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heaviest charges against Mr. de Polignac, when tried for treason, was, that he had allowed Charles the Tenth to influence the elections.
The question, when such a vote is put to the people under circumstances which have been indicated, is at once: And what if the vote turn out No? Will the candidate, already at the head of the army, the executive, and of every branch; whose initials are paraded everywhere, and whose portrait is in the courts of justice, some of which actually have already styled themselves imperial, and who himself has been addressed Sire; who has an enormous civil list-make a polite bow, give the keys to some one else, and walk his way? And to whom was he to give the government? The question was not, as Mr. de Laroche-Jaquelin had proposed, Shall A or B rule us? Essentially this question would not have been better; but there would have been apparently some sense in it. The question simply was: Shall B rule us ?—Yes or No. It is surprising that some persons can actually believe reflecting people may thus be duped.
The Cæsar always exists before the imperatorial government is acknowledged and openly established. Whether the prætorians or legions actually proclaim the Cæsar or not, it is always the army that makes him. A succeeding ballot is nothing more than a sort of trimmings of more polished or more timid times, or it may be a tribute to that civilization which does not allow armies to occupy the place they hold in barbarous or relapsing times, at least not openly so.
First to assume the power and then to direct the people to vote, whether they are satisfied with the act or not, leads psychologically to the same process often pursued by Henry the Eighth, and according to which it became a common saying: First clap a man into prison for treason, and you will soon have abundance of testimony. It was the same with the witch trials.
The process of election becomes peculiarly un. meaning, because the power already assumed allows no discussion. There is no free press.
Although no reliance can be placed on wide-spread elections, whose sole object is to ratify the assumption of imperatorial sovereignty, and when therefore it already dictatorially controls all affairs, it is not asserted that the dictator may not at times be supported by large masses, and possibly assume the imperatorial sovereignty with the approbation of a majority. I have repeatedly acknowledged it; but it is unquestionably true that generally in times of commotion, and especially in uninstitutional countries, minorities sway, for it is minorities that actually contend. Yet, even where this is not the case, the popularity of the Cæsar does in no way affect the question. Large, unarticulated masses are swayed by temporary opinions or passions, as much so as individuals, and it requires but a certain skill to seize upon the proper moment to receive the acclamation of them, if they are willing and consider themselves authorized to give away by one sudden vote, all power and liberty, not only for their own lifetime, but for future generations. In the institutional government alone, real public opinion is elaborated.
5 When the question of the new imperial crown was before the people of France, count Chambord, the Bourbon prince who claims the crown of France on the principle of legitimacy, wrote a letter to his adherents, exhorting them not to vote. The leading government papers stated at the time that government would have permitted the publication of this letter had it not attacked the principle of the people's sovereignty. The people were acknowledged sovereign, yet the government decides what the sovereign may read!
It sometimes happens that arbitrary power or centralism recommends itself to popular favor by showing that it intends to substitute a democratic equality for oligarchic or oppressive, unjust institutions, and the liberal principle may seem to be on the side of the levelling ruler. This was doubtless the case when in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries the power of the crown made itself independent on the continent of Europe. Instead of transforming the institutions, or of substituting new ones, the governments levelled them to the ground, and that unhappy centralization was the consequence which now draws every attempt at liberty back into its vortex. At other times, monarchs or governments disguise their plans to destroy liberty in the garb of liberty. Thus James the Second endeavored to break through the restraints of the constitution, or perhaps ultimately to establish the catholic religion in England, by proclaiming liberty of conscience for all, against the established church. Austria at one time pressed apparently
liberal measures for the peasants against the Polish nobles. In such cases, governments are always sure to find numerous persons that do not look beyond this single measure, nor to the means by which it is attempted; yet the legality and constitutionality of these means are of great, and frequently of greater importance than the measure itself. Even historians are frequently captivated by the apparently liberal character of a single measure, forgetting that the dykes of an institutional government once being broken through, the whole country may soon be flooded by an irresistible influx of arbitrary power. We have a parallel in the criminal trial, in which the question how we arrive at the truth is of paramount importance with the object of arriving at truth.
On the other hand, all endeavors to throw more and more unregulated and unarticulated power into the hands of the primary masses, to deprive a country more and more of a gradually evolving character, in one word to establish more and more a direct, absolute, unmodified popular power, amount to an abandonment of self-government, and an approach to imperatorial sovereignty, whether there be actually a Cæsar or not—to popular absolutism, whether the absolutism remain for any length of time in the hands of a sweeping majority, subject, of course, to a skilful leader, as in Athens after the Peloponnesian war, or whether it rapidly pass over into the hands of a broadly named Cæsar. Imperatorial sovereignty may be at a certain period more plausible than the sovereignty founded upon divine right, but they are
both equally hostile to self-government, and the only means to resist the inroads of power is, under the guidance of providence and a liberty-wedded people, the same means which in so many cases withstood the inroads of the barbarians, namely, the institution--the self-sustaining and organic systems of laws.