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Where
then is the constitution either that gives or restrains power?

It is not because a part of the government is elective, that makes it
less a despotism, if the persons so elected possess afterwards, as a
parliament, unlimited powers. Election, in this case, becomes separated
from representation, and the candidates are candidates for despotism.

I cannot believe that any nation, reasoning on its own rights, would
have thought of calling these things a constitution, if the cry of
constitution had not been set up by the government. It has got into
circulation like the words bore and quoz [quiz], by being chalked up in
the speeches of parliament, as those words were on window shutters and
doorposts; but whatever the constitution may be in other respects, it
has undoubtedly been the most productive machine of taxation that was
ever invented. The taxes in France, under the new constitution, are not
quite thirteen shillings per head,*[18] and the taxes in England, under
what is called its present constitution, are forty-eight shillings
and sixpence per head--men, women, and children--amounting to nearly
seventeen millions sterling, besides the expense of collecting, which is
upwards of a million more.

In a country like England, where the whole of the civil Government is
executed by the people of every town and county, by means of parish
officers, magistrates, quarterly sessions, juries, and assize; without
any trouble to what is called the government or any other expense to the
revenue than the salary of the judges, it is astonishing how such a mass
of taxes can be employed. Not even the internal defence of the country
is paid out of the revenue. On all occasions, whether real or contrived,
recourse is continually had to new loans and new taxes. No wonder,
then, that a machine of government so advantageous to the advocates of
a court, should be so triumphantly extolled! No wonder, that St. James's
or St. Stephen's should echo with the continual cry of constitution;
no wonder, that the French revolution should be reprobated, and the
res-publica treated with reproach! The red book of England, like the red
book of France, will explain the reason.*[19]

I will now, by way of relaxation, turn a thought or two to Mr. Burke. I
ask his pardon for neglecting him so long.

"America," says he (in his speech on the Canada Constitution bill),
"never dreamed of such absurd doctrine as the Rights of Man."

Mr. Burke is such a bold presumer, and advances his assertions and his
premises with such a deficiency of judgment, that, without troubling
ourselves about principles of philosophy or politics, the mere logical
conclusions they produce, are ridiculous. For instance,

If governments, as Mr. Burke asserts, are not founded on the Rights of
Man, and are founded on any rights at all, they consequently must be
founded on the right of something that is not man. What then is that
something?

Generally speaking, we know of no other creatures that inhabit the
earth than man and beast; and in all cases, where only two things offer
themselves, and one must be admitted, a negation proved on any one,
amounts to an affirmative on the other; and therefore, Mr. Burke, by
proving against the Rights of Man, proves in behalf of the beast; and
consequently, proves that government is a beast; and as difficult things
sometimes explain each other, we now see the origin of keeping wild
beasts in the Tower; for they certainly can be of no other use than
to show the origin of the government. They are in the place of a
constitution. O John Bull, what honours thou hast lost by not being a
wild beast. Thou mightest, on Mr. Burke's system, have been in the Tower
for life.

If Mr. Burke's arguments have not weight enough to keep one serious, the
fault is less mine than his; and as I am willing to make an apology to
the reader for the liberty I have taken, I hope Mr. Burke will also make
his for giving the cause.

Having thus paid Mr. Burke the compliment of remembering him, I return
to the subject.

From the want of a constitution in England to restrain and regulate the
wild impulse of power, many of the laws are irrational and tyrannical,
and the administration of them vague and problematical.

The attention of the government of England (for I rather choose to
call it by this name than the English government) appears, since its
political connection with Germany, to have been so completely engrossed
and absorbed by foreign affairs, and the means of raising taxes, that it
seems to exist for no other purposes. Domestic concerns are neglected;
and with respect to regular law, there is scarcely such a thing.

Almost every case must now be determined by some precedent, be that
precedent good or bad, or whether it properly applies or not; and
the practice is become so general as to suggest a suspicion, that it
proceeds from a deeper policy than at first sight appears.

Since the revolution of America, and more so since that of France,
this preaching up the doctrines of precedents, drawn from times and
circumstances antecedent to those events, has been the studied practice
of the English government. The generality of those precedents are
founded on principles and opinions, the reverse of what they ought; and
the greater distance of time they are drawn from, the more they are to
be suspected. But by associating those precedents with a superstitious
reverence for ancient things, as monks show relics and call them holy,
the generality of mankind are deceived into the design. Governments now
act as if they were afraid to awaken a single reflection in man. They
are softly leading him to the sepulchre of precedents, to deaden his
faculties and call attention from the scene of revolutions. They feel
that he is arriving at knowledge faster than they wish, and their policy
of precedents is the barometer of their fears. This political popery,
like the ecclesiastical popery of old, has had its day, and is hastening
to its exit. The ragged relic and the antiquated precedent, the monk and
the monarch, will moulder together.

Government by precedent, without any regard to the principle of the
precedent, is one of the vilest systems that can be set up. In numerous
instances, the precedent ought to operate as a warning, and not as an
example, and requires to be shunned instead of imitated; but instead of
this, precedents are taken in the lump, and put at once for constitution
and for law.

Either the doctrine of precedents is policy to keep a man in a state of
ignorance, or it is a practical confession that wisdom degenerates in
governments as governments increase in age, and can only hobble along by
the stilts and crutches of precedents. How is it that the same persons
who would proudly be thought wiser than their predecessors, appear at
the same time only as the ghosts of departed wisdom? How strangely is
antiquity treated! To some purposes it is spoken of as the times of
darkness and ignorance, and to answer others, it is put for the light of
the world.

If the doctrine of precedents is to be followed, the expenses of
government need not continue the same. Why pay men extravagantly, who
have but little to do? If everything that can happen is already in
precedent, legislation is at an end, and precedent, like a dictionary,
determines every case. Either, therefore, government has arrived at
its dotage, and requires to be renovated, or all the occasions for
exercising its wisdom have occurred.

We now see all over Europe, and particularly in England, the curious
phenomenon of a nation looking one way, and the government the
other--the one forward and the other backward. If governments are to go
on by precedent, while nations go on by improvement, they must at last
come to a final separation; and the sooner, and the more civilly they
determine this point, the better.*[20]

Having thus spoken of constitutions generally, as things distinct from
actual governments, let us proceed to consider the parts of which a
constitution is composed.

Opinions differ more on this subject than with respect to the whole.
That a nation ought to have a constitution, as a rule for the conduct
of its government, is a simple question in which all men, not directly
courtiers, will agree. It is only on the component parts that questions
and opinions multiply.

But this difficulty, like every other, will diminish when put into a
train of being rightly understood.

The first thing is, that a nation has a right to establish a
constitution.

Whether it exercises this right in the most judicious manner at first
is quite another case. It exercises it agreeably to the judgment it
possesses; and by continuing to do so, all errors will at last be
exploded.

When this right is established in a nation, there is no fear that it
will be employed to its own injury. A nation can have no interest in
being wrong.

Though all the constitutions of America are on one general principle,
yet no two of them are exactly alike in their component parts, or in the
distribution of the powers which they give to the actual governments.
Some are more, and others less complex.

In forming a constitution, it is first necessary to consider what are
the ends for which government is necessary? Secondly, what are the best
means, and the least expensive, for accomplishing those ends?

Government is nothing more than a national association; and the
object of this association is the good of all, as well individually as
collectively. Every man wishes to pursue his occupation, and to enjoy
the fruits of his labours and the produce of his property in peace
and safety, and with the least possible expense. When these things
are accomplished, all the objects for which government ought to be
established are answered.

It has been customary to consider government under three distinct
general heads. The legislative, the executive, and the judicial.

But if we permit our judgment to act unincumbered by the habit of
multiplied terms, we can perceive no more than two divisions of power,
of which civil government is composed, namely, that of legislating or
enacting laws, and that of executing or administering them.



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