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of each court, and each order; and, if we find, that, by the skilful division of the power, the private interest must necessarily, in its operation, concur with the public, we may pronounce that government to be wise and happy. If, on the contrary, the private interest of each order be not checked, and be not directed to public interest, we ought to look for nothing but faction, disorder, and tyranny from such a government. In this opinion I am justified by experience, as well as by the authority of all philosophers and politicians both antient and modern.
How much, therefore, would it have surprized such a genius as Cicero, or Tacitus, to have been told, That, in a future age, there should arise a very regular system of mixt government, where the authority was so distributed, that one rank, whenever it pleased, might swallow up all the rest, and engross the whole power of the constitution. Such a government, they would say, will not be a mixed government. For so great is the natural ambition of men, that they are never fatisfied with power; and if one order of men, by pursuing its own interest, can usurp upon every other order, it will certainly do so, and render itself, as far as possible, absolute and uncontrolable.
But, in this opinion, experience Thews they would have been mistaken. For this is actually the case with the British constitution. The share of power allotted by our constitution to the house of commons is so great, that it absolutely commands all the other parts of the government. The king's legislative power is plainly no proper check to it. For tho' the king has a negative in the passing of laws; yet this, in fact, is esteemed of so little moment, that whatever is voted by the two houses, is always sure to be passed into a law, and the royal affent is little better than a mere form. The principal weight of the crown lies in the executive power. But besides that the executive power, in every government, is altogether subordinate to the legislative ; besides this, I say, the exercise of this power requires an immense expence, and the commons have assumed to themselves the sole power of disposing of public money. How easy, therefore, would it be for that house to wrest from the crown all these powers, one after another, by making every grant of money conditional, and choosing their time so well, that their refusal of subsidies should only distress the government; without giving foreign powers any advantage over us? Did the house of commons depend in the same manner on the king, and had none of the members any property but from his gift, would not he command all their resolutions, and be from that moment absolute? As to the house of lords, they are a very powerful support to the crown so long as they are, in their turn, supported by it ; but both experience and reason fhew us, that they have no force nor authority sufficient to maintain themselves alone, without such support.
How, therefore, shall we solve this paradox? And by what means is this member of our constitution confined within the proper limits; since, from our very conftitution, it must necessarily have as much power as it demands, and can only be confined by itself? How is this consistent with our experience of human nature ? I answer, That the interest of the body is here restraired by the interest of the individuals, and that the house of commons stretches not its power, because such an usurpation would be contrary to the interest of the majority of its members. The crown has so many offices at its disposal, that, when asisted by the
honest and visinterested part of the house, it will always command the resolutions of the whole ; fo far at least, as to preserve the ancient constitution from danger. We may, therefore, give to this influence what name we please; we may call it by the invidious appellations of corruption and dependence; but some degree and fome kind of it are inteparable from the very nature of the constitution, and necefiary to the preservation of our mixed government.
INSTEAD then of asserting * absolutely, that the dependence of parliament, in every degree, is an infringement of British liberty, the country-party had better have made some concessions to their adversaries, and have only examined what was the proper degree of this dependence, beyond which it became dangerous to liberty. But such a moderation is not to be expected of party-men of any kind. After a concession of this nature, all declamation must be abandoned ; and a ferious calm enquiry into the proper degree of court-influence, and parliamentary dependence would have been expected by the readers. And tho' the advantage, in such a controversy, might possibly remain to the country-party; yet the victory would not have been so compleat as they wish for, nor would a true patriot have given an entire loote to his zeal, for fear of running matters into a contrary extreme, by diminishing too + far the influence of the crown. It was, therefore, thought best to deny, that this extreme could ever be dangerous to the constitution, or that the crown could ever have too little influence over members of parliament.
All questions concerning the proper medium between any two extremes are very difficult to be decided; both because it is difficult to find words proper to fix this medium, and because the good and ill, in such cases, run fo gradually into each other, as even to render our sentiments doubtful and uncertain. But there is a peculiar difficulty in the present case, which would embarrass the most knowing and most impartial examiner. The power of the crown is always lodged in a single person, either king or minister; and as this person may have either a greater or less degree of ambition, capacity, courage, popularity or fortune, the power, which is too great in one hand, may become too little in another. In pure republics, where the power is distributed among several assemblies or senates, the checks and controls are more regular in their operation ; because the members of such numerous assemblies may be presumed to be always nearly equal in capacity and virtue; and ’ris only their number, riches, or authority, which enter into consideration. But a limited monarchy admits not of any such stability; nor is it possible to assign to the crown such a determinate degree of power, as will, in every hand, form a proper counter-balance to the other parts of the constitution. This is an unavoidable disadvantage, among the many advantages, attending that species of government.
* See Dil rtation on Parties, throughout be corrupted, is always infamous under all mini
+ By that infiuerice of the crown, which I would stries, and is to be regarded as a shameless prostijustify, I mean only, that arising from the offices tution. POLYBIUS justly esteems the pecuniary and honours which are at the disposal of the crown. influence of the senate and censors to be one of the As to private bribery, it may be considered in the regular and constitutional weights, which preserved fame light as the practice of employing spies, the balance of the ROMAN government. Lib. 6. which is scarce justifiable in a good minister, and cap. 15. is infamous in a bad one : But to be a spy, or to
ESS A Y
WHETHER THE BRITISH GOVERNMENT . INCLINES MORE TO ABSOLUTE MONARCHY. OR TO A REPUBLIC.
Whlith monanred ; and Notwithilan viz. W pond in hobe
TT affords a violent prejudice against almost every science, that no prudent
I man, however sure of his principles, dares prophesy concerning any event, or foretell the remote consequences of things. A physician will not venture to pronounce concerning the condition of his patient a fortnight or month after : And still less dares a politician foretell the situation of public affairs a few years hence. HARRINGTON thought himself so sure of his general principle, That the balance of power depends on that of property, that he ventured to pronounce it imporfible ever to re-establish monarchy in ENGLAND : But his book was scarce pub. lished when the king was restored ; and we fee that monarchy has ever since subsifted upon the same footing as before. Notwithstanding this unlucky example, I will venture to examine a very important question, viz. -Whetber the British government inclines more to absolute monarchy, or to a republic ; and in which of these two species of government it will most probably terminate? As there seems not to be any great danger of a sudden revolution either way, I shall at least escape the shame attending my temerity, if I should be found to have been mistaken.
Those who affert, That the balance of our government inclines towards absolute monarchy, may support their opinion by the following reasons. That property has a great influence on power cannot possibly be denied ; but yet the general maxim, That the balance of the one depends upon the balance of the other, must be received with several limitations. 'Tis evident, that much less property in a single hand will be able to counter-balance a greater property in several hands; not only because it is difficult to make many persons combine in the same views and measures ; but also because property, when united, causes much greater dependence, than the same property when dispersed. An hundred persons, of 1000 l. a year a-piece, can consume all their income, and no body shall ever be the better for them, except their servants and tradesmen, who juftly regard their profits as the product of their own laboưir. But a man possessed of 100,000 h. a year, if he has either any generosity, or any cunning, may create a great dependence by obligations, and still a greater by expectations. Hence we may observe, that in all free governments any subject exorbitantly rich has always created a jealousy, even cho' his riches bore no manner of proportion to the riches of the state. Crassus's fortune, if I remember well, amounted only to about * sixteen hundred thousand pounds in our money; and yet we find, that, tho' his genius was nothing extraordinary, he was able, by means of his riches alone, to counter-balance, during his life-time, the power of POMPEY as well as that of CÆSAR, who afterwards became master of the world. The wealth of the Medicis made them masters of Florence; tho', 'tis probable, it was very inconsiderable, compared to the united property of that opulent republic. * As interest in Rome was higher than with us, this might yield above 100,0001, a year.
operty when difperto united, caules' me in the same views
These considerations are apt to make one entertain a very magnificent idea of the BRITISH spirit and love of liberty ; since we could maintain our free government, during so many centuries, against our sovereigns, who, besides the power and dignity and majesty of the crown, have always been possessed of much more property than any subject has ever enjoyed in any commonwealth. But it may be said, that this spirit, however great, will never be able to support itself against that immense property, which is now lodged in the king, and which is still increasing. Upon a moderate computation, there are near three millions at the disposal of the crown. The civil list amounts to near a million; the collection of all taxes to another million ; and the employments in the army and navy, together with ecclesiastical preferments, to above a third million : An enormous fum, and what may fairly be computed to be more than a thirtieth part of the whole income arid labour of the kingdom. When we add to this immense property, the increasing luxury of the nation, our proneness to corruption, together with the great power and prerogatives of the crown, and the command of such numerous military forces, there is no one but must despair of being able, without extraordinary efforts, to support our free government much longer under all these disadvantages.
On the other hand, those who maintain, that the byass of the British government leans towards a republic, may support their opinion by very specious arguments. It may be said, that tho' this immense property in the crown, be joined to the dignity of first magistrate, and to many other legal powers and prerogatives, which should naturally give it a greater influence ; yet it really becomes less dangerous to liberty upon that very account. Were BRITAIN à republic, and were any private nan poflessed of a revenue, a third, or even a tenth part as large as that of the crown, he would very justly excite jealousy ; because he would infallibly have great authority in the government: And such an irregular authority, not avowed by the laws, is always more dangerous than a much greater authority, which is derived from them. A* man poffe'fed of usurped power, can fet no bounds to his pretensions : His partizans have liberty to hope for every thing in his favor : His enemies provoke his ambition, with his fears, by the violence of their opposition: And the government being thrown into a ferment, every corrupted humor in the state naturally gathers to him. On the contrary, a legal authority, tho’ very great, has always some bounds, which terminate both the hopes and pretensions of the person poffefsed of it: the laws must have provided a remedy against its exceffes : Such an eminent magistrate has much to fear, and little to hope from his usurpations : And as his legal authority is quietly submitted to, he has small temptation and small opportunity of extending it farther. Besides, it happens, with regard to ambitious aims and projects, what may be observed with regard to fects of philosophy and religion. A new sect excites such a ferment, and is both opposed and defended with such vehemence, that it spreads always faster, and multiplies its partizans with greater rapidity, than any old established opinion, recommended by the fanction of the laws and of antiquity. Such is the nature of novelty, that where any thing pleases, it becomes doubly agreeable, if new; but if it displeases, it is doubly displeasing, upon that very
* On ne monte jamais si haut que quand on ne sçait pas ou on va, faid CROMWELL to the president De BELLIEVRE.
De Retz's Memoirs.
T. account. And, in most cases, the violence of enemies is favorable to ambitious projects, as well as the zeal of partizans.
It may farther be said, that thoʻmen be very much governed by interest; yet even interest itself, and all human affairs are entirely governed by opinion. Now, there has been a very sudden and a very sensible change in the opinions of men within these last fifty years by the progress of learning and of liberty. Most people, in this isand, have divested themselves of all superstitious reverence to names and authority: The clergy have much lost their credit : their pretensions and doctrines have been ridiculed; and even religion can scarce support itself in the world. The mere name of king commands little respect; and to talk of a king as GOD's vicegerent upon earth, or to give him any of those magnificent titles, which formerly dazzled mankind, would but excite laughter in every one. Tho' the crown, by means of its large revenue, may maintain its authority in times of tranquillity, upon private interest and influence; yet as the least shock or convulsion must break all these interests to pieces, the kingly power, being no longer supported by the settled principles and opinions of men, will immediately diffolve. . Had men been in the same disposition at the revolution, as they are at present, monarchy would have run a great risque of being entirely lost in this island. .
Durst I venture to deliver my own sentiments amidst these opposite arguments, I would assert, that unless there happen some extraordinary convulsion, the power of the crown, by means of its large revenue, is rather upon the increase; tho', ac the same time I own, that its progress seems very now, and almost insensible. The tide has run long, and with some rapidity, to the side of popular government, and is just beginning to turn towards monarchy.
'Tis well known that every government must come to a period, and that death is unavoidable to the political as well as to the animal body. But, as one kind of death may be preferable to another, it may be enquired, whether it be more desirable for the British constitution to terminate in a popular government, or in absolute monarchy? Here I would declare frankly, that tho' liberty be infinitely preferable to Navery, in almost every case ; yet I should much rather wish to see an absolute monarch than a republic in this island. For, let us consider, what kind of republic we have reason to expect. The question is not concerning any fine imaginary republic, of which a man may form a plan in his closet. There is no doubt, but a popular government may be imagined more perfect than absolute monarchy, or even than our present constitution. But what reason have we to expect that any such a government will ever be established in Britain, upon the diffolution of our monarchy? If any single person acquire power enough to take our constitution to pieces, and put it up a-new, he is really an absolute monarch ; and we have had already an instance of this kind, fufficient to convince ús, that such a person will never resign his power, or establish any free government. Matters, therefore, must be trusted to their natural progress and operation; and the house of commons, according to its present constitution, must be the only legislature in such a popular government. The inconveniences, attending such a situation of affairs, present themselves by thousands. If the house of commons, in such a case, ever dissolves itself, which is not to be expecten, we may look for a civil war every election. If it continues itself, we fall sufi er all che tyranny of a faction, subdivided into new factions. And as such a violent F 2