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THE PEOPLE AT LARGE.
he has left, we may say, his executive power without doors, and can only assent or dissent. If the crown had been allowed to take an active part in the business of making laws, it would soon have rendered useless the other branches of the legislature.
IN WHICH AN INQUIRY IS MADE, WHETHER IT WOULD BE AN ADVANTAGE
TO PUBLIC LIBERTY, THAT THE LAWS SHOULD BE ENACTED BY THE VOTES OF THE PEOPLE AT LARGE.
But it will be said, whatever may be the wisdom of the English laws, how great soever their precautions may be with regard to the safety of the individual; the people, as they do not themselves expressly enact them, cannot be looked upon as a free people. The author of the Social Contract carries this opinion even farther: he says, that, “though the people of England think they are free, they are much mistaken ; they are so only during the election of members for parliament: as soon as these are elected, the people are slaves—they are nothing."*
Before I answer this objection, I shall observe that the word liberty is one of those which have been most misunderstood or misapplied.
Thus, at Rome, where that class of citizens who were really masters of the state were sensible that a lawful regular authority, once trusted to a single ruler, would put an end to their tyranny, they taught the people to believe, that, provided those who exercised a military power over them, and overwhelmed them with insults, went by the names of consules, dictatores, patricii, nobiles, in a word, by any other appellation than that horrid one of rex, they were free, and that such a valuable situation must be preferred at the price of every calamity.
In the same manner certain writers of the present age, misled by their inconsiderate admiration of the governments
* See M. Rousseau's Social Contract, chap. xv.
of ancient times, and perhaps also by a desire of presenting lively contrasts to what they call the degenerate manners of our modern times, have cried up the governments of Sparta and Rome, as the only ones fit for us to imitate. In their opinions, the only proper employment of a free citizen is to be either incessantly assembled in the forum, or preparing for war. Being valiant, inured to hardships, inflamed with an ardent love of one's country, which is, after all, nothing more than an ardent desire of injuring all mankind for the sake of that society of which we are members,—and with an ardent love of glory, which is likewise nothing more than an ardent desire of committing slaughter, in order to make afterwards a boast of it-have appeared to these writers to be the only social qualifications worthy of our esteem, and of the encouragement of law-givers.* And while, in order to support such opinions, they have used a profusion of exaggerated expressions without any distinct meaning, and perpetually repeated, though without defining them, the words dastardliness, corruption, greatness of soul, and virtue, they have not once thought of telling us the only thing that was worth our knowing, which is, whether men were happy under those governments which they have so much exhorted us to imitate.
Nor, while they have thus misapprehended the only rational design of civil societies, have they better understood the true end of the particular institutions by which they were to be regulated. They were satisfied when they saw the few who really governed every thing in the state, at times perform the illusory ceremony of assembling the body of the people, that they might appear to consult them : and the mere giving of votes, under any disadvantage in the manner of giving them, and how much soever the law might afterwards be neglected that was thus pretended to have been made in common, has appeared to them to be liberty.
But those writers are seemingly in the right: a man who contributes by his vote to the passing of a law, has himself made the law : in obeying it, he obeys himself;—he therefore DEFINITION OF LIBERTY.
* I have used all the above expressions in the same sense in which they were used in the ancient commonwealths, and still are by most of the writers who describe their governments.
is free. A play on words, and nothing more. The individual who has voted in a popular legislative assembly has not made the law that has passed in it; he has only contributed, or seemed to contribute, towards enacting it, for his thousandth, or even ten thousandth, share; he has had no opportunity of making his objections to the proposed law, or of canvassing it, or of proposing restrictions to it; and he has only been allowed to express his assent or dissent. When a law has passed agreeably to his vote, it is not as a consequence of this his vote that his will happens to take place; it is because a number of other men have accidentally thrown themselves on the same side with him :-when a law contrary to his intentions is enacted, he must nevertheless submit to it.
This is not all; for though we should suppose that to give a vote is the essential constituent of liberty, yet such liberty could only be said to last for a single moment, after which it becomes necessary to trust entirely to the discretion of other
persons; that is, according to this doctrine, to be no longer . free. It becomes necessary, for instance, for the citizen who has given his vote, to rely on the honesty of those who collect the suffrages; and more than once have false declarations been made of them.
The citizen must also trust to other persons for the execution of those things which have been resolved upon in common : and when the assembly shall have separated, and he shall find himself alone, in the presence of the men who are invested with the public power, of the consuls, for instance, or of the dictator, he will have but little security for the continuance of his liberty, if he has only that of having contributed by his suffrage towards enacting a law which they are determined to neglect.
What, then, is liberty ?—Liberty, I would answer, so far as it is possible for it to exist in a society of beings whose interests are almost perpetually opposed to each other, consists in this, that every man, while he respects the persons of others, and allows them quietly to enjoy the produce of their industry, be certain himself likewise to enjoy the produce of his own industry, and that his person be also secure. But to contribute by one's suffrage to procure these advantages to the community,—to have a share in establishing that order, that general arrangement of things by means of which an individual, lost as it were in the crowd, is effectually protected ;to lay down the rules to be observed by those who, being invested with a considerable power, are charged with the defence of individuals, and provide that they should never transgress them ;—these are functions, are acts of government, but not constituent parts of liberty.
In a word : to concur by one's suffrage in enacting laws, is to enjoy a share, whatever it may be, of power : to live in a state where the laws are equal for all, and sure to be executed (whatever may be the means by which these advantages are attained), is to be free.
Be it so: we grant that to give one's suffrage is not liberty itself, but only a mean of procuring it, and a mean too which may degenerate to mere form; we grant also, that other expedients might be found for that purpose ; and that for a man to decide that a state with whose government and interior administration he is unacquainted, is a state in which the people are slaves, are nothing, merely because the comitia of ancient Rome are no longer to be met with in it, is a somewhat precipitate decision. Yet many, perhaps, will continue to think that liberty would be much more complete, if the people at large were expressly called upon to give their opinion concerning the particular provisions by which it is to be secured, and that the English laws, for instance, if they were made by the suffrages of all, would be wiser, more equitable, and, above all, more likely to be executed. To this objection, which is certainly specious, I shall endeavour to give an answer.
If, in the first formation of a civil society, the only care to be taken was that of establishing, once for all, the several duties which every indivdual owes to others and to the state; —if those who are intrusted with the care of procuring the performance of these duties, had neither any ambition, nor any other private passions, which such employment might put in motion, and furnish the means of gratifying:-in a word, if looking upon their function as a mere task of duty, they were never tempted to deviate from the intentions of those who had appointed them :-I confess that, in such a case, there might be no inconvenience in allowing every individual to have a share in the government of the community
THE MULTITUDE AND THE LAWS.
of which he is a member; or rather, I ought to say, in such a society, and among such beings, there would be no occasion for any government.
But experience teaches us that many more precautions, indeed, are necessary to oblige men to be just towards each other; nay, the very first expedients that may be expected to conduce to such an end, supply the most fruitful source of the evils which are proposed to be prevented. Those laws which were intended to be equal for all, are soon warped to the private convenience of those who have been made the administrators of them : instituted at first for the protection of all, they soon are made only to defend the usurpations of a few; and, as the people continue to respect them, while those to whose guardianship they were intrusted make little account of them, they at length have no other effect than that of supplying the want of real strength in those few who have contrived to place themselves at the head of the community, and of rendering regular and free from danger the tyranny of the smaller number over the greater.
To remedy, therefore, evils which thus have a tendency to result from the very nature of things to oblige those who are in a manner masters of the law, to conform themselves to it,—to render ineffectual the silent, powerful, and ever active conspiracy of those who govern, requires a degree of knowledge, and a spirit of perseverance, which are not to be expected from the multitude.*
The greater part of those who compose this multitude, taken up with the care of providing for their subsistence, have neither sufficient leisure, nor even, in consequence of their more imperfect education, the degree of information requisite for functions of this kind. Nature, besides, who is sparing of hergifts, has bestowed upon only a few men an understanding capable of the complicated researches of legislation : and, as a sick man trusts to his physician, a client to his lawyer, so the greater number of the citizens must trust to those who have more abilities than themselves for the
* This observation is perfectly true. The multitude in no country possess the knowledge and the spirit of perseverance which are necessary for the wise administration of a free government; and the qualifications of electors, if possible, should have reference to the education, and to the useful knowledge which they possess.—Ed.