A B C D E F
G H I J K L M 

Total read books on site:
more than 10 000

You can read its for free!


Text on one page: Few Medium Many
Let us now apply these principles to governments.

In casting our eyes over the world, it is extremely easy to distinguish
the governments which have arisen out of society, or out of the social
compact, from those which have not; but to place this in a clearer light
than what a single glance may afford, it will be proper to take a review
of the several sources from which governments have arisen and on which
they have been founded.

They may be all comprehended under three heads.

First, Superstition.

Secondly, Power.

Thirdly, The common interest of society and the common rights of man.

The first was a government of priestcraft, the second of conquerors, and
the third of reason.

When a set of artful men pretended, through the medium of oracles, to
hold intercourse with the Deity, as familiarly as they now march up
the back-stairs in European courts, the world was completely under the
government of superstition. The oracles were consulted, and whatever
they were made to say became the law; and this sort of government lasted
as long as this sort of superstition lasted.

After these a race of conquerors arose, whose government, like that of
William the Conqueror, was founded in power, and the sword assumed the
name of a sceptre. Governments thus established last as long as the
power to support them lasts; but that they might avail themselves of
every engine in their favor, they united fraud to force, and set up
an idol which they called Divine Right, and which, in imitation of the
Pope, who affects to be spiritual and temporal, and in contradiction to
the Founder of the Christian religion, twisted itself afterwards into an
idol of another shape, called Church and State. The key of St. Peter
and the key of the Treasury became quartered on one another, and the
wondering cheated multitude worshipped the invention.

When I contemplate the natural dignity of man, when I feel (for Nature
has not been kind enough to me to blunt my feelings) for the honour and
happiness of its character, I become irritated at the attempt to govern
mankind by force and fraud, as if they were all knaves and fools, and
can scarcely avoid disgust at those who are thus imposed upon.

We have now to review the governments which arise out of society, in
contradistinction to those which arose out of superstition and conquest.

It has been thought a considerable advance towards establishing the
principles of Freedom to say that Government is a compact between those
who govern and those who are governed; but this cannot be true, because
it is putting the effect before the cause; for as man must have
existed before governments existed, there necessarily was a time when
governments did not exist, and consequently there could originally exist
no governors to form such a compact with.

The fact therefore must be that the individuals themselves, each in his
own personal and sovereign right, entered into a compact with each other
to produce a government: and this is the only mode in which governments
have a right to arise, and the only principle on which they have a right
to exist.

To possess ourselves of a clear idea of what government is, or ought
to be, we must trace it to its origin. In doing this we shall easily
discover that governments must have arisen either out of the people
or over the people. Mr. Burke has made no distinction. He investigates
nothing to its source, and therefore he confounds everything; but he has
signified his intention of undertaking, at some future opportunity, a
comparison between the constitution of England and France. As he thus
renders it a subject of controversy by throwing the gauntlet, I take him
upon his own ground. It is in high challenges that high truths have the
right of appearing; and I accept it with the more readiness because it
affords me, at the same time, an opportunity of pursuing the subject
with respect to governments arising out of society.

But it will be first necessary to define what is meant by a
Constitution. It is not sufficient that we adopt the word; we must fix
also a standard signification to it.

A constitution is not a thing in name only, but in fact. It has not an
ideal, but a real existence; and wherever it cannot be produced in a
visible form, there is none. A constitution is a thing antecedent to a
government, and a government is only the creature of a constitution. The
constitution of a country is not the act of its government, but of the
people constituting its government. It is the body of elements, to which
you can refer, and quote article by article; and which contains the
principles on which the government shall be established, the manner
in which it shall be organised, the powers it shall have, the mode
of elections, the duration of Parliaments, or by what other name
such bodies may be called; the powers which the executive part of the
government shall have; and in fine, everything that relates to the
complete organisation of a civil government, and the principles on which
it shall act, and by which it shall be bound. A constitution, therefore,
is to a government what the laws made afterwards by that government
are to a court of judicature. The court of judicature does not make the
laws, neither can it alter them; it only acts in conformity to the laws
made: and the government is in like manner governed by the constitution.

Can, then, Mr. Burke produce the English Constitution? If he cannot,
we may fairly conclude that though it has been so much talked about, no
such thing as a constitution exists, or ever did exist, and consequently
that the people have yet a constitution to form.

Mr. Burke will not, I presume, deny the position I have already
advanced--namely, that governments arise either out of the people or
over the people. The English Government is one of those which arose out
of a conquest, and not out of society, and consequently it arose over
the people; and though it has been much modified from the opportunity of
circumstances since the time of William the Conqueror, the country has
never yet regenerated itself, and is therefore without a constitution.

I readily perceive the reason why Mr. Burke declined going into the
comparison between the English and French constitutions, because he
could not but perceive, when he sat down to the task, that no such a
thing as a constitution existed on his side the question. His book
is certainly bulky enough to have contained all he could say on this
subject, and it would have been the best manner in which people could
have judged of their separate merits. Why then has he declined the only
thing that was worth while to write upon? It was the strongest ground he
could take, if the advantages were on his side, but the weakest if they
were not; and his declining to take it is either a sign that he could
not possess it or could not maintain it.

Mr. Burke said, in a speech last winter in Parliament, "that when the
National Assembly first met in three Orders (the Tiers Etat, the Clergy,
and the Noblesse), France had then a good constitution." This shows,
among numerous other instances, that Mr. Burke does not understand what
a constitution is. The persons so met were not a constitution, but a
convention, to make a constitution.

The present National Assembly of France is, strictly speaking, the
personal social compact. The members of it are the delegates of
the nation in its original character; future assemblies will be the
delegates of the nation in its organised character. The authority of
the present Assembly is different from what the authority of future
Assemblies will be. The authority of the present one is to form a
constitution; the authority of future assemblies will be to legislate
according to the principles and forms prescribed in that constitution;
and if experience should hereafter show that alterations, amendments,
or additions are necessary, the constitution will point out the mode by
which such things shall be done, and not leave it to the discretionary
power of the future government.

A government on the principles on which constitutional governments
arising out of society are established, cannot have the right of
altering itself. If it had, it would be arbitrary. It might make itself
what it pleased; and wherever such a right is set up, it shows there
is no constitution. The act by which the English Parliament empowered
itself to sit seven years, shows there is no constitution in England. It
might, by the same self-authority, have sat any great number of years,
or for life. The bill which the present Mr. Pitt brought into Parliament
some years ago, to reform Parliament, was on the same erroneous
principle. The right of reform is in the nation in its original
character, and the constitutional method would be by a general
convention elected for the purpose. There is, moreover, a paradox in the
idea of vitiated bodies reforming themselves.

From these preliminaries I proceed to draw some comparisons. I have
already spoken of the declaration of rights; and as I mean to be as
concise as possible, I shall proceed to other parts of the French
Constitution.

The constitution of France says that every man who pays a tax of sixty
sous per annum (2s. 6d. English) is an elector. What article will Mr.
Burke place against this? Can anything be more limited, and at the same
time more capricious, than the qualification of electors is in England?
Limited--because not one man in an hundred (I speak much within compass)
is admitted to vote. Capricious--because the lowest character that can
be supposed to exist, and who has not so much as the visible means of an
honest livelihood, is an elector in some places: while in other places,
the man who pays very large taxes, and has a known fair character, and
the farmer who rents to the amount of three or four hundred pounds a
year, with a property on that farm to three or four times that amount,
is not admitted to be an elector. Everything is out of nature, as Mr.
Burke says on another occasion, in this strange chaos, and all sorts of
follies are blended with all sorts of crimes.



Pages: | Prev | | 1 | | 2 | | 3 | | 4 | | 5 | | 6 | | 7 | | 8 | | 9 | | 10 | | 11 | | 12 | | 13 | | 14 | | 15 | | 16 | | 17 | | 18 | | 19 | | 20 | | 21 | | 22 | | 23 | | 24 | | 25 | | 26 | | 27 | | 28 | | 29 | | 30 | | 31 | | 32 | | 33 | | 34 | | 35 | | 36 | | 37 | | 38 | | 39 | | 40 | | 41 | | 42 | | 43 | | 44 | | 45 | | 46 | | 47 | | 48 | | 49 | | 50 | | 51 | | 52 | | 53 | | 54 | | 55 | | 56 | | 57 | | 58 | | 59 | | 60 | | 61 | | 62 | | 63 | | 64 | | 65 | | 66 | | 67 | | 68 | | 69 | | 70 | | 71 | | 72 | | 73 | | 74 | | 75 | | 76 | | 77 | | 78 | | 79 | | 80 | | 81 | | 82 | | 83 | | 84 | | 85 | | 86 | | 87 | | 88 | | 89 | | 90 | | 91 | | 92 | | 93 | | 94 | | 95 | | 96 | | 97 | | 98 | | 99 | | 100 | | 101 | | 102 | | 103 | | 104 | | 105 | | 106 | | 107 | | 108 | | 109 | | 110 | | 111 | | 112 | | 113 | | 114 | | 115 | | 116 | | 117 | | 118 | | 119 | | 120 | | 121 | | 122 | | 123 | | 124 | | 125 | | 126 | | 127 | | 128 | | 129 | | 130 | | 131 | | 132 | | 133 | | 134 | | 135 | | 136 | | 137 | | 138 | | 139 | | 140 | | 141 | | 142 | | 143 | | 144 | | 145 | | 146 | | 147 | | 148 | | 149 | | 150 | | 151 | | 152 | | 153 | | 154 | | 155 | | 156 | | 157 | | 158 | | 159 | | 160 | | 161 | | 162 | | 163 | | 164 | | 165 | | 166 | | 167 | | 168 | | 169 | | 170 | | 171 | | 172 | | 173 | | 174 | | 175 | | 176 | | 177 | | 178 | | 179 | | 180 | | 181 | | 182 | | 183 | | 184 | | 185 | | 186 | | 187 | | 188 | | 189 | | 190 | | 191 | | 192 | | 193 | | 194 | | 195 | | 196 | | 197 | | 198 | | 199 | | 200 | | 201 | | 202 | | 203 | | 204 | | 205 | | 206 | | 207 | | 208 | | 209 | | 210 | | 211 | | 212 | | 213 | | 214 | | 215 | | 216 | | 217 | | 218 | | 219 | | 220 | | 221 | | 222 | | 223 | | 224 | | 225 | | 226 | | 227 | | 228 | | 229 | | 230 | | 231 | | Next |

N O P Q R S T
U V W X Y Z 

Your last read book:

You dont read books at this site.