« PredošláPokračovať »
record, full of the highest resentment and contempt for such an offer, and from such a hand.
Here ended all show or shadow of liberty in Rome. Here was the repository of all the wise contentions and struggles for power between the nobles and commons, lapped up safely in the bosom of a Nero and a Caligula, a Tiberius and a Domitian.
Let us now see, from this deduction of particular impeachments, and general dissensions in Greece and Rome, what conclusions may naturally be formed for instruction of any other state, that may haply upon many points labour under the like circumstances.
Upon the subject of impeachments we may observe, that the custom of accusing the nobles to the people, either by themselves, or their orators, (now styled an impeachment in the name of the commons) has been very ancient both in Greece and Rome, as well as Carthage ; and therefore may seem to be the inherent right of a free people, nay, perhaps it is really so: but then it is to be considered, first, that this custom was peculiar to republics, or such states where the administration lay principally in the hands of the commons, and ever raged more or less, according to their encroachments upon absolute power ; having been always looked upon by the wisest men and best authors of those times, as an effect of licentiousness, and not of liberty; a distinction, which no multitude, either represented or collective, has been at any time very nice in observing. However, perhaps this custom in a popular state of impeaching particular men, may seem to be nothing else, but the people's choosing upon occasion to exercise their own jurisdiction in person; as if a king of England should sit as chief justice in his court of King's Bench; which, they say, in former times he sometimes did. But in Sparta, which was called a kingly government, thoágh the people were perfectly free, yet because the administration was in the two kings and the ephori, with the assistance of the senate, we read of no impeachments by the people; nor was the process against great men, either upon account of ambition or ill conduct, though it reached sometimes to kings themselves, ever formed that way, as I can recollect, but only passed through those hands where the administration lay. So likewise, during the regal government in Rome, though it was instituted a mixed monarchy, and the people made great advances in power, yet I do not remember to have read of one impeachment from the commons against a patrician, until the consular state began, and the people had made great encroachments upon the administration.
Another thing to be considered is, that allowing this right of impeachment to be as inherent as they please, yet, if the commons have been perpetually mistaken in the merits of the causes and the per, sons, as well as in the consequences of such impeachments upon
peace of the state, we cannot conclude less, than that the commons in Greece and Rome (whatever they may be in other states) were by no means qualified, either as prosecutors or judges in such matters; and therefore, that it would have been prudent, to have reserved these
privileges dormant, never to be produced but upou very great and urging occasions, where the state is in apparent danger, the universal body of the people in clamours against the administration, and no other remedy in view. But for a few popular orators or tribunes, upon the score of personal piqués; or to employ the pride they conceive in seeing themselves at the head of a party; or as a method for advancement; or moved by certain powerful arguments that could make Demosthenes philippize : for such men, I say, when the state would of itself gladly be quiet, and has, besides, affairs of the last importance upon the anvil, to impeach Miltiades after a great naval victory, for not pursuing the Persian fleet; to impeach Aristides, the person most versed among them in the knowledge and practice of their laws, for a blind suspicion of his acting in an arbitrary way, that is, as they expound it, not in concert with the people; to impeach Pericles, after all his services, for a few inconsiderable accounts; or to impeach Phocion, who had been guilty of no other crime but negociating a treaty for the peace and security of his country: what could the continuance of such
proceedings end in, but the utter discouragement of all virtuous actions and persons, and consequently in the ruin of a state ? therefore the historians of those ages seldom fail to set this matter in all its lights, leaving us in the highest and most honourable ideas of those persons who suffered by the persecution of the people, together with the fatal consequences they had, and how the persecutors seldom failed to repent, when it was too late.
These impeachments perpetually falling upon many of the best men both in Greece and Rome, are a cloud of witnesses, and examples enough to discourage men of virtue and abilities from enga
ging in the service of the public; and help on the other side to introduce the ambitious, the covetous, the superficial, and the ill-designing; who are as apt to be bold, and forward, and meddling, as the former are to be cautious, and modest, and reserved. This was so well known in Greece, that an eagerness after employments in the state, was looked upon by wise men, as the worst title a man could set up: and made Plato say, That if all men were as good as they ought to be, the quarrel in a commonwealth would be, not, as it is now, who should be ministers of state, but who should not be so. And Socrates is introduced by Xenophon severely chiding a friend of his for not entering into the public service, when he was every way qualified for it: such a backwardness there was at that time among good men to engage with a usurping people
, and a set of pragmatical ambitious orators. And Diodorus tells us, † that when the petalism $ was erected at Syracuse, in imitation of the ostracism at Athens, it was so notoriously levelled against all who had either birth or merit to recommend them, that whoever possessed either, withdrew for fear
, and would have no concern in public affairs. So that the people themselves were forced to abrogate it, for fear of bringing all things into confusion.
There is one thing more to be observed, wherein all the popular impeachments in Greece and Rome seem to have agreed; and that was, a notion they had of being concerned in point of honour to condemn whatever person they impeached, however frivolous the articles were upon which they began, or however weak the surmises whereon they were to proceed in their proofs. For, to conceive that the body of the people could be mistaken, was an indignity not to be imagined, till the consequences had convinced them, when it was past remedy. And I look upon this as a fate to which all popular accusations are subject; though I should think that the saying, Vor populi vox Dei, ought to be understood of the universal bent and current of a people, not of the bare majority of a few representatives, which is often procured by little arts, and great industry and application; wherein those, who engage in the pursuits of malice and revenge, are much more sedulous than such as would prevent them.
* Lib. Memorab.
+ Lib. 11. + Popular votes of banishment by petalism were so called, because the voters inscribed the name of the accused person on a leaf, as in the ostracism it was marked on a shell.
From what has been deduced of the dissensions in Rome between the two bodies of patricians and plebeians, several reflections may be made.
First, that when the balance of power is duly fixed in a state, nothing is more dangerous or unwise, than to give way to the first steps of popular encroachments, which is usually done either in hopes of procuring ease and quiet from some vexatious clamour, or else made merchandize, and merely bought and sold. This is breaking into a constitution to serve a present expedient, or supply a present exigency : the remedy of an empiric, to stifle the present pain, but with certain prospect of sudden and terrible returns. When a child grows easy and content by being humoured ; 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 if one instance could be produced of a popular as