is, assuredly, neither an accident, nor the symptom of a transient madness. It has certainly its roots in the past political career of the nations, as it has its motives in their present condition. And if, warned by this, we turn our attention to the past, we shall everywhere meet with attempts, more or less successful, either made with a conscious regard to this system so as to produce it naturally, or striving to attain it by the subjugation of contrary forces. England, France, Spain, Portugal, Germany and Sweden, supply us with numerous illustrations of this. If we look to one quarter we shall see these attempts after they have lasted for some time, and assumed an historical consistency; in another, they have hardly commenced before they issue in failure; in a third, they end in a kind of federation of the governments themselves. Their forms are as diverse as their fortunes. England alone continues these struggles without intermission, and enters at last into full enjoyment of their realization. But everywhere they take their place in history, and influence the destinies of nations. And when at last, no longer finding even the shadow of a representative government on the Continent of Europe, and beholding it only in the parliament of Great Britain, a man of genius inquires into its origin, he says that “this noble system was first found in the woods of Germany,” from whence the ancestors of the whole of Europe have all equally proceeded.2
In this opinion, as will be afterwards seen, I do not agree with Montesquieu; but it is evident, both from ancient facts and from those which we ourselves have witnessed, that the representative form of government has, so to speak, constantly hovered over Europe, ever since the founding of modern states. Its reappearance at so many times and in so many places, is not to be accounted for by the charm of any theory, or the power of any conspiracy. In the endeavour after it, men have often ignored its principles and mistaken its nature, but it has existed in European society as the basis of all its deepest wants and most enduring tendencies; sovereigns have invoked its aid in their hours of difficulty, and nations have ever returned to it during those intervals of prosperity and repose in which the march of civilization has been accelerated. Its most undeveloped efforts have left behind them indelible mementos. Indeed, ever since the birth of modern societies, their condition has been such, that in their institution, in their aspirations, and in the course of their history, the representative form of government, while hardly realized as such by the mind, has constantly loomed more or less distinctly in the distance, as the port at which they must at length arrive, in spite of the storms which scatter them, and the obstacles which confront and oppose their entrance.
We do not then, gentlemen, make an arbitrary choice, but one perfectly natural and necessary, when we make the representative form of government the central idea and aim of our history of the political institutions of Europe. To regard them from this point of view will not only give to our study of them the highest interest, but will enable us rightly to enter into the facts themselves, and truly to appreciate them. We shall then make this form of government the principal object of our consideration. We shall seek it wherever it has been thought to be discernible, wherever it has attempted to gain for itself a footing, wherever it has fully established itself. We shall inquire if it has in reality existed at times and in places where we have been accustomed to look for its germs. Whenever we find any indications of it, however crude and imperfect they may be, we shall inquire how it has been produced, what has been the extent of its power, and what influences have stifled it and arrested its progress. Arriving at last at the country where it has never ceased to consolidate and extend itself, from the thirteenth century to our own times, we shall remain there in order to follow it in its march, to unravel its vicissitudes, to watch the development of the principles and institutions with which it is associated, penetrating into their nature and observing their action—to study, in a word, the history of the representative system in that country where it really possesses a history which identifies itself with that of the people and their government.
Before undertaking this laborious task, it will be necessary for me, gentlemen, to exhibit before you, in a few words, the chief phases of the political condition of Europe, and the series of the principal systems of institutions through which it has passed. This anticipatory classification,—which is but a general survey of facts which will afterwards reappear before you and bring their own evidence with them,—is necessary, not only in order to clear the way before us in our study, but also to indicate the particular institutions and times which the point of view we have chosen for ourselves especially calls us to consider.
The history of the political institutions of Europe divides itself into four general epochs, during which society has been governed according to modes and forms essentially distinct.
The tribes of Germany, in establishing themselves on the Roman soil, carried thither with them their liberty, but none of those institutions by which its exercise is regulated and its permanence guaranteed. Individuals were free—a free society, however, was not constituted. I will say further, that a society was not then existent. It was only after the conquest, and in consequence of their territorial establishment, that a society really began to be formed either among the conquerors and the conquered, or among the victors themselves. The work was long and difficult. The positions in which they were placed were complicated and precarious, their forces scattered and irregular, the human mind little capable of extensive combinations and foresight. Different systems of institutions, or rather different tendencies, appeared and contended with each other. Individuals, for whom liberty then meant only personal independence and isolation, struggled to preserve it. Those who were strong succeeded in obtaining it, and became powerful; those who were weak lost it and fell under the yoke of the powerful. The kings, at first only the chiefs of warrior bands, and then the first of the great territorial proprietors, attempted to confirm and extend their power; but simultaneously with them an aristocracy was formed, by the local success of scattered forces and the concentration of properties, which did not allow royalty to establish itself with any vigour or to exert any wide-spread influence. The ancient liberty of the forest, the earliest attempts at monarchical system, the nascent elements of the feudal regime,—such were the powers which were then struggling for pre-eminence in society. No general political order could establish itself in the midst of this conflict. It lasted till the eleventh century. Then the feudal system had become predominant. The primitive independence and wild equality of individuals had either become merged into a condition of servitude, or had submitted to the hierarchical subordination of feudalism. All central power, whether of kings or of ancient national assemblies, had well nigh disappeared; liberty existed co-ordinately with power; the sovereignty was scattered. This is the first epoch.*
The second epoch is that of the feudal system. Three essential characteristics belong to it; 1st. The reduction of the mass of the people to slavery or a condition bordering thereon: 2nd. The hierarchical and federative organization of the feudal aristocracy, extending in its application both to persons and lands: 3rd. The almost entire dissolution of the sovereignty, which then devolved on every feudal proprietor capable of exercising and defending it; from whence resulted the feebleness of the royal power and the destruction of monarchical unity, which disappeared almost as completely as national unity. This system prevailed until the thirteenth century.
Then commenced a new epoch. The feudal lord, already possessed of royal power, aspired after royal dignity. A portion of the inhabitants of the territory, having regained somewhat of the power they had lost, longed to become free. The feudal aristocracy was attacked on the one hand by the enfranchisement of the townsmen and tenants, on the other hand by the extension of the royal power. Sovereignty tended to concentration, liberty to diffusion; national unity began to shape itself at the same time as monarchical unity appeared. This was at once indicated and promoted by attempts after a representative form of government, which were made and renewed during nearly three centuries, wherever the feudal system fell into decay, or the monarchical system prevailed. But soon sovereigns also began almost everywhere to distrust it in their turn. They could not behold with in difference that sovereignty, which after having been long diffused had been regained and concentrated by their efforts, now again divided at its very centre. Besides, the people were deficient alike in such strength and knowledge as would enable them to continue, on the one hand, against the feudal system, a struggle which had not yet ceased, and to sustain, on the other hand, a new struggle against the central power. It was evident that the times were not fully matured; that society, which had not thoroughly emerged from that condition of servitude which had been the successor of social chaos, was neither so firmly consolidated nor so mentally disciplined as to be able to secure at once order by the equitable administration of power, and liberty by the safeguards of large and influential public institutions. The efforts after representative government became more occasional and feeble, and at length disappeared. One country alone guarded and defended it, and advanced from one struggle to another, till it succeeded. In other places, the purely monarchical system prevailed. This result was accomplished in the sixteenth century.
The fourth epoch has lasted from that time to our own days. It is chiefly marked in England by the progress of the representative system; on the Continent, by the development of the purely monarchical system, with which are associated local privileges, judicial institutions which exercise a powerful influence on political order, and some remnants of those assemblies which, in epochs anterior to the present, appeared under a more general form, but which now con fine themselves to certain provinces, and are almost exclusively occupied with administrative functions. Under this system, though political liberty is no longer met with, barbarism and feudalism finally disappear before absolute power; interior order, the reconciliation of different classes, civil justice, public resources and information, make rapid progress; nations become enlightened and prosperous, and their prosperity, material as well as moral, excites in them juster apprehensions of, and more earnest longings for, that representative system which they had sought in times when they possessed neither the knowledge nor the power requisite for its exercise and preservation.
This short epitome of facts has already indicated to you, gentlemen, the epochs towards which our studies will be principally directed. The objects of our search are the political institutions of various peoples. The representative system is that around which our researches will centre. Wherever, then, we do not meet with those general institutions, under the empire of which people unite themselves, and which demand the manifestation of general society in its government—wherever we perceive no trace of the representative system, and no direct effort to produce it—there we shall not linger. All forms and conditions of society present rich and curious subjects for observation; but in this inexhaustible series of facts we must choose only those which have a strict relation to one another, and a direct interest for us. The second and the fourth epochs therefore, that is to say, feudalism and absolute power, will occupy us but little. We shall only speak of them so far as a consideration of them is necessary to connect and explain the periods which will more directly claim our attention. I purpose to study with you the first and the third epochs, and the fourth, so far as it relates to England. The first epoch, which shows us the German people establishing themselves on Roman soil—the struggle of their primitive institutions, or rather of their customs and habits, against the natural results of their new position—in fine, the throes attending the earliest formation of modern nations—has especial claims on our notice. I believe that, so far as regards political institutions, this time possessed nothing which deserves the name; but all the elements were there, in existence and commotion, as in the chaos which precedes creation. It is for us to watch this process, under which governments and peoples came into being. It is for us to ascertain whether, as has been asserted, public liberty and the representative system were actually there, whence some symptoms announced that they might one day emerge. When, in the third epoch, we see the feudal system being dissolved—when we watch the first movements towards a representative government appear at the same time with the efforts of a central power which aims at becoming general and organized—we shall recognize here, without difficulty, a subject which immediately belongs to us. We shall seek to learn what societies were then aroused, and by what means they have sought for trustworthy institutions, which might guarantee the continuance at once of order and of liberty. And when we have seen their hopes deceived by the calamities of the times, when we have detected in the vices of the social state, far more than in the influence of any disorderly or perverse desires, the causes of the ill-success of these magnanimous attempts, we shall be brought by our subject into the very midst of that people, then treated more leniently by fortune, which has paid dearly for free institutions, but which has guarded them to the last when they perished everywhere else, and which, while preserving and developing them for itself, has offered to other nations, if not a model, yet certainly an example.3
It would be a small matter for us, gentlemen, thus to limit the field of our inquiries so far as epochs are concerned, if we did not also assign some boundaries in respect to place. The inquiry would be too large and protracted were we to follow the course of political institutions throughout the whole of Europe, according to the plan I have just indicated. Moreover, the diversity of events and conditions has been so great in Europe, that, notwithstanding certain general characteristics and certain philosophical results which the facts everywhere present, they very often resist all the attempts we may make to bring them under any uniform guiding principle. In vain do we strive to collect them together under the same horizon, or to force them into the same channel; ever do they release themselves from our grasp in order to assume elsewhere the place assigned to them by truth. We should therefore be compelled either to limit ourselves to generalities yielding but little instruction to those who have not sounded all their depths, or else continually to interrupt the course of our inquiry, in order to rove from one people to another with an attention which would be continually distracted and soon wearied. It will be more profitable for us to take a narrower range. England, France, and Spain, will supply us with abundant materials for our undertaking. In these countries we shall study political institutions under the different phases and in the various epochs which I have just exhibited before you. There we shall find that these epochs are more clearly defined, and that the chief facts which characterize them appear under more complete and simple forms. In France and Spain, moreover, the general attempts after a representative government, made in the thirteenth, fourteenth, and fifteenth centuries, assumed a more definite shape. We are therefore dissuaded by a variety of considerations from carrying our steps beyond these limits. Our researches will thereby gain both in interest and in solidity.
This interest, gentlemen, I must say at the outset, is not that merely which attaches itself to human affairs, which are ever attractive to man, however trivial may be the attention which he bestows upon them. The study of the ancient political institutions of Europe demands serious and assiduous effort. I am here to share this with you, not to undertake it for you. I shall be frequently obliged to enter into details, which may appear dry at first, but which are important because of the results to which they lead. I shall not content myself with merely presenting before you these results as a general expression of facts; I shall feel called upon to put you in possession of the facts themselves. The truths which they contain must be seen by yourselves to proceed naturally from them, and must not be allowed a final lodgment in your minds except as they are fortified by such evidence as can establish them. Gentlemen, it is to be borne in mind that truth, wheresoever we may seek it, is not easy of access. We must dig deep for it, as for precious metals, before we find it; we must not shrink from the difficulties, nor from the long duration of the enterprise. It only surrenders itself to resolute and patient endeavour. And not only on behalf of our peculiar study do I urge upon you that you should never allow yourselves to be baffed by the fatigue attendant upon some portions of the work;—a more elevated motive, a more comprehensive claim, gives you this advice. Thrasea, when dying, said to his son-in-law, Helvidius Priscus, “Observe, young man: thou art living in times when it is well that the spirit should become fortified by such a scene as this; and learn how a brave man can die.” Thankful should we be to Heaven that such lessons as these are not now required by us, and that the future does not demand such hard discipline in order that we may be prepared to meet it. But the free institutions which we are called upon to receive and maintain—these demand of us, from our earliest youth, those habits of laborious and patient application which will constitute our fittest preparation. They require that we should, among our first lessons, learn not to shrink either from the pain, or from the length and arduousness of duty. If our destiny is to be sublime, our studies must be severe. Liberty is not a treasure which can be acquired or defended by those who set a disproportionate value on personal ease and gratification; and if ever man attains it after having toiled for it under the influence merely of luxurious or impatient feelings, it denies to him those honours and advantages which he expected to gain from its possession. It was the error of the preceding age that, while it aimed at urging the minds of men into a wider and more active career, it yet fostered the impression that all was then to become easy, that study would be transformed into amusement, and that obstacles were removed from the first steps of a life that was to issue in something great and impressive. The effeminate weakness of such sentiments were relics of the feebleness of times when liberty did not exist. We who live in the present day, know that freedom requires from the man who would enjoy it a sterner exercise of his powers. We know that it allows neither indolence of soul nor fickleness of mind, and that those generations which devote their youth to laborious study can alone secure liberty for their manhood. You will find, gentlemen, as you watch the development of the political institutions of Europe, that the experience of all ages confirms this of our own. You will not find that those grand designs that have been formed for the promotion of truth, justice, and progress, have ever emanated from the abode of sloth, of frivolity, and antipathy to all that demands labour and patience. As you trace back such enterprises to their source, you will always find there, serious aspect and grave determination, existing, so to speak, in their early life. Only by men formed in this mould have public laws and liberties been defended. They have, according as the wants of their age impelled them, resisted disorder or oppression. In the gravity of their own life and thoughts they have found a true measure of their own dignity, and, in their own, of the dignity of humanity. And, gentlemen, do not doubt, in following their example, of achieving also their success. You will soon become convinced that, in spite of the tests to which it has been exposed, our age is not among the most unrestrained that have existed. You will see that patriotism, a respect for law and order, a reverence for all that is just and sacred, have often been purchased at a far heavier price, and have called for severer self-denial. You will find that there is as much feebleness as ingratitude in the disposition that is intimidated and discouraged by the sight of obstacles which still present themselves, when obstacles of a far more formidable character have not wearied the resolution of noble men of former times. And thus, while early exercising your minds in all those habits which will prepare man for the duties of an exalted destiny, you will meet with nothing that will not continually deepen your attachment to your age and to your country.4
So far as I myself am concerned, may I be allowed, gentlemen, in entering with you today upon the study of the ancient political institutions of Europe, to congratulate myself on being able to approach the subject with the liberty that is suitable to it. It was in works of a similar character that I commenced my intellectual life. But at that time the public exposition of such facts and of the ideas related to them, was hardly permitted. Power had arrived at that condition in which it fears equally any representation of the oppression of peoples, and of their efforts to obtain liberty; as if it must necessarily meet in these two series of historical reminiscences at once the condemnation of its past acts, and the prediction of its future perils. We are no longer in this deplorable position; the institutions which France has received from its sovereign have liberated at once the present and the past. Such is the moral strength possessed by a legitimate and constitutional monarchy, that it trembles neither at the recitals of history nor at the criticisms of reason. It is based upon truth—and truth is consequently neither hostile nor dangerous to it. Wherever all the wants of society are recognised, and all its rights give each other mutual sanction and support, facts present only lessons of utility, and no longer hint at unwelcome allusions. The volume of history can now be spread out before us; and wherever we find the coincidence of legitimacy and constitutional order, we shall behold the prosperity both of governments and of peoples—the dignity of power ennobled and sustained by the dignity of obedience. In all positions, and however great may be the interval which separates them, we shall see man rendering honour to man; we shall see authority and liberty mutually regarding one another with that consideration and respect which can alone unite them in lasting connexion and guarantee their continued harmony. Let us congratulate ourselves, gentlemen, that we are living at a time in which this tutelary alliance has become a necessity—in which force without justice could only be an ephemeral power. The times to which we shall direct our attention experienced a harder lot; they more than once beheld despotism root itself deeply in its position, and at the same time saw injustice assert its claim to a lasting rule. We, gentlemen, who have seen so many and diversified forms of oppression—we have seen them all fall into decay. Neither their most furious violence, nor their most imposing lustre, have sufficed to preserve them from the corruption that is inherent in their nature; and we have at length entered upon an order of things which admits neither the oppression of force which usurps power, nor that of anarchy which destroys it. Let us, gentlemen, reap all the advantages connected with such an order:—let us show our respect for the distinguished author of this Charter by approving ourselves worthy of receiving, and capable of employing, the noble institutions which he has founded. Our gratitude can offer no purer homage.5
General character of political institutions in Europe, from the fourth to the eleventh century. ~ Political sterility of the Roman Empire. ~ Progress of the Germanic invasions. ~ Sketch of the history of the Anglo-Saxons.
I have divided the history of the political institutions of modern Europe into four great epochs, the first of which extends from the fourth to the eleventh century. This long interval was required to introduce a little light and fixity into the changeful chaos of those new empires which the successive invasions of the Roman territory by the barbarians had called into being, and whence issued those mighty states whose destiny constitutes the history of modern Europe. The essential characteristics of this epoch are: the conflict and fusion of Germanic customs with Roman institutions, the attempt to establish monarchical government, and the formation of the feudal regime. No general system of political institutions then existed; no great dominant influence can be discerned; all was local, individual, confused, obscure. A multitude of principles and forces, mingling and acting (as it were) by chance, were engaged in conflict to resolve a question of which men were completely ignorant, and the secret of which God alone possessed. This question was: What form of government would issue from all these different elements, brought so violently into contact with each other. Five centuries elapsed before the question was decided, and then feudalism was the social state of Europe.
Before entering, however, upon the history of institutions, let me say a few words upon the progress of the fall of the Roman Empire, and of the invasions of the barbarians.1
From the accession of Augustus to the death of Theodosius the Great, the Roman Empire, in spite of its greatness, presents a general character of impotence and sterility. Its institutions, its government, its philosophy, its literature, indeed everything connected with it, bears this sad impress; even the minds of its most illustrious citizens were confined to a circle of antiquated ideas, and wasted in vain regrets for the virtues and glories of the Republic. The fermentation of new ideas produces no decadence; but when, in a great empire, society, feeling itself oppressed and diseased, can conceive no new hopes, no grand ideas,—when, instead of pressing onwards towards the future, it invokes only the recollections and images of the past—then there is a real decline; it matters not how long the state is in falling, its ruin is thenceforward continuous and inevitable. The fall of the Roman Empire occupied fifteen centuries; and for fifteen centuries it continued to decline, until its downfall was consummated by the capture of Constantinople by the Turks. During this long period, no new idea, no regenerative principle, was employed to reinvigorate the life of the government; it was sustained by its own mass. Towards the end of the third century, when the universal servitude seemed to be most firmly established, imperial despotism began to feel the precariousness of its position, and the necessity for organization. Diocletian created a vast system of administration. Throughout this immense machine, he established underworks in harmony with the principle of his government; he regulated the action of the central power in the provinces, and surrounded himself with a brilliant and puissant court: but he did not rekindle the moral life of the Empire; he merely organized more perfectly a material resistance to the principles of destruction which were undermining it; and it was with this organization that, first in the West as well as in the East, and afterwards in the East alone, the Empire was able to struggle on, from the fourth to the fifteenth century. Theodosius the Great, who died in 395, was the last emperor who tightly held and skilfully managed the heterogeneous bundle of the Roman power. He was truly a great man; for great men appear in disgraceful times, as well as in times of success; and Theodosius was still the master of the Roman world. As soon as he was dead, the dissolution broke out, under his sons Honorius and Arcadius.* There was now no real unity or central force in the government; Rome gradually abandoned her provinces—Great Britain, Armorica,† and Narbonnese Gaul.‡ Honorius informed the Britons that he should govern them no longer; and directed the inhabitants of Narbonnese Gaul to elect deputies to meet at Arles, and take upon themselves the government of their country. The Empire had become a body destitute of sap and vigour; and in order to prolong the life of the trunk, it was necessary to lop off the branches. But, although despotism was withdrawn from these provinces, servitude remained. It is not easy to return at once to liberty and to political life; and these people, cast upon their own resources, were unable to defend themselves. Great Britain, though more populous than the north of Scotland, was unable to repel a few hordes of Picts and Scots, who, every month, descended from their mountainous abodes, and ravaged the British territory. The Britons besought the Emperor’s assistance, and he sent them a legion, which had no difficulty in overcoming enemies who fled before it; but it was soon withdrawn. After its departure, the incursions recommenced, and Britain again implored the Emperor’s aid. Honorius sent another legion; but told the suppliants that they must provide for themselves in future, for he would send them no more soldiers. The victorious legion left the country to return no more, and Britain, assailed on all sides by bands of barbarians, exhausted its energies in vain entreaties for deliverance. There still exists a letter, entitled Gemitus Britannum, in which the unfortunate inhabitants of that country depict their deplorable condition to Aetius, the Patrician of Gaul. “The barbarians,” they wrote, “drive us to the sea, and the sea drives us back to the barbarians; so that, between the two, we must be either slaughtered or drowned.” With patriotic susceptibility, some English writers—among others Mr. Sharon Turner, in his History of the Anglo-Saxons,* —have cast doubts upon the authenticity of this letter, as if the honour of England were at all involved in the weaknesses of the Britons of the fourth century. However this may be, and whether his aid were besought or not, the Emperor had other matters to attend to, and left the Britons to themselves. He abandoned, in like manner, Narbonnese Gaul and Armorica. This last province, which was less corrupted by the influence of Roman civilization, displayed greater energy than the other two. It took measures for its own defence, by forming a kind of federative league against maritime invasions. Spain, which was also deserted, endeavoured to maintain itself in the same manner against attacks of the same nature; but acted with little vigour, and met with small success. In Great Britain, as well as in Gaul, the Roman government had destroyed the energy of their native independence, and had substituted in its stead nothing but its own artificial and despotic organization. When the Romans withdrew, the children of the Gauls, inhabiting Roman cities, were incapable alike of self-government or self-defence, and fell an easy prey to a few bands of foreign marauders, who had come in search of booty and adventures. Let us briefly glance at the progress of their conquests.
No determinate epoch can be accurately assigned to the first invasions of the Germans. In all ages, their hordes were wont to descend from their forest-fastnesses into countries less wild and more cultivated than their own. Among their early irruptions, the first regarding which we have any precise historical information is that of the Cimbri and Teutones, who, three hundred thousand in number, ravaged Italy during the time of Marius.* From the age of Augustus to the fifth century, these invasions continued, but were very unequal in importance. Bands of men, unable to find means of subsistence in their own country, entered the imperial territory, and pillaged as they went; their fate was decided by the event of a battle; they were dispersed or annihilated by a defeat, or, if victorious, they took possession of some district which pleased them. Frequently, also, they settled in the country by the consent of the emperors. In the third century, Probus received three or four thousand Franks into Auvergne. A band of Alans took up their residence in the neighbourhood of Orleans; there was a colony of Goths in Thrace, and another of Vandals in Lorraine. Those of the barbarian warriors who preferred war and pillage to a fixed habitation, entered the Roman armies. Their chieftains became generals, and even supplied the imperial court with ministers of state. Thus the barbarians were everywhere settled in the country, serving in the armies, surrounding the person of the prince; formidable allies, whose assistance the weakness of the empire was forced to accept, and who were destined to increase in power and influence in proportion as the imperial power decayed.
As soon as the Roman government, by abandoning several of its provinces, proclaimed its inability to maintain its own integrity, the question was decided—the empire passed to the Germans. During the interval which elapsed between the beginning of the fifth and the end of the sixth century, they founded eight great monarchies, some of which were established by force, whilst others received the partial assent of the emperors.
In 409, the Vandals, Alans, and Suevi, after having ravaged Gaul, and crossed the Pyrenees, founded by armed force, in Spain, three monarchies, which were speedily incorporated into one; and this one, in its turn, was, ere long, destroyed by the Visigoths.
In 429, the Vandals passed from Spain into Africa, and founded a monarchy, which was overthrown by Belisarius.
In 414, the Burgundians founded a kingdom in Gaul, with the consent of the emperors.
In 416, the Visigoths penetrated into Southern Gaul, where they founded the kingdom of Aquitaine; and entered by the north-east into Spain, where they settled, after having destroyed the monarchy of the Suevi.
In 450, the Saxons, led by Hengist and Horsa, invaded Great Britain, and founded the Saxon Heptarchy.
In 476, the Heruli, under the command of Odoacer, founded a monarchy in Italy.
In 481, the Franks, with Clovis at their head, established themselves in Gaul.
In 568, the Lombards, under the command of Alboin, conquered Italy in their turn, and founded a monarchy.
I do not propose to write the history of these monarchies; but I shall endeavour to delineate their leading institutions and their social condition. In the first place, however, I shall say a few words on the method of their foundation. We must not suppose that there was, in every instance, a cession or complete abandonment of sovereignty by the Roman empire. The residence of a barbarian chieftain in the country was recognised as a fact. He continued to command his own warriors, but no legal authority was granted him over the old inhabitants. The cities long maintained their connexion with Rome; several of them remained municipalities, and continued to appoint their own magistrates. Several towns in Spain, while the country was under the dominion of the Visigoths, received their civic rulers from Constantinople. The emperors, though daily despoiled of some new territory, nevertheless retained, in almost every quarter, an appearance of empire. Thus we find them conferring on the Frankish kings the titles of Patrician of Gaul, and of Consul. This was their protest against the invasion. In scarcely any case was there a transference of sovereign rights. Societies, when abandoned by their government, either received a new one at the hands of the victor, or endeavoured to create one for themselves.
Among these rising states, I shall first refer to the Anglo-Saxons; then I shall pass on to the Franks; and, finally, to the Visigoths in Spain. I have selected these three nations, because, among them, the institutions of this period are most distinctly marked. The Anglo-Saxons, especially, were placed in a position most favourable for this rapid and complete development. Not only were they more isolated than other peoples; they were also less disturbed by continual invasions of a formidable character. They soon became sole masters of the country. The Britons were almost exterminated; some of them retired into Cornwall, Wales, and Armorica; the others were dispersed, or reduced to servitude. The Anglo-Saxons, moreover, were less under the influence of the old Roman institutions. Among modern nations, they are the people who, so to speak, have lived most upon their own resources, and given birth to their own civilization. This character is discernible in their whole history, and even in their literature. The Greek and Latin classics have produced but little effect upon them; primitive and national customs have maintained their sway in England, and received an almost unmixed development. Among the Franks and Visigoths, the old Germanic national assemblies were either suspended for a long period, or entirely transformed; among the Anglo-Saxons, they never ceased; year after year, they occurred to perpetuate ancient recollections, and to exert a direct influence upon the government. It was, then, among the Anglo-Saxons, that, from the fifth to the eleventh century, institutions received the most natural and complete development. This fact has induced me to commence our studies with their history.
Let me briefly refer to the events which occurred during the period of the Anglo-Saxon Heptarchy. From 426 to 450, the Britons, left to themselves, struggled as they could against the inhabitants of the north of Scotland. In 449, some Saxons from the banks of the Elbe disembarked upon the island. This descent was neither novel nor unforeseen. It was a fact so ancient, that the Roman emperors had appointed a magistrate—comes littoris Saxonici2 —whose special duty it was to provide for the defence of the coast. It is affirmed, and Hume has repeated the statement, that this Saxon expedition had been summoned by Vortigern, who was then chief of the Britons, to assist him against the Picts and Scots. This appears to me neither natural nor probable; and I find in the chronicler Nennius, a passage which completely disproves the assertion: “Meanwhile,” he says, “there arrived from Germany three vessels full of Saxon exiles.”* They came therefore spontaneously, according to their custom. The Britons, reduced to extremities by their untiring enemies, the Picts and Scots, endeavoured at first to use the Saxons against them. But the newcomers quickly discovered their strength, attempted the conquest of the country which they had promised to defend, and succeeded in their attempt. The Britons resisted, and even displayed somewhat of the energy of their ancestors, under King Arthur and other leaders. A long time elapsed before they were finally subjugated or expelled. During the period from 455 to 582, the Saxons founded the seven or eight kingdoms which composed the Heptarchy, or the Octarchy, as Mr. Sharon Turner maintains.† The kingdom of Kent was the first, founded by Hengist. The others were the kingdoms of Sussex, Wessex, Essex, Northumberland (or Bernicia and Deira), East Anglia, and Mercia. This division continued until the year 800. At that time, Egbert, King of Wessex, attempted to subjugate the other kingdoms, and succeeded in reducing five under his sway; but Northumberland and Mercia continued separate, though subordinate kingdoms, until the end of the ninth century.
It was at this period that the Danes and Normans made their way into England: they long contested the possession of the country with the Saxons; and, at the accession of Alfred, the last newcomers held sway almost all over the land. You are all acquainted with the history of this monarch, the greatest of the kings of England. In the marshes where he had been compelled to seek refuge from the pursuit of his enemies, he formed his plans for the deliverance of his country. Disguised as a harper, he entered the Danish camp for the purpose of learning the amount of their forces; and finally reconquered his kingdom, after a protracted struggle. Restored thus to his throne, Alfred laid the foundation of English institutions, or rather, he reduced them to order, and gave them authority. It is the custom, however, to date their origin from him; and his reign is an era in English legislation. Alfred is a glorious instance of a truth exemplified by Gustavus Vasa and Henry IV. of France in later times, namely, that the greatest princes are those who, though born to the throne, are nevertheless obliged to conquer its possession. To their acknowledged right they thus join ample proof of their merit. They have lived as common individuals in the midst of their people; and have thus become better men and better kings.
After the death of Alfred, the Danes, whose conquests had been suspended only by the victories of that prince, gained possession of England. Canute the Great took possession of the throne; but he reigned with moderation, and did not change the laws of the country. This wisdom on the part of the conqueror mitigated the animosity of the vanquished; and the Danes and Saxons agreed so well together, that, not long after the death of Canute the Great, the old dynasty re-ascended the throne. Edward the Confessor collected together the old Saxon laws; on this account, he is still respected in England as a national legislator. But the collection of laws which now exists under his name was not made by him; that which he composed has unfortunately been lost.
During the reign of Edward the Confessor, a striking exemplification was given of the power of some of the nobles, who were in fact, if not in right, rivals of their monarch. Earl Godwin was so powerful that he, so to speak, allowed Edward to ascend the throne, on condition that he should marry his daughter. At his death, his son Harold succeeded him, and increased his authority. Harold’s influence extended all over the kingdom, and he only awaited the king’s death to take possession of the crown. When Edward died, Harold naturally succeeded to throne. No one in England contested his usurpation. But William the Bastard, Duke of Normandy, one of his distant relations, alleged that Edward had bequeathed the crown to him by will. He crossed the sea to maintain his pretended rights, and, on the 14th of October, 1066, he gave battle to Harold, at Hastings. Harold was left dead on the field. William the Conqueror introduced into England the feudal institutions which were then in full vigour in Normandy. The reciprocal relations of persons might have conduced, in England, to the establishment of this system, and had prepared the way for it; but the legal and hierarchical subordination of land had not taken firm hold in that country. The conquest of William of Normandy disturbed the natural course of the old Anglo-Saxon institutions, and mingled therewith foreign elements which had already been developed, among the Normans, by their position in Gaul, in the midst of Roman cities, and a Roman population. We shall presently see what decisive influence this circumstance exerted over the political development of England.
Subject of the lecture. ~ A knowledge of the state of persons necessary to the proper study of institutions. ~ Essential difference between antiquity and modern societies, as regards the classification of social conditions. ~ State of persons among the Anglo-Saxons. ~ Thanes and Ceorls. ~ Central and local institutions. ~ Predominance of the latter among the Anglo-Saxons. ~ Its cause.
In my preceding lecture, I gave a general outline of the decay of the Roman empire, and of the progress of the barbarian invasions; and I enumerated the principal events in the history of the Anglo-Saxons in England. I now come to their institutions, which form the subject of my present lecture.
When we are about to speak of the institutions of a country at any given period, we must first understand what was the state of persons in that country at that period; for words are very deceptive. History, when speaking of the English nation or the Spanish nation, comprises under that name all the individuals who inhabit the country; but when we examine into the real state of the case, we quickly discover that the facts which history applies to an entire country, actually belong only to a very small section of its inhabitants. It is the work of civilization to raise up, from time to time, a greater number of men to take an active part in the great events which agitate the society of which they are members. As civilization advances, it reaches new classes of individuals, and gives them a place in history. The different conditions of society thus tend, not to confusion, but to arrangement, under different forms and in different degrees, in that superior region of society by which history is made.
The first question to be solved, then, is that of the state of persons; we must precisely understand which are those classes that really figure in history. Then will occur this other question: What are the institutions in accordance with which that political nation acts, which alone furnishes subject-matter for history?1
When we address the first question to antiquity, we find, as in Modern Europe, one great classification: freemen and slaves. But there is this difference that, in antiquity, slavery continued stationary and immutable. Its unchangeableness in this particular, was one of the principal characteristics of ancient civilization. Individuals were emancipated; but the great mass of slaves remained in bondage, everlastingly condemned to the same social nonentity. In Modern Europe, social conditions have been in a state of perpetual fluctuation; numerous masses of men have fallen into slavery, while others have emerged there-from; and this alternation of liberty and servitude is a novel and important fact in the history of civilization.
What was the condition of persons among the Anglo-Saxons? Here, as elsewhere, we at first perceive the two great divisions of freemen and slaves. The freemen, who are the only active elements in history, were divided into two classes, thanes and ceorls. The thanes were the proprietors of the soil, which was entirely at their disposal: hence the origin of freehold tenure. The ceorls were men personally free, but possessing no landed property. The thanes were subdivided into two classes; king’s thanes, and inferior thanes. This distinction is not merely a historical fact; the laws recognize these two divisions. The composition for the life of a king’s thane was twelve hundred shillings, while for that of an inferior thane it was only six hundred. Here, as in other states which came into existence at this epoch, punishment was made proportionate, not only to the gravity of the offence, but also to the rank of the person injured. By the substitution of an indemnity for retaliation, a step was taken by these peoples towards social justice. Early ideas of justice inflict evil for evil, injury for injury; but the highest point of its perfection is that decision of society which, embodying supreme reason and power, judges the actions of men accused of crimes, and acquits or condemns them in the name of the Eternal Justice. In the sixth century, society did not inflict punishment; life, like everything else, had its price; and this price was shared between the family of the dead man, the king, and the judge. The penalty of crime was as yet only the price paid for the renunciation of the right of revenge which belonged to every free man. Individuals who were injured, either in the possession of their goods, or in the life of their relatives, received a fixed composition from the guilty person.
I have pointed out the legal distinction which subsisted between the king’s thanes and the inferior thanes; but when we seek to discover what constituted the real difference of their condition, we find that this difference was very vague, and belonged to the time when they all led a nomadic life, rather than to their settled agricultural existence. In Germany, or on leaving Germany, bands, more or less numerous, united themselves to the company of some particular chief or king. After the conquest of a country, those chiefs who were nearest the king found themselves in a most favourable position for becoming large landed proprietors. These were called king’s thanes, because they belonged to the royal band. But there was nothing to separate them essentially from the other thanes. To be a king’s thane, it was necessary to possess about forty or fifty hides of land.* Bishops and abbots were admitted into this class. The inferior thanes were proprietors possessing less land, but able to dispose just as freely of their property as the king’s thanes. Some writers have asserted that the king’s thanes were the nobles, and that the others were simple freemen. An attentive examination of Anglo-Saxon institutions will prove that there was no such difference of position and rights between the two classes. It is a great error to expect to meet with clearly defined ranks and conditions, at the origin of society. Some writers, however, pretend to discover at the outset what time alone can introduce. We meet with no nobility, constituting a superior social condition, with recognized privileges: we perceive only the causes which will progressively form a nobility, that is, will introduce inequality of power and the empire of the strong. The formation of a class of nobles has been the work of ages. An actual superiority, transmitted from father to son, has gradually assumed the form and characteristics of a right. When societies have not been long in existence, we do not find in them social conditions thus distinctly marked, and the royal family is the only one that can, with any reason, be termed noble. It generally derives its title from some religious filiation; for instance, among nearly all the peoples of the north, in Denmark, in Norway, and in England, the kings descended from Odin; and their divine origin gave high sanction to their power.
Other writers have held that the relations which subsisted between the king’s thanes and the inferior thanes were of a different nature, corresponding to the feudal relations of lords and vassals. The king’s thanes, they say, were vassals of the king; the inferior thanes were vassals of the king’s vassals. We may certainly discover, in the connection of these two classes of men, some of the characteristics of feudalism. But feudalism, such as was established on the Continent as well as in England, after the conquest by William of Normandy, consisted essentially in the simultaneous hierarchy of lands and persons. Such were not the rudiments of feudalism discernible among the Anglo-Saxons. As yet, the only hierarchy existing among them was of persons. All the thanes held their lands in an equally free and independent manner. At a later period, feudalism received a more complete development; from the hierarchy of persons proceeded that of lands, and the latter soon predominated over the former. But this result was not manifested until after the Norman conquest. Before that period, there were no vassals properly so called, although the word vassus occurs in a biography of King Alfred. The causes which led to the subordination of persons, independently of their connection with land, are simple and may easily be conceived. When the barbarian chieftains entered the Roman territory, they possessed an influence over their companions which they endeavoured to retain after their settlement. The Saxon laws, with a view to bring this rude and floating state of society into an orderly state, provided for the maintenance of this primitive hierarchy; and compelled every freeman who had attained the age of twelve years, to enrol himself in some corporation of individuals, in a tithing or a hundred, or else to place himself under the patronage of a chieftain. This bond was so strong that the person who made the engagement could not absent himself without the permission of the captain of his corporation, or of his chieftain. A foreigner even might not remain forty days on the English soil without enrolling himself in this manner. This spirit of subordination, this obligation of discipline, is one of the principal characteristics of Anglo-Saxon legislation. All those kings who, after long-continued disorders, were desirous to reorganise society, exerted themselves to restore to vigorous operation these laws of police and classification. They have been attributed to Alfred, but he merely re-enacted them.
In my opinion, then, there is no legitimate ground for the doctrine that the relation of the king’s thanes to the inferior thanes, was a feudal relation. It was the natural relationship which necessarily arose, at the origin of society, between the various degrees of power and wealth. The poor and the weak lived under the surveillance and protection of those who were richer and more powerful.
As I have already observed, the freemen were divided into two classes—thanes and ceorls. I shall now speak of the second class. The ceorls were freemen who lived on the estates of the thanes, and cultivated them. Their free condition has been called in question, wrongly, as I think, for various reasons: 1st. The composition for the life of a ceorl was two hundred shillings, and the characteristic mark of his liberty is that a portion of this composition was paid to his family, and not to the proprietor of the estate on which he lived; whereas, the composition for the life of a slave was always paid to his owner. 2nd. In the early times of the Saxon monarchy, the ceorls were able to leave the land which they cultivated, whenever they pleased; by degrees, however, they lost this liberty. 3rd. They had the right of bearing arms, and might go to war; whereas, slaves did not possess this right. When Earl Godwin attacked King Edward, he armed all the ceorls on his estates; and, at the time of the Danish invasions, the ceorls fought in defence of their country. 4th. They were also capable of possessing property, and when they owned five hides of land they passed into the class of thanes, as did also merchants who had made three voyages to foreign lands. Hence the origin of the English yeomanry. The yeoman is the freeholder, who, possessing an income of forty shillings from land, votes at county elections, and may sit on juries; probus et legalis homo.2 5th. The ceorls were admitted to give evidence, only, it is true, in matters which had reference to persons of their own class: whereas slaves did not possess this right. 6th. Nearly all the ceorls were Saxons: we find in a canon of the clergy of Northumberland, that a ceorl accused of a crime, must bring forward as witnesses twelve ceorls and twelve Britons. The ceorls, then, were Saxons, and were distinguished from the ancient inhabitants of the country. It is impossible that so large a proportion of the conquerors should have fallen so quickly into servitude. We may rather feel astonished that they had no landed property in the country, which they had just conquered. But Tacitus, with the accustomed truthfulness and vigour of his pencil, makes us readily understand this circumstance. In the forests of Germany, the barbarian warriors always lived around their chieftains, who had to suggest and command expeditions in times of activity, and to lodge and support their men in times of repose. The same habits were kept up after the conquest of a country; the property acquired was not divided among all the victors. Every chieftain received a larger or smaller division of land, and his followers settled with him upon it. These men, accustomed to a wandering life, did not yet set a high value upon landed property. Being still harassed, moreover, by the ancient possessors of the soil, they found it necessary to keep together, and unite in their own defence. They formed species of camps around the dwelling of their chieftain, whose possessions, according to the ancient Saxon laws, were divided into two parts—inlands and outlands. And it is clear proof of the great difference then existing between the ceorls and the slaves, that the latter alone cultivated the land adjoining the habitation of the chief, while the ceorls, as a natural consequence of their personal freedom, tilled the outlands. This state of things, however, could not last long. A large number of the ceorls fell into servitude, and assumed the name of villeins (villani); while others acquired lands for themselves, and became the soc-men of England.
Summing up what we have said, we perceive, in the state of persons under the Anglo-Saxon monarchy, one great division into freemen and slaves: and, among the freemen, another distinction of thanes and ceorls. The thanes themselves are subdivided into king’s thanes and inferior thanes. The former are large landed proprietors, the latter hold smaller estates: but both classes possess equal rights. The ceorls are freemen, without landed property, at least originally. Most of them fall into a state of servitude. With regard to the slaves, we can say nothing except that they were very numerous, and were divided into domestic servants and rural serfs, or serfs of the glebe. The ancient inhabitants of the country did not all fall into servitude; some of them retained their possessions, and a law of King Ina authorized them to appear before courts of justice. They might even pass into the class of thanes if they possessed five hides of land.
The thanes alone, to speak truly, played an active part in history.
Passing now to the institutions which connected and governed these different classes, we find them to be of two kinds; central institutions, entirely in the hands of the thanes, the object of which was to secure the intervention of the nation in its own government; and local institutions, which regulated those local interests and guarantees which applied equally to all classes of the community.
At the origin of Anglo-Saxon society, there existed none but local institutions. In these are contained the most important guarantees for men whose life never goes beyond the boundaries of their fields. At such epochs, men are as yet unacquainted with great social life; and as the scope of institutions always corresponds to the scope of the affairs and relations to which they have reference, it follows that when relations are limited, institutions are equally so. They continue local, because all interests are local; there are very few, if any, general taxes and affairs of public concern; the kings live, like their subjects, on the income derived from their estates. The proprietors care little about what is passing at a distance. The idea of those great public agencies which regulate the affairs of all men, does not belong to the origin of societies. By degrees, in the midst of the chaos of the rising society, small aggregations are formed which feel the want of alliance and union with each other. They establish amongst themselves an administration of justice, a public militia, a system of taxation and police. Soon, inequality of strength is displayed among neighbouring aggregations. The strong tend to subjugate the weak, and usurp, at first, the rights of taxation and military service. Thus, political authority leaves the aggregations which first instituted it, to take a wider range. This system of centralization is not always imposed by force: it sometimes has a more legitimate cause. In times of difficulty, a superior man appears who makes his influence first felt in the society to which he belongs. When attacked, the society intrusts him with its defence. Neighbouring societies follow this example; soon the powers granted in time of war are continued in time of peace, and remain concentrated in a single hand. This victorious power retains the right to levy men and money. These are the rights of which the movement of centralization first deprives small local societies; they retain for a longer period the rights of administering justice, and establishing police regulations; they may even retain them for a very long while, and England offers us many such examples.
The preponderance of local institutions belongs to the infancy of societies.3 Civilization incessantly tends to carry power still higher; for power, when exercised from a greater distance, is generally more disinterested, and more capable of taking justice and reason for its sole guides. But frequently also, as it ascends, power forgets its origin and final destiny; it forgets that it was founded to maintain all rights, to respect all liberties; and meeting with no further obstacles from the energy of local liberties, it becomes transformed into despotism. This result is not, however, necessary and fatal; society, while labouring for the centralization of authority, may retain, or regain at a later period, certain principles of liberty. When central institutions have obtained too absolute a prevalence, society begins to perceive the defects inherent in an edifice which is detached, as it were, from the soil on which it stands. Society then constructs upon itself the exact opposite of what it built before; looks narrowly into the private and local interests of which it is composed; duly appreciates their necessities and rights; and, sending back to the different localities the authorities which had been withdrawn therefrom, makes an appropriate distribution of power. When we study the institutions of France, we shall be presented with the greatest and clearest example of this double history. We shall perceive the great French society formed from a multitude of little aggregations, and tending incessantly to the concentration of the different powers contained within it. One great revolution almost entirely destroyed every vestige of our ancient local institutions, and led to the centralization of all power. We now suffer from the excesses of this system; and having returned to just sentiments of practical liberty, we are desirous to restore to localities the life of which they have been deprived, and to resuscitate local institutions, with the concurrence and by the action of the central power itself. Great oscillations like these constitute the social life of humanity, and the history of civilization.
Local institutions among the Anglo-Saxons. ~ Divisions of territory; their origin and double object. ~ Internal police of these local associations. ~ Importance of the county-courts; their composition and attributes. ~ Complex origin of the Jury. ~ Central institutions of the Anglo-Saxons. ~ The Wittenagemot; its composition, and the principle on which it was based. ~ Increasing preponderance of the large landowners in the Anglo-Saxon monarchy.
In my preceding lecture I pointed out the causes of the special importance of local institutions, at that epoch in the development of civilization which now occupies our attention. I now proceed to examine into those institutions.
They were of two kinds. One class bound man to a superior, established a certain right of man over man, a personal pre-eminence and subordination, which were the source of mutual duties. On the Continent, this hierarchy of persons became the first principle of feudalism, which would perhaps have received only a very imperfect development in England, had not William the Conqueror transplanted it to that country in its complete state. The other class of local institutions bound men of equal rank to each other, regulated their mutual relations, and defined their reciprocal rights and duties. The first class marked a relationship of protection and dependence; the second summoned all the inhabitants of the same territory, possessing the same rights and the same obligations, to deliberate in common upon affairs of common interest. These were the predominant institutions of the Anglo-Saxons. Norman feudalism could not entirely abolish them.
At this period, England was divided into tithings, hundreds, and counties. This division has been attributed to King Alfred: he seems to be the founder of all the legislation of this epoch, because it all issues in a fixed and precise form from his reign; but he found it already in existence, and did nothing more than arrange it in a written code. He did not, then, originate this division of territory, which appears to be based upon the ecclesiastical partition of the country. After their settlement in Great Britain, the Saxons did not divide it into systematically determined portions, but adopted what they found already established. The portions of territory which were under the direction of the decanus,1 the decanus ruralis,2 and the bishop, formed respectively the tithing, the hundred, and the county. We must not, however, suppose that these names correspond precisely to realities. The tithings and hundreds were not all equal in extent of soil and number of inhabitants. There were sixty-five hundreds in Sussex, twenty-six in Yorkshire, and six in Lancashire. In the north of England, the hundreds bore another name; they were called Wapentakes.* Here the ecclesiastical division ceases, and a military circumscription prevailed, which still subsists in some counties. An analogous circumscription has continued to the present day in the Grisons, in Switzerland.
These divisions of the soil had a double object. On the one hand, they formed the most certain means of insuring order and discipline; and on the other hand, they supplied the inhabitants with the most convenient method for transacting their public business in common.
By a police regulation which I have already mentioned, every free individual, above twelve years of age, was obliged to enrol himself in a certain association, which he could not abandon without the permission of the chief. A stranger might not remain for more than two days with a friend, unless his host gave surety for him, and at the end of forty days he was compelled to place himself under the surveillance of some association. It is remarkable that the details of these laws of classification and subordination were almost the same in all those parts of the Roman Empire occupied by the barbarians—in Gaul and Spain, as well as in England. When one of the members of a special association had committed a crime, the association was obliged to bring him to trial. This point has given rise to much discussion among learned men. Some have maintained that the association was bail for its members, not only for their appearance before the court of justice, but also for the crime which they might have committed. I think that every Anglo-Saxon association was bound only to bring the culprit to trial. If he had made his escape, the association had to prove, sometimes by twelve and sometimes by thirty witnesses, that it knew nothing of his whereabouts; and it was fined only when it could not produce witnesses to prove that it had not abetted his escape. This obligation of every local corporation to pay for its guilty and absent members, existed also in Gaul at this time. The Gallic corporation was moreover answerable for the execution of the sentence: I do not think this was the case in England, where it was bound only to bring the culprit to trial.
The second object of this division of the land was to appoint centres of union, where the inhabitants might discuss matters of common interest. In every county, and in every subdivision of a county, the landowners held meetings, at which they deliberated upon the affairs of the local association to which they belonged. Originally, therefore, there existed not only county-courts, but also courts of hundred and courts of tithing, which frequently met. By degrees, as the circle of the interests of these little associations continually tended to become larger, the courts of tithing fell into desuetude. The courts of hundred survived for a longer period, and even now retain some shadow of existence. The Saxons, however, dispersed over the country, and busied with their warlike and agricultural labours, gradually lost the habit of attending these meetings. Having scarcely any written rights to defend, and being seldom disturbed in their dwellings, they lived without anxiety for a liberty which was never called in question. The principal guarantee of the liberty of individuals at that time was their isolation: the active surveillance which it requires, when government exercises a direct and frequent influence upon the governed, would have been to them a useless and fatiguing burden. It devolved upon the kings to compel them, as it were, to keep up their old institutions. Athelstane ordained that the county-courts should meet once in every three months. Few persons attended them, and it became necessary to grant further indulgence. The county-courts were allowed to assemble only twice a year. All holders of land were entitled to attend their meetings. The matters discussed were the internal administration of the county, the maintenance of roads and bridges, the keeping in repair of the forts which the Romans had constructed to defend the country against the invasions of the Picts and Scots, and which were still used for the same purpose. All public business was transacted in the county-court, under the presidency of the alderman. At its meetings, military forces were levied, justice was administered, and ecclesiastical affairs were treated of. All public acts, sales, manumissions, wills, were conducted before it, and the publicity of the assembly gave an authentic character to these deeds. Every act, however, was authenticated by a certain number of witnesses, and the deeds were afterwards transcribed and intercalated in the parish Bible.
In these meetings, also, we discern the origin of the Jury. When there was a trial to be decided, the alderman sent a number of freemen belonging to the same class as the contending parties, to the place where the dispute had occurred, in order to learn the facts of the case. These men were called assessors, and when they returned to the county-court, furnished with the necessary information, they naturally became the judges in the case which they had investigated. The contending parties publicly pleaded their own cause, and were obliged to prove their right by witnesses, compurgatores. It has been a question much debated whether the institution of the jury arose from these witnesses, or from the assessors. In my opinion, it was the product of neither exclusively, but of both combined. The establishment of a great institution has nearly always something complex about it. The jury came into existence in some measure spontaneously, from the amalgamation of the different classes of persons who combined to investigate and decide the case. Under the Anglo-Saxon monarchy, it was not a very clearly defined institution. It was not universally in practice, its rules were frequently infringed upon: and Alfred, who was the restorer of the ancient institutions of the country, hanged an alderman who had given judgment without the co-operation of his assessors.
The presidents of these different territorial subdivisions, of the county-courts, the hundred-courts, and the tithing-courts, were at first elected by the landowners. I do not suppose the choice was made by individual votes, but rather by a tacit consent given to the personal influence of certain men. Sometimes, however, to repair long disorders, and destroy the injurious consequences of this influence, the central authority interfered in the appointment of these magistrates. When Alfred had vanquished the Danes, he was desirous to reform the abuses which the troubles of war had introduced into the administration of justice; he assumed the right of choosing the centenarri3 and tithing-men, and this novelty was so far from being considered an usurpation of the rights of the nation, that contemporary historians praise the monarch for having given the people such good magistrates. The systematic conflict of the rulers with the ruled had not yet commenced; the limits of their respective rights and duties were neither fixed nor recognised, and as power was not yet extravagant in its exactions, the people did not feel their rights attacked; necessity, or temporary utility, were the tests which decided the value of a measure. We do not find that the kings who succeeded Alfred retained this right of appointment. Under Edward the Confessor, the county-magistrates were chosen by the landowners. The conquest of William the Norman destroyed, in great measure, these free customs. The alderman, the centenarius, and the tithing-man, disappeared before the feudal lords, or became feudal lords themselves. The assemblies of freemen, however, still retained the right of appointing their respective officers. The sheriff was substituted for the alderman, the centenarius merged in the high-constable, and the petty-constable took the place of the tithing-man. These were the officers of the people,—the municipal officers.
Such is a summary of the local institutions which, under the Anglo-Saxon monarchy, maintained the internal order of the state, and constituted the safeguards of public liberty. Vigorous institutions were they, which feudalism could not overthrow, and which produced, at a later period, representative government in England, although they did not contain, as you will presently see, the true principle of representative government.
Let us now pass to central institutions. Of these, there were two among the Anglo-Saxons: the national assembly, and the royal office.
Tacitus has described to you the general assemblies of the ancient Germans. At those meetings, nothing was decided without the consent of every freeman. Each individual possessed and exercised his own personal rights and influence. The influence of the chiefs was great. The leaders of their men in war, they became, when their conquest was completed, the principal, indeed almost the sole, landed proprietors, and thus they retained among themselves, although the others were not legally excluded, the practice of forming national assemblies. Each kingdom of the Saxon Heptarchy had its own, and it is probable that the thanes, or landowners, enforced the adoption and execution of the resolutions of this assembly, among the ceorls who dwelt on their estates. When the Heptarchy was combined into a single kingdom, one general assembly alone was established; and as its meetings were held in a central locality, at a great distance from many parts of the realm, the large proprietors were the only persons who were able to attend regularly. This assembly was called the Wittenagemot, or the assembly of the wise men. From historical documents, we learn that it was composed of bishops, abbots, abbesses, dukes, and earls; but we also find these words, the vagueness of which has given rise to very different explanations: “such a decision was taken coram proceribus aliorumque fidelium infinita multitudine.”4 Some learned men, who are partisans of absolute power, have inferred from this that it existed at the very origin of society; and they assert that the name of the assembly, Wittenagemot, was in itself sufficient to prove that it was composed only of the judges and delegates of the sovereign. Other writers, who are zealous advocates of the rights of the people, have held the opinion that this multitude of persons present were the representatives of the various counties and boroughs. I think that both these systems are false. As regards the first, it is evident that there was no distinct class of judges at this period; public functionaries were not then classified as they are now, and the expression wise men would apply equally to all those whose condition raised them above the ‘vulgar herd.’ With reference to the second system, I must say that no idea of representation was entertained at that period. Whoever was entitled to attend the assembly went thither, and went in person. No proxies were allowed. No one was permitted to enter the assembly in any name but his own. When we come to treat of the principles of representative government, we shall see that the formation of the ancient Germanic assemblies was based upon the principles of individual right, and of the sovereignty of the multitude—principles from which representative government did not take its origin. Besides, the towns at this period were in so miserable a condition, that it was impossible for them to appoint representatives. York, the second city in England, contained fourteen hundred and eighteen families, and Bath sixty-four. A law of King Athelstane declares that no one entered, or could enter, the assembly, except upon his own account; every proprietor possessing five hides of land, it says, and every merchant who has made three voyages to foreign countries, shall be numbered among the thanes, and be admitted as such into the Wittenagemot. The inequality of conditions, however, continued to increase. Those national assemblies, in which, originally, all freemen were entitled to sit, soon became, as you have seen, restricted to landed proprietors. By-and-bye, as power became centralized, and predominant influences gained greater strength, the small proprietors ceased to use a right which had lost all value to them, and the large landowners remained the undisputed masters of the field. The disproportion between the two classes was so great, that a contest was impossible. As each man sat in his own name, each man brought his own personal influence and private interests with him. The general assembly became an arena for individual disputes. This was the necessary consequence of a principle, which, by summoning all persons to exercise the same right, placed inequalities in that position which was most favourable to the development of their power and egotism. It is the work of a widely different principle to seek out among the masses the persons best fitted to represent them, to send these individuals to the central assembly to provide for the safety of all rights in the name of justice, and thus to prevent the evil consequences which must result from the natural or social inequality of mankind, by creating a factitious, but just, equality among their representatives, which leaves them only the legitimate influence of their talents and character. But the foundation of such a government is the work of ages. Nations, in their infancy, cannot possess it. The Anglo-Saxon monarchy was a continual conflict of individual interests, which was carried on in the Wittenagemot, as well as elsewhere, and its general tendency was to the continually increasing preponderance of large landed property.5
The Wittenagemot; its business and power. ~ Method of its convocation. ~ Vicissitudes of its character and importance. ~ The kingly office among the Anglo-Saxons. ~ Extent and progress of the royal power.
We have already considered the origin and composition of the Wittenagemot, or general assembly of the Anglo-Saxons, it now remains for us to speak of its attributes and method of convocation.
In the infancy of society, everything is confused and uncertain; there is as yet no fixed and precise line of demarcation between the different powers in a state; and thus we find that the attributes of the Wittenagemot were rather indefinite. There was no settled boundary at which its power ceased, and that of the monarchy commenced; both united to transact all the business of the nation, and, if we would ascertain the part actually taken by the Wittenagemot in this business, we must inquire of history what were its real attributes.
The defence of the kingdom was the chief business of the national assemblies. We must not suppose that the obligation of military service is coeval only with feudalism; independently of every feudal bond, it was an obligation imposed on every freeman in the nation, just as at the present day every French citizen is bound to present himself for conscription. The Wittenagemot ordered levies of the landowners, who, in their turn, convoked the freemen resident on their estates.
The Wittenagemot also imposed taxes; at that period, however, there were hardly any public taxes; the first was levied in consequence of the Danish invasion, and the law which imposed it expressly states that it received the consent of all the members present in the Wittenagemot.
The county-courts, as we have seen, provided for the maintenance of the public roads, bridges, and forts. We learn from the deliberations of the Anglo-Saxon national assembly, that such matters fell under its cognizance also.
As the right of coining money did not belong exclusively to the king, but was also possessed by the church and by many powerful subjects, the Wittenagemot had the oversight of this matter, and prevented the debasement of the coinage.
We also find it ratifying or annulling those acts of county-courts which had reference not to private matters, but to affairs of general importance.
The principle of the responsibility of the agents of power was not more clearly and firmly established in the Anglo-Saxon monarchy than the other great principles of free government; but it was, nevertheless, confusedly practised. A vague feeling of justice pervaded these national assemblies; they repressed great abuses, but frequently punished injustice by injustice.
The Wittenagemot in England possessed a power which was not generally exercised by corresponding assemblies on the Continent; it had the oversight of the royal domain. Originally, the kings lived, like other landowners, on the income derived from their own private estates. Their property was a private domain, which they managed as they pleased. As time rolled on, this domain became very largely augmented by confiscations; but the kings, compelled to defend their tottering authority from the frequent attacks to which it was subjected, were incessantly diminishing their estates by gifts to powerful and formidable chiefs. Frequently, also, when they were strong, they resumed the gifts which necessity had extorted from them. The little reliance to be placed upon these purely royal donations, unless they were ratified by the consent of the national assembly; and the knowledge that, if the king were permitted these forced dilapidations of his own domains, the Wittenagemot would one day be obliged to repair them, and compensate the monarch for the loss of his private estates—were the reasons which led to the interference of the national assembly in the administration of the royal domain. In France, this domain did not fall so soon under the influence of the national assemblies, but remained for a much longer period the private property of the kings.
One of the most important attributes of the Wittenagemot was the direction of ecclesiastical affairs. The abbots and bishops, indeed all the high clergy, were members of this assembly. In France, although the clergy formed a part of the national assemblies, they treated of their own affairs as a separate body, and communicated directly with the king. In England, ecclesiastical matters, like all other business, were discussed in the general assembly. For instance, when missionaries from Rome came to invite the kings of the Heptarchy to embrace the Christian religion, the kings replied that they must ask the consent of the Wittenagemot. In Sweden, the king, who had already become a convert himself, proposed to the assembled Diet to adopt Christianity. The Diet sanctioned the new religion, but retained the old creed, and this simultaneous practice of the two religions lasted for a considerable time. The Wittenagemot had not always to discuss such important matters as the conversion of the nation; it appointed bishops, and ordained or sanctioned the foundation of abbeys and monasteries.1
The last business of the Anglo-Saxon national assembly was to receive complaints and petitions in denunciation of abuses. It thus became sometimes a judicial court, adjudicating on the appeals of large landowners; but it seldom appears in this character: it was especially a political assembly, whilst, on the Continent, the national assembly frequently acted as a judicial tribunal.
I have now pointed out the various functions of the Wittenagemot, and you have been able, from the acts of that assembly, to form a tolerably accurate idea of it. As regards its convocation, originally its meetings were frequent, but in order not to fatigue its members too much, it became necessary to reduce the meetings to two, held in spring and autumn, as on the Continent. The right of convoking the Wittenagemot became, ere long, one of the prerogatives of the crown. This abandonment of so important a privilege is very characteristic of an age in which political prudence is unknown, and distrust is manifested only at rare intervals, and then by revolt. It seemed natural that the king, the direct centre of all the interests and necessities of the nation, should convoke the assembly for exigencies with which he was better acquainted than any other person; at his death, the large landowners assembled spontaneously, to deliberate on a change of dynasty or the arrangement of the succession.
The inviolability of the members of the Wittenagemot was recognized from the day on which they set out to attend the assembly, till the day on which they returned home again, provided they were not notorious brigands.
Summing up what I have said, the general assembly of the Anglo-Saxons, as of most of the German nations, was, in Germany, composed of every freeman; after the conquest, it consisted only of the landowners; and, towards the end of the monarchy, it was attended by none but the most wealthy proprietors. Each man came in his own right, and on his own behalf; according to a charter of King Athelstane, he might send a proxy in his place. This irrefragable mark of individual right still exists in England. In the House of Peers, every peer may vote by proxy and in his own name. It is from the Wittenagemot, in this last phase of its existence, and from the rights of suzerainty which Norman feudalism conferred on the king over the great barons, who held their titles directly from him, that the English House of Peers, as it now exists, derives its origin. In the Wittenagemot of the last age of the Anglo-Saxon monarchy, we can discern neither of the two elements which composed the House of Commons at a later period. The towns had hardly any existence, and could not, therefore, send deputies: the counties had never sent any. The Wittenagemot was only an assembly of the powerful men of the state, who came on their own account, and in their own personal right. Most other persons neglected rights which were too difficult for them to exercise, and the real impotence of which they felt; by neglecting to exercise them, they eventually lost them; and when the exigencies of liberty occurred to agitate a more advanced and less contented state of society, a new labour was necessary to restore to the citizens, rights which they had allowed to perish, through the want of necessity and capacity.
The second of the central institutions of the Anglo-Saxons, was the kingly office. An important fact has distinguished the formation of all states of Germanic origin, and this is, the speedy establishment of hereditary monarchy—which was the dominant character of this institution at this period, whatever mixture of election may be discerned therein. The causes of this are simple. In warlike tribes, there is, in war at least, a single chieftain; the man of greatest valour and largest experience, says to his comrades, “Come with me—I will lead you where you may obtain rich booty”; his proposition is accepted, and by common consent he becomes the leader of the expedition. Thus, at the origin of society, power is not conferred; he who is able to do so, assumes it by the consent of the others. There is no election properly so called, but only a recognition of authority. The leader who has conducted one or more fortunate expeditions, obtains great importance by success; his influence increases with time, and he hands down to his family the influence and power which he has acquired. This family, thus invested with an actual superiority, gains a natural habit of command, which the others soon grow accustomed to acknowledge. Among the Germans, moreover, the idea of religious filiation contributed powerfully to the establishment of hereditary monarchy. It was almost a national duty to choose kings from the divine race; and all the royal families were descendants of Odin.2
Thus hereditary monarchy prevailed among these peoples; but choice among the members of the royal family long existed. It was indispensably necessary that the king should be a capable man, in a state of society in which men were as yet ignorant of the artificial means which supply the deficiencies of royal incapacity. Thus Alfred himself did not simply found his right to the throne on a will of his father, and an agreement with his brother; but he based it especially upon the consent of all the large proprietors of the kingdom of Wessex. Force sometimes gave severe checks to hereditary right; but the usurpation of the throne was always associated with the idea of the violation of a right, and the usurpers invariably strove to atone for this violation, by marriage with one of the legitimate race.
The kings, under the Anglo-Saxon monarchy, were at first called Heretogs, leaders of armies; but it is a mistake to explain and limit their prerogatives by the name which they bore. The power of arms was then so great, and all other powers seemed so inferior and subject to it, that they all fell under the generic term which contained within itself nearly every idea of force and empire. The most different powers were embraced under this single denomination, and we must not suppose that the kings limited their functions to those which it seems to indicate; the Anglo-Saxon kings were not merely military leaders; they managed all the internal administration of the realm, in concert with the Wittenagemot. Their attributes were not more determinate than those of that assembly. With it, they directed all the affairs of the nation; and their surveillance, being perpetual, was more close and active. They were addressed as the highest authority, and also as possessing the most information on public affairs. Thus the right of presiding over the general assemblies and proposing the subjects for deliberation, belonged exclusively to them.
The royal authority, however, not being sustained by a strong and regular organization, decreased in power in proportion as the great proprietors increased in influence and became firmly established in their domains. Towards the end of the Anglo-Saxon monarchy, the large landowners, sole masters on their own estates, began to do everything by themselves. They coined money, administered justice, and levied soldiers. And we must not imagine that this assumption of sovereign rights by local chieftains was regarded, by the people, as an act of iniquity and violence: it was a necessity of the social condition of the country. Royalty was no more capable of wielding all the central power, than the nation was of maintaining and exercising all its liberties.
The true principle of representative government. ~ Error of classifying governments according to their external forms. ~ Montesquieu’s error with respect to the origin of the representative system. ~ Necessary correlation and simultaneous formation of society and government. ~ Rousseau’s mistaken hypothesis of the social contract. ~ The nature of rightful sovereignty. ~ Confused and contradictory ideas entertained on this subject. ~ Societies, as individuals, possess the right of being placed under laws of justice and reason. ~ Governments ought to be continually reminded of their obligation to inquire into and conform to these laws. ~ Classification of governments on this principle.
I propose to examine the political institutions of modern Europe in their early infancy, and to seek what they have in common with the representative system of government. My object will be to learn whether this form of government had then attained to any degree of development, or even existed only in germ; at what times, and in what places it first appeared, where and under what circumstances it prospered or failed. I have just examined the primitive institutions of the Anglo-Saxons. Before leaving our consideration of England, it might be well for me to compare these institutions with the essential type of representative government, in order to see how they agree and in what they differ. But this type is not yet in our possession. In order to find it I shall revert to the essential principle of representative government, to the original ideas out of which it springs; and I shall compare this idea with the fundamental idea that underlies Anglo-Saxon institutions.
The human mind is naturally led to judge of the nature of things, and to classify them according to their exterior forms; accordingly, governments have almost invariably been arranged according to distinctions which do not at all belong to their inherent character. Wherever none of those positive institutions have been immediately recognized which according to our present notions, represent and guarantee political liberty, it has been thought that no liberty could exist, and that power must be absolute. But in human affairs, various elements are mingled: nothing exists in a simple and pure state. As some traces of absolute power are to be found at the basis of free governments, so also some liberty has existed under governments to all appearance founded on absolutism. No form of society is completely devoid of reason and justice—for were all reason and justice to be withdrawn, society would perish. We may sometimes see governments of apparently the most opposite character produce the same effects. During the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, representative government raised England to the highest elevation of moral and material prosperity; and France, during that same period, increased in splendour, wealth, and enlightenment, under an absolute monarchy. I do not intend by this to insinuate the impression that forms of government are unimportant, and that all produce results of equal quality and value; I merely wish to hint that we should not appreciate them by only a few of their results, or by their exterior indications. In order fully to appreciate a government, we must penetrate into its essential and constituent principles. We shall then perceive that many governments which differ considerably in their forms, are referable to the same principles; and that others which appear to resemble one another in their forms, are in fundamental respects different. Wherever elections and assemblies have presented themselves to view, it has been thought that the elements of a representative system were to be found. Montesquieu, looking at representative government in England, endeavoured to trace it back to the old Germanic institutions. “This noble system,” he says, “originated in the woods.” Appearances deceived Montesquieu; he merely took into consideration the exterior characteristics of representative government, not its true principles and its true tendencies. That is a superficial and false method which classifies governments according to their exterior characteristics; making monarchy, government by one individual; aristocracy, government by several; democracy, government by the people, the sovereignty of all. This classification, which is based only upon one particular fact, and upon a certain material shape which power assumes, does not go to the heart of those questions, or rather of that question, by the solution of which the nature and tendency of governments is determined. This question is, “What is the source of the sovereign power, and what is its limit? Whence does it come, and where does it stop?” In the answer to this question is involved the real principle of government; for it is this principle whose influence, direct or indirect, latent or obvious, gives to societies their tendency and their fate.1
Where are we to look for this principle? Is it a mere conventional arrangement by man? Is its existence anterior to that of society?
The two facts—society and government—mutually imply one another; society without government is no more possible than government without society. The very idea of society necessarily implies that of rule, of universal law, that is to say, of government.
What then is the first social law? I hasten to pronounce it: it is justice, reason, a rule of which every man has the germ within his own breast. If man only yields to a superior force, he does not truly submit to the law; there is no society and no government. If in his dealings with his fellows, man obeys not only force, but also a law, then society and government exist. In the abnegation of force, and obedience to law, consists the fundamental principle of society and government. In the absence of these two conditions, neither society nor government can be properly said to exist.
This necessary coexistence of society and government shows the absurdity of the hypothesis of the social contract. Rousseau presents us with the picture of men already united together into a society, but without rule, and exerting themselves to create one; as if society did not itself presuppose the existence of a rule to which it was indebted for its existence. If there is no rule, there is no society; there are only individuals united and kept together by force. This hypothesis then, of a primitive contract, as the only legitimate source of social law, rests upon an assumption that is necessarily false and impossible.
The opposite hypothesis, which places the origin of society in the family and in the right of the father over his children, is less objectionable, but it is incomplete. There is, certainly, a form of society among parents and their rising offspring; but it is a society in some sort unilateral, and of which one of the parties has not any true consciousness. Society, whether in the family or out of the family, is only complete when all its members, those who command as well as those who obey, recognize, more or less vaguely, a certain superior rule, which is neither the arbitrary caprice of will, nor the effect of force alone. The idea of society, therefore, implies necessarily another idea, that of government; and the idea of government contains in it two others, the idea of a collection of individuals, and that of a rule which is applicable to them,—a rule which constitutes the right of the government itself; a rule which the individuals who submit to it have not themselves created, and to which they are morally bound to submit. No government ever totally disregarded this supreme rule, none ever proclaimed force or caprice as the only law of society. In seeking the principle of government, we have found the principle of social right to be the primary source of all legitimate sovereignty. In this law of laws, in this rule of all government, resides the principle of government.
Two important questions now present themselves. How is the law formed, and how is it applied? In this lies the distinctive character of the various forms of government; in this they differ.
Even until modern times, the belief has prevailed that the primitive and absolute right of law-making, that is, the right of sovereignty, resides in some portion of society, whether this right be vested in a single man, in several, or in all;—an opinion which has been constantly contradicted by facts, and which cannot bear the test of reason. The right of determining and enforcing a rule, is the right to absolute power; that force which possesses this right inherently, possesses absolute power, that is to say, the right of tyranny. Take the three great forms of government, monarchy, aristocracy, and democracy, and see if a case can be found in which the right of sovereignty was held by one, by several or by all, in which tyranny did not necessarily arise. Facts have been logically correct,—they have inferred from the principle its necessary consequence.
Such, however, is the force of truth, that this error could not reign alone and absolutely. At the very time when men appeared to believe, and did theoretically believe, that the primitive and absolute power of giving law belonged to some one, whether monarch, senate, or people, at the same time they struggled against that principle. At all times men have endeavoured to limit the power which they regarded as perfectly legitimate. Never has a force, although invested with the right of sovereignty, been allowed to develop that right to its full extent. The janissaries in Turkey sometimes served, sometimes abrogated, the absolute power of the Sultan. In democracies, where the right of sovereignty is vested in popular assemblies, efforts have been continually made to oppose conditions, obstacles, and limits to that sovereignty. Always, in all governments which are absolute in principle, some kind of protest has been made against the principle. Whence comes this universal protest? We might, looking merely at the surface of things, be tempted to say that it is only a struggle of powers. This has existed without doubt, but another and a grander element has existed along with it; there is an instinctive sense of justice and reason dwelling in every human spirit. Tyranny has been opposed, whether it were the tyranny of individuals or of multitudes, not only by a consciousness of power, but by a sentiment of right. It is this consciousness of justice and right, that is to say, of a rule independent of human will—a consciousness often obscure but always powerful—which, sooner or later, rouses and assists men to resist all tyranny, whatever may be its name and form. The voice of humanity, then, has proclaimed that the right of sovereignty vested in men, whether in one, in many, or in all, is an iniquitous lie.
If, then, the right of sovereignty cannot be vested in any one man, or collection of men, where does it reside, and what is the principle on which it rests?
In his interior life—in his dealings with himself, if I may be allowed the expression, as well as in his exterior life, and in his dealings with his fellows—the man who feels himself free and capable of action, has ever a glimpse of a natural law by which his action is regulated. He recognises a something which is not his own will, and which must regulate his will. He feels himself bound by reason or morality to do certain things; he sees, or he feels that there are certain things which he ought or ought not to do. This something is the law which is superior to man, and made for him—the divine law. The true law of man is not the work of man; he receives, but does not create it; even when he submits to it, it is not his own—it is beyond and above him.
Man does not always submit; in the exercise of his free will and imperfect nature, he does not invariably obey this law. He is influenced by other principles of action than this, and although he perceives that the motives which impel him are vicious, nevertheless he often yields to them. But whether he obey or not, the supreme law for man is always existent—in his wildest dreams he recognises it, as placed above him.
We see, then, the individual always in presence of a law,—one which he did not create, but which asserts its claim over him, and never abandons him. If he enters into society with his fellows, or finds himself thus associated, what other rule than this will he possess? Should human society involve an abdication of human nature? No; man in society must and does remain essentially the same as in his individual capacity; and as society is nothing but a collection of individuals, the supreme law of society must be the same as that which exercises a rightful control over individuals themselves.
Here, then, have we discovered the true law of society—the law of government—it is the same law as that which binds individuals. And as, for an individual, the true law is often obscure, and as the individual, even when he knows it thoroughly, does not always follow it implicitly; in the same manner with regard to government, whatever it may be, its true law—which must ever reach it through the medium of the human mind, which is ever biassed by passion and limited by frailty—is neither at all times apprehended nor always obeyed. It is then impossible to attribute to one man or to several the possession of an inherent right to sovereignty, since this would be to suppose that their ideas and inclinations were in all cases correspondent to the dictates of justice and of reason—a supposition which the radical imperfection of our nature will not allow us for a moment to admit.
It is, however, owing to the same imperfection that men have accepted, or rather created for themselves, idols and tyrants. A law ready made for them has appeared more convenient than that laborious and unremitting search after reason and justice which they felt themselves obliged to undertake by the imperious voice of that conscience which they could not entirely silence. Nevertheless, men have never been able entirely to deceive their conscience, or to stifle its utterances. Conscience defeats all the arrangements of human ignorance or in difference, and forces men to fight for themselves despite their own unwillingness. Never, in fact, have men fully accepted the sovereignty, the right of which they have admitted; and the impossibility of their thus consenting to it, plainly indicates the superhuman principle which sovereignty involves. In this principle we must seek for the true distinction between governments.
The classification which I am about to present is not, then, one that is merely arbitrary and factitious; it does not concern the exterior forms, but the essential nature of governments. I distinguish two kinds. First, there are those which attribute sovereignty as a right belonging exclusively to individuals, whether one, many, or all those composing a society; and these are, in principle, the founders of despotism, although facts always protest more or less strongly against the principle; and absolute obedience on the one hand, and absolute power on the other, never exist in full vigour. The second class of governments is founded on the truth that sovereignty belongs as a right to no individual whatever, since the perfect and continued apprehension, the fixed and inviolable application of justice and of reason, do not belong to our imperfect nature.
Representative government rests upon this truth. I do not say that it has been founded upon the full reflective acknowledgment of the principle in the form in which I have stated it. Governments do not, any more than great poems, form themselves on an a priori model, and in accordance with defined precepts. What I affirm is, that representative government does not attribute sovereignty as inherently residing in any person,—that all its powers are directed to the discovery and faithful fulfilment of that rule which ought ever to govern their action, and that the right of sovereignty is only recognised on the condition that it should be continually justified.
Pascal has said, “Plurality which does not reduce itself to unity, is confusion. Unity which is not the result of plurality, is tyranny.” This is the happiest expression and the most exact definition of representative government. The plurality is society; the unity is truth, is the united force of the laws of justice and reason, which ought to govern society. If society remains in the condition of plurality, if isolated wills do not combine under the guidance of common rules, if they do not all equally recognise justice and reason, if they do not reduce themselves to unity, there is no society, there is only confusion. And the unity which does not arise from plurality, which has been violently imposed upon it by one or many, whatever may be their number, in virtue of a prerogative which they appropriate as their exclusive possession, is a false and arbitrary unity; it is tyranny. The aim of representative government is to oppose a barrier at once to tyranny and to confusion, and to bring plurality to unity by presenting itself for its recognition and acceptance.2
Let us now see, in the central fact of this method of government, by what means it arrives at its end, and under what forms its principle is developed.
Representative government, wherever it has existed or does exist, is composed of different elements of power, equal among themselves, although one of them, the monarchical or the democratic, ordinarily retains certain peculiar rights. The number and form of these powers are not necessarily determinate or equal; in France, at the present time, there are three, the royal power, the House of Peers, and the Chamber of Deputies. These three powers emanate from different sources, and result from different social necessities. Neither of them, isolated from the rest, possesses a right of sovereignty: it is required of them that they seek the legitimate rule in common, and they are supposed to possess it only when they have found it in a united deliberation, before or after action. Society owes submission to this rule, thus discovered; but as these powers are not all fixed and immutable, so the sovereignty of right does not reside constantly among them. The elective principle, which is by its very nature changeful, can alter its idea and purpose, and exercise upon the other powers an influence that is periodically variable. If the different powers do not agree, they reduce themselves immediately to inaction. The sovereignty which exists in its own right then seems to hesitate to show itself, and government remains in suspense. In order to extricate it from this state, the right has been reserved to royalty of creating peers, and of dissolving the Chamber of Deputies. The powers then proceed afresh to seek for the true law, a work in which they ought not to rest until they have found it. Thus, no power is judged to possess fully the legitimate rule, which is rightfully the principle of sovereignty. The electors themselves are not its absolute interpreters, any more than are the peers, the deputies, or the king. The electors do not say at the outset to their deputies, “Such is our will: let that be the law.” They enjoin upon them nothing precise; they simply confer upon them the mission of examining and deciding according to their reason. They must necessarily trust in the enlightenment of those whom they elect; election is a trial imposed on those who aspire to political power, and a sovereign but limited right exercised by those who confer political power upon such of the claimants as they may select.
From the political powers thus attributed to certain classes, let us now pass to the political rights which are vaguely distributed in the nation. These rights are among the essential conditions of representative government. The publicity of the debates in the deliberative assemblies imposes upon these powers the necessity of commending themselves to that sense of reason and justice which belongs to all, in order that every citizen may be convinced that their inquiries have been made with fidelity and intelligence, and that, knowing wherein they are deficient, he may himself have the opportunity, if he has the capacity, to indicate the remedy. Liberty opens up a career for this inquiry. In this way, every citizen may aid in the discovery of the true law. Thus does a representative government impel the whole body of society—those who exercise power, and those who possess rights—to enter upon a common search after reason and justice; it invites the multitude to reduce itself to unity, and it brings forth unity from the midst of plurality. The public powers—royalty, the deliberative houses, the electors—are bound and incessantly made to return to this work, by the essential nature of their relations, and by the laws of their action. Private citizens even can cooperate, by virtue of the publicity of the debates, and the liberty of the press.3
I might pursue this idea, and show that all the institutions which are regarded as inherent in representative government, even those which have not been regarded as assisting in the search for those general rules which ought to preside in the conduct of government, are derived from the same principle, and tend to the same result. The publicity of judicial proceedings, and those who compose the jury, for example, supply a guarantee for the legitimate application of the law to particular cases. But our present concern is especially to determine the principle of those essential combinations by which a representative government is constituted; they all proceed evidently from this fact, that no individual is fully acquainted with and invariably consents to that reason, truth and justice, which can alone confer the right of sovereignty, and which ought to be the rule of sovereignty as actually exercised. They compel all powers to seek for this rule, and give to all citizens the right of assisting in this research, by taking cognizance of the mode in which the powers proceed to it, and in declaring themselves what they conceive to be the dictates of justice and of truth. In other words, to sum up what I have said, representative government rests in reality upon the following series of ideas. All power which exists as a fact, must, in order to become a right, act according to reason, justice, and truth, the sole sources of right. No man, and no body of men, can know and perform fully all that is required by reason, justice, and truth; but they have the faculty to discover it, and can be brought more and more to conform to it in their conduct. All the combinations of the political machine then ought to tend, on the one hand, to extract whatever of reason, justice, or truth, exists in society, in order to apply it to the practical requirements of government; and, on the other hand, to promote the progress of society in reason, justice, and truth, and constantly to embody this progress of society in the actual structure of the government.
Comparison of the principles of different governments with the true principle of representative government. ~ Aristocratic governments. ~ Origin and history of the word aristocracy. ~ Principle of this form of government; its consequences. ~ How the principle of representative government enters into aristocratic governments. ~ Democratic governments. ~ Origin and consequences of the principle of the sovereignty of the people. ~ This principle not identical with that of representative government. ~ In what sense representative government is the government of the majority.
I have, in my previous lecture, shown the error of those superficial classifications which only distinguish governments according to their exterior characteristics; I have recognised and separated with precision between the two opposite principles, which are, both of them, the basis of all government; I have identified representative government with one of these principles; I have proved that it could not be deduced from the other; I wish now to compare the principle of representative government with the contrary principle, and to show the opposite condition of governments which refer to it as their starting-point. I will begin by an examination of that form of government which is usually termed aristocratic.
There is a close connexion between the progressive changes that may be observed in language and those that belong to society. The word aristocracy originally signified the empire of the strong; Ἄρηϛ, ἀρείων, ἂριστον were, at first, terms applied to those who were physically the most powerful; then they were used to designate the most influential, the richest, and finally the best, those possessing the most ability or virtue. This is the history of the successive acceptations of the word in the language from which it is borrowed; the same terms which were first applied to force, the superiority of force, came at length to designate moral and intellectual superiority—virtue.
Nothing can better characterise than this the progress of society, which begins with the predominance of force, and tends to pass under the empire of moral and intellectual superiority. The desire and tendency of society are in fact towards being governed by the best, by those who most thoroughly know and most heartily respond to the teachings of truth and justice; in this sense, all good governments, and pre-eminently the representative form of government, have for their object to draw forth from the bosom of society that veritable and legitimate aristocracy, by which it has a right to be governed, and which has a right to govern it.
But such has not been the historical signification of the word aristocracy. If we take the word according as facts have interpreted it, we shall find its meaning to be, a government in which the sovereign power is placed at the disposal of a particular class of citizens, who are hereditarily invested with it, their only qualification being a certain descent, in a manner more or less exclusive, and sometimes almost completely exclusive.
I do not inquire whence this system of government has derived its origin; how, in the infancy of society, it has sprung almost invariably from the moral superiority of its first founders; how force, which was originally due to moral superiority, was afterwards perpetuated by itself, and became a usurper; these questions, which possess the highest interest, would carry me away from my main point. I am seeking for the fundamental principle of aristocratic government, and I believe it can be summed up in the following terms; the right of sovereignty, attributed in a manner if not entirely exclusive, yet especially and chiefly to a certain class of citizens, whose only claim is that of descent in a certain line.
This principle is no other than that of the sovereignty of the people confined to a small number of individuals,—to a minority. In both cases, the right to sovereignty is derived, not from any presumed capacity to fulfil certain conditions, nor from intellectual and moral superiority proved in any particular manner, but from the solitary fact of birth, without any condition. In the aristocratic system, an individual is born to a position of sovereignty merely because he has been born into a privileged class; according to the democratic system, an individual is born to a position of sovereignty by the circumstance that he is born into humanity. The participation in sovereignty is in each case the result of a purely material fact, independent of the worth of him who possesses it, and of the judgment of those over whom it is to be exercised. It follows evidently from this, that aristocratic governments are to be classed among those which rest on the idea that the right of sovereignty exists, full and entire, somewhere on the earth—an idea directly contrary, as we have seen, to the principle of representative government.
If we look at the consequences of this idea—such consequences as have actually manifested themselves in the history of governments of this kind—we shall see that they are not less contrary to the consequences, historical as well as natural, of a representative government.
In order to maintain the right of sovereignty in the class to which it is exclusively attributed, it must necessarily establish a great inequality in fact, as well as in opinion, between this class and the rest of the citizens. Hence arise all those institutions and laws which characterise aristocratic governments, and which have for their object to concentrate, into the hands of the sole possessors of the sovereignty, all wealth and enlightenment, and all the various instruments of power. It is necessary that the sovereign class should not descend, and that others should not be elevated; otherwise actual power ceasing to approximate to rightful power, the legitimacy of the latter would soon be questioned, and, after a short time, its continuance endangered.
In the system of those governments which attribute to no individual upon earth a right of sovereignty, and which impose on the existing government the necessity of seeking continually for truth, reason, and justice, as the rule and source of rightful power, all classes of society are perpetually invited and urged to elevate and perfect themselves. Legitimate forms of supremacy are produced, and assume their position; illegitimate forms are unmasked and deposed. Factitious and violent inequalities are resisted and exhibited in their true colours; social forces are, so to speak, brought into competition, and the forces which struggle to possess them are moral.
A second consequence of the principle of aristocratic governments is their avoidance of publicity. When each one of those who participate in the rightful sovereignty possesses it by the mere accident of birth, and exercises it on his own individual responsibility, he need not recognise any one as claiming a right to call him to account. No one has any right to inquire into the use which he makes of his power, for he acts in virtue of a right which no one can contest, because no one can deprive him of it. It is a right which needs not to justify itself, since it is connected with a fact that is palpable and permanent.
In the other system, on the contrary, publicity follows necessarily from the principle of government; for since the right to power is derived from superiority in the knowledge and practice of reason, truth, and justice, which no one is supposed to possess fully and at all times, it is imperative that this right should justify itself both before it is assumed and all the time that it is exercised.
It would be easy thus, proceeding continually within view of real facts, to compare the different consequences of the principle of purely aristocratic governments and those resulting from the principle of representative government, and to show that they are always opposed to one another. We should thereby demonstrate most completely the opposition of the principles themselves, and bring their true nature into clearer light; but I have already said enough on this point. And if any one asserts that I have too rigorously insisted upon inferences to be drawn from the principle of aristocratic governments, that the consequences which I have depicted do never fulfil themselves in so complete a manner, that, for example, the qualification of birth has never held exclusive possession of a right to sovereignty, that never has publicity been entirely quenched—I freely concede all this. At no time, in no place, has evil been allowed to gain exclusive possession of society and government; struggle between principles of good and evil is the permanent condition of the world. False ideas may achieve a more or less extended, a more or less durable success—they can never extirpate their godlike assailants. Truth is patient—it does not easily surrender its hold on society—it never abandons its purpose—it even exercises some sway over that region where error reigns most despotically. Providence never permits bad governments to become so bad as is logically demanded by the principle upon which they rest. So we have seen institutions of justice and liberty existing and even gaining a powerful existence, in the midst of societies ruled by the principle of hereditary right; these institutions have battled against the principle, and have modified it. When the worse principle has prevailed, then have society and government fallen into impotence and decay; this is the history of the Venetian republic. Elsewhere, the struggle has been attended with happier results: the good principle has possessed sufficient force to be able to introduce into the government elements, which have made it vital, which have protected society against the effects of the evil principle, which have even in some sort saved the evil itself, rendering it tolerable by the good with which it is associated. This is the history of England, that striking example of the mixture and struggle of good and evil principles. But their mixture, however intimate it may be, does not prove that they are confounded in their interior character. Good never springs from evil; and representative government has not sprung in England, any more than elsewhere, from the exclusive principle of aristocratic governments; it has sprung from an entirely different principle; and so far from the distinction which I established at the commencement being compromised by the facts to which I have alluded, it is on the other hand triumphantly confirmed by them.
I have just proved, by a comparison between the principle of the aristocratic and that of the democratic form of government, that they are essentially different; I intend now to show that there is as fundamental a difference between the principle of representative government, and that of democratic government.1
No one has ever understood the sovereignty of the people to mean, that after having consulted all opinions and all wills, the opinion and will of the greatest number constitutes the law, but that the minority would be free to disobey that which had been decided in opposition to its opinion and will. And yet this would be the necessary consequence of the pretended right attributed to each individual of being governed only by such laws as have received his individual assent. The absurdity of this consequence has not always induced its adherents to abandon the principle, but it has always obliged them to violate it. The sovereignty of the people is contradicted at the outset, by its being resolved into the empire of the majority over the minority. It is almost ridiculous to say that the minority may retire from the majority; this would be to keep society continually on the brink of dissolution. On every question the majority and the minority would disagree, and if all the successive minorities should retire, society would very soon exist no longer. The sovereignty of the people then must necessarily be reduced to the sovereignty of the majority only. When thus reduced, what does it amount to?
Its principle is, that the majority possesses right by the mere circumstance of its being the majority. But two very different ideas are included in the one expression—the majority; the idea of an opinion which is accredited, and that of a force which is preponderant. So far as force is concerned, the majority possesses no right different from that possessed by force itself, which cannot be, upon this ground alone, the legitimate sovereignty. As to the expression of opinion, is the majority infallible?—does it always apprehend and respect the claims of reason and justice, which alone constitute true law, and confer legitimate sovereignty? Experience testifies to the contrary. The majority, by mere fact of its being a majority, that is to say, by the mere force of numbers, does not then possess legitimate sovereignty, either by virtue of power, which never does confer it, nor by virtue of infallibility, which it does not possess.
The principle of the sovereignty of the people starts from the supposition that each man possesses as his birthright, not merely an equal right of being governed, but an equal right of governing others. Like aristocratic governments, it connects the right to govern, not with capacity, but with birth. Aristocratic government is the sovereignty of the people in the minority; the sovereignty of the people is aristocratic despotism and privilege in the hands of the majority. In both cases, the principle is the same; a principle contrary, in the first place, to the fact of the inequality established by nature, between the powers and capacities of different individuals; secondly, to the fact of the inequality in capacity, occasioned by difference of position, a difference which exists everywhere, and which has its source in the natural inequality of men; thirdly, to the experience of the world, which has always seen the timid following the brave, the incompetent obeying the competent,—in one word, those who are naturally inferior recognising and submitting themselves to their natural superiors. The principle of the sovereignty of the people, that is to say, the equal right of all individuals to exercise sovereignty, or merely the right of all individuals to concur in the exercise of sovereignty, is then radically false; for, under the pretext of maintaining legitimate equality, it violently introduces equality where none exists, and pays no regard to legitimate inequality. The consequences of this principle are the despotism of number, the domination of inferiorities over superiorities, that is, a tyranny of all others the most violent and unjust.
At the same time, it is of all others the most transient, for the principle is impossible of application. After its force has spent itself in excesses, number necessarily submits to capacity—the inferior retire to make room for the superior—these enter again into possession of their right, and society is reestablished.
Such cannot be the principle of representative government. No one disputes that the true law of government is that of reason, truth, and justice, which no one possesses but which certain men are more capable than others of seeking and discovering. Faithful to this aim, representative government rests upon the disposition of actual power in proportion to the capacity to act according to reason and justice, from whence power derives its right. It is the principle which, by the admission of all, and by virtue of its simple appeal to the common sense of the community, is applicable to ordinary life, and to the interest of individuals themselves. It is the principle which confers the sovereignty over persons, families, property, only to the individual who is presumed to be capable of using it reasonably, and which withdraws it from him who is seen to be positively incapable. Representative government applies to general interests, and to the government of society, the same principle which the good sense of the human race has led it to apply to individual interests and to the control of each man’s private life. It distributes sovereignty according to the capacity required for it, that is to say, it only places actual power, or any portion of actual power, where it has discovered the presence of rightful power, presumed to exist by certain symptoms, or tested by certain proofs. It is remembered, that power though legitimate is not to be conceded fully and completely to any one, and not only is it not attributed to the mere fact of birth, but it cannot be allowed to remain by itself in irresponsible isolation, which is the second characteristic of representative government, by which, not less than by the preceding, it is distinguished from the sovereignty of the people.
It has been often said, that representative government is the government of the majority, and there is some truth in the assertion; but it must not be thought that this government of the majority is the same as that involved in the sovereignty of the people. The principle of the sovereignty of the people applies to all individuals, merely because they exist, without demanding of them anything more. Thus, it takes the majority of these individuals, and says—Here is reason, here is law. Representative government proceeds in another way: it considers what is the kind of action to which individuals are called; it examines into the amount of capacity requisite for this action; it then summons those individuals who are supposed to possess this capacity—all such, and such only. Then it seeks for a majority among those who are capable.
It is in this way, in fact, that men have everywhere proceeded, even when they have been supposed to act according to the idea of the sovereignty of the people. Never have they been entirely faithful to it; they have always demanded for political actions certain conditions, that is to say, indications of a certain capacity. They have been mistaken, more or less, and have excluded the capable, or invited the inefficient, and the error is a serious one. But they have followed the principle which measures right by capacity, even when they have professed the principle that right is derived from the simple fact of possessing a human nature. Representative government, then, is not purely and simply the government of the numerical majority, it is government by the majority of those who are qualified to govern; sometimes assuming the existence of the qualification beforehand, sometimes requiring that it should be proved and exemplified. The peerage, the right to elect and to be elected, the royal power itself, are attached to a capacity presumed to exist, not only after certain conditions have been complied with, but by reason of the position occupied by those men in whom the capacity is presumed, in their relations to other powers, and in the limits of the functions assigned to them. No one is recognised as possessing an inherent right to an office or a function. Nor is this all; representative government does not content itself with demanding capacity before it confers power; as soon as the capacity is presumed or proved, it is placed in a position where it is open to a kind of legal suspicion, and where it must necessarily continue to legitimatize itself, in order to retain its power. According to the principle of the sovereignty of the people, absolute right resides with the majority; true sovereignty exists wherever this force is manifested; from this follows necessarily the oppression of the minority, and such has, in fact, generally been the result. The representative form of government, never forgetting that reason and justice, and consequently a right to sovereignty, do not reside fully and constantly in any part of the earth, presumes that they are to be found in the majority, but does not attribute them to it as their certain and abiding qualities. At the very moment when it presumes that the majority is right, it does not forget that it may be wrong, and its concern is to give full opportunity to the minority of proving that it is in fact right, and of becoming in its turn the majority. Electoral precautions, the debates in the deliberative assemblies, the publication of these debates, the liberty of the press, the responsibility of ministers, all these arrangements have for their object to insure that a majority shall be declared only after it has well authenticated itself, to compel it ever to legitimatize itself, in order to its own preservation, and to place the minority in such a position as that it may contest the power and right of the majority.
Thus, the considerations we have suggested show that a representative form of government regards the individuals whom it brings into activity, and the majority which it seeks, from quite another point of view than that involved in the sovereignty of the people. The latter admits that the right of sovereignty resides somewhere upon the earth; the former denies it: this finds the right in question in a purely numerical majority; that seeks it in the majority of those qualified to pronounce on the subject: the one attributes it fully and entirely to number; the other is satisfied with the presumption that it is there, admits at the same time that it may possibly not be there, and invites the minority to substantiate its claims, securing, meanwhile, every facility for its so doing. The sovereignty of the people sees legitimate power in the multitude; representative government sees it only in unity, that is to say, in the reason to which the multitude ought to reduce itself. The sovereignty of the people makes power to come from below; representative government recognises the fact that all power comes from above, and at the same time obliges all who assume to be invested with it to substantiate the legitimacy of their pretensions before men who are capable of appreciating them. The one tends to lower those who are superior, the other to elevate those who are inferior, by bringing them into communication with those who are naturally above them. The sovereignty of the people is full at once of pride and of envy; representative government renders homage to the dignity of our nature, without ignoring its frailty, and recognises its frailty without outrage to its dignity. The principle of the sovereignty of the people is contrary to all the facts which reveal themselves in the actual origin of power, and in the progress of societies; representative government does not blink any one of these facts. Lastly, the sovereignty of the people is no sooner proclaimed, than it is compelled to abdicate its power, and to confess the impracticability of its aims; representative government moves naturally and steadily onward, and develops itself by its very existence.2
So far, then, from deriving its existence from the principle of the sovereignty of the people, representative government disowns this principle, and rests upon an entirely different idea, and one which is attended with entirely different consequences. It matters little that this form of government has been often claimed in the name of the sovereignty of the people, and that its principal epochs of development have occurred at times when that idea predominated; the reasons of this fact are easily discovered. The sovereignty of the people is a great force which sometimes interferes to break up an inequality which has become excessive, or a power which has become absolute, when society can no longer accommodate itself to them; as despotism sometimes interferes, in the name of order, violently to restore a society on the brink of dissolution. It is only a weapon of attack and destruction, never an instrument for the foundation of liberty. It is not a principle of government, it is a terrible but transient dictatorship, exercised by the multitude—a dictatorship that ceases, and that ought to cease as soon as the multitude has accomplished its work of destruction.
Briefly, to conclude: as the object of these lectures is to trace the course of representative government in modern Europe wherever it has found any footing, I have looked for the primal type of this government in order to compare it with the government of the Anglo-Saxon monarchy, which we have already examined, and with the other primitive governments which we shall meet with in Europe. In order to distinguish precisely the character of a representative government, I have been obliged to go back to the source of all government. I think I have shown that we must classify all governments according to two different principles. The one class, allied to justice and reason, recognises these alone as their guides; and as it is not in the power of human feebleness, in this world, to follow infallibly these sacred leaders, these governments do not concede to any one the possession of an absolute right to sovereignty, and they call upon the entire body of society to aid in the discovery of the law of justice and reason, which can alone confer it. The other class, on the contrary, admitting a right inherent in man to make a law for himself, thus degrade the rightful sovereignty; which, as it belongs only to justice and reason, ought never to come under the absolute control of man, who is ever too ready to usurp sovereignty, in order to exercise it for the promotion of his private interests, or for the gratification of his passions. I have shown that a representative government alone renders homage to true principles, and that all other governments, democratic as well as aristocratic, ought to be arranged according to an entirely different scheme of classification. I have now to enter upon the examination of the exterior forms of representative government, and to compare its principle with the historical principle of the Anglo-Saxon monarchy, as it is exhibited before us in its institutions.
The forms of a government are related to its principle, but are swayed by circumstances, and vary according to different degrees of civilization. ~ What are the forms essential to a representative government? 1st. ~ Division of powers; why absolutely essential to the principle of representative government; 2nd. ~ Election; 3rd. ~ Publicity.
The forms of a government are immediately related to its principle: the principle determines the forms, the forms reveal the principle. It does not therefore follow that the forms correspond exactly to the principle, nor that the principle can only realize itself under a peculiar form. As the principle itself is never alone nor omnipotent in its influence upon the facts, forms are necessarily diverse and mingled. In proportion as the action of any principle extends itself, the form which is truly correspondent to it is developed; but, in the course of this work, the principle embodies itself in the different forms which correspond to the condition of those facts which, in their aggregate, constitute society, and determine the position which it occupies in the scale of civilization.
The same principle can then be contained, and act under different forms. If the forms are the best that can be supplied for the principle, considering the existing state of society, and if, although they do not fully correspond to its nature, they insure the constant and regular progress of its action, there is no blame that can be charged upon them; each epoch, each state of society only allows of a certain development of the principle upon which its government rests. What is the measure of development possible to each epoch, and what is the form which corresponds to it in the present, which will secure for the future a more extended development, and which will bring with it new forms? This is the whole extent of the question—I mean, the question concerning the present, the only one with which political activity has to deal.
Nevertheless there are certain forms of government which are the general conditions of the presence and action of particular principles. Wherever the principle exists, it necessarily produces these forms; where they are wanting the principle does not exist or will soon cease to exist; its action and progress imperatively demand them: so far as they gain consistency at any place, the principle which they suppose is latently present and tends to become predominant.
What are the essential forms of the principle of representative government? By what external indications may we recognize the presence of this principle in a government? What conditions are required in order that it may act and develop itself?
We may, if I mistake not, reduce to three the conditions necessary, and the forms essential, to the representative system; all three are perhaps not equally necessary; their simultaneous existence is not perhaps indispensable in order to indicate the existence and secure the development of the principle from which they are derived. We may, however, justly consider them as fundamental. These forms are: 1st. The division of powers; 2nd. Election; 3rd. Publicity.
We have seen that no really existing power can be a rightful power; except in so far as it acts according to reason and truth, the only legitimate rule of action, the only source of right.
No existing power can fully know and constantly regard the guidance of reason and truth according to which it is bound to regulate its action. No actual power then is, or can be, in itself, a power by inherent right. In other words, as no existing power can be found that is infallible, there is none that may retain its existence on the tenure of absolute right.
Such is, however, the condition of human things that they need, as a last appeal, the intervention of a power which may declare the law to be the rule of government, and which shall impose it and cause it to be respected. In all the relations which the social state admits and to which it gives birth, from domestic order to political order, the presence of a power which may give and maintain the rule of action, is a necessary condition of the very existence of society.1
We see then the dilemma in which society is placed. No actual power can vindicate a claim to become an absolute power; hence the necessity, in order to meet particular emergencies, of a power that is definite, that is to say, actually absolute.
The problem of government is—how to give society a guarantee that the power, which is in operation absolute, to which all social relations must necessarily be referred, shall be but the image, the expression, the organ of that power which is rightfully absolute and alone legitimate, and which is never to be found localized in this world? This is also, as we have seen, the problem which the representative system formally proposes to itself, since all its arrangements assume the existence of this problem and are framed with a purpose to resolve it.
To make actual power, as far as possible, identical with rightful power, by imposing upon it the abiding necessity of seeking for reason, truth, and justice—the sources of right; by investing it with practical power only when it has proved, that is to say, given a presumption of, its success in this search; and by compelling it ever to renew and confirm this presumption under penalty of losing power if it is unable to do so, this is the course of the representative system—this is the end at which it aims and according to which it directs, in their relations and their movement, all the resources which it brings into action.
In order to attain this end, it is indispensable that the existing power should not be simple, that is to say, that it should not be suffered to con fine itself to one single instrument. As no force can possess in itself fully the right to authority, if there is one which possesses an absolute power, not only will it abuse this power, but it will very soon claim it as an inherent right. Alone it will become despotic, and in order to sustain its despotism it will call itself legitimately sovereign; and perhaps will end by believing and establishing the fiction. Such is the corrupting effect of despotism, that it destroys sooner or later, both in those who exercise it and in those who submit to it, even the feeling of its il-legitimacy. Whoever is solitary in his sovereignty has only one step in order to become accredited as infallible. Alexander was right in wishing that he should be recognized as a god; he deduced a consequence that strictly followed from the fulness of the power which he possessed: and they also are right, who, attributing sovereignty to the multitude, take for their maxim, Vox populi, vox Dei. Everywhere where sovereignty rests with a single power, whatever may be the nature of that power, there is a danger that sovereignty will immediately be claimed as a right.
A division of the actual sovereignty is then a natural consequence of the principle, that a right to sovereignty does not belong to any person. It is necessary that there should be several powers, equal in extent and supplementary to each other in the exercise of actual sovereignty, in order that no one of them may be led to arrogate to itself the sovereignty of inherent right. The feeling of their reciprocal interdependence can alone prevent them from regarding themselves as entirely irresponsible.
Further: it is only in this way that the ruling power can be constrained to perpetuate its search for reason, truth, and justice; that is, for the rule which should govern its action, in order that it may become legitimate. The words of Pascal apply not only to the formation of power, they extend also to its exercise. Here are beings, individual or collective, who are called upon to perform the functions of sovereignty in common, each one under the supervision of his fellows. Do they possess among them, or by the fact of their existence, the right to power? No: they must seek it, they must on every opportunity manifest the truth which they proclaim as law. Isolated and distinct, they are only a multitude; when, after having deliberated and laboured, they find a ground of agreement in a common idea, from whence can proceed one will, then alone will the true unity, which resides in reason, be evolved; then there will be a presumption that the ruling power knows accurately and is well disposed to that legitimate rule which alone confers rightful power. If this work were not enforced, if this laborious and common search for the true law were not the necessary result of the reciprocal independence of the several powers, the end of government would not be attained. All the relations of the four great political powers which constitute, with us, the government (that is, the king, the two houses of parliament, and the electors) are intended to compel them to act in harmony, that is to say, to reduce themselves to unity.
The introduction of an elective, that is, a moveable element, into government, is as necessary as a division of forces to prevent the sovereignty from degenerating in the hands of those who exercise it into a full and permanent sovereignty of inherent right. It is therefore the necessary result of a representative government, and one of its principal characteristics. Accordingly we see that actual governments which have aimed at becoming absolute, have always endeavoured to destroy the elective principle. Venice gave a memorable illustration of this tendency, when, in 1319, it conferred an hereditary right on the grand council.* In the first age of governments, at the same time that we see power come from above, that is to say, acquire for itself by its superiority, of whatever kind that may be, either ability, riches, or courage—we see it also obliged to make its title recognised by those who can judge it. Election is the mode of this recognition—it is to be found in the infancy of all governments; but it is generally abolished after a time. It is when it reappears with sufficient energy to influence powerfully the administration of society, that a representative government is rising into being.
Theoretically, publicity is perhaps the most essential characteristic of a representative government. We have seen that it has for its object to call upon all individuals who possess rights, as well as those who exercise powers, to seek reason and justice, the source and rule of legitimate sovereignty. In publicity consists the bond between a society and its government. Looking, however, at facts, we find that of the elements essential to a representative government, this is the last which is introduced and gains a firm footing. Its history is analogous to that of the elective principle. The Champs de Mars and Mai were held in the open air: many persons were present at them who took no part in the deliberation. The assembly of the Lombards at Pavia took place circumstante immensa multitudine.2 It is probable that the same publicity attended also the Wittenagemot of the Saxons. When absolute or aristocratic government prevails, publicity disappears. When representative government begins to be formed by election, publicity does not at first enter into its constitution. In England, the House of Commons was for a long time a secret assembly; the first step towards publicity was to cause its acts, addresses and resolutions, to be printed. This step was taken by the Long Parliament under Charles I. Under Charles II. its proceedings again became secret; some individuals demanded, but in vain, the publication of the acts passed by the House,—the demand was resisted as dangerous. It was not till the eighteenth century that visitors were allowed to be present at the sittings of the English Parliament: this is not now granted as a right, and the demand of a single member who appeals to the ancient law, is sufficient to clear the gallery. Publicity has not then been invariably attached to a representative government; but it flows naturally from its principles—it is accordingly won almost necessarily, and may now be regarded as one of its most essential features. This result is owing to the press, which has rendered publicity easy without resorting to tumultuous meetings.
We have found the fundamental principle and the exterior and essential characteristics of a representative government; we have learnt what it is that constitutes it and distinguishes it from other government: we may now pass to its history. We shall take care to admit its existence only where we recognise the presence or the approach of its true principles; and we shall be convinced that its progress has ever been identical with the development of these principles.
Primitive institutions of the Franks. ~ Sketch of the history of the Frankish monarchy. ~ The Franks in Germany. ~ Their settlement in Belgium and in Gaul. ~ Character and authority of their chiefs after their establishment in the Roman Empire. ~ Early Frankish chieftains. ~ Clovis: his expeditions, wars, and conquests. ~ Decisive preponderance of the Franks in Gaul.
In order to pursue the object of this course, I now proceed to give a sketch of the Franks similar to that which I have already given of the Anglo-Saxons. I shall study with you their primitive institutions, seek out their leading principle, and compare it with that type of representative government which we have just delineated. But before we enter upon the examination of Frankish institutions, I think it advisable briefly to refer to the leading events in the history of France. The institutions of a people cannot be thoroughly understood without a knowledge of their history. I shall devote this lecture to a view of the establishment of the Frankish monarchy; on a future occasion we will trace its progress under the first and second races of its kings.
I shall not now delay to discuss the somewhat uncertain origin of the Franks; there is reason to believe that, in Germany, they did not constitute a separate and homogeneous nation. They were a confederation of tribes settled in the country between the Rhine, the Maine, the Weser, and the Elbe. The Romans seem to have been long ignorant of their existence even after the conquest of Gaul, and history mentions them, for the first time, during the reign of Gordian, about the middle of the third century. A song, composed in celebration of the victories of Aurelian had the following refrain:
After this period, we find the different tribes of Franks advancing from East to West with rather rapid progress. At the beginning of the fourth century, we meet with the Salian Franks settled in Belgium, and the Ripuarian Franks on the two banks of the Rhine. These peoples established themselves on the frontiers of Gaul, sometimes by force, and sometimes with the consent of the emperors, who, after having defeated the barbarians, frequently assigned them lands on which to settle. This was the course pursued by Probus, Constantine, Julian, Constantius, and many others.
The chiefs thus established in the Roman territory retained, over their barbarian comrades, their ancient and independent authority, and received at the same time, from the emperors, certain titles to which were applied certain functions, and a certain amount of authority over the Romans in their district. Thus we find them adorned with the names of Dux, Magister militae, Comes littoris, and so forth. Their position was almost identical with that of the leaders of the wandering Tartar tribes in the Russian empire, who are elected by the men of their tribe, but receive their title and a certain jurisdiction from the Emperor of Russia—retaining their independent life, but bound at the same time to render military service, and to pay a tribute of furs.
Childeric, the chief of a Frankish tribe at Tournai, had received the title of Magister militae from the empire. When, in consequence of domestic quarrels and treason, he was forced to take refuge in Thuringia, his tribe submitted in 460 to Egidius, master of the Roman militia at Soissons. In 1653, the tomb of Childeric was discovered at Tournai, and several pieces of money were found in it, which are now deposited in the National Library, at Paris.
At the termination of the fifth century, the epoch of the dissolution of the empire, when the provinces were left, according to the expression of Tacitus,magis sine domino quam cum libertate,2 nearly all these local chieftains, Romans as well as barbarians, became independent, and no longer recognised the sovereignty of Rome. Siagrius, the son of Egidius, was appointed King of the Romans at Soissons. He made war with Clovis, in his own name and on his own account.
The Frankish chiefs, who had thus become petty sovereigns, penetrated still farther into the empire. Clodion, who had settled at Cambrai, carried his incursions to the banks of the Somme. Meroveus was present at the battle of Chalons-sur-Marne, at which Attila was conquered. It was, however, under the command of their chieftain Clovis, that these bands of Franks, who originally formed colonies on the frontiers, entered Gaul definitively as conquerors. Clovis was the son of Childeric, who reigned at Tournai; and he succeeded his father in 481. He probably wielded a certain amount of authority in the name of the empire. Saint Remy, in a letter, gives him the title of Magister militae. Other Frankish chiefs were, about this period, almost in the same position as Clovis: Ragnachar ruled at Cambrai, Sigebert at Cologne, and Renomer at Mans. Clovis was the most ambitious, the ablest, and the most fortunate of them all.
His nearest neighbour was Siagrius, who governed at Soissons. In 486, Clovis sent him a defiance; Siagrius accepted it, and appointed the battlefield at Nogent, near Soissons. Siagrius was conquered, and took refuge with Alaric, king of the Visigoths, who gave him up to his conqueror. In 491, Clovis conquered the district of Tongres, now the district of Liege. In 496, he penetrated still further in the same direction; he entered the country of the Alemanni, against whom Sigebert, king of Cologne, had requested his assistance. He defeated them at Tolbiac, and became a Christian in consequence of this victory. A party of the conquered Alemanni took refuge in Rhoetia under the protection of Theodoric, king of the Ostrogoths: there, under the name of Suevi, they became the stem of the Suabians. Another body remained on the banks of the Rhine, and became subject to Sigebert and Clovis. Thus this chieftain extended his dominion in the vicinity of the Rhine. At the same time he overcame most of the Frankish chiefs, his neighbours, and subjected their tribes to his power. In 497, he led an expedition against the Armoricans in the West. In 500, he fell upon the Burgundians in the East, took advantage of their dissensions, and gained a victory between Dijon and Langres. In 507, he advanced into the centre of France, through Anjou and Poitou; near Poitiers, he attacked Alaric II., king of the Visigoths, and killed him. He penetrated as far as Angoulême, Bordeaux, and Toulouse; and boasted of having conquered Aquitaine. In 508, Clovis received the title of Patrician from Anastasius, the Emperor of the East. In 509, he returned to the Rhine, defeated his ancient ally, Sigebert, king of Cologne, and subjugated the Ripuarian Franks. In 511, he died, after having led his Frankish warriors, and extended his dominion, over the various parts of Gaul.
The wars and conquests of Clovis had little resemblance to what we understand by the same words at the present day. The principal object of the Frankish expeditions was to make booty, and carry off slaves; this is what was called conquest in those days. The victor sometimes imposed a tribute; but there resulted from his victory hardly any permanent possession, and no civil settlement. Among other proofs of this assertion, I may instance the small number of the warriors who accompanied Clovis, who was never attended, on his expeditions, by more than five or six thousand men. Now, with this number, no civil settlement, not even a military occupation, was possible. When the conqueror had withdrawn, the conquered people gradually resumed their independence—a new chieftain arose. Rarely did the conquerors settle in the lands which they had subjected; thus it was necessary incessantly to make the same conquests over again.
For a detailed narrative of these events, I refer you to the general histories of France, especially to the work of M. Sismondi.3
Naowhere do we obtain a better picture of the manners of the Greeks in the heroic age than that supplied by the Iliad. A similar authority, with reference to the expeditions and manners of the Germanic people, exists in the poem of the Nibelungen. There you will best be able to obtain a correct knowledge and thorough comprehension of the state of society, and the nature of the wars at this epoch.
At the death of Clovis, in 571, the Frankish monarchy was definitively established; for he had made the Frankish name and people the most formidable and least contested power in Gaul.
Division of territory among the sons of the Frankish kings. ~ Rapid formation and disappearance of several Frank kingdoms. ~ Neustria and Austrasia; their geographical division. ~ Early predominance of Neustria. ~ Fredegonde and Brunehaut. ~ Elevation of the Mayors of the Palace. ~ True character of their power. ~ The Pepin family. ~ Charles Martel. ~ Fall of the Merovingians.
I have already explained to you how we must understand the historical phrase which attributes to Clovis the foundation of the French monarchy. In the sense and within the limits which I have indicated, Clovis, at his death, was king of the whole of France, excepting the kingdoms of the Burgundians and Visigoths. After his decease, each of his four sons received a portion of his dominions. Theodoric ruled at Metz, Chlodomir at Orleans, Childebert at Paris, and Clotaire at Soissons. The nature of this division has given rise to considerable dissension among learned men; but I think the question may be easily solved. In order to retain his power, it was necessary for the chieftain or king to possess large private domains; in all his warlike expeditions, he acquired for himself large tracts of territory; Clovis had thus obtained immense landed property wherever he had made a conquest. At his death, these estates were divided among his children, as were also his other possessions, flocks, herds, jewels, money, treasures of all kinds: these supplied their owners with the surest means of attaining power. Moreover, it was the custom of the Frankish kings to associate their sons with them in the government, by sending them to reside in that district or province which was afterwards to constitute their kingdom. They thus endeavoured to secure the prevalence of hereditary right over election. The sons of the king became in their turn the natural chieftains of the countries in which they actually possessed the most power. Thus we find that Clotaire II., in 622, associated with himself his son Dagobert, and sent him to Austrasia. Dagobert did the same, in 633, for his son Sigebert.
From this division of private domains and participation in royal power, it was easy to pass to the political partition of the kingdom. It is more difficult to discover whether these partitions were made by the dying king, in his own authority, or by the national assembly. At a later period, under the second race, we find Pepin, Charlemagne and Louis the Débonnair, positively obtaining the consent of the assembly of barons to the division of their states among their children. Facts are not so clear and authentic under the Merovingians. However, as the accession of the second race was a return to old Germanic manners, it is probable that, in the time of Clovis and his successors, every heir, on receiving his portion, was obliged to gain the consent of the chiefs of the country. Five partitions of this kind occurred under the Merovingians; in 511, after the death of Clovis; in 561, after Clotaire I.; in 638, after Dagobert I.; in 656, after Clovis II. From 678 to 752, the whole monarchy was actually united under the authority of the Pepin family, who were originally Mayors of the Palace of Austrasia, and nominally under that of titular kings, the first four and the sixth of whom descended from the kings of Neustria, and the fifth and seventh from those of Austrasia. The kingdoms which were constituted by the five partitions which I have just mentioned, were those of Metz, Orleans, Paris, Soissons, Austrasia, Burgundy, Neustria, and Aquitaine.
I shall not here speak of the vicissitudes and perpetual dismemberments of these various kingdoms at various times. I should have only to relate a long series of wars and murders. The ancient kingdom of Burgundy was conquered by the children of Clovis I.; a new kingdom of Burgundy arose, in which the kingdom of Orleans was incorporated. The new kingdom of Burgundy was invaded, sometimes by the kings of Neustria, sometimes by those of Austrasia. The kingdom of Aquitaine appears for a moment only under Childebert II., son of Clotaire II., in 628, and about 716, under Eudes, duke of Aquitaine, who declared himself an independent monarch. At length, these four kingdoms disappeared; the fundamental conflict and division was between the kingdoms of Neustria and Austrasia, the two largest, and last surviving.
The geographical division of the kingdoms of Neustria and Austrasia is uncertain and variable. We find the kings of Austrasia possessing countries far distant from the center of their government—countries, too, which seem to be naturally placed by their position under the sway of the kings of Neustria. Thus, they were the masters of Auvergne, and their dominion extended almost as far as Poitou. These incoherent possessions had their origin in the frequent expeditions of the two countries against each other, or into distant lands which belonged to neither of them. We can, however, obtain some few distinct boundary lines; the forest of Ardennes separated Austrasia from Neustria; Neustria comprised the country between the Meuse and the Loire; Austrasia consisted of that between the Meuse and the Rhine.
This division had a far greater importance than that of a mere geographical division; and there is a deeper cause for the successive disappearance of the other Frankish kingdoms, and the final predominance of these two.
The countries which composed Austrasia were the first which were inhabited by the Franks. They adjoined Germany, and were connected with those portions of the Frankish confederacy which had not crossed the Rhine. They were, therefore, the cradle, the first fatherland, of the Franks. Moreover, after their expeditions, these tribes frequently returned with their booty to their ancient settlement, instead of establishing themselves in their new conquests. Thus Theodoric, son of Clovis, in the fifth century, led a great expedition into Auvergne, and returned afterwards to Austrasia. Roman civilization and manners had been almost completely expelled from that bank of the Rhine; the ancient German manners predominated there. In the countries which composed Neustria, on the other hand, the Franks were less numerous, more scattered, more separated from their ancient fatherland and fellow-countrymen. The ancient inhabitants of the country surrounded them on every side. The Franks were there like colonies of barbarians transported into the midst of Roman civilization and a Roman people. This state of things could not but lead to a far more profound and reasonable distinction between the two kingdoms, than could be occasioned by a purely geographical division. On one side was the kingdom of the Germano-Franks, on the other that of the Romano-Franks.
Historic testimony positively confirms this probable deduction from facts. Austrasia is termed Francia Teutonica, and Neustria, Francia Romana. The German language prevailed in the former country, and the Roman in the latter. Finally, under the first race of kings, events bear the evident impress of this fundamental distinction, or rather, they are its natural result. When considering them in a general manner, it is impossible to recognize this character. I shall now give a summary of the principal proofs.
I. The original predominance of the kingdom of Neustria. This is an incontestable fact. Four kings, after Clovis, and before the destruction of the royal authority by the Mayors of the Palace, united the whole Frankish monarchy under one head. These were kings of Neustria; Clotaire I., from 558 to 561; Clotaire II., from 613 to 628; Dagobert I., from 631 to 638; and Clovis II., from 655 to 656. This predominance of Neustria was the natural result, 1st, Of the establishment of Clovis in Neustria; 2ndly, Of the central position of that kingdom with reference to the rest of Gaul; 3rd, Of the superior civilization and wealth which accrued to it from its Roman population; 4th, Of the rapid extension which the royal authority obtained in it, in consequence of the prevalence of Roman ideas and customs; 5th, Of the continualfluctuations occasioned in Austrasia, by the proximity of the German barbarians, by wars against the Thuringians and Saxons, and by other causes.
II. The state of the two kingdoms, during the epoch of Fredegonde and Brunehaut, from 598 to 623. The struggle was constant between Neustria and Austrasia, under the name of these two queens. The power of Chilperic and of Fredegonde in Neustria was greater than that of the kings of Austrasia and of Brunehaut. Fredegonde acted upon a country in which the only Roman administration still prevailed; Brunehaut endeavoured in vain to overcome the rude independence of the chiefs of the German bands, who had become large landed proprietors. Her boldness and ability failed in its opposition to the Austrasian and Burgundian aristocracy. The Austrasian aristocracy formed a secret alliance with that of Neustria. The fall and death of Brunehaut were evidently a triumph of the Austrasian aristocracy, which, being stronger and more compact than that of Neustria, imposed upon Clotaire II. the execution of his queen. The remnants of Roman despotism were overcome in Austrasia by the German aristocracy, and the consequences of that event were the enfeeblement of the royal authority and the predominance of Austrasian influence.
III. The elevation of the Mayors of the Palace, and the fall of the Merovingian race, are the third proof of the great fact which I have mentioned. The elevation of the Mayors of the Palace must be ascribed to the same causes in both kingdoms. It is an error to interpret this fact as the conflict of the victorious Franks against the Gauls and Romans. These last, more moulded to despotism, had found a ready access to the court of the barbarian kings, and it has been inferred from this, that it was in order to counteract their influence, that the German aristocracy created the Mayors of the Palace. This is an error; the Mayors of the Palace were the work and instrument of the barbarian aristocracy, whether Roman or Gallic, in opposition to the royal authority.
It has also been said that the kings were desirous of attaching to themselves one of the most powerful members of the territorial aristocracy, in order to control or oppress the others. This might have been the case originally, but the Mayor of the Palace soon found it more advantageous to make himself the leader and instrument of the nobility. He promoted their interests, and assumed the character of a protector to the large proprietors with whom, finally, his appointment rested. From this time forth, the royal authority was almost a dead letter.
The same phenomenon is observable in both kingdoms; but the Austrasian aristocracy was more purely German, and more compact, than that of Neustria. It was consequently more powerful, and its Mayors of the Palace became more deeply rooted in their authority. Thus we behold the family of Pepin gain the royal power by a progressive elevation, from 630 to 75. This family was descended from Carloman, the wealthy proprietor of the domain of Haspengau, situated on the Meuse, between the district of Liege and the duchy of Brabant. It was thoroughly German, and naturally placed itself at the head of the Franco-German aristocracy.
The fall of the Merovingians was, therefore, the work of Austrasia, and, as it were, a second conquest of Roman France, by Germanic France. The kings of Roman France were unable to maintain their position, and the Neustrian Mayors of the Palace, the leaders of a mingled aristocracy of Franks and Gauls, were incompetent to take their place. It was from the banks of the Rhine and from Belgium, that is, from the ancient fatherland of the Franks, that the new conquerors came—and these conquerors were the chiefs of a purely Germanic aristocracy.
This was, undoubtedly, the true character of the fall of the Merovingians, and of the elevation of the Carlovingians, who founded a new Frankish monarchy in that Gaul in which the Neustrian Franks had so greatly degenerated. Thus we shall perceive, at this epoch, and in consequence of this revolution, a marked return towards the primitive institutions and manners of the Franks. This is perceptible, indeed, even in the manner in which the revolution was effected. The details of this event fully con firm what we have first said regarding the general progress of affairs. The Pepin family had laboured for a century to place itself at the head of the Frankish nation. It derived its support not merely from the great landed aristocracy, but also from the patronage of the warriors employed in military expeditions. The development of the power of this family, in the first point of view, was the work of Pepin the Old and of Pepin de Heristal; under the second, it was the work of Charles Martel in particular. His continual wars against the Transrhenane Germans, against the Saracens, and against the petty tyrants of the interior, rendered him a more powerful warrior-chief than any of his ancestors. But Charles Martel employed other means also to attach his companions to his person. He seized the property of the church, and distributed it amongst them. He did not take this property, however, in so absolute a manner as is supposed. The various churches were in the habit of farming out their property for a fixed annual income, and ecclesiastical estates thus farmed out were called precaria. Frequently the kings, when desirous of rewarding one of their chiefs, ordered a chapter to farm out an estate to the favourite for a very moderate rent, under the title of a precarium. Charles Martel, at first, merely generalised this practice. A very large number of his comrades received from him favours of this kind; in the first instance, they received the ecclesiastical estates only for two or three years; but, when that term had expired, the tenants were unwilling to restore what they had appropriated to themselves by the habit of enjoyment. The conflict of the church against the usurping proprietors long perplexed the kings of the second race. As they often required the help of the clergy, they strove to appease their complaints. Pepin the Short and Charlemagne restored to them a large portion of their property which had formerly been granted to their warriors as precaria; or at least, increased the amount paid to the church by the new proprietors, who obstinately refused to consider themselves mere tenants.
The predominance of the Pepin family had commenced before the time of Charles Martel, by their possessing the hereditary office of Mayor of the Palace. During the life of that great chieftain, there were several inter-reigns in Austrasia and Neustria, and he continued to exercise the supreme authority with the simple title of Duke of the Franks. At his death, his children, Pepin and Carloman, divided the kingdom between them, Pepin, still preserving some respect for appearances, made Childeric III. king in Neustria; and soon, by the abdication of his brother Carloman, he found himself Duke of Austrasia, as well as the all-powerful Mayor of the Palace in Neustria. Such was, however, the influence already possessed by the idea of the hereditary legitimacy of the crown, that Pepin did not venture to seize, in the name of force alone, upon the throne which was considered to belong rightfully to the descendants of Clovis. He sought to justify his employment of force by popular election, and an appeal to religion. As the head of an aristocracy, he was obliged frequently to defer to its will, and to give it a share of authority. He revived the ancient assemblies of the large landowners, and restored to them their part in public affairs. Thenceforward he might consider himself certain of his election; but even this did not suffice him. He thought that his usurpation needed a more august and sacred sanction. He gained over to his interests Boniface, bishop of Mayence, and charged him to sound Pope Zachary, who, on his side, was hard pressed by the Lombards, and needed the assistance of the Frankish chieftain. When Pepin was sure of the pontiff’s concurrence, he sent Burckhardt, bishop of Wurtzburg, and Fulrad, abbot of St. Denis, to propose to him this question, in the form of a case of conscience. “When there is a king in fact and a king by right, which is the true king?” The pope replied, that he who actually exercised the royal authority ought also to possess the royal title. In 752, Pepin convoked the national assembly at Soissons; he was there elected king, and afterwards consecrated by Bishop Boniface. In 754, Pope Stephen III. made a journey into France, and again consecrated Pepin with his two sons and his wife Bertrade. The pope ordered the Franks, on pain of excommunication, to take none as kings who did not belong to the family of Pepin, and the Franks swore an oath:Ut nunquam de alterius lumbis regem in aevo praesumant eligere.1
A second dynasty was thus established almost in the same manner as the first had been. The principal warrior-chief, the most powerful of the large landowners, has himself elected by his companions, con fines future elections to members of his own family, and obtains the sanction of religion to his election. He holds the actual power from his fathers and from himself; he is desirous of holding the rightful power from God and from the people. German manners and institutions reappear, but in association with Christian ideas. Here is a second conquest of Gaul, accomplished by German warriors, and sanctioned, in the name of the Roman world, no longer by the Emperor, but by the Pope. The church has inherited the moral ascendancy of the empire.
General character of events under the Carlovingian Empire. ~ Reign of Pepin the Short. ~ Reign of Charlemagne. ~ Epoch of transition. ~ Reigns of Louis the Débonnair and Charles the Bald. ~ Norman invasions. ~ The last Carlovingians. ~ Accession of Hugh Capet.
I have sketched the general progress of events in Frankish Gaul, under the Merovingians; I have now to give a similar outline of the reign of the Carlovingians. I shall enter neither into an examination of the institutions, nor a detailed narrative of occurrences; I shall seek to sum up the facts in the general fact which includes them all.
The general tendency of events under the Merovingians was towards centralization; and this tendency was natural. At that period, a society and a state were labouring to form and create themselves; and societies and states can be created only by the centralization of interests and forces. The conquests and authority of Clovis, however fleeting and incomplete they may have been, indicate this need of centralization, which was then pressing upon Roman and barbarian society. After the death of Clovis, his dominions were dismembered, and formed into distinct kingdoms; but these kingdoms could not remain separate; they continually tended to reunite, and soon became reduced in number to two, which finally coalesced. A similar process took place in reference to the authority in the interior of each state. The royal power attempted at first to be the centralizing principle, but did not succeed; the aristocracy of the chiefs, the great landowners, laboured to organize itself, and to produce its own government; it produced it, at length, in the form of the Mayors of the Palace, who eventually became kings. After two hundred and seventy-one years of labour, all the Frankish kingdoms were reunited into one. The supreme power was more entirely concentrated in the hands of the king, aided by the concurrence of the national assemblies, than it had ever been previously.
Under Pepin the Short and Charlemagne, this centralization was maintained, extended and regulated; and it appeared to gain strength. New countries, new peoples, were incorporated into the Frankish state. The relations of the sovereign with his subjects became more numerous and regular. New bonds of union were established between the supreme power, its delegates, and its subjects. A state and a government seemed likely to be formed.
After the death of Charlemagne, affairs presented quite another aspect, and assumed a contrary direction. In proportion as a tendency to the centralization, either of the different states among themselves, or of the internal power of each state, had been visible under the rule of the Merovingian race, in just that proportion did a tendency to the dismemberment, to the dissolution, both of the states themselves and of the power in each state, become evident under the Carlovingians. Under the Merovingians, you have seen that five successive dismemberments took place, none of which was able to last; after the death of Charlemagne, the kingdoms once separated do not reunite. Louis the Débon-nair divided the empire among his children, in 838, and made vain efforts to maintain some unity therein. The treaty of Verdun, in 843, definitively separated the three monarchies. Charles the Fat, in 884, made an attempt to unite them again; but this attempt also failed—reunion was impracticable.
In the interior of each state, and particularly in France, the same phenomenon was manifested. The supreme power which, under the Merovingians, had tended to become concentrated in the hands, either of the kings, or of the Mayors of the Palace, and which had seemed to have attained this end under Pepin and Charlemagne, took a contrary direction from the reign of Louis the Débonnair, and tended constantly to dissolution. The great landed proprietors who, under the first race, had been naturally urged to coalesce against the royal authority, now laboured only to elevate themselves, and to become sovereigns in their own domains. The hereditary succession of benefices and offices became prevalent. Royalty was nothing more than a direct lordship, or an indirect and impotent suzerainty. Sovereignty was dispersed; there no longer existed any state, or head of the state. The history of the Carlovingians is nothing but the struggle of declining royalty against that tendency which was continually robbing and contracting it more and more. This was the dominant character, the general progress of events, from Louis the Débonnair to Hugh Capet. I shall now refer to the principal facts of this epoch; in them I shall find proofs of the general fact just stated.
I. Pepin the Short (752–768). As this monarch had risen to power by the aid of the large landowners, the clergy, and the pope, he was obliged, during the whole course of his reign, to treat with consideration those powers which had supported him. He frequently convoked national assemblies, and frequently met with opposition from them. It was not without extreme difficulty that he prevailed upon his chieftains to make war against the Lombards, at the request of Pope Stephen III. In order to retain the support of the clergy, Pepin ordered the holders of ecclesiastical benefices to perform the conditions annexed to their tenure of them; he lavished donations upon the churches, and greatly augmented the importance of the bishops. It is from Zachary’s answer to Pepin, that the popes have assumed to deduce their historic right to make and unmake kings. Pepin thus favoured the aggrandizement of the aristocracy, the clergy, and the papacy—three powers which had been very useful, and were still of great service to him, which he knew how to manage and restrain, but which, under other circumstances, would assuredly labour to render themselves independent of the royal power, and would promote the dismemberment, after having assisted in the concentration of the kingdom. The moment most favourable for the development of these powers had arrived. They placed themselves at first at the service of the king, who was useful to them, and knew how to make them serviceable to himself; and thus they became able to free themselves from dependence upon him, and henceforward to act alone and on their own account.
II. Charlemagne (768–814). Epochs of transition, in the history of society, have this singular characteristic, that they are marked sometimes by great agitation, and sometimes by profound repose. It is well worth while to study the causes of this difference between epochs which are fundamentally similar in nature, and which do not constitute a fixed and durable state of society, but only a passage from one state to another. When the transition occurs from a state of things which has long been established and is doomed to destruction, to a new state of things which it will be necessary to create, it is generally full of agitation and violence. When, on the other hand, there exists no previous state of society, which from its long duration is difficult to overthrow, the transition is only a momentary halt of society, fatigued by the disorder of its previous chaotic state, and by the labour of creation. This was the character of the reign of Charlemagne. The whole country of the Franks, wearied by the disorders of the first dynasty, and not having yet originated the social system which was destined to issue naturally from their conquest—I mean the feudal regime—stood still for a time under the government of a great man who procured for it greater order and more regular activity, than it had ever known before. Until then, the two great powers which agitated the country—the great landowners and the clergy—had not been able to take a settled position. The royal authority was hostile to them, and they attacked it. Charlemagne knew how to restrain and satisfy them, and contrived to keep them employed without placing himself in their power. This knowledge constituted his strength, and was the cause of the temporary order which he established throughout his empire. In a future lecture, when studying the institutions of his epoch, we shall see what was the characteristic feature of his government. I am speaking now only of the fact itself—of the singular circumstance of the authority of a very powerful king being interposed between an age in which royalty was held in slight esteem, and an age in which it almost ceased to be of any importance. Charlemagne made of barbarian monarchy all that he possibly could. He possessed within himself, in the necessities of his mind and life, an activity corresponding to the general exigencies of his age, which, indeed, surpassed them. The Franks desired war and booty; Charlemagne desired conquests, in order to extend his renown and dominion; the Franks were unwilling to be without a share in their own government; Charlemagne held frequent national assemblies, and employed the principal members of the territorial aristocracy as dukes, counts, missi dominici,1 and in other offices. The clergy were anxious to possess consideration, authority, and wealth; Charlemagne held them in great respect, employed many bishops in the public service, bestowed on them rich endowments, and attached them firmly to him, by proving himself a munificent friend and patron of those studies of which they were almost the only cultivators. In every direction towards which the active and energetic minds of the time turned their attention, Charlemagne was always the first to look; and he proved himself more warlike than the warriors, more careful of the interests of the church than her most devout adherents, a greater friend of literature than the most learned men, always foremost in every career, and thus bringing everything to a kind of unity, by the single fact that his genius was everywhere in harmony with his age, because he was its most perfect representative, and that he was capable of ruling it because he was superior to it. But the men who are thus before their age, in every respect, are the only men who can gain followers; Charlemagne’s personal superiority was the indispensable condition of the transitory order which he established. Order did not at that time spring naturally from society; the victorious aristocracy had not yet attained the organization at which it aimed. Charlemagne, by keeping it employed, diverted it temporarily from its object. When Charlemagne was dead, all the social forces which he had concentrated and absorbed became in want of aliment; they resumed their natural tendencies, their intestine conflicts; they began once more to aspire to the independence of isolation, and to sovereignty in their own neighbourhood.
III. Louis the Débonnair (814–840). As soon as Louis became emperor, he lost the success which had attended him as king of Aquitaine. Facts soon gave proof of that tendency to dissolution which pervaded the empire of Charlemagne, and which dispersed the authority which he had been able to retain entire in his own hands. Louis gave kingdoms to his sons, and they were continually in revolt against him. The great landholders, the clergy, and the pope—those three social forces which Charlemagne had so ably managed and restrained—escaped from the yoke of Louis the Débonnair, and acted sometimes in his favour, and sometimes against him. The clergy loaded him with reproaches, and forced him to do public penance at Worms, in 829. An attempt was made, in 830, to make him a monk, after the assembly at Compiègne, where he had confessed his faults; and he was deposed, in 833, by another assembly at Compiègne, in pursuance of a conspiracy into which Pope Gregory IV. had entered. During the whole course of this reign, nothing held together, everything was disjoined; both the states which constituted the empire, and the great social forces, lay and ecclesiatical, in each state. Each of these forces aspired to render itself independent. Louis the Débonnair presents a singular spectacle, in the midst of this dissolution, attempting to practise as a scholar the maxims of government laid down by Charlemagne, enacting general laws against general abuses, prescribing rules for the guidance of all those forces which had escaped from his hands, and even endeavouring to correct the particular acts of injustice which had been committed under the preceding reign. But the kings, the great landowners, the bishops—all had acquired a feeling of their own importance, and refused to obey an emperor who was no longer Charlemagne.
IV. Charles the Bald (840–877). The dissolution which had commenced under Louis the Débonnair continued under his son Charles the Bald. His three brothers,* relying alternately upon the pretensions of the clergy and of the large landholders, disputed with him for the vast empire of Charlemagne. The bloody battle of Fontenay, fought on the 25th of June, 841, made Charles the Bald king of Neustria and Aquitaine, that is, of France. His reign is nothing but a continual alternation, a scene of futile efforts to prevent the dismemberment of his dominions and of his power. At one time, he robs the clergy in order to satisfy the avidity of the great landholders, whose support he is anxious to gain; at another time, he spoils the landholders in order to appease the clergy, of whose assistance he stands in need. His capitulars contain hardly anything but these impotent alternations. The hereditary succession of benefices and appointments became triumphant, and every chieftain laid the foundation of his own independence.
V. The Normans. This is the generic name of the German and Scandinavian tribes, who inhabited the shores of the Baltic. Their maritime expeditions may be traced back to a very remote period. We meet with them under the first dynasty of Frankish kings; they frequently occur towards the end of the reign of Charlemagne, and under Louis the Débonnair; and they continually appear under Charles the Bald. They constituted a fresh cause of the dismemberment of the empire, and of the royal authority. In the ninth century, the Frankish Gauls present the same appearance which the Roman Gauls had offered four centuries before: that of a government incapable of defending the country, and expelled or retiring in every direction, and of barbarians pillaging, imposing tribute, withdrawing on payment of large sums of money, and continually reappearing to levy fresh contributions. Nevertheless, a notable difference is to be remarked between these two epochs. In both, the central government was equally incapable and worn out; but, in the ninth century, there existed within the Frankish territory a host of chieftains, who, though lately barbarian invaders themselves, had become independent, and were surrounded by warriors who defended themselves against the new invaders with far greater energy than the Roman magistrates had done, and who took advantage of the disturbed state of society to consolidate firmly their own individual sovereignties. Among these chieftains, we meet with Robert the Strong, the ancestor of the Capetian family, who became Duke of Neustria, in 861, and was killed in 866, while defending Neustria against the Normans. The Normans definitively established themselves in Neustria, in 912, under Charles the Simple, who yielded the province to their chief Rollo, and gave him his daughter Grisella in marriage.
VI. Charles the Fat. In 884, Charles the Fat, son of Louis the Germanic, temporarily collected under his rule nearly all the dominions of Charlemagne. The maintenance of this new concentration of territory and power was impossible, and it was dissolved even before the death of Charles the Fat.
VII. In 888, Eudes, and in 923, Raoul, made themselves kings. The first, a count of Paris, was the son of Robert the Strong, and assumed the title of king, at the national assembly held at Compiègne. The second was Duke of Burgundy, and husband of Emma, the grand-daughter of Robert the Strong, and sister of Hugo the Great, Duke of France. These kings were not, like the Mayors of the Palace at the termination of the first dynasty, the representatives of a powerful aristocracy. The landed aristocracy of the tenth century had no further need of representation; no power could struggle effectively against them. Every great landowner was absolute master in his own estates, and the kings were only great barons, who, having become independent, assumed the title of kings, with the aid of their vassals. A portion of the lords who had thus become independent, remained indifferent to quarrels which did not disturb their rights and their power. They cared little whether there was a king, or who was king. The descendants of Charlemagne retained for some considerable time a party of adherents, for the idea and feeling of the rightfulness of a hereditary succession to the crown, that is, of legitimacy, were already powerful; but in 987, the conflict ceased, and Hugh Capet became king.
The general fact which characterizes this epoch,—a tendency to dismemberment and dissolution,—is frequently met with in the course of the history of the human race. At first, we see the interests, forces, and ideas which exist in society, labouring to become united, to concentrate themselves, and to produce a suitable form of government. When this concentration has been once effected, and this government has been once produced, we find that, at the end of a certain time, it becomes exhausted and incapable of maintaining it entirely; new interests, new forces, and new ideas, which do not harmonize with each other, arise and come into action; then the dissolution begins, the elements of society become separated, and the bonds of government are relaxed. A conflict commences between the forces which tend to separation, and the authority which strives to maintain union. When the dissolution shall be consummated, then will begin a new work of concentration. This occurred after the fall of the second dynasty in France. The prevalence of the feudal system had caused the dissolution of the government and the state; the government and the state laboured to reconstitute themselves, and to regain their unity and consistency. This great work was not definitively accomplished until the reign of Louis XIV.; the social forces had then become once more concentrated in the hands of royalty. Our own times have witnessed a fresh dissolution.2
What we observe, then, during the years from 481 to 987, is a general phenomenon, characteristic of the progress of the human race. This phenomenon occurs not only in the political history of societies, but also in every occupation in which the activity of man finds exercise. In intellectual order, for example, we find at first that chaos reigns; the most divergent attempts to resolve the great questions of the nature and destiny of man, are made in the midst of the universal ignorance. By degrees, opinions become assimilated, a school is formed, founded by a superior man; it is joined by almost all men of mind. Ere long, in the midst of this very school, diverse opinions arise, contend, and become separated; dissolution begins once again in intellectual order, and will continue until a new unity is formed, and regains the empire.
Such, also, is the course of nature herself in her great and mysterious operations. This continual alternation of formation and dissolution, of life and death, recurs in all things, and under all forms. Spirit gathers matter together and gives it animation, uses, and then abandons it. It falls a prey to some fermentation, after which it will reappear under a new aspect, to receive once more that spirit which alone can impart to it life, order, and unity.
Ancient institutions of the Franks. ~ They are more difficult of study than those of the Anglo-Saxons. ~ Three kinds of landed property; allodial, beneficiary, and tributary lands. ~ Origin of allodial lands. ~ Meaning of the word allodium. ~ Salic land amongst the Franks. ~ Essential characteristics of the allods.
The primitive institutions of the Franks are much more difficult of study than those of the Anglo-Saxons.
I. In the Frankish monarchy, the old Gallo-Roman people still subsisted; they in part retained their laws and customs; their language even predominated; Gaul was more civilised, more organised, more Romanised than Great Britain, in which nearly all the original inhabitants of the country were either destroyed or dispersed.
II. Gaul was divided among various barbarian peoples, each of whom had its own laws, its own kingdom, its own history; the Franks, the Visigoths, the Burgundians; and the continual alternations of the Frankish monarchy between dislocation and re-union, long destroyed all unity in its history.
III. The conquerors were dispersed over a much larger extent of territory; and central institutions were weaker, more diverse, and more complicated.
IV. Of the two systems of social and political order, contained in the cradle of modern nations—I mean the feudal system and the representative system—the latter has long prevailed in England, while the former long maintained its sway in France. The ancient national institutions of the Franks were absorbed into the feudal system, in whose train came absolute power. Those of the Saxons, on the other hand, were more or less maintained and perpetuated, to end at length in the representative system, which rendered them clear by giving them due development.
Perhaps, also, the difficulty of the study of the ancient Frankish institutions arises in some measure from the fact that we possess more documents respecting the Franks than respecting the Saxons. Because we are acquainted with more facts, we have greater trouble in harmonizing them. We believe we are better informed because we know less.
Such being the case, I wish to state with precision the object of my researches, so as not to lose time in useless digressions. I do not propose that we should study together either the state of Frankish society in all its departments, or the history of all its vicissitudes. I am desirous to investigate and explain to you, first, what constituted in France, from the fifth to the tenth century, the political part of the nation, possessing political rights and liberties; and secondly, by what institutions these rights were exercised, and these liberties guaranteed. We shall frequently be obliged to make excursions beyond these limits in search of the facts necessary to the solution of the questions contained therein; but we shall not dwell long upon such extraneous matter.
In the pursuit of this study, we shall find the works of German authors of incontestable utility. A principal cause of the errors of the leading French writers who have treated of the subject, is that they have attempted to derive all our institutions from Germany, from the condition of the Franks before the invasion, and that, at the same time, they have been unacquainted with the language, the history, and the learned researches of the purely German peoples, that is, of the nations which have most thoroughly retained the primitive elements of Frankish society, and which formed a considerable portion of the Frankish monarchy.
Dr. Hullmann, a professor at the University of Bonn, has written a book on the origin of the various social states or conditions, the object of which is to prove that all modern social order, political as well as civil, derives its origin from the circumstance, that the peoples of modern times have been agriculturists, devoted to the possession and fixed cultivation of land. This view, although incomplete, is of much importance. It is certain that, in the history of Europe, ever since the fall of the Roman Empire, the condition of persons has been closely connected with that of landed property, and that the one throws light upon the other. Though all history would not prove that this has been the case from the beginning, yet the long-continued predominance of the feudal system, which consists precisely in the intimate connection and amalgamation of the relations of lands with those of persons, would alone be sufficient to demonstrate it unquestionably.
At the outset, the condition of persons gave rise to that of lands; according as a man was more or less free, more or less powerful, the land which he possessed or cultivated assumed a corresponding character. The condition of lands afterwards became the symbol of the condition of persons; according as a man possessed or cultivated such and such a domain, he was more or less free and more or less important in the State. Originally, the man gave its character to the estate; in the sequel, the estate gave his character to the man: and as symbols quickly become causes, the condition of persons was at length not only indicated, but determined by, and consequent upon, the condition of lands. Social conditions became in some degree incorporated with the soil: and a man found himself possessed of a certain rank and of a certain degree of liberty and social importance, corresponding to the character of the land which he occupied. In studying modern history, we must not for a moment lose sight of these vicissitudes in the condition of lands, and of the varied influence they exerted upon the condition of persons.
There is some advantage in first studying the condition of lands, in so far as it was a symbol of the condition of persons, because the former is somewhat more determinate than the latter. It is also less complicated; the condition of persons frequently varied upon lands of the same condition; and the same persons have possessed lands of different conditions. Our information, respecting the condition of lands, is also more than exact.
In studying the condition of landed property and its vicissitudes, I do not propose to investigate its civil condition, or to consider property in all its civil relations, such as successions, bequests, and alienations. I intend to consider it only in its relation to the condition of persons, and as a symbol or cause of the various conditions of society. In the period which we are about to study, from the fifth to the tenth century, we have this advantage: that it contains a complete system, both as regards landed property, and also with respect to the condition of persons and the political institutions of the nation.1
At this period, we meet with three kinds of landed property: 1st. Allodial lands; 2nd. Beneficiary lands; and 3rd. Tributary lands.
1st. Of allodial lands or Allods.—These were lands possessed in absolute right, which the proprietor held from no one, on account of which he owed nothing to any superior, and of which he had full liberty to dispose. The lands taken or received as booty by the Franks, at the time of the conquest of Gaul, or in their subsequent conquests, were originally allodial. At a later period it was said that a man held an allodium, only from God and his sword. Hugh Capet said that he held the crown of France in this manner, because he had received it from no one. Such tenures were mementos of conquest.
The word, alode itself indicates that the first allods were lands, which fell to the conquerors either by lot or division; loos, lot; allotted, allotment; whence also came the French word, loterie. Among the Burgundians, Visigoths, Lombards, and others, we find positive traces of this division of the lands allotted to the conquerors. They took possession of two-thirds of the land, that is, not of the whole extent of the country, but of the land in any locality, where a barbarian of any importance took up his residence. The lands which thus fell to the barbarians, were called Sortes Burgundionum, Gothorum, and so on. We do not find among the Franks positive traces of such a division of the land; but we know, nevertheless, that they divided their booty by lot.
The word alode, then, was probably applied at first only to the lands taken by the victors in virtue of their conquests. Another proof of this is that allodial property, properly so called, was long distinguished from the lands held also in absolute right, and entailing no acknowledgment of a superior, but which had been acquired by purchase or in any other way. A distinction was also made among allodial lands, of salio land, which could be inherited only by males. This was probably the original allod, the land acquired at the time of the conquest, and which thereupon became the primitive and principal establishment of the head of the family. Terra salica is the terra aviatica of the Ripuarian Franks, theterra sortis titulo adquisita of the Burgundians, the haereditas of the Saxons, and the terra paterna of the formulas of Marculf.2 Various explanations have been given of the term salic land. Montesquieu thinks that it was the land belonging to the house, from the word, sal, hall. This explanation is supported by Hull-mann. It would thus be the in-land of the Anglo-Saxons. It is probable that originally the terra salica was in fact the land connected with the house, the residence of the chieftain. The two explanations would thus coincide; but the former is more complete and historical than the latter.
The name of allod was extended by degrees to all lands possessed in absolute right, and held from no superior, whether they were the original allods or not. The words proprium, possessio, praedium, haereditas,3 were then employed as synonymes of allodium. It was probably at this period also that the rigorous interdict which excluded females from succession to salic land, fell into desuetude. It would have been too harsh to exclude them from succession to all allo-dial property. There were some doubts entertained on this point as early as the time when the salic law was drawn up; and Marculf has transmitted to us a formula which proves that, although it was the common law to deprive females of all succession to primitive allods, a father might, nevertheless, by his will, give his daughter an equal share with his sons in the division of all his property, of whatever nature.
The essential and primitive characteristic of the allodium, consisted in the absoluteness of the property; the right to give it away, to alienate it, to bequeath it by inheritance or will, &c. Its second characteristic was that it depended upon no superior, and involved no service or tribute of any kind to any individual. But although allodial lands were exempt from all private charges towards individuals, does it follow that they were also exempt from all public charges as regarded the state, or the king as head of the State? This question has been differently answered by learned men.
At the period to which we allude, there were no public charges properly so called, no obligations imposed and fulfilled as regarded the State, or its head. All was limited to personal relations between individuals; and from the relations of man with man arose the mutual relations of landed property, which were not carried further than those of persons. We have already seen this; the position of the Franks after the conquest resulted from the combination of their anterior relations with their new position. The freeman, who held his land from no one, had no obligations or charges to fulfil to any one on account of his land. In such a state of civilization, liberty is the appanage of force. The Franks who possessed allodial lands, and were strong enough to be under no obligation of duty to any more powerful individual, would not have comprehended the necessity of owing service to an abstract being like the State, with which, moreover, they had no personal relation.
However, as society cannot exist in such a state of dissolution, arising from the isolation of individuals, new relations were progressively formed between the proprietors of allodial lands, which relations imposed certain charges on them.
1st. The gifts presented to the kings either at the holding of the Champs de Mars or Mai, or when they come to pass any time in any particular province. The kings had no fixed habitation. These gifts, though at first purely voluntary, became gradually converted into a sort of obligation, from which allodial lands were not exempt. That these gifts had become obligatory is proved by a list drawn up at Aix-la-Chapelle in 817, during the reign of Louis the Débonnair, which enumerates the monasteries which had to pay them, and those which had not.
2nd. The supply of provisions and means of transport to the king’s ambassadors, and to the foreign envoys, on their passage through the country.
3rd. Of the various barbarian nations which were successively incorporated into the kingdom of the Franks, several paid tribute to the Frankish kings; and of this tribute it is probable that the free or allodial lands, possessed by these nations, contributed their share. It consisted of a certain number of cows, hogs, and horses. The nature of these tributes proves that they were not distributed among the lands, but imposed upon the nation as a whole.
4th. A more important charge, namely, military service, was imposed upon allodial lands. In our next lecture, we shall see how this charge was introduced.
Origin of military service; its cause and limits. ~ It was made a general obligation by Charlemagne. ~ Allodial lands were originally exempt from taxation. ~ Origin of benefices. ~ Change in the position of the German chiefs in consequence of their territorial settlement. ~ Their wealth. ~ No public treasury. ~ The aerarium and fiscus of the old Roman republic. ~ Formation of the private domain of the kings of France. ~ Character of benefices. ~ Error of Montesquieu on this subject.
I have indicated some of the new relations which became progressively established between the proprietors of allodial lands and the services that resulted from them. I have to occupy you today with the consideration of military service and benefices.
Originally, military service was imposed on a man by virtue of his quality, his nationality before the conquest, and not by reason of his wealth. After the conquest, there was no legal obligation to it whatever; it was a natural result of the position occupied by the Franks—who were constantly called upon to defend what they had conquered—and of their taste for warlike expeditions, and for pillage. It was, also, a kind of moral obligation which each man owed to the chief whom he had chosen. This connexion continued the same as in Germany; the chief proposed an expedition to his men, and if they approved of it, they set out. Thus, we find Theodoric proposed to the Austrasian Franks an expedition against Thuringia. Often the warriors themselves summoned their chief to conduct them on some particular expedition, threatening to forsake him, and seek another chief, in the event of his refusal. Under the Merovingians, a kind of regularity, some sort of legal obligation, was introduced into the military con-vocations, and a penalty was inflicted upon those who did not present themselves. The obligation was imposed, and the penalty inflicted, even in cases where no movement was required in defence of the country. The proprietors of allodial lands were not exempted; many, doubtless, went on their own free choice, but the feeble were constrained. This was, however, an obligation attached rather to the quality of a free man, a Frank, or an associate, than to property.
Not until the reign of Charlemagne, do we see the obligation to military service imposed on all free men, proprietors of freeholds, as well as of benefices, and regulated by property qualifications. This service now appeared no longer as a voluntary act; it was no longer the consequence of the simple relation between a chief and his associates, but a truly public service imposed on every individual of the nation, in proportion to the nature and extent of his territorial possessions. Charlemagne was very vigilant in seeing that the system of recruiting which he had established, should be faithfully carried out; we have a proof of this in his capitulary, issued in the form of instructions to the missi dominici, in the year 812. This is an exceedingly minute account of the particulars and charges of military service. These charges remained under the same conditions during the reigns of Charlemagne’s immediate successors. Under Charles the Bald, they were restricted to the case of an invasion of the country by a foreigner (landwehr). The relation of the vassal to his lord, at that time, prevailed completely over that of the citizen to the chief ruler of the state.
Although allodial lands were exempt from imposts, properly so called, more because there were no general imposts whatever than because of any special immunity from them possessed by allodial lands, yet we find the kings used every favourable opportunity to attempt to attach imposts to men and lands, which they believed rightfully exempt from them; complaints were made of these attempts as acts of injustice; they were resisted, and sometimes redress was sought, as under Chilperic, in 578, in Austrasia; under Theodebert, in 547; and under Clovis II., in 615. We find also, that, on the occasion of great and alarming emergencies, the kings imposed certain charges on proprietors, without distinction, requiring them to lend their assistance, either to the poor, or to the state. Thus, Charlemagne, in 779, during a famine, and Charles the Bald, in 877, in order to pay the tribute due to the Normans, made such general claims. In both these cases, the charge was adjusted to the quality of persons and properties.
There is reason to believe that, originally, allodial lands did not exist in large numbers, especially among the Franks.
There is no ground for supposing that the Franks took possession of, and shared the lands, wherever they made expeditions and conquests. They rather cared for the booty which they carried off, and the cattle which they took with them, instead of forming a settlement themselves. For a long time, the greater part of the Franks did not often forsake their first habitations on the banks of the Meuse and the Rhine; thither they returned after their expeditions.
We may conclude that lands were most probably distributed in the following manner. Each chief took a portion for himself and his associates, who lived on the land of their chief. It would be absurd to suppose that each band would dissolve itself, and the separated individuals then retire each to his isolated share of land; there were no individual shares, or, certainly, but few. This is sufficiently proved by the fact that the greater number of Franks appear to have been without landed property, living as cultivators on the lands, and in thevillae of a chief, or of the king. Often, even, a man would place himself not only under the protection, but at the disposal of another, to serve him during his life, on condition of being fed and clothed, and yet without ceasing to be free. This kind of contract, the formula for which has been preserved, must have been very common, and explains the circumstance that so large a number of free men are found to have lived and served on lands not belonging to themselves. Probably, the number of Franks who became successively proprietors, by means of benefices, was greater than the number of those who were primitively allodial proprietors.
The larger number of small allodial proprietors were gradually robbed of their possessions, or reduced to the condition of tributaries, by the usurpation of their neighbours, or of powerful chiefs. Of this, there are innumerable examples. The laws made, from the seventh to the tenth century, give evidence of the tendency of large allodial estates or benefices to absorb small freeholds. The statute of Louis the Débonnair, referring to the complaints of the Spanish refugees in the south, explains pretty accurately the system according to which properties changed hands.
Donations to churches also tended incessantly to reduce the number of allodial estates. They would probably soon have disappeared altogether, had not a cause of an opposite character tended continually to create new ones. As allo-dial property was sure and permanent, while benefices were precarious and more dependent, the proprietors of benefices constantly sought to convert their benefices into allodial estates. The capitularies which remain to us prove this at every step. It is probable that large new allodial estates were thus created, but small ones tended to disappear.
Finally, under Charles the Bald, a singular circumstance presents itself. This was the very time when the system of allodial property was preparing, so to speak, to merge itself in the system of Beneficiary property, which is synonymous with feudalism; and precisely at that time the name of Allods is more frequent than ever. We find it applied to properties which are evidently benefices. This name still designated a property more surely hereditary and independent, and as benefices were ordinarily hereditary and independent, they were called allods, just in order to indicate their new character; and the king himself, whose interest it especially was that his benefices should not become allods, gave them this name, as if it had become their conventional designation. Sixty years previously, Charlemagne had made the greatest efforts to prevent benefices from becoming allods.
Having thus explained the nature and changes of allods, I pass on to the consideration of benefices.
Benefices, which constituted the cradle of the feudal system, were a natural result of the relations anciently subsisting in Germany between a chief and his associates. As the power of these chiefs resided only in the strength of their band of associates, all their attention was directed to the means of enlarging the number of these followers. Tacitus relates how, being charged with the maintenance and preservation of their followers, they gained and kept them by means of constant warfare, by dividing to them the spoils of the empire, by gifts of arms and horses. After the conquest, when the territorial establishment took place, the position of the chiefs was altered. Hitherto, in their wandering life, they had lived solely upon rapine; then they possessed two kinds of wealth, moveable booty and lands. They made their companions other presents, which engaged them in another kind of life. These riches, both moveable and fixed, remained for the chiefs, as for all others, as their personal and private property. The Frankish society had not then arrived at any ideas of public property. It consisted only of individuals, powerful by reason of their courage and their talent for war, by the antiquity of their family, and the renown of their name, who collected around them other individuals, who passed their life in the same precarious manner. The republics of antiquity did not commence thus. Rome had soon its public treasure—its aerarium. Till nearly the close of the republic, theaerarium still remained. Augustus established the fiscus, the treasury of the prince, which was destined to absorb the aerarium. The fiscus, at first, received only private gifts to the prince, but it soon usurped all the public revenues, till it became at length the only repository for public wealth. Thus, despotism transformed a public into a private domain. The states founded on the ruins of the Roman empire have followed an opposite course. At their commencement, all property was private property. It is in consequence of the development of civilization, and free institutions, that in almost all monarchies private domains have gradually become public property.
The private domains of the chiefs of bands, and particularly of the Frank-ish kings, were at first composed of lands taken from the inhabitants of the countries in which they established themselves. I have already stated that they did not take all the lands, but a large number of them. The share of the chief must have been considerable, as is indicated by the numerous domains of the chiefs of the first two races, in Belgium, in Flanders, and on the banks of the Rhine, where they first formed their settlements. Hullmann has given a list of a hundred and twenty-three domains beyond the Meuse belonging to the Carlovingian family.
The private property of the chiefs of conquered peoples were, to a great extent at least, incorporated into the domain of the conquering chief. Clovis subjected to himself successively several petty monarchs in his neighbour-hood—Ragnachair at Cambray, Chararich in Belgium, and Siegbert at Cologne; and took possession of all their personal property.
The substitution of the royalty of one family for that of another, augmented the private domain of the king; the new king would add to his own personal possessions the property of the dethroned king. Thus the large domains possessed by the family of the Pepins, in Belgium, and on the Rhine, became royal domains.
Legal confiscations, as a punishment for crime, cases in which no legal heir was to be found for property, unjust and violent confiscations—were other sources of personal wealth to kings.
In these ways, the private domain of the kings increased rapidly, and it was employed by them especially as a means of attaching their associates to them, and of gaining new ones. benefices, then, are as ancient as the establishment of the Franks on a fixed territory.
The fundamental question which has divided historians, whether those who are merely scholars or the philosophers, is—were benefices given for a time and revocable at will, or were they for life and yet revertible, or were they hereditary? Montesquieu has aimed at establishing a historical progression among these different modes; he asserts that benefices were at first revocable, being given for a time, then for life, and then hereditary. I believe he is mistaken, and that his mistake arises from an attempt to systematize history, and bring its facts into regular marching order. In the giving and receiving of benefices, two tendencies have always coexisted: on the one hand, those who had received benefices wished to retain them, and even to make them hereditary; on the other hand, the kings who granted them wished to resume them, or to grant them for only a limited period. All the disputes that occurred between kings and their powerful subjects, all the treaties which arose out of these disputes, all the promises which were made with a view to appease the dissatisfaction of malcontents, prove that the kings were in the habit of taking back, by violence, the benefices they had granted, and that the nobles attempted to retain them also by violence. The Mayors of the Palace acquired their power by placing themselves at the head of the large possessors of benefices, and by seconding their pretensions. Under the administration of Pepin the Short and Charlemagne, the struggle appeared to cease, because the kings had for a time great superiority in force; but, in reality, the kings were now the aggressors in their turn, who endeavoured to bring the benefices again into their own hands, and to preserve to themselves the free disposal of them. Under Charles the Bald, the kings again began to get feeble, and, in consequence the treaties and promises became again favourable to the beneficiaries. In fact, the history of benefices, from the time of Clovis till the full establishment of the feudal system, is only a perpetual struggle between these two opposing tendencies. An attentive and accurate examination of the facts will prove that the three modes of conceding benefices did not follow one another in regular chronological succession, but that they are to be found existing and operating simultaneously during the whole course of this period.
Proofs of the co-existence of various modes of conferring benefices, from the fifth to the tenth century. ~ Of benefices that were absolutely and arbitrarily revocable. ~ Of benefices conceded for a limited time; the precaria. ~ Of benefices granted for life. ~ Of benefices granted hereditarily. ~ General character of the concession of benefices. ~ Their tendency to become hereditary. ~ Its prevalence under Charles the Bald. ~ Military service. ~ Judicial and domestic service. ~ Origin, meaning, and vicissitudes of the fidelity due by the vassal to his lord.
From the time of the invasion of the Gauls by the Franks up to the moment when the feudal system was definitely constituted, we find during the whole course of this epoch:
I. That benefices were revoked, not only as a consequence of legal condemnation, but also by the arbitrary will of the donor. The power of absolute and arbitrary transference of benefices was practically in existence under the Merovingian kings. It is however very doubtful whether this has ever been recognised as the right of the donors. Such an act possessed a character of suddenness and violence which gave a shock to ideas of natural justice. Few men would consent to receive a favour of which they might legally have been deprived at the first moment of caprice. Montesquieu affirms that benefices were first held on an entirely uncertain tenure. The proofs which he gives are but of little weight. First, the clause contained in the treaty concluded at Andely, in 587, between the two monarchs, Gontran and Childebert, proves the fact but not the right. Secondly, the formula of Marculf again does not prove anything more than a common practice. Besides, the giver of the benefice presents a motive in this formula, namely, the necessity of the exchange. Thirdly, the law of the Lombards merely characterises the benefice as a precarious property, which it indubitably was. Fourthly, the Book of Fiefs compiled in the twelfth century, probably converted the fact into a right. Fifthly, the letter of the bishops to Louis the Germanic also proves merely the fact. It is evident that the right has always been contested, and that attempts have always been made to prevent the permanency of benefices is a fact also. “Charlemagne,” says Eginhard, “did not suffer that every noble should take away from his vassal the benefices which he had granted to him upon any outburst of anger.” The capitulary of Louis the Débonnair, which allows a year to the rejected incumbent whose benefice is in a bad condition before it can be finally taken from him, proves likewise that certain forms were observed with this view, and protests against a purely arbitrary disposition. That the patron had a right to take away the benefice, when the occupant had failed to discharge his obligations, is an indisputable fact. Now it would be very easy to abuse this principle of taking away benefices under a pretext of disorderly conduct or infidelity to the trust reposed; accordingly all the protestations that were made, and all the treaties that were enforced, were designed to oppose such a procedure.
Thus we find, from the fifth to the tenth century: First, numerous examples of benefices being arbitrarily taken away; this was the practice of the giver, when his power corresponded to his desire. Secondly, benefices taken away on account of unfaithfulness, disorder, treachery; this was a right.
II. As to benefices granted for a limited time, Montesquieu affirms, after the Book of Fiefs, that they were at first granted for one year. I have not been able to find any positive example of this. It is not however impossible that there may have been such, similar to the precaria belonging to churches. Precarium, among the Romans, signified a grant of property on the tenure of usufruct for a limited time, which was generally pretty short. Under the monarchy of the Franks, we have seen that the churches often consolidated their wealth in this way, in order to secure a permanent revenue. Charles the Bald decreed that the precaria should be held for five years and renewed every five years. The only benefices which appear to me to have been granted for a time, ostensibly so at least, are those which arose out of the ecclesiastical wealth taken by Charles Martel (about .. 720), and which were then possessed under the designation precarious. Before this period we find kings and mayors interposing their authority in order to obtain, under the title of precarious, the enjoyment of certain church wealth for certain persons. It appears that Charles Martel did more at that time than grant or cause the retention of church property, under the title of precaria—he also completely stripped the churches, in order to confer their wealth as benefices. But, after him, Pepin and Carloman, his sons, while they also took the wealth of churches in order to confer them on their vassals, only took it on the title of precaria. The ecclesiastics protested vigorously against the spoliation of Charles Martel, and it was upon their protestations that Pepin ordained that the wealth which could be restored should be actually returned, and that what could not be so restored, should be held under the title precaria, at fixed rentals, till they could again be transferred to the church. Pepin and Charlemagne used rigorous measures to secure that the holders, in precario, of church wealth should fulfil their obligations to its primitive proprietors; and we may gather, from the frequency of their orders, that these orders were often treated with contempt. It is nevertheless evident that the practice of taking the goods of the church, and placing them in other hands, whether absolutely, or under the title of precarious, continued under even the most feeble and superstitious kings. The bishops said that Charles the Bald suffered himself to be led astray, being often seduced, partly because of his youth, partly through feebleness of character, by evil counsellors, and often constrained by the threats of the occupants, who told him “that if he did not allow them to possess this consecrated property, they would abandon him immediately.” It is probable that but little of this property was restored to the churches, and that the greater part of what was held sub precario1 became, along with the other benefices, the hereditary possession of the occupants.
We see that far from Charles Martel having any claim to be regarded as the first originator of the practice of granting benefices for life, the benefices, on the contrary, which arose either from the act by which he despoiled churches and monasteries, or from acts similar to his, were for a long time more precarious than any others, and even ought legally to have been restored to the churches; certainly at the death of the occupants, and if possible before.
III. We find during the whole of the epoch which we are considering, and at its close as much as at its commencement, benefices conferred for life. It is evident that under Pepin and Charlemagne most benefices were given on this tenure. This was owing to the various precautions taken by the kings to prevent their being transformed into allodial estates. Louis the Débonnair took the same precautions. Mabillon quotes a charter of this king containing the formal concession of a benefice to be held for life. In 889, King Eudes conferred a benefice on Ricabod his vassal, “in Beneficiary right, and on a tenure of usufruct”; with this addition, that, if he should have a son, the benefice should pass to his son for his life. We see, under Pepin, a vassal die who had a son, and yet his benefice was given immediately to another vassal.
IV. We find also, during the whole of this epoch, that benefices were given or held hereditarily. In 587, it was stipulated by the treaty of Andely, with regard to the concessions made by queen Clotilda, that they should be perpetual. The law of the Visigoths (of Chindasuinth, about 540) provides that the concessions made by the princes should not be revoked. Marculf gives the formulary for a hereditary concession. In 765, Charlemagne gave to an individual named Jean, who had conquered the Saracens in the province of Barcelona, a domain (says Fontaines) situated near Narbonne; “in order that he and his posterity may possess it without any fee or trouble, so long as they remain faithful to us or to our children.” The same Jean presented himself to Louis the Débonnair, with the gift of Charlemagne, and demanded his confirmation of it. Louis confirmed it, and added to it new lands. In 884, Jean being dead, his son Teutfred presented himself to Charles the Bald with the two donations just mentioned, and asked him to confirm them to him. The king granted this, as it is expressed, “in order that thou mayest possess them, thou and thy posterity, without any fee.” These successive demands of confirmation, either at the death of the original bestower, or at that of the original incumbent, prove that the hereditary character of benefices was not then considered as a right, even when it had been promised, and consequently that it rested on no general law that was recognized by the state.
These three modes of granting benefices, of which I have just given examples, existed therefore at the same time, and I believe that we may assert from them two general facts, which however are not without exceptions: First, the usual condition of benefices, during this period, was that they should be given on a tenure of usufruct and for life; Secondly, the tendency of the time was to render the benefice a hereditary possession. This result was eventually realized when the feudal or aristocratic system triumphed over the monarchical system. We see under Charlemagne, at which time the monarchical system reached its culminating point, that most benefices were held on a tenure of usufruct for life, and not as personal property. Not only was Charlemagne unwilling that the property in benefices should be usurped, but he was especially vigilant with regard to their right administration. Under Charles the Bald, when the aristocratic system prevailed, benefices came to be held as hereditary possessions. This mode of possession partly arose out of the immense number of hereditary concessions which were made during this reign, and which were commenced under Louis the Débonnair; partly also out of some general arrangements in the capitularies of Charles the Bald, which recognized or conferred upon those who were faithful to the king the right to transmit their benefices hereditarily. We must conclude from this that the hereditary character of benefices at that time prevailed almost universally as a custom, and began to be avowed as a principle, but that it was not yet a general and recognized right. It was demanded and received in individual instances, which would not have been the case had it existed as a common right. In the monarchies consequent on the dismemberment of Charlemagne’s empire—in Germany, for example—it was not recognized as a right, and prevailed still less as a custom.
Let us never forget—I repeat it—that all these general facts are subject to exceptional cases, and that different methods of conferring benefices have existed at all times. It would follow, from the nature of things, that the common condition of benefices was, at first, that of possession for life. The relations of the chief to his associates were all personal,—hence his benefactions were personal also. Not less did it follow from the nature of things, that when the Franks were once established and fixed, the associates of the monarch who were able to acquire an independent existence, and to become powerful in their turn, tended to separate themselves from their ancient chief, and to settle themselves in their own possessions, in order that they also might become the centre of groups of men. Hence resulted all the efforts to make benefices hereditary.
After having determined the origin and the mode of conferring and transmitting benefices, it remains that we should learn what conditions were attached to them, and what relations were thereby formed between the giver and the incumbent.
Mably thinks that benefices did not at first impose any particular obligation, and that those of Charles Martel were the first which were formally associated with civil and military services. This opinion is contrary to the nature of things; the origin of benefices testifies to the contrary. They were, as, in Germany, gifts of horses or of arms and banquets had been, a mode of attaching companies to the benefactor. This relation in itself involves an obligation. Mably’s idea is equally contradicted by facts. In all the disputes which arose between the incumbents and the Merovingian kings, the benefices are always vindicated in behalf of those who kept faith with their patron. No complaints were made when those were seen to be despoiled who had failed to render the fidelity that was due from them. Siggo we find losing the benefices of Chilperic in 576, because he had forsaken his allegiance and passed over to Childebert II. The law of the Ripuarians pronounced the confiscation of the goods of every man who had been unfaithful to the king. Marculf gives the formula of the act by which a man was received into the number of the faithful. Charles Martel, in giving benefices to his soldiers, only imposed upon them the obligations that had always followed on such appointments. Only these obligations became progressively more formal and explicit, precisely in the measure that the ancient relations of the chief and his associates tended to become weakened and to disappear, in consequence of the dispersion of his men and their settlement on their own properties. Originally, the associates lived with their chief, around him, in his house and at his table, in peace, as well as in war: they were his vassals, according to the original sense of the word, which signified the guest, the companion, an individual attached to the house.* When most of the vassals had dispersed themselves, in order that each might reside in his own allo-dial or Beneficiary estate, we may easily perceive the necessity that thus arose of determining the obligations that were then imposed upon them; but this was only done imperfectly and by degrees, as is generally the case where matters are at issue which have for a long time had a general and conventional adjustment. As the first race began to disappear and the second to arise in its place, the obligations attached to the conferring of benefices appear to be clearly determined. They range themselves under two principal heads. First, the obligation of military service on the requisition of the patron. Secondly, the obligation of certain judicial and domestic services of a more personal and household character. It is impossible at the present time to specify what these services were to which the incumbents were held. We see only, among a host of acts, that the kings imposed on the incumbents servilia, which obliged them to present themselves at court. These obligations were comprised under the general term fidelity. They were at first personal, and attached to the quality of liege-man,3 independently of the possession of any benefice—a connexion identical with that between the ancient German associates and their monarch. When it had become necessary for the king to give lands as a benefice, in order to insure the fidelity of his liege subjects, the obligation attached itself to the quality of Beneficiary. We constantly see benefices given under the condition of loyalty. Charlemagne, when he gave a benefice in perpetuity to Jean, annexed to it this condition. There is reason to believe that benefices were also given, conditioned by the payment of certain fees (census). I do not find, at this period, the granting of any benefice in which the imposition of a rental is expressly indicated; but the nature of things seems to show that such must have been the case, and I do find mention made of benefices conferred absque ullo censu.4 Anxiety in certain cases to obtain exemption from the fees, proves that in other cases they were imposed. It is probable that rentals were attached to benefices, granted hereditarily, and not to those which were only given for the term of an individual life.
Loyalty was at first due only to that chief to whom it had been expressly promised, and from whom a benefice had been received. Charlemagne attempted to change this into an obligation common to all the freemen in his States. Marculf has preserved to us the formula in which he wrote to his counts, requiring from all individuals the oath of fidelity. Thus did this prince endeavour to break through the feudal hierarchy which was consolidating itself, to bring himself into a direct relation with all freemen, and to make the relation between king and subject predominant over that between lord and vassal. The oath of fidelity was universally exacted by the successors of Charlemagne, Louis the Débonnair and Charles the Bald, but without any effective results; for the tendency to hierarchical and feudal aristocracy had become prevalent. We find besides numerous examples of the maintenance of the relations between incumbent and patron, even under Charlemagne. Under Charles the Bald this relation became more positive and independent of the king. The prince even, for the repression of public crimes, allowed his authority to be exercised through the intervention of the lord; he made each lord responsible for the crimes of his own dependents. It was therefore especially in the empire of the lord over his men, that the means were then sought of sustaining order and repressing crime. This alone will sufficiently indicate the continually growing force of feudal relations and the diminishing authority of royalty.
Of benefices conceded by great landowners to men dependent upon them: First, benefices conceded for all kinds of services, and as a mode of paying salary; Secondly, larger proprietors usurp the lands adjoining their own, and bestow them as benefices on their subordinates; Thirdly, the conversion of a great number of allodial lands into benefices, by the practice of recommendation. ~ Origin and meaning of this practice. ~ Permanence of freeholds, especially in certain parts of the Frankish monarchy. ~ Tributary lands. ~ Their origin and nature. ~ Their rapid extension: its causes. ~ General view of the condition of territorial property, from the sixth to the eleventh century: First, different conditions of territorial property; Secondly, the individual dependence of territorial property; Thirdly, the stationary condition of territorial wealth. ~ Why the system of beneficiary property, that is to say, the feudal system, was necessary to the formation of modern society and of powerful states.
Kings were not the sole donors of benefices; all the large proprietors gave them. Many leaders of bands of men were originally united under the conduct of the king; these chiefs became subsequently proprietors of large allodial estates. Portions of these were conceded as benefices to their immediate associates. Afterwards, they became large incumbents, and gave also as benefices portions of the benefice which they held from the king. Hence arose the practice of sub-enfeoffment. In the capitularies, we perpetually meet with the words, vassalli vassallorum nostrorum.1
We find, during the whole of this period, even under Charlemagne, numerous examples of benefices held otherwise than from the king. Two letters of Eginhard expressly mention the concession, by way of benefice, of certain portions of royal benefices.
It is the opinion of Mably, that other persons than the king began to give benefices only after the reign of Charles Martel. This mistake arises from his not having apprehended that the relation of the chief to his associate, which afterwards grew into that of lord to his vassal, was at first a purely personal relation, entirely independent of and anterior to any concession of benefices. It is impossible to determine at what particular time the conferring of benefices became connected with the relation of the Beneficiary to his patron. This was probably almost immediately after the territorial establishment.
The number of benefices was soon very considerable, and became greater every day.
I. benefices were given to free men belonging to quite an inferior order, and employed in subordinate services. The majores villae, aud the poledrarii, that is to say, the stewards of the estates, and the keepers of the horses of Charlemagne, had them. It was the policy of this prince to scatter widely his gifts, and to reward zeal and fidelity wherever he found them.
II. The larger proprietors continually made themselves masters of the lands adjoining their own, whether these were lands belonging to the royal domain, or such as were neglected, and had no very definite owners. They had them cultivated, and often procured subsequently the privilege of adding them to their benefices. The extent of this abuse becomes manifest under Charles the Bald, by the numerous expedients adopted by this prince to remedy it.
III. A large number of allods were converted into benefices by means of a tolerably ancient usage. Marculf has left us the formula by which this conversion was made;—its origin we must seek in the practice of recommendation. Recommendation was not primitively anything else than the choice of a chief, or a patron. A law of the Visigoths, called a lex antiqua, and which must be referred to king Euric, towards the close of the fifth century, says: “If any one have given arms, or any other thing, to a man whom he has taken under his patronage, these gifts shall remain the property of him by whom they have been received. If this latter choose another patron, he shall be free to recommend himself to whomsoever he will: this may not be forbidden to a free man, for he belongeth to himself; but he shall, in this case, return to the patron from whom he separates himself all that he has received from him.”
These were, then, the ancient Germanic customs. The relation of the individual recommended to his patron was a purely personal one. The presents consisted in arms; his liberty remained unimpaired. The law of the Lombards left to every one the same liberty as the law of the Visigoths. Nevertheless, we see, by the same capitulary, that this liberty began to be restrained. Charlemagne defined the reasons, by which any one might be allowed to quit his lord, when he had received anything from him. We may learn from this; that the ties contracted by recommendation began to be strengthened. This practice became very frequent. By these means order was promoted, so far as the law was concerned, and protection and safety as far as concerned the person recommended. When relations of service and protection bearing a purely personal character were thus established with a patron, other more tangible relations arose in which the property of the parties was considered. The person recommended received benefices from the lord; and became a vassal of his estate; or rather he recommended his lands, as he had previously recommended his person. Recommendation thus became a part of the feudal system and it contributed most importantly to the conversion of allodial estates into benefices.
There is, however, no reason to believe that all allods were thus converted into benefices. Originally, such a conversion, or even the mere acceptance of a benefice, was regarded by a free man as, to a certain extent, a surrender of his liberty, being an entrance upon a personal service. The large proprietors, who exercised an almost absolute sovereignty in their own domains, would not readily renounce their proud independence. Etichon, brother to Judith the wife of Louis the Débonnair, was unwilling any longer to receive his son, Henry, who had accepted, without his knowledge, from the king his uncle a benefice of four hundred acres, and thereby entered upon the service of the crown. After the triumph of the feudal system, a considerable number of allods still remained in several provinces, particularly in Languedoc.
After speaking of freeholds and benefices, it remains that I should allude to the tributary lands, whose existence is attested by all the memorials of this period. We do not necessarily understand by this term lands on which a public impost was levied, but lands which paid a fee, a rental, to a superior, and which were not the actual and absolute property of those who cultivated them.
This kind of property existed in Gaul before the invasion of the Franks. The conquest that resulted from this invasion contributed in various ways to augment their number. First, wherever a Barbarian possessed of some amount of power established himself, he did not take possession of all the lands, but he most probably exacted certain fees, or services equivalent to them, from almost all whose lands bordered on his own. This is certain from a priori considerations, and is proved as a fact by the example of the Lombards, who invariably contended themselves at first with rendering all the lands of the conquered country tributary to themselves. They demanded a third of the revenue, and afterwards took the property itself. This fact shows clearly the mode of procedure that was adopted by the Barbarians. Almost all the lands possessed by Roman or Gallic chiefs, who did not possess sufficient power to rank with the Barbarians, were obliged to submit to a tributary condition.
Secondly, conquest was not the work of a single day; it continued to be carried on after the establishment of the invaders. All the documents of the period indicate that the principal officers and large proprietors continually exerted themselves, either to usurp the possessions of their less powerful neighbours, or to impose upon them rentals or other charges. These usurpations are proved by the multitude of laws that were enacted to prevent it. In the unsettled state of society that then existed, the feeble were entirely placed at the disposal of the strong; public authority had become incompetent for their protection; many lands which were at first free, and belonged either to their ancient owners, or to Barbarians of slender resources, fell into a tributary state; many of the smaller proprietors purchased for themselves the protection of the strong, by voluntarily placing their lands in this condition. The most common method of rendering lands tributary, was to give them either to churches or to powerful proprietors, and then to receive them again, on the tenure of usufruct, to be enjoyed during life, on the payment of fixed fees. This kind of contract is to be met with again and again, during this period. The same causes which tended to destroy allods, or to convert them into benefices, acted with even more energy in augmenting the number of tributary lands.
Thirdly, many large proprietors, whether of allodial lands or of benefices, were unable themselves to cultivate the whole of their lands, and gave them up by small portions to simple cultivators, on the payment of certain fees and services. This alienation took place under a multitude of forms and a variety of circumstances; it certainly occasioned many lands to become tributary. The large number and endless variety of rentals and rights, known in a later time by the name of feudal, arose probably either from similar contracts, or from usurpations committed by the powerful proprietors. The constant recurrence in writers and laws of the period of the terms census and tributum; the multitude of arrangements which relate to them; the general course of events; lastly, the state in which most landed property was found when order began to reappear—all these circumstances render it probable that at the end of the period we are considering, the greater number of lands had fallen into a tributary condition. Property and liberty were alike devoted to be plundered. Individuals were so isolated, and their forces so unequal, that nothing could prevent the results of such a position.
The large number of waste lands, attested by the facility with which any one who was willing to cultivate them might obtain them, bears witness in its turn also to the depopulation of the country, and the deplorable condition in which property existed. The concentration of landed property is a decisive proof of this state of things. When this kind of property is safe and prosperous, it tends to become divided, because every one desires to possess it. When, on the other hand, we see it accumulated more and more in the same hands, we may almost certainly conclude that it is in an unsound condition, that the feeble cannot sustain themselves upon it, and that the strong alone can defend it. Landed property, like moveable property, is only to be found where it can continue to exist in safety.
There is reason to believe that most tributary lands, even those which were not originally the property of the cultivators who laboured on them, became at length by a right of occupancy in reality their possessions, though burdened by rentals and exactions of service. This is the natural course of things: it is very difficult to remove a cultivator who has with his family for a long time tilled the same soil.
Such were the vicissitudes of landed property, from the sixth to the eleventh century. I will now give a summary view of the general characteristics of this state of things, and endeavour to estimate their influence on the progress of general civilization, and more particularly of political institutions.
I. There was a great diversity in the conditions of property. In our days, the condition of property is uniform and everywhere the same; whoever the proprietor may be, he possesses his property, whatever may be its character, on the same tenure of right, and subject to the same laws as any other. Between properties which are the most distinct in character, there is thus far an identity. This is one of the most unequivocal symptoms and safest guarantees of the progress of legal equality. During the times of which we have been speaking, the diversified conditions under which property was held would necessarily lead to the formation of several classes in society, between which existed great, factitious, and permanent inequality. Men were not merely proprietors to a greater or less extent; besides the inequality in the amount of wealth, there was also an inequality in the nature of the wealth possessed, than which it is impossible to conceive of a more powerful instrument for oppression. Even this, however, was a step in advance out of the slavery existing among the ancients. The slave could possess nothing—was essentially incapable of owning property. In the times of which I am speaking, the mass of the population had not become full and absolute possessors of property, but was attaining to a possession that was more or less imperfect and precarious, by which it had gained the means of yet loftier ascents.
II. Landed property was then submitted to the restraints of dependence on individuals. At present, all property is free, and is at the disposal only of its owner. General society has been formed—the State has been organized—every proprietor is united to his fellow-citizens by a multitude of ties and relations, and to the state by the protection which he receives from it, and the taxes to which he is subject in return: there is, thus, independence without isolation. From the sixth to the eleventh century, independence was necessarily accompanied by isolation: the proprietor of an allod lived upon his lands almost without buying or selling anything. He owed scarcely anything to a State which hardly existed, and which could not assure him of an efficient protection. The condition, therefore, of the allods and their proprietors was at that time a condition that was to a considerable extent anti-social. In more ancient times, in the forests of Germany, men without landed properties lived at least in common. When they became proprietors, if the allodial system had succeeded in becoming prevalent, the chiefs and their associates would have been separated, without ever being summoned to meet and recognize one another as citizens. Society would not have been at all constituted. It exists in those relations which unite men together, and in the ties out of which these relations arise. It necessarily demands a law, a condition of dependence. And when it is not so far advanced as that a sufficient number of these relations and ties have been established between the State and the individual, then individuals become dependent one upon another; and it was to this state of things that the seventh century had arrived. It was the imperfection of society which caused the allo-dial system in regard to landed property to perish, and the Beneficiary or tributary system to prevail. The independence of allods could only exist in connexion with their isolation, and isolation is anti-social. The hierarchical dependence of benefices became the tie to unite properties with one another, and society within itself.2
III. Out of this distribution and this character of landed property, a very important fact has resulted; namely, that during several centuries scarcely any means existed by which either the state or individuals could increase their wealth. Most proprietors of any importance did not cultivate the land at all; it was for them merely a capital, the revenues of which they gathered without troubling themselves to augment it, or to render it more productive. On the other side, most of those who cultivated the land were not proprietors, or were only so in a precarious and imperfect manner; they did not seek from the earth more than means of subsistence, and did not look to it as a means of enriching or elevating them. Agricultural labour was almost unknown to the rich, and to the poor it yielded nothing beyond the bare necessities of existence. Hence, resulted the continual impoverishment of the larger proprietors, which forced them incessantly to have recourse to violence, in order to preserve their fortune and their rank. Hence, resulted also, at the same time, that stationary condition of the population of the country districts which was prolonged for so long a period. Landed property tended always to become concentrated, from the very circumstance that its products did not increase. Accordingly, it is not in the country districts and in agricultural labour, but in the towns, in their commerce and industry, that we shall find the earliest germs of the accumulation of public wealth, and of the progress of civilization. The indolence of the upper classes, and the misery of the lower classes, in the middle ages, proceeded chiefly from the nature and distribution of territorial property.
IV. Beneficiary property was one of the most influential principles in the formation of large societies. In the absence of public assemblies and of a central despotism, it nevertheless established a bond, and formed relations between men dispersed over a vast tract of country, and thereby rendered possible a federative hierarchy, which should embrace a still wider circle. Among the nations of antiquity, the extension of the State was incompatible with the progress of civilization; either the State must be dislocated, or despotism would prevail. Modern States have presented a different spectacle, and to this result the character of Beneficiary property has powerfully contributed.3
Of the state of persons, from the fifth to the tenth century. ~ Impossibility of determining this, according to any fixed and general principle. ~ The condition of lands not always correspondent with that of persons. ~ Variable and unsettled character of social conditions. ~ Slavery. ~ Attempt to determine the condition of persons according to the Wehrgeld. ~ Table of twenty-one principal cases of Wehrgeld. ~ Uncertainty of this principle. ~ The true method of ascertaining the condition of persons.
We have investigated the condition of territorial properties, from the fifth to the tenth centuries. We have recognized three kinds of territorial property.First, allodial or independent; Secondly, Beneficiary; Thirdly, tributary. If from this we should wish to deduce the state of persons, we should find three social conditions corresponding to these: First, the free men, or proprietors of allods, bound to, and dependent upon no one, excepting the general laws of the state;Secondly, vassals, or proprietors of benefices, dependent in certain respects upon the noble from whom they held their property, either during life or hereditarily; Thirdly, the proprietors of tributary lands, who were subject to certain special obligations. To which it is necessary to add a fourth class, namely, the serfs.
We should observe further, that the first of these classes tended to disappear and become absorbed in the second, third, and even the fourth classes. This arose from facts which we have already explained.
This classification of persons is in fact a real one, and is to be met with in history; but we must not regard it as a primitive, general, and perfectly regular classification.
The condition of persons preceded that of lands—there were free men before there were freeholds; there were vassals and associates before benefices. The condition and relations of persons did not therefore originally depend on the condition and relations of territorial properties, and cannot be deduced from them.
Historians have fallen into a double mistake on this point. Some have wished to see in all the Franks, before the conquest, and the establishment of the system of landed estates, which we have already explained, men altogether free and equal, whose liberty and equality for a long time resisted the formation of this system. Others have been unwilling to recognize men as free, except as they are beheld in the condition of land proprietors, whether as allods or as benefices.
The matter is not thus simple and absolute. Social conditions were not thus framed and disposed of by a single process, to suit the convenience of subsequent antiquarians.
What do we find to be the character of liberty in the infancy of societies? Might is its condition, and it has scarcely any other guarantee. So long as society is of small extent and firmly compacted within itself, individual liberty remains, because each individual is important to the society of which he is a member: this was the case with the German tribes in its warrior bands of men. In proportion as society extends and disperses itself, the liberty of individuals is endangered because their personal strength is insufficient for their own protection. This was illustrated by the case of the Germans who established themselves in Gaul. A large number of his associates lived in the house of the chief, without being themselves proprietors or being anxious to become so, for which in difference they were indebted to that want of foresight which is natural to un-civilized men. Property became a prominent instrument for attaining force, yet many free men did not possess any.
The progress of civilization removes the guarantee of individual liberty from the power of the individual himself, and places it in the power of the community. But the very creation of such a public power, and the guarantee thereby of individual liberties, is a gradual and difficult process: it results from a social culture which is of slow growth and must triumph over many obstructions. Wherever there is no power belonging to the community, individual liberties have no guarantee for their continuance.
Hence the error of those who seek for liberty in the infancy of societies. We do in fact find it there, but only when society is quite in its cradle, when each separate individual is sufficiently strong to be able to defend his own liberty in a very limited community. But as soon as society rises and extends itself, we see this liberty perish; the inequality of different forces manifests itself, and individual power becomes incapable of preserving individual liberty. This is the birth-time of oppression and disorder.1
Such was the condition of the Franco-Roman community, at the period which we are considering. It seems somewhat puerile to inquire who was free then; no one was free, whatever his origin might be, if he was not strong. The real inquiry is, who was strong—a point which it is exceedingly difficult to determine.
In a fully settled society which has existed for a long time, it is easy to know who is strong. There is a constant transmission of properties and of ancient influences; power has permanent forms, men are classified. We see where strength resides and who possesses it. But at the time which we are considering, the various elements of social strength were struggling into existence; they scarcely had a being, and they were not familiarly known, nor stably fixed, or in regular possession of power; the violent customs which prevailed rendered property very moveable; individual strength was a poor guarantee for liberty, indeed, it needed itself to be placed in guardianship.
The human mind can hardly believe in disorder, because it cannot picture clearly to itself such a state of things; it does not resign itself to the idea; it desires to introduce an order of its own, in order to discover the light. We must, however, accept facts as they actually are. We may therefore understand how difficult it is to exhibit the condition of men, from the fifth to the tenth centuries; to learn what men were free, and who were not, and especially what a free man really was in his position and influence. We shall understand this difficulty still better when we have attempted to determine the condition of life belonging to certain positions, according to the different principles of classification which we may bring to the task. We shall see that no one principle can be found, by which we can deduce the state belonging to different positions in a manner exactly conformable to known facts, and which is not contradicted at every step by these same facts, or at least shown by them to be utterly insufficient and un-trustworthy.
Let us first apply the principle which is inferred from the state of landed property.
The proprietors of allods might seem to be incontestably free men. An allodial proprietor who had extensive estates enjoyed complete independence, and wielded an almost absolute sovereignty throughout his territory, and among his associates.
Large allodial proprietors were sometimes able to remain for a considerable time in such a position. But it was not certainly the strongest, nor consequently the most free and fixed condition; for we have seen that allodial property degenerated and declined, until almost all the allodial proprietors became beneficiaries. We have seen how the anger of Etichon was excited. The general fact is a witness against the life of the allodial proprietor. His very independence was a cause of isolation, and therefore of feebleness. The proprietors of allods, wearied with living on their estates, shut out from all society, used to come and live with the king or some large proprietor of greater power than themselves. It was soon a practice to send their children thither, in order that they might become companions of the prince, or of some distinguished noble.
As to the smaller allodial proprietors, they could not keep their standing long; they were not strong enough to defend their independence. The records of the period show that their property was soon alienated, and at the same time many of them became merely cultivators of the lands. The condition of the freeholder thus became merged in that of the tributary. From thence there was but one step to a total loss of liberty. This step was actually taken by a large number of allodial proprietors—wearied out or ruined, they surrendered their liberty into the hands of proprietors more wealthy and powerful than themselves.
We come now to the beneficiaries.
Benefices originated large individual resources—in them we find the source of the feudal aristocracy—large beneficiaries became in time powerful nobles. But we must not from this conclude that the possession of benefices was, during the period we are considering, any security for a permanent social position, to which power and liberty necessarily belonged. First, this possession was precarious, moveable, attacked, in the case of the smaller beneficiaries, by the larger ones, and in the case of the latter by the king. Beneficiary property hardly began to possess any fixity at the close of the ninth century. Secondly, a number of small benefices were conferred on individuals too weak efficiently to defend their position and their liberty. In order to secure the services of a man who was not a slave, a benefice was given to him—it was therefore a grant for the support of a retainer. The land itself was given for this purpose, as well as its productions. The benefices given to Charlemagne’s stewards and the keepers of his horse were actual benefices, and not, as M. de Montlosier thinks, tributary lands. We are not then in a position to say that the rank of a Beneficiary was the sign of a definitely marked social position, nor that it could measure the degree of importance and of freedom that belonged to individuals.
When we have mentioned the allodial proprietors and the beneficiaries, it might be thought that the class of freemen is exhausted. Such is not, however, the case. There were different classes of possessors and farmers of tributary lands, known under various names; such as fiscalini, fiscales, tributarii, coloni, lidi, aldi, aldiones, &c. These names do not all designate different conditions, but divers shades in conditions substantially the same. There were: First, free men, at once allodial proprietors and cultivators; Secondly, free men, both proprietors of benefices and cultivators; Thirdly, free men, neither properly freeholders nor beneficiaries, and cultivators; Fourthly, men not free, to whom the hereditary possession of tributary land had been granted on the payment of certain fees and services; Fifthly, men not free, who only enjoyed the permanent occupancy of tributary land. Here again we cannot find any general and fixed social condition which shall determine what were the rank, the rights, and other qualifications of the individuals belonging to it. We are mistaken if we imagine either that every proprietor was free, or that every free man was a proprietor. We find that the cultivators of lands under the king harassed and oppressed the smaller allodial proprietors who resided in their vicinity, and were too feeble to oppose any effectual resistance, although they were Franks.
I need only mention slaves, in order to observe that many free men fell into this state of servitude by means of violence, and through an uncertainty in property which involved a corresponding uncertainty in position. Sometimes one man would surrender himself to his more powerful neighbour, and at the same time completely abandon his liberty. The surrender, however, was sometimes not an entire renouncement of liberty, although it was alienated for life, or a sum was agreed upon to be paid if the engagement should be broken.
It is evident that we cannot derive, from the state and the distribution of territorial properties, any true and fixed table of different social conditions, and of the importance of the rights belonging to each. These conditions were too undefined, too different, while nominally identical, and too fluctuating, to give us a standard to measure the amount of liberty possessed by each man and the place he occupied in society. The state of persons was almost individual; the measure of the importance of any individual was determined by the particular amount of strength which might belong to him, much more than by the general position which he apparently occupied. Individuals constantly passed from one condition into another, neither losing all at once every characteristic of the position which they left, nor assuming at once every characteristic of that upon which they newly entered.
Let us apply another principle.
Attempts have been made to determine the condition of individuals, and to classify men according to the wehrgeld; that is to say, according to the sum by which a man might compound for the commission of a murder, which was consequently the measure of the valuation of different lives. Shall we find here any more certain and unvarying principle by which social conditions may be classified?
I have made an abstract of all the cases of wehrgeld stipulated in the Barbaric laws. I will not enumerate them all, but will bring before you twenty-one of the principal, ranging from the sum of 1800 solidi, the largest value that was legally placed on any man’s life, down to 20 solidi.
The wehrgeld amounted to:
1800 sol. (solidi): for the murder of a free barbarian, a companion of the king (in truste regia), attacked and killed in his house by an armed band, among the Salian Franks.
960 sol.: 1st. the duke, among the Bavarians; 2nd, the bishop, among the Germans.
900 sol.: 1st. the bishop, among the Ripuarian Franks; 2nd. the Roman, in truste regia, attacked and killed in his own house by an armed band, among the Salian Franks.
640 sol.: the relatives of a duke, with the Barbarians.
600 sol.: 1st. every man in truste regia, with the Ripuarians; 2nd. the same, with the Salian Franks; 3rd. the count, with the Ripuarians; 4th. the priest, born free, with the Ripuarians; 5th. the priest, with the Germans; 6th. the count, with the Salian Franks; 7th. the Sagibaro (a kind of judge) free, ibid.; 8th. the priest, ibid.; the free man attacked and killed in his own house by an armed band, ibid.
500 sol.: the deacon, with the Ripuarians.
400 sol.: 1st. the sub-deacon, with the Ripuarians; 2nd. the deacon, with the Germans; 3rd. the same, among the Salian Franks.
300 sol.: 1st. the Roman living with the king, with the Salian Franks; 2nd. the young man brought up in the service of the king, and those who had been enfranchised by the king, and made counts, with the Ripuarians; 3rd. the priest, among the Bavarians; 4th. the Sagibaro who had been brought up in the court of the king, with the Salian Franks; 5th. the Roman killed by an armed band in his house, ibid.
200 sol.: the free-born clerk, with the Ripuarians; 2nd. the deacon, with the Bavarians; 3rd. the free Ripuarian Frank; 4th. the German of the middle classes; 5th. the Frank or Barbarian, living under Salic law; 6th. the travelling Frank, with the Ripuarians; 7th. the man who had become enfranchised by purchase, with the Ripuarians.
160 sol.: 1st. the free man in general, among the Germans; 2nd. the same, with the Bavarians; 3rd. the Burgundian, the German, the Bavarian, the Frison, the Saxon, with the Ripuarians; 4th. the free man cultivating ecclesiastical property, with the Germans.
150 sol.: 1st. the optimus, or noble Burgundian, killed by the man whom he had attacked; 2nd. the steward of a royal domain, with the Burgundians; 3rd. the slave who could work well in gold, ibid.
100 sol.: any man belonging to the middle classes (mediocris homo) with the Burgundians, killed by the person whom he had attacked; 2nd. the Roman possessing personal property, with the Salian Franks; 3rd. the Roman while travelling, with the Ripuarians; 4th. the man in the service of the king, or of a church, ibid.; 5th. the planter (lidus) by two charters of Charlemagne (an. 803 and 813); 6th. the steward (actor) of a domain belonging to any but the king, with the Burgundians; 7th. the slave, a worker in silver, ibid.
80 sol.: those enfranchised in presence of the church, or by a special charter, with the Germans.
75 sol.: any man of inferior condition (minor persona), with the Burgundians.
55 sol.: the barbarian slave employed in the personal service of a master, or as a bearer of messages, with the Burgundians.
50 sol.: the blacksmith (slave), with the Burgundians.
45 sol.: 1st. the serf of the church and the serf of the king, with the Germans; 2nd. the tributary Roman, with the Salian Franks.
40 sol.: 1st. one merely enfranchised, with the Bavarians; 2nd. the herdsman keeping forty swine, with the Germans; 3rd. the shepherd over eighty sheep, ibid.; 4th. the seneschal of the man who has twelve companions (vassi) in his house, ibid.; 5th. the marshal who kept twelve horses, ibid.; 6th. the cook who has an assistant (junior), ibid.;7th. the goldsmith, ibid.; 8th. the armourer, ibid.; 9th. the blacksmith, ibid.; 10th. the cartwright, with the Burgundians.
36 sol.: 1st. the slave, with the Ripuarians; 2nd. the slave who had become a tributary planter, ibid.
30 sol.: the keeper of swine, with the Burgundians.
20 sol.: the slave, with the Bavarians.
We see by this table that, notwithstanding the common opinion to the contrary, the wehrgeld is by no means an exact and certain indication of social conditions. It is not determined uniformly according to the origin, the quality, the position of individuals. The circumstances of the murder, the official character of the criminal, the greater or less usefulness or commonness of the man slain, all these variable elements enter into the determination of the wehrgeld. The simple fact of the murder having been committed at the court of the duke, while the victim is going to or returning from the house of the count, triples thewehrgeld of every man, whether he be a slave or a freeman, a Barbarian or a Roman. The elements of the wehrgeld are very numerous; it varies according to places and times. The Roman, the tributary, the slave, according to circumstances, may be valued at a greater or a less sum than a barbarian free man. We see many general indications which serve to show that the Roman was commonly less esteemed than a barbarian, the tributary or the slave less than the free man. This is very easily accounted for, and might have been anticipated. But it is not on this account less difficult to draw from such facts a positive indication of the state of individuals—a precise and complete classification of social conditions.
There is no resource left but to renounce the idea of classifying social conditions and of determining the conditions of persons, according to any general principle, resting either on the nature of territorial properties, or in the legal appreciation of the value of different lives. We must simply inquire, by the aid of historical facts, who were the strong and powerful at the time; what common name was given to them; what share of influence and of liberty fell to the lot of those who were simply called free men. We shall thus arrive at clearer and more certain results. We shall often find that landed property is a great and principal source of strength, and that the wehrgeld is an indication of the amount of importance or of liberty possessed by individuals; but we shall not attribute to these two principles a general and decisive authority, and we shall not mutilate facts in order that they may harmonize with our hypotheses.
Of the Leudes or Antrustions. ~ Men, faithful to the king and to the large proprietors. ~ Different means of acquiring and retaining them. ~ Obligations of the Leudes. ~ The Leudes are the origin of the nobility. ~ Bishops and heads of monasteries were reckoned among the leudes of the king. ~ Moral and material power of the bishops. ~ Efforts of the kings to possess themselves of the right of nominating bishops. ~ Free men. ~ Did they form a distinct and numerous class? The arimanni, and rathimburgi. ~ Mistake of M. ~ de Savigny. ~ Rapid and general extension of the feudal hierarchy. ~ The freedmen. ~ Different modes of enfranchisement: First, the denariales, enfranchised with respect to the king: Second, the tabularii, enfranchised with respect to the church: Third, the chartularii, enfranchised by a charter. ~ Different consequences resulting from these different modes of enfranchisement.
The first whom we meet with at this time occupying the highest place in the social scale are the Leudes, or Antrustions. Their name indicates their quality—trust expresses fidelity. They were men who had proved faithful, and they succeeded the associates of the German chiefs. After the conquest, each of the chiefs established himself, together with his own men, on a certain territory. The king had a larger and more considerable number of followers. Many remained with him. He had different means, which he very assiduously employed, of attaching to himself his Leudes, or of acquiring them.
1st. This was evidently the result aimed at in conferring benefices. In 587, Gontran, giving his advice to Childebert II. on his conduct to those who were about him, points out to him “those whom he ought to honour by appointments and by gifts, and those to whom he ought to refuse them.”
2nd. The organization of the house, the palace, the court, borrowed in part from the traditions of the Roman empire, the passing amusements and the permanent advantages which were attached to them, induced many men of influence to become Leudes, or gave importance to the original Leudes of the king. The following are names of some of their offices; “count of the palace, referendary, seneschal, mareschal, falconer, butler, chamberlain, porter, head-porter, &c.”
3rd. Marculf has preserved to us the formula by which a man of importance, cum arimannia sua, “with his free men, his band,” was accustomed to enroll himself among the king’s Leudes. Charlemagne took various precautions in order that persons who came to him in order to become his trusty followers (de truste facienda), should meet with no obstacle.
4th. It was to their Leudes that the kings were in the habit of giving important public occupations, such as belonged to dukes, counts, &c. There is reason for believing that these functions originally belonged to the principal chief who established himself in a territory. In the natural course of events these chiefs became themselves Leudes of the king or were supplanted by those who were such.
5th. The number of Leudes was the principal source of strength; accordingly they were multiplied by all kinds of devices. In 587, in the treaty of Andely, between Gontran and Childebert II, “it was agreed that neither of them should attempt to draw over to himself the Leudes of the other, or receive them if they came of their own accord.” We continually find Leudes of importance threatening the king to leave his service, and enter into some other.
The general obligation of the Leudes was fidelity, service in the palace, and military service. The price of this obligation was, for the Leudes, power and riches. They had also certain civil advantages, but of a more uncertain nature. Their wehrgeld was a larger amount, whatever might otherwise have been their origin. We see that their prerogatives accumulated in proportion as their power was consolidated by the long possession of benefices. Charlemagne desired that his vassals should be honoured, and should hold, after himself, the first place in esteem. There were however among the Leudes of the king some who were less powerful, and some who even were poor.
Every large proprietor had his Leudes; his house was organized after the model of the king’s; the same offices existed in each.
It is the opinion of Montesquieu, who is in this opposed by Montlosier, that the origin of the nobility is to be found in the Leudes. Neither of them has formed, in my judgment, a just and clear idea either of the condition of the Leudes or of the character of the nobility. The rank of the Leude and his advantages were purely of a personal character. The rank of a free Barbarian was hereditary, as were also his advantages: but the rank of the Leude, that is to say, the advantages and the superiority which he derived from his position, tended to become hereditary; that of the free man, on the other hand, tended, when he was isolated and left to himself, to become effaced and to lose its advantages. Most free men who did not become beneficiaries, vassals, Leudes of some importance, ceased to be free at all. The aristocracy of the Leudes tended to be constituted, the liberty of the free men tended to be destroyed—the free men were, viewed in contrast with those who were not free, an aristocracy on the decline; the Leudes were, compared with free men, an aristocracy on the increase.
Mannert, in his treatise entitled, The liberty of the Franks, Freyheit der Franken, has very clearly explained the formation of the nobility among the Franks. There were many Roman Gauls among the Leudes of the Frankish kings: we find, for example, the names of Protadius, Claudius, Florentinianus, among the mayors of the palace towards the close of the sixth, and the commencement of the seventh century. They often changed their names into barbaric names. Thus the brother of Duke Lupus, born a Roman, called himselfMagn-Wulfus (great wolf), and his son, who was bishop of Rheims, he calledRom-Wulfus (Roman wolf). These Romans entered into the company of the Leudes because they needed the protection of the kings; because they were disposed to place what power they had in his service; because they were acquainted with the country, and knew that the king required them; because, lastly, the kings, when they embraced Christianity, became reconciled to many wealthy and influential Gauls.
Bishops, and the principal heads of monasteries, or of large ecclesiastical corporations, were reckoned among the number of the king’s Leudes. The power of the bishops among the Gauls, before the arrival of the Germans, is proved directly by facts; their influence, their wealth, is proved indirectly by the eagerness with which the position of a bishop was sought. Their importance was greatly augmented after the establishment of the Barbarians. They protected the ancient inhabitants from the Barbarian kings, and served the latter by their power in governing the ancient inhabitants. They, and scarcely any but they, had preserved some science, some intellectual culture; the influence of religious ideas and practices over the converted barbarians was powerful; the impressions formed were strong and vivid at that stage of civilization: the clergy could excite the imagination, could tranquillize or alarm the conscience. The bishops and heads of monasteries acquired, through a large number of sources, great wealth; they in process of time became large beneficiaries; most of the property given to churches were given as benefices, and consequently involved the obligations belonging to that title; some property was conferred “with the complete right of proprietorship.” In 807, Charlemagne charged his son Pepin to prevent the dukes and counts to whom the government of the provinces had been committed, from exacting from churches all the services due in general from free men. In 816, Louis the Débonnair provided that each church should possess a farm absolutely free from all charge. Facts disclose at every step the importance of the bishops; they were employed in important transactions, and assisted in drawing up laws. Counts, dukes, large Barbarian proprietors, became bishops. The temporal consequences attached to ecclesiastical excommunication did not fail to put into their hands a powerful weapon of attack or defence. Churches obtained immunities of all kinds, from military service, rights of custom, &c.; they became asylums of refuge—a popular right which, during these times of brute violence, far more generally protected the innocent than shielded the guilty.
The nomination of bishops was an ancient right of the priests and the faithful. The importance of these functions, and the riches of the churches, induced the king to encroach upon this prerogative. Further, they urged some kind of claim to it, as being lords of the churches on which they had conferred benefices. They used the right of confirmation in order to possess themselves of the right of nomination. At first, bishops were the most sure and devoted Leudes of the king; kings and bishops had need of one another. Very soon afterwards the bishops became so powerful as to be able to act independently of the kings.
At this epoch convents also assumed great importance, although their heads do not seem to have played so prominent a part in France as in England.
Upon the whole, the power of the clergy at this period was as useful as it was great. It awakened and developed moral necessities among the Barbarians—it commanded and inspired a respect for the rights and sufferings of the feeble—it gave an illustration of the reality of moral force, when everything was at the disposal of material force. That is a false notion which assumes that an institution or an influence is to be attacked by reason of the evil effects which it may produce after centuries of existence; we must consider and appreciate it in the times when it was originally formed.
From the Leudes, let us pass to those who were simply free men.
There are words which have, in our time, so simple and absolute a signification, that we apply them without consideration or scruple to times in which their actual significance was not recognized at all. The expression free man is an example. If by it we mean the man who is not a slave, the man who is not the property of another man, and can neither be given nor sold as an article of traffic, there were a great number of free men from the fifth to the tenth centuries. But if we attach to this expression the political sense which it possesses in our days, that is to say, the idea of a citizen dependent on no other citizen, who depends for the safety of his person and his property only upon the state, and the laws of the state, the number of free men was very inconsiderable at the period of which we speak, and was continually diminishing. Most of those who were not serfs were engaged or were binding themselves with increasing frequency, either for the security of their persons or of their properties, to the service, and to a certain amount of dependency upon some man more powerful than themselves, who employed them in his house or protected them at a distance. The independence of the citizen as it existed in the republics of antiquity, and as it exists in our public communities, became more and more rare from the fifth to the tenth centuries. Eminent publicists, M. de Savigny among others, in his Histoire du droit romain dans le moyen âge, have affirmed that always at this period a numerous class of free men existed, true citizens, exempt from all personal dependence, depending only upon the state and forming the body of the nation. This involves a complete confusion of times and a misapprehension of the natural succession of events. Doubtless at the time of the invasion, and during the period which immediately followed it, there were many free men of this kind; the independence of individuals who live a wandering and barbarian life did not suddenly and completely vanish under the influence of the new circumstances which resulted from their territorial establishment. But, so far as regards the greater number of free men, this independence was rapidly absorbed by new ties, and by the very numerous and various forms of feudal hierarchy. We may think we have found, under certain names which are frequently to be met with in documents and historical works, such as, Arimanni, Erimanni, Herimanni, Hermanni, among the Lombards, and Rachimburgi, Rathimburgi, Regimburgi, among the Franks, a class of men actually free—citizens in the sense in which we use the words at the present time. But when we investigate more closely, we soon learn that no such class is to be found, and that nearly if not quite all theArimanni or Rathimburgi, were bound in the fetters of a feudal organization and depended far more on some superior individual than on the protection of the state.
Many learned men also think that the practice of enfranchisement which prevailed at this period created many free men—as completely so, as if they had inherited their freedom as a birthright. This also is, I think, a mistake. Enfranchisement was frequent, but it conferred complete freedom on very few; it transformed many into cultivators and tributaries, or placed them in other analogous positions, which however did not insure entire liberty. In order to be convinced of this, we have only to examine the acts of enfranchisement themselves. There were several kinds, and each was attended with different consequences. We find, First, the denariales, or enfranchised with respect to the king; although their life was valued at 200 solidi, like the life of a Frank, yet their liberty was incomplete; they could not bequeath property to others than their children; the composition for their lives was paid to the king, not to their relatives, which plainly shows that the king regarded them as homines regii. Second, those enfranchised with respect to the church, or tabularii. Those thus enfranchised became homines ecclesiastici; they could not become denariales according to the laws of the Ripuarians, and their property went to the church if they died without issue. Third, those enfranchised per chartam, chartularii. The expressions of the charter which gave them their liberty seem to be completely unambiguous; but it is doubtful whether the results were similarly unambiguous, since the denariales themselves remained, in certain respects, in an inferior condition. The statutes of Charlemagne, which provide that the terms of composition for thedenariales should be paid to the king, and that they should not possess their liberty as a heritage till after the third generation, apply the same conditions also to the chartularii, and even to those who were enfranchised to the church, thetabularii.
The act and the consequences of enfranchisement varied in the course of the epoch on which our attention is occupied. This fact has not been observed by M. Montlosier and all those who bring together facts separated from one another by a long interval of time, in order to make a complete system. They apply to the same epoch facts belonging to different times. History presents us with instances of slaves who, after the Germanic invasion, raised themselves to the condition not only of free men, but of Leudes and large proprietors. Individual cases of these are well authenticated, and were very likely to have occurred in these times of disorder; but from these no general rule is to be inferred. In spite of the vast influence of religious ideas—and all formulas of enfranchisement are prefaced by the expression of a religious sentiment and design—the general movement of the epoch which we are considering, so far as regards the condition of persons, was much more towards the extension of servitude, under different forms and in varying degrees, than towards the maintenance or the advancement of liberty.
Simultaneous existence of three systems of institutions, after the settlement of the Franks in Gaul. ~ Conflict of these three systems. ~ Summary of this conflict, its vicissitudes, and results. ~ Its recurrence in local and central institutions. ~ Of local institutions under the Frankish monarchy. ~ Of the assemblies of free men. ~ Of the authority and jurisdiction of the great landowners in their estates. ~ Of the authority and jurisdiction of the dukes, counts, and other royal officers.
From the ancient condition of the barbarians in Germany, and from their new situation after their establishment in the Roman empire, there issued three systems of institutions, of different principles and results, which, from the fifth to the tenth century, co-existed at first for some time, and afterwards commingled and conflicted with each other with alternate success and defeat.
In their primitive state, in Germany, the Barbarians were all free; every individual was important—nothing of any moment could be undertaken or decided upon without the approbation and concurrence of the majority. Hence arose the common discussion of affairs of common interest, and the influence of election upon the choice of chiefs or judges—or in other words, the institutions of liberty.
The second principle with which we meet is the attachment and subordination of the tribesmen to their chief. Up to a certain point they were dependent upon him, even for their subsistence. This dependence increased after their territorial establishment. The authority of the chiefs over their comrades augmented; and the liberty of the latter diminished with their importance. They became beneficiaries or vassals, colonists, or even serfs; a hierarchy was formed among the landowners. Hence arose those aristocratic and hierarchical institutions which gave birth to the feudal system.
The power of the kings, originally very limited, became extended after conquest by the dispersion of the nation, the concession of benefices, and the predominance of the principle of hereditary succession to the throne. A conflict arose, not between the power of the king and the liberties of the citizens, but between the power of the king and that of the nobles, especially of the king’s own Leudes. The kings made attempts to found the entire government upon the monarchical principle, and, with this object, to place themselves in direct connexion with all their subjects. Under Charlemague, this attempt reached its apogee, and seemed likely to succeed. But the monarchical system succumbed beneath the feudal system.
Thus, free institutions, aristocratic institutions, monarchical institutions—local and general assemblies of free men to deliberate on common affairs, military, judicial, or others, in presence of or in concert with the king or his delegates—the subordination of the simple free man to the lord, of the vassal to the chieftain; the nobles administering justice, making war with each other, and imposing certain charges on their vassals; the progressive organization of the royal power; dukes, counts, royal officers, missi dominici, transacting public affairs and administering justice, even in opposition to the nobles—these are the three systems of facts, the three tendencies which present themselves to our notice during the period from the fifth to the tenth century. The conflict of these three tendencies constitutes the history of the public institutions of this epoch.
The system of free institutions rapidly declined. It succumbed beneath the system of the predominance of the great landowners, and of the hierarchy of benefices. A conflict arose between the principles of the feudal system, and the endeavours of the monarchical system. In the conflict of these two systems, however, we find remnants of the system of free institutions. These remnants were allied sometimes to the feudal, sometimes to the monarchical system—most frequently to the latter. Charlemagne attempted to render the institutions of liberty auxiliary to the triumph of the monarchical system. We observed something analogous to this in the history of the Anglo-Saxons; but there the system of free institutions never perished; the common deliberation of the free landowners, in the county-courts, always subsisted. Among the Franks, the simultaneity and conflict of the three systems were more distinct and animated; the first was the weakest and perished early.
In treating of the Franks, as of the Anglo-Saxons, we shall first examine their local institutions, and then their general institutions; and we shall everywhere meet with the great fact to which I have just alluded. We shall follow it in its vicissitudes, and we shall see, first, how the system of free institutions perished, in localities and at the centre; secondly, how the monarchical system was for a moment really successful and strongly predominant under Charlemagne alone; and thirdly, how the feudal system, that is to say, the aristocratic and hierarchical organization of territorial properties and sovereignties, could not but prevail, as it really did in the end.
of local institutions
In Frankish Gaul, as among the Anglo-Saxons, the territory was divided into counties, hundreds, and tythings.* The counts were called grafen, judices; the centeniers, centgrafen; and the tything-men, tungini, thingrafen. Each of these officers held a court, placitum, mallum, at which justice was administered, and the business of the district transacted. This court was at first an assembly of all the free men of the district; they were bound to attend, and a heavy fine was imposed as the penalty for non-attendance. There, as I have said, they distributed justice, and deliberated upon matters of common interest. Civil transactions, sales, wills, enfranchisements, were carried on in public. There, also, military convocations were made. The court or plaid of the tything-man, decanus, is seldom met with, and was of little importance, as in England. The powers of the courts or assemblies of free men, held by the centenarii and vicarii were somewhat limited; judgments could not be given upon questions involving property or personal liberty, unless it were in presence of the imperial envoys or the counts.
Such were the free institutions and the meetings for common deliberation, of separate localities. These primitive plaids correspond to the ancient assemblies of the Germans in Germany.
Besides the plaids of freemen, appears the jurisdiction of the nobles or important landowners over the persons who dwelt on their domains. The chieftain distributed justice to his comrades, or, as they had now become, his colonists. His jurisdiction was not, however, altogether arbitrary; his comrades were his assessors in his court. The conjuratores, who attested the truth of the facts stated, almost entirely settled the affair. If we consider these institutions in their origin, we find that the seignorial courts of justice, although obscure and somewhat inactive, existed simultaneously with the assemblies of freemen, exempt from the circumscription and jurisdiction of the officers of the crown. The jurisdiction of the churches was derived from the jurisdiction of the seigneurs, and both were exercised in virtue of the proprietorship of the domain, which rendered the landlord the patron of its inhabitants.
These are the first rudiments of that feudal organization which, by establishing the authority and jurisdiction of the seigneur over his tenants, vassals or colonists, constantly tended to destroy the authority and jurisdiction of the assemblies of free men. A conflict began between the feudal principle of hierarchical subordination, and the principle of the union of equals in common deliberation. This conflict commenced as early as the beginning of the epoch which now occupies our attention.
Let us now examine how the royal power was exercised in separate localities during this period. The dukes, counts, centeniers, and others, were probably at the outset, as I have already observed, not mere delegates of the king, but the natural chieftains, the most powerful and extensive landowners. It is quite erroneous to believe that, originally, a county corresponded to what is now called a department, and that the king appointed and sent a count to govern it as he now sends a prefect. The king, the head of the nation, naturally directed the most important man in the district to convoke together the free men of the district for military purposes, and to collect the revenues of the royal domains; and this person thus received a sort of appointment from the king. The increasing importance of the palace and court of the kings—the influence of Roman institutions and ideas, at length made this appointment the source of a title. The counts became Leudes, and vice versa, the Leudes became counts.
During a considerable period the hereditariness of these officers was not recognised. Some antiquaries even are of opinion that these employments were given for a fixed time only. There is more reason to believe that this point was not definitely determined, and that, in fact, these offices were long unlimited as to their duration, and always transferable; numerous instances can be brought in support of this theory. The Frankish kings frequently allowed the natural chieftains of the countries which they conquered to retain their former position and ancient rights. Thus the Bavarian dukes were hereditary. When Louis the Débonnair received the Spaniards into the south of France, he permitted their counts to retain their titles and jurisdiction.
The title of count became an object of ambition on account of the advantages connected therewith. The count possessed great power, a share of the fines, freda, and immense facilities for acquiring property in the district under his jurisdiction. These offices also supplied the kings with means for enriching their Leudes, or obtaining new ones. Under the Merovingians, perpetual instability prevailed in respect to these offices as well as to benefices; they were obtained by presents or purchased by money. Nevertheless, the office of count was frequently transmitted from father to son; this was natural, and usage could not fail to precede right; the count or duke, being almost always an important personage in his canton or town, independently of his office, his son, who succeeded to his importance, succeeded frequently to his office also.
Some writers have affirmed that there was a great distinction between the dukes and the counts; it has even been asserted that each duke had twelve counts under his orders. No such regularity existed in local administration. We meet with some counts equal in power to dukes; among the Burgundians, for example, some counts ruled over several provinces. We may say, however, that in general the duke was superior to the count. We may even presume that, originally, the office of duke was military, and that of the count, judicial; although the two missions frequently appear confounded. A formula of Marculf assimilates the dukes, counts, and patricians. The margraves were the counts of the marches or frontiers. The men of the court, the delegates of the king, finished by being counts everywhere.
Thus there co-existed the three systems of institutions which I have mentioned: 1. the assemblies of freemen, having authority and jurisdiction; 2. the great landowners, whether Beneficiary or allodial, lay or ecclesiastical, proprietors—having authority and jurisdiction; 3. the administrators or delegates of the king, having authority and jurisdiction.
In the midst of the disorders of the Merovingian race, we find that the assemblies of free men rapidly declined. Most of the free men ceased to attend. Some became powerful enough to aim at independence, others became so weak as to lose their freedom. The common deliberation of free men disappeared. The principle of the subordination of the individual to the individual, in virtue of protection, vassalage, patronage, or colonage, prevailed. Seignorial jurisdictions, both lay and ecclesiastical, became extended. Their extension and consolidation were the necessary consequence of the extension and consolidation of benefices. The diminution of the number of allodial estates, the increase of tributary lands, and the corresponding changes which were introduced into the condition of persons, necessarily removed the greater number of justiceables from the jurisdiction of the assemblies of free men and from that of the king. Even the care which was taken by the first Carlovingians to compel the seigneurs to administer justice, and to control their administration of it, proves the progress of this kind of jurisdiction.
The liberty allowed to every man to live under any law he pleased, could not but contribute also to this result; it tended to disperse society, for it placed men under the jurisdiction of those who had their own private code of laws; and thus it opposed union, and common deliberation. It was a kind of liberty, doubtless—a liberty necessary in the state of society which then existed; but this liberty, like almost all other liberties at this period, was a principle of isolation.
Government of Charlemagne. ~ Apparent revival of free institutions. ~ Individual independence and social liberty. ~ Organization of monarchical power under Charlemagne. ~ His active surveillance over his vassals and agents. ~ Rapid decline of monarchical institutions after his death. ~ Definitive predominance of the feudal system. ~ Central institutions during the same epoch: royalty. ~ Causes of the progress of royalty, and of the principle of hereditary succession among the Franks. ~ Influence of the clergy.
After the Merovingian anarchy, at the accession of the Carlovingians and especially during the reign of Charlemagne, two facts, which seem contradictory, present themselves to our notice. Free institutions appear to gain new life, and at the same time the monarchical system evidently prevails. We must closely study this singular coincidence, and endeavour thoroughly to understand its causes.
There are two ways in which we may understand a man’s personal liberty; first, as the independence of the individual having no law but his own will; and secondly, as the enfranchisement of every individual from every other individual will, which is contrary to reason and justice.
Liberty, if taken in the first sense, is barbarous and anti-social; it is the infancy, or rather the absence, of society. The word society itself indicates the union of individuals in one common idea, feeling, and interest. Society can exist only by the obedience of individuals to one common rule. If the liberty of each man constitutes his only law, if every restriction to the independence of individual will is considered illegitimate, society is impossible. The law which should rule society, according to truth and justice, is exterior to and independent of individual wills. The object of society is to discover this superior law, and to exact obedience to it alone; but to this law obedience must be given; society is possible only by the reign of brute force, or by the government of true law. If the independence of the individual is regarded as the condition of liberty, we may be certain that force will become the dominant power of society, for society there must be; it is an imperious necessity of human nature; and this necessity will receive its gratification from force, if it cannot obtain it from justice and reason.
The object of government, then, is twofold; it proposes, first, to seek out and discover the true law which must decide all the questions to which social relations give rise, and to subject to this law all adverse individual wills; and secondly, to prevent individuals from being subjected to any other laws but the true law, such, for example, as the arbitrary will of other more powerful individuals. Good and true government, then, does not say to every individual: “Thou shalt be subject only to thy own caprice,” for on these terms there could be no society, and no government; but it says: “Thou shalt be subject, not to the caprice of any other individual, but only to reason and justice.” The progress of civilization consists, on the one hand, in extending the authority of reason over all individuals, and in neglecting no means to convince their individual reason and to render their obedience voluntary; and, on the other hand, in limiting the sway of the arbitrary will of individuals over one another. Where the arbitrary will of one or more individuals prevails, legitimate liberty does not exist; where the isolated independence of every individual is maintained, society is impossible.
The importance of this distinction between moral and natural liberty, between social freedom and individual independence, is immense. It would be easy to demonstrate its intimate connexion with the true theory of liberty, considered in relation to man personally, and independently of society. It is as a reasonable being, capable of recognizing truth, that man is sublime; therein resides the divinity of his nature: liberty is in him nothing but the power of obeying the truth which he recognises, and making his actions conform thereto. On this ground, liberty is very respectable; but liberty is respectable on this ground alone.
In the infancy of society, the liberty which almost all men desire and defend, is natural liberty—liberty to do nothing but what they please. This is caused by the imperfection of the moral development of each individual, and by the imperfection of the same development in the social powers; from which imperfection it results that these powers ill-understand the true law, never apply it, and are themselves directed by individual wills, as arbitrary as they are capricious. On this account, the state of freedom with which we meet at the outset of all societies lasts for so short a time, and is so quickly superseded by the despotism of one or several persons. Society cannot exist if natural liberty, that is, individual independence, exists in all the extent of its desire: and as society is as yet ignorant both how to govern according to the moral law, and how to respect moral liberty, force seizes upon the government.1
When, in such a state of society, a man of superior genius and character appears, he is inevitably driven to found a despotism, that is, the empire of his own individual will. He is irritated and off ended by the collision of all these barbarous or stupid individual wills; his instinct tells him that society cannot exist in this manner, that such a state of things is not society. He is personally disgusted, moreover, at the sway which all these narrow and ignorant wills claim to exercise over all things, and even over himself. The authority of blind force over enlightened force is nothing but a despotism; and what is greater insolence than the power of a brutal multitude over a lofty individual reason? The superior man becomes indignant and seeks to free himself from this yoke, to impose some rule upon this disorder; and this rule he seeks in his own reason, in his own will. Thus is established, at such epochs, the despotism of a single person; it is not radically illegitimate, and the best proof that it is not, is afforded by the easy reception with which he meets the admiration with which he is regarded, the gratitude even which he inspires, and which lasts as long as the state of things which originated his power. In truth, the loftiest superiority, that which is most naturally called to empire by the disorder and dissolution of society, soon becomes corrupted and rude, by becoming itself a purely individual will, full of egotism and caprice: but that which constituted its force and credit, at the outset, was its better comprehension of the general wants of society; it had obtained a deeper knowledge of the true law which must govern society; and it rescued society from its losing battle with a multitude of ignorant or ferocious individual wills. It is by these means that great men triumph at first. It was thus that Charlemagne triumphed; it was thus that the first three Carlovingians, Pepin of Heristal, Charles Martel, and Pepin the Short, had prepared the way for him. Under the Merovingians, the state was falling into dissolution; every strong man was making himself independent, every weak man was falling into subjection to a stronger. Although the Pepins had sprung from the dominant aristocracy, they early struggled against its excesses. Charles Martel put down the petty tyrants who had sprung up in every direction. The tendency of Charlemagne’s policy was to establish the monarchical system, that is, to secure the universal prevalence of his will by making it felt everywhere by means of his agents. In order to understand with any exactness what was Charlemagne’s pure monarchy, we must see how he managed his own property, and in what manner he administered his palace. The activity of his surveillance was surprising; we shall find details of it in his capitulary De villis, and in the first part of one of Hincmar’s letters.2 He governed his empire in the same spirit. This was the only means he possessed for restoring order, and applying the national forces to the accomplishment of his designs. Into the despotism of a superior man, there always enters a powerful instinctive feeling of justice, and of protection to the weak. Charlemagne diligently endeavoured to check the power of the nobles by subjecting them to surveillance, and by bringing his subjects into direct relationship with the royal authority. He paid great attention to the employment and administration of his benefices, even when in the hands of beneficiaries; he was careful not to give more than one county to the same count, and this rule he rarely transgressed; he ordered the nobles to distribute strict justice to their vassals, and took most energetic measures to compel them to do so, and to judge all men according to the law. Charlemagne also kept watch over the conduct of the counts; the assemblies of free men had almost entirely perished; and they requested as a favour to be allowed to absent themselves. To supply the place of the active surveillance exercised by these ancient assemblies, Charlemagne created the missi dominici. These were inspectors of the whole state of the kingdom, and particularly of the conduct of the counts and nobles.
The delegates of Charlemagne, the imperial judges, had assessors; and as the free men whose duty it was to fill the office of assessors seldom attended the periodical assemblies, Charlemagne superseded them by the scabini,3 who were appointed by the missi dominici, whom he enjoined to select them with the greatest care. This intervention of the delegates of the sovereign himself in judicial affairs, was a powerful means of monarchical centralization.
In his Frankish empire, it was not against the ancient free institutions, but against public anarchy and the disorderly power of the strong, that Charlemagne directed these means of government. In his other dominions, wherever he feared the influence of liberty, his despotism was exerted to crush it rigorously; thus he interdicted all public assemblies of the Saxons.
All this monarchical organization fell with Charlemagne. Its existence is protracted, as if by habit, in the speeches and laws of Louis the Débonnair; but the hand which sustained the edifice is no longer there. The language of Charlemagne in the mouth of Charles the Bald, is nothing but a piece of ridiculous rhodomontade. The feudal system gains the upper hand and organizes itself in every direction. The great vassals either attack the king or isolate themselves from him. The dignity of count became so considerable, that the sons of kings and emperors desire and obtain it. Hereditary succession prevails in the offices of dukes, counts, viscounts, &c. Rhegino cites as a singular fact that the sons of Duke Robert did not succeed to his dukedom, and assigns as the reason, that their tender age rendered them incapable of repulsing the Normans. The sons of two counts of Austria were not put into possession of the counties of their fathers; so their relations took arms, and drove out the usurper. The power of the counts, now they had become hereditary seigneurs, was augmented by the authority they had exercised, under that title, as delegates of the king. The feudal hierarchy, strong by its own intrinsic power, thus gained additional strength from the wreck of royal authority. Hence resulted a new order of local institutions, which I cannot now explain.
The picture of central institutions reproduces, under another aspect, the same facts, and leads to the same results. Central institutions, as you are aware, may be reduced to two—royalty, and the general assemblies of the nation.
To royalty among the Franks you may apply what I have said of royalty among the Anglo-Saxons; only, among the Franks, the royal family does not bear, at the outset, the character of a religious filiation. This is perhaps attributable to the fact that the Franks were a confederation of different tribes; among them, the king appears especially as a military chieftain. Under the first Merovingians, there was always a great mixture of hereditariness and election; hereditariness fluctuated among the members of the same family; election, when it was not an act of violence, was rather a recognition than an election.
It is a grave error to expect to find in facts the basis of a primitive and exclusive law: facts may be made to demonstrate anything. The most opposite parties have fallen into the same error in this respect. Whoever has discovered, at the origin of a state, an act of violence in conformity to his preconceived opinion, takes it as the foundation of what he calls the general law. Some fancy they can discern absolute and well-regulated hereditary succession in the midst of barbarism; others transfer the troubles and violence of a barbarian election into a more advanced stage of civilization; whatever they find existing as fact in the infancy of society, they convert into law for society in its greatest extension and development. This is neither philosophy nor history. The ruling law is that which is conformable to reason and justice. There is always more or less of this law at every epoch in the life of human society; but at no epoch is it pure or complete. We must resign ourselves to the task of freeing it everywhere from all alloy.
Let us then pass by the primitive and exclusive right of royal heredity, which existed neither among the Franks nor in other countries; all that can be said is that the principle of hereditary monarchy tended, early and constantly, to prevail. The heirship of the private domain of the kings, which was of considerable value, powerfully contributed to establish the heirship of the kingdom, just as the partition of the private domain among the sons led to the partition of the royal dominions; but the partition of the kingdom was almost always made with the consent of the nobles, whilst the heirship of the crown, in each state, does not appear to have required their formal assent.
We have already seen what were the causes which occasioned the fall of the Merovingian race, and the accession of Carlovingians. The fall of the latter, in the tenth century presents some features of similarity to that of the Merovingians, but between the two, there was greater diversity than resemblance. The ancient companions of the Frankish kings, the Leudes, the Antrustions, and the beneficiaries, had left the court, established themselves on their lands, and become feudal lords: revolutions were no longer effected at the foot of the throne, and in the interior of the royal palace. The feudal lords were much more isolated, not only from the king, but also from one another, than the Leudes had been under the Merovingians. Pepin the Short was king in fact when Childeric III. was king in name; Pepin assumed the name belonging to his power. At the end of the tenth century, there was no king, and no powerful man in the king’s service who wielded the royal power in the name of Louis V. Hugh Capet took possession of an almost vacant place, which, at the moment, added much to his dignity, but little to his authority. After the fall of the Merovingians, Pepin and Charlemagne were able to attempt to establish the monarchical system, and to inaugurate the central authority of the king; Hugh Capet was unable to do this, nor did he attempt it; the feudal lordships had divided the kingdom amongst them. Pepin was the head of an aristocracy which had its centre in the palace of the Merovingian kings. Hugh Capet was one of the principal members of an aristocracy which had no centre; he made himself king because the crown was within his reach. If Louis V. had resided at Rouen, the Duke of Normandy would probably have seized the monarchy.
As regards the nature and extent of the royal authority, what I have already said sufficiently indicates what it was: very limited and precarious before the settlement of the Franks on Roman territory—being nothing but the power of the chief of a warlike band, always restrained by the presence of the free men, his comrades—it became extended and strengthened after the conquest by various causes: 1. By the dispersion of the Franks. They ceased constantly to surround the king; his authority was but slight over those who left him; but those who were habitually near him depended more closely upon him; a court of barbarian servants succeeded to a court of warriors. 2. By the subjugation of neighbouring chiefs or kings. 3. By the increasing inequality of wealth: the royal property greatly augmented, and this was their principal source of power; they devoted all their energies to the amassing of treasure; it was useless to leave their children a kingdom, unless they could at the same time bequeath to them a full exchequer.4. By the influence of religious and Roman ideas. In the opinion of the Christians, the king was the successor of Saul and of David; in that of the Romans, he was the representative of the emperors. The Frankish kings were fully sensible of the advantages of this two-fold position, and they eagerly accepted the titles of Patrician and Consul. But the royal authority had no definite character; it was proportionate to the ability and energy of those who exercised it.
Nothing can be more different than the idea of royal authority in those times and in our own day. If a village were now to disregard the king’s authority, or to refuse to obey him, it would be a serious event, the sign of a great decay of power. Such was not the case then; authority was not universally diffused over the country; remote places and interests were in some sort independent of it. It had no real supremacy, except in case of war; the rays of its influence were short, and wherever it was applied, it was matter of fact rather than of right.
With regard to authority and liberty, right and fact are almost identical in the infancy of society. The idea of right, separate from fact, has but very little power and can scarcely be said to exist. Hence arise the eternal vicissitudes of authority and liberty; whoever ceases to possess them is never permitted to regain them. It is the work and the master-work of civilization to separate right from fact, and to constitute right a power able to maintain, defend, and vindicate itself.
We must not, however, believe that religious ideas exercised no other influence, in regard to the royal authority, than to extend it, and to represent it as absolute and springing from divine right; they contributed powerfully to render it moral. It is true, they rendered it independent of the public liberties, which were frequently mere embodiments of arbitrary power and brute force, and thus they helped to establish absolute power; but at the same time they subordinated it to the divine laws, in which the moral laws are comprised. The limits which Frankish usages imposed on the royal authority were very different from those assigned to it by Christian ideas: “the king,” to use the expression of the Councils, “is he who governs with pity, justice, and goodness; he who does not govern thus is not a king, but a tyrant.” The restraint which this principle laid upon the royal authority was more efficacious than that which resulted from the influence of Frankish usages. This system, it is true, gave no positive and real guarantee for the observance of the rules which it imposed as duties upon royalty. But the age in which we live has taken too much pains to seek guarantees in physical force, and has neglected to seek for them in the power of moral ideas. In barbarian times, as all powers, both of kings and subjects, are almost equally unregulated, they appear bad guarantees to sensible men, who seek for purer sureties in moral ideas. When, in the epoch of which we are now speaking, the Franks or Leudes repress the abuse of royal authority, they repress it only in virtue of their own powers, and defend their liberties only out of regard to their own interests, and not in obedience to any moral idea of justice and of general right. The ecclesiastics, on the contrary, speak in the name of the general ideas of justice and humanity. They oppose morality rather than force to the abuse of authority. The clergy thus gave utterance to things which answered to the necessities of all the weak, and led them to consider them as their protectors.
The vice of the religious system, doubtless, is that it creates no political institution, and consequently, no effectual guarantee; thus it always ends by being more favourable to power than to liberty: but, in barbarous ages, when power and liberty were almost equally brutal and anarchical, this system has rendered immense services to humanity and to civilization.
National assemblies of the Franks; their primitive character, and rapid decline under the Merovingians. ~ They regain importance under the Carlovingians; and are held regularly under Charlemagne. ~ Letter of Archbishop Hincmar De ordine Palatii.
National assemblies were held among the Franks long previously to their settlement in the Roman empire, and to the establishment of monarchy amongst them. In these assemblies were discussed, in Germany, all the affairs of the confederation, tribe, or band. All the free men, that is to say, all the warriors, were present; but the authority of these assemblies, like the authority of the kings, was uncertain and precarious. They were formed, not in virtue of the principle of the sovereignty of the people, but in virtue of the right of every free man to have the sole disposal of himself. They were convoked especially to determine on military expeditions. Beyond this, every man acted independently, and was answerable for his conduct to none but the local authorities. TheChamp de Mars, or autumnal assembly, of which we find traces at the beginning of the monarchy, was habitually held for the purpose of dividing the booty which had been gained.
The dispersion of the free men, the increasing inequality of social conditions, and the subordination of the comrades to their chief, soon caused the national assemblies of the Franks to lose their character of universality. They ceased to be attended by any but the large landowners, the Leudes, and the superior clergy. In this state, they appear to have existed under most of the Merovingian kings. Mention is sometimes made of the people in general; but evidently the great majority of the free men neither could, nor did attend these assemblies. Those who possessed power and wealth were almost the only persons who attended; and they regulated the business brought under their notice solely with a view to their own interest. The increasing disorder, and continual dislocations of the kingdom, rendered these assemblies less frequent. They reappear, however, at the establishment of the authority of the Mayors of the Palace. As leaders of the aristocracy of the great independent landowners, they had need of their support. The substitution of a new family of kings, instead of the ancient race, was favourable to the importance of the assemblies. They became, under the first Carlovingians, what they had been under the first Merovingians,—a great council of government, in which all great affairs were discussed. Pepin transferred the Champs de Mars to the month of May; and Charlemagne held these assemblies with a regularity heretofore unknown. In order to form a correct idea of what they were under his reign, you must read the text, and the entire text, of the letter written in 882, sixty-eight years after the death of Charlemagne, by the celebrated Hincmar, archbishop of Rheims, in compliance with the request of some of the nobles of the kingdom who had asked his advice with regard to the government of Carloman, one of the sons of Louis the Stammerer. In this letter, Hincmar, as he himself informs us, does nothing but copy a treatise On the Order of the Palace, De ordine Palatii, written before 826 by the celebrated Adalhard, abbot of Corbia, and one of the principal advisers of Charlemagne. It is, therefore, a contemporary document, and its authority is great.
“It was the usage at that time,” says Hincmar,
to hold in each year two assemblies, (placita,) and no more. The first took place in the spring; at it were regulated the general affairs of the whole kingdom; no occurrence, unless it were an imperious and universal necessity, could alter what had been decreed thereat. In this assembly, met together all the great men (majores), both lay and ecclesiastic; the more influential (seniores), to discuss business and agree on decisions; the less influential (minores), to receive these decisions, and sometimes also to deliberate upon them and confirm them, not by a formal consent, but by the exercise of their opinion and the assent of their understanding.
The other assembly, in which the general gifts of the realm were received, was composed only of the more influential members (seniores) of the first assembly, and of the principal councillors. Here the affairs of the following year were treated of, if there were any which it was necessary to deliberate upon beforehand; as also those which might have occurred during the course of the year which was about to expire, and which required provisional attention without delay. For example, if, in any part of the kingdom, the governors of the frontiers (marchisi) had concluded a truce for any time, the course to be pursued on the expiration of these truces was discussed, and it was determined whether they should be renewed or not. If, in any other quarter of the kingdom, war seemed imminent, or peace appeared likely to be established, it was examined whether the exigencies of the moment required, in the first case, that incursions should be commenced or endured, and, in the second, how tranquillity might be insured. These lords thus deliberated long beforehand on what the affairs of the future might require; and when suitable measures had been agreed upon, they were kept so secret, that before the next general assembly they were no more known than if no one had paid any attention to the matter, and no decision had been arrived at regarding it. The object of this was, that if it were necessary to take, either within or without the kingdom, any measures which certain persons, when informed thereof, might wish to prevent, or frustrate, or render difficult, by any artifice, those persons might never have the power to do so.
In the same assembly, if any measure were necessary either to satisfy absent nobles, or to calm or excite the spirit of the people, and such measure had not previously been taken, it was discussed and adopted by the consent of those present, and it was executed in concert with them by the orders of the king. The year being thus terminated, the assembly of the following year was arranged as I have said.
With regard to the councillors, both lay and ecclesiastic, care was taken, as far as possible, to select such persons as, from their condition and duties, were filled with the fear of God, and animated, moreover, by unalterable fidelity, so as to consider nothing superior to the interests of the king and kingdom, except eternal life. Men were sought who could be turned aside from the path of duty neither by friends, nor enemies, nor relatives, nor gifts, nor flatteries, nor reproaches; men were sought who were wise and skilful, not with that sophistical skill and worldly wisdom which are so opposed to God’s will, but with a just and true wisdom that might enable them not only to repress, but also fully to confound the men who place all their reliance in the tricks and stratagems of human policy. The maxim of the councillors thus elected, and of the king himself, was, never to confide, without their mutual consent, to their domestics or any other person, what they might have said familiarly to one another, either upon the affairs of the kingdom, or about any particular individuals. It made no difference whether the secret ought to be kept for a day or two, or more, or for a year, or even for ever.
It invariably happens that, if the conversation held in such meetings, with regard to any individual, either by way of precaution, or in reference to any other public interest, come afterwards to the knowledge of that individual, he cannot but feel great anxiety, or be driven to despair thereby, or, which is a much more serious matter, be stimulated to in fidelity; and thus a man who might perhaps still have done service to the State, is rendered useless,—which never would have happened if he had not known what was said about him. That which is true of one man may be true of two, of a hundred, or of a greater number, or of a whole family, or of an entire province, unless the greatest caution be observed.
The apocrisiary, that is, the chaplain or keeper of the palace, and the chamberlain, were always present at these councils; they were therefore chosen with the greatest care; or else, after having been chosen, they were furnished with such instructions as should render them worthy of being present. As to the other officers of the palace (ministeriales), if there were any one who, first by gaining instruction, and afterwards by giving advice, proved himself capable of honourably occupying the place of one of these councillors, or fit to become one, he received orders to attend the meetings, giving the greatest attention to the matters discussed thereat, correcting his erroneous ideas, learning that of which he was ignorant, and retaining in his memory that which had been ordained and determined. The object of this was, that, if any unforeseen accident occurred, either within or without the kingdom; if any unexpected news arrived, in reference to which previous provision had not been made (it rarely happened, however, that in such cases, profound deliberation was necessary, or that there was not time to convoke the councillors already mentioned); the object of this, I say, was that, under such circumstances, the officers of the palace, with the grace of God, and by their constant habit of both attending at the public councils and deliberating upon the domestic affairs of the realm, might be capable, as need was, either to advise what had best be done, or to point out how matters might be arranged without inconvenience, until the next meeting of the council. So much with regard to the principal officers of the palace.
In reference to the inferior officers, properly called palatines, who had not to do with the general affairs of the kingdom, but only with those in which the persons specially connected with the palace were concerned, the sovereign regulated their duties with great care; in order that, not only might no evil arise therefrom, but also that if any disorder were manifested, it might at once be repressed and extirpated. If the affair were urgent, but might nevertheless without injustice or wrong to any person be deferred for decision until the meeting of the general assembly, the emperor expected the palatines to indicate the best means of delay, and to imitate the wisdom of their superiors in a manner pleasing to God and useful to the kingdom. As to the councillors whom I first mentioned, they were careful, when summoned to the palace, not to occupy themselves with private affairs, or with the disputes which might have arisen with regard to the possession of property or the application of the law, until they had arranged, with the help of God, everything that concerned the king and kingdom in general. This being done, if, in obedience to the orders of the king, there remained any affair which could not be settled either by the Count of the palace, or by the officer under whose cognizance it fell, without the assistance of the councillors, they proceeded to investigate it.
At one or other of the two assemblies, and in order that they might not appear to be convoked without reason, there were submitted to the examination and deliberation of the great personages whom I have mentioned, as well as of the chief senators of the realm, and in virtue of the orders of the king, those articles of law namedcapitula, which the king himself had drawn up under the inspiration of God, or the necessity of which had been manifested to him in the interval between the meetings. After having received these communications, they deliberated upon them for one, two, or three days, or more, according to the importance of the matter. Messengers from the palace, going and coming, received their questions and brought back answers; and no stranger approached the place of their meeting, until the result of their deliberations was placed before the eyes of the great prince, who then, with the wisdom which he had received from God, adopted a resolution which all obeyed. This course was pursued for one, two, or more capitularies, until, by the help of God, all the necessities of the time had been duly regulated.
Whilst these affairs were thus arranged out of the presence of the king, the prince himself, in the midst of the multitude who had come to the general assembly, was busied in receiving presents, greeting the most important individuals, conversing with those whom he saw but seldom, exhibiting an affectionate interest in the old, laughing and joking with the young, and doing these and similar things to ecclesiastics as well as laymen. However, if those who were deliberating upon the matters submitted to their judgment desired it, the king went to them, and remained with them as long as they wished; and there they reported to him, with entire familiarity, what they thought of various matters, and what were the friendly discussions which had arisen amongst them.
I must not forget to mention that, if the weather were fine, all this went on in the open air; but if not, in several distinct buildings, by which those who had to deliberate upon the king’s propositions were separated from the multitude of persons who had come to the assembly; and then the less important men could not enter. The building intended for the meeting of the nobles was divided into two parts, so that the bishops, abbots, and superior clergy could meet together without any mixture of laymen. In the same way, the counts and other distinguished personages of the State separated themselves, in the morning, from the rest of the multitude, until the time came, when, whether the king were present or absent, they all met together; and then the nobles above-mentioned, the clergy on their side, and the laymen on theirs, proceeded to the hall which was assigned to them, and where seats had been honourably prepared for them. When the lay and ecclesiastical lords were thus separated from the multitude, it was in their power to sit either together or separately, according to the nature of the affairs which they had to discuss, whether ecclesiastical, secular, or mixed. In the same way, if they wished to send for any one, either to bring them food, or to answer any question, and to dismiss him after having obtained what they desired, it was in their power to do so. Thus proceeded the examination of the affairs which the king proposed for their deliberation.
The second occupation of the king was to demand of each what he had to report or relate to him regarding that part of the kingdom from which he had come; not only was this permitted to all, but they were specially enjoined to make inquiries, during the interval between the assemblies, about what was going on both within and without the kingdom; and they were to seek information from foreigners as well as natives, from enemies as well as friends, sometimes by employing envoys, and without being very scrupulous as to the way in which the information was obtained. The king desired to know whether in any district or corner of his kingdom the people were murmuring or disaffected, and what was the cause of their disaffection, and whether any disorder had occurred which required the attention of the general council, and other similar details. He also sought to know whether any of the conquered nations were likely to revolt, or whether any that had revolted seemed disposed to submit, or whether those that still remained independent threatened the kingdom with any attack, and so forth. Upon all these matters, wherever disorder or danger appeared, his chief care was to learn what was the motive or occasion thereof.
It is evident that these assemblies were considered by Charlemagne as an instrument of authority, order, and administration, much rather than as a national institution rendered necessary by the rights and free spirit of his people. The employment of this means of government, however, does not do the less honour to the genius of Charlemagne. He had perceived that the principal vice of the social system of his time, and the principal cause of the weakness of his own authority, were the absence of concentration, the isolation of individuals, and the independence of his agents. Periodical convocations gave a centre to all. The efforts of a great man in a barbarous age have as their especial object the creation of a nation, for therein lies his power; Charlemagne sought to find his nation lower than among the great land-owners and the great beneficiaries. He wished to rally together the entire mass of the people, in order to increase his own power, and to have at his disposal everywhere potent means of action. His was a skilful despotism. Despotism, in barbarous times, sometimes announces the presence of a man who is before his age, and who has necessities and views in relation to the future. Despotism, in the midst of an advanced state of civilization, indicates the presence of a man who may be great and even necessary to society, but who cares only for himself, and for the times in which he lives.
Decay of national assemblies under Louis the Débonnair and Charles the Bald. ~ Definitive predominance of the feudal system at the end of the tenth century. ~ Cause of this predominance. ~ Character of feudalism. ~ No trace of true representative government in France, from the fifth to the tenth century.
After the death of Charlemagne, and under Louis the Débonnair, national assemblies were still frequently held. The movement which Charlemagne had begun, had not yet entirely ceased. Unable to create, Louis the Débonnair sought to imitate; at the spring or autumn assemblies, he passed several useful rules, amongst others the capitulary which summoned the scabini, or royal judges, to the Champs de Mai. But the government, even with this sanction, was lifeless and in efficient. The assemblies had been nothing but an instrument of the monarch, and the monarch was now no longer able to make use of them. Their decay was complete under Charles the Bald. They began again to be nothing more than meetings of the bishops and the great lay landowners. There were forty-six assemblies held under Charles the Bald; but they were almost all con fined to the negotiations of the great nobles with the king, respecting their private interests. Such was the progress made by feudalism that the central aristocracy of the great landowners, beneficiaries, and others, dissolved of itself. They isolated themselves from one another in order to exercise, each in his own domains, the almost absolute sovereignty which they had acquired. The fall of the Carlovingians was the work of Hugh Capet alone, and not of an aristocratic coalition. An assembly did not meet, as at the fall of the Merovingians, to elect a new king. Hugh Capet made himself king, and was acknowledged as such, first by the vassals whom he possessed as Duke of France, and afterwards, successively, by the great lords of the kingdom, who remained, nevertheless, almost his equals in power. Then the assemblies almost entirely disappeared, together with every national and central institution; and nearly three centuries elapsed before anything analogous to them was established.
Thus, at the end of the tenth century, of the three systems of institutions which we characterized at the outset, viz.: free institutions, monarchical institutions, and feudal institutions, the last had completely prevailed; the first had perished early, and Charlemagne had vainly attempted to establish the second. The hierarchical organization of the proprietors of estates, and the dislocation of France into as many petty sovereignties as there were proprietors sufficiently strong to be almost independent and absolute masters in their own domains—such was the natural result of the settlement of the Franks in Gaul.
During the five centuries which we have now briefly examined, institutions, customs, and powers appear to be in a constant state of disorder and conflict. The ancient liberties of the Franks, the primitive independence of the warriors, royal authority, the first rudiments of the feudal system—all these different elements present themselves to our view as obscure, incoherent, and in opposition. We pass incessantly from one system to another, from one tendency to another. At the end of the tenth century, the struggle has almost ceased; the mass of the population have fallen into a state of serfage, or become tributary colonists; the possession of fiefs confers a real sovereignty, more or less complete according to the power of the possessor; these petty sovereigns are hierarchically united and constituted by the bonds of suzerainty and vassalage. Nowhere is this bond weaker than between the king and his vassals; for there the pretensions to authority on the one hand, and to independence on the other, are most earnestly contested.
The fundamental characteristics of this state of things are the destruction of all centrality, both national and monarchic; the hierarchical constitution of landed property; the distribution of sovereignty according to the various degrees of this hierarchy; and the servitude or quasi-servitude of the mass of the inhabitants of the country.
I have said that this system was the natural result of the condition of the Franks in Gaul after the conquest; its definitive success is proof of this. Another circumstance, also, may be adduced in evidence. Before the tenth century, we witness the constant struggle and alternating success of free, monarchical, and feudal institutions. The efforts made in favour of the first two systems, although some were supported by the ancient independence of the Franks, and others by the ability of great kings, were unsuccessful,—a more powerful tendency frustrated and overcame them. When the struggle ceased, when the feudal system had fully prevailed, a new conflict almost immediately commenced; the victorious system was attacked: in the inferior classes of society, by the mass of the inhabitants, citizens, colonists, or serfs, who strove to regain some rights, some property, and some liberty; in the superior class, by royalty, which laboured to resume some general sway, and to become once more the centre of the nation. These new efforts were made, not, as during the period from the fifth to the tenth century, in the midst of the confusion arising from the conflict of opposing systems, but in the very interior of a single system, of the system which had prevailed over, and taken possession of, the whole of society. The combatants are no longer free men, uncertain of their position and their rights, who feebly defend the wreck of their ancient existence against the overpowering invasion of the feudal system; they are citizens, colonists, serfs, whose condition is clear and determined, who become in their turn aggressors, and labour to free themselves from the yoke of feudalism. We no longer behold the king uncertain of his authority, and subject to have it unceasingly attacked, not knowing whether he is king or lord, and defending his power against the Leudes, or great landowners, who attempt sometimes to infringe it, and sometimes to set it aside altogether; now it is the chief of the nobles labouring to make himself the king of all, and to convert suzerainty into sovereignty. From the fifth to the tenth century, the feudal system had been in progress, in development, and in aggression. From the eleventh century onwards, this system had to defend itself against the people and the king. The struggle was long, difficult, and terrible; but the results altered with the position of the combatants. In spite of the servitude into which the people fell in the tenth century, from that time forth the enfranchisement of the people made progress. Notwithstanding the impotence of the royal power at the same period, thenceforward the royal power gained ground. No effort was vain, no step was retrograde. That monarchical system which the genius of Charlemagne had been unable to establish, was gradually founded by kings far inferior to Charlemagne. Those ancient liberties, which neither Franks nor Gauls had been able to preserve, were regained piecemeal by the commons and the third estate. During the first period, monarchy and liberty had failed to establish their position; it was destined that monarchy should issue out of feudalism itself, and that emancipation should spring from the bosom of servitude.
With regard to feudalism itself, it is not my intention to sketch its history. I hasten to arrive at that period at which I shall again meet with a nation and a king, and at which endeavours after a free government and a monarchical system will recommence. I will only state here what were the dominant character and general influence of the feudal system, in relation to power and liberty—those two constituent elements of social order.
The feudal system brought the master into close connection with the subject, and the sovereign with those who depended upon him; in this sense it was a cause of oppression and servitude. It is difficult to escape from a power that is ever near, and almost present. The human will is subject to strange caprices, and never is this more frequently exemplified than when the objects on which it acts are in its power. You may breathe a little under an arbitrary power, if it be very lofty and very distant; but if it be at your elbow, you are truly a slave. Local tyranny is the worst of all; though difficult to avoid, it can easily defend itself. A handful of men have often kept the population of a large town in servitude for ages. The citizens, colonists, and serfs felt themselves so grievously oppressed by the feudal lords that they preferred to their absolute power the absolute power of the kings, even with more extensive and irresistible rights than those possessed by the lords. A certain and general despotism has neither the same interest in being tyrannical, nor the same means of oppression. This will explain the intensity of feudal oppression, and the profound hatred which it inspired.
The feudal system placed the inferior near his superior; and, in this sense, it was a principle of dignity and liberty. Many vassals were equal in rank to each other, and on terms of familiarity; frequently the inequality between the superior and inferior was not great, so that the latter was neither humiliated thereby, nor obliged to play the courtier. Protection was a right; the suzerain had absolute need of his vassals. There was no room, in their relations to one another, for servility and baseness of soul. Moreover, the vassals had reasons and means for banding together to defend themselves against oppression; they possessed common rights and interests. The intimacy in which they lived with their lord prevented the feeling of their mutual rights from becoming effaced within them; thus feudal relations are generally full of dignity and high-spiritedness; a noble sentiment, fidelity instead of submission, guides their conduct. Now, wherever a profound moral sentiment exists, it must necessarily call others into action; hence the many splendid and honourable developments of human nature under the feudal system: these developments were concentrated, it is true, within the circle of the lords and vassals; but even that is better than the equal abasement of all under an universal despotism.
Thus, whilst feudalism disregarded and insulted both justice and the dignity of man among the masses whom it claimed as subjects, it respected and developed both among its own hierarchy. In this hierarchy, liberty existed, with all its accompaniments. Below were servitude and its attendant evils, with all the shames that follow in their train.
I may now fearlessly affirm that, in the institutions of the period from the fifth to the tenth century, there is no trace of the representative system. We pass from the independence of individuals, sometimes to the power of the king, sometimes to the predominance of the great landowners. But there is no political organization founded upon ideas of general law and public interest; all institutions have reference to private rights and interests. Two opposite forces are in conflict; there is nothing to reveal the division of powers, and their tendency towards one common object. There are no representatives of the rights of all; none elected in the name of the interests of all; those who have rights exercise them personally; those who do not exercise them personally do not possess them. The ecclesiastics alone preserve the idea of the general right of all men to justice and to good government; but this idea is not transfused into any institutions. Neither the philosophic principle, nor any of the true external characteristics of representative government, can anywhere be met with.1
Political institutions of the Visigoths. ~ Peculiar character of Visigothic legislation. ~ Its authors and its influences. ~ Destruction and disappearance of the middle class in the Roman empire, at the time of the Barbarian invasion. ~ History of the Roman municipal system. ~ Three epochs in that history.
In conformity to the plan which I sketched out for our guidance at the commencement of these lectures, I have studied with you the political institutions of the Anglo-Saxons and Franks, from the fifth to the tenth century. I now come to those of the Visigoths, the third of the Barbarian peoples established in the Roman empire, about whom I propose to give you some information.
On opening the collection of the laws of the Visigoths, it is impossible not to be struck with the compactness which distinguishes them. The Franks and Burgundians have laws partially anterior to their establishment upon the Roman territory; customs handed down and gathered together from age to age. The Visigoths have a code which was systematically drawn up, and promulgated on an appointed day.
This fact alone indicates that the laws of the Visigoths were not the work of the Barbarians themselves. The influence of the clergy, indeed, was more potent among the Visigoths than among the other Barbarian conquerors; not only did the clergy take part in their government, but they acted as their civil and political legislators. The Visigothic code was their work. How did this happen?
Before the foundation of the Barbarian States, under the dominion even of the last Roman emperors, the power of the new religion gradually placed the Christian clergy at the head of the peoples; the bishop was the defender and chief of the towns. After the conquest, the Barbarians embraced the religion of the vanquished; and as the Christian clergy were powerful in the towns, by virtue of the municipal institutions, they used every effort to preserve to the municipal system its form and efficacy. In this they succeeded to a great extent. It is therefore of essential importance to have some precise knowledge of the Roman municipal system and its vicissitudes until the period of the great Barbarian invasions, in order properly to understand the condition of the urban populations at that epoch, and the part which their clergy played in their new position, especially in the kingdom of the Visigoths.
As I have already observed, the fall of the Roman empire in the West is a strange phenomenon. Not only did the population not support the government in its struggles against the Barbarians, but the population, when left to itself, did not attempt any resistance on its own behalf. More than this—nothing, during this protracted conflict, revealed the existence of a nation; scarce any allusion is made to what it suffered; it endured all the scourges of war, pillage, and famine, and suffered an entire change in its destiny and condition, without acting, speaking, or even appearing.
This phenomenon is not merely strange, it is unexampled. Despotism has reigned elsewhere than in the Roman empire; more than once, foreign invasion and conquest have devastated countries that had long groaned beneath a tyrannical government. Even where the nation has not resisted, its existence has been manifested in some manner in history. It suffers, it complains, and, notwithstanding its humiliation, it struggles against its evil fate; narratives and monuments attest what it experienced, what it became, and if not what it did, at least what was done with it.
In the fifth century, the remnants of the Roman legions disputed with hordes of Barbarians the possession of the immense territory of the empire, but it seemed as if this territory were a desert. When the soldiers of the empire had departed or been defeated, mention is made of no other person or thing. The Barbarian tribes seize upon the provinces in succession; beside them, facts exhibit to us only one other real and living existence, that of the bishops and the clergy. If the laws did not remain to inform us that a Roman population still covered the soil, history would give us good reason to doubt its existence.
It was especially in the provinces which had long been subject to Rome, and wherein civilization was more advanced, that the people thus disappeared. We look upon the letter of the Britons, tearfully imploring the assistance of Aetius and the despatch of a legion, as a singular monument of the cowardice of the subjects of the empire. This astonishment is unjust: the Britons, being less civilized and less Romanized than the other subjects of the empire, resisted the Saxons, and their resistance has a history. At the same period, under similar circumstances, the Italians, the Gauls, and the Spaniards have no history; the empire withdrew itself from their country, and the Barbarians took possession of it, without the mass of the inhabitants taking the least part in the transaction, or giving the slightest indication of the place they occupied in the events which gave them over to so many scourges.
Nevertheless Gaul, Italy, and Spain were covered with towns, which had lately been wealthy and populous; civilization had there received a splendid development; roads, aqueducts, circuses, and schools, were abundant. Everything that can attest wealth, or procure for a nation an animated and brilliant existence, they possessed. The invasions of the Barbarians occurred to pillage them of all their wealth, to disperse all their friendly meetings, to destroy all their pleasures. Never had the existence of a nation been more completely overthrown; never had individuals had more evils to endure and more dangers to apprehend. Whence came it that the populations were dumb and dead? How is it that so many sacked towns, so many ruined positions, so many blasted careers, so many ejected proprietors, have left so few traces, I do not say of their active resistance, but only of their sufferings?
The despotism of the imperial government, the degraded condition of the people, the profound apathy which had seized upon both masters and subjects, have been alleged to account for this—and justly so: therein consisted the great cause of this strange phenomenon. But it is easy thus to enunciate in a general manner a cause which, though apparently in existence elsewhere, did not elsewhere produce the same results. We must penetrate more deeply into the state of Roman society, in the condition to which it had been reduced by despotism. We must inquire by what means it had been so utterly deprived of all consistency and life. Despotism can clothe itself in very different forms, and exhibit itself in proceedings which impart to its action a far higher energy, and give a far wider scope to its consequences.
The great fact which had resulted from the system of imperial despotism, and which alone can explain the phenomenon of which I speak, is the destruction and disappearance of the middle class from the Roman world: at the arrival of the Barbarians, this class no longer existed; and for this reason also, the nation had ceased to exist. This annihilation of the middle class in the Roman empire was especially the result of a municipal system, which had rendered it completely the instrument and the victim of the imperial despotism. All the batteries of that despotism were directed against this class; and it was imprisoned within the municipal system that it might be turned to account, and made to supply the necessities of the existence of the power that crushed it.
Such a fact renders it worth while to study, in all its parts, the machine by which it was produced. Those who are unacquainted with the organization of the municipal system at this period, and its effects upon Roman society, cannot properly understand the history of these times.
In the constitution and existence of cities, within the Roman world, we may discern three epochs, very distinct from each other, and clearly marked out by actual revolutions. It is well known that the Romans, adopting, in their conquests, a system widely different from that of most ancient nations, were careful not to exterminate or reduce to servitude the nations which they had conquered. This difference of procedure was, I think, occasioned by the condition of most of the neighbouring nations, against which Rome first waged war. They were collected together in towns, and not dispersed throughout the country; they formed civic bodies, cultivating and governing a territory of greater or less extent. These cities were numerous and independent. A nation scattered over the land which it cultivates, may easily be destroyed or enslaved; but the task is more difficult and less profitable when that nation dwells within walls and has already assumed the consistency of a petty State. Moreover, the nations which, in ancient times, were enslaved or exterminated, received this treatment almost invariably from conquerors who were in search of a home, and who had settled in the territory they had won. When the war was ended, the Romans returned to Rome. Enslavement and extermination cannot be effected either all at once or from a distance. The victors who intend to do this must be ever present among the vanquished, ceaselessly depriving them of their wealth, their liberty, and their lands. The primitive condition of the Romans, at the commencement of their conquests, exercised a decisive influence upon the fate of nations.
Originally, it does not appear that the Romans ventured to leave their former inhabitants in the conquered towns. It is said that violence supplied Rome with women; the same proceeding furnished her with new citizens. The vanquished, when transferred to Rome, became Romans like their victors. The conquered town was occupied, either by soldiers, or by inhabitants of Rome, belonging to the lowest class of the people, and sent thither to form a kind of colony. The town of Coere was the first which, on being united to Rome, was allowed to retain its own laws and magistrates after receiving, at least in part, the right of Roman citizenship. According to Livy, in the year of Rome 365, a decree of the Senate ordained ut cum Coeretibus publice hospitium fieret.1
This system prevailed and received continual development. The conquered towns were united to Rome by receiving the right of citizenship. Some of them, like Coere, only received the title of Roman citizens for their inhabitants, and still retained their own Senate and laws; others were admitted into the Roman city, but without obtaining the right of suffrage in the comitia2 of Rome. With regard to others, again, their political incorporation was complete; their inhabitants enjoyed the right of suffrage at Rome like the Romans themselves. These last alone had a tribe in Rome.
The right of suffrage was granted successively to several towns which had not received it at first. Finally, all Italy after the war of the allies, and ere long a portion of Southern Gaul received the right of Roman citizenship in all its plenitude.
The towns thus admitted to all the rights of Roman citizenship were called municipia. When the whole of Italy was invested with these rights, those towns which had not at first fully possessed them retained for a considerable period the names of coloniae, praefecturae, and so forth, which they had originally borne; but, in fact, their condition was completely assimilated to that of the ancient municipia.
Out of Italy, the condition of the conquered towns and districts was still very various. History tells us of coloniae, some of which were Roman, and others Latin, of populi liberi, civitates faederatae, reges amici, provinciae.3 These different denominations indicated different modes of existence under the domination of Rome, and different degrees of dependence—but these differences successively disappeared. I am referring merely to the municipia.
Before conferring on a town the full rights of Roman citizenship, inquiry was made whether it would accept them or not. On consent being given, and, to use the legal phrase, ubi fundus ei legi factus erat,4 the concession took place. Its principal consequences were these: municipal rights, interests and offices, in that town, were then separated from political rights, interest and offices. The former remained in possession of the town, and were exercised on the spot by the inhabitants, with entire independence: the latter were transferred to Rome, and could be exercised only within its walls. Thus, the right of making peace or war, of passing laws, levying taxes, and administering justice, ceased to belong to the municipium individually; but the citizens shared these rights, and exercised them at Rome in common with the citizens who inhabited Rome; they repaired thither to vote at the comitia, both upon the laws and upon appointments to magisterial functions: they sought and might obtain all the offices of the State. The city of Rome possessed the privilege that these political rights could be exercised only within its walls. Its inhabitants possessed no privilege above those of the municipia.
The rights, interests, and offices, which we now call municipal, and the entire disposal of which was secured to each locality, are nowhere regularly distinguished and enumerated. At this degree of civilization, neither the rulers nor the ruled feel the necessity of foreseeing, defining, and regulating everything; they trust to the good sense of mankind, and to the nature of things. History, however, indicates the principal prerogatives which continued local. 1. Worship, religious festivals, and ceremonies. Not only did each town retain its ancient usages and independent authority in this respect, but the Roman laws watched over the preservation of these rights, and even made it a duty. Each municipium, therefore, had its own priests and flamens, as well as the right of choosing them, and of regulating all matters in relation thereto. 2. Every municipium also possessed the administration of its own private property and revenues. In ceasing to be a political personage, it became a civil personage. Public edifices, whether devoted to purposes of utility or of pleasure, festivals, local and general amusements, all expenses of this kind, and all the revenues by which they were defrayed, continued to be absolutely local matters. The inhabitants appointed the magistrates who were charged with these functions. 3. The police also remained, to a certain extent at least, in the hands of the local magistrates; they had to watch over the internal security of their town, and provisionally to arrest those who disturbed its peace. 4. Although the judicial power had been withdrawn from the localities, we nevertheless meet with some traces of a jurisdiction somewhat similar to that which we call municipal police, giving judgment upon offences against the laws, with regard to public health, weights and measures, markets, and so forth.
All these local affairs were managed either by magistrates appointed by the inhabitants, or by the curia of the town or college of decurions, that is, of all the inhabitants who possessed a fixed landed income. In general, the curia appointed the magistrates; we meet with some instances, however, of their being appointed by the general body of the inhabitants. But at this period, and by a necessary consequence of the existence of slavery, there were few free men who did not belong to the curia.
The origin of the word decurio is uncertain. Some writers are of opinion that he was an officer placed at the head of ten families, like the tything-man, ortunginus of the German peoples. Others think that decurio simply means member of a curia. The last interpretation seems to me the more probable of the two. At a later period, the decurions were called curiales.
Such was the constitution of the municipia at the end of the Roman republic. It presents, as results, the following general facts:—1. All political rights and interests, all political life, in short, was centralized at Rome, not merely morally and by law, but materially and in fact. Within the walls of Rome alone could be consummated all the acts of a Roman citizen. 2. No centralization of this kind had taken place in reference to what we now call administrative interests. Each town had remained isolated and distinct in this respect, regulating its own affairs, just as a private individual would do. 3. The appointment and surveillance of the magistrates who administered the local affairs of the town took place on the spot, without any intervention of the central power, and by the assembly of the principal inhabitants. 4. Into this assembly were admitted all the inhabitants who possessed a certain income. There is reason to believe that a few free men only were excluded therefrom.
Here begins a second epoch in the history of the Roman municipal system.
The absolute separation of political from local existence, and the impossibility of exercising political rights elsewhere than in Rome, could not fail to deprive the towns of their principal citizens, and also of a great part of their importance. Thus, during the epoch which we have just surveyed, purely local interests occupied only a small place. Rome absorbed everything. The independence left to other towns, as regarded matters that were not treated of at Rome, or did not emanate from Rome, arose from the slight importance of those matters.
When liberty began to totter at Rome, the decadence of the political activity of the citizens necessarily diminished its concentration. The chief men of the municipia repaired to Rome to take their part in the government of the world, either by voting in the comitia, or discharging great public functions. When the comitia and the high magistracies ceased to have any perceptible influence in the government, when political life became extinct in Rome, together with the movement of liberty, this affuence of all the important men towards Rome decreased. Such a decrease was advantageous to the rising despotism, and met with no opposition. Here, as in every instance, the necessary consequences of general facts are revealed in particular and positive facts. Up to that time, no political act could be performed, and no suffrage be exercised, elsewhere than within the walls of Rome. Suetonius informs us that Augustus conferred upon the citizens of a large number of Italian municipia the right of giving their votes without leaving their town, and sending them to Rome in a sealed packet, that they might be properly scrutinized in the comitia. Thus was exhibited, at once, the progress of public in difference, and the growth of absolute power.
This progress continued rapidly. Ere long, the comitia met with the fate of all shams, and were abolished; all free intervention of the citizens in the government disappeared, and no political acts remained to be performed, either at Rome, or at a distance therefrom; and as it is always a trick of nascent despotism to offer to all men the deceptive advantages of a shameful equality, the right of Roman citizenship was, almost at the same period, bestowed indiscriminately upon the whole Roman world. This right no longer possessed any political significance, nor did it confer any real importance upon those who received it; and yet this concession deprived those whom it levelled to the condition of the multitude, of any importance they might still have retained. There is reason to believe that this measure was rather the consequence of a financial speculation than of a clever despotic combination. But despotism, even when its conduct is least guided by scientific principles, is never deceived by its instincts. Such was, moreover, the natural course of things; and degraded peoples must inevitably suffer their fate. All the blame must not be laid on the master of the flock; and the hatred which tyranny merits cannot save from our contempt nations that are incapable of liberty.
However, as the degradation and ruin of an empire cannot be effected in a moment, or by a single blow; as there still existed in the Roman world some habits of liberty which despotism had not had time or need to destroy, it was necessary to make some sort of compensation for this complete disappearance of political rights and life; and this compensation naturally resulted from the change which had occurred. A portion of the importance which Rome had lost, had returned to the municipia. A large number of wealthy citizens no longer left their homes. Having been excluded from the government of the State, their attention spontaneously turned to the affairs of their own city. Nothing had yet stimulated the central power to interfere in their administration. The treasures of Rome, and the ordinary contributions of the provinces, were sufficient for the imperial wants, and even for its follies. Tyranny then felt but slightly the necessity of penetrating into every quarter, and of possessing a detailed organization; and did not even know how to set about it. The municipal system, therefore, retained considerable importance; it even constituted itself with greater regularity, and according to more positive, perhaps more extensive rights, than those which it had previously possessed.
It is during the period from the reign of Nerva to that of Diocletian, that the state of the municipia appears under this new aspect. A great many laws were passed to increase and secure the property and revenues of towns. Trajan permitted them to receive inheritances by way of fidei commissus;5 and, ere long, they were authorized to receive them directly. Hadrian granted them the right of receiving legacies, and ordained that any administrator who should misappropriate the property of a town should be considered guilty, not of simple theft, but of embezzlement. The ordinary income usually sufficed to meet the expenditure, and it was not necessary to lay fresh taxes upon the citizens. The State did not cast upon the cities any burdens which did not directly concern them; and there were but very few citizens exempt from that which was onerous in municipal duties. The common people bore their part, by hard labour, in the public works which interested each town; the dignity of the decurions was recognised and sanctioned. Hadrian freed them from the punishment of death, except in cases of parricide. The decurionate was still sought after as an honour; and lastly, the best proof of the importance and extension of the municipal system, during this period, will be found in the number of laws passed in relation to it, and the particular attention paid to it by jurisconsults. Evidently, in the absence of political rights and guarantees, the municipal system was the depository in which all the rights and securities of citizens were contained.
But the attempt to preserve this system could not long succeed. We must, indeed, date revolutions from the day on which they break out; this is the only precise epoch which we can assign to them, but it is not that in which they originate. The convulsions which we call revolutions, are far less symptomatic of what is commencing than declaratory of what has passed away. The crisis of the municipal system under Constantine is one of many proofs of this truth.
Ever since the reign of Septimius Severus, the central power in the Roman empire had been falling into ruin; its strength decreased in proportion as its burdens and dangers augmented. It became indispensable to cast upon others the burdens which it could no longer bear, and to seek new strength in order to confront new dangers. At the same time, there arose, in the midst of the old Roman society, a society both young and ardent, united in afirm and fruitful faith, gifted from within with principles admirably adapted to fortify its internal constitution, and also with an immense power of external expansion; I refer to Christian society. It was by the action of these two causes, at first divided and afterwards united, that the municipal system of the Roman empire was dissolved, and ended by deteriorating into a principle of ruin, and an instrument of oppression.
It is one of the thousand vices of despotism that its exigencies increase in proportion as its means diminish; the weaker it becomes, the greater is its need of exaggeration; the more it is impoverished, the more it desires to spend. In point of strength, as of wealth, sterility and prodigality are equally imposed upon it; society, both men and things, in its hands, is but a lifeless and limited material which it expends for its own support, and into which it is compelled to penetrate more deeply as it becomes more exhausted, and as it is itself more nearly losing all.
The despotism of the Roman emperors existed in presence of three dangers: the Barbarians, who were continually advancing, and whom it was necessary to conquer or to bribe; the populace, which was continually increasing, and which it was necessary to feed, amuse, and restrain; the soldiers, the force to be opposed to this twofold peril,—a force all the more dangerous in itself, as it was necessary to increase it, and grant it daily fresh concessions. This position imposed immense burdens on despotism. In order to obtain resources, it was compelled to create an administrative machine capable of carrying its action into every quarter, and which became itself a new burden. This system of government, which commenced under Diocletian and ended under Honorius, had no other object but to extend over society a network of functionaries, who were incessantly occupied in extracting from it wealth and strength, which they afterwards deposited in the hands of the emperors.
The revenues of the towns, like those of private individuals, were laid under contribution by the exigencies of power, and were speedily invaded in a still more direct manner. On various occasions, amongst others under Constantine, the emperor took possession of a large number of municipal properties; but the local charges which these properties were intended to meet were, nevertheless, left undiminished. Nay, more, they were increased; as the populace everywhere became more numerous and more disposed to sedition, it became more expensive to feed and amuse them, and greater force was required to keep them in check. The central power, itself overburdened, cast a portion of its load upon the towns. Now, whenever the regular revenues of a town did not suffice to meet its expenditure, the curia, that is, the body of wealthy citizens, the decurions, were bound to supply the deficiency from their own private purse. They were, moreover, in almost every place, the collectors of the public taxes, and were responsible for this collection; their private property had to make up for the insolvency of the tax-payers, as well as to supply the deficiency of the communal revenues. The dignity of decurion thus became a cause of ruin; this condition was the most onerous of all social conditions; it was, nevertheless, that of all the well-to-do inhabitants of all the municipia in the empire.
Nor was this all; as soon as the position of the decurions became burdensome, there was a tendency to leave it, as well as an advantage in doing so. Exemption from curial functions became a privilege; and this privilege received an ever-increasing extension. The emperors, who disposed of all public dignities and employments, conferred them upon the men and the classes whom they felt it necessary to gain. Thus arose within the State, as a necessary result of despotism, an immense class of privileged persons. In proportion as the revenues of the towns diminished, their burdens augmented, and fell upon the decurions, now fewer in number in consequence of the concession of privilege. It was, however, needful to leave enough to bear the burdens imposed on the curiae. Hence the origin of that long series of laws which make of each curia a prison-house in which the decurions were hereditarily con fined; which deprived them, in a multitude of cases, of the free disposal of their property, or even disposed of it without their consent for the benefit of the curia; which pursued them into the country, into the army, wherever they attempted to take refuge, in order to restore them to the curiae, from whence they desired to escape: laws, in fine, which bound an immense class of citizens, in property as well as in person, to the most onerous and ungrateful of public services, just as you would compel animals to perform this or that species of domestic labour.
Such was the place which despotism finally assigned to the municipal system; such was the condition to which municipal proprietors were reduced by the laws. And whilst despotism was straining every nerve to tighten the bonds of the municipal system, and to compel the inhabitants to perform, as charges, functions which had formerly been considered as rights, the second cause to which I have alluded, Christianity, was labouring to dissolve or dismantle municipal society, in order to substitute another in its place.6
During nearly three centuries, Christian society had been silently forming in the midst, and, so to speak, beneath the surface of the civil society of the Romans. It was at a very early period a regularly-constituted society, with its chiefs, its laws, its expenditure, and its income. Its organization, originally entirely free and founded upon purely moral ties, was by no means deficient in strength. It was at that time the only association which could procure for its members the joys of the inner life—which possessed, in the ideas and sentiments that formed its basis, matter to occupy lofty minds, to exercise active imaginations, and to satisfy the requirements of that moral and intellectual existence which neither oppression nor misfortune can completely extinguish throughout a nation. The inhabitant of a municipium, when he became a Christian, ceased to belong to his town, and entered into the Christian society, of which the bishop was chief. There alone, henceforward, was the centre of his thoughts and affections, and the abode of his masters and brethren. To the necessities of this new association were devoted, if needful, his fortune and his activity; thither, in fine, his entire moral existence was in some measure transported.
When such a displacement has occurred in the moral order of things, it speedily becomes consummated in the material order also. The conversion of Constantine, in fact, declared the triumph of Christian society, and accelerated its progress. Thenceforward, power, jurisdiction, and wealth poured in upon the churches and bishops, as upon the only centres around which men were spontaneously disposed to group themselves, and which could exercise the virtue of attraction upon all the forces of society. It was no longer to his town, but to his church that the citizen desired to bequeath his property. It was no longer by the construction of circuses and aqueducts, but by the erection of Christian temples, that the rich man endeavoured to rest his claim to public affection. The parish took the place of the municipium; the central power itself, hurried on by the course of the events with which it had become associated, used all its efforts to swell the stream. The emperors deprived the communes of a portion of their property, and gave it to the churches; they deprived the municipal magistrates of a portion of their authority, and gave it to the bishops. When the victory had been thus avowed, interest combined with faith to increase the society of the conquerors. The clergy were exempted from the burden of municipal functions; and it became necessary to pass laws to prevent all the decurions from making themselves clerks. Without these laws, municipal society would have been entirely dissolved; its existence was protracted that it might continue to bear the burden to which it was condemned; and, strange to say, the emperors most favourable to the ecclesiastical order, and most liberal in augmenting its advantages, were compelled at the same time to struggle against the tendency which induced men to leave every other association, in order to enter into the only one in which they could find honour and protection.
Such then, was, in truth, the state of things. Despotism, urged by its own necessities, incessantly aggravated the condition of the curia. That of the church flourished and improved as incessantly, either by the aid of the peoples, or by the action of despotism itself, which had need of the support of the clergy. It was therefore necessary continually to relegate to the curia the decurions who were ever anxious to leave it. In proportion as their number decreased, and as those who remained became ruined and unable to bear the burden, their condition became less and less endurable. Thus, evil sprang from evil; oppression rendered ruin certain by its efforts to delay it; and the municipal system which, as I have said, had become an actual gaol to one class of citizens, daily hastened onwards to its own destruction, and to that of the class which was chained to its destiny.
Such was, with regard to the municipia, the course of events and laws from the reign of Constantine until the fall of the Western Empire. In vain did some emperors strive to raise the communes; in vain did Julian restore to them a portion of the property which they had previously lost. These changes in legislation were ineffectual; a fatal necessity weighed upon the municipia; and whenever the municipal system bordered closely upon dissolution, and it was felt necessary to support it, no other aid was given than by redoubling the energy of the causes which urged it to destruction. Thus violent is the course of decaying despotism. The municipalities were daily sacrificed in greater measure to the empire, and the decurions to the municipalities; the external forms of liberty still existed within the curiae, as regarded the election of magistrates and the administration of the affairs of the city; but these forms were vain, for the citizens who were called upon to give them life by their actions, were stricken to death in their personal independence and in their fortune. It was in this state of material ruin and moral annihilation that the Barbarians, when they established themselves in the Roman territory, found the towns, their magistrates, and their inhabitants.
In the East, the agony of the municipia was prolonged with the duration of the empire. Here also some emperors made unsuccessful attempts to restore them to prosperity. At length, the progress of the central despotism became so great, and the forms of municipal liberty so evidently a dead letter, that, towards the end of the ninth century, the Emperor Leo, called the Philosopher, abolished the whole municipal system at once, by the following decree:—
As, in things which serve for use in common life, we esteem those which are convenient and useful, and despise those which are of no utility, so we ought to act in reference to laws; those which are of some advantage, and which confer some benefit on the commonwealth, should be maintained and honoured; but as for those whose maintenance is troublesome and unimportant, not only should we pay no attention to them, but we should reject them from the body of the laws. Now, we say, that among the ancient laws passed in reference to curiae and decuriones, there are some which impose intolerable burdens on the decurions, and confer on the curiae the right of appointing certain magistrates, and of governing cities by their own authority. Now that civil affairs have assumed another form, and that all things depend solely upon the care and administration of the imperial majesty, these laws wander, in some sort, vainly and without object around the legal territory; we therefore abolish them by the present decree.*
Such were, during the period of twelve centuries which elapsed between the treaty of Rome with Coere and the reign of Leo the Philosopher, the great revolutions of the municipal system in the Roman world. We may characterize them by saying that, during the first period, the municipal system was a liberty granted, in fact, to the inhabitants of the towns; during the second, it was a right legally constituted, as an indemnity for the loss of political privileges; and, during the third, it was a burden imposed upon a certain class of citizens.
I now terminate its history. In our next lecture, we shall investigate the real state of the municipal system during the third period, and its influence upon the condition of the citizens.
Of the various social conditions in the Roman Empire, before the final invasion of the Barbarians. ~ The privileged classes, and curials. ~ Their obligations, functions, and immunities. ~ Attributes of the curia as a body. ~ Of the various municipal magistracies and offices. ~ Of the Defender in cities. ~ Comparison of the development of the municipal system, and its relations to the central organization of the State in the Roman Empire and in modern societies.
At the commencement of the fifth century the subjects of the Empire were divided into three classes, forming three very distinct social conditions: 1. The privileged classes; 2. The curials; 3. The common people. I speak only of free men.
The privileged class included: 1. The members of the Senate, and all those who were entitled to bear the name of clarissimi; 2. The officers of the palace; 3. The clergy; 4. The cohortal militia, a sort of gendarmerie employed in the maintenance of the internal order of the State, and the execution of the laws; 5. The soldiers in general, whether included in the legions, or in the troops attached to the palace, or in the corps of barbarian auxiliaries. The class of curials comprehended all the citizens inhabiting towns, whether natives or settlers therein, who possessed a certain landed income, and did not belong, by any title, to the privileged class. The common people were the mass of the inhabitants of the towns, whose almost absolute want of property excluded them from a place among the curials.
The privileged members of the first class were numerous, of various rank, and unequally distributed among the five orders of which it was composed; but that which was, in fact, the most important and most sought after of their privileges, that which alone was more valuable than all the rest, was common to the five orders which constituted this class—I mean, exemption from municipal functions and offices.
When we come to treat of the curials, you will learn what was the extent of these duties; but you must first understand clearly who were exempt from them. 1. The whole army, from the lowest cohortalis to the magister equitum peditumve;1 2. The entire body of the clergy, from the simple clerk to the archbishop; 3. It is an easy matter to define the two foregoing classes; but it is not so clear who were the members of the class of senators and clarissimi. The number of the senators was unlimited; the emperor appointed and dismissed them at his will, and could even raise the sons of freedmen to this rank. All those who had filled the principal magisterial offices in the Empire, or who had merely received from the prince the honorary title belonging to those magistratures, were calledclarissimi, and had the right, when occasion required, of sitting in the Senate. Thus the class of clarissimi included all the functionaries of any importance: and they were all appointed and might be dismissed by the emperor.
The body of privileged individuals, then, was composed: 1. Of the army; 2. Of the clergy; 3. Of all the public functionaries, whether employed at the Court and in the palace, or in the provinces. Thus despotism and privilege had made a close alliance; and, in this alliance, privilege, which depended almost absolutely on despotism, possessed neither liberty nor dignity, except perhaps in the body of the clergy.
This privilege, and especially exemption from curial functions, was not purely personal, but also hereditary. It was so, in the case of military men, on condition that the children also should embrace the profession of arms; and in the case of civilians, it was continued to those children who were born since their fathers had belonged to the class of clarissimi, or had occupied posts in the palace. Among the classes exempt from curial functions was the cohortal militia, a subaltern service to which those who entered it were hereditarily bound, and from which there was no means of passing into a superior class.
The class of curials comprehended all the inhabitants of the towns, whether natives thereof, municipes, or settlers therein, incolae, who possessed a landed property of more than twenty-five acres, jugera, and did not belong to any privileged class. Members of the curial class became so either by origin, or by appointment. Every child of a curial was a curial also, and liable to all the charges attached to that quality. Every inhabitant who, by trade or otherwise, acquired a landed property of more than twenty-five acres, might be summoned to enter the curia, and could not refuse to do so. No curial could, by a voluntary act, pass into another condition. They were interdicted from dwelling in the country, entering the army, or engaging in employments which would have liberated them from municipal functions, until they had passed through every curial gradation, from that of a simple member of a curia to the highest civic magistracies. Then alone they might become military men, public functionaries, and senators. The children born to them before their elevation remained curials. They were not allowed to enter the clergy except by granting the enjoyment of their property to any one who agreed to be a curial in their place, or by making a present of their possessions to the curia itself. As the curials were incessantly striving to escape from their bondage, a multitude of laws were passed directing the prosecution of those who had escaped from their original condition, and succeeded in effecting their entrance furtively into the army, the clergy, public offices, or the Senate; and ordaining their restoration to the curia from which they had fled.
The following were the functions and charges of the curials thus con fined, voluntarily or perforce, in the curia. 1. The administration of the affairs of themunicipium, with its expenditure and revenues, either by deliberating thereon in the curia, or by discharging the magisterial offices of the town. In this double position, the curials were responsible not only for their individual management, but also for the necessities of the town, for which they were bound to provide out of their own resources, in case the municipal revenues were insufficient. 2. The collection of the public taxes, also under the responsibility of their private property in case of defaulters. Lands which were subject to the land-tax and had been abandoned by their possessors, were allotted to the curia, which was bound to pay the tax thereon until it had found some one willing to take them offits hands. If it could find no one, the tax on the abandoned land was divided amongst the other estates. 3. No curial could sell the property from which he derived his qualification, without the permission of the governor of the province. 4. The heirs of curials, when not members of the curia, and the widows or daughters of curials, who married men belonging to other classes, were bound to give a fourth part of their goods to the curia. 5. The curials who had no children could not dispose, by will, of more than a fourth of their property: the other three-fourths went, by right, to the curia. 6. They were not allowed to absent themselves from their municipium, even for a limited time, without permission from the judge of the province. 7. When they had withdrawn from their curia, and could not be brought back, their property was con-fiscated to the benefit of their curia. 8. The tax known by the name of aurum coronarium, and which consisted in a sum to be paid to the prince, on the occasion of certain events, was levied on the curials alone.
The only advantages granted to the curials in compensation for these burdens were: 1. Exemption from torture, except in very serious cases. 2. Exemption from certain affictive and dishonouring punishments which were reserved for the populace; such as being condemned to work in the mines, to be burned alive, and so forth. 3. Decurions who had fallen into indigence were supported at the expense of the municipium. These were the only advantages possessed by the curials over the common people, who, on the other hand, enjoyed the benefit that every career was open to them, and that, by entering the army, or engaging in public employments, they might raise themselves at once into the privileged class.
The condition of the curials, then, both as citizens and in relation to the State, was onerous and devoid of liberty. Municipal administration was a burdensome service, to which the curials were doomed, and not a right with which they were invested. Let us now see what was the condition of the curials, not in relation to the State, and to the other classes of citizens, but in the curia and amongst themselves. Here still existed the forms, and even the principles, of liberty. All the curials were members of the curia, and sat therein. The ability to bear the burdens of the office entailed that of exercising its rights, and taking part in its affairs; the names of all the curials of each municipium were inscribed, in an order which was determined according to their dignity, age, and other circumstances, in a book called the album curiae. When there was occasion to deliberate upon any matter, they were all convoked together by the superior magistrate of the town, the duumvir, aedilis or praetor, and they all gave their opinions and their votes; everything was decided by the majority of votes: and no deliberation of the curia was valid unless two-thirds of the curials were present.
The attributes of the curia as a body were: 1. The examination and decision of certain affairs; 2. The appointment of magistrates and municipal officers. Nowhere can I find an enumeration of the affairs which fell under the cognizance of the curia as a body. Everything, however, indicates that most of those municipal interests which required more than the simple execution of the laws or of orders already given, were discussed in the curia. The proper and independent authority of the municipal magistrates appears to have been very limited. For example, there is reason to believe that no expense could be incurred without the authorization of the curia. It fixed the time and place for holding fairs; it alone granted recompenses; and so forth.
There were even occasions on which the authorization of the curia was not sufficient, and when it was necessary to have the sanction of all the inhabitants, whether curials or not; for example, for the sale of any property belonging to the commune, or for the despatch of deputies to wait on the emperor in reference to any grievance or request. On the other hand, it is evident that, by the general progress of despotism, the imperial power continued daily to interfere more and more in the affairs of the municipia, and to limit the independence of the curiae. Thus they might not erect new buildings without the permission of the governor of the province; the reparation of the walls around the towns was subject to the same formality; and it was also necessary for the emancipation of slaves, and for all acts which tended to diminish the patrimony of the city. By degrees, also, even those affairs the final decision of which had previously belonged to the curiae fell, by way of objection or appeal, under the authority of the emperor and his delegates in the provinces. This occurred in consequence of the absolute concentration of judicial and fiscal power in the hands of the imperial functionaries. The curia and the curials were then reduced to be nothing more than the lowest agents of the sovereign authority. There was left to them hardly anything beyond the right of consultation and the right of complaint.
With regard to the appointment to municipal magistracies, it remained for a long time, in reality, in the hands of the curia, without any necessity for its confirmation by the governor of the province, except in exceptional cases of towns which it was specially intended to ill-use or punish. But even this right soon became illusory by reason of the power given to provincial governors to annul the appointment on the demand of the person elected. When municipal functions had become merely burdensome, all the curials elected to discharge these offices, who had any influence with the governor, were able, under some pretext or another, to get their election annulled, and thus to escape from the load.
There were two kinds of municipal offices: the first, called magistratus, which conferred certain honours and a certain jurisdiction; the second, calledmunera, simple employments without jurisdiction and without any particular dignity. The curia appointed to both kind of offices; only the magistrates proposed the men whom they thought competent to fulfil the munera; but even these were not really appointed until they had obtained the suffrages of thecuria.
The magistratus were: 1. Duumvir; this was the most usual name of the chief municipal magistrate. He was also called, in certain localities, quatuorvir, dictator, aedilis, praetor. His tenure of office was for a year; it corresponded pretty nearly with that of our mayors; the duumvir presided over the curia, and directed the general administration of the affairs of the city. He had a jurisdiction con fined to matters of small importance; he also exercised a police authority which gave him the right of inflicting certain punishments upon slaves, and of provisionally arresting freemen. 2. Aedilis; this was a magistrate generally inferior to the duumvir; he had the inspection of public edifices, of the streets, of corn, and of weights and measures. These two magistrates, the duumvir andaedilis, were expected to give public festivals and games. 3. Curator reipublicae; this officer, like the aedile, exercised a certain oversight over public edifices; but his principal business was the administration of the finances; he farmed out the lands of the municipium, received the accounts of the public works, lent and borrowed money in the name of the city, and so forth.
The munera were: 1. Susceptor, the collector of taxes, under the responsibility of the curials who appointed him. 2. Irenarchae, commissaries of police, whose duty it was to seek out and prosecute offences, in the first instance. 3. Curatores, officers charged with various particular municipal services; curator frumenti,curator calendarii, the lender out on good sureties of the money of the city, at his own risk and peril. 4. Scribae, subaltern clerks in the two offices. To this class belonged the tabelliones, who performed almost the same functions as our notaries.
In later times, when the decay of the municipal system became evident, when the ruin of the curials and the impotence of all the municipal magistrates to protect the inhabitants of the cities against the vexations of the imperial administration, became evident to despotism itself; and when despotism, suffering at length the punishment of its own deeds, felt society abandoning it on every side, it attempted, by the creation of a new magistracy, to procure for themunicipia some security and some independence. A defensor was given to every city; his primitive mission was to defend the people, especially the poor, against the oppression and injustice of the imperial officers and their agents. He soon surpassed all the other municipal magistrates in importance and influence. Justinian gave the defenders the right to exercise, in reference to each city, the functions of the governor of the province during the absence of that officer; he also granted them jurisdiction in all cases which did not involve a larger sum than 300 aurei. They had even a certain amount of authority in criminal matters, and two apparitors were attached to their person; and in order to give some guarantees of their power and independence, two means were employed; on the one hand, they had the right of passing over the various degrees in the public administration, and of carrying their complaints at once before the praetorian prefect; this was done with the intention of elevating their dignity by freeing them from the jurisdiction of the provincial authorities. On the other hand, they were elected, not by the curia merely, but by the general body of the inhabitants of themunicipium, including the bishop and all the clergy; and as the clergy then alone possessed any energy and influence, this new institution, and consequently all that still remained of the municipal system, fell into its hands almost universally. This was insufficient to restore the vigour of the municipia, under the dominion of the empire; but it was enough to procure for the clergy great legal influence in the towns after the settlement of the Barbarians. The most important result of the institution of defenders was to place the bishops at the head of the municipal system, which otherwise would have dissolved of itself, through the ruin of its citizens and the nullity of its institutions.
Such are the facts: they demonstrate the phenomenon which I indicated at the outset, namely, the destruction of the middle class in the empire; it was destroyed materially by the ruin and dispersion of the curials, and morally by the denial of all influence to the respectable population in the affairs of the State, and eventually in those of the city. Hence it arose that, in the fifth century, there was so much uncultivated land and so many towns almost deserted, or inhabited only by a famished and spiritless population. The system which I have just explained contributed, much more powerfully than the devastations of the Barbarians, to produce this result.
In order rightly to apprehend the true character and consequences of these facts, we must reduce them to general ideas, and deduce therefrom all that they contain in regard to one of the greatest problems of social order. Let us first examine them on the relations of the municipal system with political order, of the city with the State. In this respect, the general fact which results from those which I have stated, is the absolute separation of political rights and interests from municipal rights and interests; a separation equally fatal to the political rights and interests, and to the municipal rights and interests of citizens. So long as the principal citizens possessed, at the centre of the State, real rights and an actual influence, the municipal system was not wanting in guarantees of security, and continued to develop itself. As soon as the principal citizens lost their influence at head quarters these guarantees disappeared, and the decay of the municipal system was not long in manifesting itself.
Let us now compare the course of things in the Roman world, with what has occurred in the modern states. In the Roman world, centralization was prompt and uninterrupted. In proportion as she conquered the world, Rome absorbed and retained within her walls the entire political existence of both victors and vanquished. There was nothing in common between the rights and liberties of the citizen, and the rights and liberties of the inhabitant; political life and municipal life were not confounded one in the other, and were not exhibited in the same localities. In regard to politics, the Roman people had, in truth, only one head; when that was stricken, political life ceased to exist; local liberties then found themselves unconnected by any bond, and without any common guarantee for their general protection.
Among modern nations, no such centralization has ever existed. On the contrary, it has been in the towns, and by the operation of municipal liberties, that the mass of the inhabitants, the middle class, has been formed, and has acquired importance in the State. But when once in possession of this point of support, this class soon felt itself to be in straits, and without security. The force of circumstances made it understand that, so long as it was not raised to the centre of the State, and constitutionally established there; so long as it did not possess, in political matters, sights which should prove the development and pledge of those which it exercised in municipal affairs—these last would be insufficient to protect it in all its interests, and even to protect themselves. Here is the origin of all the efforts which, from the thirteenth century onwards, either by States General or Parliaments, or by more indirect means, were made for the purpose of raising the burghers to political life, and associating with the rights and liberties of the inhabitant, the rights and liberties of the citizen. After three centuries of endeavour, these efforts were unsuccessful. The municipal system was unable to give birth to a political system which should correspond with it and become its guarantee. The centralization of power was effected without any centralization of rights. Thenceforward the municipal system proved weak and incapable of defending itself; it had been formed in spite of feudal domination; it was unable to exist in presence of a central authority, and in the midst of administrative monarchy. The towns gradually lost, obscurely and almost unresistingly, their ancient liberties. No one is ignorant that, at the moment when the French revolution broke out, the municipal system in France was nothing more than a vain shadow, without consistency or energy.
Thus although, in the Roman world and amongst ourselves, matters have progressed in inverse proportion, although Rome began by the centralization of public liberties, and modern States by municipal freedom, in both cases facts alike reveal to us the double truth that the two orders of liberties and rights are indispensable to one another, that they cannot be separated without mutual injury, and that the ruin of one necessarily entails the ruin of that which at first survives.
A second result of no less importance is revealed to us by the same facts. The separation of the municipal from the political system led, in the Roman empire, to the legal classification of society and to the introduction of privilege. In modern States, an analogous classification and the presence of aristocratic privileges prevented the municipal system from raising itself to political influence, and from producing the rights of the citizen from the local rights of the inhabitant. Where, then, municipal and political life are strangers to one another, where they are not united in the same system and bound together in such a manner as reciprocally to guarantee each other’s security, we may be certain that society either is or soon will be divided into distinct and unchangeable classes, and that privilege either already exists or is about to make its appearance. If the burgesses have no share in the central power, if the citizens who exercise or share in the central power do not at the same time participate in the rights and interest of the burgesses, if political and municipal existence proceed thus collaterally, instead of being, as it were, included in each other, it is impossible for privilege not to gain a footing, even beneath the iron hand of despotism and in the midst of servitude.
If from all this we desire to deduce a still more general consequence, and to express it in a purely philosophical form, we shall acknowledge that, in order that right may certainly exist in any place, it must exist everywhere, that its presence at the centre is vain unless it be present also in localities; that, without political liberty, there can be no solid municipal liberties, and vice versa. If, however, we consider the facts already stated in reference to the municipal system taken in itself and in its internal constitution; if in these facts we look for principles—we shall meet with the most singular amalgamation of the principles of liberty with those of despotism; an amalgamation, perhaps unexampled, and certainly inexplicable to those who have not well understood the course of circumstances, both in the formation and in the decline of the Roman world.
The presence of principles of liberty is evident. They were these. 1. Every inhabitant possessing a fortune which guaranteed his independence and intelligence, was a curial; and, as such, called upon to take part in the administration of the affairs of the city. Thus, the right was attached to presumed capacity, without any privilege of birth, or any limit as to number;2 and this right was not a simple right of election, but the right of full deliberation, of immediate participation in affairs, as far as they related to what occurred in the interior of a town, and to interests which might be understood and discussed by all those who were capable of raising themselves above the cares of individual existence. The curia was not a restricted and select council, it was an assembly of all the inhabitants who possessed the conditions of curial capacity. 2. An assembly cannot administrate—magistrates are necessary. These were all elected by the curia, for a very short time; and they answered for their administration by their private fortune. 3. In circumstances of importance, such as changing the condition of a city, or electing a magistrate invested with vague and more arbitrary authority, the curia itself was not sufficient; the whole body of the inhabitants was called in to take part in these solemn acts.
Who, on beholding such rights, would not think that he saw a small republic, in which municipal and political life were merged in one another, and in which the most democratic rule prevailed? Who would think that a municipality thus regulated formed a part of a great empire, and depended, by narrow and necessary bonds, on a remote and sovereign central power? Who would not, on the contrary, expect to meet with all the outbreaks of liberty, all the agitations and cabals, and frequently all the disorder and violence which, at all periods, characterize small societies thus shut up and governed within their own walls?
Nothing of the kind was the case, and all these principles of liberty were lifeless. Other principles existed which struck them to death. 1. Such were the effects and exactions of the central despotism that the quality of curial ceased to be a right confessedly belonging to all who were capable of exercising it, and became a burden imposed upon all who were able to bear it. On the one hand, the government discharged itself from the care of providing for those public services which did not affect its own interests, and so cast the obligation on this class of citizens; and, on the other hand, it employed them to collect the taxes destined for its use, and made them responsible for the payment thereof. It ruined the curials in order to pay its own functionaries and soldiers; and it granted to its own functionaries and soldiers all the advantages of privilege, in order to obtain their assistance forcibly to prevent the curials from escaping from their impending ruin. Complete nullities as citizens, the curials lived only to be fleeced. 2. All the elective magistrates were, in fact, merely the gratuitous agents of despotism, for whose benefit they robbed their fellow-citizens, until they should be able, in some way or another, to free themselves from this unpleasant obligation. 3. Their election even was valueless, for the imperial delegate in the province could annul it, and they had the greatest personal interest in obtaining this favour from him; in this way also, they were at his mercy. 4. Lastly, their authority was not real, for it had no sanction. No effective jurisdiction was allowed them; they could do nothing that might not be annulled. Nay, more: as despotism daily perceived more clearly their impotence or ill-will, it daily encroached further upon the domain of their attributes, either by its own personal action, or by its direct delegates. The business of the curia vanished successively with its powers; and a day was not far distant when the municipal system would be abolished at a single stroke in the rapidly decaying empire, “because,” the legislator would say, “all these laws wander, in some sort, vaguely and objectless about the legal territory.”
Thus, the municipal power, having become completely estranged from political and civil power, ceased to be a power itself. Thus, the principles and forms of liberty, isolated remains of the independent existence of that multitude of towns which were successively added to the Roman empire, were impotent to defend themselves against the coalition of despotism and privilege. Thus, here also, we may learn what so many examples teach us; namely, that all the appearances of liberty, all the external acts which seem to attest its presence, may exist where liberty is not, and that it does not really exist unless those who possess it exercise a real power—a power, the exercise of which is connected with that of all powers. In the social state, liberty is participation in power; this participation is its true, or rather its only, guarantee. Where liberties are not rights, and where rights are not powers, neither rights nor liberties exist.
We must not, therefore, be surprised either at that complete disappearance of the nation which characterized the fall of the Roman empire, or at the influence which the clergy soon obtained in the new order of things. Both phenomena are explained by the state of society at that period, and particularly by that state of the municipal system which I have just described. The bishop had become, in every town, the natural chief of the inhabitants, the true mayor. His election, and the part which the citizens took in it, became the important business of the city. It is to the clergy that we owe the partial preservation, in the towns, of the Roman laws and customs, which were incorporated at a later period into the legislation of the State. Between the old municipal system of the Romans, and the civil-municipal system of the communes of the Middle Ages, the ecclesiastical municipal system occurred as a transition. This transition state lasted for several centuries. This important fact was nowhere so clearly and strongly developed as in the monarchy of the Visigoths in Spain.
Sketch of the history of Spain under the Visigoths. ~ Condition of Spain under the Roman empire. ~ Settlement of the Visigoths in the south-west of Gaul. ~ Euric’s collection of the laws of the Visigoths. ~ Alaric’s collection of the laws of the Roman subjects. ~ Settlement of the Visigoths in Spain. ~ Conflict between the Catholics and Arians. ~ Political importance of the Councils of Toledo. ~ Principal kings of the isigoths. ~ Egica collects the Forum judicum. ~ Fall of the Visigothic monarchy in Spain.
Under the Roman empire, before the Barbarian invasions, Spain enjoyed considerable prosperity. The country was covered with roads, aqueducts, and public works of every description. The municipal government was almost independent; the principle of a landed census was applied to the formation of thecuriae; and various inscriptions prove that the mass of the people frequently took part with the Senate of the town, in the acts done in its name. There were conventus juridici, or sessions held by the presidents of the provinces and their assessors in fourteen towns of Spain; and conventus provinciales, or ordinary annual assemblies of the deputies of the towns, for the purpose of treating of the affairs of the province, and sending deputies to the emperor with their complaints and petitions.
All these institutions fell into decay at the end of the fourth century. The imperial despotism, by devolving all its exactions upon the municipal magistrates, had rendered these offices onerous to those who filled them, and odious to the people. On the other hand, since the emperor had made himself the centre of all, the provincial assemblies were useless except as intermediaries between the cities and the emperor; when the municipal organization had become enervated, and the emperor had almost entirely disappeared, these assemblies were found to be inconsistent and powerless in themselves. The sources whence they emanated, and the centre at which they terminated, were devoid of strength, and perished.
Such was the condition of Spain when, in 409, the Vandals, Alans, and Suevi crossed the Pyrenees. The Vandals remained in Galicia and Andalusia until 429, at which period they passed into Africa; the Alans, after having dwelt for a time in Lusitania and the province of Carthagena, emigrated into Africa with the Vandals. The Suevi founded a kingdom in Galicia, which existed as a distinct State until 585, when Leovigild, king of the Visigoths, reduced it under his sway. Finally Ataulphus, at the head of the Visigoths, entered Southern Gaul, acting sometimes as an ally, and sometimes as an enemy of the empire. He was assassinated at Barcelona, in the year 415.
I shall now pass in rapid review the principal events which mark the history of the Visigoths in Spain, subsequently to the death of Ataulphus.
1. Wallia, king of the Visigoths, from 415 to 419, made peace with the Emperor Honorius, on condition of making war against the other Barbarians in Spain. He was furnished with supplies, and authorized to establish himself in Aquitaine. He fixed his residence at Toulouse, and waged war against the Alans and Vandals. The Romans regained possession of a part of Spain; Wallia’s Goths, mingled with the Alans, settled in the province of Tarragona. Catalonia (Cataulania, Goth-Alani) derives its name from this commingling of the two nations. The settlement of the Goths in Gaul lay between the Loire, the Ocean, and the Garonne, and comprehended the districts of Bordeaux, Agen, Perigueux, Saintes, Poitiers, and Toulouse.
2. Theodoric I. (419–451). Under this monarch, the Visigoths extended their dominion in the south-east of Gaul. Their principal wars were with the Roman empire, which, after having made use of the Goths against the Vandals and Suevi, was now using the Huns against the Goths. In 425, occurred the siege of Arles by Theodoric; in 436, the siege of Narbonne. There was a disposition among the inhabitants of the country to range themselves under the dominion of the Goths, who were able to defend them against the other Barbarians, and to renounce their allegiance to Rome, which was bringing other Barbarians to subdue the Goths. About 449, the kingdom of the Visigoths extended as far as the Rhone. Theodoric made several expeditions into Spain; generally as the price of peace with the Romans. In 451, Theodoric was killed at a battle fought against Attila, either at Chalons-sur-Marne, or Mery-sur-Seine.
3. Thorismund (451–453). A victory was gained over Attila, who had attacked the Alans settled on the Loire and in the neighbourhood of Orleans. It was evidently the Visigoths who drove the Huns out of Gaul. Thorismund was assassinated.
4. Theodoric II. (453–466). Avitus, Magister militiae in the south of Roman Gaul, travelled to Toulouse to treat of peace with Theodoric, and was made emperor by the aid of the Visigoths. In concert with the Romans, Theodoric II. made an expedition into Spain against the Suevi. Rechiar, king of the Suevi, was defeated on the 5th of October, 450, near Astorga. This was rather an expedition than a conquest on the part of the Visigoths. Theodoric II., a curious portrait of whom has been left us by Sidonius Apollinarius, was assassinated in 462; he had acquired the district of Narbonne.
5. Euric (466–484). This reign was the culminating point of the Visigothic monarchy in Gaul. Euric led expeditions beyond the Loire against the Armoricans; in 474, he conquered Auvergne, which was then ceded to him by treaty; he had already conquered Arles and Marseilles, so that the monarchy of the Visigoths then extended from the Pyrenees to the Loire, and from the Ocean to the Alps, thus adjoining the monarchies of the Burgundians and Ostrogoths. Euric had also extended his dominions into Spain, where he possessed the Tarragonese district and Boetica, which he had conquered from the Suevi. Euric had the laws and customs of the Goths written in a book. A passage of Sidonius Apollinarius which speaks of Theodoricianae leges, has led to the belief that Theodoric commenced this collection; but Euric is also called Theodoric.
6. Alaric II. (484–507). This reign was the epoch of the decay of the Visigothic monarchy in Gaul. Alaric, less warlike than his predecessors, gave himself up to the pursuit of pleasure. He was defeated by Clovis, at Vouillé near Poi-tiers, and left dead on the field. The Franks in the east, and the Burgundians in the west, dismembered the Visigothic monarchy, which thus became reduced to Languedoc, properly so called, and a few districts adjacent to the Pyrenees.
Alaric did for his Roman subjects what Euric had done for the Goths. He collected and revised the Roman laws, and formed them into a code called theCodex Alaricianus. This code was based upon the Codex Theodosianus published in 438 by Theodosius the Younger, and upon the Codex Gregorianus, the Codex Hermogenianus, the Pauli Sententiae, and the Constitutiones Imperiales, published subsequently to the reign of Theodosius. This code was also called theBreviarium Aniani. It has been thought that Anianus, the referendary of Alaric, was its principal editor; but Père Sirmond has proved that Anianus only published it by order of the king, and sent authentic copies of it into the provinces. By an act of Alaric, the Roman legislation was, so to speak, revived, rearranged, and adapted to the monarchy of the Goths. It thenceforth emanated from the Gothic king himself. In the north of Gaul, whilst the Barbarian laws ceased to be customs and became written laws, the Roman laws lost their force as a whole, and became customs; in the south, on the other hand, they remained written laws, and retained much greater power, exercising an important influence upon the laws of the Barbarians. It would appear that this twofold written legislation must tend necessarily to maintain the separation of the two nations; but it contributed on the contrary to bring it to an end.
7. After the death of Alaric II., his legitimate son Amalaric, still a child, was taken into Spain. His natural son, Gesalic, became a king in Gaul. At this period, the monarchy of the Visigoths was transferred from Gaul into Spain. The Franks, Burgundians, and Ostrogoths, seized the Gallic possessions of the Visigoths. Gesalic was defeated, and Amalaric reigned under the protection of his grandfather Theodoric, and the tutelage of Theudes.
8. On the death of Amalaric, Theudes was elected king, and reigned from 531 to 548. He fixed the seat of the Visigothic monarchy in Spain. He waged long wars against the Franks, and, though an Arian, behaved with tolerance towards the Catholics. He authorized the bishops to meet annually in council at Toledo. Until the reign of Theudes, the principle of hereditary succession to the throne appears to have prevailed among the Visigoths; after Theudes, the principle of election prevailed in fact and in law.
9. From 548 to 567, reigned Theudegisil, Agila, Athanagild. There were continual wars between the Franks, the Suevi, and the Romans. To obtain the assistance of the Romans in his rebellion against Agila, Athanagild gave up to the Emperor Justinian several places between Valentia and Cadiz. Roman garrisons were accordingly sent into those towns. The Romans had also retained possession of other towns in Spain. Athanagild took up his residence at Toledo. He was the father of Queen Brunehault. At his death, the grandees remained five months without electing his successor. At length they elected Liuva, the governor of Narbonne, who associated his brother Leovigild with him on the throne. Leovigild governed Spain, and Liuva, Visigothic Gaul. Liuva died in 570, and Leovigild became sole king. With him commences, to speak truly, the complete and regular monarchy of the Visigoths in Spain.
10. Leovigild, from 570 to 586, consolidated and extended the monarchy. He gained great victories over the Greco-Romans who had recovered a part of Spain, and won from them Medina-Sidonia, Cordova, and other towns. He also defeated the Vascons* who had maintained their independent occupation of the country on both sides of the Pyrenees. In 586, he completely subdued the Suevi; he greatly extended the royal power, made large confiscations of the property of the church and the nobles, persecuted the Catholics, and convoked a council of Arian bishops at Toledo, in 582, to endeavour to explain Arianism in such a manner as to satisfy the people, and to insure its general reception in his dominions. A civil war broke out between Leovigild and his son Hermenegild, who was a Catholic. After various vicissitudes, Hermenegild was taken, con fined at Seville in a tower which bears his name, and put to death in 584. Before his insurrection, he was associated with his father in the crown, as was also his brother Recared, who governed the provinces in Gaul. Leovigild corrected and completed the laws of Euric.
Up to this period, there was no unity in the Visigothic monarchy. General institutions were wanting. The national assemblies were more irregular than in other countries. Neither the principle of hereditary succession, nor that of election, prevailed as regarded the kingly office. Out of fourteen kings, six had been assassinated. There was no coherence among the provinces of the kingdom. The clergy were deeply divided amongst themselves. The king gave a factitious preponderance to the Arian minority.
11. In 586, Recared I. succeeded Leovigild, declared himself a Catholic, and convoked the third general council of Toledo, in 587. A union was effected between the royal and ecclesiastical authority. Recared found himself in a position somewhat analogous to that of Constantine the Great, after his conversion to Christianity. He was energetically supported by the Catholic clergy, whom he, in his turn, as zealously maintained. At the third council of Toledo, the two powers made in common the laws of which they both had need. An important fact should be noticed in the tenure of this council. During the first three days the ecclesiastics sat alone, and regulated religious affairs exclusively. On the fourth day, laymen were admitted; and affairs both civil and religious were then treated of.
Recared made war against the Franks of Gothic Gaul, and against the Romans in Spain. This last war was terminated by the intervention of Pope Gregory the Great, who negociated a treaty between the Emperor Maurice and Re-cared, the latter of whom, since 590, had sent ambassadors to the Pope. The Arian clergy excited several rebellions against Recared.
12. In 601, Recared was succeeded by his son Liuva II., who was assassinated in 603. Withemar, his successor, was assassinated in 610. Gundemar was then elected, but he died in 612. Sisebut acceded to the throne in 613, and made war against the remnant of the Roman Empire in Spain. He reduced to a mere nullity the possessions which the emperor had until then retained. He imposed upon the Jews the necessity of being baptized. Heraclius had commenced this persecution in the Eastern Empire; and it entered as a condition into the treaty which he made with Sisebut. The Jews, when driven from Spain, took refuge in Gaul, where they were equally persecuted by Dagobert: so that they knew not whither to flee for refuge. The laws of Sisebut were issued in virtue of the king’s authority alone, without the concurrence of the councils.
13. Recared, the second son of Sisebut, reigned for a few months. He was succeeded, in 621, by Suinthila, son of Recared I., who was elected king. Suinthila had served as a general under Sisebut. We frequently meet with similar cases in the history of the Visigoths; and they prove that the idea of hereditary succession was still not firmly established. Suinthila made a great expedition against the Basques. He drove them to the other side of the Pyrenees, and built a fortress which is believed to have been Fontarabia. He completely expelled the Romans from Spain, by sowing dissension between the two patricians who still governed the two Roman provinces, and by granting the Roman troops who remained in the country permission to return home.
14. In 631, occurred the usurpation of Sisenand by the aid of King Dago-bert, who sent an army of Franks, which penetrated as far as Saragossa. Suinthila abdicated the throne. Sisenand succeeded him, and reigned from 631 to 636. In 634, Sisenand’s usurpation was confirmed by the fourth council of Toledo. The crown was declared elective by the bishops and nobles, and ecclesiastical privileges received great extension. From 636 to 640, Chintila reigned. During his reign, the fifth and sixth councils of Toledo passed laws regarding the elections of kings and the condition of their families after their death, against the Jews, and on other subjects. Chintila was succeeded by his son Tulga, who was deposed in 642.
15. Chindasuinth reigned tyrannically from 642 to 652. Two hundred of the principal Goths were put to death, and their property confiscated; many of the inhabitants emigrated; Chindasuinth convoked the seventh council of Toledo, the canons of which against the emigrants were very rigorous. In all the measures of his government, we may discern the influence of the Catholic clergy, intimately connected with the king against the Arian faction. One canon ordained that every bishop residing near Toledo, should spend one month in every year at the court of the king. Chindasuinth revised and completed the collection of the laws relating to different classes of his subjects, and entirely abolished the special employment of the Roman law in his dominions. In 649, he associated his son Recesuinth with him in the crown, and obtained his recognition as his successor.
On opening the eighth council of Toledo, Recesuinth said; “The Creator raised me to the throne by associating me in the dignity of my father, and by his death the Almighty has transmitted to me the authority which I have inherited.” These words are the expression of the theory of divine right. Recesuinth directed the council to revise and complete the collection of laws; imposed a fine of thirty pounds of gold on any one who should appeal to any other than the national law; permitted marriages between the Romans and Goths, which had been until then interdicted; revoked the laws of his father against the emigrants; and restored a portion of the confiscated property. A law was also passed, separating the private domain of the king from the public domain. The preponderance of the bishops in the council is evident. The canons are signed by seventy-three ecclesiastics, and by only sixteen counts, dukes, or proceres.1 Recesuinth died on the 1st September, 672.
16. Wamba, elected on the 19th September, 672, manifested great repugnance to accept the crown. He repressed the rebels in Gothic Gaul, and besieged Narbonne and Nismes. He also vigorously opposed the descents of the Saracens, who were beginning to infest the coasts of Spain, as the Normans were infesting those of Gaul. He fortified Toledo and many other towns. During his reign the division of the kingdom into dioceses took place; six archbishoprics and seventy bishoprics were established. Wamba made several laws for organizing military service, and repressing the excesses of the clergy.
17. In 680, Wamba was deposed by the intrigues of Erwig, who was supported by the clergy. Wamba abdicated, and withdrew to a convent. Erwig convoked the twelfth council of Toledo, at which Wamba’s voluntary abdication was announced, and Erwig appointed his successor. The new monarch directed the council to revise and modify the laws of Wamba regarding military service, and the penalties to be imposed upon delinquents. A less severe legislation was the work of the twelfth and thirteenth councils of Toledo.
18. Erwig had given his daughter Cixilone in marriage to Egica, a near relation of Wamba. In 687, Egica succeeded Erwig. He charged the sixteenth council of Toledo to make a complete collection of the laws of the Visigoths; and this collection, under the name of the Forum judicum, or Fuero juzgo, long ruled the Spanish monarchy.
19. Egica had associated with himself his son Witiza, who succeeded him in 701. Witiza was tyrannical and dissolute. He allowed the priests to marry, recalled the Jews, entered into conflict with the Spanish clergy and the Pope; violently persecuted the principal lay lords, among others Theutfred and Favila, dukes of Cordova and Biscay, and sons of king Chindasuinth; and fell a victim, in 710, to a conspiracy formed against him by Roderic, son of Theutfred. Roderic, or Rodrigo, became king of the Visigoths, and his reign was the last of this monarchy. I shall not relate to you his wars with the Saracens, or the celebrated adventure of Count Julian and his daughter La Cava, who was violated by Roderic, or any of the last scenes of this history which have now become popular poetry.* Political institutions are now the sole subject of our study. In my next lectures, I shall tell you of the Forum judicum, a very remarkable legislative work, which deserves our serious examination and attention.
Peculiar character of the legislation of the Visigoths. ~ Different sorts of laws contained in the Forum judicum. ~ It was a doctrine as well as a code. ~ Principles of this doctrine on the origin and nature of power. ~ Absence of practical guarantees. ~ Preponderance of the clergy in the legislation of the Visigoths. ~ True character of the election of the Visigothic kings. ~ The Visigothic legislation characterized by a spirit of mildness and equity towards all classes of men, and especially towards the slaves. ~ Philosophical and moral merits of this legislation.
Of all the Barbarian codes of law, that of the Visigoths is the only one which remained in force, or nearly so, until modern times. We must not expect to find in this code itself the only, or even the principal, cause of this circumstance. And yet the peculiar character of this code contributed powerfully to determine its particular destiny; and more than one phase in Spanish history is explained, or at least elucidated, by the special and distinctive character of its primitive legislation. This character I wish to make you thoroughly understand. I cannot now deduce therefrom all the consequences which it contains; but I think they will readily be perceived by the careful observer.
The legislation of the Visigoths was not, like that of the Franks, Lombards, and others, the law of the Barbarian conquerors. It was the general law of the kingdom, the code which ruled the vanquished as well as the victors, the Spanish Romans as well as the Goths. King Euric, who reigned from 466 to 484, had the customs of the Goths written out. Alaric II., who ruled from 484 to 507, collected and published in the Breviarium Aniani, the Roman laws which were applicable to his Roman subjects. Chindasuinth, who reigned from 642 to 652, ordered a revision and completion of the Gothic laws, which had already been frequently revised and augmented since the time of Euric; and completely abolished the Roman law. Recesuinth, who reigned from 652 to 672, by allowing marriages between the Goths and Romans, endeavoured completely to assimilate the two nations: thenceforward, there existed, or at least there ought to have existed, on the soil of Spain, one single nation formed by the union of the two nations, and ruled by one single code of laws, comprising the essential parts of the two codes. Thus, whilst the system of personal laws, or laws based on the origin of individuals, prevailed in most of the Barbarian monarchies, the system of real laws, or laws based upon land, held sway in Spain. The causes and consequences of this fact are of great importance.
Four different kinds of laws may be distinguished in the Forum judicum. 1. Laws made by the kings alone, in virtue of their own authority, or merely with the concurrence of their privy council, officium palatinum. 2. Laws made in the national councils held at Toledo, in concert with the bishops and grandees of the realm, and with the assent, more frequently presumed than expressed, of the people. At the opening of the council, the king proposed, in a book called tomus regius, the adoption of new laws or the revision of old ones; the council deliberated thereupon; and the king sanctioned and published its decisions. The influence of the bishops was predominant. 3. Laws without either date or author’s name, which seem to have been literally copied from the various collections of laws successively compiled by Euric, Leovigild, Recared, Chindasuinth, and other kings. 4. Lastly, laws entitled antiqua noviter emendata,1 which were mostly borrowed from the Roman laws, as is formally indicated by their title in some manuscripts.
The Forum judicum, as we possess it at the present day, is a code formed of the collection of all these laws, as finally collected, revised, and arranged at the sixteenth council of Toledo, by order of King Egica. The most ancient Castilian version of the Forum judicum appears to have been made during the reign of Ferdinand the Saint (1230–1252).
Legislation is almost always imperative; it prescribes or interdicts; each legal provision usually corresponds to some fact which it either ordains or prohibits. Rarely does it happen that a law, or code of laws, are preceded by a theory on the origin and nature of power, the object and philosophic character of law, and the right and duty of the legislator. All legislations suppose some solution or other to these primary questions, and conform thereto; but it is by a secret bond, frequently unknown to the legislator himself. The law of the Visigoths has this singular characteristic, that its theory precedes it, and is incessantly recurrent in it—a theory formally expressed, and arranged in articles. Its authors wished to do more than ordain and prohibit; they decreed principles, and converted into law philosophical truths, or what appeared to them to be such.
This fact alone indicates that the Forum judicum was the work of the philosophers of that period; I mean, the clergy. Never did such a proceeding occur to the mind of a new people, still less to a horde of Barbarian conquerors. Assuredly a doctrine which thus serves as preface and commentary to a code, merits our best attention. “The law,” says the Forum judicum,
is the emulator of divinity, the messenger of justice, the mistress of life. It regulates all conditions in the State, all ages of human life; it is imposed on women as well as on men, on the young as well as on the old, on the learned as well as on the ignorant, on the inhabitants of towns as well as on those of the country; it comes to the aid of no particular interest; but it protects and defends the common interest of all citizens. It must be according to the nature of things and the customs of the State, adapted to the time and place, prescribing none but just and equitable rules, clear and public, so as to act as a snare to no citizen.
In these ideas on the nature and object of written law, the fundamental idea of the theory is revealed. There is an unwritten, eternal, universal law, fully known to God alone, and which the human legislator seeks after. Human law is good only in so far as it is the emulator and messenger of the divine law. The source of the legitimacy of laws is, then, not to be found on earth; and this legitimacy originates, not in the will of him or them who make the laws, whoever they may be, but in the conformity of the laws themselves to truth, reason, and justice—which constitute the true law.2
All the consequences of this principle were certainly not present to the mind of the Spanish bishops, and many of the consequences which they deduced were very false; but the principle was there. They deduced from it this other principle, then unknown to Europe, that the character of law is to be universal, the same for all men, foreign to all private interests, given solely for the common interest. On the other hand, it was the character of the other Barbarian codes that they were conceived for the furtherance of the private interests, either of individuals or of classes. Thus the whole system of laws, whether good or bad, which issued therefrom, bore this imprint; it was a system of privileges, privatae leges. The councils of Toledo alone attempted to introduce into politics the principle of equality in the sight of the law, which they derived from the Christian idea of equality in the sight of God. Thus, the law of the Visigoths was, at this period, the only one that could be called lex publica.
From this theory on the nature of law, resulted the following theory on the nature of power. 1. No power is legitimate except in so far as it is just, as it governs and is itself governed by the true law, the law of justice and truth. No human will, no terrestrial force can confer on power an external and borrowed legitimacy; the principle of its legitimacy resides in itself and in itself alone, in its morality and its reason. 2. All legitimate power comes from above. He who possesses and exercises it, holds it solely by reason of his own intellectual and moral superiority. This superiority is given to him by God himself. He does not, therefore, receive power from the will of those over whom he exercises it; he exercises it legitimately, not because he has received it, but because he possesses it in himself. He is not a delegate or a servant, but a superior, a chief.
This two-fold consequence of the definition of law frequently occurs in the legislation of the Visigoths. “The king is called king (rex) in that he governs justly (recte). If he acts with justice, he legitimately possesses the name of king; if he acts with injustice, he miserably loses it. Our fathers, therefore, said with reason: Rex ejus eris si recta facis; si autem non facis, non eris.3 The two chief virtues of royalty are justice and truth.” “The royal power, like the whole of the people, is bound to respect the laws. Obeying the will of heaven, we give, to ourselves as well as to our subjects, wise laws, which our own greatness and that of our successors is bound to obey, as are also the whole population of our realm.”
“God, the Creator of all things, in arranging the structure of the human body, raised the head above, and willed that thencefrom should issue the nerves of all the members. And he placed in the head the torch of the eyes, that thence might be detected all things that might be injurious. And he established therein the power of intellect, charging it to govern all the members, and wisely to regulate their action. We must therefore first regulate that which concerns princes, watch over their safety, protect their life; and then ordain that which has relation to peoples, in such sort that while suitably guaranteeing the safety of kings, we may at the same time better guarantee that of the peoples.”
After having established that that power is alone legitimate which acts according to justice and truth, which obeys and prescribes the true law, and that all legitimate power comes from above, and derives its legitimacy from itself, and not from any terrestrial will, the theory of the councils of Toledo comes to a stop. It does not regard that which is actually occurring in the world: it forgets that, with such a definition, no one here below possesses legitimate power or can fully possess it, and that, nevertheless, society has a right to exact that actual power should be legitimate. This theory knows and lays down the true principles of power; but it neglects its guarantees.
Here we come to the junction-point of the two doctrines which have ever contested, and still contest, the possession of the world. One maintains that power comes from below; that, in its origin as well as in right, it belongs to the people, to numbers; and that those who exercise it, exercise it only as delegates, as servants. This theory misunderstands the true principles and the true nature of power; but it tends to constitute those guarantees which rightfully belong to society. Considered as a theory, it maintains, and assumes to render legitimate, the despotism of numbers. But as, in practice, this despotism is impossible, it soon violates its own principle, and limits its operation to the organization of a system of guarantees, the object and result of which is to constrain actual power to become, in its conduct, rightful and legitimate power. The opposite theory, which is more profound and true at its starting-point, assigns absolute power and sovereignty to that Being alone, in whom resides all truth and justice: it refuses it, at the outset, to chiefs, as well as to peoples; it subordinates both alike to eternal laws which they did not make, and which they are equally bound to observe. It reasonably affirms that all legitimate power comes from above, that it is derived from superior reason, not from number, and that number should submit to reason; but soon, forgetting that it has placed sovereignty beyond the earth, and that no one here below is God, it becomes dazzled by its own lustre; it persuades itself, or tries to do so, that the power which comes from above, descends upon earth as full and absolute as it is at its source; it is indignant that limits should be affixed to its exercise, and if there is nothing to stop its progress, it establishes, in fact, a permanent despotism, after having denied, in principle, its legitimacy; whereas, the opposite theory, which assumes to found despotism in principle, almost invariably ends by destroying it in fact, and by establishing only a limited power.
Such, then, are the consequences of the theory regarding power and law, conceived by the Visigothic legislators. I do not say the consequences which logically flow from it, when the theory is held in all its bearings and faithfully followed out; but the actual consequences which it almost always entails, by the natural tendency of things, and by the deviation into which they are forced by the passions of mankind. 1. The best depositaries of legitimate power, those who most probably possess a knowledge of the true law, are the ecclesiastics. Ministers of the divine law in the relations of man with God, they naturally hold the same office in the relations of man with man. It may then be presumed that, wherever this theory prevails, the political predominance of the clergy is already established, and will continue to increase. The theory is at first its symptom, and becomes afterwards its cause. 2. The political predominance of the clergy does not well accord with the principle of hereditary monarchy. The history of the Jews furnishes an example of this. The transmission of actual power taking place altogether independently of the men who are thought to possess rightful power in a higher degree than all others, is an inconsistency. The theory will, therefore, tend to make monarchy elective, or at least to place every monarch, at his accession, under the necessity of obtaining the recognition and sanction of the clergy. 3. The election of the monarch, or the necessity for his recognition, must be the only political guarantee, the only limit affixed to the exercise of actual power. This power, once constituted in this manner, is sovereign; for the depositaries of true sovereignty, which emanates from God, have conferred it upon its possessor by election. It would be absurd and impious to seek for guarantees against its excess in powers of an inferior order, less enlightened and less pure. Therefore, every institution the object of which is either to divide power, or to limit it in its exercise by opposing to it other powers emanating from other sources, is proscribed by this theory. Elective monarchical power is absolute. All the inferior powers necessary for the government of society are derived from it, and are instituted by it in its own name.
These consequences are met with in the legislation of the Visigoths to as great an extent as the necessary incoherence of human affairs will allow.
I. The political predominance of the bishops in the Visigothic monarchy, is a fact evident throughout its history. The councils of Toledo made both the kings and the laws. The principal Gothic laymen who attended and deliberated thereat were few in number, as is proved by the signatures to the canons of the councils. The phrases with which we sometimes meet, cum toto populo, populo assentiente,4 are mere formulas which pay a kind of homage to ancient facts rather than to present and real facts. Excommunication is the legal punishment decreed against bad kings, against attempts at usurpation, insurrection, and other crimes. The predominance of the bishops was not con fined to the councils. The oversight of local functionaries and judges was also intrusted to them, and they had the power of provisionally overruling any judgments of which they disapproved. The bishops and the king were the only persons who could not personally defend their own cause, and who were bound to appear by proxy in such cases, lest their personal presence should influence the decision of the judge. The personal and real privileges granted to the clergy, the facility and perpetuity accorded to donations made to churches, everything in fact in the laws as well as in history, testifies that, in political matters, the bishops occupied the foremost rank, and that their predominance daily increased.
It must not however be supposed that this predominance was unlimited, or that it was established without efforts; it was a difficult task to subjugate a Barbarian king and people to an almost exclusively moral power, and the code of the Visigoths contains several enactments tending to restrain the independence of the clergy, and to keep them under obedience to the civil power. Ecclesiastics of every rank were bound, under the same penalties as laymen, to appear and defend their causes before the civil judges. These same judges were competent to punish licentious priests, deacons, and sub-deacons. The eleventh council of Toledo ordained that bishops guilty of certain crimes should be judged by the ordinary laws, and punished in the same cases as laymen, by thelex talionis.5 The laws of Wamba compelled ecclesiastics as well as laymen to do military service, and other duties of a corresponding kind. In a word, that clergy which we behold at the head of society and constituting the national assembly almost by themselves, was at the same time less isolated from the civil order, and less constituted as a distinct body by jurisdiction and privilege, than it was elsewhere at the same period. However, the coincidence of these two facts is natural. We feel less need of separation from a society, as we become nearer subduing it.
II. As to the election of kings, which may be regarded as the natural consequence of the system, or simply of the theocratic tendency, it is formally laid down as a principle in the Forum judicum, and was the common law of the Visigothic monarchy: but we must not mistake as to the origin and character of this institution; in Spain, it was much less an institution of liberty than an institution of order, a means of preventing civil wars and the disorders attendant upon usurpations.
From causes difficult to discover, the principle of the regular hereditariness of royalty did not prevail among the Visigoths as among the other Barbarian peoples. The throne at the death of the kings, and even during their lifetime, was the object aimed at by a host of ambitious individuals, who contested for itvi et armis,6 and seized or lost it according to the powers of the claimants and their factions. It was against this state of things, much more than with a view to establish or maintain the right of the nation to choose its own sovereign, that the election of the monarch by the bishops and grandees assembled in council at Toledo, was instituted. The text of the law clearly lays this down. “Henceforth the sovereigns shall be chosen for the glory of the kingdom, in such sort that, in the royal town, or in the place in which the prince shall have died, his successor shall be chosen by the consent of the bishops, the grandees of the palace, and the people: and not at a distance by the conspiracy of a few perverse persons, or by a seditious tumult of an ignorant multitude.” Various canons of the fifth, sixth, seventh and thirteenth councils of Toledo, inserted as laws in theForum judicum, have as their only object the repression of attempts at usurpation, and interdict all seizure of the throne by force, determine what classes of men can never be eligible to the kingly office, and also guarantee the lives and property of the families of the dead kings, against the violence and avidity of their elected successors. In a word, all tends to prove that this election was intended to counteract violent usurpation much more than to prevent regular hereditary succession.
Historical facts lead us to the same result. The succession of the Visigothic kings was a series of violent usurpations. Scarcely do we meet with one or two examples of veritable elections, made freely and without any anterior constraint, in consequence of the throne falling vacant. Almost always the election by the council only sanctioned the usurpation; and at the same time that we may doubt of its liberty, we see that its special object is to prevent the return of a great disorder. Neither is there anything to indicate that when, by reason of the preponderance of a more powerful or more popular king, the principle of hereditary succession was on the point of introducing itself, the councils either attempted to oppose its entrance, or considered the act as an infraction of their fundamental law. In every circumstance, at this period, in this state of society, and particularly in great monarchies, the want of order, of rule, of some check to restrain the irregular operation of force, was the dominant want felt by men who, like the bishops, were much more enlightened and much more civilized than the Barbarian conquerors; and political institutions, as well as civil laws, were framed rather with this object than with a view to the assurance of liberty.
Such being its true nature, the election of the kings by the councils of Toledo could evidently not have rested entirely in the hands of the clergy. Armed and ambitious Barbarians would not have endured patiently to receive the crown at the will of bishops, nearly all of whom were Romans. Originally, the bishops exercised, in fact, no other right than that of sanctioning present usurpation, by anathematizing similar conduct in the future. In proportion as their moral influence and real power became consolidated and extended, they attempted higher things, and appeared to aspire to the famous right of giving and taking away the crown. The Forum judicum furnishes two remarkable proofs of this progress. The fourth council of Toledo, held during the reign of Sisenand, in 671, decreed by its seventy-fifth canon, “that when the king had died in peace, the grandees of the realm and the bishops should elect his successor, by common consent.” At a later period, when this canon was transported as a law into the national code, it was amplified in these terms: “Let no one, therefore, in his pride, seize upon the throne; let no pretender excite civil war among the people; let no one conspire the death of the prince; but, when the king is dead in peace, let the principal men of the whole kingdom, together with the bishops, who have received power to bind and to loose, and whose blessing and unction confirm princes in their authority, appoint his successor by common consent and with the approval of God.” A similar interpolation occurs in the insertion of a canon of the eighth council, which began: “We, the bishops, priests, and other inferior clerks, in concert with the officers of the palace, and the general assembly, decree,” &c. In the Forum judicum, after the word priests, these words are added: “Who have been established by our Lord Jesus Christ, to be the directors and heralds of the people. ” Such phrases as these clearly indicate the progress of ecclesiastical pretensions, and their success. It is, however, certain as a fact, that the councils of Toledo never really disposed of the crown, but that it was almost always taken by force; and that the election of the kings by the grandees and bishops, though established as a principle by the laws, must not be considered as a proof either of the complete predominance of the theocratic system, or of the extent of the national liberty.
III. But if, after having ascertained who possessed the right of appointment to the highest political office, and the mode in which this office was conferred, we endeavour to discover, from the laws of the Visigoths, what duties were imposed on their kings, and what guarantees they gave their subjects for the performance of those duties, the consequences which we have already indicated, as likely to result from the theory that presided over this code, become clearly revealed. Good precepts abound, but real guarantees are wanting.
To those who read these laws, the legislator appears much better aware of the duties of the sovereign, and of the rights and necessities of the people, than were the other Barbarian legislators; and, in fact, he was so. But if they next inquire where were the independent forces capable of procuring or insuring the maintenance of these principles, and how the citizens exercised their rights or defended their liberties, they find absolutely nothing. The code of the Visigoths, though more enlightened, more just, more humane, and more complete than the laws of the Franks or Lombards, left despotism at greater liberty, and almost entirely disarmed freedom. Texts in abundance might be quoted in support of this assertion.
If, from these general principles, we descend to the details of legislation, we shall find that the code of the Visigoths was, in this respect also, much more provident, more complete, more wise, and more just, than any other Barbarian code. The various social relations were much better defined therein; and their nature and effects more carefully analyzed. In civil matters, we meet with repetitions of the Roman law at almost every step; in criminal matters, the proportion of punishments to crimes was determined according to moral and philosophical notions of considerable justice. We discern therein the efforts of an enlightened legislator struggling against the violence and inconsiderateness of Barbarian manners. The title, De caede et morte hominum,7 compared with the corresponding laws of other peoples, is a very remarkable example of this. In other codes the injury done seems almost alone to constitute the crime, and the punishment is fixed in that material reparation which results from a pecuniary composition. In this code, crime is measured by its moral and true element—intention. The various shades of criminality, absolutely involuntary homicide, homicide by inadvertence, homicide by provocation, homicide with or without premeditation, are all distinguished and defined almost as accurately as in our codes, and the punishments vary in an equitable proportion. The justice of the legislator went further than this. He attempted, if not to abolish, at least to diminish that diversity of legal value established among men by the other Barbarian codes. The only distinction which it maintained was that between the freeman and the slave. In regard to freemen, the punishment does not vary, either according to the origin or rank of the dead man, but simply according to the different degrees of the moral culpability of the murderer. With regard to slaves, though not daring completely to deprive masters of the right of life and death, the Forum judicum at least attempted to subject them to a public and regular course of procedure:
If no one who is guilty or accomplice of a crime should remain unpunished, how much more should those be punished who have committed homicide wickedly and with levity. Thus, as cruel masters, in their pride, frequently put to death their slaves without any fault on their part, it is fitting altogether to extirpate this license, and to ordain that the present law shall be eternally observed by all. No master or mistress may, without a public trial, put to death any of their male or female slaves, or any person dependent upon them. If a slave, or any other servant, commit a crime which may lead to his capital condemnation, his master or accuser shall immediately give information thereof to the judge of the place where the action was committed, or to the count, or to the duke. After the discussion of the affair, if the crime be proved, let the culprit suffer, either by sentence of the judge, or of his master, the punishment of death which he has deserved; in such sort, however, that if the judge will not put the culprit to death, he shall draw up a capital sentence against him, in writing, and then it shall be in the power of the master to kill him or to keep him in life. In truth, if the slave, by a fatal boldness, while resisting his master, has struck him or attempted to strike him with a weapon, or a stone, or by any other blow, and if the master in self-defence has killed the slave in his anger, the master shall in no wise suffer the punishment of homicide. But he must prove that this was the case; and he must prove it by the testimony or oath of the slaves, both male and female, who were present at the time, and by the oath of himself, the author of the deed. Whosoever, from pure wickedness, and by his own hand or that of another, shall have killed his slave without bringing him to public trial, shall be branded with infamy, declared incapable of giving evidence, and doomed to pass the rest of his life in exile and penitence; and his property shall be given to his nearest relatives, to whom the law grants it as an inheritance.
This law alone, and the efforts which its passage reveals, do great honour to the Visigothic legislators; for nothing honours the laws and their authors so much as a courageous moral conflict against the bad customs and evil prejudices of their age and country. We are often forced to believe that the love of power has a great share in the construction of laws which aim at the maintenance of order and the repression of violent passions; the excess of passion borders closely on the rights of liberty, and order is the hackneyed pretext of despotism. But here, power has nothing to gain; the law is disinterested; it seeks after justice only; it seeks after it laboriously, in opposition to the strong who reject it, and for the benefit of the weak who are unable to call in its aid—perhaps, even, in opposition to the public opinion of the time, which, after having had great difficulty in looking on a Roman as a Goth, had still more in regarding a slave as a man. This respect for man, whatever may be his origin or social condition, is a phenomenon unknown to Barbarian legislation; and nearly fourteen centuries elapsed before the doctrine passed from religion into politics, from the Gospel into the codes. It is therefore no slight honour to the Visigothic bishops that they did their best to guard and transfer into the laws this noble sentiment, which it is so difficult to disentangle from the meshes of fact, and which is continually in danger of being crushed beneath the pressure of circumstance. It continually recurs in their legislation, both in general precepts and in special regulations; and when it yields, either before the inconsiderate brutality of Barbarian customs, or before the despotic traditions of Roman jurisprudence—traditions with which the minds of the Spanish bishops themselves were imbued—we still discern, even in these bad laws, the obscure presence of a good principle labouring to surmount the obstacles beneath which it has succumbed.
Central institutions of the Visigothic monarchy. ~ True character of the Councils of Toledo. ~ Amount of their political influence. ~ The Officium palatinum. ~ Prevalence of Roman maxims and institutions, among the Goths, over Germanic traditions. ~ Proof of this in the local and central institutions of the Visigoths. ~ Refutation of the errors of Savigny and the Edinburgh Review on this subject. ~ Conclusion.
My last lecture, I think, convinced you, gentlemen, that the code of the Visigoths, taken in itself, and in its intentions as expressed by written laws, gives the idea of a better social state, a juster and more enlightened government, a better regulated country, and, altogether, a more advanced and milder state of civilization, than that which is revealed to us by the laws of the other Barbarian peoples. But to this more humane and wise legislation, to the general principles dictated by superior reason, there is wanting, as I have already observed, an actual sanction, an effective guarantee. The laws are good; but the people, for whose benefit they were enacted, have hardly any share in their execution, and the business resulting therefrom. Up to a certain point, the code bears testimony to the wisdom and good intentions of the legislature; but it presents no evidence of the liberty and political life of the subjects.
Let us first look at the centre of the State. The single fact of the political predominance of the bishops, the sole name of the councils of Toledo, indicate the decay of the old Germanic customs, and the disappearance of national assemblies. The Anglo-Saxons had their Wittenagemot; the Lombards their assembly at Pavia, circumstante immensa multitudine;1 the Franks their Champs de Mars and Champs de Mai, and their placita generalia.2 Doubtless, the existence of these assemblies entailed scarcely any of the consequences which we attach at the present day to the idea of such institutions; and they certainly constituted a very slight guarantee of liberty, which it was then impossible to guarantee. In reality, also, they took a very small part in the government. Nevertheless, the simple fact of their existence attests the prevalence of Germanic customs; arbitrary power, though exercised in fact, was not established in principle; the independence of powerful individuals struggled against the despotism of the kings; and in order to dispose of these isolated independencies, to form them into a national body, it was necessary occasionally to convoke them together in assemblies. These assemblies live in the laws as well as in history; the clergy were received therein, because of their importance and superior knowledge,—but they were merely received. Far from being their sole constituents, they did not even form their centre.
In Spain, instead of entering into the national assembly, the clergy opened the assembly to the nation. Is it likely that the name only was changed, and that Gothic warriors came to the council, as formerly to their Germanic assemblies? We have beheld the same name applied to very different things: for example, judicial parliaments have superseded political parliaments; but we have never seen the same thing represented under different names, especially during the infancy of nations. When existence consists almost solely of traditions and customs, words are the last things to change and perish.
The councils of Toledo, then, were actually councils, and not Champs de Mai or placita. Morally, this fact is probable; historically, it is certain. Their acts have come down to us, and they are acts of an entirely ecclesiastical assembly, specially occupied with the affairs of the clergy; and into which laymen entered only occasionally, and in small numbers. The signatures of laymen, affixed to the canons of the thirteenth council, only amount to twenty-six; and in no other are they so numerous.
These councils were not held, like the Champs de Mars or de Mai and theplacita generalia of the Carlovingians, at fixed, or at least, frequent periods. Between the third and fourth councils, forty-four years elapsed; between the tenth and eleventh, eighteen years . The king convoked them at his pleasure, or as necessity required. The Visigothic code ordains absolutely nothing in this respect, either on the kings, or on the members of the assembly. None of its enactments have reference, even indirectly, to a national assembly.
The nature of these councils of Toledo being thus clearly determined, it remains for us to inquire what influence they exerted in the government. What were they as guarantees of the public liberties, and of the execution of the laws?
Before consulting special facts, the very nature of these assemblies may furnish us with some general indications with regard to their political influence. The clergy, taking a direct and active part in the government, were never in a natural and simple position. I do not speak either of the ecclesiastical law, or of the special mission of the clergy, or of the separation of the spiritual from the temporal order, which are questions still involved in obscurity. I examine facts alone. In fact, in the States of modern Europe, and at their origin, as well as in later times, the clergy did not govern, they neither commanded armies, nor administered justice, nor collected the taxes, nor held sway over the provinces. They penetrated to a greater or less distance, by more or less regular means, along the various paths of political life; but they never traversed them fully, freely, and thoroughly; politics never were their special and avowed career. In a word, the social powers, from the lowest to the highest degree, never were, either in law, or in fact, naturally lodged in their hands. When the bishops, therefore, in council assembled, interfered in the civil government, they were called to regulate affairs which did not concern them, and to occupy themselves about matters which did not constitute the habitual and recognised business of their position and life. This intervention, therefore, necessarily bore an equivocal and uncertain character. Great influence might have been attached thereto; but it could not possess any power of energetic and effectual resistance. If warrior chiefs meet together in assembly around their monarch, they can rely on their comrades and their soldiers to support their resolutions; if elected deputies assemble to vote taxes and ratify the laws of the country, they are sustained by the number, credit, and opinion of those who chose and deputed them. If bodies charged with the administration of justice are, at the same time, called to deliberate upon certain acts of the sovereign, they may, by suspending the exercise of their functions, place the government in an almost untenable position. In these various combinations, a positive force, more or less regular in its character, stands at the back of the men appointed to control the supreme power. On the part of the clergy, any decisive resistance, in political matters, is almost impracticable, for not one of the effective forces of society is naturally at their disposal; and, in order to gain possession of such a force, they must abandon their position, abjure their character, and thus compromise the moral force whence they derive their true point of support. Thus, by the nature of things, the clergy are but ill-adapted to be constituted into a political power, with the mission of exercising control, and offering resistance. If they desire to remain within the limits of their position, they find themselves, at the decisive moment, unprovided with effective and trusty weapons. If they seek after such weapons, they throw the whole of society into disturbance, and incur the legitimate reproach of usurpation. Modern history, at every step, demonstrates this two-fold truth. When the clergy have believed themselves strong enough to resist in the same way as civil powers would have done, they have compromised themselves as clergy, and have increased disorder rather than obtained reform. When they have not made such attempts, their resistance has almost invariably been ineffectual at the moment when it was most necessary; and as, in such cases, ecclesiastics generally feel conscious of their weakness, they have not opposed any solid barrier to the encroachments of power; and, when they have not consented to be the instruments of its will, they have yielded after an impotent admonition.
Such was the position of the Visigothic bishops. They had not yet acquired, in temporal matters, sufficient force to struggle openly against the crown. They felt that a great part of their importance was due to their close alliance with the royal power, and that they would be great losers by breaking off the connection. They could not, therefore, carry their resistance very far, or establish in reality an independent political assembly. They went as far as to sanction the royal power, and to associate themselves with it by becoming its advisers; but they attempted nothing beyond. Facts prove this. These councils of Toledo, whither usurpers came to be elected, and which gave an entire code to the Visigoths, exercised in fact, over the great events of this period in Spain, less influence than was exerted in France by the Champs de Mars and de Mai. They occupied, but did not supply, the place of the old Germanic assemblies, for they did not possess their brute force, and were not in a position to substitute for it any sufficient regular force. Spain was indebted to them for a much better legislation than that possessed by other Barbarian nations, and probably also, in their daily practice, for a more enlightened and humane administration of justice; but in vain do we seek to find therein the principle of a great institution of liberty, and the characteristics of a veritable resistance of absolute power. During the period which now occupies our attention, the reigning power in the other States founded by the Barbarians was force—disorderly, capricious, and unsettled force, sometimes distributed amongst a multitude of almost independent chieftains; sometimes concentrated, for a brief space, and according to circumstances, in the hands of one man, or of a brutal and transitory aristocracy. No principle was acknowledged; no right was legal; all was matter of fact, liberty as well as power; and the germs of free institutions existed in the disorderly relations of these independent or ill-united forces, although, to speak the truth, liberty was nowhere visible. In Spain, and through the influence of the clergy, the government undoubtedly assumed greater generality and a more regular form; the laws afforded greater protection to the weak; the administration paid more attention to their condition; and there was less disorder and violence in society at large. Broader and more elevated moral ideas frequently governed the exercise of power. But, on the other hand, power was constituted under a more absolute form; Roman maxims prevailed over Germanic traditions; theocratic doctrines lent their aid to the arbitrary power of the Barbarians. The councils of Toledo modified and enlightened despotism, but did not limit the exercise of power.
Some writers have thought they perceived, in another institution which existed at the centre of the Visigothic monarchy, the principle and instrument of a limitation of the sovereign authority. I refer to the officium palatinum, a species of council formed around the king, by the grandees of his Court, and the principal functionaries of the government. The importance of this council, and its participation in public business, are attested by a large number of laws passed either independently of the councils of Toledo, or in virtue of their deliberation. The words, cum omni palatino officio, cum assensu sacerdotum majorumque palatii, ex palatino officio,3 and the like, frequently occur in the code of the Visigoths. These texts and the voice of history do not admit of a doubt that the officium palatinum frequently interfered in the legislation, in the government, and even in the elevation of kings.
It would be a mistake, however, to regard it as a political institution, a guarantee of liberty, a means of exercising control and offering resistance. Power could not, in any case, subsist alone, by itself and in the air; it must, of sheer necessity, conciliate interests, appropriate forces, in a word, surround itself with auxiliaries, and maintain its position by their aid. In the Roman Empire, this necessity had given birth to the creation of the Court and of the officium palatinum, instituted by Diocletian and Constantine. In the Barbarian States, it led the kings to surround themselves with Antrustions, Leudes, sworn vassals, and all those natural or factitious grandees, who, becoming dispersed at a later period, and settling in their own domains, became the principal members of the feudal aristocracy. From these two sources arose the officium palatinum of the Visigothic kings, with this difference, that, in this point as in others, Roman institutions prevailed over Barbarian customs, to the great advantage of absolute power.
The ocium palatinum of the Visigoths was composed of the grandees of the realm (proceres), whom the kings attached to themselves by donations of lands and offices, and of the principal functionaries, dukes, counts, vicars, and others, who held their functions from the kings. This court undoubtedly formed a sort of aristocracy which was frequently consulted on public affairs, which sate in the councils, and which furnished the king with assessors whenever he delivered judgments. The necessity of things required that it should be so; and as necessity always entails consequences which far exceed the wishes of those who are constrained to yield to its sway, there is also no doubt that this aristocracy, on many occasions, thwarted the kings who could not dispense with its assistance, and thus limited their empire.
But human nature is the same amongst barbarian nations as amongst civilized peoples; and the coarseness of forms, the brutality of passions, and the limited range of ideas, do not prevent similar positions from leading to the same results. Now, it is in the nature of an aristocracy that is closely pent up around the prince, of a Court aristocracy, to use power for their own advantage rather than to limit it for the benefit of the State. It almost inevitably becomes a focus of faction and intrigue, around which individual interests are set in motion, and not a centre of controlment and resistance in which the public interest finds a place. If the times are barbarous and manners violent, individual interests assume the forms of barbarism and use the means of violence; if satisfied, they obey with the same servility as before; if discontented, they poison, assassinate, or dethrone. Such was the case in the monarchy of the Visigoths. All usurpations and revolutions in power originated in the officium palatinum; and when a king attempted to subject the nobles to the performance of public services, to limit or even to examine into the concessions which they demanded, that king lost the empire. Such was the fate of Wamba.
The Visigothic sovereigns had, moreover, in the bishops, a powerful counterpoise, which they set in opposition to the nobles of their Court, in order to prevent them from aspiring to entire independence. The influence of the clergy, too weak to act as an effectual check on the power of the prince, was strong enough, in the hands of the prince, to prevent the check from coming from any other quarter. The reign of Chindasuinth affords an example of this.
Finally, as I have already said, the predominance of Roman maxims and institutions in Spain was so great, that the central aristocracy bore more resemblance to the officium palatinum of the emperors than to the Antrustions orLeudes of Germanic origin. Elsewhere, these last were not slow to obtain sufficient strength to assert their independence, to isolate themselves from the prince, and finally to become petty sovereigns in their own domains. In Spain, things did not occur precisely thus. It appears that the proceres received from the king dignities and offices in greater abundance than lands, and thus acquired less individual and personal strength. Perhaps the equality granted to the Roman population, and the fusion of the two peoples, did not permit so great a dilapidation of property and distribution of domains as that which took place in France. What would have occurred if the monarchy of the Visigoths had not been interrupted in its course by the conquest of the Arabs? Would the dismemberment of the royal power and the dispersion of the Court have led to the dispersion and independence of the landed aristocracy? We cannot say. This much is certain, that the phenomenon which was exhibited in France, at the fall of the Carlovingians, did not occur among the Visigoths, in the eight century: the officium palatinum had neither destroyed nor divided the royal power, and made but feeble attempts to limit it.
One fact must be added, which, though universally attested, is not explained in a satisfactory manner. Of the various German peoples, the Goths preserved in the smallest degree their primitive institutions and manners. The Ostrogoths in Italy, under Theodoric, like the Visigoths in Spain, allowed Roman habits to prevail amongst them, and permitted their kings to arrogate to themselves the plenitude of imperial power. We even find, among the Goths of Italy, still fewer traces of the existence of the old national assemblies, and of the participation of the people in the affairs of the State.
It would therefore be vain to seek, in the Visigothic monarchy, for the principles, or even the remnants, of any great institution of liberty, or of any effectual limitation of power. Neither the councils of Toledo, nor the officium palatinum present this character; but there resulted from them something that did not result from the Champs de Mars and de Mai, or from the Saxon Wittenagemot—a code of laws, which, for that period, are very remarkable for their large philosophical views, their foresight, and their wisdom; but this code, though it indicates the handiwork of enlightened legislators, nowhere reveals the existence of a free people. It contains even fewer germs or monuments of liberty than the rudest of Barbarian laws; and the royal power, thus considered as in itself the centre of the State, appears as much more absolute in right, and much less limited in fact, than it was anywhere else. An examination of the local institutions of the Visigoths will lead us to the same result.
Local institutions are the most real, perhaps the only real, institutions of Barbarian peoples. They do not possess sufficient vitality or enlargement of mind to originate or preserve general institutions. The material contiguity of individuals is an almost indispensable condition of the existence of society amongst them; it is therefore in the local institutions of the German peoples that we must seek the history of their political life. The forms of these institutions, and the modifications which they underwent, exercised far greater influence over their destiny, than the revolutions which occurred in central institutions, such as the Wittenagemot, the placita generalia, and the royal power.
As you have already seen, the laws of most of the German peoples present three co-existent and conflicting systems: institutions of liberty; institutions of territorial patronage, which gave birth to feudalism; and monarchical institutions. The assembly of free men transacting the general business, and administering justice in every district; the landowners, exercising authority and jurisdiction throughout their domains; the king’s delegates, whether dukes, counts, or others, also possessing authority and jurisdiction: such are the three powers which have reciprocally contested the government of localities, and whose existence and vicissitudes are proved by the laws as well as by facts.
The code of the Visigoths presents no trace whatever of the first of these systems, and scarcely any of the second; the third immensely predominates. There was no mallum, no placitum,4 no assemblies of free men in the provinces; no enactment ordains, or even refers to them. Scarcely does there exist any indication of the power of the patron over his client, of the landowner over the inhabitants of his domains. The law which I quoted in my last lecture, with reference to slaves, proves that, even in their case, the jurisdiction belonged to the royal judge of the district.
The Forum judicum mentions a large number of local magistrates who were invested with the power of administering affairs and distributing justice.
As there is a great variety in the means of remedying evils and terminating affairs, let the duke, count, vicar, conservator of the peace (pacis assertor), tinfadus,5millenarius, quingentenarius, centenarius, decanus, defensor, numerarius,6 and those who are sent to any place by order of the king, and those who are accepted as judges by the agreement of the litigant parties,—let all persons, in fine, of whatever order they may be, who are regularly invested with power to judge, and each person in such proportion as he has received power to judge, equally obtain from the law the name of judges, in order that, having received the right to judge, the duties as well as the advantages connected with that right may devolve upon them.
It is difficult to determine with precision the different functions of all these magistrates, the hierarchy which existed among them, and the manner in which each of them received and exercised his power. Those who belonged to towns, as the defensor and the numerarius, were certainly elected by the clergy and inhabitants. Several others, as the millenarius and centenarius, seem to have been appointed by the dukes and counts of the provinces; but however this may be, nothing indicates that they received their authority in a popular and independent way; the opposite principle is formally laid down in these terms:
No one shall be permitted to judge suits, except those who have received power from the prince to do so, or those who have been chosen as judges, by agreement of the litigants; the choice of these last shall be made in presence of three witnesses, and shall be attested by their mark or signature. If those who have received from the king power to judge, or those who exercise judicial power by commission from the counts or other royal judges, have charged, by writing, and according to the prescribed rules, other persons to fill their places, these last shall exercise, in the regulation and decision of affairs, a power similar to that of those by whom they were appointed.
Thus, all the judges, all the local officers, received their power from the king or his delegates. Of the three systems of institutions, whose co-existence and conflict are manifested amongst most of the German peoples, the monarchical system is the only one with which we meet in the code of the Visigoths.
In addition to the permanent judges, established in various localities, the kings had power to send special commissioners, either to restore order in disaffected provinces, or to give judgment in cases of particular importance. Criminal as well as civil affairs were submitted to the decision of the royal judges. All these judges received salaries from the king; but they also levied such enormous fees on the litigants, that the fees frequently amounted to one-third of the value of the object in litigation. A law was passed, limiting them to one-twentieth. Any who thought they had reason to complain of the decision of the judge might appeal, either to the duke or count of the province, or to the king himself. If the appeal was deemed well-founded, in addition to gaining the cause, the judge had to pay the appellant a sum equal to the value of the object in litigation. If the judgment was confirmed, the appellant had to pay the same amount to the judge, and if he could not do so, he was condemned publicly to receive a hundred lashes.
Up to this point, nothing in the constitution of judicial authority exhibits any of those guarantees of liberty contained in the laws of the other Barbarian peoples. Nothing discloses any remnant or even remembrance of the old forms of judgment by the assembly of free men, per Rachimburgos, bonos homines, &c. Some passages of the Forum judicum, however, prove that the judges, at least, had assessors. The fourth council of Toledo formally prohibits the kings from administering justice alone; and several texts allude to auditores.7 Most learned men, and amongst others Heineccius, are of opinion that the assessors were not mere councillors; and that the judge was bound to take the opinions of a majority of them. I am inclined to think so too. Several texts, however, formally indicate that the judge was at liberty to take assessors or not, as he pleased.
In the absence of those real guarantees of liberty, which originated elsewhere in the more or less effectual intervention of the freemen in the judgment of cases, the Forum judicum contains a multitude of precautions or laws against bad judges. In case of appeal to the count or king, if it were proved that the wrong decision of the judge was occasioned by malice, corruption, or prevarication of any kind, and if he were unable to pay the appellant the requisite sum, he was given to him as a slave, and condemned to receive besides fifty lashes in public. He was absolved from all penalty, however, if he proved, under oath, that his decision was pronounced in error or ignorance. The judges who neglected to prosecute the licentious were punished with a hundred lashes, and fined 300 solidi. The priests and bishops everywhere were enjoined to exercise a strict surveillance over the judges; and as the former then derived their chief strength from their superior knowledge and their protection of the weak, it is not unlikely that this guarantee was effective.
But all this was defective, as you perceive, by the radical defect of the system of pure monarchy, which gives, as the only guarantee for the good conduct of the depositaries of power, the surveillance and authority of superior depositaries placed in the same position, and invested with the same functions.
The true guarantees of liberty can only reside in the concurrence of collateral and independent powers, none of which is absolute, and which mutually control and limit each other. Of this the Forum judicum affords us no trace, at any stage in the long hierarchy of the government.
The local government of the Visigoths, then, presents still fewer institutions containing any active principle of liberty, any real force of control or resistance, than are found in their political regime, and at the centre of the State. Such is, at least, the unavoidable result to which we are led by an examination of the general and definitive code of this nation.
This result has appeared so singular, so opposed to German customs, and to the state of things among other peoples of the same origin, that hardly any man of erudition has been willing to read it in the Forum judicum; and that those even who have failed to find in this code any proof of the existence of free institutions, and almost any trace of old Barbarian institutions, have striven to discover them elsewhere in Spain at this period. I shall say nothing of Abbé Mariana,9 who, in his Teoria de las Cortes, is determined to discover, in the councils of Toledo, not only the Spanish Cortes of the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries, but also all the principles and guarantees of liberty—all, in fine, that constitutes a national assembly and a representative government. I have already demonstrated the moral improbability and the historic unreality of the fact. Two more learned men than Abbé Mariana, and less inclined than he to find what they seek, have thought that they perceive, in the Forum judicum, proofs that the purely monarchical system, associated with the theocratic system, did not prevail so completely among the Visigoths; and that they can discover among them evidences of effective and extended public liberties: I refer to M. de Savigny, in his History of Roman Law in the Middle Ages, and to a writer in the Edinburgh Review,* in an article on The Gothic Laws of Spain. I do not think that the researches of these two learned critics destroy the general results which I have just laid before you. They nevertheless contain many curious facts hitherto little noticed, and which throw much light on the study of the political institutions of the Visigothic monarchy. I shall, therefore, make you acquainted with them, and examine the consequences to which they lead.
M. de Savigny, when investigating the traces of the perpetuation of the Roman law after the fall of the Empire, expresses himself in these terms, in reference to the Visigoths: “Upon the constitution of this monarchy,” he says,
we possess sufficiently complete information in the Breviarium Aniani, who, about the year 506, that is, nearly a century after the foundation of the State, drew up the Roman law into a sort of code for the ancient inhabitants of the country. This code consists, as is well known, of two parts: one contains texts quoted word for word from the Roman law; the other an interpretation specially prepared on this occasion. With regard to the texts quoted from the Roman law, we cannot attach great importance to them, when we speak of the real state of things at the period of this publication; as they were drawn from sources much more ancient, expressions and even entire phrases were necessarily retained which had reference to various circumstances of a social state that had already passed away and fallen into desuetude; the interpretation was intended to explain this disagreement. But this interpretation, drawn up ad hoc, is, on the other hand, very trustworthy, especially when it does not implicitly follow either the words or the sense of the text, for then we can no longer regard it as a servile and thoughtless copy, especially in what relates to matters of public law. It is impossible to believe that real establishments, institutions set before the eyes of all, and with which all might be acquainted, could have been mentioned unintentionally and described without an object. Now, in this interpretation, the Roman praeses has entirely disappeared; but the municipal community, with its particular jurisdiction and its decurions taking part in the administration of justice, subsists in all its integrity: it even appears to possess more individual consistency and independence than it had enjoyed under the emperors.
The general principle of the defensores, of their duties and the mode of choosing them, is explained in the interpretation, as well as in the text of the Theodosian code. According to the text, the governor of the province was not to be burdened with the judgment of petty offences; but it does not mention who was to judge them, whereas the interpretation expressly names the defensor. According to the text, the introduction of a civil suit might take place either before the governor, or before those who had the right to draw up the necessary acts; the interpretation adds the defensor....
M. de Savigny then quotes a number of other examples to prove the maintenance, and even extension, of the functions of the defenders of the cities. “Other passages,” he continues,
have reference to the curia, the decurions, and even to the citizens in general. The system of decurions, in general, is received in theBreviarium, with very few modifications, but merely great abridgement. To one passage of the text which casually mentions adoption, the interpretation adds, as a commentary, that it is the choice of an individual as a child, made in presence of the curia. The Visigothic jurisconsult, Gaius, says, that emancipation, which formerly took place before the president, was, at the period at which he wrote, performed before the curia. The text determines by whom tutors were appointed at Constantinople, namely, by the prefect of the city, ten senators, and the praetor, whose duty it was to watch over the interests of the pupils: the interpretation substitutes in their place the judge, with the chief men of the town. The text speaks of the necessity of a decree to authorize the alienation of the property of a minor: the interpretation adds, that this decree must be obtained from the judge or the curia. The text ordains that, at Constantinople, wills should be opened by the same office that received them: the interpretation substitutes the curia in its place. According to the text, donations should be registered either before the judge (the governor of the province), or before the municipal magistrate (the duumvir): the interpretation substitutes the curia for the municipal magistrate—which does not, in reality, alter the sense of the law, but which proves what is demonstrated by many other passages, that the general point of view was completely changed; anciently the chief municipal authority, and especially jurisdiction, was considered, according to Roman maxims, to be a personal right of the magistrate: according to the interpretation, it belonged less to the defensor himself, than to the curia taken collectively.... Under the emperors, the honorati, that is, those who had occupied high municipal dignities, had a seat of honour near the governor of the province when he administered justice; they were only expected to abstain from being present when their own causes were under consideration. The interpretation applies this to the curials; an application which is remarkable in two respects, first, because it proves that the curials were held in great consideration, and secondly, because this does not merely refer to the possession of a seat of honour by them, but to an actual participation in the jurisdiction of the municipal judge, that is, of the duumvir or defensor.. . . The text of the code ordains that, out of Rome, in order to pronounce sentence on a criminal accusation brought against a senator, five senators shall be chosen by lot: the interpretation makes this rule general, and requires five men to be chosen from the leading members of the same rank as the accused person, that is, decurions or plebeians, according to the condition of the accused person himself. Finally, the text ordained that every judge should receive his domesticus or cancellarius from the choice of the principal persons employed in his chancery: the interpretation retains the rule, merely substituting the burgesses of the city for the persons employed in the chancery.
Such are the traces of municipal liberties which M. de Savigny discovers in the Breviarium Aniani, and which he considers as the common and permanent law of the Visigothic monarchy. They prove, in fact, not merely the maintenance, but also the extension and enfranchisment, of the rights and guarantees possessed by the inhabitants of the towns before the settlement of the Barbarians. But strong objections may be raised against the importance which the author attaches to these texts, and the extent of the conclusions which he deduces therefrom.
I. The Breviarium Aniani does not contain the common and permanent law of the Spanish monarchy of the Visigoths. It only gives the special legislation of the Roman subjects of the Visigothic kings, when the kings resided at Toulouse, and had as yet only uncertain possessions in Spain; when the South of Gaul constituted the bulk, and almost the whole, of the kingdom. There is nothing to prove that all that is contained in the Breviarium Aniani, towards the end of the fifth century, for the benefit of the Romans of Southern Gaul, subsisted in Spain until the eighth century, for the benefit of the Goths and Romans, when merged into a single nation. The silence of the Forum judicum, which is the true code of the Spanish Visigoths, upon most of these arrangements, proves more against their maintenance than is demonstrated in their favour by the text of the Breviarium, which was drawn up in another place, at an earlier period, and for a portion only of the people.
II. About a hundred and fifty years after the publication of the Breviarium, the Goths and Romans were united into a single nation. The collection of laws, successively augmented under the different reigns, and completed by Chindasuinth, became the sole code of the kingdom; all other laws were abolished, and the Breviarium was necessarily included in this abolition. The text of the law of Recesuinth is formal:
That absolutely none of the men of our realm be permitted to lay before the judge, for the decision of any affair, any other collection of laws than that which has just been published, and according to the order in which the laws are unscribed therein; and this, under penalty of a fine of thirty pounds of gold to our treasury. Any judge who should hesitate to decline any other book that might be presented to him as suited to regulate his decision, will be punished by the same fine.
M. de Savigny foresaw this objection; and without absolutely dissembling it he has tried to weaken it by not quoting the text of the law of Recesuinth, and by speaking only of the attempts made by the Visigothic kings, that Spain should contain only a single nation, and be governed by a single code. These evasions are in striking contrast with his usual candour. He then makes use of the existence of the defensores, proof of which is found in the Forum judicum, to assume the maintenance of all the prerogatives and liberties attributed to them by the Breviarium. This conclusion is evidently hasty and excessive.
I do not dispute that the towns of Spain were able to retain, or indeed that they did necessarily retain, some institutions, some guarantees of municipal liberty. I should not infer their absolute disappearance from the silence of the Forum judicum. The despotism of the Barbarian kings, however careful it may have been to gather the heritage of Roman maxims, was neither as wise nor as circumstantial as that of the emperors. It allowed the curiae and their magistrates to continue in existence, and these petty local powers assuredly had more reality and independence under its rule than they had possessed under the Empire. The clergy, principally dwelling in the towns, and bound by strong ties to the Roman race, was itself interested in protecting them, and the more so, because it naturally placed itself at the head of the municipalities. Thus much is certain, that the remnants of institutions of surety and liberty which existed there, occupy no place in the written laws, although these laws are much more detailed than those of other Barbarian peoples, and embrace the whole civil order. They could not, therefore, be considered as forming a part of the general constitution of the kingdom; they neither modified its political character, nor changed the results of the principles that prevailed therein.
If M. de Savigny has looked for the institutions of the Visigoths in an epoch anterior to the definitive establishment of their true monarchy, and in a collection of laws abolished by the Forum judicum, the author of the dissertation contained in the Edinburgh Review has addressed his inquiries to times and documents posterior by four or five centuries to the destruction of the kingdom of the Visigoths by the Arabs; and by transporting the consequences which he has obtained therefrom into the epoch which occupies our attention, he has fallen into an error still less supported by facts than was that of M. de Savigny. His researches and inferences are the following:
It must not be supposed that the whole body of the law of the Visigoths appears in the twelve books of their code. They had their common or traditionary law, still existing in unwritten usages and customs, as well as their written law; and we are supported by analogy in asserting that this common law often spoke, when the statute law was silent. It outlived the monarchy; and we now collect it from the Fueros or ancient customs of Castile and Leon. The customs in question are preserved in the charters of the towns, which gave bye-laws to the inhabitants, confirming the unwritten common law of the country, sometimes with greater or lesser modifications in the detail, but agreeing in general principles. We equally discover them in the acts of Cortes, which, to borrow the expression of Sir Edward Coke, are often “affirmances of the common law.” The traditionary Fueros of Castile also formed the basis of the Fuero Viejo de Castilla, which received its last revision under Peter the Third. And even Alonso the Wise, though he planned the subversion of the ancient jurisprudence of his kingdom, admitted into the Partidas such of those Fueros de España as relate to the tenures of land, and to military service. Consisting of ancient usages, neither re fined by the learning of the councils nor restrained by the power of the kings, the Fueros of Castile and Leon bear a nearer affinity to the jurisprudence of the Teutonic nations than the written code. The water ordeal is noticed only once, in a law newly amended by Flavius Egica. But ordeal by compurgation, the most ancient form of trial by jury, and the battle ordeal, do not appear at all. Neither do we find any notice of the custom of returning military leaders by the verdict of a jury. All these customs, however, were Fueros of Spain in the Middle Ages. Nor could they possibly have then existed, had they not been preserved by immemorial usage and tradition.
The author then passes these ancient usages in review. The first to which he refers is the appointment of military leaders by a jury. He traces this custom back to the forests of Germany: and then shows how it could not fail to succumb universally beneath the establishment of the feudal system, and in consequence of the hierarchical subordination of persons and lands. He discovers traces of this in the nomination, by the people, of the Anglo-Saxonheretochs10 and constables,11 who were at first military officers; and also in the election of the kings of Norway by the verdicts of twelve of the principal men of each province. He then returns to Spain, “where,” he says,
we shall find our old Gothic juries employed in electing the chief officers of the army and navy of the Castilians, the Adalid, the Almocaden, the Alfaqueque, and the Comitre. Who was to be the Adalid? The question must be answered in the words of the wise king Alonso. It is said by the ancients that “the Adalid should be endowed with four gifts—the first is wisdom, the second is heart, the third is good common sense, and the fourth is loyalty; and when a king or any other great lord wishes to make an Adalid, he must call unto himself twelve of the wisest Adalides that can be found, and these must swear that they will truly say, if he whom they wish to choose to be an Adalid hath the four gifts of which we have spoken, and if they answer yea, then they are to make him an Adalid.”
Here we have clearly an inquest by twelve men giving their verdict upon oath. If it happened that twelve Adalides could not be found, then a kind of tales de circumstantibus12 was added to this special jury of Adalides. The king or lord was to make up the full number of twelve with other men well approved in war and deeds of arms, and their verdict was as good as if they had been all Adalides. And he who dared to act as an Adalid without being fully elected, was to suffer death. “It was advised in ancient times,” says Alonso, “that they were to have the qualities before mentioned, because it was necessary that they should possess them, in order to be able to guide the troops and armies in time of war, and therefore they were called Adalides, which is equivalent to guides (que quiere tanto decir como guiadores).”
The author is, therefore, of opinion that this word comes from adal, adel, noble, and leid, lead, leiten, to guide or conduct. The Adalid was the guide or chief of the Almogavars, or cavalry soldiers. The Adalid mayor was commander-in-chief of all the Almogavars, or Castilian cavalry.
After his election by this species of jury, the Adalid was thus solemnly admitted to his office.
The king gave him rich garments, and a sword and a horse, and arms of wood and iron, according to the customs of the country. By a rico hombre, a lord of knights, the sword was to be girt, and then a shield was placed upon the ground, the future Adalid stepped upon it, and the king drew the sword out of its scabbard, and put it naked in his hand. And now as many of the twelve Adalids as can assemble round the shield, grasp its edge, and lift him up as high as they may: they turn his face towards the east.—“In the name of God,” exclaims the Adalid, “I defy all the enemies of the faith, and of my lord the king, and of his land.” And, thus speaking, he lifted up his arm, and struck a stroke downward, and he then struck another stroke across, thus describing in the air the sweet and holy sign of redemption, and he repeated this challenge four times towards each of the quarters of the world. Then the Adalid sheathed his sword, and the king placed a pennon in his hand, saying, “I grant unto thee that henceforward thou art to be an Adalid. ” An Adalid might have risen to command from the lowest rank in the Castilian army. He might have been a peon or foot-soldier, but he became the fellow and companion of the hereditary nobles, the lords of vassals, and the ricos hombres.
In this ceremony, the author perceives a repetition of the forms used at the election of kings among the Germans, or at least at the choice of military leaders; duces ex virtute sumunt.13
I would by no means affirm that there does not exist, in this mode of choosing captains, in the concurrence of these twelve jurymen, and even in the number twelve itself, any remnant of old Germanic customs. This much is evident, that what has just been described was much rather a sort of chivalric ceremony in connection with the elevation of a man to a superior rank, than the election of a barbaric chief; all the forms, all the details of the elevation of an Adalid, remind us much more of chivalric usage than of Germanic custom; and it is a strange anachronism to suppose that all this took place, five hundred years before, among the Visigoths, notwithstanding that no mention is made of it in any historic monument, and, what is still more conclusive, notwithstanding that the general state of manners at that time gives no hint of anything of the kind. It is much more probable that these customs originated among the Goths during their struggle against the Arabs, in the mountains of Northern Spain, and in consequence of the new direction of mingled feudalism and liberty, which was imparted to their manners by this new position.
The Almocadene or captain of foot soldiers, the Alfaqueque or officer employed to treat for the ransom of captives from the Moors, and the Comitre or captain of a ship, were appointed in a similar manner, and by the recommendation of a jury composed, not of members of the class to which the candidate belonged, but to members of the class to which he aspired. This circumstance alone settles the question; for it is a result of chivalric, and not of Barbarian manners; it reminds us of the squire who was dubbed knight by knights, and not of the warrior who was chosen or judged by his peers.
I shall not follow the author in his researches on ordeal by boiling water and by fire, or upon trial by combat. Although we meet with traces of these customs in the old monuments of some Barbarian legislations, they were not the common law of modern peoples, during the first epoch of their establishment on the Roman territory. It was at a later period, and by the influence either of the corruption of religious ideas by superstition, or of the military organization of the feudal system, that they became developed, recognized, and formed into a veritable jurisprudence. The general facts of Europe do not, therefore, authorize us to conclude that, because they existed among the Spaniards in the fourteenth century, they also existed among the Visigoths in the seventh century. The almost absolute silence of the historic monuments of the first epoch, here retains all its authority.
The facts relative to compurgation,14 by the oath of a certain number of witnesses, are more important and more curious. “Compurgation,” says our author, “is directed in express terms in all the Teutonic laws; but it does not appear to have been admissible in trials conducted according to the forms prescribed by the Fuero juzgo. Yet afterwards, this ordeal was widely spread as afuero, both in civil and criminal trials. Though discountenanced by the legislature, it was retained in practice; and a forcible illustration is thus given of the stubbornness with which the Goths adhered to their usages and customs.Trial by jury, through it, in its germ was felt to be a benefit.”
As an ancient and general usage of Castile, the trial is sanctioned in the Fuero Viejo. As a local custom or bye-law of the cities of Castile and Leon and their dependencies, it was very frequently established, or rather declared, by the charters granted by their founders.
Three thousand sueldos, according to the Fuero Viejo, were paid for dishonouring the palace of the king, or spoiling his castle; and five hundred sueldos was the price of the head of the merino, or the composition for scandalizing him; and every man who wished to save himself from the payment of these mulcts, was to defend himself by the oath of twelve men, for such was the usage of Castile in the old time. When accused of the death of another fijo d’algo, the suspected noble defended himself by the oath of eleven other fijos d’algo, himself the twelfth, and, as true knights, they were all sworn, upon the Gospel Book, with their spurs upon their heels. There were two insults only which gave a Dueña, or a squire, the right of complaining that a fijo d’algo, had scandalized them, viz., a blow or a wound, or the robbery of their mules or garments. Within three days, the party so injured by a caitiff knight was obliged to complain of the offence, and to disclose the injury to the fijos d’algo of the town, the labradores, and to the inmates of the fijos d’algo, if there were any, and to cause the town-bell to be rung, saying, “such a one hath thus dishonoured me.” These formalities having been observed, the fijo d’algo was bound to answer the complaint; reparation was made if he confessed it, by forfeiting five hundred sueldos, the price of his own head; but if he denied it, he was to clear himself by the oath of eleven other fijos d’algo, himself the twelfth. But a labrador accused of injuring a fijo d’algo was not to be admitted to defend himself by his peers; and he was unfairly compelled to swear with eleven fijos d’algo, himself the twelfth.
These customs are taken from the general code. In peculiar districts, compurgation was so much in vogue, that compurgatrixes were allowed to female culprits. At Anguas, as well as in other towns, a woman charged with theft could defend herself by the oaths of a jury of other women. More whimsical was the Fuero of Cuenca, which is passing strange, both for the spirit of the law and the terms in which it is expressed. If perchance any husband suspected that his wife had planted horns upon his head, although he was not able to prove the fact by evidence, the wife was to justify herself by swearing to her chastity, with twelve good wives of the neighbourhood; and if they pronounced her to be pure, her husband was obliged to be persuaded that she was so.
The customs of St. Sebastien in Guipuscoa, allowed an odd kind of proceeding, resembling the assessment of damages by the verdict of a jury. The ravisher was to pay the price of virginity, or he was to marry the object of his ungovernable passion; which punishment, as the charter wisely observes, “is fully equal to a fine.” But if she, who had been a maid, was unworthy of becoming his wife, he was to provide her with such a husband as she might have reasonably expected to have obtained previous to her mishap, “according to the estimation of the alcalde, and of twelve good men of St. Sebastien.”
The fullest directions concerning the use of the ordeal are contained in the charter of Molina. Don Molrique de Lara incorporated the town of Molina, the seigniory of the noble house of Lara, in the year 1152. His charter may be quoted as the most valuable record concerning the ancient municipal jurisprudence of Castile which has yet been published, as it displays the entire constitution and government of a Castilian town. * * * * Fines, according to the old Gothic law, were enacted at Molina for wounds and maims. The accuser was to support his charge by three “vecinos ” or burghers of the town, if the offence was committed within its walls. Two vecinos sufficed if without. And, in default of full proof, the culprit either swore with twelve vecinos, or fought with the accuser; but the latter had the choice of the ordeal. * * * * When a murder had been committed, if one of those engaged in the fray took the guilt on his own head, saying, “I killed him, ” the others were “to save themselves with twelve true burghers,”—los otros salvense con doce vecinos derecheros. It might happen, that none would confess the crime; and as all were then equally liable to suspicion, the relations of the dead man were at liberty to select any one as the murderer, “just as they thought fit”; after which the supposed murderer named eleven relations of the slain, and these, together with the accuser, swore to his being guilty or not guilty. Unanimity was required; and if one or two would not swear, that is to say, if they could not agree with the majority, each one who was so dissentient swore with twelve, that neither he, nor any one for his use, had received any bribe; then he was discharged. But if the defendant did not “fall” by the withdrawing of his juror, he was at liberty to name another. This proceeding is remarkable; a new aspect is given to the ordeal by calling in the compurgators to swear with the accuser instead of the accused; and in this form it is, perhaps, more closely assimilated to a jury-trial. It may be observed, that a practice once prevailed in England of withdrawing the dissentient jurors, and replacing them by others, till an unanimous verdict was obtained.
Such are the facts which the author of these researches has collected on the existence of ancient Germanic customs, or analogous usages, in the towns of Castile and Leon, dating from the twelfth century. He unhesitatingly concludes therefrom that these same customs existed in the sixth and seventh centuries among the Spanish Visigoths, and formed a part of their institutions.
It is inconvenient to prove that facts are not true, for it devolves on him who affirms them to prove that they are so; and, in such a case as this, when we speak of epochs separated by five or six centuries, and by such a revolution as the dispossession of a people and a foreign conquest, inductions are not sufficient. The Forum judicum is absolutely silent upon the appointment of military leaders, and upon compurgation by juries; nay, more, this latter institution is incompatible with the arrangements of this code in reference to judges and the administration of justice. No other contemporary authority contradicts the Forum judicum. Must we, upon the authority of facts of much more recent date, and which refer to an entirely different state of civilization, refuse to believe proofs so direct, and testimonies so positive?
I am aware of all that may be said about the disorders of these times, the continual gaps in the laws, and the disposition of legislators to omit precisely those usages which were most simple and universal, as though they had no need to be consecrated or even indicated by formal enactment. It is, in fact, very possible that the practice of compurgation by juries was not completely unknown to the Visigoths; it recurs in all Germanic customs, and it may not have disappeared either entirely or all at once, even after the introduction of a code derived principally from the Roman laws. But it is impossible to believe, in spite of this code, that it continued to be the common law, the fundamental institution, the veritable judicial system of the nation.
It is more easy to explain, with likelihood, the existence of these practices among the Spanish Goths of the twelfth century, than to justify, without proofs, or rather in opposition to all evidence, the arbitrary supposition of their prevalence among the Visigoths of the seventh. Such institutions have in themselves something of spontaneity; they correspond to a certain degree of civilization, to a certain state of social institutions; we meet with them under forms more or less similar, but fundamentally analogous, not only among all the Germanic peoples, but also among nearly all those barbaric peoples which, scarcely issued from a nomadic life, begin to establish themselves on a new territory, after they have conquered it. Now, the destruction of the monarchy of the Visigoths by the Arabs suspended the course of the institutions which it had received two centuries before, broke off the councils of Toledo, crushed or greatly diminished the predominance of the clergy, and, in fine, put a stop to the civilization which had commenced, and gave to affairs an entirely new direction. Scattered among the mountains, frequently wandering, separated into various bands, those of the Goths who did not submit to the conquerors, returned, so to speak, toward the life which their ancestors led in the forests of Germany. Roman institutions, Roman maxims, all that collection of laws and ideas which they had received from the clergy, and which had prevailed over their own habits, disappeared almost necessarily in this shock, or at least were retained only by those Goths who remained under the dominion of the Mussulmans. The companions of Pelagius, up to a certain point, became Germans once more, from sheer necessity. It was after this involuntary return to their primitive condition, and, by consequence, to their ancient institutions, that they resumed the offensive against the Arabs, and reconquered Spain by degrees, bringing back with them those political and judicial customs, usages, and practices, which they had partially regained. Free institutions, moreover, could not fail to regain vitality at this period; for they alone can supply strength in times of danger or misfortune. It was not in the power of the customs of the officium palatinum, and of the maxims of the councils of Toledo, to restore the Goths to their subjugated country, and reinstate the descendants of Chindasuinth upon the throne of their fathers. The participation of the people in public affairs, the sternness of Barbarian manners, and the energy of irregular liberty, could alone produce such effects. There is every reason to believe that the institutions of Spain, after the re-establishment of the kingdoms of Castile, Leon, Arragon, &c, were new institutions, and the result of the new position of the Goths, much more than the legacy of the ancient Visigoths. We find proofs of this in the general Cortes of the kingdom, in the constitutions and liberties of the towns, in the whole political order of the State, which has no connection whatever with the old monarchy, and follows much more naturally as a result of the condition and necessities of new monarchies. The political system established by the councils of Toledo and theForum judicum could not have taken deep root; it fell before necessities which it was unable to meet. The Forum judicum itself would perhaps have completely succumbed, had it not continued to be the law of those Goths who had submitted to the yoke of the Moors; it moreover regulated civil order, which is always more firmly fixed, and less influenced by revolutions. It therefore continued, in this respect, to be the general law of Spain; whilst political order assumed a new form and was regulated by other institutions.
The Forum judicum and contemporary authorities are the only true source at which we can study the political institutions of the ancient Visigoths; a source which is doubtless incomplete, and which does not inform us of all that existed; a source which, probably even, especially neglected to gather up what still remained of Germanic manners and habits, but which it is impossible to repudiate in order to admit facts and general institutions which are directly contrary to it. The consequences which I have deduced from these original and contemporary authorities, therefore, still subsist, and determine the true political system of the monarchy of the Visigoths. The imperial government, and ecclesiastical theories, were its constituent elements. These elements prevailed over Germanic customs. They were doubtless modified in order that they might be adapted to a Barbarian people; but, by modification, they gained dominion, and became the general form, the fundamental law, of the State. If the Spanish Goths afterwards entered upon a course more analogous to that pursued by other modern nations of the same origin, it is in the invasion of the Arabs, in the second conquest of Spain by the re-Germanized Goths, and in the effects of this great revolution, but not in the institutions of the monarchy of the Visigoths, that we may discern the causes of this procedure.
end of part 1
[1. ]A few words about Guizot’s historical method are in order here. In Guizot’s view, historical investigations must combine respect for the past and the desire to contribute to the progress of society. Not surprisingly, his historical writings had a strong political agenda, as illustrated by the following statement: “Ever since the birth of modern societies, their condition has been such, that in their institution, in their aspirations, and in the course of their history, the representative form of government . . . has constantly loomed more or less distinctly in the distance, as the port at which they must at length arrive, in spite of the storms which scatter them, and the obstacles which confront and oppose their entrance” (The History of the Origins of Representative Government in Europe, p. 12; all pages refer to the present edition, henceforth abbreviated as HORG). Guizot looked for a juste milieu, a middle ground between those who harbored only “proud disdain of the past” (ibid., p. 6) and those who remained mired in the past without being able to understand and adapt to the present (ibid., p. 8). To this effect, he criticized those who wanted to “dissever the present from its connection with former ages and to begin society afresh” (ibid., p. 7). Another important characteristic of Guizot’s historical method was the alliance of philosophy and history, the constant passing from the examination of circumstances to that of ideas, from the exposition of facts to the commentary of doctrines. He believed that, in order to apprehend correctly the character and consequences of facts, one must reduce them to general patterns and ideas. For more details, also see HORG, pp. 224-25. The same method underlies Guizot’s History of Civilization in Europe, ed. Larry Siedentop (London: Penguin, 1997), pp. 65-66, 201-202 (henceforth abbreviated as HCE).
[2. ]For more details, see Montesquieu, The Spirit of the Laws, Book II; Book XIV, 3; Book XVIII, 23; Book XXX, 19. Unlike Montesquieu, Guizot did not claim that representative institutions could be found “in the woods of Germany.” He pointed out that no general political order existed during the first ten centuries because of the incessant conflict between various political powers.
[* ] On this see Guizot’s History of Civilization in France. Lectures vii and viii.
[3. ]For more details, also see HORG, pp. 221–22. In HCE Guizot also referred to four epochs: the barbarian epoch; the feudal age; the age in which the first attempts at representative government were made; and, finally, the age marked by the progress of representative system in England and the development of absolute monarchy on the Continent.
[4. ]This is an excellent summary of Guizot’s political vision. He believed that the mission of his (post-revolutionary) generation was to establish free representative institutions by reconciling freedom and order. This task required a long apprenticeship of liberty, a stern exercise of power, and “habits of laborious and patient application” (HORG, p. 17). Worth noting is Guizot’s emphasis on the arduousness of duty, self-denial (Kant’s influence is obvious in this regard!), laborious study, and determination. In Guizot’s view, the just political agenda was dictated by national (as opposed to factional) interests and had to follow both reason and the public interest. For more details, see Guizot, Mémoires pour servir à l’histoire de mon temps, Vol. I (Paris: Michel Lévy Frères, 1870), pp. 158–66, 193–205.
[5. ]Worth noting is the relation between the social and the political order, a theme that looms large in Guizot’s writings, most notably in connection with his theory of democracy as social condition. Against those who argued that representative government was a dangerous modern institution, Guizot claimed that it had deep roots in the past and represented the only political regime that was suitable to the new spirit of the age. “Almost everywhere,” he wrote, “the representative form of government is demanded, allowed, or established. This fact . . . has certainly its roots in the past political career of the nations, as it has its motives in their present condition” (HORG, p. 11). In other words, in France, the establishment of representative government was demanded by the new social condition that was characterized by a new configuration of mores, laws, class structure, property relations, and economic interests. For more details on the doctrinaires’ theory of democracy as état social (social condition), see Charles de Rémusat, “L’esprit de réaction: Royer-Collard et Tocqueville” (“The Spirit of Reaction: Royer-Collard and Tocqueville”), Revue des deux mondes, October 15, 1861, pp. 777–813; Aurelian Craiutu, “Tocqueville and the Political Thought of the French Doctrinaires,” History of Political Thought, Vol. XX, No. 3, Autumn 1999, pp. 456–93.
[1. ]For more details on the condition of Europe at the fall of the Roman Empire, see Guizot, HCE, Lecture II, pp. 27–46. Of utmost importance is Guizot’s emphasis on the coexistence and combat of different principles and systems of political organization (theocratic, monarchic, aristocratic, and popular) that had limited and modified each other over time, thereby contributing to the progress of European civilization. Guizot argued that “in Europe liberty has been the result of the variety of the elements of civilization, and of the state of struggle in which they have constantly existed” (ibid., p. 31).
[* ]Honorius succeeded peaceably to the sovereignty of the West, which he had received from his father in the preceding year; while his elder brother Arcadius obtained possession of the East.
[† ]The country on the north-west coast of Gaul, from the Loire to the Seine.
[‡ ]The Roman province in the south of Gaul, so called from its chief city, Narbo or Narbonne; Caesar calls it simply Provincia, and hence comes the modern name of Provence.
[* ] Turner’s History of the Anglo-Saxons, vol. i., pp. 180–181.
[* ] In bc 113–101. Marius finally defeated the Teutones at Aix, in the year 102; and the Cimbri, near Vercelli, in the year 101.
[2. ]Guardian of the Saxon coast.
[* ] Nennius, cap. 31.
[† ]History of the Anglo-Saxons, vol. i. p. 320.
[1. ]Guizot’s ideas on the relation between the social and the political order had a profound impact on Tocqueville. Guizot emphasized the role of “the habits of the heart”—mores, customs, and laws—as well as their impact on the development of political institutions. The seminal point made by Guizot is that it is necessary to study first society, its composition, mores, and the relations between the different classes and properties in order to understand the nature of political institutions. He also addressed the same topic in his Essays on the History of France, originally published in 1823.
[* ]A hide of land was about 120 acres.
[2. ]Upright and lawful man.
[3. ]Guizot emphasized the importance of local institutions as safeguards of individual freedom and argued that, without local (municipal) institutions, there can be no liberties. Moreover, he considered the predominance of the municipal form and spirit to be the most important legacy of the ancient Roman civilization and went as far as to praise the barbarians’ keen sense of individual independence (for an extensive discussion of this topic, see HORG, pp. 156–60). Nonetheless, Guizot argued that, in the infancy of the European civilization, when the principle of individuality reigned supreme, the local assemblies and institutions did not contain the true principle of representative government, because they were based upon the principle of individual right. In Guizot’s view, the progress of civilization also implied a trend toward centralization; it is important to note that the tension between centralization and decentralization was a major theme in Guizot’s writings.
[2. ]Chief of centuriated land.
[* ] From wapen, weapons, and tac, a touch, i.e. a shaking or striking of the arms; or from the same wapen, and tac, a taking or receiving of the vassal’s arms by a new lord in token of subjection; or because the people, in confirmation of union, touch the weapon of their lord. See Blackstone, In-trod., sec. 4. and Holinshed, vol. v. p. 37.
[3. ]Men in charge of a hundred.
[4. ]Before the leading men and the vast multitude of other confidants.
[5. ]This is the first reference to the “true” principles of representative government, a theme to which Guizot frequently returns in this book. For him, representation was not a mechanism to collect individual wills, but a process by which the fragments of reason disseminated in society are collected and brought (through elections and publicity) to form the government of society. This passage also highlights the centrality of political capacity to Guizot’s definition of representative government (power must be granted to the “most capable” citizens). For more details on this issue, see HORG, pp. 52–54, 226–27, 295–97, 345–47.
[1. ]The comparison between England and France is a major theme in HORG. In his Memoirs, Guizot explained: “Ce fut à cette époque que je m’adonnai sérieusement a l’étude de l’Angleterre, de ses institutions et des longues luttes qui les ont fondées. Passionnément épris de l’avenir politique de ma patrie, je voulais savoir avec précision à travers quelles vérités et quelles erreurs, parquels efforts persévérants et quelles transactions prudentes un grand peuple avait réussi à conquérir et à conserver un gouvernement libre” (Mémoires, Vol. I, Paris: Michel Lévy Frères, 1870, p. 318). Like Madame de Staël and Benjamin Constant, Guizot wanted to understand why England and France had followed two different patterns of development and what had made possible the consolidation of moderate constitutional monarchy across the Channel. In Guizot’s view, the key point was to look at the relations and alliances between the monarch, the nobles, and the commons in the two countries. In England, the king could not, as in France, make use of the Commons to annihilate the political rights and privileges of the aristocracy, without substituting new liberties in their place. A portion of the feudal class united with the people in order to defend their liberties against the monarch (Tocqueville developed this idea in Old Regime and the Revolution). Guizot admired the division of powers in England, the tradition of self-government, the effective limitation of sovereignty, and the absence of absolute power; for more details, see HORG, pp. 89, 221–30, 247, 357–58, 377–81, 433–35. In his History of Civilization in France, Guizot argued that “English civilization has been especially directed toward social perfection; toward the amelioration of the external and public condition of men; toward the amelioration, not only of their material but also of their moral condition; toward the introduction of more justice, more prosperity into society; toward the development of right as well as of happiness” (I quote from François Guizot, Historical Essays and Lectures, ed. Stanley Mellon, Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1972, p. 271). For a comprehensive discussion of the image of England in nineteenth-century French political thought, see Pierre Réboul, Le mythe anglais dans la littérature française sous la Restauration (The English Myth in the French Literature During the Restoration) (Lille: Bibliothèque Universitaire, 1962).
[2. ]In Guizot’s view, power and excellence (i.e., exquisite talent, qualities, and abilities) were connected; power had always been granted to “the most brave and courageous ones,” and had never been based on a social contract among equals. Note that Guizot did not equate superior force with superior virtue; he only claimed that, in virtue of a natural law sui generis, the most assertive and brave individuals had always managed to impose their will and extend their domination. Guizot developed this idea in Des moyens de gouvernment et d’opposition dans l’état actuel de la France (On the Means of Government and Opposition in the Actual State of France) (Paris: Ladvocat, 1821), pp. 163–64.
[1. ]Guizot’s critique of Montesquieu’s classification of governments must be understood in relation to his theory of the sovereignty of reason. For Guizot, the key issue was not who exercises power, but the source and limitations of the sovereign power; he also argued that it would be a mistake to concentrate on the exterior characteristics of representative government. The upshot of his view is that no individual or group can ever be granted the possession of an inherent right to sovereignty. Hence, Guizot proposed a new classification of governments depending on whether they attribute sovereignty as a right to individuals or to reason, truth, and justice. Only those forms of government that recognize the sovereignty of reason, truth, and justice can be said to be legitimate. For more details on the new classification proposed by Guizot, see HORG, pp. 52, 64–65. In Guizot’s view, representative government was predicated on the assumption that sovereignty does not reside in any person, and that all powers must be directed to the fulfillment of the precepts of reason, truth, and justice.
[2. ]This is another important passage in which Guizot discusses the goal of representative government; in his view, representative institutions must create social unity, preserve liberty, and raise a barrier to tyranny (absolute power) and anarchy. Borrowing a famous aphorism from Pascal, Guizot argues that representative government should be seen as a means of bringing multiplicity to unity and preventing the formation of a fallacious unity (which is not a genuine expression of multiplicity). Moreover, the very principle of representative government is “the destruction of all sovereignty of permanent right” (HORG, p. 371). In Guizot’s view, publicity plays a key role in helping representative institutions to draw forth from the bosom of society the “veritable and legitimate aristocracy” in order to constitute the government of society. Writes Guizot: “This end is only attained by the triumph of the true majority—the minority being constantly listened to with respect. If the majority is displaced by artifice, there is falsity. If the minority is removed from the struggle beforehand, there is oppression. In either case representative government is corrupted” (ibid., p. 348). For more details, see ibid., pp. 54, 57, 345–48, 371–72.
[3. ]In Guizot’s view, publicity is the cornerstone of representative government because it creates new bonds between society and government. Publicity requires and calls upon all individuals who possess rights to enter upon a common search for reason, truth, and justice. Liberty of the press and the openness of debates in deliberative assemblies are instrumental in limiting political power and preventing the usurpation of the sovereignty of right. It is publicity that places the executive and legislative powers under the control of the citizens, while freedom of the press prompts them to seek reason, truth, and justice in common. Guizot argues that because of publicity and freedom of the press, power is no longer opaque for society, as more transparency and new forms of communication are created between government and society. As to the relation between publicity and elections, Guizot believed that publicity cannot be a substitute for elections and that, without publicity, there can be no true elections. “Où la publicité manque,” he wrote, “il peuty avoir des élections, des assemblées, des délibérations; mais les peuples n’y croient pas et ils ont raison. . . . La publicité seule corrige, en grande partie, les fâcheux effets d’une mauvaise machine politique” (Guizot, “Des garanties légales de la liberté de la presse” [On Legal Guarantees for Freedom of the Press], Archives Philosophiques, Politique, et Littéraires, Vol. V, Paris: 1818, pp. 186–87). For more details on publicity, see Guizot, HORG, pp. 62–63, 69–70, and Aurelian Craiutu, The Difficult Apprenticeship of Liberty: Reflections on the Political Thought of the French Doctrinaires. (Lanham, Md.: Rowman & Littlefield, Lexington Books, forthcoming).
[1. ]The difference between the principle of representative government and political democracy is another key idea in Guizot’s political thought. It will be recalled that Guizot welcomed democracy as a social condition while also arguing for limited franchise. This ambivalent attitude toward democracy was widely shared by nineteenth-century liberals. Haunted by the specter of the darkest episodes of the Revolution, Guizot feared the potentially destructive elements of democracy. Nonetheless, he defended civil equality and civil rights, which he considered to be fundamental principles of the new social order. Furthermore, the distinction between representative government and political democracy must be related to another important dichotomy in Guizot’s political philosophy between the sovereignty of reason and popular sovereignty. Unlike political democracy, representative government grants power and political rights only in proportion to the capacity of individuals to act according to reason and justice. Therefore, representative government is not purely and simply the government of the numerical majority, but the “government by the majority of those who are qualified to govern” (HORG, p. 62). For another important statement on political democracy, also see Guizot, “De la démocratie dans les sociétés modernes,” Revue française, Vol. III, 1837, pp. 139–225.
[2. ]This is yet another important passage in which Guizot elaborates on the distinction between the sovereignty of reason and the sovereignty of the people. It will be recalled that for Guizot, the legitimacy of power does not necessarily result from the number of voices that might support a certain course of action, since justice and wisdom are not necessarily present in the will of the majority. Moreover, Guizot argues that it is false to assume that the entire people could ever exercise political power in the proper sense of the word.
[1. ]As in the case of other nineteenth-century liberals, Guizot emphasized constitutionalism, the division of powers, elections, and publicity, which is another way of saying that Guizot’s liberalism was fundamentally opposed to any form of absolute power. In his view, the only legitimate sources of right were reason, truth, and justice. The division of powers—i.e., the existence of several powers supplementary to each other in the exercise of actual sovereignty—was a natural consequence of the principle that no power or individual can be granted an inherent right to sovereignty (sovereignty of right). For more details, see HORG, pp. 68–69, 328–29.
[* ] This event is clearly and minutely related by Daru, in his “ Histoire de Venise. ” (Vol. i. pp. 449–464.)
[2. ]With a vast crowd surrounding.
[1. ]A thousand Franks, a thousand Sarmatians, / Once indeed we slew.
[2. ]More without a ruler than with liberty.
[3. ]Guizot refers here to Jean Charles Léonard Sismondi (1773–1842), an influential Swiss historian and economist. Among his most important works were Nouveaux principes d’économie politique (New Principles of Political Economy), De la richesse commerciale, ou Principes d’économie politique appliquée à la législation du commerce (On Commercial Wealth: Principles of Political Economy Applied to Commercial Legislation), Études sur les constitutions des peuples libres (Studies on the Constitutions of Free Peoples).
[1. ]That they never undertake to choose from the loins of another a king for all time.
[1. ]Inspectors of the state of the kingdom and of the conduct of the nobles.
[* ] Lothaire, Pepin, and Louis the Germanic, the three elder sons of Louis the Débonnair.
[2. ]For a comprehensive discussion of this theme, see Guizot, HCE, Lectures VII–XI, pp. 119–96.
[1. ]This is an excellent illustration of Guizot’s sociological acumen and method. His argument is that, in order to understand political institutions, one must start by studying the condition of persons and landed property that alone can account for the direction of social change. Guizot points to the great diversity in the conditions of property in the Middle Ages (allodial or independent, beneficiary, and tributary) and the ensuing inequality in the amount of wealth. He argues that the condition and the relations of persons did not originally depend on the condition of territorial properties and cannot be deduced from them. He also claims that the destruction of feudal property had led to the atomization of society that contributed to the centralization of government. For more details, see HORG, pp. 112–15.
[2. ]Salic land is the maternal land of the Ripuarian Franks, the land acquired by notice of lot of the Burgundians, the inheritance of the Saxons, and the paternal land of the formulas of Marculf.
[3. ]Property, possession, estate, inheritance.
[1. ]Under loan.
[* ] There are different etymologies of the word vassus, from haus, a house; from gast, a guest; from fest, fast, established; from geselle (vassallus).—The word Gasinde, which expresses the familia, so far as it comprises the individuals inhabiting the house, the guests in opposition to the mancipia, induces me to think that vassus comes from gast. (Anton, Gesch. der Deuts. Land., vol. i. p. 526.)
[3. ]A vassal bound to serve his superior; a loyal subject to the king.
[4. ]Without any fee.
[1. ]Vassals of our vassals.
[2. ]The same idea is discussed in HCE: “Wherever individuality predominates almost exclusively, wherever man consider no one but himself, and his ideas do not extend beyond himself, and he obeys nothing but his own passions, society (I mean a society somewhat extended and permanent) becomes for him almost impossible. Such, however, was the moral condition of the conquerors of Europe, at the time upon which we are now preoccupied. I remarked in my last lecture that we are indebted to the Germans for an energetic sentiment of individual liberty, of human individuality. But in a state of extreme barbarism and ignorance, this sentiment becomes selfishness in all its brutality, in all its unsociability. From the fifth to the eighth century it was at this point among the Germans. They cared only for their own interests, their own passions, their own will: how could they be reconciled to a condition even approximating to the social? . . . Constantly did society attempt to form itself; constantly was it destroyed by the act of man, by the absence of the moral conditions under which alone it can exist” (HCE, p. 56). Also see HORG, p. 133.
[3. ]Guizot was certainly one of the first authors to perceive the connection between two aspects of political life that account for the paradoxical evolution of liberal societies. First, Guizot grasped that, contrary to the tenets of classical liberalism, the development of representative government inevitably leads to a considerable extension of the power of the state over civil society. Second, he understood that this extension was furthered by social demand and explained that the two tendencies were not contradictory (as many believed), but represented, in fact, the two sides of the same coin.
[1. ]Here Guizot argues that true liberty cannot exist in the infancy of societies when individuals struggle to maintain and assert their independence. In his view, true liberty cannot be secured in the absence of a genuine and stable political society which alone can provide guarantees for the continuance of individual liberties. That is why liberties can only be safeguarded by the institutions and principles of representative government; to use Guizot’s own words, “liberty cannot exist except by the possession of rights. . . . Where liberties are not rights, and where rights are not powers, neither rights nor liberties exist” (ibid., pp. 177, 331). This idea looms large in Guizot’s thought and should be related to his definition of liberty. In Lecture 19, he distinguished between two ways in which we usually conceive of liberty. “First, as the independence of the individual having no law but his own will; and secondly, as the enfranchisement of every individual from every other individual will, which is contrary to reason and justice” (ibid., p. 134).
[* ] That is, of course, districts analogous to these divisions.
[1. ]This long discussion sheds light on Guizot’s distinction between moral and natural liberty, i.e., between social freedom and individual independence. For Guizot, liberty is not the freedom to do what ones pleases, but the freedom to do what the precepts of reason, truth, and justice require us to do. In other words, liberty is respectable only insofar as it is defined as the power of discovering and translating into practice the principles of reason, truth, and justice. Writes Guizot: “Liberty, as existing in the individual man, is the power to conform his will to reason . . . ; accordingly the right to liberty . . . is derived from the right to obey nothing that is not reason”(HORG, p. 296). Guizot developed the same idea in his unfinished treatise Philosophie politique: de la souveraineté (Political Philosophy: On Sovereignty), where he pointed out that liberty cannot be identified with individual sovereignty or will, since no individual will can ever be the source of legitimate power. On the contrary, human beings are (and can remain) free only as long as they obey a transcendent law which does not depend on their will or consent. The upshot of this idea is that only the law of reason, truth, justice can legitimately command universal allegiance. For more details on Guizot’s theory of liberty, see HORG, pp. 285–97.
[2. ]For a detailed discussion of Hincmar’s letter (written in 882), see HORG, pp. 143–48.
[3. ]Royal judges; also see p. 149.
[1. ]This is the conclusion of a long discussion that started from the assumption that true liberty cannot exist in the infancy of society. Guizot is keen on pointing out that there is no trace of the principle of representative government in the general assemblies of the Germanic tribes, since they were based on the principle of individual right (might), not upon any ideas of general law and public interest.
[1. ]That there be public hospitality with the inhabitants of Coere.
[3. ]Free peoples, allied cities, allied kings, provinces.
[4. ]When property had been established by the law.
[5. ]Given over on assurance.
[6. ]For a comprehensive discussion of the role of Christianity in the progress of the European civilization, see HCE, Lectures V and VI (pp. 82–118). Guizot concludes: “Upon the whole, the influence [of the Church] has been salutary; not only has it sustained and fertilized the intellectual movement in Europe, but the system of doctrines and precepts . . . was far superior to anything with which the ancient world was acquainted. There was at the same time movement and progress” (HCE, p. 109). Guizot’s reevaluation of the role of the attitude of the Church toward the modern world was a response to the anti-clericalism of many eighteenth-century writers. To this effect, he argued that some of the principles upon which the doctrines of the Church were founded, such as the equality of all creatures in the face of God, played a key role in the political development of Western Europe. In other words, Guizot claimed that, far from being a rejection of the ideals of Christianity as ultra-conservative writers (Joseph de Maistre, Louis de Bonald) argued, the movement to democracy as social condition (equality of conditions) reflected and followed Christian ideas and principles.
[* ] Novell. Leo. 46.
[1. ]Chief of horsemen or foot-soldiers.
[2. ]The notion of capacity (capacité) plays a central role in Guizot’s political philosophy and his conception of representative government. In his view, political capacity requires a certain degree of wealth, education, independence, intellectual maturity, reason, and liberty and is defined as “the capacity to act according to reason and justice” (HORG, p. 61). This principle of distinction was predicated on a twofold assumption: (1) electors must have certain qualities in order to be allowed to vote; (2) elected representatives should be highly distinguished citizens who have a stake in the preservation of the social order. On this view, only those who possess a certain amount of wealth and education could be free from dependence on the will of others. They alone were considered capable of developing a sound, enlightened, and free political judgment, since they were free to dispose of their person and wealth and were in a position to rise to some ideas of social interest. Finally, it is important to note that Guizot and the other doctrinaires did not conceive of political capacity as a form of aristocratic inheritance. They insisted that limited suffrage was not supposed to create an oligarchy of wealth, “the most absurd of all types of oligarchies” according to Royer-Collard. For more details, see La vie politique de M. Royer-Collard: ses discours et ses écrits (Royer-Collard’s Political Life: His Discourses and Writings), ed. Prosper de Barante, Vol. I, Paris: Didier, pp. 409–10). As Guizot pointed out, “no one is recognized as possessing an inherent right to an office or a function . . . as soon as the capacity is presumed or proved, it is placed in a position where it is open to a kind of legal suspicion” (HORG, p. 62).
[* ] Probably the Basques of the present day.
[* ] For the legend of Count Julian, and other information regarding this most interesting period of Spanish history, see Washington Irving’s “Legends of the Conquest of Granada and Spain,” in Bohn’s edition of his works.
[1. ]Ancient matters newly corrected.
[2. ]This passage that explains the relation between human and divine law is essential for understanding the theological background of Guizot’s political thought and his doctrine of the sovereignty of reason (on this issue, also see HCE, pp. 50–51). In Guizot’s view, man-made laws are legitimate only insofar as they are in conformity with the dictates of reason, truth, and justice “which constitute the true law.” Two corollaries of this idea are worth pointing out. First, no human will can confer legitimacy to power since the principle of legitimacy has a transcendent origin. Legitimate power does not come from below; only that power which acts according to the “true” law of reason, justice, and truth is legitimate and comes “from above” (ibid., p. 189). Second, force can never be the foundation of political legitimacy. As Guizot himself explains in HCE, one of the most important characteristics of political legitimacy “is to reject physical force as a source of power, and to connect it with a moral idea, with a moral force, with the idea of right, of justice, and of reason” (HCE, p. 50).
[3. ]You will be the king of this if you do just things; if, however, you do not do [ just things], you will not be [king].
[4. ]With the entire people, with the people giving assent.
[5. ]The law of retaliation.
[6. ]By force and arms.
[7. ]On the slaughter and death of men.
[1. ]With a vast crowd surrounding.
[2. ]General assemblies.
[3. ]With the entire palace council, with the assent of the priests and the majority of the palace, from the palace council.
[4. ]Mallum: assembly in which important debates were held; placitum: agreement.
[6. ]Commander of a thousand, commander of five hundred, commander of a hundred, commander of ten, defender, keeper of accounts.
[7. ]Hearers, assessors.
[8. ]But who will guard the guardians themselves?
[9. ]Juan de Mariana (1536–1624) was educated at the University of Acala, taught in Paris, and then moved to Toledo, where he remained until his death. He was the author of Historiae derebus Hispaniae and De Rege et regis institutione, an important philosophical treatise on the origin and nature of the state. Karl Friedrich von Savigny (1779–1861) was a distinguished German historian whose most famous work was Geschichte des Römischen Rechts im Mittelalter, translated into English by William Holloway as The History of the Roman Law During the Middle Ages (Westport, Conn.: Hyperion Press, 1979). The article quoted by Guizot and published in Edinburgh Review (vol. 31, pp. 94–132), a review of M. Sempere’s Histoire des Cortés d’Espagne (Bordeaux, 1815), was written by John Allen.
[* ] Edinburgh Review, vol. xxxi., pp. 94–132.
[10. ]The leader of an army, the commander of a militia of a shire or district (also heretogas).
[11. ]The chief officer of the household, court, administration, or military force of a ruler. It derives from comes stabuli, count or officer of the stable, marshal (in the Theodosian Code, ad 438).
[12. ]Such men from those surrounding.
[13. ]Kings are chosen based on virtue.
[14. ]Compurgation is the action of clearing a man from a charge or accusation by the oaths of a number of other citizens. This mode of trial prevalent among the old Teutonic peoples began to lose its importance as trial by jury imposed itself in the twelfth century.
[* ] There are different etymologies of the word vassus, from haus, a house; from gast, a guest; from fest, fast, established; from geselle (vassallus).—The word Gasinde, which expresses the familia, so far as it comprises the individuals inhabiting the house, the guests in opposition to the mancipia, induces me to think that vassus comes from gast. (Anton, Gesch. der Deuts. Land., vol. i. p. 526.)
[2. ]If anyone kills a Roman guest of the king, he will be judged liable for 300 solidi (a type of gold coin).