DISSERTATION ON FIRST-PRINCIPLES OF GOVERNMENT.
THERE is no subject in which mankind are more universally interested than in the subject of govern∣ment. His security, be he rich or poor, and, in a great measure, his prosperity is connected therewith; it is there∣fore his interest as well as his duty to make himself acquainted with its principles, and what the practice ought to be.
Every art and science, however imperfectly known at first, has been studied, improved, and brought to what we call perfection by the progressive labours of succeeding generations; but the science of government has stood still. No improvement has been made in the principle and scarcely any in the practice till the American revolution began. In all the countries of Europe (except in France) the same forms and systems that were erected in the remote Page 4ages of ignorance still continue, and their antiquity is pile in the place of principle; it is forbidden to investigate their origin or by what right they exist; if it be asked how has this happened, the answer is easy; they are esta∣blished on a principle that is false, and they employ their power to prevent detection.
Notwithstanding the mystery with which the science of government has been enveloped, for the purpose of enslaving, plundering, and imposing upon mankind, it is of all things the least mysterious and the most easy to be understood. The meanest capacity cannot be at a loss, if it begins its enquiries at the right point. Every art and science has some point, or alphabet, at which the study of that art or science begins, and by the assistance of which the progress is facilitated. The same method ought to be observed with respect to the science of government.
Instead then of embarrassing the subject in the outset with the numerous subdivisions, under which different forms of government have been classed, such as aristo∣cracy, democracy, oligarchy, monarchy, &c. the better method will be to begin with what may be called primary divisions, or those under which all the several subdivisions will be comprehended.
The primary divisions are but two.
- First, government by election and representation.
- Secondly, government by hereditary succession.
All the several forms and systems of government, however numerous or diversified, class themselves under one or other of those primary divisions; for either they are on the system of representation, or on that of hereditary succession. As to Page 5that equivocal thing called mixed government, such as the late government of Holland and the present government of England, it does not make an exception to the general rule, because the parts separately considered are either re∣presentative or hereditary.
Beginning then our enquiries at this point, we have first to examine into the nature of those two primary divi∣sions. If they are equally right in principle, it is mere matter of opinion which we prefer. If the one be demon∣stratively better than the other, that difference should direct our choice; but if one of them be so absolutely false as not to have a right to existence, the matter settles itself at once; because a negative proved on one thing, where two only are offered, and one must be accepted, amounts to an affirmative on the other.
The revolutions that are now spreading themselves in the world have their origin in this state of the case, and the present war is a conflict between the representative system founded on the rights of the people and the here∣ditary system founded in usurpation. As to what are called Monarchy, Royalty, and Aristocracy, they do not, either as things or as terms, sufficiently describe the hereditary system; they are but secondary things or signs of the he∣reditary system, and which fall of themselves if that system has not a right to exist. Were there no such terms as Monarchy, Royalty and Aristocracy, or were other terms substituted in their place, the hereditary system, if it con∣tinued, would not be altered then by. It would be the same system under any other titulary name as it is now.
The character therefore of the revolutions of the pre∣sent Page 6day distinguishes itself most definitively by grounding itself on the system of representative government in oppo∣sition to the hereditary. No other distinction reaches the whole of the principle.
Having thus opened the case generally, I proceed, in the first place, to examine the hereditary system, because it has the priority in point of time. The representative system is the invention of the modern world; and that no doubt may arise as to my own opinion, I declare it before hand, which is, that there is not a problem in Euclid more mathematically true than that hereditary government has not a right to exist. When therefore we take from any man the exercise of hereditary power, we take away that which he never had the right to possess, and which no law or custom could, or ever can, give him a title to
The arguments that have hitherto been employed against the hereditary system, have been chiefly founded upon the absurdity of it, and its incompetency to the purpose of good government. Nothing can present to our judgement, or to our imagination, a figure of greater absurdity, than that of seeing the government of a nation fall, as it fre∣quently does, into the hands of a lad necessarily destitute of experience and often little better than a fool. It is an insult to every man of years, of character, and of talent, in a country. The moment we begin to reason upon the hereditary system it falls into derision; let but a single idea begin and a thousand will soon follow. Insignificance, imbecility, childhood, dotage, want of moral character; in fine, every defect serious or laughable unite to hold up the hereditary system as a figure of ridicule. Leaving however Page 7the ridiculousness of the thing to the reflections of the reader, I proceed to the more important part of the ques∣tion, namely, whether such a system has a right to exist?
To be satisfied of the right of a thing to exist, we must be satisfied that it had a right to begin. If it had not a right to begin, it has not a right to continue. By what right then did the hereditary system begin? Let a man but ask himself this question, and he will find that he cannot satisfy himself with an answer.
The right which any man, or any family had to set itself up at first to govern a nation, and to establish itself hereditarily, was no other than the right which Robespierre had to do the same thing in France. If he had none, they had none. If they had any, he had as much, for it is impossible to discover superiority of right in any family, by virtue of which hereditary government could begin. The Capets, the Guelphs, the Robespierres, the Marats, are all on the same standing as to the question of right. It belongs exclusively to none.
It is one step towards liberty, to perceive that hereditary government could not begin as an exclusive right in any family. The next point will be, whether, having once began, it could grow into a right by the influence of time?
This would be supposing an absurdity; for either it is putting time in the place of principle, or making it supe∣rior to principle; whereas time has no more connection with, or influence upon principle, than principle has upon time. The wrong which began a thousand years ago, is as much a wrong, as if it began to day; and the right which originates to day, is as much a right as if it had the Page 8sanction of a thousand years. Time with respect to prin∣ciples is an eternal NOW: it has no operation upon them: it changes nothing of their nature and qualities. But what have we to do with a thousand years. Our life time is but a short portion of that period, and if we find the wrong in existence as soon as we begin to live, that is the point of time at which it begins to us; and our right to resist it, is the same as if it had never existed before.
As hereditary government could not begin as a natural right in any family, nor derive after its commencement any right from time, we have only to examine whether there exist in a nation a right to set it up and establish it by what is called law, as has been done in England. I answer NO; and that any law or any constitution made for that purpose is an act of treason against the rights of every minor in the nation, at the time it is made, and against the rights of all succeeding generations. I shall speak upon each of those cases. First, of the minor at the time such law is made. Secondly, of the generations that are to follow.
A nation in a collective sense, comprehends all the indi∣viduals of whatever age, from just born to just dying. Of these, one part will be minors, the other aged. The average of life is not exactly the same in every climate and country, but in general the minority in years are the majo∣rity in numbers, that is, the number of persons under twenty one years, is greater than the number of persons above that age. This difference in number is not neces∣sary to the establishment of the principle I mean to lay down, but it serves to shew the justice of it more strongly, Page 9The principle would be equally good, if the majority in years were also the majority in numbers.
The rights of minors are as sacred as the rights of the aged. The difference is altogether in the different age of the two parties and nothing in the nature of the rights; the rights are the same rights; and are to be preserved inviolate for the inheritance of the minors when they shall come of age. During the minority of minors, their rights are under the sacred guardianship of the aged. The minor, cannot surrender them; the guardian cannot dispossess him; consequently, the aged part of a nation who are the lawmakers for the time being, and who, in the march of life, are but a few years a head of those who are yet minors, and to whom they must shortly give place, have not and cannot have the right to make a law to set up and esta∣blish hereditary government, or, to speak more distinctly, an hereditary succession of governors; because it is an attempt to deprive every minor in the nation, at the time such a law is made, of his inheritance of rights, when he shall come of age, and to subjugate him to a system of government to which, during his minority, he could neither consent nor object.
If a person, who is a minor at the time such a law is proposed, had happened to have been born a few years sooner, so as to be of the age of twenty one years at the time of proposing it, his right to have objected against it, to have exposed the injustice and tyrannical principles of it, and to have voted against it, will be admitted on all sides. If, therefore, the law operates to prevent his exercising the same rights after he comes of age as he would have had a Page 10right to exercise had he been of age at the time, it is, undeniably, a law to take away and annul the rights of every person in the nation who shall be a minor at the time of making such a law, and consequently the right to make it cannot exist.
I come now to speak of government by hereditary suc∣cession as it applies to succeeding generations; and to shew that in this case, as in the case of minors, there does not exist in a nation a right to set it up.
A nation, though continually existing, is continually in a state of renewal and succession. It is never stationary. Every day produces new births, carries minors forward to maturity, and old persons from the stage. In this ever running flood of generations there is no part superior in authority to another. Could we conceive an idea of supe∣riority in any, at what point of time, or in what century of the world, are we to fix it? To what cause are we to ascribe it? By what evidence are we to prove it? By what criterion are we to know it? A single reflection will teach us that our ancestors, like ourselves, were but tenants for life in the great freehold of rights. The fee-absolute was not in them, it is not in us, it belongs to the whole family of man, thro' all ages. If we think otherwise than this, we think either as slaves or as tyrants. As slaves, if we think that any former generation had a right to bind us; as tyrants, if we think that we have authority to bind the ge∣nerations that are to follow.
It may not be inapplicable to the subject, to endeavour to define what is to be understood by a generation in the sense the word is here used.
Page 11As a natural term its meaning is sufficiently clear. The father, the son, the grandson are so many distinct genera∣tions. But when we speak of a generation as describing the persons in whom legal authority resides, as distinct from another generation of the same description who are to succeed them, it comprehends all those who are above the age of twenty one years, at the time we count from; and a generation of this kind will continue in authority between fourteen and twenty one years, that is, until the number of minors, who shall have arrived at age, shall be greater than the number of persons remaining of the former stock.
For example, if France at this or any other moment, contain twenty four millions of souls, twelve millions will be males, and twelve females. Of the twelve mil∣lions of males, six millions will be of the age of twenty one years, and six will be under, and the authority to govern will reside in the first six. But every day will make some alteration, and in twenty one years every one of those minors who survive will have arrived at age, and the greater part of the former stock will be gone: the majority of persons then living, in whom the legal authority resides, will be composed of those who, twenty one years before, had no legal existence. Those will be fathers and grand fathers in their turn, and in the next twenty one years, (or less) another race of minors, arrived at age, will succeed them, and so on.
As this is ever the case, and as every generation is equal in rights to another, it consequently follows, that there cannot be a right in any to establish government by here∣ditary succession, because it would be supposing itself Page 12possessed of a right superior to the rest, namely, that of commanding by its own authority how the world shall be hereafter governed, and who shall govern it. Every age and generation is and must be (as a matter of right) as free to act for itself in all cases, as the age and generation that preceded it. The vanity and presumption of govern∣ing beyond the grave is the most ridiculous and insolent of all tyrannics. Man has no property in man, neither has one generation a property in the generations that are to follow.
In the first part of Rights of Man I have spoken of govern∣ment by hereditary succession; and I will here close the subject with an extract from that work, which states it under the two following heads.
"First, of the right of any family to establish itself with hereditary power.
"Secondly, of the right of a nation to establish a parti∣cular family.
"With respect to the first of those heads, that of a family establishing itself with hereditary powers on its own autho∣rity independant of the nation, all men will concur in calling it despotism, and it would be trespassing on their understanding to attempt to prove it.
"But the second head, that of a nation, that is, of a gene∣ration for the time being, establishing a particular family with hereditary powers, it does not present itself as despotism on the first reflection; but if men will permit a second reflection to take place, and carry that reflection forward, even but one remove out of their own persons to that of heir offpring, they will then see, that hereditary succession Page 13becomes the same despotism to others, which the first persons reprobated for themselves. It operates to preclude the consent of the succeeding generation, and the preclusion of consent is despotism.
"In order to see this matter more clearly, let us consider the generation which undertakes to establish a family with hereditary powers, separately from the generations which are to follow.
"The generation which first selects a person and puts him at the head of its government, either with the title of king, or any other nominal distinction, acts its own choice, as a free agent for itself, be that choice wise or foolish. The person so set up is not hereditary, but selected and ap∣pointed; and the generation which sets him up, does not live under an hereditary government, but under a govern∣ment of its own choice. Were the person so set up, and the generation who sets him up, to live for ever, it never could become hereditary succession, and of consequence, hereditary succession can only follow on the death of the first parties.
"As therefore hereditary succession is out of the ques∣tion, with respect to the first generation, we have next to consider the character in which that generation acts towards the commencing generation and to all succeeding ones.
"It assumes a character to which it has neither right nor title; for it changes itself from a legislator to a testator, and affects to make a will and testament, which is to have operation, after the demise of the makers, to bequeath the government; and it not only attempts to Page 14bequeath, but to establish on the succeeding generation a new and different form of government under which itself lived. Itself, as al ready observed, lived not under an hereditary government, but under a government of its own choice; and it now attempts, by virtue of a will and testa∣ment, which it has not authority to make, to take from the commencing generation, and from all future ones, the right and free agency by which itself acted.
"In whatever light hereditary succession, as growing out of the will and testament of some former generation, presents itself, it is both criminal and absurd. A cannot make a will to take from B the property of B and give it to C; yet this is the manner in which, what is called hereditary succession by law, operates. A certain genera∣tion makes a will, under the form of a law to take away the rights of the commencing generation, and of all future generations, and convey those rights to a third person who afterwards comes forward and assumes the government in consequence of that illicit conveyance."
The history of the English parliament furnishes an example of this kind; and which merits to be recorded as being the greatest instance of legislative ignorance and want of principle that is to be found in the history of any country. The case is as follows.
The English parliament of 1688, imported a man and his wife from Holland, William and Mary, and made them king and queen of England. Having done this, the said parliament made a law to convey the government of the country to the heirs of William and Mary in the following words,
It is not sufficient that we laugh at the ignorance of such law makers; it is necessary that we reprobate their want of principle. The constituent assembly of France 1789 fell into the same vice as the parliament of England had done, and assumed to establish an hereditary succession in the family of the Capets, as an act of the constitution of that year. That every nation, for the time being, has a right to govern itself as it pleases, must always be admit∣ted; but government by hereditary succession, is govern∣ment for another race of people and not for itself; and as those on whom it is to operate, are not yet in existence or are minors, so neither is the right in existence to set it up for them, and to assume such a right is treason against the right of posterity.
I here close the arguments on the first head, that of government by hereditary succession; and proceed to the second, that of government by election and representation; or as it may be concisely expressed, representative government in contra-distinction to hereditary government.
Reasoning by exclusion, if hereditary government has not a right to exist, and that it has not is proveable, repre∣sentative government is admitted of course.
Page 16In contemplating government by election and repre∣sentation, we amuse not ourselves in enquiring when or how, or by what right it began. Its origin is ever in view. Man is himself the origin and the evidence of the right. It appertains to him in right of his existence, and his person is the title deed.
The true and only true basis of representative govern∣ment is equality of Rights. Every man has a right to one vote and no more in the choice of representatives. The rich have no more right to exclude the poor from the right of voting, or of electing and being elected, than the poor have to exclude the rich; and wherever it is attempted, or proposed, on either side, it is a question of force and not of right. Who is he that would exclude another? That other has the same right to exclude him.
That which is now called aristocracy implies an ine∣quality of rights, but who are the persons that have a right to establish this inequality? Will the rich exclude them∣selves? No. Will the poor exclude themselves! No. By what right then can any be excluded? It would be a question, if any man or class of men have a right to exclude themselves; but, be this as it may, they cannot have the right to exclude another. The poor will not delegate such a right to the rich, nor the rich to the poor, and to assume it, is not only to assume arbitrary power, but to assume a right to commit robbery. Personal rights, of which the right of voting for representatives is one, are a species of property of the most sacred kind: and he that would employ his pecuniary property, or presume upon the influence it gives him, to dispossess or rob another of his property of rights, Page 17uses that pecuniary property, as he would use fire-arms, and merits to have it taken from him.
Inequality of rights is created by a combination in one part of the community to exclude another part from its rights. Whenever it be made an article of a constitution, or a law, that the right of voting, or of electing and being elected, shall appertain exclusively to persons possessing a certain quantity of property, be it little or much, it is a combination of the persons possessing that quantity, to ex∣clude those who do not possess the same quantity. It is investing themselves with powers as a self-created part of society, to the exclusion of the rest.
It is always to be taken for granted, that those who oppose an equality of rights, never mean the exclusion should take place on themselves; and in this view of the case, pardoning the vanity of the thing, aristocracy is a subject of laughter. This self-soothing vanity is encou∣raged by another idea not less selsish, which is, that the opposers conceive they are playing a sa••••me, in which there is a chance to gain and none to lose; that at any sate the doctrine of equality includes them, and that if they cannot get more rights than those whom they oppose and would exclude, they shall not have less. This opinion has already been fatal to thousands who, not contented with equal rights, have sought more till they lost all, and experienced in themselves the degrading inequality they endeavoured to fix upon others.
In any view of the case it is dangerous and impolitic, some∣times ridiculous, and always unjust, to make property the criterion of the right of voting. If the sum, or value Page 18of the property upon which the right is to take place be considerable, it will exclude a majority of the people, and unite them in a common interest against the government and against those who support it, and as the power is always with the majority, they can overturn such a government and its supporters whenever they please.
If, in order to avoid this danger, a small quantity of property be fixed, as the criterion of the right, it exhibits liberty in disgrace, by putting it in competion with acci∣dent and insignificance. When a brood-mare shall fortu∣nately produce a soal or a mule, that by being worth the sum in question, shall convey to its owner the right of voting, or by its death take it from him, in whom does the origin of such a right exist? Is it in the man, or in the mule? When we consider how many ways property may be acquired without merit, and lost without a crime, we ought to spurn the idea of making it a criterion of rights.
But the offensive part of the case is, that this exclusion from the right of voting implies a stigma on the moral character of the persons excluded; and this is what no part of the community has a right to pronounce upon another part. No external circumstance can justify it; wealth is no proof of moral character; nor poverty of the want of it. On the contrary, wealth is often the presumptive evi∣dence of dishonesty; and poverty the negative evidence of inuocence. If therefore property, whether little or much, be made a criterion, the means by which that pro∣perty has been acquired, ought to be made a criterion also.
The only ground upon which exclusion from the right of voting is consistent with justice, would be to inflict it as Page 19a punishment for a certain time upon those who should propose to take away that right from others. The right of voting for representatives is the primary right by which other rights are protected. To take away this right is to reduce a man to a state of slavery, for slavery consists in being subject to the will of another, and he that has not a vote in the election of representatives, is in this case. The proposal therefore to disfranchise any class of men is as criminal as the proposal to take away property. When we speak of right, we ought always to unite with it the idea of duties: right becomes duties by reciprocity. The right which I enjoy becomes my duty to guarantee it to another, and he to me; and those who violate the duty justly incur a forseicure of the right.
In a political view of the case the strength and perma∣nent security of government is in proportion to the num∣ber of people interested in supporting it. The true policy therefore is to interest the whole by an equality or rights, for the danger arises from exclusions. It is possible to exclude men from the right of voting, but it is impossible to exclude them from the right of rebelling against that exclusion; and when all other rights are taken away, the right of rebellion is made perfect.
While men could be persuaded they had no rights, or that rights appertained only to a certain class of men, or that government was a thing existing in right of itself, it was not difficult to govern them authoritatively. The ignorance in which they were held, and the superstition in which they were instructed, furnished the means of doing Page 20it; but when the ignorance is gone, and the superstition with it; when they perceive the imposition that has been acted upon them; when they reflect that the cultivator and the manufacturer are the primary means of all the wealth that exist in the world, beyond what nature spon∣taneously produces; when they begin to feel their conse∣quence by their usefulness, and their right as members of society, it is then no longer possible to govern them as before. The fraud once detected cannot be re-acted. To attempt it is to provoke derision, or invite destruction.
That property well ever be unequal is certain. Industry, superiority of talents, dexterity of management, extreme frugality, fortunate opportunities, or the opposite, or the mean of those things, will ever produce that effect without having recourse to the harsh ill sounding names of avarice, and oppression; and beside this, there are some men who, though they do not despise wealth, will not stoop to the drudgery or the means of acquiring it, nor will be troubled with the care of it, beyond their wants or their indepen∣dence; whilst in others, there is an avidity to obtain it by every means not punishable; it makes the sole business of their lives, and they follow it as a religion. All that is required with respect to property is to obtain it honestly, and not employ it criminally; but it is always criminally employed, when it is made a criterion for exclusive rights.
In institutions that are purely pecuniary, such as that of a bank or a commercial company, the rights of the members composing that company are wholly created by the property they invest therein; and no other rights are represented in the government of that company, than what Page 21arise out of that property; neither has that government cognizance of any thing but prope•ty.
But the case is totally different with respect to the insti∣tution of civil government, organized on the system of representation. Such a government has cognizance of every thing and of every man as a member of the national society, whether he has property or not; and therefore the principle requires that every man, and every kind of right be represented, of which the right to acquire and to hold pro∣perty is but one, and that not of the most essential kind. The protection of a man's person is more sacred than the protection of property; and besides this, the faculty of performing any kind of work or service by which he acquires a livelihood, or maintains his family, is of the nature of property. It is property to him; he has acquired; it and it is as much the object of his protection, as exterior property, possessed without that faculty, can be the object of protection to another person.
I have always believed that the best security for property, be it much or little, is to remove from every part of the community, as far as can possibly be done, every cause of complaint, and every motive to violence: and this can only be done by an equality of rights. When rights are secure, property is secure in consequence. But when property is made a pretence for unequal or exclusive rights, it weakens the right to hold the property, and provokes indignation and tumult; for it is unnatural to believe that property can be secure under the guarantee of a society injured in its rights by the influence of that property.
Next to the injustice and ill-policy of making property Page 22a pretence for exclusive rights, is the unaccountable absur∣dity of giving to mere sound the idea of property, and annexing to it certain rights; for what else is a 〈◊〉 but sound. Nature is often giving to the world some extraor∣dinary men who arrive at fame by merit and universal consent, such as Aristotle, Socrates, Plato, &c. These were truly great or noble. But when government s•ts up a manufactory of nobles, it is as absurd, as if she undertook to manufacture wise men. Her nobles are all counter∣feits.
This wax-work order has assumed the name of aristo∣cracy; and the disgrace of it would be lessend if it could be considered only as childish imbecility. We pardon foppery because of its insignificance, and on the same ground we might pardon the foppery of Titles. But the origin of aristocracy was worse than foppery. It was robbery. The first aristocrats in all countries were bri∣gands. Those of latter times, sycophants.
It is very well known that in England, (and the same will be found in other countries) the great landed estates now held in descent were plundered from the quiet inha∣bitants at the conquest. The possibility did not exist of acquiring such estates honestly. If it be asked how they could have been acquired no answer but that of robbery can be given. That they were not acquired by trade, by commerce, by manufactures, by agriculture, or by any re∣putable employment is certain. How then were they acquir∣ed? Blusn aristocracy to hear your origin, for your progeni∣tors were Thieves. They were the Robespierres and the Jacobins of that day. When they had committed the robbery, Page 23they endeavoured to lose the disgrace of it, by sinking their real names under fictitious ones, which they called Titles. It is ever the practice of Felons to act in this manner. They never pass by their real names.
As property honestly obtained, is best secured by an equality of Rights, so ill-gotten property depends for pro∣tection on a monopoly of rights. He who has robbed another of his property will next endeavour to disarm him of his rights, to secure that property; for when the robber becomes the legislator, he believes himself secure. That part of the government of England that is called the house of lords, was originally composed of persons who had com∣mitted the robberies of which I have been speaking. It was an association for the protection of the property they had stolen.
But besides the criminality of the origin of aristocracy, it has an injurious effect on the moral and physical cha∣racter of man. Like slavery it debilitates the human faculties; for as the mind bowed down by slavery loses in silence its elastic powers, so, in the contrary extreme, when it is bouyed up by folly it becomes incapable of exerting them, and dwindles into imbecility. It is im∣possible that a mind employed upon ribbands and titles can ever be great. The childishness of the objects con∣sumes the man.
It is at all times necessary, and more particularly so, during the progress of a revolution, and until right ideas confirm themselves by habit, that we frequently refresh our patrio∣tism by reference to first principles. It is by tracing things to their origin that we learn to understand them; Page 24and it is by keeping that line and that origin always in view, that we never forget them.
An enquiry into the origin of Rights will demonstrate to us that rights are not gifts from one man to another, nor from one class of men to another; for who is he who could be the first giver, or by what principles, or on what authority, could he possess the right of giving? A decla∣ration of rights is not a creation of them, nor a donation of them. It is a manifest of the principle by which they exist, followed by a detail of what the rights are; for every civil right has a natural right for its foundation, and it includes the principle of a reciprocal guarantee of those rights from man to man. As therefore it is impossible to discover any origin of rights otherwise than in the origin of man, it consequently follows, that rights appertain to man in right of his existence only, and must therefore be equal to every man. The principle of an equality of rights is clear and simple. Every man can understand it, and it is by understanding his rights that he learns his duties; for where the rights of men are equal, every man must finally see the necessity of protecting the rights of others as the most effectual security for his own. But if in the forma∣tion of a constitution, we depart from the principle of equal rights, or attempt any modification of it, we plunge into a labyrinth of difficulties from which there is no way out, but by retreating. Where are we to stop? Or by what principle are we to find out the point to stop at, that shall discriminate between men of the same country, part of whom shall be free, and the rest not? If property is to be made the criterion, it is a total departure from every Page 25moral principle of liberty, because it is attaching rights to mere matter, and making man the agent of that matter. It is moreover holding up property as an apple of discord, and not only exciting but justifying war against it; for I maintain the principle, that when property is used as an instrument to take away the rights of those who may happen not to possess property, it is used to an unlawful purpose, as fire-arms would be in a similar case.
In a state of nature all men are equal in rights, but they are not equal in power; the weak cannot protect himself against the strong. This being the case, the institution of civil society is for the purpose of making an equaliza∣tion of powers that shall be parallel to, and a guarantee of the equality of rights. The laws of a country when pro∣perly constructed apply to this purpose. Every man takes the arm of the law for his protection as more effectual than his own; and therefore every man has an equal right in the formation of the government and of the laws by which he is to be governed and judged. In extensive countries and societies, such as America and France, this right, in the individual, can only be exercised by delega∣tion, that is, by election and representation; and hence it is that the institution of representative government arises.
Hitherto I have confined myself to matters of principle only. First, that hereditary government has not a right to exist; that it cannot be established on any principle of right; and that it is a violation of all principle. Secondly, that government by election and representation has its origin in the natural and eternal rights of man; for whether a man be his own la•-giver, as he would be in a state of Page 26nature; or whether he exercises his portion of legislative sovereignty in his own person, as might be the case in small democraties where all could assemble for the forma∣tion of the laws by which they were to be governed; or whe∣ther he exercises it in the choice of persons to represent him in a national assembly of representatives, the origin of the right is the same in all cases. The first, as is before obser∣ved, is defective in power; the second, is practicable only in democracies of small extent; the third is the greatest scale upon which human government can be instituted.
Next to matters of principle, are matters of opinion, and it is necessary to distinguish between the two. Whether the rights of men shall be equal is not a matter of opinion but of right, and consequently of principle; for men do not hold their rights as grants from each other, but each one in right of himself. Society is the guardian but not the giver. And as in extensive societies, such as America and France, the right of the individual, in matters of govern∣ment, cannot be exercised but by election and representa∣tion; it consequently follows, that the only system of govern∣ment, consistent with principle, where simple democracy is impracticable, is the representative system. But as to the organical part, or the manner in which the several parts of government sha•l be arranged and composed, it is alto∣gether matter of opinion. It is necessary that all the parts be conformable with the principle of equal rights; and so long as this principle be religiously adhered to, no very material error can take place▪ neither can any error continue long, in that part that falls within the province of opinion.
In all matters of opinion, the social compact, or the Page 27principle by which society is held together, requires that the majority of opinions becomes the rule for the whole, and that the minority yields practical obedience thereto. This is perfectly conformable to the principle of equal rights: for, in the first place, every man has a right to g•ve an opinion, but no man has a right that his opinion should govern the rest. In the second place, it is not supposed to be known before hand on which side of any question, whe∣ther for or against, any man's opinion will fall. He may happen to be in a majority upon some questions, and in a minority upon others; and by the same rule that he expects obedience in the one case, he must yield it in the other. —All the disorders that have arisen in France during the progress of the revolution have had their origin, not in the principle of equal rights, but in the violation of that principle. The principle of equal rights has been repeat∣edly violated, and that not by the majority but by the minority, and that minority has been composed of men possissing property as well as of men without property; property therefore, even upon the experience already had, is no more a criterion of character than it is of rights. It will sometimes happen that the minority are right, and the majority are wrong, but as soon as experience proves this to be the case, the minority will increase to a majority, and the error will reform itself by the tranquil operation of freedom of opinion and equality of rights. Nothing therefore can justify an insurrection, neither can it ever be necessary, where rights are equal and opinions free.
Taking then the principle of equal rights as the soun∣dation of the revolution, and consequently of the constitu∣tion, Page 28the organical part, or the manner in which the several parts of the government shall be arranged in the constitu∣tion, will, as is already said, fall within the province of opinion.
Various methods will present themselves upon a question of this kind, and tho' experience is yet wanting to deter∣mine which is the best, it has, I think, sufficiently decided which is the worst. That is the worst, which in its deli∣berations and decisions is subject to the precipitancy and passion of an individual; and when the whole legislature is crouded into one body, it is an individual in mass. In all cases of deliberation it is necessary to have a crops of reserve, and it would be better to divide the representation by lot into two parts, and let them revise and correct each other, than that the whole should sit together and debate at once.
Representative government is not necessarily confined to any one particular form. The principle is the same in all the forms under which it can be arranged. The equal rights of the people is the root from which the whole springs, and the branches may be arranged as present opi∣nion or future experience shall best direct. As to that hospital of incurables (as Chesterfield calls it) the British house of peers, it is an excressence growing out of corrup∣tion; and there is no more affinity or resemblance between any of the branches of a legislative body originating from the rights of the people, and the aforesaid house of peers, than between a regular member of the human body and an ulcerated wen.
As to that part of government that is called the Page 29executive, it is necessary in the first place to fix a precise meaning to the word.
There are but two divisions into which power can be arranged. First, that of willing or decreeing the laws; secondly, that of executing or putting them in practice. The former, corresponds to the intellectual faculties of the human mind, which reasons and determines what shall be done; the second, to the mechanical powers of the human body that puts that determination into practice. If the former decides, and the latter does not perform, it is a state of imbecility; and if the latter acts without the predetermination of the former, it is a state of lunacy. The executive department therefore is official, and is subordinate to the legislative, as the body is to the mind in a state of health; for, it is impossible to conceive the idea of two sovereignties, a sovereignty to will, and a sovereignty to act. The executive is not invested with the power of deliberating whether it shall act or not; it has no discretionary authority in the case; for i• can act no other thing that what the laws decree, and it is obliged to act conformably thereto; and in this view of the case, the executive is made up of all the official departments that execute the laws, of which, that which is called the judi∣ciary is the chief.
But mankind have conceived an idea that some kind of authority is necessary to superintend the execution of the l•ws, and to see that they are faithfully performed; and it is by confounding this superintending authority with the official execution that we get embarrassed about the term executive power. — All the parts in the governments of the Page 30united states of America that are called THE EXECUTIVE, are no other than authorities to superintend the execution of the laws; and they are so far independent of the legisla∣tive, that they know the legislative only thro' the laws, and cannot be controuled or directed by it, through any other medium.
In what manner this superintending authority shall be appointed or composed, is a matter that falls within the province of opinion. Some may prefer one method and some another; and in all cases, where opinion only and not principle is concerned, the majority of opinions forms the rule for all. There are however some things deducible from reason, and evidenced by experience, that serve to guide our decision upon the case. The one is, never to invest any individual with extraordinary power; for besides his being tempted to misuse it, it will excite contention and commotion in the nation for the office. Secondly, never to invest power long in the hands of any number of indi∣viduals. The inconveniences that may be supposed to ac∣company frequent changes, are less to be feared than the danger that a rises from long continuance.
I shall conclude this discourse with offering some obser∣vations on the means of preserving liberty; for it is not only necessary that we establish it, but that we preserve it.
It is, in the first place, necessary that we distinguish between the means made use of to overthrow despotism, in order to prepare the way for the establishment of liberty, and the means to be used after the despotism is over thrown.
The means made use of in the first case are justified by Page 31necessity. Those means are in general insurrections; for whilst the established government of despotism continues in any country it is scarcely possible that any other means can be used. It is also certain that in the commencement of a revolution, the revolutionary party permit to them∣selves a discretionary exercise of power regulated more by circumstances than by principle, which were the practice to continue, liberty would never be established, or if esta∣blished would soon be overthrown. It is never to be expected in a revolution that every man is to change his opinion at the same mom•nt. There never yet was any truth or any principle so irr•sistibly obvious, that all men believed it at once. Time and reason must co-operate with each other to the final establishment of any principle; and therefore those who may happen to be first convinced have not a right to persecute others, on whom conviction operates more slowly. The moral principle of revolutions is to instruct; not to destroy.
Had a constitution been established two years ago (as ought to have been done) the violences that have since desolated France, and injured the character of the revolu∣tion, would, in my opinion, have been prevented. The na∣tion would then have had a bond of union, and every indi∣vidual would have known the line of conduct he was to follow. But instead of this, a revolutionary government, a thing without either principle or authority, was substi∣tuted in its place; virtue and crime depended upon acci∣dent; and that which was patriotism one day became treason the next. All these things have followed from the want of a constitution; for it is the nature and intention Page 32of a constitution to prevent governing by party, by esta∣blishing a common principle that shall limit and controul the power and impulse of party, and that says to all parties, THUS FAR SHALT THOU GO AND NO FURTHER. But in the absence of a constitution men look entirely to party; and instead of principle governing party, party governs principle.
An avidity to punish is always dangerous to liberty. It leads men to stretch, to misinterpret, and to misapply even the best of laws. He that would make his own liberty secure, must guard even his enemy from oppression; for if he violates this duty, he establishes a precedent that will reach to himself.