A Defense of the Constitutions of Government of the United States of America/Vol. 1/Chap. 5

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Discourses upon the First Decade of Livy(1)[edit]

The whole chapter is very much to the purpose, but the following paragraphs more particularly so:—

“According to some authors, there are but three sorts of government, namely,—monarchy or principality, aristocracy, and democracy; and that those who intend to erect a new state, must have recourse to some one of these which they like best. Others, and, as many think, with more judgment, say there are six sorts; three of which are very bad, and the other three good in themselves, but liable to be so corrupted that they may become the worst. The three good sorts have been just now mentioned. The other three proceed from these; and every one of them bears such a resemblance to that on which it respectively depends, that the transition from one to the other is short and easy; for monarchy often degenerates into tyranny, aristocracy into oligarchy, and democracy into licentious anarchy and confusion. So that, whoever sets up any one of the former three sorts of government, may assure himself it will not be of any long duration; for no precaution will be sufficient to prevent its falling into the other that is analogous to it, on account of the affinity which there seems to be in this case betwixt perfection and imperfection.

“This variety of governments among mankind appears to have been the effect of chance. For in the beginning of the world, the inhabitants being few, they some time lived separate from each other, like beasts; but afterwards, as they multiplied, they began to unite for their mutual defence, and put themselves under the protection of such as were most eminent amongst them for courage and strength, whom they engaged to obey and acknowledge as their chiefs. Hence arose the distinction betwixt honest and dishonest, just and unjust. For when any one injured his benefactor, his ingratitude excited a sort of fellow-feeling and indignation in others, as well as kindness and respect for those that behaved differently; and, as they considered that they might, some time or other, perhaps, be treated in the same manner themselves, if proper measures were not taken to prevent it, they thought fit to make laws for the reward of good men, and the punishment of offenders. This first gave rise to justice in the world; and from this consideration it came to pass in process of time, that, in the election of a new chief, they had not so much regard to courage and bodily strength, as to wisdom and integrity. But, afterwards, as this kind of government gradually became hereditary, instead of elective, the heirs of these chieftains soon began to degenerate from the virtue of their ancestors, and to behave themselves as if they thought the main duty of a prince consisted in surpassing all other men in luxury, extravagance, effeminacy, and every sort of voluptuousness; by which, beginning to be odious to their subjects, they, in turn, became fearful of them, and quickly passing from distrust to the commission of offences, there sprung up at once a tyranny. This first occasioned combinations and conspiracies for the destruction of princes; not amongst the weak and pusillanimous part of their subjects; but among such as, being more eminent for their generosity, magnanimity, riches, and birth, could not endure any longer to submit to the shameful life of such sovereigns.

“The multitude, therefore, swayed by the authority of the nobles, rose in arms against their prince; and, being freed from his yoke, they transferred their allegiance to their deliverers, who, being thoroughly disgusted at monarchy, changed the form of government, and took it into their own hands. At first, they conducted both themselves and the state according to the plan they had formed, preferring the common good to any particular advantage; and behaving, in private as well as public affairs, with assiduity and moderation, whilst the remembrance of their past sufferings continued fresh upon their minds. But this authority afterwards devolving upon their sons, who had not known changes of fortune, nor experienced evil, these began to grow so dissatisfied with that sort of civil equality, that they cast off all restraint, and giving themselves up to rapine, ambition, and lust, soon changed the government again from aristocracy into an oligarchy. Their administration, however, becoming as insupportable, in a while, as the tyranny of the other had formerly been, the people naturally began to look out for some deliverer; and, having fixed upon a leader, they put themselves under his banners, and destroyed the oligarchy. But when they had done this, and came to reflect upon the oppressions they sustained under a tyrant, they resolved never to be again governed by any one man, and therefore agreed to set up a popular government; which was constituted in such a manner, that no authority was vested either in a prince or in a powerful few.

“Now, as all new establishments are held in some degree of reverence and veneration at first, this form subsisted for some time; though no longer than those people lived who had been the founders of it; for, after their death, their descendants degenerated into licentiousness, and such a contempt for all authority and distinction, that, every man living after his own caprice, there was nothing to be seen but confusion and violence. So that, either by the advice of some good and respectable man, or compelled by the absolute necessity of providing a remedy for these disorders and enormities, they at last determined once more to submit to the dominion of one. From which state they fell again in time, through the same gradations, and from the above-mentioned causes into misrule and licentiousness.

“And this is the rotation to which all states are subject; nevertheless, they cannot often revert to the same kind of government, because it is not possible that they should so long exist as to undergo many of these mutations. For it frequently happens that, when a state is laboring under such convulsions, and is destitute both of strength and counsel, it falls a prey to some other neighboring community or nation, that is better governed; otherwise, it might go the round of the several above-mentioned revolutions to infinity.

“All these sorts of government, then, in my opinion, are infirm and insecure; the three former from the usual shortness of their duration, and the three latter from the malignity of their own principles. The wisest legislators, therefore, being aware of these defects, never established any one of them in particular, but contrived another, that partakes of them all, consisting of a prince, lords, and commons, which they looked upon as more firm and stable, because every one of these members would be a check upon the other; and of those legislators, Lycurgus certainly merits the highest praise, who constituted an establishment of this kind in Sparta, which lasted above eight hundred years, to his own great honor, as well as the tranquillity of the citizens.

“Very different was the fate of the government established by Solon at Athens, which, being a simple democracy only, was of so short continuance, that it gave way to the tyranny of Pisistratus before the death of the legislator. And though, indeed, the heirs of that tyrant were expelled about forty years after, and the Athenians not only recovered their liberty, but reëstablished Solon’s laws and plan of government; yet they did not maintain it above one hundred years, notwithstanding they made several new regulations to restrain the insolence of the nobles and the licentiousness of the commons, the necessity of which Solon had not foreseen. So that, for want of tempering his democracy with a share of aristocracy and princely power, it was of short duration in comparison of the constitution of Sparta.

“But, to return to Rome. Though that city had not a Lycurgus to model its constitution at first, in such a manner as might preserve its liberty for a long course of time; yet, so many were the accidents which happened in the contests betwixt the patricians and plebeians, that chance effected what the lawgiver had not provided for; so that if it was not lucky at the beginning, it became so after a while; for though the first laws were deficient, yet they were not absolutely out of the right road to lead to its future perfection; since not only Romulus, but all the rest of the kings that succeeded him, made many and good laws, and such as were well calculated for the support of liberty. But, as it was their intention to found a monarchy, and not a republic; when that city had shaken off the yoke of a tyrant, there seemed to be many provisions still wanting for the further maintenance of its freedom. And though the kings finally lost their power, by the ways and means above mentioned, yet those who had chiefly contributed to it, immediately created two consuls to supply the place of royalty; by which it came to pass, that the name alone, and not the authority of princes was extinguished; so that the supreme power being lodged only in the consuls and senate, the government consisted of no more than two of the three estates, which we have spoken of before, that is, of royalty and aristocracy; it remained, therefore, still necessary to admit the people into some share of the government; and the patricians growing so insolent in time, (as I shall show hereafter,) that the plebeians could no longer endure it, the latter took arms, and obliged them to relinquish part of their authority, lest they should lose the whole. On the other hand, the consuls and senators still retained so much power in the commonwealth as enabled them to support their rank and dignity with honor. This struggle gave birth to certain officers, called tribunes of the people; after the creation of whom, that state became more firm and compact, every one of the three degrees above mentioned having its proper share in the government. And so propitious was fortune to it, that although it was changed from a monarchy into an aristocracy, and afterwards into a democracy, by the steps and for the reasons already assigned, yet the royal power was never entirely abolished and given to the patricians, nor that of the patricians wholly to the plebeians. On the contrary, the authority of the three estates being duly proportioned and mixed together, made it a perfect commonwealth. And this was owing in a great measure, if not altogether, to the dissensions that happened betwixt the patricians and plebeians, as shall be shown more at large in the following chapters."

Algernon Sidney[edit]

“Some small numbers of men, living within the precincts of one city, have, as it were, cast into a common stock, the right which they had of governing themselves and children, and, by common consent, joining in one body, exercised such power over every single person as seemed beneficial to the whole; and this, men call perfect democracy. Others chose rather to be governed by a select number of such as most excelled in wisdom and virtue; and this, according to the signification of the word, was called aristocracy. When one man excelled all others, the government was put into his hands under the name of monarchy. But the wisest, best, and by far the greatest part of mankind, rejecting these simple species, did form governments, mixed or composed of the three, as shall be proved hereafter, which commonly received their respective denomination from the great part that prevailed, and did deserve praise or blame, as they were well or ill proportioned.” p. 22, § 9.

“The best governments of the world have been composed of monarchy, aristocracy, and democracy.”

“As for democracy, I believe it can suit only with the convenience of a small town, accompanied with such circumstances as are seldom found. But this no way obliges men to run into the other extreme, inasmuch as the variety of forms, between mere democracy and absolute monarchy, is almost infinite. And if I should undertake to say, there never was a good government in the world that did not consist of the three simple species of monarchy, aristocracy, and democracy, I think I might make it good. This at the least is certain, that the government of the Hebrews, instituted by God, had a judge, the great sanhedrim, and general assemblies of the people. Sparta had two kings, a senate of twenty-eight chosen men and the like assemblies. All the Dorian cities had a chief magistrate, a senate, and occasional assemblies. The cities of Ionia, Athens, and others, had an Archon, the Areopagi, &c., and all judgments concerning matters of the greatest importance, as well as the election of magistrates, were referred to the people. Rome, in the beginning, had a king and a senate, while the election of kings and judgments upon appeals remained in the people; afterwards, consuls representing kings and vested with equal power, a more numerous senate, and more frequent meetings of the people. Venice has at this day a duke, the senate of the pregadi, and the great assembly of the nobility, which is the whole city; the rest of the inhabitants being only incolæ, not cives; and those of the other cities or countries are their subjects, and do not participate in the government.

“Genoa is governed in like manner. Lucca not unlike to them. Germany is at this day governed by an emperor, the princes or great lords in their several precincts; the cities by their own magistrates; and by general diets, in which the whole power of the nation resides, and where the emperor, princes, nobility, and cities have their places in person, or by their deputies. All the northern nations which, upon the dissolution of the Roman empire, possessed the best provinces that had composed it, were under that form, which is usually called the Gothic polity. They had king, lords, commons, diets, assemblies of estates, cortes, and parliaments, in which the sovereign powers of those nations did reside, and by which they were exercised. The like was practised in Hungary, Bohemia, Sweden, Denmark, Poland; and, if things are changed in some of those places within a few years, they must give better proofs of having gained by the change, than are yet seen in the world, before I think myself obliged to change my opinion.

“Some nations, not liking the name of king, have given such a power as kings enjoyed in other places to one or more magistrates, either limited to a certain time, or left to be perpetual, as best pleased themselves; others, approving the name, made the dignity purely elective. Some have in their elections principally regarded one family as long as it lasted; others considered nothing but the fitness of the person, and reserved to themselves a liberty of taking where they pleased. Some have permitted the crown to be hereditary as to its ordinary course; but restrained the power, and instituted officers to inspect the proceedings of kings, and to take care that the laws were not violated. Of this sort were the Ephori of Sparta, the Maires du Palais, and afterwards the constable of France, the justiciar in Aragon, the reichshofmeeter in Denmark, the high steward in England; and in all places, such assemblies as are beforementioned under several names, who had the power of the whole nation, &c.” p. 138, ch. ii. § 16.

“It is confessed, that a pure democracy can never be good, unless for a small town, &c.” p. 147, § 18.

“As to popular government in the strictest sense, that is, pure democracy, where the people in themselves, and by themselves, perform all that belongs to government, I know of no such thing; and, if it be in the world, have nothing to say for it.

“If it be said that those governments in which the democratical part governs most, do more frequently err in the choice of men, or the means of preserving that purity of manners which is required for the well-being of a people, than those wherein aristocracy prevails, I confess it, and that in Rome and Athens, the best and wisest men did for the most part incline to aristocracy. Xenophon, Plato, Aristotle, Thucydides, Livy, Tacitus, Cicero, and others were of this sort. But if our author there seek patrons for his absolute monarchy, he will find none but Phalaris, Agathocles, Dionysius, Catiline, Cethegus, Lentulus, with the corrupted crew of mercenary rascals who did, or endeavored to set them up; these are they, quibus ex honesto nulla est spes; they abhor the dominion of the law, because it curbs their vices, and make themselves subservient to the lusts of a man who may nourish them.” p. 161, ch. ii. § 19.

“Being no way concerned in the defence of democracy, &c., I may leave our knight, like Don Quixote, fighting against the phantasms of his own brain, and saying what he pleases against such governments as never were, unless in such a place as San Marino, near Sinigaglia, in Italy, where a hundred clowns govern a barbarous rock that no man invades, and relates nothing to our question.” p. 165, § 21.

The republic of San Marino, next to that of Millingen in Switzerland, is the smallest republic in Europe. The limits of it extend no farther than the base of the mountain on which it is seated. Its insignificance is its security. No neighboring prince ever thought it worth his while to destroy the independency of such a beehive.(2)

“However, more ignorance cannot be expressed, than by giving the name of democracy to those governments that are composed of the three simple species, as we have proved that all the good ones have ever been; for, in a strict sense, it can only suit with those where the people retain to themselves the administration of the supreme power; and more largely, when the popular part, as in Athens, greatly overbalances the other two, and the denomination is taken from the prevailing part.” p. 258.


Spirit of Laws(3)—Of the Constitution of England[edit]

“In every government there are three sorts of power,—the legislative; the executive, in respect to things dependent on the law of nations; and the executive, in regard to things that depend on the civil law.

“By virtue of the first, (that is, the legislative power,) the prince or magistrate enacts temporary or perpetual laws, and amends or abrogates those that have been already enacted. By the second, he makes peace or war, sends or receives embassies, establishes the public security, and provides against invasions. By the third, he punishes criminals, or determines the disputes that arise between individuals. The latter we shall call the judiciary power, and the other simply the executive power of the state.

“The political liberty of the citizen, is a tranquillity of mind, arising from the opinion each person has of his safety. In order to have this liberty, it is requisite the government be so constituted, as that one citizen need not be afraid of another citizen.

“When the legislative and executive powers are united in the same person, or in the same body of magistrates, there can be no liberty; because apprehensions may arise, lest the same monarch or senate, or the same senate should enact tyrannical laws, to execute them in a tyrannical manner.

“Again, there is no liberty, if the power of judging be not separated from the legislative and executive powers. Were it joined with the legislative, the life and liberty of the citizens would be exposed to arbitrary control; for the judge would then be legislator. Were it joined to the executive power, the judge might behave with all the violence of an oppressor.

“There would be an end of every thing (tout seroit perdu) were the same man, or the same body, whether of princes, of the nobles, or of the people, to exercise those three powers,—that of enacting laws, that of executing the public resolutions, and that of judging the crimes or differences of individuals.

“Most kingdoms in Europe enjoy a moderate government; because the prince who is invested with the two first powers, leaves the third to his subjects. In Turkey, where these three powers are united in the sultan’s person, the subjects groan under the weight of a most frightful oppression. In the republics of Italy, where these three powers are united, there is less liberty than in our monarchies. Hence their government is obliged to have recourse to as violent methods for its support as even that of the Turks; witness the state inquisitors at Venice, and the lion’s mouth, into which every informer may at all hours throw his written accusations. What a situation must the poor citizen be in under those poor republics! The same body of magistrates are possessed, as executors of the laws, of the whole power they have given themselves in quality of legislators. They may plunder the state by their general determinations; and, as they have likewise the judiciary power in their hands, every private citizen may be ruined by their particular decisions. The whole power is here united in one body; and, though there is no external pomp that indicates a despotic sway, yet the people feel the effects of it every moment.

“Hence it is, that many of the princes of Europe, whose aim has been levelled at arbitrary power, have constantly set out with uniting in their own persons all the branches of magistracy, and all the great offices of state.

“I allow, indeed, that the mere hereditary aristocracy of the Italian republics does not answer exactly to the despotic power of the eastern princes. The number of magistrates sometimes softens the power of the magistracy; the whole body of the nobles do not always concur in the same designs; and different tribunals are erected, that temper each other. Thus, at Venice, the legislative power is in the council, the executive in the pregadi, and the judiciary in the quarantia. But the mischief is, that these different tribunals are composed of magistrates all belonging to the same body, which constitutes almost one and the same power.

“The judiciary power ought not to be given to a standing senate; it should be exercised by persons taken from the body of the people, as at Athens, at certain times of the year, and pursuant to a form and manner prescribed by law, in order to erect a tribunal that should last only as long as necessity requires.

“By this means, the power of judging, a power so terrible to mankind, not being annexed to any particular state or profession, becomes, as it were, invisible. People have not then the judges continually present to their view. They fear the office, but not the magistrate.

“In accusations of a deep or criminal nature, it is proper the person accused should have the privilege of choosing, in some measure, his judges, in concurrence with the law; or, at least, he should have a right to except against so great a number, that the remaining part may be deemed his own choice. The other two powers may be given rather to magistrates, or permanent bodies, because they are not exercised on any private subject; one being no more than the general will of the state, and the other the execution of that general will.

“But, though the tribunals ought not to be fixed, yet the judgments ought, and to such a degree as to be always conformable to the exact letter of the law. Were they to be the private opinion of the judge, people would then live in society without knowing exactly the obligations it lays them under.

“The judges ought, likewise, to be in the same station as the accused, or, in other words, his peers, to the end that he may not imagine he is fallen into the hands of persons inclined to treat him with rigor.

“If the legislative leaves the executive power in possession of a right to imprison those subjects who can give security for their good behavior, there is an end of liberty; unless they are taken up in order to answer, without delay, to a capital crime; in this case they are really free, being subject only to the power of the law.

“But should the legislative think itself in danger, by some secret conspiracy against the state, or by a correspondence with a foreign enemy, it might authorize the executive power, for a short and limited time, to imprison suspected persons, who, in that case, would lose their liberty only for a while, to preserve it for ever. And this is the only reasonable method that can be substituted to the tyrannical magistracy of the Ephori, and to the state inquisitors of Venice, who are also despotical.

“As, in a free state, every man, who is supposed a free agent, ought to be his own governor; so the legislative power should reside in the whole body of the people. But since this is impossible in large states, and in small ones is subject to many inconveniences, it is fit the people should execute by their representatives, what they cannot execute by themselves.

“The inhabitants of a particular town are much better acquainted with its wants and interests than with those of other places; and are better judges of the capacity of their neighbors than of that of the rest of their countrymen. The members, therefore, of the legislature should not be chosen from the general body of the nation; but it is proper that, in every considerable place, a representative should be elected by the inhabitants.

“The great advantage of representatives is, their being capable of discussing affairs; for this the people collectively are extremely unfit, which is one of the greatest inconveniences of a democracy.

“It is not at all necessary that the representatives, who have received a general instruction from their electors, should wait to be particularly instructed on every affair, as is practised in the diets of Germany. True it is that, by this way of proceeding, the speeches of the deputies might, with greater propriety, be called the voice of the nation. But, on the other hand, this would throw them into infinite delays; would give each deputy a power of controlling the assembly; and, on the most urgent and pressing occasions, the springs of the nation might be stopped by a single caprice.”


In searching for the principles of government, we may divide them into two kinds; the principles of authority and the principles of power. The first are virtues of the mind and heart, such as wisdom, prudence, courage, patience, temperance, justice, &c. The second are the goods of fortune, such as riches, extraction, knowledge, and reputation. I rank knowledge among the goods of fortune, because it is the effect of education, study, and travel, which are either accidents, or usual effects of riches or birth, and is by no means necessarily connected with wisdom or virtue; but, as it is universally admired and respected by the people, it is clearly a principle of power. The same may be said of reputation, which, abstracted from all consideration whether it is merited or not, well, or ill-founded, is another source of power.

Riches will hold the first place, in civilized societies, at least, among the principles of power, and will often prevail, not only over all the principles of authority, but over all the advantages of birth, knowledge, and fame. For, as Harrington says, “Men are hung upon riches; not of choice, as upon the other, but of necessity, and by the teeth. Forasmuch as he who wants bread, is his servant that will feed him; and if a man thus feeds a whole people, they are under his empire.” It already appears, that there must be in every society of men superiors and inferiors, because God has laid in the constitution and course of nature the foundations of the distinction. And, indeed, as Harrington says, “an army may as well consist of soldiers without officers, or of officers without soldiers, as a commonwealth consist of a people without a gentry, or of a gentry without a people.”

“Let states take heed,” says Lord Bacon, “how their nobility and gentlemen multiply too fast, for that makes the common subject grow to be a peasant and base swain driven out of heart, and, in effect, but a gentleman’s laborer. How shall the plough, then, be kept in the hands of the owners, and not mere hirelings? how shall the country attain to the character which Virgil gives of ancient Italy, Terra potens armis, atque ubere gleba? how, but by the balance of dominion or property?”

Notwithstanding M. Turgot’s aversion to balances, Harrington discovered, and made out, as Toland, his biographer, informs us, that “empire follows the balance of property, whether lodged in one, a few, or many hands.” A noble discovery, of which the honor solely belongs to him, as much as the circulation of the blood to Harvey, printing to Laurence Coster, or the invention of guns, compasses, or optic glasses to the several authors. If this balance is not the foundation of all politics, as Toland asserts, it is of so much importance, that no man can be thought a master of the subject, without having well weighed it. M. Turgot, it is plain, had not the least idea of it.

“Tillage,” says Harrington, “bringing up a good soldiery, brings up a good commonwealth; for, where the owner of the plough comes to have the sword too, he will use it in defence of his own. Whence it has happened, that the people of England, in proportion to their property, have been always free; and the genius of this nation has ever had some resemblance with that of ancient Italy, which was wholly addicted to commonwealths, and where Rome came to make the greatest account of her rustic tribes, and to call her consuls from the plough. For, in the way of parliaments, which was the government of this realm, men of country lives have been still entrusted with the greatest affairs, and the people have constantly had an aversion to the ways of the court. Ambition, loving to be gay and to fawn, has been a gallantry looked upon as having something in it of the livery; and husbandry, or the country way of life, though of a grosser spinning, as the best stuff of a commonwealth, according to Aristotle, such a one being the most obstinate assertress of her liberty, and the least subject to innovation or turbulency. Commonwealths, upon which the city life has had the stronger influence, as Athens, have seldom or never been quiet; but, at the best are found to have injured their own business by overdoing it. Whence, the Urban tribes of Rome, consisting of the turba forensis, and libertins, that had received their freedom by manumission, were of no reputation in comparison of the rustics. A commonwealth, consisting of but one city, would doubtless be stormy, in regard that ambition would be every man’s trade; but where it consists of a country, the plough in the hands of the owner finds him a better calling, and produces the most innocent and steady genius of a commonwealth.

“Domestic empire is founded upon dominion, and dominion is property, real or personal; that is to say, in lands, or in money and goods. Lands, or the parcels of a territory, are held by the proprietor or proprietors of it in some proportion; and such, (except it be in a city that has little or no land, and whose revenue is in trade,) as is the proportion or balance of dominion or property in land, such is the nature of the empire. If one man be sole landlord of a territory, or overbalance the people—for example, three parts in four—he is grand signior; for so the Turk is called from his property; and his empire is absolute monarchy. If the few, as a nobility and clergy, be landlords, or overbalance the people to the like proportion, it makes the Gothic balance, and the empire is mixed monarchy, as that of Spain, Poland, and once of England; and if the whole people be landlords, or hold the lands so divided among them, that no one man, or number of men, within the compass of the few, or aristocracy, overbalance them, the empire is a commonwealth.

“If force be interposed in any of these three cases, it must either frame the government to the foundation, or the foundation to the government; or, holding the government not according to the balance, it is not natural, but violent; and, therefore, if it be at the devotion of a prince, it is tyranny; if, at the devotion of the few, oligarchy; or if in the power of the people, anarchy. Each of which confusions, the balance standing otherwise, is but of short continuance, because against the nature of the balance; which not destroyed, destroys that which opposes it.” Oceana, p. 37.

Here, it would be entertaining to apply these observations to the force of fleets and armies, &c., applied by Great Britain in the late contest with America. The balance of land, especially in New England, where the force was first applied, was neither in the king nor a nobility, but immensely in favor of the people. The intention of the British politicians was to alter this balance, “frame the foundation to the government, by bringing the lands more and more into the hands of the governors, judges, counsellors, &c. &c., who were all to be creatures of a British ministry.” We have seen the effects. The balance destroyed that which opposed it.

Harrington proceeds,—“But there are certain other confusions, which being rooted in the balance, are of longer continuance and of worse consequence; as, first, where a nobility holds half the property, or about that proportion, and the people the other half; in which case, without altering the balance, there is no remedy, but the one must eat out the other; as the people did the nobility in Athens, and the nobility the people in Rome. Secondly, when a prince holds about half the dominion, and the people the other half, which was the case of the Roman emperors, (planted partly upon their military colonies, and partly upon the senate and the people,) the government becomes a very shambles, both of the princes and the people. It being unlawful in Turkey that any should possess land but the grand signior, the balance is fixed by the law, and that empire firm. Nor, though the kings often fell, was the throne of England known to shake, until the statute of alienations broke the pillars, by giving way to the nobility to sell their estates. While Lacedæmon held to the division of land made by Lycurgus, it was immovable; but, breaking that, could stand no longer. This kind of law, fixing the balance in lands, is called agrarian, and was first introduced by God himself, who divided the land of Canaan to his people by lot.

“The public sword, without a hand to hold it, is but cold iron. The hand which holds this sword is the militia of a nation; and the militia of a nation is either an army in the field, or ready for the field upon occasion. But an army is a beast that has a great belly, and must be fed; wherefore this will come to what pastures you have, and what pastures you have will come to the balance of property, without which the public sword is but a name. He that can graze this beast with the great belly, as the Turk does his timariots, may well deride him that imagines he received his power by covenant. But if the property of the nobility, stocked with their tenants and retainers, be the pasture of that beast, the ox knows his master’s crib; and it is impossible for a king, in such a constitution, to reign otherwise than by covenant; or, if he breaks it, it is words that come to blows.

“Aristotle is full of this balance in divers places, especially where he says that immoderate wealth, as where one man, or the few, have greater possessions than the equality or the frame of the commonwealth will bear, is an occasion of sedition, which ends, for the greater part, in monarchy; and that, for this cause, the ostracism has been received in divers places, as in Argos and Athens; but that it were better to prevent the growth in the beginning, than, when it has got head, to seek the remedy of such an evil.

“Machiavel, not perceiving that if a commonwealth be galled by the gentry, it is by their overbalance, speaks of the gentry as hostile to popular governments, and of popular governments as hostile to the gentry; which can never be proved by any one example, unless in civil war; seeing that, even in Switzerland, the gentry are not only safe, but in honor. But the balance, as I have laid it down, though unseen by Machiavel, is that which interprets him, where he concludes,—‘That he who will go about to make a commonwealth where there be many gentlemen, unless he first destroys them, undertakes an impossibility. And that he who goes about to introduce monarchy, where the condition of the people is equal, shall never bring it to pass, unless he cull out such of them as are the most turbulent and ambitious, and make them gentlemen or noblemen, not in name, but in effect; that is, by enriching them with lands, castles, and treasures, that may gain them power among the rest, and bring in the rest to dependence upon them; to the end that they, maintaining their ambition by the prince, the prince may maintain his power by them.’

“Wherefore, as in this place I agree with Machiavel, that a nobility or gentry overbalancing a popular government, is the utter bane and destruction of it, so I shall show in another, that a nobility or gentry, in a popular government, not overbalancing it, is the very life and soul of it.

“The public sword, or right of the militia, be the government what it will, or let it change how it can, is inseparable from the overbalance in dominion.

“The balance of dominion (4) in land is the natural cause of empire; and this is the principle which makes politics a science undeniable throughout, and the most demonstrable of any whatever. If a man, having one hundred pounds a year, may keep one servant, or have one man at his command, then, having one hundred times so much, he may keep one hundred servants; and this multiplied by a thousand, he may have one hundred thousand men at his command. Now, that the single person or nobility of any country in Europe, that had but half so many men at command, would be king or prince, is that which I think no man will doubt. But ‘No money, no Swiss.’ The reason why a single person or the nobility, that has one hundred thousand men, or half so many, at command, will have the government, is, that the estate in land, whereby they are able to maintain so many, in any European territory, must overbalance the rest that remains to the people, at least three parts in four. Now, for the same reason, if the people hold three parts in four of the territory, it is plain there can neither be any single person or nobility able to dispute the government with them. In this case, therefore, except force be interposed, they govern themselves. So that by this computation of the balance of property or dominion in the land, you have, according to the threefold foundation of property, the root or generation of the threefold kind of government or empire. If one man be sole landlord of a territory, or overbalance the whole people, three parts in four, or thereabouts, he is grand signior; for so the Turk, not from his empire, but his property, is called; and the empire, in this case, is absolute monarchy. If the few, or a nobility, or a nobility with a clergy, be landlords to such a proportion as overbalances the people in the like manner, they may make whom they please king; or, if they be not pleased with their king, down with him, and set up whom they like better; a Henry IV. or VII., a Guise, a Montfort, a Nevil, or a Porter, should they find that best for their own ends and purposes; for, as not the balance of the king, but that of the nobility, in this case, is the cause of the government, so not the estate of the prince or captain, but his virtue or ability, or fitness for the ends of the nobility, acquires that command or office. This for aristocracy or mixed monarchy. But if the whole people be landlords, or hold the land so divided among them, that no one man or number of men, within the compass of the few or aristocracy overbalance them, it is a commonwealth. Such is the branch in the root, or the balance of property naturally producing empire.”

Then follows a curious account of the laws in Israel against usury, and in Lacedæmon against trade, &c., which are well worth studying.

“That which, introducing two estates, causes division, or makes a commonwealth unequal, is not that she has a nobility, without which she is deprived of her most special ornament, and weakened in her conduct, but when the nobility only is capable of magistracy or of the senate; and where this is so ordered, she is unequal, as Rome. But where the nobility is no otherwise capable of magistracy, nor of the senate, than by election of the people, the commonwealth consists but of one order, and is equal, as Lacedæmon or Venice. Where the nobility holds half the property, or about that proportion, and the people the other half, the shares of the land may be equal; but, in regard the nobility have much among few, and the people little among many, the few will not be contented to have authority, which is all their proper share in a commonwealth, but will be bringing the people under power, which is not their proper share in a commonwealth; wherefore this commonwealth must needs be unequal; and, except by altering the balance, as the Athenians did by the rescission of debts, or as the Romans went about to do, by an agrarian, it be brought to such an equality that the whole power be in the people, and there remain no more than authority in the nobility, there is no remedy, but the one with perpetual feuds will eat out the other, as the people did the nobility in Athens, and the nobility the people in Rome. Where the carcass is, there will be the eagles also; where the riches are, there will be the power. So if a few be as rich as all the rest, a few will have as much power as all the rest; in which case the commonwealth is unequal, and there can be no end of staving and tailing till it be brought to equality.” p. 254.

“The estates, be they one, or two, or three, are such as was said by virtue of the balance upon which the government must naturally depend,” exemplified in France, &c.

“All government is of three kinds,—a government of servants, a government of subjects, or a government of citizens. The first is absolute monarchy, as that of Turkey; the second, aristocratical monarchy, as that of France; the third, a commonwealth, as Israel, Rome, Holland. Of these, the government of servants is harder to be conquered and the easier to be held. The government of subjects is the easier to be conquered and the harder to be held. The government of citizens is both the hardest to be conquered and the hardest to be held.

“The reason why a government of servants is hard to be conquered, is, that they are under a perpetual discipline and command. Why a government of subjects is easily conquered, is on account of the factions of the nobility.

“The reasons why a government of citizens, where the commonwealth is equal, is hardest to be conquered, are, that the invader of such a society must not only trust to his own strength, inasmuch as, the commonwealth being equal, he must needs find them united; but in regard that such citizens, being all soldiers, or trained up to their arms, which they use not for the defence of slavery, but of liberty, a condition not in this world to be bettered, they have, more especially upon this occasion, the highest soul of courage, and, if their territory be of any extent, the vastest body of a well-disciplined militia that is possible in nature. Wherefore an example of such a one, overcome by the arms of a monarch, is not to be found in the world.” p. 256.

In the art of lawgiving, chap. i. he enlarges still farther upon this subject; and instances Joseph’s purchase of all the lands of the Egyptians for Pharaoh, whereby they became servants to Pharaoh; and he enlarges on the English balance, &c.

In America, the balance is nine tenths on the side of the people. Indeed, there is but one order; and our senators have influence chiefly by the principles of authority, and very little by those of power; but this must be postponed.


(1) Book i. c. 2.

(2) See Blainville’s Travels, vol. ii. p. 227; Addison’s Remarks on Several Parts of Italy.

(3) Book 11, c. vi.

(4) Prerogative of Popular Government, c. iii. p. 226.