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LIBERTY THE COMMON CAUSE.
the executive authority, but they cannot invest themselves with it: they have it not in their power to command its motions, they only can unbind its hands.
They are made to derive their importance from (nay, they are indebted for their existence to the need in which that power stands of their assistance; and they know that they would no sooner have abused the trust of the people, and completed the treacherous work, than they would see themselves dissolved, spurned, like instruments now spent and become useless.
This same disposition of things also prevents in England that essential defect, inherent in the government of many, which has been described in the preceding chapter.
In that sort of government, the cause of the people, as has been observed, is continually deserted and betrayed. The arbitrary prerogatives of the governing powers are at all times either openly or secretly favoured, not only by those in whose possession they are,- not only by those who have good reason to hope that they shall at some future time share in the exercise of them,—but also by the whole crowd of those men who, in consequence of the natural disposition of mankind to over-rate their own advantages, fondly imagine, either that they shall one day enjoy some branch of this governing authority, or that they are even already, in some way or other, associated to it.
But as this authority has been made, in England, the indivisible, inalienable attribute of one alone, all other persons in the state are, ipso facto, interested to confine it within its due bounds. Liberty is thus made the common cause of all; the laws that secure it are supported by men of every rank and order; and the Habeas Corpus Act, for instance, is as zealously defended by the first nobleman in the kingdom as by the meanest subject.
Even the minister himself, in consequence of this inalienability of the executive authority, is equally interested with his fellow-citizens to maintain the laws on which public liberty is founded. He knows, in the midst of his schemes for enjoying or retaining his authority, that a court-intrigue or a caprice may at every instant confound him with the multitude, and the rancour of a successor, long kept out, send him to linger in the same prison which his temporary passions might tempt him to prepare for others.
In consequence of this disposition of things, great men are made to join in a common cause with the people, for restraining the excesses of the governing power; and, which is no less essential to the public welfare, they are also, from the same cause, compelled to restrain the excess of their own private power and influence; and a general spirit of justice becomes thus diffused through all parts of the state.
The wealthy commoner, the representative of the people, the potent peer, always having before their eyes the view of a formidable power, -of a power, from the attempts of which they have only the shield of the laws to protect them, and which would, in the issue, retaliate a hundred-fold upon them their acts of violence,--are compelled, both to wish only for equitable laws, and to observe them with scrupulous exactness.
Let, then, the people dread (it is necessary to the preservation of their liberty), but let them never entirely cease to love the throne, that sole and indivisible seat of all the active powers in the state.*
Let them know it is that, which, by lending an immense strength to the arm of justice, has enabled her to bring to account as well the most powerful as the meanest offender,which has suppressed, and, if I may so express myself, weeded out all those tyrannies, sometimes confederated with, and sometimes adverse to, each other, which incessantly tend to grow up in the middle of civil societies, and are the more terrible in proportion as they feel themselves to be less firmly established.
Let them know it is that, which, by making all honours and places depend on the will of one man, has confined within private walls those projects, the pursuit of which, in former times, shook the foundations of whole states;
* There are no people on earth more loyal and respectful than the inhabitants of these islands; but they do not dread the throne : on the contrary, they look up to it with admiration and confidence.-Ed.
POWER WHICH THE PEOPLE EXERCISE.
- has changed into intrigues the conflicts, the outrages of ambition :-and that those contentions which, in the present times, afford them only matter of amusement, are the volcanoes which set in flames the ancient commonwealths.
It is that, which, leaving to the rich no other security for his palace than that which the peasant has for his cottage, has united his cause to that of the latter ;-the cause of the powerful to that of the helpless,—the cause of the man of extensive influence and connections to that of him who is without friends.
It is the throne above all, it is this jealous power, which makes the people sure that its representatives never will be any thing more than its representatives : at the same time it is the ever-subsisting Carthage, which vouches to it for the duration of their virtue.
THE POWER WHICH THE PEOPLE THEMSELVES EXERCISE.
THE ELECTION OF MEMBERS OF PARLIAMENT.
THE English constitution having essentially connected the fate of the men to whom the people trust their power with that of the people themselves, really seems, by that caution alone, to have procured the latter a complete security.
However, as the vicissitudes of human affairs may, in process of time, realize events which at first had appeared most improbable, it might happen that the ministers of the executive power, notwithstanding the interest they themselves have in the preservation of public liberty, and in spite of the precautions expressly taken to prevent the effect of their influence, should at length employ such efficacious means of corruption as might bring about a surrender of some of the laws upon which this public liberty is founded. And though we should suppose that such a danger would really be chimerical, it might at last happen, that, conniving at a vicious administration, and being over liberal of the produce of general labour, the representatives of the people might make them suffer many of the evils which attend worse forms of government.
Lastly, as their duty does not consist only in preserving their constituents against the calamities of an arbitrary government, but moreover in procuring them the best administration possible, it might happen that they would manifest, in this respect, an indifference which would, in its consequences, amount to a real calamity.
It was, therefore, necessary that the constitution should furnish a remedy for all the above cases: now, it is in the right of electing members of parliament, that this remedy lies.*
When the time is come at which the commission given by the people to their delegates expires, they again assemble in their several towns or counties. On these occasions they have it in their power to elect again those of their representatives whose former conduct they approve, and to reject those who have contributed to give rise to their complaints : a simple remedy this, and which, only requiring, in its application, a knowledge of matters of fact, is entirely within the reach of the abilities of the people; but a remedy, at the same time, which is the most effectual that could be applied; for, as the evils complained of arise merely from the peculiar dispositions of a certain number of individuals, to set aside those individuals is to pluck up the evil by the roots.
But I perceive, that, in order to make the reader sensible of the advantages that may accrue so the people of England from their right of election, there is another of their rights, of which it is absolutely necessary that I should first give an account.
* This remark will be perfectly just when the people shall be more fairly represented in Parliament.- Ed.
LIBERTY OF THE PRESS.
THE SUBJECT CONTINUED.-LIBERTY OF THE PRESS.
As the evils that may be complained of in a state do not always arise merely from the defect of the laws, but also from the non-execution of them,—and this non-execution of such a kind, that it is often impossible to subject it to any express punishment, or even to ascertain it by any previous definition,-men, in several states, have been led to seek for an expedient that might supply the unavoidable deficiency of legislative provisions, and begin to operate, as it were, from the point at which the latter begun to fail. I mean here to speak of the censorial power,-a power which may produce excellent effects, but the exercise of which (contrary to that of the legislative power) must be left to the people themselves.
As the proposed end of legislation is not, according to what has been above observed, to have the particular intentions of individuals, upon every case, known and complied with, but solely to have what is most conducive to the public good, on the occasions that arise, found out and established, it is not an essential requisite in legislative operations that every individual should be called upon to deliver his opinion: and since this expedient, which at first sight appears so natural, of seeking out by the advice of all that which concerns all, is found liable, when carried into practice, to the greatest inconveniences, we must not hesitate to lay it aside entirely. But as it is the opinion of individuals alone which constitutes the check of a censorial power, this power cannot produce its intended effect any farther than this public opinion is made known and declared : the sentiments of the people are the only thing in question here : it is therefore necessary that the people should speak for themselves, and manifest those sentiments. A particular court of censure would essentially frustrate its intended purpose : it is attended, besides, with very great inconveniences.