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sembly 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, by conferences, or debates : but since all that is manifestly otherwise, I see no other course to be taken in a settled state, than a steady constant resolution in those, to whom the rest of the balance is entrusted, never to give way so far to popular clamours, as to make the least breach in the constitution, through which a million of abuses and encroachments will certainly in time force their way.
Again, from this deduction it will not be difficult to gather and assign certain marks of popular encroachments; by observing which, those who hold the balance in a state may judge of the degrees, and, by early remedies and application, put a stop to the fatal consequences that would otherwise ensue. What those marks are, has been at large deduced, and need not be here repeated.
Another consequence is this, that (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 subjected, and from which a body of commons, either collective or represented, can be wholly exempt. For, beside that they are composed of men with all their infirmities about them, they have also the ill fortune to be generally led and influenced by the very worst among themselves, I mean popular orators, tribunes, or, as they are now styled, great speakers, leading men, and the like. Whence it comes to pass, that in their results we have sometimes 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.
Again, 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. Now, we have shown, that although most revolutions of government in Greece and Rome began with the tyranny of the people, yet they generally concluded in that of a single person; so that a usurping populace is its own dupe; a mere underworker, 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 nature to their own.
Some reflections upon the late public proceedings among us, and that variety of factions into which we are still so intricately engaged, gave occasion to this discourse. I am not conscious, that I have forced one example, or put it into any other light than it appeared to me long before I had thought of producing it.
I cannot conclude without adding some particular remarks
present posture of affairs and dispositions in this kingdom.
The fate of empire is grown a common-place : that all forms of government having been instituted by men, must be mortal like their authors, and have their periods of duration limited, as well as those of private persons. This is a truth of vulgar knowledge and observation : but there are few, who turn their thoughts to examine, how those
diseases in a state are bred, that hasten its end ; which would however be a very useful inquiry.For, 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 humour 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 humours of the body in an exact equal 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
But, I doubt, this is as impossible in practice as the other.
It has an appearance of fatality, and that the period of a state approaches, when a concurrence of many circumstances, both within and without, unite toward its ruin; while the whole body of the people are either stupidly negligent, or else giving in with all their might to those very practices, that are working their destruction. To see whole bodies of men breaking a constitution by the very same errors, that so many have been broke before; to observe opposite parties, who can agree in nothing else, yet firmly united in such measures, as must certainly ruin their country; in short, to be encompassed with the greatest dangers from without, to be torn by many virulent factions within; then to be secure and senseless under all this, and to make it the very least of our concern; these, and some others that might be named, appear to me to be the most likely symptoms in a state of a sickness unto death.
Quod procul a nobis flectat fortuna gubernans :
There are some conjunctures, wherein the death or dissolution of government is more lamentable in its consequences, than it would be in others. And, I think, a state can never arrive to its period in a more deplorable crisis, than at a time when some prince in the neighbourhood, of vast power and ambition, lies hovering like a vulture to devour, or, at least, dismember its dying carcase ; by which means it becomes only a province or acquisition to some mighty monarchy, without hopes of a resurrection.
I know very well, there is a set of sanguine tempers, who deride and ridicule, in the number of fopperies, all such apprehensions as these. They have it ready in their mouths, that the people of England are of a genius and temper never to admit slavery among them ; and they are furnished with a great many common-places upon that subject. But it seems to me, that such discoursers do reason upon short views, and a very moderate compass of thought. For, I think it a great error to count upon the genius of a nation as a standing argument in all ages, since there is hardly a spot of ground in Europe, where the inhabitants have not frequently and entirely changed their temper and genius. Neither can I see any reason, why the genius of a nation should be more fixed in the point of government, than in their morals, their learning, their religion, their common humour and conversation, their diet and their complexion; which do all notoriously vary almost in every age, and may
every one of them have great effects upon men's notions of government.
Since the Norman conquest, the balance of power in England has often varied, and sometimes been wholly overturned; the part which the commons had in it, (that most disputed point,) in its original progress and extent, was, by their own confessions, but a very inconsiderable share.
Generally speaking, they have been gaining ever since, though with frequent interruptions and slow progress. The abolishing of villanage, together with the custom introduced (or permitted) among the nobles, of selling their lands in the reign of Henry the Se venth, was a mighty addition to the power of the commons : yet I think a much greater happened in the time of his successor, at the dissolution of the abbeys; for this turned the clergy wholly out of the scale, who had so long filled it; and placed the commons in their stead : who in a few years became possessed of vast quantities of those and other lands, by grant or purchase. About the middle of Queen Elizabeth's reign, I take the power
between the nobles and the commons to have been in more equal balance, than it was ever before or since. But then, or soon after, arose a faction in England, which, under the name of Puritan, began to grow popular, by moulding up their new schemes of religion with republican principles in government; and gaining upon the prerogative as well as the nobles, under several denominations, for the space of about sixty years, did at last overthrow the constitution, and, according to the usual course of such revolutions, did introduce a tyranny, first of the people, and then of a single person.
In a short time after, the old government was revived. But the progress of affairs for almost