Зображення сторінки

whence it resulted, that the people, who, whatever may be the frame of the government, always possess, after all, the reality of power, thus uniting in themselves with this reality of power the actual exercise of it, in form as well as in fact, constituted the whole state.* In order, therefore, legally to disturb the whole state, nothing more was requisite than to put in motion a certain number of individuals.

In a state which is small and poor, an arrangement of this kind is not attended with any great inconveniences, as every individual is taken up with the care of providing for his subsistence, as great objects of ambition are wanting, and as evils cannot, in such a state, ever become much complicated. In a state that strives for aggrandizement, the difficulties and danger attending the pursuit of such a plan inspire a general spirit of caution, and every individual makes a sober use of his rights as a citizen.

But when, at length, those exterior motives cease, and the passions, and even the virtues, which they excited, are thus reduced to a state of inaction, the people turn their eyes back towards the interior of the republic; and every individual, in seeking then to concern himself in all affairs, seeks for new objects that may restore him to that state of exertion which habit, he finds, has rendered necessary to him,

disgrace, and in a general calamity, which would inevitably tend to the downfall of British power. Nor is it probable-it indeed seems almost impossible—that there ever should be an English ministry that would veuture to advise the crown to attempt measures which would render it necessary on the part of the House to refuse the supplies.-Ed.

* De Lolme argues as if the people were equitably represented in the House of Commons. If the state of the representation of the people in parliament be generally acknowledged as still imperfect, what must it have been at the time he wrote,—when 65 rotten boroughs sent 130 members, to vote generally for the minister of the day, which now, from their insignificance and former corruption, deservedly send none; --when 30 others sent 60 members, instead of 30 as at present; and when 22, including the boroughs of Finsbury, Halifax, Lambeth, Leeds, Macclesfield, Manchester, Marylebone, Sheffield, Tower Hamlets, Sunderland, and Wolverhampton, each of which now send two, were unrepresented ? When our author wrote, that portion of Great Britain known in history as the ancient kingdom of Scotland constituted one great rotten borough, entirely at the disposal of the ministers of the crown. At present, no part of the United Kingdom is more independently represented than the counties and burghs of Scotland.- Ed.

[blocks in formation]

and aims at the exercise of a share of power which, small as it is, yet flatters his vanity.

As the preceding events must have given an influence to a certain number of citizens, they avail themselves of the general disposition of the people, to promote their private views : the legislative power is thenceforth continually in motion; and as it is badly informed, and falsely directed, almost every exertion of it is attended with some injury to the laws, or the state.

This is not all: as those who compose the general assemblies cannot, in consequence of their numbers, entertain any hopes of gratifying their private ambition, or, in general, their private passions, they at least seek to gratify their political caprices, and they accumulate the honours and dignities of the state on some favourite whom the public voice happens to raise at that time.

But, as in such a state there can be, from the irregularity of the determinations of the people, no such thing as a settled course of measures, it happens that men never can exactly tell the present state of public affairs. The power thus given away has already become very great before those for whom it was given so much as suspect it; and he himself who enjoys that power does not know its full extent; but then, on the first opportunity that offers, he suddenly pierces through the cloud which hid the summit from him, and at once seats himself upon it. The people, on the other hand, no sooner recover sight of him, than they see their favourite now become their master, and discover the evil, only to find that it is past remedy.

As this power, thus surreptitiously acquired, is destitute of the support both of the law and of the ancient course of things, and is even but indifferently respected by those who have subjected themselves to it, it cannot be maintained but by abusing it. The people at length succeed in forming somewhere a centre of union : they agree in the choice of a leader : this leader in his turn rises; in his turn also he betrays his engagements ; power produces its wonted effects; and the protector becomes a tyrant.

This is not all: the same causes which have given one master to the state, give it two, give it three. All those rival powers endeavour to swallow up each other: the state becomes a scene of endless quarrels and broils, and is in a continual convulsion.

If amidst such disorders the people retained their freedom, the evil must indeed be very great to take away all the advantages of it; but they are slaves, and yet have not what in other countries makes amends for political servitude; I mean, tranquillity.

In order to prove all these things, if proofs were deemed necessary, I would only refer the reader to what every one knows of Pisistratus and Megacles, of Marius and Sylla, of Cæsar and Pompey. However, I cannot avoid translating a part of the speech which a citizen of Florence addressed once to the senate : the reader will find in it a kind of abridged story of all republics; at least of those which, by the share allowed to the people in the government, deserved that name, and which, besides, attained a certain degree of extent and power.

“ That nothing human may be perpetual and stable, it is the will of Heaven that, in all states whatsoever, there should arise certain destructive families, who are the bane and ruin of them. Of this our own republic affords as many and more deplorable examples than any other, as it owes its misfortunes not only to one, but to several such families. We had at first the Buondelmonti and the Huberti. We had afterwards the Donati and the Cerchi ; and at present (shameful and ridiculous conduct!) we are waging war among ourselves for the Ricci and the Albizzi.

“When in former times the Ghibelins were suppressed, everyone expected that the Guelfs, being then satisfied, would have chosen to live in tranquillity; yet, but a little time had elapsed, when they again divided themselves into the factions of the whites and the blacks. When the whites were suppressed, new parties arose, and new troubles followed. Sometimes battles were fought in favour of the exiles, and, at other times, quarrels broke out between the nobility and the people. And, as if resolved to give away to others what we ourselves neither could, nor would, peaceably enjoy, we committed the care of our liberty sometimes to King Robert, and at other times to his



brother, and at length to the Duke of Athens; never settling or resting in any kind of government, as not knowing either how to enjoy liberty, or support servitude."*

The English constitution has prevented the possibility of misfortunes of this kind. By diminishing the power, or rather aetual exercise of the power, of the people,t and making them share in the legislature only by their representatives, the irresistible violence has been avoided of those numerous and general assemblies, which, on whatever side they throw their weight, bear down everything. Besides, as the power of the people, when they have any kind of power, and know how to use it, is at all times really formidable, the constitution has set a counterpoise to it; and the royal authority is this counterpoise.

In order to render it equal to such a task, the constitution has, in the first place, conferred on the king, as we have seen before, the exclusive prerogative of calling and dismissing the legislative bodies, and of putting a negative on their resolutions.

Secondly, it has also placed on the side of the king the whole executive power in the nation.

Lastly, in order to effect still nearer an equilibrium, the constitution has invested the man whom it has made the sole head of the state, with all the personal privileges, all the pomp, all the majesty, of which human dignities are capable. In the language of the law, the king is sovereign lord, and the people are his subjects;—he is universal proprietor of the kingdom ; he bestows all the dignities and places; and he is not to be addressed but with the expressions and outward ceremony of almost Eastern humility. Besides, his person is sacred and inviolable ; and any attempt whatsoever against it is, in the eye of the law, a crime equal to that of an attack upon the whole state.

In a word, since, to have too exactly completed the equili

* See the History of Florence, by Machiavelli, lib. iii. c. 1. (This translation fully conveys the meaning, but is far inferior to the original. Besides, the first section is in the place in which the second ought to stand.- Ed.]

+ We shall see in the sequel, that this diminution of the exercise of the power of the people has been attended with a great increase of their liberty.

brium between the power of the people and that of the crown, would have been to sacrifice the end to the means, that is, to have endangered liberty with a view to strengthen the government, the deficiency which ought to remain on the side of the crown, has at least been, in appearance, made up, by conferring on the king all that sort of strength that may result from the opinion and reverence of the people; and, amidst the agitations which are the unavoidable attendants of liberty, the royal power, like an anchor that resists both by its weight and the depth of its hold, ensures a salutary steadiness to the vessel of the state.

The greatness of the prerogative of the king, by thus procuring a great degree of stability to the state in general, has much lessened the possibility of the evils we have above described; it has even, we may say, totally prevented them, by rendering it impossible for any citizen to rise to any dangerous greatness.

And to begin with an advantage by which the people easily suffer themselves to be influenced,—I mean that of birth, it is impossible for it to produce in England effects in any degree dangerous: for though there are lords who, besides their wealth, may also boast of an illustrious descent, yet that advantage, being exposed to a continual comparison with the splendour of the throne, dwindles almost to nothing; and, in the gradation universally received of dignities and titles, that of sovereign prince and king places him who is invested with it out of all degree of proportion.

The ceremonial of the court of England is even formed upon that principle. Those persons who are related to the king have the title of princes of the blood, and, in that quality, an undisputed pre-eminence over all other persons.* Nay, the first men in the nation think it an honourable distinction to themselves, to hold the different menial offices, or titles, in his household.+ If we therefore were to set

* This, by stat. of the 31st of Henry VIII. extends to the sons, grandsons, brothers, uncles, and nephews of the reigning king.

of With regard to the so-called menial offices in the household they must be considered honorary, and not servile ; although they were in every sense of the word servile during the dynasties of the Tudors and Stuarts, when none dared to speak to the Sovereign but upon their knees. The text of De Lolme would convey to foreigners a very erroneous idea of the British Royal household. -Ed.

« НазадПродовжити »