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CHAPTER XXXV.

VOX POPULI VOX DEI.

THE maxim Vox Populi Vox Dei is so closely connected with the subjects which we have been examining, and it is so often quoted on grave political occasions, that it appears to me proper to con. clude this work with an inquiry into the validity of this stately saying. Its poetic boldness and epigrammatic finish, its Latin and lapidary formulation, and its apparent connection of a patriotic love of the people with religious fervor, give it an air of authority and almost of sacredness. Yet history, as well as our own times, shows us that everything depends upon the question who are “the people, and that even if we have fairly ascertained the legitimate sense of this great yet abused term, we frequently find that their voice is anything rather than the voice of God.

If the term people is used for a clamoring crowd, which is not even a constituted part of an organic whole, we would be still more fatally misled were we to take the clamor for the voice of the deity. We shall arrive at this conclusion, that in no case can we use the maxim as a test, for, even if we call the people's voice the voice of God in those cases in

which the people demand that which is right, we must first know that they do so before we could call it the voice of God. It is no guiding authority; it can sanction nothing.

"The chief priests, and the rulers, and the people," cried out all at once, “ Crucify him, crucify him !!! Were then “the rulers and the people” not the populus? their voice was assuredly not the vox Dei in this case? If populus means the constituted people speaking through the organs and in the forms of law, the case of Socrates arises at once in our mind. It was the people of Athens speaking by their constituted authorities that bade him drink the hemlock; yet it would be blasphemy to say that it was the voice of God that spoke in this case through the mouth of the Athenians. Was it the voice of the people, and, through it, the voice of God which demanded the sway of the guillotine in the first French revolution? Or was it the voice of God which made itself heard in 1848, when all punishment of death for political offences was abolished in France ? Or is it the voice of God which through “the elect one of the people” demands, at the moment I am writing this, the re-establishment of capital punishment for high political offences ? Or is it the voice of God that used so indefinite a term in law as that of political offences ?

There are, indeed, periods in history in which, centuries after, it would seem as if really an impulse from on high had been given to whole masses, or to the leading minds of leading classes, in order to bring about some gigantic changes. That remarkable age of maritime discovery which has influenced the whole succeeding history of civilization and the entire progress of our kind, would seem at first glance, and to mány, perhaps, after a careful study of all its elements, as if a breath not of human breathing had given it motion and action. No person, however, living at that period would have been authorized to call the wide-spread love of maritime adventure the voice of God, merely because it was widely diffused. Impulsive movements of far greater extent and intensity have been those of error, passion and crime. It must be observed that the thorough historian often acts in these cases as the natural philosopher who finds connection, causes and effects where former ages thought they recognized direct and detached manifestations of a superior power, and not the greater attribute of admitting variety under eternal laws and unchanging principles.

i St. Luke, 23.

When the whole of Europe seemed to be animated by one united longing to conquer the holy land, it appeared undoubtedly to the crusaders that the voice of the people was the voice of God. It seemed, indeed, as if an afflatus numinis breathed over the European land. Those, however, who now believe that the crusades were a great injury to Europe—and there are such-do not perceive the voice of God in this vast movement. They will perhaps maintain that it was not the people who felt this surprising impulse, but the chivalry, who by their unceasing petty feuds had developed a martial rest

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lessness which began to lack food, and thus threw themselves into distant enterprises, stimulated at the same time by a highly sacerdotal character which pervaded that age. To find out, then, whether it was the vox populi, would first require to find out whether it was the vox Dei, and, consequently, we are no better off with the maxim than without it.

I am under the impression that the famous maxim first came into use in the middle ages, at a contested episcopal election, when the people, by apparent acclamation, having elected one person, another aspirant believed he had a better right to the episcopate on different grounds or a different popular acclamation. That the maxim has a decidedly medieval air no one familiar with that age will doubt. The middle ages are, indeed, characterized by the fact that all Europe was parcelled out, not in states, but under a political system of graduated and encapsulated allegiance; but where this system failed to reach a sphere with its many ramifications, the same age bore a conclamatory character, especially in the earliest times. When a king was elected it was by conclamation. The earliest bishops of Rome were elected or confirmed by conclamation of the Roman people. Elections by conclamation always indicate a rude or deficiently

2 For many years I have been under the impression that I had found this fact when studying the times of Abelard; but I must confess that all my attempts to recover the fact, when I came to write on this subject, have been fruitless. Sanderson, whom Mr. llallam calls the most distinguished English casuist, treats of the maxim in his work De Conscientia. So I am informed by a learned divine. I have not seen the book.

organized state of things; and it is the same whether this want of organization be the effect of primitive rudeness or of relapse. Now the maxim we are considering has a strongly conclamatory character, and to apply it to our modern affairs is degrading rather than elevating them.

How shall we ascertain, in modern times, whether anything be the voice of the people ? and next, whether that voice be the voice of God, so that it may command respect ? For, unless we can do this, the whole maxim amounts to no more than a poetic sentence expressing the opinion of an individual, but no rule, no canon

Is it unanimity that indicates the voice of the people? Unanimity in this case can mean only a very large majority. But even unanimity itself is far from indicating the voice of God. Unanimity is commanding only when it is the result of digested and organic public opinion, and even then, we know perfectly well that it may be erroneous and consequently not the voice of God, but simply the best opinion at which erring and sinful men at the time are able to arrive.

Mr. Say informs us that when the first cotton manufactures were introduced into France, petitions from all the incorporated large towns, from merchants and silk weavers, were sent to Paris, clamoring in vehement terms against the “ungodly calico prints.” Rouen, now the busiest of all the French cotton manufacturing places, was among the foremost, and the petition of the united three corporations of Amiens ended thus: “To conclude, it is

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