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new conquest by terror, and an old one by love; in a word, it declares in calm statement, what deeds the best and reatest of men may be compelled to do, if they aim at empire over a disorganized, corrupted people, to whom virtue had become a laughter, religion a terror or a trade, vice a business, and freedom a dream. The idea of this treatise seems to have occurred to Machiavel while he was composing his Discourses; for, in various passages of the latter, he alludes to the peculiar necessities of princes, and marks a broad distinction between their polity and that of free republics. In the first book of the Discourses, he devotes a condemnatory section to those who erect a tyranny where they might found a free state; and shows, by clear distinctions, what soil is fitted for the growth of liberty. Free institutions, he affirms, can exist only with a virtuous people, whose religion is not divided from their morality— with whom purity of manners sustains the sanctity of law—whose constitutions, founded at the first in right, may be reverted to as a source of perpetual renovation. “Those States are the most unhappy, whose principles were false at first;” for the evil grows with the good. They, too, are unfortunate, who begin with the simpler forms of authority; “pure monarchy tending to Despotism, Aristocracy to Oligarchy, and Democracy to Anarchy.” “The wisest legislators have therefore framed a government that should consist of all these.” For in a perfect government, every condition of society must be represented; else, the unrepresented portion, deprived of self-government becomes an enemy in the state; as it happened to the Greek cities, where the aristocracy prevailed alternately with the populace, each endeavoring to exclude and oppress the other; and in Florence, where the aristocracy triumphing, was continually divided against itself, and those who were excluded from office conspired against those in power. Whatever, then, be the social divisions of a people, those divisions must be represented in the composition of its legislature. Concerning the grounds of legislation, he says, that “the legislator should pre
suppose the corruption of human nature:” as if all just laws had more in them of prohibition than of command— leaving men free only within the limits of right. The characteristic of despotism is to command, rather than to forbid; but civil society is admitted, by our law, to be for protection" and restitution, and not for the diminution of any natural right. Inquiring into whose hands the defence of liberty should be entrusted, he declares for the people—“ since they are least likely to usurp and oppress;” but he holds that a people cannot retain their liberty without virtue, but become incapable and forgetful of freedom with the decline of morals. “The nobles are ambitious of rule;—the people seek only to defend their rights;” “and the people, though they be ignorant, are yet capable enough of truth, and easily submit to it from one whom they trust.” And again: “Good examples proceed from good education, and good education from good laws, and good laws from those popular tumults which so many inconsiderately condemn.” He is of opinion that the defence of a free commonwealth should be entrusted to the people; and that a people always armed, of a bold spirit, and who depend on no others for what they need, can never be subdued; and that the weight of a broad territory is dangerous only to weak commonwealths, like the Spartan and Venetian, whose laws, though calculated for long endurance, were yet inadequate to the government of an empire. Against civil enemies, and for the conservation of the republic, he esteems nothing more important than liberty of accusation; and that no member of the state should fear to impeach another. The want of this liberty in Florence left the people without a remedy against abuses of power, and made conspiracy and rebellion their only and justifiable cure. Machiavel advises his countrymen to avoid conspiracies, though in never so excellent a cause, showing that in a popular state they are always fatal to their contrivers. He judges that calumny should be severely punished, thinking it ruinous to the morals and mutual confidence of men; and that laws should be justly and severely administered, preferring even
* Blackstone, 1, 7, 2.
an occasional injury to a private retribution, however just. Religion he believes to be the basis of society, and that without it no state can exist; but that priests should have no part in civil government, such interfer
ence tending to the ruin equally of church .
and people. With Dante, he looks upon the Church of Rome as the curse of Europe, and her temporal assumptions and superstitious practices as the greatest misfortune of the world." He is of opinion that a government is shaped by the manners of the people. If they are habituated to a prince and an aristocracy, nothing but these will satisfy them. Nor will a people accustomed to monarchy ever sustain a free constitution. That “liberty is desired only by the few :" the mass being contented to obey, if they prosper in their fortunes— That states o: morals are corrupted will not retain their liberty for any considerable time; for the laws are founded upon the habits and manners of the people, and, apart from these, are of no force or duration;–That the happiness of a people must not be left to the wisdom and sagacity of one man ; but proceed from the care of a succession of virtuous citizens, such as will be produced in a well educated commonwealth;That the causes of corruption are found chiefly in “ inequalities of rank; ” “nothing being more pernicious than an idle entry, living at ease upon their estates;” ut that an unhappy choice of rulers will be equally ruinous; for a mean and selfish nature is made worse by advancement, and a bad man, exalted to office, corrupts all who are subject to his influence. Not to endanger the commonwealth, he thinks it prudent that legislators should temporize with inconveniences, and reform them gradually, avoiding all sudden revolutions; and that they should anticipate danger by closing every door to private aggrandizement. e advocates such a modesty in the conduct of influential persons, that, though at one time vested with the highest offices, “they shall not afterward decline the less:” a spirit which makes all stations reputable, and favors republican equality, while it multiplies the chances of an honest administration:— He affirms, in favor of the people, that, though in maxims of general policy they
err, yet, when liberty and national honor is at stake, and in questions of necessity and interest, they are usually right in judgment; and that in the election of magistrates, “no wise man will despise the judgment of the people.” Upon this ersuasion, to secure a fortunate election, e advises that a mean candidate should be opposed by one of great virtue and respectability:-But when rulers are chosen from the mass, even without reard to their capacity, the danger of injury is diminished by that change of opinion which affects such persons when they look from their official height; what seemed easy when they saw it from below, looks impossible from the station of office. Finally, to preserve freedom, “no man should have power to oppose or control the public acts of the State.”f Admitting that the people are easily deceived and misled, oftentimes, by the appearance of good, he adds, that they are as easily persuaded to what is best; and that a multitude are more placable, and more pliable to good counsel, than a prince or an aristocracy. The ingratitude and inconstancy of the multitude has been a favorite theme with moralists and biographers; but Machiavel denies that free states are more ungrateful than princes; nay, he shows by a number of examples, that gratitude is less possible in princes than in the populace; for that despots are of necessity suspicious of those who serve them: That if the Romans and Athenians were jealous of their great men, history shows that they had cause to be so; and when this jealousy gave place to favor and adulation, they lost their liberties. Finally, he concludes, that, “as the multitude is wiser and more constant than a prince,” so they are more open to the i. of prudence. That they know etter whom to choose for governors; and are more prosperous and powerful than principalities, “because their constitutions are intrinsically better.” That, of the two, “the people are less extravagant, and more honorable,” than princes; and that although “princes have the advantage of them in the enactment of salutary laws, popular governments are better able to observe and enforce such laws as they have. That free commonwealths agree better, and hold firmer friendship among themselves;–that their faith is better and their truce surer;-for, while princes and aristocracies entertain a thousand ambitious schemes, the people seek only to enjoy security and liberty. Such were the opinions, and such the maxims of a statesman, whose name is even to this day, a by-word of reproach, significant of all that is false in principle and wicked in policy. The insult offered to his memory is but the continuance of what he suffered in his life; for, as the people whom he served, alternately emloyed and oppressed their advocate, eaving him to endure poverty and torture, under the jealousy of their princes; so, the authors and moralists of later days, while they appropriated his wisdom, took no care for his fame, but let it rot, as though Machiavel was indeed the common enemy of liberty and of man. Why his memory should have so suffered, may be worth a more particular inquiry than could be given within the limits of this article; suffice it, then, to say, that he suffers in common with those kings and legislators, whose fortune it has been to conquer, or to pacify, a corrupt and lawless nation; but with this difference, that he alone dared avow the terrible necessities of despotism; deceived by no chivalrous pretences, he saw no difference of wrong, between open violence and hidden guile; destruction, the end of both, if right in any sense, seemed right by any means; and if cruel ambition, under the mask of honor, may ruin and oppress, unblamed, strategy and conspiracy, under that of expediency, may do no less. Nor is the power of cruelty a discovery proper to Machiavel. It was doubtless the maxim of his age, and must have been common to every warlike and conquering people: Froissart, speaking in the persons of Van Ardteveldt and Du Bois, declares that the free commoners of his day despised a lenient governor, and would obey him only, who set no value on men's lives, and would show as much of cruelty to enemies as of kindness to friends. The right of self-defence, nature's last resort, may compel a prince who is unsupported by laws, and in danger from faction, to commit deeds which more than anticipate justice; but it is the happiness of free states, that, in them, these terrible responsibilities rest upon the laws. No man dares, no man is suffered, to assume it. The authority, neither of a single person, nor of any
* “Letter to Buondelmontius,”
and 1st B. of the “Discourses.”
f But the acts of a mere majority are not the acts of the State. 42
VOL. I.-No. VI.
body of men avails against the lawful liberty even of a child. Nor is that liberty given by charter, that it may be resumed at pleasure ; it is neither given, nor can it be forfeited; it is not a franchise, but a right. No man assumes it, to be the avenger, and no crime is punished for its own sake, as though one could judge the iniquities of another; and if the law takes away life and liberty. It is for protection and not for vengeance. Whatever is necessary for that protection, is just; not because a majority have willed it, but because they have ascertained it. Whoever, therefore, suggests, that the will of the many, or of the nation, can make anything right, or force the opinion even of a child, or do more than declare how far it seems expedient to limit the public actions of men, assumes the tone of despotism, and for iree constitutions puts a rescript of democracy, or an edict of majorities. By these principles a free constitution makes a virtue of the nation's necessity, and removes from individuals and from the people, the responsibility of trilling injustice and violence, making not will but just necessity to be the Law. It may be not unfitting in this connection, to inquire how perfectly Machiavel’s idea of freedom has been realized by our constitutions; and whether in all particulars, we have escaped those causes of corruption to which he attributes the declire of freedom. It is confessed, by the impartial, that the mass of population, in these states, excepting portions that have been corrupted by the influx of foreigners, or sunk by remoteness from the means of education, compare well with other nations, in respect of private conduct, and in morals are at least equal with the best. That our nation will not soon lose this honorable security, is the more to be believed, in that they are not immediately liable to corruption, by that superstition to which Machiavel attributes the immorality of Italy—the superstition of the Romish Church, which enslaves men. under a pretence of sanctity, and precept of obedience. Indeed, the religion professed by that church, appears among us with a new face, and stripped of half its tinsel; so as to bear a tolerable semblance to the faith it professes. But to what can this be owing, if not to the superior morals of our nation, which by an irresistible force of opinion, must convert even Romanism to
tution, whose principles are the very testament of freedom. “That a sect or commonwealth be long lived it must be often reformed and brought back to its first principles.” If those principles are despotic or injurious, revolution is the only cure. It is the peculiar happiness of our nation, to have inherited the civil freedom of England, without that weight of social inequality, which impaired the liberties of our ancestors. Future centuries may recur to the maxims of our legislation, as to sacred precedents, without fear of reviving, with the wisdom, the inhumanity of feudal es. Nor have our institutions that fatal simplicity, which suffers them to fall into extremes; they stand the perfect expression of the moral nature of man, signifying every law. The person of the body politic is represented by a powerful executive, absolute and unimpeded, within the limits of Honor and of Right. The abstract principles of law, and the common duties of the social state are explained and enforced by a Judiciary, unbribed, and rarely overawed—a legislature, representing the desires and interests of every part, ascertaining by the balance of majorities what is expedient for the whole. Each system moves with freedom in its own sphere; and, by reason of their common origin, harmonizes in a whole which is the State—a State, which deserves to be called a State, because it is a perfect image of the wisdom, the authority, and the desire of each individual in the nation. The preservation of this vast system, of which every power and member has but one aim and purpose, the defence of personal liberty, is entrusted to the people; and as every excellence it may have must depend upon their virtue and vigilance, so will its decay be a consequence of their corruption and negligence. The freedom of election keeps it in their power to ruin or sustain this system. Are there then no causes at work to defeat the ends of such a trust, and convert it to a curse 2 We know that though the people are “capable
enough of truth,” they are no less capable of error, and with wonderful complaisance accept it from those who mean to abuse them. Our prosperity depends therefore upon the courage and vigilance of the wisest; and no i. upon their courage than upon their vigilance; for even in popular assemblies it is dangerous to speak the truth; the opinion of the many destroys liberty of speech, and converts oratory into an echo of the popular cry. If free states depend for their existence in great part upon the honesty and o of the uninstructed many, they rest then, no less upon the hope that a few will have the courage and the power to sway them right. Among the potent causes of corruption in a state is the increase of dependent classes, ignorant and servile. i. this cause England has lost her liberties, and lies at the mercy of an aristocracy. The tenant wears the color, and votes at the pleasure of his lord; and in the towns, bribery and intimidation accomplish the same end. In America this evil is but just beginnin
to be felt, and only in the cities an
manufacturing towns; to what extent it may grow, as the number of poor artisans and foreigners shall increase, can be only guessed. If the wages of our manufacturing population be ever permanently reduced by foreign competition, to the standard of pauper labor, and manufactures, from the same cause, pass entirely into the hands of wealthy capitalists, results may be anticipated, that must endanger our liberties; or even should the form of these liberties remain, their spirit must be impaired. While the States remain a Union, there is no fear that the great cities will ever be possessed by a monied aristocracy, such as seized upon Florence, and oppressed the smaller states of Greece. The traders of Venice, when their city had become populous, began to exclude strangers and new-comers from a share in the government, and by voting themselves gentlemen, founded the Venetian Aristocracy; a nobility of wealth, remarkable for arrogance and impotence, but fortunate in their situation, and prudent in the use of their advantages. They remain to this day incapable of owth, and unworthy to govern; and achiavel, who seems to have had no love for them, blames their ignorance for attempting conquests on the main land, and confiding in mercenary troops, “as though courage were the sinews of war.” "Nor is it reasonable to suppose that any war could ruin us; much less impair the Union or the Constitution. Though the cities on the coast should be destroyed, and trade suspended for a century, we should learn better to live within ourselves, and rely upon the soil, and upon manufactures, the strength of the interior. Political prophets threaten us with ruin from another, and apparently more destructive, tendency than the one toward an aristocracy of wealth; the same, namely, which anciently afflicted Athens, and, of late, Paris, in the Reign of Terror—-a social equality declining to a social tyranny, and ending in a despotism. But the preparatory steps to such a catastrophe have not so much as begun among us; religion is not less powerful than formerly, private morals not less recognized and in force, and the Constitution, notwithstanding many violent assaults made upon it by those who talk most loudly about the Republic and the people, is still revered in the hearts of the great mass of our countrymen. Our nation even now possesses what France desired, and so imperfectly attained by its revolution, the organization of a monarchy, without its ruinous epcumbrances. e have substituted a spirit of obedience, for a spirit of servility. Rejecting differences of rank, (which, if they mean anything, mean differences of privilege,) we suffer no distinctions but those of nature; each associates with his natural equal, unrestrained by prejudice
*Machiavel Discourses, B. iii. c. i.
of birth. A mean-spirited son may seek a society despised by his more generous father; and the son, in turn, rises in his grade above the father. Each takes the place appointed him by nature. Poverty, even, has ceased to be an impediment to honor. Our legislative assemblies have no representatives of fashion; as the best of them stand for character and opinion, rather than for interest. In this spirit the nation has begun, and in this, (if the precedents of history deceive not,) it must continue. The first laws of a nation stamp their principles so deeply in its character and substance, no wearing can destroy it while the race exists. In the history of every eople, the old thread of policy runs on or centuries, and may be followed back to its origin in the early circumstances of their State. If Rome, from Numa to this day, has not ceased to be the Church of Italy; if England, from the conquest, remains a ...; aristocracy, while Ireland agitates and laments, as, of old, she agitated and lamented; if the Frenchman loves monarchy, and the Swiss his liberty in despite of every change, and the slow wear of ages;–then may we believe, that our Constitution, grounded as it is, in the very nature and character of the nation, is not, as some imagine, an experiment of polity, of doubtful issue, but must remain while our race lasts. In a little time, we shall be the most powerful nation of the world; a nation, warlike and ambitious from the first, and beginning now to glory in its strength. What changes in human affairs this spirit may effect cannot easily be predicted; enough, that not we alone, but the world, may have cause to dread them. J. D. W.