Imágenes de páginas
PDF
EPUB

had at first placed so much confidence, became, in the issue, so lost to all sense of shame and duty, that when arguments were found to be no longer sufficient, they had recourse to force ; the legislative assemblies became so many fields of battle, and their power a real calamity.

I know very well, however, that there are other important circumstances besides those I have just mentioned, which would prevent disorders of this kind from taking place in England. * But, on the other hand, let us call to mind that the person who, in England, is invested with the executive authority, unites in himself the whole public power and majesty. Let us represent to ourselves the great and sole magistrate of the nation pressing the acceptance of those laws which he had proposed, with a vehemence suited to the usual importance of his designs, with the warmth of monarchical pride, which must meet with no refusal, and exerting for that pyrpose all his immense resources.

It was therefore a matter of indispensable

* I particularly mean here the circumstance of the people having entirely delegated their power to their representatives; the consequences of which institution will be discussed in the next chapter.

necessity, that things should be settled in England in the manner they are.

As the moving springs of the executive power are, in the hands of the king, a kind of sacred depositum, so are those of the legislative power in the hands of the two houses. The king must abstain from touching them, in the same manner as all the subjects of the kingdom are bound to submit to his prerogatives. When he sits in parliament, he has left, we may say, his executive power without doors, and can only assent or dissent. If the crown had been allowed to take an active part in the business of making laws, it would soon have rendered useless the other branches of the legislature.

CHAPTER V.

In which an Inquiry is made, whether it would be

an Advantuge to public. Liberty, that the Laws should be enacted by the Votes of the People at large.

But it will be said, whatever may be the wisdom of the English laws, how great soever their precautions may be with regard to the safety of the individual, the people, as they do

not themselves expressly enact them, cannot be looked upon as a free people. The author of the Social Contract carries this opinion even farther : he says, that, “ though the people of

England think they are free, they are much “ mistaken ; they are so only during the elec• tion of members for parliament: as soon as “ these are elected, the people are slaves--

they are nothing."*

Before I answer this objection, I shall observe, that the word liberty is one of those which have been most misunderstood or misapplied.

Thus at Rome where that class of citizens who were really masters of the state, were sensible that a lawful regular authority, once trusted to a single ruler, would put an end to their tyranny, they taught the people to believe, that provided those who exercised a military power over them, and overwhelmed them with insults, went by the names of consules, dictatores, patricü, nobiles, in a word, by any other appellation than that horrid one of rex, they were free, and that such a valuable situation must be preferred at the price of every calamity.

See M. Rousseau's Social Contract, chap. xv.

In the same manner, certain writers of the present age, misled by their inconsiderate admiration of the governments of ancient times, and perhaps also by a desire of presenting lively contrasts to what they call the degenerate manners of our modern times, bave cried up the governments of Sparta and Rome, as the only ones fit for us to imitate. In their opinions, the only proper employment of a free citizen is, to be either incessantly assembled in the forum, or preparing for war. Being valiant, inured to hardships, inflamed with an ardent love of one's country, which is, after all, nothing more than an ardent desire of injuring all mankind for the sake of that society of which we are members,—and with an ardent love of glory, which is likewise nothing more than an ardent desire of committing slaughter, in order to make afterwards a boast of it, have appeared to these writers to be the only social qualifications worthy of our esteem, and of the encouragement of law-givers.* And while, in order to support such opinions, they have used a profusion of exaggerated expressions without

* I have used all the above expressions in the same sense in which they were used in the ancient commonwealths, and still are by most of the writers who describe their governments.

any distinct meaning, and perpetually repeated, though without defining them, the words dastardliness, corruption, greatness of soul, and virtue, they have not once thought of telling us the only thing that was worth our knowing, which is, whether men were happy under those governments which they have so much exhorted us to imitate.

Nor, while they have thus misapprehended the only rational design of civil societies have they better understood the true end of the

párticular institutions by which they were to be regulated. They were satisfied when they saw the few who really governed every thing in the state at times perform the illusory ceremony of assembling the body of the people, that they might appear to consult them : and the mere giving of votes, under any disadvantage in the manner of giving them, and how much soever the law might afterwards be neglected that was thus pretended to have been made in common, has appeared to them to be liberty.

But those writers are seemingly in the right: a man who contributes by his vote to the passing of a law, has himself made the law ; in obeying it, he obeys himself; he therefore is free. A play on words, and nothing more. The individual who has voted in a popular

« AnteriorContinuar »