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contrasts the Roman Government, which was the gradual result of circumstances and emergencies, with that of the Lacedemonians, which he considered (whether justly or not is a different question) as planned by the foresight and sagacity of Lycurgus. “And thus it was that Lycurgus, having been taught by reason to foresee a certain train of causes and events, was able to give a lasting strength to his establishments. The Romans, on the other hand, though they arrived, indeed, at the same perfection in the constitution of their state, were not led to it by foresight or by reason. But, during the course of many contests and disorders, in which they were engaged, having been careful always to adopt, upon every change, such improvements as the occasion itself suggested to them, they at last obtained the same end likewise, as that which Lycurgus had proposed, and completed the most beautiful frame of government of all that are in our times known.”1
In the writings of Cicero, various passages occur to the same purpose with that which I have now quoted from Polybius. “ Statuo,” says he in one of his fragments, 2 “ esse optime constitutam rempublicam quo ex tribus generibus illis, Regali, Optimo, et Populari, est modice confusa.” And in another passage he has endeavoured to illustrate this observation by comparing the political order which results from such a combination of powers, to the harmony resulting from the different parts in a musical concert. “Ut in fidibus ac tibiis, atque cantu ipso ac vocibus, concentus est quidam tenendus ex distinctis sonis, quem immutatum ac discrepantem aures eruditæ ferre non possunt, isque concentus ex dissimillimarum vocum moderatione concors tamen efficitur et congruens : sic ex summis et infimis et mediis interjectis ordinibus, ut sonis, moderata ratione civitas consensu dissimillimorum concinit; et quæ harmonia a musicis dicitur in cantu, ea est in civitate concordia; arctissimum atque optimum, omni in republica, vinculum incolumitatis ; quæ sine justitia nullo pacto esse potest."*
1 “On a injustement accusé les ancions de n'avoir pas eu l'idée d'une monarchie temporée.
“ Aristotle en a posé l'équilibre sur la distinction des trois pouvoirs, et
Lycurgue en avoit fait la base du gouvernement de Lacedomène."-See Barthélemi, Voyages d'Anacharsis.
? De Republica, (Lib. II.)
To these quotations I shall only add the well-known passage in Tacitus, in which, though he expresses his doubts concerning the possibility of reducing the theory to practice, he admits the advantages which a mixed government, formed by a combination of the three simple forms, appears to possess in speculation. “Cunctas nationes et urbes, populus, aut primores, aut singuli regunt. Delecta ex his et consociata reipublicæ forma, laudari facilius quam evenire ; vel, si evenit, haud diuturna esse potest.”1
These passages may at first view appear somewhat extraordinary, when we consider that the English Constitution affords the first instance in the history of mankind in which the theory delineated by the ancient philosophers has been realized with success. But the truth is, that however difficult it may be to find such a combination of circumstances, as is favourable to the establishment of such a government, the advantages likely to result from it, supposing it to exist, are abundantly obvious. Indeed, the general idea of it is suggested to us by the principles of human nature, and the common course of human affairs.
I before took notice (supra, p. 402] of that natural aristocracy which we find in every community, arising from the original differences among men, in respect of intellectual and moral qualities. That these were intended to lay a foundation for civil government, no man can doubt who does not reject altogether the inferences which are drawn from the appearances of design in the human constitution.
As the possession of power, however, is to the best of men a source of corruption, the general utility requires that some checks should be imposed on the pretensions of the aristocracy; and the only effectual checks may be easily perceived to be, a popular assembly, on the one hand, to secure the enactment of equal laws, and a single magistrate, on the other, possessing the sole executive power, to prevent the competitions and rivalships among the order of nobility. * [Ibid.]
* Annales, Lib. IV. cap. xxxiii.] VOL. IX.
The fact which I have now stated with respect to the existence of a natural Aristocracy in every community, as well as the advantages to be derived from it, if properly restrained and regulated, and the mischiefs to be apprehended from it, on a contrary supposition, are eloquently described in the following passage from Lord Bolingbroke :-“ It seems to me, that, in order to sustain the moral system of the universe, at a certain point, far below that of ideal perfection, (for we are made capable of conceiving what we are not capable of attaining,) it has pleased the author of Nature to mingle, from time to time, among the societies of men, a few, and but a few, of those on whom He has been graciously pleased to confer a larger portion of the ethereal spirit than, in the ordinary course of His providence, He bestows on the sons of men. These are they who engross almost the whole reason of the species; who are born to direct, to guide, and to preserve. . . . If they retire from the world, their splendour accompanies them, and enlightens even the darkness of their retreat. If they take a part in public life, the effect is never indifferent. They either appear the instruments of Divine vengeance, and their course through the world is marked by desolation and oppression, by poverty and servitude; or they are the guardian angels of the country they inhabit, studious to avert the most distant evil, and to procure peace and plenty, and the greatest of human blessings, – Liberty."*
Since, then, there is in every society a natural aristocracy, arising partly from original inequalities among men, and partly from the influence of birth and fortune, in what manner shall the legislator avail himself of the assistance of those who compose it, and, at the same time, guard against the dangers to be apprehended from their uncontrolled authority? The answer seems obvious. Form that order of men who, from their situation in life, are most likely to comprehend the greatest number of individuals of this description, into a senate possessing no share of the executive power, and control their legislative
* (Letter on the Spirit of Patriotism, Works, Vol. IV. pp. 187, 190.]
proceedings by the executive magistrate, on the one hand, and by an assembly of popular representatives on the other.
“The people without the senate," says Harrington, “would want wisdom; the senate without the people would want honesty."*
In stating these general principles, I would not be understood to insinuate, that it is possible to devise a plan of government universally applicable to all the situations of mankind. On the contrary, nothing can be more certain or more evident than this,—that as the form of a government has an influence on the character of the people, so there is a certain national character necessary to support the government, and which, while it continues the same, will render all violent innovations impracticable. Even where a Despotism is established, the situation of the people can be improved only by very slow degrees; and any violent attempt to alter it has, in general, produced only a change of masters, after a short paroxysm of bloodshed and anarchy.
Neither would I wish it to be understood, that governments have, in general, taken their rise from political wisdom. On the contrary, almost every one of which we have any account has been the gradual result of time and experience, of circumstances and emergencies. This we may affirm to have been universally the case with those which have taken their rise in the rude periods of society ; for surely no person, without extreme credulity, can listen to the accounts in ancient historians, of those fabulous legislators, who, by the force of eloquence, or the reputation of wisdom, assembled together a set of savages, who formerly wandered in the woods, convinced them of the utility of government, and persuaded them to submit to any regulations they should think proper to prescribe. The case is considerably different in a more enlightened age. A statesman may avail himself of the power he possesses in introducing new institutions which, in process of time, may produce important effects on the character of a nation; or a people who have been trained to political order under one form
of government, may, after a violent revolution, choose (like the American States) to introduce among themselves a new set of usages and institutions. But even in such instances, there are certain limits within which innovations are practicable. They must have a certain degree of reference to the character and manners of the people, otherwise it is impossible that they should permanently maintain the good order or secure the happiness of the community.
Of the necessity of accommodating every new institution to the character of those for whom it is intended, Bacon has taken notice in the First Book, De Augmentis Scientiarum, in which he also remarks the danger which literary men run of overlooking this consideration, from the familiar acquaintance they acquire in the course of their studies with the ideas and sentiments of better ages. He says :
“Solon interrogatus, an optimas civibus suis dedisset Leges ? Optimas,' inquit, "ex illis, quas ipsi voluissent accipere.' Ita Plato, videns corruptiores suorum civium mores quam ut ipse ferre posset, ab omni publico munere abstinuit, dicens : 'Sic cum Patria agendum esse ut cum Parentibus; hoc est, suasu, non violentia, obtestando, non contestando. Atque hoc ipsum cavet ille, qui a consiliis Cæsari: 'Non, inquit, ' ad vetera instituta revocans, quæ jampridem corruptis moribus ludibrio sunt.' Cicero etiam hujus erroris arguit Catonem secundum, Attico suo scribens; Cato optime sentit, sed nocet interdum Reipublicæ ; loquitur enim, tanquam in Republica Platonis, non tanquam in fæce Romuli.'"*
We may observe, farther, as a proof of the impossibility of establishing general political rules, which are to apply universally to mankind, that the institutions which it is expedient for a state to adopt, are often determined by circumstances external to itself; by the relation, for example, in which it stands to the states in its neighbourhood.
Thus when Charles the Seventh of France, under the pretence of keeping always on foot a force sufficient to defend the kingdom against the sudden invasions of the English, esta
* [Works, Vol. VIII. p. 22, Montagu's edition.]