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blished the first standing army known in Europe,' self-preservation made it necessary for the other nations of the Continent to follow his example; and in this manner a change which essentially affected their internal policy was recommended to them, or rather forced upon them, by the measures of a foreign prince. · The extent of territory too, and the amount of population which a state may possess with advantage, (in either of which a change will require a correspondent change in the political institutions,) may frequently depend on circumstances external to itself. In the case of states placed in the neighbourhood of each other, a certain equality is necessary to procure to each that degree of consideration which may secure its independence. In the opinions of many politicians, the happiest situation, and the most favourable to the human character, in which mankind have ever been placed, is where they have been formed into small and independent Republics; but in modern Europe, the Republics of the same extent, with those of ancient Greece, appear so insignificant when compared with the extensive monarchies with which they are surrounded, that they resemble (to borrow an allusion of Dr. Ferguson's) the shrubs in a wood which are choked by the trees under whose shadow they grow.* The disproportion is so great as to frustrate the advantages with which they would otherwise be attended. The same author remarks, that “when the kingdoms of Spain were united; wben the great fiefs in France were annexed to the Crown, it was no longer expedient for the nations of Great Britain to continue disjoined.”+ Abstracting entirely from their relative interests, or the comparative advantages which they derived from the union of the crowns, the alterations in the state of the great continental powers rendered that event equally necessary to the safety of both.
These miscellaneous remarks may, I hope, be of some use as a supplement to the theoretical views of government given by Montesquieu and his commentators.
1 A.D. 1445. See Robertson, Vol. I. * (Essay on Civil Society, Part I. p. 94, (Dublin edit. 1770. Charles V., Sect. ix. p. 100, edit. 1793.] Preliminary View of the State of Eu- [Ibid. p. 99.) rope, Sect. ii.]
I now proceed to make a few observations on the peculiar advantages of that combination of political powers which takes place in our own constitution.
Before, however, I enter on this subject, it may be proper for me to explain the idea I annex to the word Constitution, a word often used in a very vague and inaccurate manner, and which has sometimes been defined in such a way as to convey a false notion of the origin of our government. Such an explanation is the more necessary, as in consequence of an erroneous conception of the true import of this expression, some foreign politicians have been led to assert, that in England there is no constitution at all ; inasmuch as there are no fundamental laws of superior authority to the Acts of the existing legislature. The English Government (it is said) has been the gradual offspring of circumstances and events, and its different parts arose at different times ;-—some of them from acts of the legislature prompted by emergencies, and some of them from long established customs or usages, of which it is not always possible to trace the origin, so that no part of it is sanctioned by an authority paramount to that which gives force to every other law by which we are governed. It is pretended, therefore, that there are no fundamental or essential principles in our government, which fix a limit to the possibility of legislative encroachment, and to which an appeal could be made, if a particular law should appear to be hostile to the rights and liberties of the people. But surely the conclusion in this argument does not follow from the premises. For do we not every day speak of laws being constitutional or unconstitutional ; and do not these words convey to men of plain understanding a very distinct and intelligible meaning, a meaning which no person can pretend to misapprehend, who is not disposed to cavil about expressions ?
It appears to me, that what we call the constitution differs from our other laws, not in its origin, but in the importance of the subject to which it refers, and in the systematical connexion of its different principles. It may, I think, be defined to be that form of government, and that mode of administrating it, which is agreeable to the general spirit and tendency of our established laws and usages.
According to this view of the subject, I apprehend that the constitution, taken as a whole, ought to modify every new institution which is introduced, so that it may accord with its general spirit ; although every part of this constitution taken separately, arose itself from no higher authority than the common acts of our present legislature.
To illustrate this proposition it may be proper to remark, that although the Constitution was the gradual result of circumstances which may be regarded as accidental and irregular, yet that the very mode of its formation necessarily produced a certain consistence and analogy in its different parts, so as to give to the whole a sort of systematical appearance. For unless every new institution which was successively introduced, had possessed a certain reference or affinity to the laws and usages existing before, it could not possibly have been permanent in its operation. Wherever a Constitution has existed for ages, and men have enjoyed tranquillity under it, it is a proof that its great and fundamental principles are all animated by the same congenial spirit. In such a constitution, when any law contrary to the spirit of the rest is occasionally introduced, it soon falls into desuetude and oblivion ; while those which accord in their general character and tendency, acquire additional stability from the influence of time, and from the mutual support which they lend to each other. Of such a law we may say with propriety that it is unconstitutional, not because we dispute the authority from which it proceeds, but because it is contrary to the spirit and analogy of the laws which we have been accustomed to obey.
Something similar to this obtains with respect to languages. These, as well as governments, are the gradual result of time and experience, and not of philosophical speculation : yet every language, in process of time, acquires a great degree of systematical beauty. When a new word, or a new combination of words, is introduced, it takes its rise from the same origin with every other expression which the language contains ;-the
desire of an individual to communicate his own thoughts or feelings to others. But this consideration alone is not sufficient to justify the use of it. Before it is allowed by good writers or speakers to incorporate itself with those words which have the sanction of time in their favour, it must be shewn that it is not disagreeable to the general analogy of the language, otherwise it is soon laid aside as an innovation, revolting, anomalous, and ungrammatical. It is much in the same manner that we come to apply the epithet unconstitutional to a law.
The zeal, therefore, which genuine patriots have always shewn for the maintenance of the Constitution, so far from being unreasonable, will be most strongly felt by the prudent and intelligent, because such men know that political wisdom is much more the result of experience than of speculation; and that when a Constitution has been matured by such slow steps as ours has been, in consequence of the struggles of able and enlightened individuals, jealous of their liberties, and anxious to preserve them, it may be considered as the result of the accumulated experience and wisdom of ages; possessing on that very account the strongest of all possible recommendations and sanctions, an experimental proof of its excellence, of its fitness to perpetuate itself, and to promote the happiness of those who live under it.
[SECT. 11.—ON, IN SPECIAL; AND PARTICULARLY] OF THE
In illustrating the peculiar advantages of our own mixed Government, I have been accustomed to employ several lectures in describing its structure or organization, and in shewing how its different parts have been gradually systematized and perfected, partly by experience, and partly by a train of fortunate accidents, during a succession of ages. At this period of the season, however, I must not enter on so extensive a field ; nor do I regret the omission much, as it is in my power to refer, with such advantage, to the excellent accounts given of our Constitution by Blackstone and De Lolme. I flatter myself, too, that all of my hearers are sufficiently acquainted with its great outlines to follow the general reflections I have now to offer on its spirit and tendency.
Among the various excellences of the English Constitution, that which deserves our attention in the first place, is the unity of the executive power, and the division of the legislative. On both of these subjects some very judicious remarks have been made by De Lolme ;* but the political discussions that have taken place since his work was first published, have furnished abundant matter for some additional observations.
I.-i. It is from the executive power that the principal dangers to liberty are always to be apprehended ; and, therefore, the greater the facility which the constitution affords of tracing its abuses to their proper source, the greater is the security which the people enjoys. In states where the executive power is lodged in different hands, the personal consequence of each individual magistrate is indeed proportionally diminished, and on a superficial view of the subject, it might be imagined that the danger of an arbitrary Government is diminished of consequence. But in truth the case is otherwise. By this division of the executive power, its different depositaries are furnished with the means of committing abuses which cannot be brought home to the real delinquent; and the inconveniences suffered by the people have no effect in suggesting the means of guarding against them for the future.
The inconveniences resulting from this arrangement of things were universally experienced in what are commonly called the Free States of Antiquity, among whom the executive power, instead of being one, permanent and indivisible, was exercised by assemblies and senates, or by them delegated to an almost indefinite number of mutually independent ministers and generals. The consequence was, that the Government exercised an unlimited authority over rich and poor; and when the occasion required, put in a state of requisition (if I may adopt
* [On the Constitution of England, Book II. chaps. i.-iii. p. 195, seq., edit. 1816.)