Imágenes de páginas

are placed entirely out of the body of the people, their action is thereby disengaged from all that could render it complicated, or hide it from the eye, As the people thenceforward consider things speculatively, and are, if I may be allowed the expression, only spectators of the game, they acquire just notions of things : and as these notions, amidst the general quiet, gain ground and spread themselves far and wide, they at length entertain, on the subject of their liberty, but one opinion.

Forming thus, as it were, one body, the people, at every instant, have it in their power to strike the decisive blow, which is to level every thing. Like those mechanical powers, the greatest efficiency of which exists at the instant which precedes their entering into action, it has an immense force, just because it does not yet exert any; and in this state of stillness, but of attention, consists its true momentum.

With regard to those who (whether from personal privileges, or by virtue of a commission from the people) are intrusted with the active part of government, as they, in the mean while, see themselves exposed to public view, and observed, as from a distance, by men free from the spirit of party, and who place in

[ocr errors]

them but a conditional trust, they are afraid of exciting a commotion, which, though it might not prove the destruction of all power, yet would surely and immediately be the destruction of their own. And if we might suppose that, through an extraordinary conjunction of circumstances, they should resolve among themselves upon the sacrifice of those laws on which public liberty is founded, they would no sooner lift up.


eyes towards that extensive assembly, which views them with a watchful attention, than they would find their public virtue return upon them, and would make haste to resuine that plan of conduct, out of the limits of which they can expect nothing but ruin and perdition.

In short, as the body of the people cannot act without either subjecting themselves to some power, or effecting a general destruction, the only share they can have in a government, with advantage to themselves is, not to interfere but to influence to be able to act, and not to act.

The power of the people is not when they strike, but when they keep in awe: it is when they can overthrow every thing that they never need to move ; and Manlius included all

in four words, when he said to the people of Rome-Ostendite bellum, pacem habebitis.


Proofs, drawn from Facts, of the Truth of the Prin

ciples laid down in the present Work.- 1. The peculiar Manner in which Revolutions have always been concluded in England.


may not be sufficient to have proved by arguments the advantages of the English constitution; it will perhaps be asked, whether the effects correspond to the theory? To this question (which I confess is extremely proper) my answer is ready : it is the same which was once made, I believe, by a LacedæmonianCome and see.

If we peruse the English history, we shall be particularly struck with one circumstance to be observed in it, and which distinguishes most advantageously the English government from all other free governments; I mean the manner in which revolutions and public commotions have always been terminated in England.

If we read with some attention the history

of other free states, we shall see that the public dissensions that have taken place in them have constantly been terminated by settlements in which the interests only of a few were really provided for, while the grievances of the many were hardly, if at all, attended to. In England the very reverse has happened ; and we find revolutions always to have been terminated by extensive and accurate provisions for securing the general liberty.

The histories of the ancient Grecian commonwealths, and, above all, of the Roman republic, of which more complete accounts have been left us, afford striking proof of the former part of this observation.

What was, for instance, the consequence of that great revolution by which the kings were driven from Rome, and in which the senate and patricians acted as the advisers and leaders of the people? The consequence was, as we find in Dionysius of Halicarnassus, and Livy, that the senators immediately assumed all those powers lately so much complained of by themselves, which the kings had exercised. The execution of their future decrees was intrusted to two magistrates taken from their own body, and entirely dependent on them, whom they called consuls, and who were made to bear

about them all the ensigns of power which had formerly attended the kings. Only, care was taken that the axes and fasces, the symbols of the power of life and death over the citizens, which the senate now claimed to itself, should not be carried before both consuls at once, but only before one at a time, for fear, says Livy, of doubling the terror of the people.

Nor was this all : the senators drew over to their party those men who had the most interest at that time among the people, and admitted them as members into their own body;t which indeed was a precaution they could not prudently avoid taking. But the interests of the great men in the republic being thus provided for, the revolution ended.

The new senators, as well as the old, took care not to lessen, by making provisions for the liberty of the people, a power which was now become their own. Nay, they presently stretched this power beyond its former tone ; and the punishments which the consul inflicted, in a mi

* “ Omnia jura (regum), omnia insignia, primi con“ sules tenuere ; id modò cautum est, ne, si ambo fasces “haberent, duplicatus terror videretur." Tit. Liv. lib. ii. 91.

+ These new senators were called conscripti: hence the name of patres conscripti, afterwards indiscriminately given to the whole senate. Tit. Liv. ibid.

« AnteriorContinuar »