A Defense of the Constitutions of Government of the United States of America/Vol. 1/Chap. 4
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Chapter 4: Opinions of Philosopers
|Chapter 5: Writers on Government→|
The authority of legislators and philosophers, in support of the system we contend for, is not difficult to find. The greatest lights of humanity, ancient and modern, have approved it, which renders it difficult to explain how it comes, in this enlightened age, to be called in question, as it certainly has been, by others as well as M. Turgot. I shall begin with one, who, though seldom quoted as a legislator, appears to have considered this subject, and to have furnished arguments enough forever to determine the question. Dr. Swift observes,(1) “that the best legislators of all ages agree in this, that the absolute power, which originally is in the whole body, is ‘a trust too great to be committed to any one man or assembly;’ and, therefore, in their several institutions of government, power, in the last resort, was always placed by them in balance among the one, the few, and the many; ‘and it will be an eternal rule in politics among every free people, that there is a balance of power to be carefully held by every state within itself.’
“A mixed government, partaking of the known forms received in the schools, is by no means of Gothic invention, but hath place in nature and reason, and seems very well to agree with the sentiments of most legislators. . . . For, not to mention the several republics of this composition in Gaul and Germany, described by Cæsar and Tacitus, Polybius tells us, the best government is that which consists of three forms, regis, optimatium, et populi imperio.(2) Such was that of Sparta in its primitive institution by Lycurgus, who, observing the corruptions and depravations to which every one of these was subject, compounded his scheme out of all; so that it was made up of reges, seniores, et populus. Such also was the state of Rome under its consuls; and such, at Carthage, was the power in the last resort; they had their kings, senate, and people.” A limited and divided power seems to have been the most ancient and inherent principle, both of the Greeks and Italians, in matters of government. “The difference between the Grecian monarchies and Italian republics was not very great. The power of those Grecian princes, who came to the siege of Troy, was much of a size with that of the kings of Sparta, the archon of Athens, the suffetes at Carthage, and the consuls at Rome.” Theseus established at Athens rather a mixed monarchy than a popular state, assigning to himself the guardianship of the laws and the chief command in war. This institution continued during the series of kings to the death of Codrus, from whom Solon was descended,
“Who, finding the people engaged in two violent factions, of the poor and the rich, and in great confusion, refusing the monarchy which was offered him, chose rather to cast the government after another model, wherein he made due provision for settling the balance of power, choosing a senate of four hundred, and disposing the magistracies and offices according to men’s estates; leaving to the multitude their votes in electing, and the power of judging certain processes by appeal. This council of four hundred was chosen, one hundred out of each tribe, and seems to have been a body representative of the people, though the people collective reserved a share of power to themselves.”
“In all free states, the evil to be avoided is tyranny; that is to say, the summa imperii, or unlimited power, solely in the hands of the one, the few, or the many.”
“Though we cannot prolong the period of a commonwealth beyond the decree of heaven or the date of its nature, any more than human life beyond the strength of the seminal virtue, yet we may manage a sickly constitution, and preserve a strong one; we may watch, and prevent accidents; we may turn off a great blow from without, and purge away an ill humor that is lurking within; and, by these and other such methods, render a state long-lived, though not immortal. Yet some physicians have thought, that if it were practicable to keep the several humors of the body in an exact balance of each with its opposite, it might be immortal; and so perhaps would a political body, if the balance of power could be always held exactly even.”
All independent bodies of men seem naturally to divide the three powers, of the one, the few, and the many. A free people met together, as soon as they fall into any acts of civil society, do of themselves divide into three ranks. “The first is that of some one eminent spirit, who, having signalized his valor and fortune in defence of his country, or, by the practice of popular arts at home, comes to have great influence on the people, to grow their leader in warlike expeditions, and to preside, after a sort, in their civil assemblies. And this is grounded upon the principles of nature and common reason, which, in all difficulties or dangers, where prudence or courage is required, do rather incite us to fly for counsel or assistance to a single person, than a multitude. The second is, of such men, who have acquired large possessions, and, consequently, dependencies, or descend from ancestors who have left them great inheritances, together with an hereditary authority; these, easily uniting in opinions, and acting in concert, begin to enter upon measures for securing their properties, which are best upheld by preparing against invasions from abroad and maintaining peace at home; this commences a great council or senate for the weighty affairs of the nation. The last division is of the mass of the people, whose part of power is great and indisputable, whenever they can unite, either collectively or by deputation, to exert it.”
“The true meaning of a balance of power is best conceived by considering what the nature of a balance is. It supposes three things,—first, the part which is held, together with the hand that holds it; and then the two scales, with whatever is weighed therein. . . . In a state within itself, the balance must be held by a third hand, who is to deal the remaining power with the utmost exactness into the several scales. . . . The balance may be held by the weakest, who, by his address and conduct, removing from either scale and adding of his own, may keep the scales duly poised.
“When the balance is broken by mighty weights fallen into either scale, the power will never continue long, in equal division, between the two remaining parties; but, till the balance is fixed anew, will run entirely into one.” This is made to appear by the examples of the Decemviri in Rome, the Ephori in Sparta, the four hundred in Athens, the thirty in Athens, and the Dominatio Plebis in Carthage and Argos.
“In Rome, from the time of Romulus to Julius Cæsar, the commons were growing by degrees into power, gaining ground upon the patricians, as it were, inch by inch, till at last they quite overturned the balance, leaving all doors open to popular and ambitious men, who destroyed the wisest republic, and enslaved the noblest people that ever entered on the stage of the world.
“Polybius tells us, that in the second Punic war, the Carthaginians were declining, because the balance was got too much on the side of the people; whereas the Romans were in their greatest vigor, by the power remaining in the senate.”
“The ambition of private men did by no means begin or occasion the war between Pompey and Cæsar, though civil dissensions never fail of introducing and spiriting the ambition of private men; . . . for, while the balance of power is equally held, the ambition of private men, whether orators or commanders, gives neither danger nor fear, nor can possibly enslave their country; but that once broken, the divided parties are forced to unite each to its head, under whose conduct or fortune one side is at first victorious, and at last both are slaves. And to put it past dispute, that the entire subversion of Roman liberty was altogether owing to those measures which had broken the balance between the patricians and plebeians, whereof the ambition of private men was but an effect and consequence, we need only consider, that when the uncorrupted part of the senate, by the death of Cæsar, made one great effort to restore the former liberty, the success did not answer their hopes; but that whole assembly was so sunk in its authority, that those patriots were forced to fly, and give way to the madness of the people, who by their own dispositions, stirred up with the harangues of their orators, were now wholly bent upon single and despotic slavery. Else how could such a profligate as Antony, or a boy of eighteen, like Octavius, ever dare to dream of giving the law to such an empire and people? Wherein the latter succeeded, and entailed the vilest tyranny that Heaven, in its anger, ever inflicted on a corrupt and poisoned people.”(3)
It is “an error to think it an uncontrollable maxim, that power is always safer lodged in many hands than in one; for if these many hands be made up only from one of those three divisions, it is plain, from the examples produced, and easy to be paralleled in other ages and countries, that they are as capable of enslaving the nation, and of acting all manner of tyranny and oppression, as it is possible for a single person to be, though we should suppose their number not only to be of four or five hundred, but above three thousand.
“In order to preserve a balance in a mixed state, the limits of power deposited with each party ought to be ascertained and generally known. The defect of this is the cause that introduces those strugglings in a state about prerogative and liberty; about encroachments of the few upon the rights of the many, and of the many upon the privileges of the few; which ever did, and ever will, conclude in a tyranny; first, either of the few or the many, but at last, infallibly, of a single person; for, whichever of the three divisions in a state is upon the scramble for more power than its own, (as one or other of them generally is,) unless due care be taken by the other two, upon every new question that arises, they will be sure to decide in favor of themselves, talk much of inherent right; they will nourish up a dormant power, and reserve privileges in petto, to exert upon occasions, to serve expedients, and to urge upon necessities; they will make large demands and scanty concessions, ever coming off considerable gainers. Thus, at length, the balance is broken, and tyranny let in; from which door of the three it matters not.
“The desires of men are not only exorbitant, but endless; they grasp at all, and can form no scheme of perfect happiness with less. Ever since men have been united into governments, the hopes and endeavors after universal monarchy have been bandied among them. . . . The Athenians, the Spartans, the Thebans, and the Achaians, several times aimed at the universal monarchy of Greece; the commonwealths of Carthage and Rome affected the universal monarchy of the then known world. In like manner has absolute power been pursued by the several parties of each particular state; wherein single persons have met with most success, though the endeavors of the few and the many have been frequent enough; yet, being neither so uniform in their designs, nor so direct in their views, they neither could manage nor maintain the power they had got, but were deceived by the popularity and ambition of some single person. So that it will be always a wrong step in policy, for the nobles and commons to carry their endeavors after power so far as to overthrow the balance.
“With all respect for popular assemblies be it spoken, it is hard to recollect one folly, infirmity, or vice, to which a single man is subject, and from which a body of commons, either collective or represented, can be wholly exempt. . . . Whence it comes to pass, that in their results have sometimes been found the same spirit of cruelty and revenge, of malice and pride; the same blindness, and obstinacy, and unsteadiness; the same ungovernable rage and anger; the same injustice, sophistry, and fraud, that ever lodged in the breast of any individual.
“When a child grows easy and content, by being humored; and when a lover becomes satisfied by small compliances, without farther pursuits; then expect to find popular assemblies content with small concessions. If there could one single example be brought from the whole compass of history, of any one popular assembly who, after beginning to contend for power, ever sat down quietly with a certain share; or of one that ever knew, or proposed, or declared, what share of power was their due; then might there be some hopes that it were a matter to be adjusted by reasonings, conferences, or debates.
“A usurping populace is its own dupe, a mere under-worker, and a purchaser in trust for some single tyrant, whose state and power they advance to their own ruin, with as blind an instinct as those worms that die with weaving magnificent habits for beings of a superior order to their own.
“The people are much more dexterous at pulling down and setting up, than at preserving what is fixed; and they are not fonder of seizing more than their own, than they are of delivering it up again to the worst bidder, with their own into the bargain. For although, in their corrupt notions of divine worship, they are apt to multiply their gods; yet their earthly devotion is seldom paid to above one idol at a time, of their own creation, whose oar they pull with less murmuring, and much more skill, than when they share the leading, or even hold the helm.”
It will be perceived by the style, that it is Dr. Swift that has been speaking; otherwise the reader might have been deceived, and imagined that I was entertaining him with further reflections upon the short account previously given, in these letters, of the modern republics. There is not an observation here that is not justified by the history of every government we have considered. How much more maturely had this writer weighed the subject than M. Turgot! Perhaps there are not to be found in any library so many accurate ideas of government, expressed with so much perspicuity, brevity, and precision.
As it is impossible to suppose that M. Turgot intended to recommend to the Americans a simple monarchy or aristocracy, we have admitted, as a supposition the most favorable to him, that, by collecting all authority into one centre, he meant a single assembly of representatives of the people, without a governor, and without a senate; and, although he has not explained, whether he would have the assembly chosen for life or years, we will again admit, as the most benign construction, that he meant the representatives should be annually chosen.
Here we shall be obliged to consider the reputed opinion of another philosopher, I mean Dr. Franklin. I say reputed, because I am not able to affirm that it is really his. It is, however, so generally understood and reported, both in Europe and America, that his judgment was in opposition to two assemblies, and in favor of a single one, that in a disquisition like this it ought not to be omitted. Shortly before the date of M. Turgot’s letter, Dr. Franklin had arrived in Paris with the American constitutions, and among the rest that of Pennsylvania, in which there was but one assembly. It was reported, too, that the doctor had presided in the convention when it was made, and there approved it. M. Turgot, reading over the constitutions, and admiring that of Pennsylvania, was led to censure the rest, which were so different from it. I know of no other evidence that the Doctor ever gave his voice for a single assembly, but the common anecdote which is known to everybody. It is said, that in 1776, in the convention of Pennsylvania, of which the Doctor was president, a project of a form of government by one assembly was before them in debate; a motion was made to add another assembly, under the name of a senate or council. This motion was argued by several members, some for the affirmative, and some for the negative; and before the question was put, the opinion of the president was requested. The president rose, and said, that “two assemblies appeared to him like a practice he had somewhere seen, of certain wagoners, who, when about to descend a steep hill with a heavy load, if they had four cattle, took off one pair from before, and chaining them to the hinder part of the wagon drove them up hill; while the pair before and the weight of the load, overbalancing the strength of those behind, drew them slowly and moderately down the hill.”(4)
The president of Pennsylvania might, upon such an occasion, have recollected one of Sir Isaac Newton’s laws of motion, namely,—“that reaction must always be equal and contrary to action,” or there can never be any rest. He might have alluded to those angry assemblies in the heavens, which so often overspread the city of Philadelphia, fill the citizens with apprehension and terror, threatening to set the world on fire, merely because the powers within them are not sufficiently balanced. He might have recollected, that a pointed rod, a machine as simple as a wagoner, or a monarch, or a governor, would be sufficient at any time, silently and innocently, to disarm those assemblies of all their terrors, by restoring between them the balance of the powerful fluid, and thus prevent the danger and destruction to the properties and lives of men, which often happen for the want of it.
However, allusions and illustrations drawn from pastoral and rural life are never disagreeable, and, in this case, might be as apposite as if they had been taken from the sciences and the skies. Harrington, if he had been present in convention, would have exclaimed, as he did when he mentioned his two girls dividing and choosing a cake, “O! the depth of the wisdom of God, which, in the simple invention of a carter, has revealed to mankind the whole mystery of a commonwealth; which consists as much in dividing and equalizing forces; in controlling the weight of the load and the activity of one part by the strength of another, as it does in dividing and choosing.” Harrington, too, instead of his children dividing and choosing their cake, might have alluded to those attractions and repulsions by which the balance of nature is preserved; or to those centripetal and centrifugal forces by which the heavenly bodies are continued in their orbits, instead of rushing to the sun, or flying off in tangents among comets and fixed stars; impelled or drawn by different forces in different directions, they are blessings to their own inhabitants and the neighboring systems; but if they were drawn only by one, they would introduce anarchy wherever they should go. There is no objection to such allusions, whether simple or sublime, so far as they may amuse the fancy and illustrate an argument; all that is insisted on is, that whatever there is in them of wit or argument, is all in favor of a complication of forces, of more powers than one; of three powers indeed, because a balance can never be established between two orders in society, without a third to aid the weakest.
All that is surprising here is, that the real force of the simile should have been misunderstood; if there is any similitude, or any argument in it, it is clearly in favor of two assemblies. The weight of the load itself would roll the wagon on the oxen and the cattle on one another, in one scene of destruction, if the forces were not divided and the balance formed; whereas, by checking one power by another, all descend the hill in safety, and avoid the danger. It should be remembered, too, that it is only in descending uncommon declivities that this division of strength becomes necessary. In travelling in ordinary plains, and always in ascending mountains, the whole team draws together, and advances faster as well as easier on its journey; it is also certain, there are oftener arduous steeps to mount, which require the united strength of all, with all the skill of the director, than there are precipices to descend, which demand a division of it.
Let us now return to M. Turgot’s idea of a government consisting in a single assembly. He tells us our republics are “founded on the equality of all the citizens, and, therefore, ‘orders’ and ‘equilibriums’ are unnecessary, and occasion disputes.” But what are we to understand here by equality? Are the citizens to be all of the same age, sex, size, strength, stature, activity, courage, hardiness, industry, patience, ingenuity, wealth, knowledge, fame, wit, temperance, constancy, and wisdom? Was there, or will there ever be, a nation, whose individuals were all equal, in natural and acquired qualities, in virtues, talents, and riches? The answer of all mankind must be in the negative. It must then be acknowledged, that in every state, in the Massachusetts, for example, there are inequalities which God and nature have planted there, and which no human legislator ever can eradicate. I should have chosen to have mentioned Virginia, as the most ancient state, or indeed any other in the union, rather than the one that gave me birth, if I were not afraid of putting suppositions which may give offence, a liberty which my neighbors will pardon. Yet I shall say nothing that is not applicable to all the other twelve.
In this society of Massachusettensians then, there is, it is true, a moral and political equality of rights and duties among all the individuals, and as yet no appearance of artificial inequalities of condition, such as hereditary dignities, titles, magistracies, or legal distinctions; and no established marks, as stars, garters, crosses, or ribbons; there are, nevertheless, inequalities of great moment in the consideration of a legislator, because they have a natural and inevitable influence in society. Let us enumerate some of them:—1. There is an inequality of wealth; some individuals, whether by descent from their ancestors, or from greater skill, industry, and success in business, have estates both in lands and goods of great value; others have no property at all; and of all the rest of society, much the greater number are possessed of wealth, in all the variety of degrees between these extremes; it will easily be conceived that all the rich men will have many of the poor, in the various trades, manufactures, and other occupations in life, dependent upon them for their daily bread; many of smaller fortunes will be in their debt, and in many ways under obligations to them; others, in better circumstances, neither dependent nor in debt, men of letters, men of the learned professions, and others, from acquaintance, conversation, and civilities, will be connected with them and attached to them. Nay, farther, it will not be denied, that among the wisest people that live, there is a degree of admiration, abstracted from all dependence, obligation, expectation, or even acquaintance, which accompanies splendid wealth, insures some respect, and bestows some influence. 2. Birth. Let no man be surprised that this species of inequality is introduced here. Let the page in history be quoted, where any nation, ancient or modern, civilized or savage, is mentioned, among whom no difference was made between the citizens, on account of their extraction. The truth is, that more influence is allowed to this advantage in free republics than in despotic governments, or than would be allowed to it in simple monarchies, if severe laws had not been made from age to age to secure it. The children of illustrious families have generally greater advantages of education, and earlier opportunities to be acquainted with public characters, and informed of public affairs, than those of meaner ones, or even than those in middle life; and what is more than all, an habitual national veneration for their names, and the characters of their ancestors described in history, or coming down by tradition, removes them farther from vulgar jealousy and popular envy, and secures them in some degree the favor, the affection, and respect of the public. Will any man pretend that the name of Andros, and that of Winthrop, are heard with the same sensations in any village of New England? Is not gratitude the sentiment that attends the latter, and disgust the feeling excited by the former? In the Massachusetts, then, there are persons descended from some of their ancient governors, counsellors, judges, whose fathers, grandfathers, and great-grandfathers, are remembered with esteem by many living, and who are mentioned in history with applause, as benefactors to the country, while there are others who have no such advantage. May we go a step farther,—Know thyself, is as useful a precept to nations as to men. Go into every village in New England, and you will find that the office of justice of the peace, and even the place of representative, which has ever depended only on the freest election of the people, have generally descended from generation to generation, in three or four families at most. The present subject is one of those which all men respect, and all men deride. It may be said of this part of our nature, as Pope said of the whole:—
“Of human nature, wit her worst may write,
We all revere it in our own despite.”
If, as Harrington says, the ten commandments were voted by the people of Israel, and have been enacted as laws by all other nations; and if we should presume to say, that nations had a civil right to repeal them, no nation would think proper to repeal the fifth, which enjoins honor to parents. If there is a difference between right and wrong; if any thing can be sacred; if there is one idea of moral obligation; the decree of nature must force upon every thinking being and upon every feeling heart the conviction that honor, affection, and gratitude are due from children to those who gave them birth, nurture, and education. The sentiments and affections which naturally arise from reflecting on the love, the cares, and the blessings of parents, abstracted from the consideration of duty, are some of the most forcible and most universal. When religion, law, morals, affection, and even fashion, thus conspire to fill every mind with attachment to parents, and to stamp deep upon the heart their impressions, is it to be expected that men should reverence their parents while they live, and begin to despise or neglect their memories as soon as they are dead? This is in nature impossible. On the contrary, every little unkindness and severity is forgotten, and nothing but endearments remembered with pleasure.
The son of a wise and virtuous father finds the world about him sometimes as much disposed as he himself is, to honor the memory of his father; to congratulate him as the successor to his estate; and frequently to compliment him with elections to the offices he held. A sense of duty, his passions and his interest, thus conspiring to prevail upon him to avail himself of this advantage, he finds a few others in similar circumstances with himself; they naturally associate together, and aid each other. This is a faint sketch of the source and rise of the family spirit; very often the disposition to favor the family is as strong in the town, county, province, or kingdom, as it is in the house itself. The enthusiasm is indeed sometimes wilder, and carries away, like a torrent, all before it.(5)
These observations are not peculiar to any age; we have seen the effects of them in San Marino, Biscay, and the Grisons, as well as in Poland and all other countries. Not to mention any notable examples which have lately happened near us, it is not many months since I was witness to a conversation between some citizens of Massachusetts. One was haranguing on the jealousy which a free people ought to entertain of their liberties, and was heard by all the company with pleasure. In less than ten minutes, the conversation turned upon their governor; and the jealous republican was very angry at the opposition to him. “The present governor,” says he, “has done us such services, that he ought to rule us, he and his posterity after him, for ever and ever.” “Where is your jealousy of liberty?” demanded the other. “Upon my honor,” replies the orator, “I had forgot that; you have caught me in an inconsistency; for I cannot know whether a child of five years old will be a son of liberty or a tyrant.” His jealousy was the dictate of his understanding. His confidence and enthusiasm the impulse of his heart.
The pompous trumpery of ensigns, armorials, and escutcheons are not, indeed, far advanced in America. Yet there is a more general anxiety to know their originals, in proportion to their numbers, than in any nation of Europe; arising from the easier circumstances and higher spirit of the common people. And there are certain families in every state equally attentive to all the proud frivolities of heraldry. That kind of pride, which looks down on commerce and manufactures as degrading, may, indeed, in many countries of Europe, be a useful and necessary quality in the nobility. It may prevent, in some degree, the whole nation from being entirely delivered up to the spirit of avarice. It may be the cause why honor is preferred by some to money. It may prevent the nobility from becoming too rich, and acquiring too large a proportion of the landed property. In America, it would not only be mischievous, but would expose the highest pretensions of the kind to universal ridicule and contempt. Those other hauteurs, of keeping the commons at a distance, and disdaining to converse with any but a few of a certain race, may in Europe be a favor to the people, by relieving them from a multitude of assiduous attentions and humiliating compliances, which would be troublesome. It may prevent the nobles from caballing with the people, and gaining too much influence with them in elections and otherwise. In America, it would justly excite universal indignation; the vainest of all must be of the people, or be nothing. While every office is equally open to every competitor, and the people must decide upon every pretension to a place in the legislature, that of governor and senator, as well as representative, no such airs will ever be endured. At the same time, it must be acknowledged, that some men must take more pains to deserve and acquire an office than others, and must behave better in it, or they will not hold it.
We cannot presume that a man is good or bad, merely because his father was one or the other; and we should always inform ourselves first, whether the virtues and talents are inherited, before we yield our confidence. Wise men beget fools, and honest men knaves; but these instances, although they may be frequent, are not general. If there is often a likeness in feature and figure, there is generally more in mind and heart, because education contributes to the formation of these as well as nature. The influence of example is very great, and almost universal, especially that of parents over their children. In all countries it has been observed, that vices, as well as virtues, very often run down in families from age to age. Any man may go over in his thoughts the circle of his acquaintance, and he will probably recollect instances of a disposition to mischief, malice, and revenge, descending in certain breeds from grandfather to father and son. A young woman was lately convicted at Paris of a trifling theft, barely within the law which decreed a capital punishment. There were circumstances, too, which greatly alleviated her fault; some things in her behavior that seemed innocent and modest; every spectator, as well as the judges, was affected at the scene, and she was advised to petition for a pardon, as there was no doubt it would be granted. “No,” says she; “my grandfather, father, and brother were all hanged for stealing; it runs in the blood of our family to steal, and be hanged. If I am pardoned now, I shall steal again in a few months more inexcusably; and, therefore, I will be hanged now.” An hereditary passion for the halter is a strong instance, to be sure, and cannot be very common; but something like it too often descends, in certain breeds, from generation to generation.
If vice and infamy are thus rendered less odious, by being familiar in a family, by the example of parents and by education, it would be as unhappy as unaccountable, if virtue and honor were not recommended and rendered more amiable to children by the same means.
There are, and always have been, in every state, numbers possessed of some degree of family pride, who have been invariably encouraged, if not flattered in it, by the people. These have most acquaintance, esteem, and friendship with each other, and mutually aid each other’s schemes of interest, convenience, and ambition. Fortune, it is true, has more influence than birth. A rich man, of an ordinary family and common decorum of conduct, may have greater weight than any family merit commonly confers without it.
It will be readily admitted, there are great inequalities of merit, or talents, virtues, services, and what is of more moment, very often of reputation. Some, in a long course of service in an army, have devoted their time, health, and fortunes, signalized their courage and address, exposed themselves to hardships and dangers, lost their limbs, and shed their blood, for the people. Others have displayed their wisdom, learning, and eloquence in council, and in various other ways acquired the confidence and affection of their fellow-citizens to such a degree, that the public have settled into a kind of habit of following their example and taking their advice.
There are a few, in whom all these advantages of birth, fortune, and fame are united.
These sources of inequality, which are common to every people, and can never be altered by any, because they are founded in the constitution of nature; this natural aristocracy among mankind, has been dilated on, because it is a fact essential to be considered in the institution of a government. It forms a body of men which contains the greatest collection of virtues and abilities in a free government, is the brightest ornament and glory of the nation, and may always be made the greatest blessing of society, if it be judiciously managed in the constitution. But if this be not done, it is always the most dangerous; nay, it may be added, it never fails to be the destruction of the commonwealth.
What shall be done to guard against it? Shall they be all massacred? This experiment has been more than once attempted, and once at least executed. Guy Faux attempted it in England; and a king of Denmark,(6) aided by a popular party, effected it once in Sweden; but it answered no good end. The moment they were dead another aristocracy instantly arose, with equal art and influence, with less delicacy and discretion, if not principle, and behaved more intolerably than the former. The country, for centuries, never recovered from the ruinous consequences of a deed so horrible, that one would think it only to be met with in the history of the kingdom of darkness.
There is but one expedient yet discovered, to avail the society of all the benefits from this body of men, which they are capable of affording, and at the same time, to prevent them from undermining or invading the public liberty; and that is, to throw them all, or at least the most remarkable of them, into one assembly together, in the legislature; to keep all the executive power entirely out of their hands as a body; to erect a first magistrate over them, invested with the whole executive authority; to make them dependent on that executive magistrate for all public executive employments;(7) to give that first magistrate a negative on the legislature, by which he may defend both himself and the people from all their enterprises in the legislature; and to erect on the other side an impregnable barrier against them, in a house of commons, fairly, fully, and adequately representing the people, who shall have the power both of negativing all their attempts at encroachment in the legislature, and of withholding from them and from the crown all supplies, by which they may be paid for their services in executive offices, or even the public service may be carried on to the detriment of the nation.
We have seen, both by reasoning and in experience, what kind of equality is to be found or expected in the simplest people in the world. There is not a city nor a village, any more than a kingdom or a commonwealth, in Europe or America; not a horde, clan, or tribe, among the negroes of Africa, or the savages of North or South America; nor a private club in the world, in which inequalities are not more or less visible. There is, then, a certain degree of weight, which property, family, and merit, will have in the public opinion and deliberations. If M. Turgot had discovered a mode of ascertaining the quantity which they ought to have, and had revealed it to mankind, so that it might be known to every citizen, he would have deserved more of gratitude than is due to all the inventions of philosophers. But, as long as human nature shall have passions and imagination, there is too much reason to fear that these advantages, in many instances, will have more influence than reason and equity can justify.
Let us then reflect, how the single assembly in the Massachusetts, in which our great statesman wishes all authority concentrated, will be composed. There being no senate nor council, all the rich, the honorable, and meritorious will stand candidates for seats in the house of representatives, and nineteen in twenty of them will obtain elections. The house will be found to have all the inequalities in it that prevailed among the people at large. Such an assembly will be naturally divided into three parts. The first is, some great genius,—some one masterly spirit, who unites in himself all the qualities which constitute the natural foundations of authority, such as benevolence, wisdom, and power; and all the adventitious attractions of respect, such as riches, ancestry, and personal merit. All eyes are turned upon him for president or speaker. The second division comprehends a third, or a quarter, or, if you will, a sixth or an eighth of the whole; and consists of those who have the most to boast of resembling their head. In the third class are all the rest, who are nearly on a level in understanding and in all things. Such an assembly has in it, not only all the persons of the nation, who are most eminent for parts and virtues, but all those who are most inflamed with ambition and avarice, and who are most vain of their descent. These latter will, of course, constantly endeavor to increase their own influence, by exaggerating all the attributes they possess, and by augmenting them in every way they can think of; and will have friends, whose only chance of rising into public view will be under their protection, who will be even more active and zealous in their service than themselves. Notwithstanding all the equality that can ever be hoped for among men, it is easy to see that the third class will, in general be but humble imitators and followers of the second. Every man in the second class will have constantly about him a circle of members of the third, who will be his admirers, perhaps afraid of his influence in the districts they represent, or related to him by blood, or connected with him in trade, or dependent upon him for favors. There will be much envy, too, among individuals of the second class, against the speaker, although a sincere veneration is shown him by the majority, and great external respect by all. I said there would be envy; because there will be among the second class several whose fortunes, families, and merits, in the acknowledged judgment of all, approach near to the first; and, from the ordinary illusions of self-love and self-interest, they and their friends will be much disposed to claim the first place as their own right. This will introduce controversy and debate, as well as emulation; and those who wish for the first place, and cannot obtain it, will of course endeavor to keep down the speaker as near upon a level with themselves as possible, by paring away the dignity and importance of his office, as we saw was the case in Venice, Poland, and, indeed, everywhere else.
A single assembly thus constituted, without any counterpoise, balance, or equilibrium, is to have all authority, legislative, executive, and judicial, concentrated in it. It is to make a constitution and laws by its own will, execute those laws at its own pleasure, and adjudge all controversies that arise concerning the meaning and application of them, at its own discretion. What is there to restrain it from making tyrannical laws, in order to execute them in a tyrannical manner? Will it be pretended, that the jealousy and vigilance of the people, and their power to discard them at the next election, will restrain them? Even this idea supposes a balance, an equilibrium, which M. Turgot holds in so much contempt; it supposes the people at large to be a check and control over the representative assembly. But this would be found a mere delusion. A jealousy between the electors and the elected neither ought to exist, nor is it possible to exist. It is a contradiction to suppose that a body of electors should have at one moment a warm affection and entire confidence in a man, so as to intrust him with authority, limited or unlimited, over their lives and fortunes; and the next moment after his election, to commence a suspicion of him, that shall prompt them to watch all his words, actions, and motions,(8) and dispose them to renounce and punish him. They choose him, indeed, because they think he knows more, and is better disposed than the generality, and very often even than themselves. Indeed, the best use of a representative assembly, arises from the cordial affection and unreserved confidence which subsists between it and the collective body of the people. It is by such kind and candid intercourse alone, that the wants and desires of the people can be made known, on the one hand, or the necessities of the public communicated or reconciled to them, on the other. In what did such a confidence in one assembly end, in Venice, Geneva, Biscay, Poland, but in an aristocracy and an oligarchy? There is no special providence for Americans, and their nature is the same with that of others.
To demonstrate the necessity of two assemblies in the legislature, as well as of a third branch in it, to defend the executive authority, it may be laid down as a first principle, that neither liberty nor justice can be secured to the individuals of a nation, nor its prosperity promoted, but by a fixed constitution of government, and stated laws, known and obeyed by all. M. Turgot, indeed, censures the “falsity of the notion, so frequently repeated by almost all republican writers, ‘that liberty consists in being subject only to the laws;’ as if a man could be free while oppressed by an unjust law. This would not be true, even if we could suppose that all laws were the work of an assembly of the whole nation; for certainly every individual has his rights, of which the nation cannot deprive him, except by violence and an unlawful use of the general power.”
We often hear and read of free states, a free people, a free nation, a free country, a free kingdom, and even of free republics; and we understand, in general, what is intended, although every man may not be qualified to enter into philosophical disquisitions concerning the meaning, or to give a logical definition of the word liberty.
Our friend Dr. Price has distinguished very well, concerning physical, moral, religious, and civil liberty; and has defined the last to be “the power of a civil society to govern itself, by its own discretion, or by laws of its own making, by the majority, in a collective body, or by fair representation. In every free state every man is his own legislator. Legitimate government consists only in the dominion of equal laws made with common consent, and not in the dominion of any men over other men.”
M. Turgot, however, makes the doctor too great a compliment at the expense of former English writers, when he represents him as “the first of his countrymen who has given a just idea of liberty, and shown the falsity, so often repeated by almost all republican writers, that liberty consists in being subject only to the laws.”
I shall cheerfully agree with M. Turgot, that it is very possible that laws, and even equal laws, made by common consent, may deprive the minority of the citizens of their rights. A society, by a majority, may govern itself, even by equal laws, that is by laws to which all, majority and minority, are equally subject, so as to oppress the minority. It may establish a uniformity in religion; it may restrain trade; it may confine the personal liberty of all equally, and against the judgment of many, even of the best and wisest, without reasonable motives, use, or benefit. We may go farther, and say that a nation may be unanimous in consenting to a law restraining its natural liberty, property, and commerce, and its moral and religious liberties too, to a degree that may be prejudicial to the nation and to every individual in it. A nation of catholics might unanimously consent to prohibit labor upon one half the days in the year, as feast days. The whole American nation might unanimously consent to a Sunday law and a warden act, which should deprive them of the use of their limbs one day in seven. A nation may unanimously agree to a navigation act, which should shackle the commerce of all. Yet Dr. Price’s definition of civil liberty is as liable to this objection as any other. These would be all equal laws made with common consent; these would all be acts of legitimate government. To take in M. Turgot’s idea, then, we must add to Dr. Price’s ideas of equal laws by common consent, this other—for the general interest or the public good. But it is generally supposed that nations understand their own interest better than another; and, therefore, they may be trusted to judge of the public good; and in all the cases above supposed, they will be as free as they desire to be; and, therefore, they may with great propriety be called free nations, and their constitutions free republics. There can be no way of compelling nations to be more free than they choose to be.
But M. Turgot has mistaken the sense of republican writers, especially of the English ones. What republican writers he had in view, I know not. There is none that I remember, of any name, who has given so absurd a definition of liberty. His countryman, Montesquieu, who will scarcely be denominated a republican writer, has said something the most like it; but it is manifest that his meaning was confined to equal laws, made by common consent. Although there may be unjust and unequal laws, obedience to which would be incompatible with liberty; yet no man will contend that a nation can be free that is not governed by fixed laws. All other government than that of permanent known laws, is the government of mere will and pleasure, whether it be exercised by one, a few, or many. Republican writers in general, and those of England in particular, have maintained the same principle with Dr. Price, and have said that legitimate governments, or well ordered commonwealths, or well constituted governments, were those where the laws prevailed; they have always explained their meaning to be equal laws made by common consent or the general will—that is to say, made by the majority, and equally binding upon majority and minority. As it is of importance to rescue the good old republican writers from such an imputation, let me beg your patience while we look into some of them.
Aristotle says, that “a government where the laws alone should prevail, would be the kingdom of God.” This indeed shows that this great philosopher had much admiration of such a government. But it is not the assertion that M. Turgot condemns, namely,—that liberty consists in being subject to the laws only.
Aristotle says too, in another place, “Order is law, and it is more proper that law should govern, than any one of the citizens; upon the same principle, if it is advantageous to place the supreme power in some particular persons, they should be appointed to be only guardians and the servants of the laws.” These too are very just sentiments, but not a formal definition of liberty.
Livy, too, speaks of happy, prosperous, and glorious times, when “Imperia legum potentiora fuerunt quam hominum.” But he nowhere says that liberty consists in being subject only to the legum imperio.
Sidney says, “No sedition was hurtful to Rome, until, through their prosperity, some men gained a power above the laws.”
In another place he tells us too, from Livy, that some, whose ambition and avarice were impatient of restraint, complained that “leges rem surdam esse, inexorabilem, salubriorem inopi quam potenti.”
And, in another, that “no government was thought to be well constituted, unless the laws prevailed against the commands of men.” But he has nowhere defined liberty to be subjection to the laws only.
Harrington says, “Government de jure, or, according to ancient prudence, is an art, whereby a civil society of men is instituted and preserved upon the foundation of common interest; or, to follow Aristotle and Livy, it is an empire of laws and not of men. And government, to define it according to modern prudence, or de facto, is an art by which some man, or some few men, subject a city or a nation, and rule it according to his or their private interest; which, because the laws in such cases are made according to the interest of a man, or a few families, may be said to be the empire of men and not of laws.”
Harrington(9) agrees, that law proceeds from the will of man, whether a monarch or people; and that this will must have a mover; and that this mover is interest. But the interest of the people is one thing—it is the public interest; and where the public interest governs, it is a government of laws, and not of men. The interest of a king, or of a party, is another thing—it is a private interest; and where private interest governs, it is a government of men, and not of laws. If in England there has ever been any such thing as a government of laws, was it not magna charta? and have not our kings broken magna charta thirty times? Did the law govern when the law was broken? or was that a government of men? On the contrary, hath not magna charta been as often repaired by the people? and, the law being so restored, was it not a government of laws, and not of men? Why have our kings, in so many statutes and oaths engaged themselves to govern by law, if there were not in kings a capacity of governing otherwise? It is true, that laws are neither made by angels, nor by horses, but by men. The voice of the people is as much the voice of men as the voice of a prince is the voice of a man; and yet the voice of the people is the voice of God, which the voice of a prince is not. The government of laws, said Aristotle, is the government of God. In a monarchy, the laws, being made according to the interest of one man, or a few men, must needs be more private and partial than suits with the nature of justice; but in a commonwealth, the laws, being made by the whole people, must come up to the public interest, which is common right and justice; and if a man know not what is his own interest, who should know it? and that which is the interest of the most or greatest number of particular men, being summed up in the common vote, is the public interest.
Sidney says, “Liberty consists solely in an independency on the will of another; and, by a slave, we understand a man who can neither dispose of his person or goods, but enjoys all at the will of his master.” And again, “As liberty consists only in being subject to no man’s will, and nothing denotes a slave but a dependence upon the will of another; if there be no other law in a kingdom but the will of a prince, there is no such thing as liberty.”
M. Turgot might have perceived in these writers that a government of laws and not of men was intended by them as a description of a commonwealth, not a definition of liberty. There may be various degrees of liberty established by the laws, and enjoyed by the citizens, in different commonwealths; but still the general will, as well as the general interest, as far as it is understood by the people, prevails in all that can be denominated free. As the society governs itself, it is free, according to the definition of Dr. Price. The inquiry of these writers, in such passages, was not into the highest point of liberty, or greatest degree of it, which might be established by the general will and the common sense of interest, in their results or laws. They have taken it for granted that human nature is so fond of liberty, that, if the whole society were consulted, a majority would never be found to put chains upon themselves by their own act and voluntary consent.
But all men, as well as republican writers, must agree, that there can be no uninterrupted enjoyment of liberty, nor any good government in society, without laws, or where standing laws do not govern. In despotic states, in simple monarchies, in aristocracies, in democracies, in all possible mixtures of these, the individual continually enjoys the benefit of law, as he does that of light and air, although, in most of those governments, he has no security for the continuance of it. If the laws were all repealed at once, in any great kingdom, and the event made known suddenly to all, scarcely a house in the great cities would remain in possession of its present inhabitants.
The great question therefore is, What combination of powers in society, or what form of government, will compel the formation, impartial execution, and faithful interpretation of good and equal laws, so that the citizens may constantly enjoy the benefit of them, and may be sure of their continuance? The controversy between M. Turgot and me is, whether a single assembly of representatives be this form? He maintains the affirmative. I am for the negative. Because such an assembly will, upon the first day of its existence, be an aristocracy; in a few days, or at least years, an oligarchy; and then it will divide into two or three parties, who will soon have as many armies; after which, when the battle is decided, the victorious general will govern without or with the advice of any council or assembly, as he pleases; or else, if the assembly continues united, it will in time exclude the people from all share even in elections, and make the government hereditary in a few families.
In order to be fully convinced of this, we must take an extensive view of the subject; and the first inquiry should be, what kind of beings men are? You and I admire the fable of Tristram Shandy more than the fable of the Bees, and agree with Butler rather than Hobbes. It is weakness rather than wickedness, which renders men unfit to be trusted with unlimited power. The passions are all unlimited; nature has left them so; if they could be bounded, they would be extinct; and there is no doubt they are of indispensable importance in the present system. They certainly increase too, by exercise, like the body. The love of gold grows faster than the heap of acquisition; the love of praise increases by every gratification, till it stings like an adder, and bites like a serpent; till the man is miserable every moment when he does not snuff the incense. Ambition strengthens at every advance, and at last takes possession of the whole soul so absolutely, that a man sees nothing in the world of importance to others or himself, but in his object. The subtlety of these three passions, which have been selected from all the others because they are aristocratical passions, in subduing all others, and even the understanding itself, if not the conscience too, until they become absolute and imperious masters of the whole mind, is a curious subject of speculation. The cunning with which they hide themselves from others, and from a man himself too; the patience with which they wait for opportunities; the torments they voluntarily suffer for a time, to secure a full enjoyment at length; the inventions, the discoveries, the contrivances they suggest to the understanding, sometimes in the dullest dunces in the world, if they could be described in writing, would pass for great genius.
We are not enough acquainted with the physical or metaphysical effects produced on our bodies or minds, to be able to explain the particular reason why every instance of indulgence strengthens and confirms the subsequent emotions of desire. The cause has hitherto been too deep, remote, and subtle, for the search of corporeal or intellectual microscopes; but the fact is too decided to deceive or escape our observation. Men should endeavor at a balance of affections and appetites, under the monarchy of reason and conscience, within, as well as at a balance of power without. If they surrender the guidance for any course of time to any one passion, they may depend upon finding it, in the end, a usurping, domineering, cruel tyrant. They were intended by nature to live together in society, and in this way to restrain one another, and in general they are a very good kind of creatures; but they know each other’s imbecility so well, that they ought never to lead one another into temptation.(10) The passion that is long indulged and continually gratified becomes mad; it is a species of delirium; it should not be called guilt, but insanity. But who would trust his life, liberty, and property to a madman or an assembly of them? It would be safer to confide in knaves. Five hundred or five thousand together, in an assembly, are not less liable to this extravagance than one. The nation that commits its affairs to a single assembly, will assuredly find that its passions and desires augment as fast as those of a king. And, therefore, a constitution with a single assembly must be essentially defective.
Others have seen this quality in human nature through a more gloomy medium.
Machiavel says, “those who have written on civil government lay it down as a first principle, and all historians demonstrate the same, that whoever would found a state, and make proper laws for the government of it, must presume that all men are bad by nature; that they will not fail to show that natural depravity of heart whenever they have a fair opportunity;(11) and that though it may possibly lie for a while concealed, on account of some secret reason, which does not then appear to men of small experience, yet time, which is therefore justly called the father of truth, commonly brings it to light in the end.” Machiavel’s translator remarks, that although this seems a harsh supposition, does not every Christian daily justify the truth of it, by confessing it before God and the world? and are we not expressly told the same in several passages of the Holy Scriptures, and in all systems of human philosophy?
Montesquieu says, “Constant experience shows us that every man invested with power is apt to abuse it. He pushes on till he comes to something that limits him. Is it not strange, though true, to say that virtue itself has need of limits? To prevent the abuse of power, it is necessary, that, by the very disposition of things, power should be a check to power. A government may be so constituted, as that no man shall be compelled to do things to which the law does not oblige him, nor forced to abstain from things which the law permits.”
“So endless and exorbitant are the desires of men, that they will grasp at all, and can form no scheme of perfect happiness with less. It is hard to recollect one folly, infirmity, or vice, to which a single man is subjected, and from which a body of commons, collective or representative,” (and he might have added a body of nobles,) “can be wholly exempt.” Swift.
“Laws are intended not to trust to what men will do, but to guard against what they may do.” Junius.
“Ogni uomo si fa centro di tutte le combinazioni del globo.”
“The ambitious deceive themselves, when they propose an end to their ambition; for that end, when attained, becomes a means.” Rochefoucauld.
“Experience evinces that the happiest dispositions are not proof against the allurements of power, which has no charms but as it leads on to new advances. Authority endures not the very idea of restraint; nor does it cease to struggle, till it has beaten down every boundary.” De Lolme.
Hobbes, Mandeville, Rochefoucauld, have drawn still more detestable pictures; and Rousseau, in his Inequalities among Mankind, gives a description of a civilized heart, too black and horrible to be transcribed.(12)
Even our amiable friends, those benevolent Christian philosophers, Dr. Price and Dr. Priestley, acquaint us that they are constrained to believe human nature no better than it should be. The latter says, there is no power on earth but has grown exorbitant when it has met with no control.
The former: “Such are the principles that govern human nature; such the weakness and folly of men; such their love of domination, selfishness, and depravity, that none of them can be raised to an elevation above others, without the utmost danger. The constant experience of the world has verified this, and proved that nothing intoxicates the human mind so much as power. In the establishment, therefore, of civil government, it would be preposterous to rely on the discretion of any men. A people will never oppress themselves or invade their own rights; but if they trust the arbitrary will of a body or succession of men, they trust enemies.”
Shall we say that all these philosophers were ignorant of human nature? With all my soul, I wish it were in my power to quote any passages in history or philosophy, which might demonstrate all these satires on our species to be false. But the phenomena are all in their favor; and the only question to be raised with them is, whether the cause is wickedness, weakness, or insanity?
In all events, we must agree, that human nature is not fit to be trusted with M. Turgot’s system, of all authority in a single assembly.
A single assembly will never be a steady guardian of the laws, if Machiavel is right when he says: “Men are never good but through necessity. On the contrary, when good and evil are left to their choice, and they can practise the latter with impunity, they will not fail to throw every thing into disorder and confusion.(13) Hunger and poverty may make men industrious, but laws only can make them good; for, if men were so of themselves, there would be no occasion for laws; but, as the case is far otherwise, they are absolutely necessary. After the Tarquins were dead, who had been such a check upon the nobility, some other expedient was wanting that might have the same effect; so that, after much confusion and disorder, and many dangerous contests between the patricians and plebeians, certain officers, called tribunes, were created for the security of the latter; who, being vested with such privileges and authority as enabled them to become arbiters betwixt those two estates, effectually curbed the insolence of the former.” Or, in the language of Dr. Franklin, the people insisted upon hitching a yoke of cattle behind the wagon, to draw up hill, when the patricians before should attempt to go too fast; or, in the style of Harrington, the commons, finding the patricians disposed to divide the cake unequally, demanded the privilege of choosing.
If Harrington’s authority is not of great weight with some men, the reasons he assigns in support of his judgment are often eternal and unanswerable by any man. In his Oceana, he says: “Be the interest of popular government right reason, a man does not look upon reason as it is right or wrong in itself, but as it makes for him or against him. Wherefore, unless you can show such orders of a government as, like those of God in nature, shall be able to constrain this or that creature to shake off that inclination which is more peculiar to it, and take up that which regards the common good or interest; all this is to no more end, than to persuade every man in a popular government not to carve for himself of that which he desires most, but to be mannerly at the public table, and give the best from himself to decency and the common interest. But that such orders may be established, as may, nay must, give the upper hand in all cases to common right or interest, notwithstanding the nearness of that which sticks to every man in private, and this in a way of equal certainty and facility, is known even to girls; being no other than those which are of common practice with them in divers cases. For example,—two of them have a cake yet undivided, which was given between them. That each of them, therefore, might have that which is due, ‘divide,’ says one, ‘and I will choose; or let me divide, and you shall choose.’ If this be but once agreed upon, it is enough; for the divident, dividing unequally loses, in regard that the other takes the better half; wherefore; she divides equally, and so both have right. And thus, what great philosophers are disputing upon in vain, is brought to light by two harmless girls; even the whole mystery of a commonwealth, which lies only in dividing and choosing.”
Now, if all authority is to be collected into one central assembly, it will have the whole power of division and choice; and we may easily conjecture what division and choice it will be. It will soon have possession of all the cakes, loaves, and fishes.
Harrington proceeds: “Nor has God, if his works in nature be understood, left so much to mankind to dispute upon, as who shall divide and who choose, but distributed them forever into two orders; whereof the one has the natural right of dividing, and the other of choosing. For example,—a commonwealth is but a civil society of men. Let us take any number of men, as twenty, and immediately make a commonwealth. Twenty men, if they be not all idiots, perhaps if they be, can never come so together but there will be such a difference in them, that about a third will be wiser, or at least less foolish, than all the rest. These, upon acquaintance, though it be but small, will be discovered, and (as stags that have the largest heads) lead the herd. For, while the six, discoursing and arguing one with another, show the eminence of their parts, the fourteen discover things that they never thought on, or are cleared in divers truths which had formerly perplexed them. Wherefore, in matter of common concernment, difficulty, or danger, they hang upon their lips as children upon their fathers; and the influence thus acquired by the six, the eminence of whose parts are found to be a stay and comfort to the fourteen, is the authority of the fathers—auctoritas patrum. Wherefore, this can be no other than a natural aristocracy, diffused by God throughout the whole body of mankind, to this end and purpose; and, therefore, such as the people have not only a natural, but a positive obligation to make use of as their guides; as where the people of Israel are commanded to take wise men, and understanding, and known among their tribes, to be made rulers over them. The six then approved of, as in the present case, are the senate; not by hereditary right, or in regard to the greatness of their estates only, which would tend to such power as might force or draw the people; but by election for their excellent parts, which tends to the advancement of the influence of their virtue or authority, that leads the people. Wherefore, the office of the senate is not to be commanders, but counsellors of the people; and that which is proper to counsellors, is first to debate, and afterwards to give advice in the business whereon they have debated; whence the decrees of the senate are never laws, nor so called—senatus consulta; and these, being maturely framed, it is their duty to propose to the people. Wherefore, the senate is no more than the debate of the commonwealth. But to debate is to discern, or put a difference between things, that, being alike, are not the same; or it is separating and weighing this reason against that, and that reason against this; which is dividing.
“The senate, then, having divided, who shall choose? Ask the girls; for, if she that divided must have chosen also, it had been little worse for the other, in case she had not divided at all, but kept the whole cake to herself; in regard that, being to choose too, she divided accordingly.
“Wherefore, if the senate have any further power than to divide, the commonwealth can never be equal. But, in a commonwealth consisting of a single council, there is no other to choose than that which divided. Whence it is, that such a council fails not to scramble, that is, to be factious; there being no other dividing of the cake, in that case, but among themselves; nor is there any other remedy, but to have another council to choose. The wisdom of the few may be the light of mankind; but the interest of the few is not the profit of mankind, nor of a commonwealth. Wherefore, seeing we have granted interest to be reason, they must not choose, lest it put out their light. But as the council dividing consists of the wisdom of the commonwealth, so the assembly or council choosing should consist of the interest of the commonwealth; as the wisdom of the commonwealth is in the aristocracy, so the interest of the commonwealth is in the whole body of the people. And whereas this, in case the commonwealth consist of a whole nation, is too unwieldy a body to be assembled, this council is to consist of such a representative as may be equal, and so constituted as it can never contract any other interest than that of the whole people. But, in the present case, the six dividing, and the fourteen choosing, must of necessity take in the whole interest of the twenty. Dividing and choosing, in the language of a commonwealth, is debating and resolving; and whatsoever, upon debate of the senate, is proposed to the people, and resolved by them, is enacted by the authority of the fathers, and by the power of the people—auctoritate patrum et jussu populi; which concurring make a law.”
Upon these principles, and to establish a method of enacting laws that must of necessity be wise and equal, the people of most of the United States of America agreed upon that division of the legislative power into two houses, the house of representatives and the senate, which have given so much disgust to M. Turgot. Harrington will show us equally well the propriety and necessity of the other branch, the governor. But, before we proceed to that, it may be worth while to observe the similitude between this passage and some of those sentiments and expressions of Swift, which were quoted in a former letter; and there is in the Idea of a Patriot King, written by his friend, Lord Bolingbroke, a passage to the same purpose, so nobly expressed, that I cannot forbear the pleasure of transcribing it. “It seems to me that, in order to maintain the moral system of the universe at a certain point, far below that of ideal perfection, (for we are made capable of conceiving what we are not capable of attaining,) it has pleased the Author of Nature to mingle, from time to time, among the societies of men a few, and but a few of those on whom he has been graciously pleased to confer a larger proportion of the ethereal spirit, than in the ordinary course of his providence he bestows on the sons of men. These are they who engross almost the whole reason of the species. Born to direct, to guide, and to preserve, if they retire from the world their splendor accompanies them, and enlightens even the darkness of their retreat. If they take a part in public life, the effect is never indifferent. They either appear the instruments of Divine vengeance, and their course through the world is marked by desolation and oppression, by poverty and servitude; or they are the guardian angels of the country they inhabit, studious to avert the most distant evil, and to procure peace, plenty, and the greatest of human blessings, liberty.”
If there is, then, in society such a natural aristocracy as these great writers pretend, and as all history and experience demonstrate, formed partly by genius, partly by birth, and partly by riches, how shall the legislator avail himself of their influence for the equal benefit of the public? and how, on the other hand, shall he prevent them from disturbing the public happiness? I answer, by arranging them all, or at least the most conspicuous of them, together in one assembly, by the name of a senate; by separating them from all pretensions to the executive power, and by controlling in the legislative their ambition and avarice, by an assembly of representatives on one side, and by the executive authority on the other. Thus you will have the benefit of their wisdom, without fear of their passions. If among them there are some of Lord Bolingbroke’s guardian angels, there will be some of his instruments of Divine vengeance too. The latter will be here restrained by a threefold tie,—by the executive power, by the representative assembly, and by their peers in the senate. But if these were all admitted into a single popular assembly, the worst of them might in time obtain the ascendency of all the rest. In such a single assembly, as has been observed before, almost the whole of this aristocracy will make its appearance, being returned members of it by the election of the people. These will be one class. There will be another set of members, of middling rank and circumstances, who will justly value themselves upon their independence, their integrity, and unbiased affection to their country, and will pique themselves upon being under no obligation. But there will be a third class, every one of whom will have his leader among the members of the first class, whose character he will celebrate, and whose voice he will follow; and this party, after a course of time, will be the most numerous. The question then will be, whether this aristocracy in the house will unite or divide? and it is too obvious, that destruction to freedom must be the consequence equally of their union or of their division. If they unite generally in all things, as much as they certainly will in respecting each other’s wealth, birth, and parts, and conduct themselves with prudence, they will strengthen themselves by insensible degrees, by playing into each other’s hands more wealth and popularity, until they become able to govern elections as they please, and rule the people at discretion. An independent member will be their aversion; all their artifices will be employed to destroy his popularity among his constituents, and bring in a disciple of their own in his place.
But if they divide, each party will, in a course of time, have the whole house, and consequently the whole state, divided into two factions, which will struggle in words, in writing, and at last in arms, until Cæsar or Pompey must be emperor, and entail an endless line of tyrants on the nation. But long before this catastrophe, and indeed through every scene of the drama, the laws, instead of being permanent, and affording constant protection to the lives, liberties, and properties of the citizens, will be alternately the sport of contending factions, and the mere vibrations of a pendulum. From the beginning to the end it will be a government of men, now of one set, and then of another; but never a government of laws.
(1)“A Discourse of the Contests and Dissensions between the Nobles and Commons of Athens and Rome, with the Consequences they had upon both those States.”
Much of the substance of this, the best of all the political tracts of Dean Swift, is given in the text.
(2)Fragm. lib. vi.
(3)“It was the throne of the dragon, that is, of the devil and his angels, whose dominion was permitted by the Almighty, and foretold by his prophets.”
(4)“The answer of Dr. Franklin is oracular; that is to say, is ambiguous. It may be taken both ways, like the oracles of old.”
Dr. Franklin’s marked characteristic was caution. The only inference that can be drawn from this declaration is to be obtained from the decision of the assembly. Since the publication of his Writings, however, there can be no doubt of his opinion. See Sparks’s Franklin, vol. i. p. 409, vol. v. p. 165, vol. x. pp. 345, 361.
(5)The late election of a president in France, by the popular vote, will occur as a striking illustration of the force of these observations.
(6)This is an allusion to the massacre of Stockholm, committed by Christian II., denominated the Nero of the North.
(7)“If this means the appointment to offices, it is not advisable any more than the negative.”
(8)“But future conduct may give just cause of suspicion; and, therefore, the representative, (according to the English constitution in its purity,) was elected only for a single session, the cause of which, if novel, was expressed in the election writs; and the representative had no right to determine in any new device, without consulting his constituents. These are the proper checks to aristocracy.”
(9)Politicaster, scene 2.
(10)Οἱ πλεῖστοι χαχόι. The majority are wicked. Bias. (J. A.)
The notes marked with the author’s initials have been found written in the margin of his copy.
(11)Hooker’s Ecc. Pol. lib. i. ss. 1; Ibid. ss. 10.
“Laws politic, ordained for external order and regiment amongst men, are never framed as they should be, unless presuming the will of man to be inwardly obstinate, rebellious, and averse from all obedience unto the sacred laws of his nature; in a word, unless presuming man to be, in regard of his depraved mind, little better than a wild beast, they do accordingly provide, notwithstanding, so to frame his outward actions that they be no hindrance unto the common good for which societies are instituted; unless they do this, they are not perfect.”
“Heaven’s Sovereign saves all beings but himself
That hideous sight, a naked human heart.”
Night Thoughts. Narcissa. (J. A.)
(13)So great is the depravity of the human heart, that ministers, who only can know it, are in charity to mankind bound to keep it a secret, &c. (J. A.)