Enquiry Concerning


& Its Influence on Morals & Happiness

William Godwin

(1793; Revised Edition of 1798)


Of Legislative & Executive Power



In the preceding divisions of this work the ground has been sufficiently cleared to enable us to proceed, with considerable explicitness and satisfaction, to the practical detail: in other words, to attempt the tracing out that application of the laws of general justice which may best conduce to the gradual improvement of mankind.

It has appeared that an enquiry concerning the principles and conduct of social intercourse is the most important topic upon which the mind of man can be exercised;[1] that, upon these principles, well or ill conceived, and the manner in which they are administered, the vices and virtues of individuals depend;[2] that political institution, to be good, must have constant relation to the rules of immutable justice;[3] and that those rules, uniform in their nature, are equally applicable to the whole human race.[4]

The different topics of political institution cannot perhaps be more perspicuously distributed than under the four following heads: provisions for general administration; provisions for the intellectual and moral improvement of individuals; provisions for the administration of criminal justice; and provisions for the regulation of property. Under each of these heads it will be our business, in proportion as we adhere to the great and comprehensive principles already established, rather to clear away abuses than to recommend further and more precise regulations, rather to simplify than to complicate. Above all we should not forget that government is, abstractedly taken, an evil, an usurpation upon the private judgement and individual conscience of mankind; and that, however we may be obliged to admit it as a necessary evil for the present, it behoves us, as the friends of reason and the human species, to admit as little of it as possible, and carefully to observe, whether, in consequence of the gradual illumination of the human mind, that little may not hereafter be diminished.

And first we are to consider the different provisions that may be made for general administration; including, under the phrase general administration, all that shall be found necessary, of what has usually been denominated, legislative and executive power. Legislation has already appeared to be a term not applicable to human society.[5] Men cannot do more than declare and interpret law; nor can there be an authority so paramount as to have the prerogative of making that to be law which abstract and immutable justice had not made to be law previously to that interposition. But it might, notwithstanding this, be found necessary that there should be an authority empowered to declare those general principles, by which the equity of the community will be regulated, in particular cases upon which it may be compelled to decide. The question concerning the reality and extent of this necessity, it is proper to reserve for after considerations.[6] Executive power consists of two very distinct parts: general deliberations relative to particular emergencies, which, so far as practicability is concerned, may be exercised either by one individual or a body of individuals, such as peace and war, taxation,[7] and the selection of proper periods for convoking deliberative assemblies: and particular functions, such as those of financial detail, or minute superintendence, which cannot be exercised unless by one or a small number of persons.

In reviewing these several branches of authority, and considering the persons to whom they may be most properly confided, we cannot perhaps do better than adopt the ordinary distribution of forms of government into monarchy, aristocracy and democracy. Under each of these heads we may enquire into the merits of their respective principles, first absolutely, and upon the hypothesis of their standing singly for the whole administration; and secondly, in a limited view, upon the supposition of their constituting one branch only of the system of government. It is usually alike incident to them all, to confide the minuter branches of executive detail to inferior agents.

One thing more it is necessary to premise. The merits of each of the three heads I have enumerated are to be considered negatively. The corporate duties of mankind are the result of their irregularities and follies in their individual capacity. If they had no imperfection, or if men were so constituted, as to be sufficiently, and sufficiently early, corrected by persuasion alone, society would cease from its functions. Of consequence, of the three forms of government, and their compositions, that is the best which shall least impede the activity and application of our intellectual powers. It was in the recollection of this truth that I have preferred the term political institution to that of government, the former appearing to be sufficiently expressive of that relative form, whatever it be, into which individuals would fall, when there was no need of force to direct them into their proper channel, and were no refractory members to correct.


[1]. Book I.

[2]. Book II, Chap. II.

[3]. Book I., Chap. VI, VII.

[4]. Book III, Chap. VII. Book II.

[5]. Book III, Chap. V.

[6]. Book VII, Chap. VIII.

[7]. I state the article of taxation as a branch of executive government, since it is not, like law or the declaration of law, a promulgating of some general principle, but is a temporary regulation for some particular emergence.



First then of monarchy; and we will first suppose the succession to the monarchy to be hereditary. In this case we have the additional advantage of considering this distinguished mortal who is thus set over the heads of the rest of his species from the period of his birth.

The abstract idea of a king is of an extremely momentous and extraordinary nature; and, though the idea has, by the accident of education, been rendered familiar to us from our infancy, yet perhaps the majority of readers can recollect the period when it struck them with astonishment, and confounded their powers of apprehension. It being sufficiently evident that some species of government was necessary, and that individuals must concede a part of that sacred and important privilege by which each man is constituted judge of his own words and actions, for the sake of general good, it was next requisite to consider what expedients might be substituted in the room of this original claim. One of these expedients has been monarchy. It was the interest of each individual that his individuality should be invaded as rarely as possible; that no invasion should be permitted to flow from wanton caprice, from sinister and disingenuous views, or from the instigation of anger, partiality and passion; and that this bank, severely levied upon the peculium of each member of the society, should be administered with frugality and discretion. It was therefore, without doubt, a very bold adventure to commit this precious deposit to the custody of a single man. If we contemplate the human powers, whether of body or mind, we shall find them much better suited to the superintendence of our private concerns, and to the administering occasional assistance to others, than to the accepting the formal trust, of superintending the affairs, and watching for the happiness of millions. If we recollect the physical and moral equality of mankind, it will appear a very violent usurpation upon this principle to place one individual at so vast an interval from the rest of his species. Let us then consider how such persons are usually educated, or may be expected to be educated, and how well they are prepared for this illustrious office.

It is a common opinion "That adversity is the school in which all extraordinary virtue must be formed. Henry the fourth of France, and Elizabeth of England, experienced a long series of calamities before they were elevated to a throne. Alfred, of whom the obscure chronicles of a barbarous age record such superior virtues, passed through the vicissitudes of a vagabond and a fugitive. Even the mixed, and, upon the whole, the vicious, yet accomplished, characters of Frederic and Alexander were not formed without the interference of injustice and persecution."

This hypothesis however seems to have been pushed too far. It is no more reasonable to suppose that virtue cannot be matured without injustice than to believe, which has been another prevailing opinion, that human happiness cannot be secured without imposture and deceit.[1] Both these errors have a common source, a distrust of the omnipotence of truth. If their advocates had reflected more deeply upon the nature of the human mind, they would have perceived that all our voluntary actions are judgements of the understanding, and that actions of the most judicious and useful nature must infallibly flow from a real and genuine conviction of truth.

But, though the exaggerated opinion here stated, of the usefulness of adversity, be erroneous, it is, like many other of our errors, allied to important truth. If adversity be not necessary, it must be allowed that prosperity is pernicious. Not a genuine and philosophical prosperity, which requires no more than sound health with a sound intellect, the capacity of procuring for ourselves, by a moderate and well regulated industry, the means of subsistence, virtue and wisdom: but prosperity as it is usually understood, that is, a competence provided for us by the caprice of human institution, inviting our bodies to indolence, and our minds to lethargy; and still more prosperity, as it is understood in the case of noblemen and princes, that is, a superfluity of wealth, which deprives us of all intercourse with our fellow men upon equal terms, and makes us prisoners of state, gratified indeed with baubles and splendour, but shut out from the real benefits of society, and the perception of truth. If truth be so intrinsically powerful as to make adversity unnecessary to excite our attention to it, it is nevertheless certain that luxury and wealth have the most fatal effects in distorting it. If it require no foreign aid to assist its energies, we ought however to be upon our guard against principles and situations the tendency of which may be perpetually to counteract it.

Nor is this all. One of the most essential ingredients of virtue is fortitude. It was the plan of many of the Grecian philosophers, and most of all of Diogenes, to show to mankind how very limited is the supply that our necessities require, and how little dependent our real welfare and prosperity are upon the caprice of others. Among innumerable incidents upon record that illustrate this principle, a single one may suffice to suggest to our minds its general spirit. Diogenes had a slave whose name was Menas, and Menas thought proper upon some occasion to elope. 'Ha!' said the philosopher, 'can Menas live without Diogenes, and cannot Diogenes live without Menas?' There can be no lesson more important than that which is here conveyed. The man that does not know himself not to be at the mercy of other men, that does not feel that he is invulnerable to all the vicissitudes of fortune, is incapable of a constant and inflexible virtue. He to whom the rest of his species can reasonably look up with confidence must be firm, because his mind is filled with the excellence of the object he pursues; and cheerful, because he knows that it is out of the power of events to injure him. If anyone should choose to imagine that this idea of virtue is strained too high, yet all must allow that no man can be entitled to our confidence who trembles at every wind, who can endure no adversity, and whose very existence is linked to the artificial character he sustains. Nothing can more reasonably excite our contempt than a man who, if he were once reduced to the genuine and simple condition of man, would be driven to despair, and find himself incapable of consulting and providing for his own subsistence. Fortitude is a habit of mind that grows out of a sense of our independence. If there be a man who dares not even trust his own imagination with the fancied change of his circumstances, he must necessarily be effeminate; irresolute and temporizing. He that loves sensuality or ostentation better than virtue may be entitled to our pity, but a madman only would entrust to his disposal anything that was dear to him.

Again, the only means by which truth can be communicated to the human mind is through the inlet of the senses. It is perhaps impossible that a man shut up in a cabinet can ever be wise. If we would acquire knowledge, we must open our eyes, and contemplate the universe. Till we are acquainted with the meaning of terms, and the nature of the objects around us, we cannot understand the propositions that may be formed concerning them. Till we are acquainted with the nature of the objects around us, we cannot compare them with the principles we have formed, and understand the modes of employing them. There are other ways of attaining wisdom and ability beside the school of adversity, but there is no way of attaining them but through the medium of experience. That is, experience brings in the materials with which intellect works; for it must be granted that a man of limited experience will often be more capable than he who has gone through the greatest variety of scenes; or rather perhaps, that one man may collect more experience in a sphere of a few miles square than another who has sailed round the world.

To conceive truly the value of experience, we must recollect the numerous improvements the human mind has received, and how far an enlightened European differs from a solitary savage. However multifarious are these improvements, there are but two ways in which they can be appropriated by any individual; either at second hand by books and conversation, or at first hand by our own observations of men and things. The improvement we receive in the first of these modes is unlimited; but it will not do alone. We cannot understand books till we have seen the subjects of which they treat.

He that knows the mind of man must have observed it for himself; he that knows it most intimately must have observed it in its greatest variety of situations. He must have seen it without disguise, when no exterior situation puts a curb upon its passions, and induces the individual to exhibit a studied, not a spontaneous character. He must have seen men in their unguarded moments, when the eagerness of temporary resentment tips their tongue with fire, when they are animated and dilated by hope, when they are tortured and wrung with despair, when the soul pours out its inmost self into the bosom of an equal and a friend. Lastly, he must himself have been an actor in the scene, have had his own passions brought into play, have known the anxiety of expectation and the transport of success, or he will feel and understand about as much of what he sees as mankind in general would of the transactions of the vitrified inhabitants of the planet Mercury, or the salamanders that live in the sun. - Such is the education of the true philosopher, the genuine politician, the friend and benefactor of human kind.

What is the education of a prince? Its first quality is extreme tenderness. The winds of heaven are not permitted to blow upon him. He is dressed and undressed by his lacqueys and valets. His wants are carefully anticipated; his desires, without any effort of his, profusely supplied. His health is of too much importance to the community to permit him to exert any considerable effort either of body or mind. He must not hear the voice of reprimand or blame. In all things it is first of all to be remembered that he is a prince, that is, some rare and precious creature, but not of human kind.

As he is the heir to a throne, it is never forgotten by those about him that considerable importance is to be annexed to his favour or his displeasure. Accordingly, they never express themselves in his presence frankly and naturally, either respecting him or themselves. They are supporting a part. They play under a mask. Their own fortune and emolument is always uppermost in their minds, at the same time that they are anxious to appear generous, disinterested and sincere. All his caprices are to be complied with. All his gratifications are to be studied, They find him a depraved and sordid mortal; they judge of his appetites and capacities by their own; and the gratifications they recommend serve to sink him deeper in folly and vice.

What is the result of such an education? Having never experienced contradiction, the young prince is arrogant and presumptuous. Having always been accustomed to the slaves of necessity or the slaves of choice, he does not understand even the meaning of the word freedom. His temper is insolent, and impatient of parley and expostulation. Knowing nothing, he believes himself sovereignly informed, and runs headlong into danger, not from firmness and courage, but from the most egregious willfulness and vanity. Like Pyrrho among the ancient philosophers, if his attendants were at a distance, and he trusted himself alone in the open air, he would perhaps be run over by the next coach, or fall down the first precipice. His violence and presumption are strikingly contrasted with the extreme timidity of his disposition. The first opposition terrifies him, the first difficulty, seen and understood, appears insuperable. He trembles at a shadow, and at the very semblance of adversity is dissolved into tears. It has accordingly been observed that princes are commonly superstitious beyond the rate of ordinary mortals.

Above all, simple, unqualified truth is a stranger to his ear. It either never approaches; or, if so unexpected a guest should once appear, it meets with so cold a reception as to afford little encouragement to a second visit. The longer he has been accustomed to falsehood and flattery, the more grating will it sound. The longer he has been accustomed to falsehood and flattery, the more terrible will the talk appear to him to change his tastes, and discard his favourites. He will either place a blind confidence in all men, or, having detected the insincerity of those who were most agreeable to him, will conclude that all men are knavish and designing. As a consequence of this last opinion, he will become indifferent to mankind, and callous to their sufferings, and will believe that even the virtuous are knaves under a craftier mask. Such is the education of an individual who is destined to superintend the affairs, and watch for the happiness, of millions.

In this picture are contained the features which most obviously constitute the education of a prince, into the conduct of which no person of energy and virtue has by accident been introduced. In real life it will be variously modified, but the majority of the features, unless in rare instances, will remain the same. In no case can the education of a friend and benefactor of human kind, as sketched in a preceding page, by any speculative contrivance be communicated.

Nor is there any difficulty in accounting for the universal miscarriage. The wisest preceptor, thus circumstanced, must labour under insuperable disadvantages. No situation can be so artificial as that of a prince, so difficult to be understood by him who occupies it, so irresistibly propelling the mind to mistake. The first ideas it suggests are of a tranquillizing and soporific nature. It fills him with the opinion of his secretly possessing some inherent advantage over the rest of his species, by which he is formed to command, and they to obey. If you assure him of the contrary, you can expect only an imperfect and temporary credit; for facts, when, as in this case, they are continually deposing against you, speak a language more emphatic and intelligible than words. If it were not as he supposes, why should everyone that approaches be eager to serve him? The sordid and selfish motives by which they are really actuated, he is very late in detecting. It may even be doubted whether the individual who was never led to put the professions of others to the test by his real wants, has, in any instance, been completely aware of the little credit that is usually due to them. A prince finds himself courted and adored long before he can have acquired a merit entitling him to such distinctions. By what arguments can you persuade him laboriously to pursue what appears so completely superfluous? How can you induce him to be dissatisfied with his present acquisitions, while every other person assures him that his accomplishments are admirable, and his mind a mirror of sagacity? How will you persuade him who finds all his wishes anticipated to engage in any arduous undertaking, or propose any distant object for his ambition?

But, even should you succeed in this, his pursuits may be expected to be either mischievous or useless. His understanding is distorted; and the basis of all morality, the recollection that other men are beings of the same order with himself, is extirpated. It would be unreasonable to expect from him anything generous and humane. Unfortunate as he is, his situation is continually propelling him to vice, and destroying the germs of integrity and virtue, before they are unfolded. If sensibility begin to discover itself, it is immediately poisoned by the blighting winds of flattery. Amusement and sensuality call with an imperious voice, and will not allow him time to feel. Artificial as is the character he fills, even should he aspire to fame, it will be by the artificial methods of false refinement, or the barbarous inventions of usurpation and conquest, not by the plain and unornamented road of benevolence.

Some idea of the methods usually pursued, and the effects produced in the education of a prince, may be collected from a late publication of madame de Genlis, in which she gives an account of her own proceedings in relation to the children of the duke of Orleans. She thus describes the features of their disposition and habits, at the time they were committed to her care. 'The duke de Valois (the eldest) is frequently coarse in his manners, and ignoble in his expressions. He finds great humour in calling mean and common objects by their most vulgar appellations; all this seasoned with the proverbial propensity of Sancho, and set off with a loud forced laugh. His prate is eternal, nor does he suspect but that it must be an exquisite gratification to anyone to be entertained with it; and he frequently heightens the jest by a falsehood uttered in the gravest manner imaginable. Neither he nor his brother has the least regard for anybody but themselves; they are selfish and grasping, considering everything that is done for them as their due, and imagining that they are in no respect obliged to consult the happiness of others. The slightest reproof is beyond measure shocking to them, and the indignation they conceive at it immediately vents itself in sullenness or tears. They are in an uncommon degree effeminate, afraid of the wind or the cold, unable to run or to leap, or even so much as to walk at a round pace, or for more than half an hour at a time. The duke de Valois has an extreme terror of dogs, to such a degree as to turn pale and shriek at the sight of one.' 'When the children of the duke of Orleans were committed to my care, they had been accustomed, in winter, to wear under-waistcoats, two pair of stockings, gloves, muffs, etc. The eldest, who was eight years of age, never came downstairs without being supported by the arm of one or two persons; the domestics were obliged to render them the meanest services, and, for a cold or any slight indisposition, sat up with them for nights together.'[2]

Madame de Genlis, a woman of uncommon talents, though herself infected with a considerable number of errors, corrected these defects in the young princes. But few princes have the good fortune to be educated by a person of so much independence and firmness as madame de Genlis, and we may safely take our standard for the average calculation rather from her predecessors than herself. Even were it otherwise, we have already seen what it is that a preceptor can do in the education of a prince. Nor should it be forgotten that the children under her care were not of the class of princes who seemed destined to a throne.


[1]. Chap. XV.

[2]. 'M. de Valois a encore des manières bien désagréables, des expressions ignobles, et de tems en'tems le plus mauvais ton. A présent qu'il est à son aise avec moi, il me débite avec confiance toutes les gentillesses qu'on lui a apprises. Tout cela assaisonné de tous les proverbes de Sancho, et d'un gros rire forcé, qui n'est pas le moindre de ses désagréments. En outre, il est très bavard, grand conteur, et il ment souvent pour se divertir; avec cela la plus grande indifférence pour M. et Mde de Chartres, n'y pensant jamais, les voyant froidement, ne désirant point les voir. -- Ils étoient l'un et l'autre de la plus grande impolitesse, oui et non tout court, ou un signe de tête, peu reconnoissant, parce qu'ils croient qu'il n'est point de soins, d'attentions, ni d'égards qu'on ne les doive. Ils 'étoit pas possible de les reprendre sans les mettre au désespoir; dans ce cas, toujours des pleurs on de l'humeur. Ils étoient très douillets, craignant le vent, le froid, ne pouvant, non seulement ni courir ni sauter, mais même ni marcher d'un bon pas, et plus d'une demi-heure. Et M. le duc de Valois ayant une peur affreuse des chiens au point de pâlir et de criei quand il en voyoit un.'

'Quand on m'a remis ceux que j'ai élevés, ils avoient l'habitude de porter en hiver des gillets, des doubles paires de bas, des grands manchons, etc. L'aîné, qui avoit huit ans, ne descendoit jamais un escalier sans s'appuyer sur le bras d'une on deux personnes. On obligeoit des domestiques de ces enfans à leur rendre les services les plus vils: pour un rhume, pour une légère incommodité, ces domestiques passoient sans cesse les nuits, etc.' Leçons d'une Gouvernante a ses Elèves. par Mde de Sillery Brulart (ci-devant comtesse de Genlis), Tome II.



Such is the culture; the fruit that it produces may easily be conjectured. The fashion which is given to the mind in youth, it ordinarily retains in age; and it is with ordinary cases only that the present argument is concerned. If there have been kings, as there have been other men, in the forming of whom particular have outweighed general causes, the recollection of such exceptions has little to do with the question, whether monarchy be, generally speaking, a benefit or an evil. Nature has no particular mould in which she forms the intellects of princes; monarchy is certainly not jure divino; and of consequence, whatever system we may adopt upon the subject of natural talents, the ordinary rate of kings, will possess, at best, but the ordinary rate of human understanding. In what has been said, and in what remains to say, we are not to fix our minds upon prodigies, but to think of the species as it is usually found.

But, though education for the most part determines the character of the future man, it may not be useless to follow the disquisition a little further. Education, in one sense, is the affair of youth; but, in a stricter and more accurate sense, the education of an intellectual being can terminate only with his life. Every incident that befalls us, is the parent of a sentiment, and either confirms or counteracts the preconceptions of the mind.

Now the causes that acted upon kings in their minority, continue to act upon them in their maturer years. Every thing is carefully kept out of sight, that may remind them they are men. Every means is employed which may persuade them, that they are of a different species of beings, and subject to different laws of existence. "A king," such at least is the maxim of absolute monarchies, "though obliged by a rigid system of duties, is accountable for his discharge of those duties only to God." That is, exposed to a hundredfold more seductions than ordinary men, he has not, like them, the checks of a visible constitution of things, perpetually, through the medium of the senses, making their way to the mind. He is taught to believe himself superior to the restraints that bind ordinary men, and subject to a rule peculiarly his own. Everything is trusted to the motives of an invisible world; which, whatever may be the estimate to which they are entitled in the view of philosophy, mankind are not now to learn, are weakly felt by those who are immersed in splendour or affairs, and have little chance of success, in contending with the impressions of sense, and the allurements of visible objects.

It is a maxim generally received in the world, "that every king is a despot in his heart," and the maxim can seldom fail to be verified in the experiment. A limited monarch, and an absolute monarch, though in many respects different, approach in more points than they separate. A monarch strictly without limitation is perhaps a phenomenon that never yet existed. All countries have possessed some check upon despotism, which, to their deluded imaginations, appeared a sufficient security for their independence. All kings have possessed such a portion of luxury and ease, have been so far surrounded with servility and falsehood, and to such a degree exempt from personal responsibility, as to destroy. the natural and wholesome complexion of the human mind. Being placed so high, they find but one step between them and the summit of social authority, and they cannot but eagerly desire to pass that step. Having so frequent occasions of seeing their commands implicitly obeyed, being trained in so long a scene of adulation and servility, it is impossible they should not feel some indignation, at the honest firmness that sets limits to their omnipotence. But to say, "that every king is a despot in his heart," will presently be shown to be the same thing, as to say, that every king is, by unavoidable necessity, the enemy of the human race.

The principal source of virtuous conduct, is to recollect the absent. He that takes into his estimate present things alone, will be the perpetual slave of sensuality and selfishness. He will have no principle by which to restrain appetite, or to employ himself in just and benevolent pursuits. The cause of virtue and innocence, however urgent, will no sooner cease to be heard than it will be forgotten. Accordingly, nothing is found more favourable to the attainment of moral excellence than meditation: nothing more hostile than an uninterrupted succession of amusements. It would be absurd to expect from kings the recollection of virtue in exile or disgrace. It has generally been observed that, even for the loss of a flatterer or a favourite, they speedily console themselves. Image after image so speedily succeed in their sensorium that no one leaves a durable impression. A circumstance which contributes to this moral insensibility is the effeminacy and cowardice which grow out of perpetual indulgence. Their minds irresistibly shrink from painful ideas, from motives that would awaken them to effort, and reflections that demand severity of disquisition.

What situation can be more unfortunate, than that of a stranger, who cannot speak our language, knows nothing of our manners and customs, and enters into the busy scene of our affairs, without one friend to advise with or assist him? If anything is to be got by such a man, we may depend upon seeing him instantly surrounded with a group of thieves, sharpers and extortioners. They will impose upon him the most incredible stories, will overreach him in every article of his necessities or his commerce, and he will leave the country at last, as unfriended, and in as absolute ignorance, as he entered it. Such a stranger is a king; but with this difference, that the foreigner, if he be a man of sagacity and penetration, may make his way through this crowd of intruders, and discover a set of persons worthy of his confidence, which can scarcely in any case happen to a king. He is placed in a sphere peculiarly his own. He is surrounded with an atmosphere, through which it is impossible for him to discover the true colours and figure of things. The persons that are near him, are in a cabal and conspiracy of their own; and there is nothing about which they are more anxious than to keep truth from approaching him. The man, who is not accessible to every comer, who delivers up his person into the custody of another, and may, for anything that he can tell, be precluded from that very intercourse and knowledge it is most important for him to possess, whatever name he may bear, is, in reality, a prisoner.

Whatever the arbitrary institutions of men may pretend, the more powerful institutions of our nature, forbid one man to transact the affairs, and provide for the welfare of millions. A king soon finds the necessity of entrusting his functions to the administration of his servants. He acquires the habit of seeing with their eyes, and acting with their hands. He finds the necessity of confiding implicitly in their fidelity. Like a man long shut up in a dungeon, his organs are not strong enough to bear the irradiation of truth. Accustomed to receive information of the feelings and sentiments of mankind, through the medium of another, he cannot bear directly to converse with business and affairs. Whoever would detach his confidence from his present favourites, and induce him to pass over again, in scrutiny, the principles and data which he has already adopted, requires of him too painful a task. He hastens from his adviser, to communicate the accusation to his favourite; and the tongue that has been accustomed to gain credit, easily varnishes over this new discovery. He flies from uncertainty, anxiety and doubt, to his routine of amusements; or amusement presents itself, is importunate to be received, and presently obliterates the tale that overspread his mind with melancholy and suspicion. Much has been said of intrigue and duplicity. They have been alleged to intrude themselves into the walks of commerce, to haunt the intercourse of men of letters, and to rend the petty concerns of a village with faction. But, wherever else they may be strangers, in courts they undoubtedly find a congenial climate. The intrusive tale-bearer, who carries knowledge to the ear of kings, is, within that circle, an object of general abhorrence. The favourite marks him for his victim; and the inactive and unimpassioned temper of the monarch soon resigns him to the vindictive importunity of his adversary. It is in the contemplation of these circumstances that Fenelon has remarked that "kings are the most unfortunate and the most misled of all human beings."[1]

But, in reality, were they in possession of purer sources of information, it would be to little purpose. Royalty inevitably allies itself to vice. Virtue, in proportion as it has taken possession of any character, is just, consistent and sincere. But kings, debauched from their birth, and ruined by their situation, cannot endure an intercourse with these attributes. Sincerity, that would tell them of their errors, and remind them of their cowardice; justice, that, uninfluenced by the trappings of majesty, would estimate the man at his true desert; consistency, that no temptation would induce to part with its integrity; are odious and intolerable in their eyes. From such intruders, they hasten to men of a pliant character, who will flatter their mistakes, put a varnish on their actions, and be visited by no scruples in assisting the indulgence of their appetites. There is scarcely in human nature an inflexibility that can resist perpetual flattery and compliance. The virtues that grow up among us, are cultured in the open foil of equality, not in the artificial climate of greatness. We need the winds to harden, as much as the heat to cherish us. Many a mind, that promised well in its outset, has been found incapable to stand the test of perpetual indulgence and ease, without one shock to waken, and one calamity to stop it in its smooth career.

Monarchy is, in reality, so unnatural an institution that mankind have, at all times, strongly suspected it was unfriendly to their happiness. The power of truth, upon important topics, is such, that it may rather be said to be obscured, than obliterated; and falsehood has scarcely ever been so successful, as not to have had a restless and powerful antagonist in the heart of its votaries. The man who with difficulty earns his scanty subsistence, cannot behold the ostentatious splendour of a king, without being visited by some sense of injustice. He inevitably questions, in his mind, the utility of an officer, whose services are hired at so enormous a price. If he consider the subject with any degree of accuracy, he is led to perceive, and that with sufficient surprise, that a king is nothing more than a common mortal, exceeded by many, and equalled by more, in every requisite of strength, capacity and virtue. He feels therefore that nothing can be more groundless and unjust, than the supposing that one such man as this, is the fittest and most competent instrument for regulating the affairs of nations.

These reflections are so unavoidable that kings themselves have often been aware of the danger to their imaginary happiness with which they are pregnant. They have sometimes been alarmed with the progress of thinking, and oftener regarded the ease and prosperity of their subjects as a source of terror and apprehension. They justly consider their functions, as a sort of public exhibition, the success of which depends upon the credulity of the spectators, and which good sense and courage would speedily bring to contempt. Hence the well known maxims of monarchical government, that ease is the parent of rebellion; and that it is necessary to keep the people in a state of poverty and endurance in order to render them submissive. Hence it has been the perpetual complaint of despotism, that "the restive knaves are overrun with ease, and plenty ever is the nurse of faction."[2] Hence it has been the lesson perpetually read to monarchs: "Render your subjects prosperous, and they will speedily refuse to labour; they will become stubborn, proud, unsubmissive to the yoke, and ripe for revolt. It is impotence and penury alone that will render them supple, and prevent them from rebelling against the dictates of authority."[3]

It is a common and vulgar observation that the state of a king is greatly to be pitied. "All his actions are hemmed in with anxiety and doubt. He cannot, like other men, indulge the gay and careless hilarity of his mind; but is obliged, if he be of an honest and conscientious disposition, to consider how necessary the time, which he is thoughtlessly giving to amusement, may be, to the relief of a worthy and oppressed individual; how many benefits might, in a thousand instances, result from his interference; how many a guileless and undesigning heart might be cheered by his justice. The conduct of kings is a subject for the severest criticism which the nature of their situation disables them to encounter. A thousand things are done in their name in which they have no participation; a thousand stories are so disguised to their ear, as to render the truth undiscoverable; and the king is the general scape-goat, loaded with the offences of all his dependents."

No picture can be more just, judicious and humane than that which is thus exhibited. Why then should the advocates of antimonarchical principles be considered as the enemies of kings? They would relieve them from "a load that would sink a navy, too much honour."[4] They would exalt them to the happy and enviable condition of private individuals. In reality, nothing can be more iniquitous and cruel than to impose upon a man the unnatural office of a king. It is not less inequitable towards him that exercises it, than towards them who are subjected to it. Kings, if they understood their own interests, would be the first to espouse these principles, the most eager to listen to them, the most fervent in expressing their esteem of the men who undertake to impress upon their species this important truth.


[1]. "Les plus malheureux & les plus aveugles de tous les hommes." Télémaque, Liv. XIII. More forcible and impressive description is scarcely any where to he found, than that of the evils inseparable from monarchical government, contained in this and the following book of Fenelon's work.

[2]. Jane Shore, Act III.

[3]. "Si vous mettez les peuples dans I'abondance, ils ne travailleront plus, ils deviendront fiers, indociles, et seront toujours prêt à se revolter: il n'y a que la foiblesse et la misere qui les rendent souples, et qui les empêchent de resister à l'autorité." Télémaque, Liv. XIII.

[4]. Shakespeare: Henry the Eighth, Act III.



There is a principle, frequently maintained upon this subject,[1] which is entitled to impartial consideration. It is granted, by those who espouse it, "that absolute monarchy, from the imperfection of those by whom it is administered, is, for the most part, productive of evil;" but they assert, "that it is the best and most desirable of all forms under a good and virtuous prince. It is exposed," say they, "to the fate of all excellent natures, and, from the best thing, frequently, if corrupted, becomes the worst." This remark is certainly not very decisive of the general question, so long as any weight shall be attributed to the arguments which have been adduced to evince what sort of character and disposition may be ordinarily expected in princes. It may however be allowed, if true, to create in the mind of a sort of partial retrospect to this happy and perfect despotism; and, if it can be shown to be false, it will render the argument for the abolition of monarchy, so far as it is concerned, more entire and complete.

Now, whatever dispositions any man may possess in favour of the welfare of others, two things are necessary to give them validity; discernment and power. I can promote the welfare of a few persons, because I can be sufficiently informed of their circumstances. I can promote the welfare of many in certain general articles, because, for this purpose, it is only necessary that I should be informed of the nature of the human mind as such, not of the personal situation of the individuals concerned. But for one man to undertake to administer the affairs of millions, to supply, not general principles and perspicuous reasoning, but particular application, and measures adapted to the necessities of the moment, is of all undertakings the most extravagant and absurd.

The most simple and obvious system of practical administration is for each man to be the arbiter of his own concerns. If the imperfection, the narrow views, and the mistakes of human beings, render this, in certain cases, inexpedient and impracticable, the next resource is to call in the opinion of his peers, persons who, from their vicinity, may be presumed to have some general knowledge of the case, and who have leisure and means minutely to investigate the merits of the question. It cannot reasonably be doubted, that the same expedient which is resorted to in our civil and criminal concerns, would, by plain and uninstructed mortals, be adopted in the assessment of taxes, in the deliberations of commerce, and in every other article in which their common interests were involved, only generalizing the deliberative assembly, or pannel, in proportion to the generality of the question to be decided.

Monarchy, instead of referring every question to the persons concerned or their neighbours, refers it to a single individual, placed at the greatest distance possible from the ordinary members of the society. Instead of distributing the causes to be judged into as many parcels as convenience would admit, for the sake of providing leisure and opportunities of examination, it draws them to a single centre, and renders enquiry and examination impossible. A despot, however virtuously disposed, is obliged to act in the dark, to derive his knowledge from other men's information, and to execute his decisions by other men's instrumentality. Monarchy seems to be a species of government proscribed by the nature of man; and those persons, who furnished their despot with integrity and virtue, forgot to add omniscience and omnipotence, qualities not less necessary to fit him for the office they had provided.

Let us suppose this honest and incorruptible despot to be served by ministers, avaricious, hypocritical and interested. What will the people gain by the good intentions of their monarch? He will mean them the greatest benefits, but he will be altogether unacquainted with their situation, their character and their wants. The information he receives, will frequently be the very reverse of the truth. He will be taught that one individual is highly meritorious, and a proper subject of reward, whose only merit is the profligate servility with which he has fulfilled the purposes of his administration. He will be taught that another is the pest of the community, who is indebted for this report, to the steady virtue with which he has traversed and defeated the wickedness of government. He will mean the greatest benefits to his people; but, when he prescribes something calculated for their advantage, his servants, under pretence of complying, shall, in reality, perpetrate diametrically the reverse. Nothing will be more dangerous, than to endeavour to remove the obscurity with which his ministers surround him. The man, who attempts so hardy a task, will become the incessant object of their hatred. However incorruptible may be the justice of the sovereign, the time will come when his observation will be laid asleep, while malice and revenge are ever vigilant. Could he unfold the secrets of his prison-houses of state, he would find men committed in his name, whose crimes he never knew, whose names he never heard of, perhaps men whom he honoured and esteemed. Such is the history of the benevolent and philanthropic despots whom memory has recorded; and the conclusion from the whole is, that, wherever despotism exists, there it will always be attended with the evils of despotism, capricious measures and arbitrary infliction.

"But will not a wise king provide himself with good and virtuous servants?" Undoubtedly he will effect a part of this, but he cannot supersede the nature of things. He that executes an office as a deputy will never discharge it in the same spirit, as if he were the principal. Either the minister must be the author of the plans which he carries into effect, and then it is of little consequence, except so far as relates to his integrity in the choice of his servants, what sort of mortal the sovereign shall be found; or he must play a subordinate part, and then it is impossible to transfuse into his mind the perspicacity and energy of his master. Wherever despotism exists, it cannot remain in a single hand, but must be transmitted whole and entire through the progressive links of authority. To render despotism auspicious and benign, it is necessary, not only that the sovereign should possess every human excellence, but that all his officers should be men of penetrating genius and unspotted virtue. If they fall short of this, they will, like the ministers of Elizabeth, be sometimes specious profligates,[2] and sometimes men who, however admirably adapted for the technical emergencies of business, consult, on many occasions exclusively, their private advantage, worship the rising sun, enter into vindictive cabals, and cuff down new-fledged merit.[3] Wherever the continuity is broken, the flood of vice will bear down all before it. One weak or disingenuous man will be the source of unbounded mischief.

Another position, not less generally asserted than the desirableness of a virtuous despotism, is ;that republicanism is a species of government practicable only in a small state, while monarchy is best fitted to embrace the concerns of a vast and flourishing empire." The reverse of this, so far at least as relates to monarchy, appears at first sight to be the truth. The competence of any government cannot be measured by a purer standard than the extent and accuracy of its information. In this respect monarchy appears in all cases to be wretchedly deficient; but if it can ever be admitted, it must surely be in those narrow and limited instances where an individual can, with least absurdity, be supposed to be acquainted with the affairs and interests of the whole.(4*)


[1]. See Tom Jones, Book XII, Chap. XII.

[2]. Dudley earl of Leicester.

[3]. Cecil earl of Salisbury, lord treasurer; Howard earl of Nottingham, lord admiral, etc.

[4]. Paine's Letter to the Republican.



We shall be better enabled to judge of the dispositions with which information is communicated, and measures are executed, in monarchical countries, if we reflect upon another of the ill consequences attendant upon this species of government, the existence and corruption of courts.

The character of this, as well as of every other human institution, arises out of the circumstances with which it is surrounded. Ministers and favourites are a sort of people who have a state prisoner in their custody, the whole management of whose understanding and actions they can easily engross. This they completely effect with a weak and credulous master, nor can the most cautious and penetrating entirely elude their machinations. They unavoidably desire to continue in the administration of his functions, whether it be emolument, or the love of homage, or any more generous motive, by which they are attached to it. But, the more they are confided in by the sovereign, the greater will be the permanence of their situation; and, the more exclusive is their possession of his ear, the more implicit will be his confidence. The wisest of mortals are liable to error; the most-judicious projects are open to specious and superficial objections; and it can rarely happen but a minister will find his ease and security in excluding, as much as possible, other and opposite advisers, whose acuteness and ingenuity are perhaps additionally whetted by a desire to succeed to his office.

Ministers become a sort of miniature kings in their turn. Though they have the greatest opportunity of observing the impotence and unmeaningness of the character, they envy it. It is their trade perpetually to extol the dignity and importance of the master they serve; and men cannot long anxiously endeavour to convince others of the truth of any proposition without becoming half convinced of it themselves. They feel themselves dependent for all that they most ardently desire, upon this man's arbitrary will; but a sense of inferiority is perhaps the never failing parent of emulation or envy. They assimilate themselves therefore, of choice, to a man to whose circumstances their own are considerably similar.

In reality the requisites without which monarchical government cannot be preserved in existence are by no means sufficiently supplied by the mere intervention of ministers. There must be the ministers of ministers, and a long beadroll of subordination, descending by tedious and complicated steps. Each of these lives on the smile of the minister, as he lives on the smile of the sovereign. Each of these has his petty interests to manage, and his empire to employ under the guise of servility. Each imitates the vices of his superior, and exacts from others the adulation he is obliged to pay.

It has already appeared that a king is necessarily, and almost unavoidably, a despot in his heart.[1] He has been used to hear those things only which were adapted to give him pleasure; and it is with a grating and uneasy sensation that he listens to communications of a different sort. He has been used to unhesitating compliance; and it is with difficulty he can digest expostulation and opposition. Of consequence the honest and virtuous character, whose principles are clear and unshaken, is least qualified for his service; he must either explain away the severity of his principles, or he must give place to a more crafty and temporizing politician. The temporizing politician expects the same pliability in others that he exhibits in himself, and the fault which he can least forgive is an ill timed an inauspicious scrupulosity.

Expecting this compliance from all the coadjutors and instruments of his designs, he soon comes to set it up as a standard by which to judge of the merit of other men. He is deaf to every recommendation but that of a fitness for the secret service of government, or a tendency to promote his interest, and extend the sphere of his influence. The worst man, with this argument in his favour, will seem worthy of encouragement; the best man, who has no advocate but virtue to plead for him, will be treated with superciliousness and neglect. The genuine criterion of human desert can scarcely indeed be superseded and reversed. But it will appear to be reversed, and appearance will produce many of the effects of reality. To obtain honour, it will be thought necessary to pay a servile court to administration, to bear, with unaltered patience, their contumely and scorn, to flatter their vices, and render ourselves useful to their private gratification. To obtain honour, it will be thought necessary, by assiduity and intrigue, to make ourselves a party, to procure the recommendation of lords, and the good word of women of pleasure, and clerks in office. To obtain honour, it will be thought necessary to merit disgrace. The whole scene conflicts in hollowness, duplicity and falsehood. The minister speaks fair to the man he despises, and the slave pretends a generous attachment, while he thinks of nothing but his personal interest. That these principles are interspersed, under the worst governments, with occasional deviations into better, it would be folly to deny; that they do not form the great prevailing features, wherever a court and a monarch are to be found, it would be madness to assert.

There is one feature above all others which has never escaped the most superficial delineator of the manners of a court; I mean the profound dissimulation which is there cultivated. The minister has, in the first place, to deceive the sovereign, continually to pretend to feel whatever his master feels, to ingratiate himself by an uniform insincerity, and to make a show of the most unreserved affection and attachment. His next duty, is to cheat his dependents and the candidates for office; to keep them in a perpetual fever of desire and expectation. Recollect the scene of a ministerial levee. To judge by the external appearance, we should suppose this to be the chosen seat of disinterested kindness. All that is erect and decisive in man is shamelessly surrendered. No professions of submission can be so base, no forms of adulation so extravagant, but that they are eagerly practised by these voluntary prostitutes. Yet it is notorious that, in this scene above all others, hatred has fixed its dwelling; jealousy rankles in every breast; and the most of its personages would rejoice in the opportunity of ruining each other for ever. Here it is that promises, protestations and oaths are so wantonly multiplied as almost to have lost their meaning. There is scarcely a man so weak as, when he has received a court promise, not to tremble, lest it should be found as false and unsubstantial by him, as it has proved to so many others.

At length, by the constant practice of dissimulation, the true courtier comes to be unable to distinguish, among his own sentiments, the pretended from the real. He arrives at such proficiency in his art as to have neither passions nor attachments. Personal kindness, and all consideration for the merit of others, are swallowed up in a narrow and sordid ambition; not that generous ambition for the esteem of mankind, which reflects a sort of splendour upon vice itself, but an ambition of selfish gratification and illiberal intrigue. Such a man has bid a long farewell to every moral restraint, and thinks his purposes cheaply promoted by the sacrifice of honour, sincerity and justice. His chief study and greatest boast are to be impenetrable; that no man shall be able to discover what he designs; that, though you discourse with him for ever, he shall constantly elude your detection. Consummate in his art, he will often practise it without excuse or necessity. Thus history records her instances of the profuse kindness and endearment with which monarchs have treated those they had already resolved to destroy. A gratuitous pride seems to have been placed in exhibiting the last refinement of profligacy and deceit. Ministers of this character are the mortal enemies of virtue in others. A cabal of such courtiers is in the utmost degree deadly. They destroy by secret ways that give no warning, and leave no trace. If they have to do with a blunt, just man who knows no disguise, or a generous spirit that scorns to practise dissimulation and artifice, they mark him their certain victim. No good or liberal character can escape their machinations; and the immorality of the court, which throws into shade all other wickedness, spreads its contagion through the land, and emasculates the sentiments of the most populous nation.

A fundamental disadvantage in monarchical government is that it renders things of the most essential importance, subject, through successive gradations, to the caprice of individuals. The suffrage of a body of electors will always bear a resemblance, more or less remote, to the public sentiment. The suffrage of an individual will depend upon caprice, personal convenience or pecuniary corruption. If the king be himself inaccessible to injustice, if the minister disdain a bribe, yet the fundamental evil remains, that kings and ministers, fallible themselves, must, upon a thousand occasions, depend upon the recommendation of others. Who will answer for these, through all their classes, officers of state, and deputies of office, humble friends, and officious valets, wives and daughters, concubines and confessors?

It is supposed by many that the existence of permanent hereditary distinction is necessary to the maintenance of order, among beings so imperfect as the human species. But it is allowed by all that permanent hereditary distinction is a fiction of policy, not an ordinance of immutable truth. Wherever it exists, the human mind, so far as relates to political society, is prevented from settling upon its true foundation. There is a constant struggle between the genuine sentiments of the understanding, which tell us that all this is an imposition, and the imperious voice of government, which bids us, Reverence and obey. In this unequal contest, alarm and apprehension will perpetually haunt the minds of those who exercise usurped power. In this artificial state of man, powerful engines must be employed to prevent him from rising to his true level. It is the business of the governors to persuade the governed that it is their interest to be slaves. They have no other means by which to create this fictitious interest but those which they derive from the perverted understandings, and burdened property, of the public, to be returned in titles, ribands and bribes. Hence that system of universal corruption without which monarchy could not exist.

It has sometimes been supposed that corruption is particularly incident to a mixed government. 'In such a government the people possess a portion of freedom; privilege finds its place as well as prerogative; a certain sturdiness of manner, and consciousness of independence, are the natives of these countries. The country-gentleman will not abjure the dictates of his judgement without a valuable consideration. There is here more than one road to success; popular favour is as sure a means of advancement as courtly patronage. In despotic countries the people may be driven like sheep: however unfortunate is their condition, they know no other, and they submit to it as an inevitable calamity. Their characteristic feature is a torpid dullness, in which all the energies of man are forgotten. But, in a country calling itself free, the minds of the inhabitants are in a perturbed and restless state, and extraordinary means must be employed to calm their vehemence.' It has sometimes happened to men whose hearts have been pervaded with the love of virtue, of which pecuniary prostitution is the most odious corruption, to prefer, while they have contemplated this picture, an acknowledged despotism to a state of specious and imperfect liberty.

But the picture is not accurate. As much of it as relates to a mixed government must be acknowledged to be true. But the features of despotism are too favourably touched. Whether privilege be conceded by the forms of the constitution or no, a whole nation cannot be kept ignorant of its force. No people were ever yet so sunk in stupidity as to imagine one man, because he bore the appellation of a king, literally equal to a million. In a whole nation, as monarchical nations at least must be expected to be constituted, there will be nobility and yeomanry, rich and poor. There will be persons who, by their situation, their wealth, or their talents, form a middle rank between the monarch and the vulgar, and who, by their confederacies and their intrigues, can hold the throne in awe. These men must be bought or defied. There is no disposition that clings so close to despotism as incessant terror and alarm. What else gave birth to the armies of spies, and the numerous state prisons, under the old government of France? The eye of the tyrant is never dosed. How numerous are the precautions and jealousies that these terrors dictate? No man can go out or come into the country, but he is watched. The press must issue no productions that have not the imprimatur of government. All coffee houses, and places of public resort, are objects of attention. Twenty people cannot be collected together, unless for the purposes of superstition, but it is immediately suspected that they may be conferring about their rights. Is it to be supposed that, where the means of jealousy are employed, the means of corruption will be forgotten? Were it so indeed, the case would not be much improved. No picture can be more disgustful, no state of mankind more depressing, than that in which a whole nation is held in obedience by the mere operation of fear, in which all that is most eminent among them, and that should give example to the rest, is prevented, under the severest penalties, from expressing its real sentiments, and, by necessary consequence, from forming any sentiments that are worthy to be expressed. But, in reality, fear was never the only instrument employed for these purposes. No tyrant was ever so unsocial as to have no confederates in his guilt. This monstrous edifice will always be found supported by all the various instruments for perverting the human character, severity, menaces, blandishments, professions and bribes. To this it is, in a great degree, owing that monarchy is so costly an establishment. It is the business of the despot to distribute his lottery of seduction into as many prizes as possible. Among the consequences of a pecuniary polity these are to be reckoned the foremost that every man is supposed to have his price, and that, the corruption being managed in an underhand manner, many a man who appears a patriot may be really a hireling; by which means virtue itself is brought into discredit, is either regarded as mere folly and romance, or observed with doubt and suspicion, as the cloak of vices, which are only the more humiliating the more they are concealed.


[1]. p. 22.



Let us proceed to consider the moral effects which the institution of monarchical government is calculated to produce upon the inhabitants of the countries in which it flourishes. And here it must be laid down as a first principle that monarchy is founded in imposture. It is false that kings are entitled to the eminence they obtain. They possess no intrinsic superiority over their subjects. The line of distinction that is drawn is the offspring of pretence, an indirect means employed for effecting certain purposes, and not the language of truth. It tramples upon the genuine nature of things, and depends for its support upon this argument, 'that, were it not for impositions of a similar nature, mankind would be miserable'.

Secondly, it is false that kings can discharge the functions of royalty. They pretend to superintend the affairs of millions, and they are necessarily unacquainted with these affairs. The senses of kings are constructed like those of other men: they can neither see nor hear what is transacted in their absence. They pretend to administer the affairs of millions, and they possess no such supernatural powers, as should enable them to act at a distance. They are nothing of what they would persuade us to believe them. The king is often ignorant of that of which half the inhabitants of his dominions are informed. His prerogatives are administered by others, and the lowest clerk in office is frequently, to this and that individual, more effectually the sovereign than the king himself He is wholly unacquainted with what is solemnly transacted in his name.

To conduct this imposture with success, it is necessary to bring over to its party our eyes and our ears. Accordingly kings are always exhibited with all the splendour of ornament, attendance and equipage. They live amidst a sumptuousness of expense; and this, not merely to gratify their appetites but as a necessary instrument of policy. The most fatal opinion that could lay hold upon the minds of their subjects is that kings are but men. Accordingly, they are carefully withdrawn from the profaneness of vulgar inspection; and, when they are shown to the public, it is with every artifice that may dazzle our sense, and mislead our judgement.

The imposture does not stop with our eyes, but address itself to our ears. Hence the inflated style of regal formality. The name of the king everywhere obtrudes itself upon us. It would seem as if everything in the country, the lands, the houses, the furniture, and the inhabitants, were his property. Our estates are the king's dominions. Our bodies and minds are his subjects. Our representatives are his parliament. Our courts of law are his deputies. All magistrates, throughout the realm, are the king's officers. His name occupies the foremost place in all statutes and decrees. He is the prosecutor of every criminal. He is 'Our Sovereign Lord the King'. Were it possible that he should die, 'the fountain of our blood, the means by which we live', would be gone: every political function would be suspended. It is therefore one of the fundamental principles of monarchical government that 'the king cannot die'. Our moral principles accommodate themselves to our veracity: and, accordingly, the sum of our political duties (the most important of all duties) is loyalty; to be true and faithful to the king; to honour a man whom, it may be. we ought to despise; and to obey; that is, to convert our shame into our pride, and to be ostentatious of the surrender of our own understandings. The morality of adults in this situation is copied from the basest part of the morality sometimes taught to children; and the perfection of virtue is placed in blind compliance and unconditional submission.

What must be the effects of this machine upon the moral principles of mankind? Undoubtedly we cannot trifle with the principles of morality and truth with impunity. However gravely the imposture may be carried on, it is impossible but that the real state of the case should be strongly suspected. Man in a state of society, if undebauched by falsehoods like these, which confound the nature of right and wrong, is not ignorant of what it is in which merits consists. He knows that one man is not superior to another, except so far as he is wiser or better. Accordingly these are the distinctions to which he aspires for himself. These are the qualities he honours and applauds in another, and which therefore the feelings of each man instigate his neighbours to acquire. But what a revolution is introduced among these original and undebauched sentiments by the arbitrary distinctions which monarchy engenders? We still retain in our minds the standard of merit: but it daily grows more feeble and powerless; we are persuaded to think that it is of no real use in the transactions of the world, and presently lay it aside as Utopian and visionary.

Nor is this the whole of the injurious consequences produced by the hyperbolical pretensions of monarchy. There is a simplicity in truth that refuses alliance with this impudent mysticism. No man is entirely ignorant of the nature of man. He will not indeed be incredulous to a degree of energy and rectitude that may exceed the standard of his preconceived ideas. But for one man to pretend to think and act for a nation of his fellows is so preposterous as to set credibility at defiance. Is he persuaded that the imposition is salutary? He willingly assumes the right of introducing similar falsehoods into his private affairs. He becomes convinced that veneration for truth is to be classed among our errors and prejudices, and that, so far from being, as it pretends to be, in all cases salutary, it would lead, if ingenuously practised, to the destruction of mankind.

Again, if kings were exhibited simply as they are in themselves to the inspection of mankind, the 'salutary prejudice', as it has been called,[1] which teaches us to venerate them would speedily be extinct: it has therefore been found necessary to surround them with luxury and expense. Thus luxury and expense are made the standard Of honour, and of consequence the topics of anxiety and envy. However fatal this sentiment may be to the morality and happiness of mankind, it is one of those illusions which monarchical government is eager to cherish. In reality, the first principle of virtuous feeling, as has been elsewhere said,[2] is the love of independence. He that would be just must, before all things, estimate the objects about him at their true value. But the principle in regal states has been to think your father the wisest of men, because he is your father,[3] and your king the foremost of his species because he is a king. The standard of intellectual merit is no longer the man, but his title. To be drawn in a coach of state by eight milk-white horses is the highest of all human claims to our veneration. The same principle inevitably runs through every order of the state, and men desire wealth under a monarchical government for the same reason that, under other circumstances, they would have desired virtue.

Let us suppose an individual who by severe labour earns a scanty subsistence, to become, by accident or curiosity, a spectator of the pomp of a royal progress. Is it possible that he should not mentally apostrophize this elevated mortal, and ask, 'What has made thee to differ from me?' If no such sentiment pass through his mind, it is a proof that the corrupt institutions of society have already divested him of all sense of justice. The more simple and direct is his character, the more certainly will these sentiments occur. What answer shall we return to his enquiry? That the well being of society requires men to be treated otherwise than according to their intrinsic merit? Whether he be satisfied with this answer or no, will he not aspire to possess that (which in this instance is wealth) to which the policy of mankind has annexed such high distinction? Is it not indispensable that, before he believes in the rectitude of this institution, his original feelings of right and wrong should be wholly reversed? If it be indispensable, then let the advocate of the monarchical system ingenuously declare that, according to that system, the interest of society, in the first instance, requires the subversion of all principles of moral truth and justice.

With this view let us again recollect the maxim adopted in monarchical countries, 'that the king never dies'. Thus, with true oriental extravagance, we salute this imbecile mortal, 'O king, live for ever I' Why do we this? Because upon his existence the existence of the state depends. In his name the courts of law are opened. If his political capacity be suspended for a moment, the centre to which all public business is linked is destroyed. In such countries everything is uniform: the ceremony is all, and the substance nothing. In the, riots in the year 1780, the mace of the house of lords was proposed to be sent into the passages, by the terror of its appearance to quiet the confusion but it was observed that, if the mace should be rudely detained by the rioters, the whole would be thrown into anarchy. Business would be at a stand; their insignia, and, with their insignia, their legislative and deliberative functions would be gone. Who can expect firmness and energy in a country where everything is made to depend, not upon justice, public interest and reason, but upon a piece of gilded wood? What conscious dignity and virtue can there be among a people who, if deprived of the imaginary guidance of one vulgar mortal, are taught to believe that their faculties are benumbed, and all their joints unstrung?

Lastly, one of the most essential ingredients in a virtuous character is undaunted firmness; and nothing can more powerfully tend to destroy this principle than the spirit of a monarchical government. The first lesson of virtue is, Fear no man; the first lesson of such a constitution is, Fear the king. The true interest of man requires the annihilation of factitious and imaginary distinctions; it is inseparable from monarchy to support and render them more palpable than ever. He that cannot speak to the proudest despot with a consciousness that he is a man speaking to a man, and a determination to yield him no superiority to which his inherent qualifications do not entitle him, is wholly incapable of an illustrious virtue. How many such men are bred within the pale of monarchy? How long would monarchy maintain its ground in a nation of such men? Surely it would be wisdom in society, instead of conjuring up a thousand phantoms to seduce us into error, instead of surrounding us with a thousand fears to deprive us of energy, to 'remove every obstacle to our progress, and smooth the path of improvement.

Virtue was never yet held in much honour and esteem in a monarchical country. It is the inclination and the interest of courtiers and kings to bring it into disrepute; and they are but too successful in the attempt. Virtue is, in their conception, arrogant, intrusive, unmanageable and stubborn. It is an assumed outside, by which those who pretend to it, intend to gratify their rude tempers, or their secret views. Within the circle of monarchy, virtue is always regarded with dishonourable incredulity. The philosophical system, which affirms self-love to be the first mover of all our actions, and the falsity of human virtues, is the growth of these countries.[4] Why is it that the language of integrity and public spirit is constantly regarded among us as hypocrisy? It was not always thus. It was not till the usurpation of Caesar, that books were written, by the tyrant and his partisans, to prove that Cato was no better than a snarling pretender.[5]

There is a further consideration which has seldom been adverted to upon this subject, but which seems to be of no inconsiderable importance. In our definition of justice, it appeared that our debt to our fellow men extended to all the efforts we could make for their welfare, and all the relief we could supply to their necessities. Not a talent do we possess, not a moment of time, not a shilling of property, for which we are not responsible at the tribunal of the public, which we are not obliged to pay into the general bank of common advantage. Of every one of these things there is an employment which is best, and that best justice obliges us to select. But how extensive is the consequence of this principle with respect to the luxuries and ostentation of human life? How many of these luxuries are there that would stand the test, and approve themselves, upon examination, to be the best objects upon which our property could be employed? will it often come out to be true that hundreds of individuals ought to be subjected to the severest and most incessant labour, that one man may spend in idleness what would afford to the general mass ease, leisure and consequently wisdom?

Whoever frequents the habitations of the luxurious will speedily be infected with the vices of luxury. The ministers and attendants of a sovereign, accustomed to the trappings of magnificence, will turn with disdain from the merit that is obscured with the clouds of adversity. In vain may virtue plead, in vain may talents solicit distinction, if poverty seem, to the fastidious sense of the man in place, to envelop them, as it were, with its noisome effluvia. The very lacquey knows how to repel unfortunate merit from the great man's door.

Here then we are presented with the lesson which is, loudly and perpetually, read through all the haunts of monarchy. Money is the great requisite, for the want of which nothing can atone. Distinction, the homage and esteem of mankind, are to be bought, not earned. The rich man need not trouble himself to invite them, they come unbidden to his surly door. Rarely indeed does it happen that there is any crime that gold cannot expiate, any baseness and meanness of character that wealth cannot shroud in oblivion. Money therefore is the only object worthy of your pursuit, and it is of little importance by what sinister and unmanly means, so it be but obtained.

It is true that virtue and talents do not stand in need of the great man's assistance, and might, if they did but know their worth, repay his scorn with a just and enlightened pity. But, unfortunately, they are often ignorant of their strength, and adopt the errors they see universally espoused. Were it otherwise, they would indeed be happier, but the general manners would perhaps remain the same. The general manners are fashioned by the form and spirit of the national government; and if, in extraordinary cases, they cease to yield to the mould, they speedily change the form to which they fail to submit.

The evils indeed that arise out of avarice, an inordinate admiration of wealth and an intemperate pursuit of it are so obvious that they have constituted a perpetual topic of lamentation and complaint. The object in this place is to consider how far they are extended and aggravated by a monarchical government, that is, by a constitution the very essence of which is to accumulate enormous wealth upon a single head, and to render the ostentation of splendour the established instrument for securing honour and veneration. The object is to consider in what degree the luxury of courts, the effeminate softness of favourites, the system, never to be separated from the monarchical form, of putting men's approbation and good word at a price, of individuals buying the favour of government, and government buying the favour of individuals, is injurious to the moral improvement of mankind. As long as the unvarying practice of courts is cabal, and as long as the unvarying tendency of cabal is to bear down talents, and discourage virtue, to recommend cunning in the room of sincerity, a servile and supple disposition in preference to firmness and inflexibility, a pliant and selfish morality as better than an ingenuous one, and the study of the red book of promotion rather than the study of the general welfare, so long will monarchy be the bitterest and most potent of all the adversaries of the true interests of mankind.


[1]. Burke's Reflection.

[2]. p. 413.

[3]. 'The persons whom you ought to love infinitely more than me are those to whom you are indebted for your existence.' 'Their conduct ought to regulate yours and be the standard of your sentiments.' 'The respect we owe to our father and mother is a sort of worship, as the phrase filial piety implies.' 'Ce que vous devez aimer avant moi sans aucune comparaison, ce sont ceux á qui vous devez la vie.' 'Leur conduite doit régler la vôtre et fixer votre opinion.' 'Le respect que nous devons á notre pére et a notre mére est un culte, comme l'exprime le mot piété filiale.' Leçons d'une Gouvernante, Tome I.

[4]. Maximes par M. Le Duc de la Rochefoucault: De la Fausseté des Vertus Humaines, par M. Esprit.

[5]. See Plutarch's Lives; Lives of Caesar and Cicero: Ciceronis Epistolae ad Atticum, Lib. XII. Epist. xl, xli.



Having considered the nature of monarchy in general, it is incumbent on us to examine how far its mischiefs may be qualified by rendering the monarchy elective.

One of the most obvious objections to this remedy is the difficulty that attends upon the conduct of such an election. There are machines that are too mighty for the human hand to conduct; there are proceedings that are too gigantic and unwieldy for human institutions to regulate. The distance between the mass of mankind and a sovereign is so immense, the trust to be confided so incalculably great, the temptations of the object to be decided on so alluring, as to set every passion that can vex the mind in tumultuous conflict. Election will therefore either dwindle into an empty form, a congé d'élire with the successful candidate's name at full length in the conclusion, an election perpetually continued in the same family, perhaps in the same lineal order of descent; or will become the signal of a thousand calamities, foreign cabal, and domestic war. These evils have been so generally understood that elective monarchy, in the strict sense of that appellation, has had very few advocates.

Rousseau, who, in his advice to the Polish nation, appears to be one of those few, that is, one of those who, without loving monarchy, conceive an elective sovereignty to be greatly preferable to an hereditary one, endeavours to provide against the disorders of an election by introducing into it a species of sortition.[1] In another part of the present enquiry, it will be our business to examine how far chance, and the decision by lot, are compatible with the principles, either of sound morality, or sober reason. For the present, it will be sufficient to say that the project of Rousseau will probably fall under one part of the following dilemma, and of consequence will be refuted by the same arguments that bear upon the mode of election in its most obvious idea.

The design with which election can be introduced into the constitution of a monarchy must either be that of raising to the kingly office a man of superlative talents and uncommon genius, or of providing a moderate portion of wisdom and good intention for these functions, and preventing them from falling into the hands of persons of notorious imbecility. To the first of these designs it will be objected by many 'that genius is frequently nothing more in the hands of its possessor than an instrument for accomplishing the most pernicious intentions'. And, though in this assertion there is much partial and mistaken exaggeration, it cannot however be denied that genius, such as we find it amidst the present imperfections of mankind, is compatible with very serious and essential errors. If then genius can, by temptations of various sorts, be led into practical mistake, may we not reasonably entertain a fear respecting the effect of that situation which is so singularly pregnant with temptation? If considerations of inferior note be apt to mislead the mind, what shall we think of this most intoxicating draught, of a condition superior to restraint, stripped of all those accidents and vicissitudes from which the morality of human beings has flowed, with no salutary check, with no intellectual warfare, where mind meets mind on equal terms, but perpetually surrounded with sycophants, servants and dependents? To suppose a mind in which genius and virtue are united and permanent is also undoubtedly to suppose something which no calculation will teach us to expect should offer upon every vacancy. And, if the man could be found, we must imagine to ourselves electors almost as virtuous as the elected, or else error and prejudice, faction and intrigue, will render his election at least precarious, perhaps improbable. Add to this that it is sufficiently evident, from the unalterable evils of monarchy already enumerated, and which we shall presently have occasion to recapitulate, that the first act of sovereignty in a virtuous monarch whose discernment was equal to his virtue would be to annihilate the constitution which had raised him to a throne.

But we will suppose the purpose of instituting an elective monarchy, not to be that of constantly filling the throne with a man of sublime genius, but merely to prevent the office from falling into the hands of a person of notorious imbecility. Such is the strange and pernicious nature of monarchy that it may be doubted whether this be a benefit. Wherever monarchy exists, courts and administrations must, as long as men can see only with their eyes, and act only with their hands, be its constant attendants. But these have already appeared to be institutions so mischievous that perhaps one of the greatest injuries that can be done to mankind is to persuade them of their innocence. Under the most virtuous despot, favour and intrigue, the unjust exaltation of one man, and depression of another, will not fail to exist. Under the most virtuous despot, the true spring there is in mind, the desire to possess merit, and the consciousness that merit will not fail to make itself perceived by those around it, and through their esteem to rise to its proper sphere, will be cut off; and mean and factitious motives be substituted in its room. Of what consequence is it that my merit is perceived by mortals who have no power to advance it? The monarch, shut up in his sanctuary, and surrounded with formalities, will never hear of it. How should he? Can he know what is passing in the remote corners of his kingdom? Can he trace the first tender blossoms of genius and virtue? The people themselves will lose their discernment of these things, because they will perceive their discernment to be powerless in effects. The birth of mind is daily sacrificed by hecatombs to the genius of monarchy. The seeds of reason and truth become barren and unproductive in this unwholesome climate. And the example perpetually exhibited, of the preference of wealth and craft over integrity and talents, produces the most powerful effects upon that mass of mankind, who at first sight may appear least concerned in the objects of generous ambition. This mischief, to whatever it amounts, becomes more strongly fastened upon us under a good monarch than under a bad one. In the latter case, it only restrains our efforts by violence; in the former, it seduces our understandings. To palliate the defects and skin over the deformity of what is fundamentally wrong is certainly very perilous, perhaps very fatal to the best interests of mankind.

Meanwhile the ideas here suggested should be listened to with diffidence and caution. Great doubts may well be entertained respecting that benefit which is to be produced by vice and calamity. If I lived under an elective monarchy, I certainly should not venture to give my vote to a fickle, intemperate or stupid candidate, in preference to a sober and moderate one. Yet may it not happen that a succession, such as that of Trajan, Adrian and the Antonines, familiarizing men to despotism, and preparing them to submit to the tyranny of their successors, may be fraught with more mischief than benefit? It should seem that a mild and insidious way of reconciling mankind to a calamity, before they are made to feel it, is a real and a heavy misfortune.

A question has been started whether it be possible to blend elective and hereditary monarchy, and the constitution of England has been cited as an example of this possibility. What was it that the parliament effected at the revolution, and when they settled the succession upon the house of Hanover? They elected not an individual, but a new race of men to fill the throne of these kingdoms. They gave a practical instance of their power, upon extraordinary emergencies to change the succession. At the same time however that they effected this in action, they denied it in words. They employed the strongest expressions that language could furnish to bind themselves, their heirs and posterity, for ever, to adhere to this settlement. They considered the present as an emergence which, taking into the account the precautions and restrictions they had provided, could never occur again.

In reality what sort of sovereignty is that which is partly hereditary and partly elective? That the accession of a family, or race of men, should originally be a matter of election has nothing particular in it. All government is founded in opinion; and undoubtedly some sort of election, made by a body of electors more or less extensive, originated every new establishment. To whom, in this amphibious government, does the sovereignty belong, upon the death of the first possessor? To his heirs and descendants. What sort of choice shall that be considered which is made of a man half a century before he begins to exist? By what designation does he succeed? Undoubtedly by that of hereditary descent. A king of England therefore holds his crown independently, or, as it has been energetically expressed, 'in contempt', of the choice of the people.[2]


[1]. Considérations sur le Gouvernement de Pologne, Chap. VIII.

[2]. This argument is stated, with great copiousness, and irresistible force of reasoning, by Mr Burke, towards the beginning of his Reflections on the Revolution in France.



I proceed to consider monarchy, not as it exists in countries where it is unlimited and despotic, but, as in certain instances it has appeared, a branch merely of the general constitution.

Here it is only necessary to recollect the objections which applied to it in its unqualified state, in order to perceive that they bear upon it, with the same explicitness, if not with equal force, under every possible modification. Still the government is founded in falsehood, affirming that a certain individual is eminently qualified for an important situation, whose qualifications are perhaps scarcely superior to those of the meanest member of the community. Still the government is founded in injustice, because it raises one man, for a permanent duration, over the heads of the rest of the community, not for any moral recommendation he possesses, but arbitrarily and by accident. Still it reads a constant and powerful lesson of immorality to the people at large, exhibiting pomp and splendour and magnificence, instead of virtue, as the index to general veneration and esteem. The individual is, not less than in the most absolute monarchy, unfitted by his education to become either respectable or useful. He is unjustly and cruelly placed in a situation that engenders ignorance, weakness and presumption, after having been stripped, in his infancy, of all the energies that should defend him against their inroads. Finally, his existence implies that of a train of courtiers, and a series of intrigue, of servility, secret influence, capricious partialities and pecuniary corruption. So true is the observation of Montesquieu, that "we must not expect, under a monarchy, to find the people virtuous".[1]

But, if we consider the question more narrowly, we shall perhaps find that limited monarchy has other absurdities and vices which are peculiarly its own. In an absolute sovereignty, the king may, if he please, be his own minister; but, in a limited one, a ministry and a cabinet are essential parts of the constitution. In an absolute sovereignty, princes are acknowledged to be responsible only to God; but, in a limited one, there is a responsibility of a very different nature. In a limited monarchy, there are checks, one branch of the government counteracting the excesses of another, and a check without responsibility is the most flagrant contradiction.

There is no subject that deserves to be more maturely considered, than this of responsibility. To be responsible, is to be liable to be called into an open judicature, where the accuser and the defendant produce their allegations and evidence on equal terms. Every thing short of this, is mockery. Every thing that would give, to either party, any other influence, than that of truth and virtue, is subversive of the great ends of justice. He that is arraigned of any crime, must descend, a private individual, to the level plain of justice. If he can bias the sentiments of his judges by his possession of power, or by any compromise previous to his resignation, or by the mere sympathy excited in his successors, who will not be severe in their censures, lest they should be treated with severity in return, he cannot truly be said to be responsible. From the honest insolence of despotism we may perhaps promise ourselves better effects, than from the hypocritical disclaimers of a limited government. Nothing can be more pernicious than falsehood, and no falsehood can be more palpable, than that which pretends to put a weapon into the hands of the general interest, which constantly proves blunt and powerless in the very act to strike.

It was a confused feeling of these truths, that introduced into limited monarchies the principle "that the king can do no wrong." Observe the peculiar consistency of this proceeding. Consider what a specimen it affords of plain dealing, frankness and ingenuous sincerity. An individual is first appointed, and endowed with the most momentous prerogatives; and then it is pretended that, not he, but other men, are answerable for the abuse of these prerogatives. This presence may appear tolerable to men bred among the fictions of law, but justice, truth and virtue, revolt from it with indignation.

Having first invented this fiction, it becomes the business of such constitutions, as nearly as possible, to realize it. A ministry must be regularly formed; they must concert together; and the measures they execute must originate in their own discretion. The king must be reduced, as nearly as possible, to a cypher. So far as he fails to be completely so, the constitution must be imperfect.

What sort of figure is it that this miserable wretch exhibits in the face of the world? Everything is, with great parade, transacted in his name. He assumes all the inflated and oriental style which has been already described,[2] and which indeed was, upon that occasion, transcribed from the practice of a limited monarchy. We find him like Pharaoh's frogs, "in our houses, and upon our beds, in our ovens, and our kneading troughs."

Now observe the man himself to whom all this importance is annexed. To be idle is the abstract of his duties. He is paid an immense revenue only to hunt and to eat, to wear a scarlet robe and a crown. He may not choose any one of his measures. He must listen, with docility, to the consultations of his ministers, and sanction, with a ready assent, whatever they determine. He must not hear any other advisers; for they are his known and constitutional counsellors. He must not express to any man his opinion; for that would be a sinister and unconstitutional interference. To be absolutely perfect, he must have no opinion, but be the vacant and colourless mirror by which theirs is reflected. He speaks; for they have taught him what he should say: he affixes his signature; for they inform him that it is necessary and proper.

A limited monarchy, in the articles we have described, might be executed with great facility and applause if a king were, what such a constitution endeavours to render him, a mere puppet regulated by pulleys and wires. But it is among the most egregious and palpable of all political mistakes to imagine that we can reduce a human being to this neutrality and torpor. He will not exert any useful and true activity, but he will be far from passive. The more he is excluded from that energy that characterizes wisdom and virtue, the more depraved and unreasonable will he be in his caprices. Is any promotion vacant, and do we expect that he will never think of bestowing it on a favourite, or of proving, by an occasional election of his own, that he really exists? This promotion may happen to be of the utmost importance to the public welfare; or, if not -- every promotion unmeritedly given, is pernicious to national virtue, and an upright minister will refuse to assent to it. A king does not fail to hear his power and prerogatives extolled, and he will, no doubt, at some time, wish to essay their reality in an unprovoked war against a foreign nation, or against his own citizens.

To suppose that a king and his ministers should, through a period of years, agree in their genuine sentiments, upon every public topic, is what human nature, in no degree, authorizes. This is to attribute to the king talents equal to those of the most enlightened statesmen of his age, or at least to imagine him capable of understanding all their projects, and comprehending all their views. It is to to suppose him unspoiled by education, undebauched by rank, and with a mind disposed to receive the impartial lessons of truth.

"But if they disagree, the king can choose other ministers." We shall presently have occasion to consider this prerogative in a general view; let us for the present examine it, in its application to the differences that may occur, between the sovereign and his servants. It is an engine for ever suspended over the heads of the latter, to persuade them to depart from the singleness of their integrity. The compliance that the king demands from them is perhaps, at first, but small; and the minister, strongly pressed, thinks it better to sacrifice his opinion, in this inferior point, than to sacrifice his office. One compliance of this sort leads on to another, and he that began, perhaps only with the preference of an unworthy candidate for distinction, ends with the most atrocious political guilt. The more we consider this point, the greater will its magnitude appear. It will rarely happen but that the minister will be more dependent for his existence on the king than the king upon his minister. When it is otherwise, there will be a mutual compromise, and both in turn will part with everything that is firm, generous, independent and honourable in man.

And, in the meantime, what becomes of responsibility? The measures are mixed and confounded as to their source, beyond the power of human ingenuity to unravel. Responsibility is, in reality, impossible. "Far otherwise," cries the advocate of monarchical government: "it is true that the measures are partly those of the king, and partly those of the minister, but the minister is responsible for all." Where is the justice of that? It were better to leave guilt wholly without censure than to condemn a man for crimes of which he is innocent. In this case the grand criminal escapes with impunity, and the severity of the law falls wholly upon his coadjutors. The coadjutors receive that treatment which constitutes the essence of all bad policy: punishment is profusely menaced against them, and antidote is wholly forgotten. They are propelled to vice by irresistible temptations, the love of power, and the desire to retain it; and then censured with a rigour altogether disproportioned to their fault. The vital principle of the society, is tainted with injustice; and the same neglect of equity, and partial respect of persons, will extend itself over the whole.

I proceed to consider that prerogative in limited monarchy which, whatever others may be given or denied, is inseparable from its substance, the prerogative of the king to nominate to public offices. If anything be of importance, surely this must be of importance, that such a nomination be made with wisdom and integrity, that the fittest persons be appointed to the highest trusts the state has to confer, that an honest and generous ambition be cherished, and that men who shall most ardently qualify themselves for the care of the public welfare, be secure of having the largest share in its superintendence.

This nomination is a most arduous task, and requires the wariest circumspection. It falls, more accurately than any other affair of political society, within the line of a pure, undefinable discretion. In other cases the path of rectitude seems visible and distinct. Justice in the contests of individuals, justice in questions of peace and war, justice in the establishment of maxims and judicature, will not perhaps obstinately withdraw itself from the research of an impartial and judicious enquirer. But to observe the various portions of capacity scattered through a nation, and minutely to weigh the qualifications of multiplied candidates, must, after all our accuracy, be committed to some degree of uncertainty.

The first difficulty that occurs, is to discover those whom genius and ability have made, in the best sense, candidates for the office. Ability is not always intrusive; talents are often to be found in the remoteness of a village, or the obscurity of a garret. And, though self-consciousness and self-possession are, to a certain degree, the attributes of genius, yet there are many things beside false modesty, that may teach its possessor to shun the air of a court.

Of all men a king is least qualified to penetrate these recesses, and discover merit in its hiding place. Encumbered with forms, he cannot mix at large in the society of his species. He is too much engrossed with the semblance of business, or a succession of amusements, to have leisure for such observations, as should afford a just estimate of men's characters. In reality, the task is too mighty for any individual, and the benefit can only be secured through the mode of election.

Other disadvantages, attendant on this prerogative of choosing his own ministers, it is needless to enumerate. If enough have not been already said, to explain the character of a monarch, as growing out of the functions with which he is invested, a laboured repetition in this place would be both tedious and useless. If there be any dependence to be placed upon the operation of moral causes, a king will, in almost every instance, be found among the most undiscriminating, the most deceived, the least informed, and the least heroically disinterested of mankind.

Such then is the genuine and uncontrovertible scene of a mixed monarchy. An individual placed at the summit of the edifice, the centre and the fountain of honour, and who is neutral, or must seem neutral, in the current transactions of his government. This is the first lesson of honour, virtue and truth, which mixed monarchy reads to its subjects. Next to the king come his administration, and the tribe of courtiers; men driven by a fatal necessity, to be corrupt, intriguing and venal; selected for their trust by the most ignorant and ill formed inhabitant of the realm; made solely accountable for measures of which they cannot solely be the authors; threatened, if dishonest, with the vengeance of an injured people; and, if honest, with the surer vengeance of their sovereign's displeasure. The rest of the nation, the subjects at large --

Was ever name so fraught with degradation and meanness as this of subjects? I am, it seems, by the very place of my birth, become a subject. A subject I know I ought to be to the laws of justice; a subject I know I am, to the circumstances and emergencies under which I am placed. But to be the subject of an individual, of a being with the same form, and the same imperfections as myself; how much must the human mind be degraded, how much must its grandeur and independence be emasculated, before I can learn to think of this with patience, with indifference, nay, as some men do, with pride and exultation? Such is the idol that monarchy worships, in lieu of the divinity of truth, and the sacred obligation of public good. It is of little consequence whether we vow fidelity to the king and the nation, or to the nation and the king, so long as the king intrudes himself to tarnish and undermine the true simplicity, the altar of virtue.

Are mere names beneath our notice, and will they produce no sinister influence upon the mind? May we bend the knee before the shrine of vanity and folly without injury? Far otherwise. Mind had its beginning in sensation, and it depends upon words and symbols for the progress of its associations. The truly good man must not only have a heart resolved, but a front erect. We cannot practise abjection, hypocrisy and meanness, without becoming degraded in other men's eyes and in our own. We cannot "bow the head in the temple of Rimmon," without in some degree apostatising from the divinity of truth. He that calls a king a man will perpetually hear from his own mouth the lesson, that he is unfit for the trust reposed in him: he that calls him by any sublimer appellation is hastening fast into the grossest and most dangerous errors.

But perhaps "mankind are so weak and imbecile that it is in vain to expect, from the change of their institutions, the improvement of their character." Who made them weak and imbecile? Previously to human institutions and human society, they had certainly none of this defect. Man, considered in himself, is merely a being capable of impression, a recipient of perceptions. What is there in this abstract character that precludes him from advancement? We have a faint discovery in individuals at present of what our nature is capable: why should individuals be fit for so much, and the species for nothing? Is there anything in the structure of the globe that forbids us to be virtuous? If no, if nearly all our impressions of right and wrong flow from our intercourse with each other, why may not that intercourse be susceptible of modification and amendment? It is the most cowardly of all systems that would represent the discovery of truth as useless, and teach us that, when discovered, it is our wisdom to leave the mass of our species in error.

There is, in reality, little room for scepticism respecting the omnipotence of truth. Truth is the pebble in the lake; and, however slowly, in the present case, the circles succeed each other, they will infallibly go on, till they overspread the surface. No order of mankind will for ever remain ignorant of the principles of justice, equality and public good. No sooner will they understand them, than they will perceive the coincidence of virtue and public good with private interest: nor will any erroneous establishment be able effectually to support itself against general opinion. In this contest sophistry will vanish, and mischievous institutions sink quietly into neglect. Truth will bring down all her forces, mankind will be her army, and oppression, injustice, monarchy and vice, will tumble into a common ruin.


[1]. "Il n'est pas rare qu'il y ait des princes vertueux; mais il est tres difficile dans une monarchie que le peuple le soit." Esprit des Loix, Liv. III, Chap. v.

[2]. See above Book V, Chap. VI.



Still monarchy it seems has one refuge left. "We will not," say some men, "have an hereditary monarchy, we acknowledge that to be an enormous injustice. We are not contented with an elective monarchy, we are not contented with a limited one. We admit the office however reduced, if the tenure be for life, to be an intolerable grievance. But why not have kings, as we have magistrates and legislative assemblies, renewable by frequent elections? We may then change the holder of the office as often as we please."

Let us not be seduced by a mere plausibility of phrase, nor employ words without having reflected on their meaning. What are we to understand by the appellation a king? If the office have any meaning, it seems reasonable that the man who holds it should possess the privilege, either of appointing to certain employments at his own discretion, or of remitting the decrees of criminal justice, or of convoking and dismissing popular assemblies, or of affixing and refusing his sanction to the decrees of those assemblies. Most of these privileges may claim a respectable authority in the powers delegated to their president by the United States of America.

Let us however bring these ideas to the touchstone of reason. Nothing can appear more adventurous than the reposing, unless in cases of absolute necessity, the decision of any affair of importance to the public in the breast of one man. But this necessity will scarcely be alleged in any of the articles just enumerated. What advantage does one man possess over a society or council of men in any of these respects? The disadvantages under which he labours are obvious. He is more easily corrupted, and more easily misled. He cannot possess so many advantages for obtaining accurate information. He is abundantly more liable to the attacks of passion and caprice, of unfounded antipathy to one man and partiality to another, of uncharitable censure or blind idolatry. He cannot be always upon his guard; there will be moments in which the most exemplary vigilance is liable to surprise. Meanwhile, we are placing the subject in much too favourable a light. We are supposing his intentions to be upright and just; but the contrary of this will be more frequently the truth. Where powers, beyond the capacity of human nature, are entrusted, vices, the disgrace of human nature, will be engendered. Add to this, that the same reasons, which prove that government, wherever it exists, should be directed by the sense of the people at large, equally prove that, wherever public officers are necessary, the sense of the whole, or of a body of men most nearly approaching in spirit to the whole, ought to decide on their pretensions.

These objections are applicable to the most innocent of the privileges above enumerated, that of appointing to the exercise of certain employments. The case will be still worse if we consider the other privileges. We shall have occasion hereafter to examine the propriety of pardoning offences, considered independently of the persons in whom that power is vested: but, in the meantime, can anything be more intolerable, than for an individual to be authorised, without assigning a reason, or assigning a reason upon which no one is allowed to pronounce, to supersede the grave decisions of a court of justice, founded upon a careful and public examination of evidence? Can any thing be more unjust, than for an individual to assume the function of informing a nation, when they are to deliberate, and when they are to cease from deliberation?

The remaining privilege is of too iniquitous a nature to be an object of much terror. It is not in the compass of credibility to conceive, that any people would remain quiet spectators, while the sense of one man was, openly and undisguisedly, set against the sense of the national representative in frequent assembly, and suffered to overpower it. Two or three direct instances of the exercise of this negative, could not fail to annihilate it. Accordingly, wherever it is supposed to exist, we find it softened and nourished by the genial dew of pecuniary corruption; either rendered unnecessary beforehand, by a sinister application to the frailty of individual members, or disarmed and made palatable in the sequel, by a copious effusion of venal emollients. If it can in any case be endured, it must be in countries where the degenerate representative no longer possesses the sympathy of the public, and the haughty president is made sacred by the blood of an exalted ancestry which flows through his veins, or the holy oil which the representatives of the Most High have poured on his head. A common mortal, periodically selected by his fellow-citizens to watch over their interests, can never be supposed to possess this stupendous virtue.

If there be any truth in these reasonings, it inevitably follows that there are no important functions of general superintendence, which can justly be delegated to a single individual. If the office of a president be necessary, either in a deliberative assembly, or an administrative council, supposing such a council to exist, his employment will have relation to the order of their proceedings, and by no means consist in the arbitrary preferring and carrying into effect, his private decision. A king, if unvarying usage can give meaning to a word, describes a man, upon whose single discretion some part of the public interest is made to depend. What use can there be for such a man in an unperverted and well ordered state? With respect to its internal affairs, certainly none. How far the office can be of advantage, in our transactions with foreign governments, we shall hereafter have occasion to decide.

Let us beware, by an unjustifiable perversion of terms, of confounding the common understanding of mankind. A king is the well known and standing appellation for an office, which, if there be any truth in the arguments of the preceding chapters, has been the bane and the grave of human virtue. Why endeavour to purify and exorcize what is entitled only to execration? Why not suffer the term to be as well understood, and as cordially detested, as the once honourable appellation of tyrant afterwards was among the Greeks? Why not suffer it to rest a perpetual monument of the folly, the cowardice and misery of our species?


In proceeding, from the examination of monarchical, to that of aristocratical government, it is impossible not to remark, that there are several disadvantages common to both. One of these is the creation of a separate interest. The benefit of the governed is made to lie on one side, and the benefit of the governors on the other. It is to no purpose to say that individual interest, accurately understood, will always be found to coincide with general, if it appear in practice, that the opinions and errors of mankind are perpetually separating them, and placing them in opposition to each other. The more the governors are fixed in a sphere distinct and distant from the governed, the more will this error be cherished. Theory, in order to produce an adequate effect upon the mind, should be favoured, not counteracted, by practice. What principle in human nature is more universally confessed, than self-love, that is, than a propensity to think individually of a private interest, to discriminate and divide objects, which the laws of the universe have indissolubly united? None, unless it be the esprit de corps, the tendency of bodies of men to aggrandize themselves, a spirit, which, though less ardent than self love, is still more vigilant, and not exposed to the accidents of sleep, indisposition and mortality. Thus it appears that, of all impulses to a narrow, self-interested conduct, those afforded by monarchy and aristocracy are the greatest.

Nor must we be too hasty and undistinguishing in applying the principle that individual interest, accurately understood, will always be found to coincide with general. Relatively to individuals considered as men, it is, for the most part, certainly true; relatively to individuals considered as lords and kings, it is false. The man will perhaps be served, by the sacrifice of all his little peculium to the public interest, but the king will be annihilated. The first sacrifice that justice demands, at the hand of monarchy and aristocracy, is that of their immunities and prerogatives. Public interest dictates the unlimited dissemination of truth, and the impartial administration of justice. Kings and lords subsist only under favour of error and oppression. They will therefore resist the progress of knowledge and illumination; the moment the deceit is dispelled, their occupation is gone.

In thus concluding however, we are taking for granted, that aristocracy will be found an arbitrary and pernicious institution, as monarchy has already appeared to be. It is time that we should enquire in what degree this is actually the case.



A principle deeply interwoven with both monarchy and aristocracy in their most flourishing state, but most deeply with the latter, is that of hereditary pre-eminence. No principle can present a deeper insult upon reason and justice. Examine the new-born son of a peer, and of a mechanic, Has nature designated in different lineaments their future fortune? Is one of them born with callous hands and an ungainly form? Can you trace in the other the early promise of genius and understanding, of virtue and honour? We have been told indeed 'that nature will break out', and that

The eaglet of a valiant nest will quickly tower
Up to the region of his fire;[1]

and the tale was once believed. But mankind will not soon again be persuaded that the birthright of one lineage of human creatures is beauty and virtue, and of another, dullness, grossness and deformity.

It is difficult accurately to decide how much of the characters of men is produced by causes that operated upon them in the period preceding their birth, and how much is the moral effect of education, in its extensive sense. Children certainly bring into the world with them a part of the character of their parents; nay, it is probable that the human race is meliorated, somewhat in the same way as the races of brutes, and that every generation, in a civilized state, is further removed, in its physical structure, from the savage and uncultivated man.

But these causes operate too uncertainly to afford any just basis of hereditary distinction. If a child resembles his father in many particulars, there are particulars, perhaps more numerous and important, in which he differs from him. The son of a poet is not a poet, the son of an orator an orator, nor the son of a good man a saint; and yet, in this case, a whole volume of moral causes is often brought to co-operate with the physical. This has been aptly illustrated, by a proposition, humorously suggested,[2] for rendering the office of poet laureat hereditary. But, if the qualities and dispositions of the father were found descendible in the son, in a much greater degree than we have any reason to suppose, the character must be expected to wear out in a few generations, either by the mixture of breeds, or by, what there is great reason to suppose is still more pernicious, the want of mixture. The title made hereditary will then remain a brand upon the degenerate successor. It is not satire, but a simple statement of fact, when we observe that it is not easy to find a set of men in society sunk more below the ordinary standard of man in his constituent characteristics than the body of the English, or any other, peerage.

Let us proceed to enquire into the efficacy of high birth and nobility, considered as a moral cause.

The persuasion of its excellence in this respect is an opinion probably as old as the institution of nobility itself. The etymology of the word expressing this particular form of government may perhaps be considered as having a reference to this idea. It is called aristocracy, or the government of the best [apisoi] . In the writings of Cicero, and the speeches of the Roman senate, this order of men is styled the 'optimates', the 'virtuous', the 'liberal', and the 'honest'. It is asserted, and with some degree of justice, 'that the multitude is an unruly beast, with no fixed sentiments of honour or principle, guided by sordid venality, or not less sordid appetite, envious, tyrannical, inconstant and unjust'. Hence they deduced as a consequence 'the necessity of maintaining an order of men of liberal education and elevated sentiments, who should either engross the government of the humbler and more numerous class incapable of governing themselves, or at least should be placed as a rigid guard upon their excesses, with powers adequate to their correction and restraint'. The greater part of these reasonings will fall under our examination when we consider the disadvantages of democracy.[3] So much as relates to the excellence of aristocracy it is necessary at present to discuss.

The whole proceeds upon a supposition that 'if nobility should not, as its hereditary constitution might seem to imply, be found originally superior to the ordinary rate of mortals, it is at least rendered eminently so by the power of education. Men who grow up in unpolished ignorance and barbarism, and are chilled with the icy touch of poverty, must necessarily be exposed to a thousand sources of corruption, and cannot have that delicate sense of rectitude and honour which literature and manly refinement are found to bestow. It is under the auspices of indulgence and ease that civilisation is engendered. A nation must have surmounted the disadvantages of a first establishment, and have arrived at some degree of leisure and prosperity, before the love of letters can take root among them. It is in individuals, as in large bodies of men. A few exceptions will occur; but, excluding these, it can scarcely be expected that men who are compelled in every day by laborious manual efforts to provide for the necessities of the day should arrive at great expansion of mind and comprehensiveness of thinking.'

In certain parts of this argument there is considerable truth. The sound moralist will be the last man to deny the power and importance of education. It is therefore necessary, either that a system should be discovered for securing leisure and prosperity to every member of the community; or that a certain influence and authority should be given to the liberal and the wise, over the illiterate and ignorant. Now, supposing, for the present, that the former of these measures is impossible, it may yet be reasonable to enquire whether aristocracy be the most judicious scheme for obtaining the latter. Some light maybe collected on this subject from what has already appeared respecting education under the head of monarchy.

Education is much, but opulent education is of all its modes the least efficacious. The education of words is not to be despised, but the education of things is on no account to be dispensed with. The former is of admirable use in enforcing and developing the latter; but, when taken alone, it is pedantry and not learning, a body without a soul. Whatever may be the abstract perfection of which mind is capable, we seem at present frequently to need being excited, in the case of any uncommon effort, by motives that address themselves to the individual. But, so far as relates to these motives, the lower classes of mankind, had they sufficient leisure, have greatly the advantage. The plebeian must be the maker of his own fortune; the lord finds his already made. The plebeian must expect to find himself neglected and despised in proportion as he is remiss in cultivating the objects of esteem; the lord will always be surrounded with sycophants and slaves. The lord therefore has no motive to industry and exertion; no stimulus to rouse him from the lethargic, 'oblivious pool', out of which every human intellect originally rose. It must indeed be confessed that truth does not need the alliance of circumstances, and that a man may arrive at the temple of fame by other paths than those of misery and distress. But the lord does not content himself with discarding the stimulus of adversity: he goes further than this, and provides fruitful sources of effeminacy and error. Man cannot offend with impunity against the great principle of universal good. He that monopolizes to himself luxuries and titles and wealth to the injury of the whole becomes degraded from the rank of man; and, however he may be admired by the multitude, will be pitied by the wise, and not seldom be wearisome to himself. Hence it appears that to elect men to the rank of nobility is to elect them to a post of moral danger and a means of depravity; but that to constitute them hereditarily noble is to preclude them, exclusively of a few extraordinary accidents, from all the causes that generate ability and virtue.

The reasonings here repeated upon the subject of hereditary distinction are so obvious that nothing can be a stronger instance of the power of prejudice instilled in early youth than the fact of their having been, at any time, disputed or forgotten. From birth as a physical cause, it sufficiently appears that little fundamental or regular can be expected: and, so far as relates to education, it is practicable, in a certain degree, nor is it easy to set limits to that degree, to infuse emulation into a youthful mind; but wealth is the fatal blast that destroys the hopes of a future harvest. There was once indeed a gallant kind of virtue that, by irresistibly seizing the senses, seemed to communicate extensively, to young men of birth, the mixed and equivocal accomplishments of chivalry; but, since the subjects of moral emulation have been turned from personal prowess to the energies of intellect, and especially since the field of that emulation has been more widely opened to the species, the lists have been almost uniformly occupied by those whose narrow circumstances have goaded them to ambition, or whose undebauched habits and situation in life have rescued them from the poison of flattery and effeminate indulgence.


[1]. Tragedy of Douglas,Act iii.

[2]. Paine's Rights of Man.

[3]. Chap. XIV.



The features of aristocratically institution are principally two: privilege, and an aggravated monopoly of wealth. The first of these is the essence of aristocracy; the second, that without which aristocracy can rarely be supported. They are both of them in direct opposition to all sound morality, and all generous independence of character.

Inequality of wealth is perhaps the necessary result of the institution of property, in any state of progress at which the human mind has yet arrived; and cannot, till the character of the human species is essentially altered, be superseded but by a despotic and positive interference, more injurious to the common welfare, than the inequality it attempted to remove. Inequality of wealth involves with it inequality of inheritance.

But the mischief of aristocracy is that it inexpressibly aggravates and embitters an evil which, in its mildest form, is deeply to be deplored. The first sentiment of an uncorrupted mind, when it enters upon the theatre of human life, is, Remove from me and my fellows all arbitrary hindrances; let us start fair; render all the advantages and honours of social institution accessible to every man, in proportion to his talents and exertions.

Is it true, as has often been pretended, that generous and exalted qualities are-hereditary in particular lines of descent? They do not want the alliance of positive institution to secure to them their proper ascendancy, and enable them to command the respect of mankind. Is it false? Let it share the fate of exposure and detection with other impostures. If I conceived of a young person that he was destined, from his earliest infancy, to be a sublime poet, or a profound philosopher, should I conceive that the readiest road to the encouraging and fostering his talents was, from the moment of his birth, to put a star upon his breast, to salute him with titles of honour, and to bestow upon him, independently of all exertion, those advantages which exertion usually proposes to itself as its ultimate object of pursuit? No; I should send him to the school of man, and oblige him to converse with his fellows upon terms of equality.

Privilege is a regulation rendering a few men, and those only, by the accident of their birth, eligible to certain situations. It kills all liberal ambition in the rest of mankind, by opposing to it an apparently insurmountable bar. It diminishes it in the favoured class itself, by showing them the principal qualification as indefeasibly theirs. Privilege entitles a favoured few to engross to themselves gratifications which the system of the universe left at large to all her sons; it puts into the hands of these few the means of oppression against the rest of their species; it fills them with vain-glory, and affords them every incitement to insolence and a lofty disregard to the feelings and interests of others.

Privilege, as we have already said, is the essence of aristocracy; and, in a rare condition of human society, such as that of the ancient Romans, privilege has been able to maintain itself without the accession of wealth, and to flourish in illustrious poverty. But this can be the case only under a very singular coincidence of circumstances. In general, an aggravated monopoly of wealth has been one of the objects about which the abettors of aristocracy have been most incessantly solicitous. Hence the origin of entails, rendering property. in its own nature too averse to a generous circulation, a thousand times more stagnant and putrescent than before, of primogeniture, which disinherits every other member of a family, to heap unwholesome abundance upon one; and of various limitations, filling the courts of civilized Europe with endless litigation, and making it in many cases impossible to decide who it is that has the right of conveying a property, and what shall amount to a legal transfer.

There is one thing, more than all the rest, of importance to the well being of mankind, justice. A neglect of justice is not only to be deplored for the direct evil it produces; it is perhaps still more injurious by its effects in perverting the understanding, overturning our calculations of the future, and thus striking at the root of moral discernment, and genuine power and decision of character.

Of all the principles of justice, there is none so material to the moral rectitude of mankind as that no man can be distinguished but by his personal merit. When a man has proved himself a benefactor to the public, when he has already, by laudable perseverance, cultivated in himself talents which need only encouragement and public favour to bring them to maturity, let that man be honoured. In a state of society where fictitious distinctions are unknown, it is impossible he should not be honoured. But that a man should be looked up to with servility and awe because the king has bestowed on him a spurious name, or decorated him with a ribband; that another should revel in luxury because his ancestor three centuries ago bled in the quarrel of Lancaster or York; do we imagine that these iniquities can be practiced without injury?

Let those who entertain this opinion converse a little with the lower orders of mankind. They will perceive that the unfortunate wretch who, with unremitted labour, finds himself incapable adequately to feed and clothe his family has a sense of injustice rankling at his heart.

But let us suppose that their sense of injustice were less acute than is here supposed, what favourable inference can be deduced from that? Is not the injustice real? If the minds of men are so withered and stupified by the constancy with which it is practiced that they do not feel the rigour that grinds them into nothing, how does that improve the picture?

Let us fairly consider, for a moment, what is the amount of injustice included in the institution of aristocracy. I am born, suppose, a Polish prince with an income of £300,000 per annum. You are born a manerial serf, or a Creolian Negro, attached to the soil, and transferable, by barter or otherwise, to twenty successive lords. In vain shall be your most generous efforts, and your unwearied industry, to free yourself from the intolerable yoke. Doomed, by the law of your birth, to wait at the gates of the palace you must never enter; to sleep under a ruined, weather-beaten roof, while your master sleeps under canopies of state; to feed on putrefied offals, while the world is ransacked for delicacies for his table; to labour, without moderation or limit, under a parching sun, while he basks in perpetual sloth; and to be rewarded at last with contempt, reprimand, stripes and mutilation. In fact the case is worse than this. I could endure all that injustice or caprice could inflict provided I possessed, in the resource of a firm mind, the power of looking down with pity on my tyrant, and of knowing that I had that within that sacred character of truth, virtue and fortitude which all his injustice could not reach. But a slave and a serf are condemned to stupidity and vice, as well as to calamity.

Is all this nothing? Is all this necessary for the maintenance of civil order? Let it be recollected that, for this distinction, there is not the smallest foundation in the nature of things, that, as we have already said, there is no particular mould for the construction of lords, and that they are born neither better nor worse than the poorest of their dependents. It is this structure of aristocracy, in all its sanctuaries and fragments, against which reason and morality have declared war. It is alike unjust, whether we consider it in the calls of India; the villainage of the feudal system; or the despotism of ancient Rome, where the debtors were dragged into personal servitude, to expiate, by stripes and slavery, the usurious loans they could not repay. Mankind will never be, in an eminent degree, virtuous and happy, till each man shall possess that portion of distinction and no more, to which he is entitled by his personal merits. The dissolution of aristocracy is equally the interest of the oppressor and the oppressed. The one will be delivered from the listlessness of tyranny, and the other from the brutalizing operation of servitude. How long shall we be told in vain 'that mediocrity of fortune is the true rampart of personal happiness?



The case of mere titles is so absurd that it would deserve to be treated only with ridicule were it not for the serious mischiefs they impose on mankind. The feudal system was a ferocious monster, devouring, wherever it came, all that the friend of humanity regards with attachment and love. The system of titles appears under a different form. The monster is at length destroyed, and they who followed in his train, and fattened upon the carcases of those he slew, have stuffed his skin, and, by exhibiting it, hope still to terrify mankind into patience and pusillanimity. The system of the Northern invaders, however odious, escaped the ridicule of the system of titles. When the feudal chieftains assumed a geographical appellation, it was from some place really subject to their authority; and there was no more absurdity in the style they assumed than in our calling a man, at present, the governor of Tangiers or the governor of Gibraltar. The commander in chief, or the sovereign, did not then give an empty name; he conferred an earldom or a barony, a substantial tract of land, with houses and men, and producing a real revenue. He now grants nothing but a privilege, equivalent to that of calling yourself Tom, who were beforetime called Will; and, to add to the absurdity, your new appellation is borrowed from some place perhaps you never saw, or some country you never visited. The style however is the same; we are still earls and barons, governors of provinces and commanders of forts, and that with the same evident propriety as the elector of Hanover, and arch treasurer of the empire, styles himself king of France.

Can there be anything more ludicrous than that the man who was yesterday Mr St John, the most eloquent speaker of the British house of commons, the most penetrating thinker, the umpire of maddening parties, the restorer of peace to bleeding and exhausted Europe, should be to-day lord Bolingbroke?[1] In what is he become greater and more venerable than he was? In the pretended favour of a stupid and besotted woman, who always hated him, as she uniformly hated talents and virtue, though, for her own interest, she was obliged to endure him.

The friends of a man upon whom a title has recently been conferred must either be wholly blinded by the partiality of friendship, not to feel the ridicule of his situation; or completely debased by the parasitical spirit of dependence, not to betray their feelings. Every time they essay to speak, they are in danger of blundering upon the inglorious appellations of Mr and Sir.[2] Every time their tongue falters with unconfirmed practice, the question rushes upon them with irresistible force. 'What change has my old friend undergone; in what is he wiser or better, happier or more honourable?' The first week of a new title is a perpetual war of the feelings in every spectator; the genuine dictates of common sense, against the arbitrary institutions of society. To make the farce more perfect, these titles are subject to perpetual fluctuations, and the man who is to-day earl of Kensington will tomorrow resign, with unblushing effrontery, all appearance of character and honour, to be called marquis of Kew. History labours under the Gothic and unintelligible burden; no mortal patience can connect the different stories, of him who is to-day lord Kimbolton, and to-morrow earl of Manchester; to-day earl of Mulgrave, and to-morrow marquis of Normanby and duke of Buckinghamshire.

The absurdity of these titles strikes us the more, because they are usually the reward of intrigue and corruption. But, were it otherwise, still they would be unworthy of the adherents of reason and justice. When we speak of Mr St John, as of the man who by his eloquence swayed contending parties, who withdrew the conquering sword from suffering France, and gave thirty years of peace and calm pursuit of the arts of life and wisdom to mankind, we speak of something eminently great. Can any title express these merits? Is not truth the consecrated and single vehicle of justice? Is not the plain and simple truth worth all the cunning substitutions in the world? Could an oaken garland, or a gilded coronet, have added one atom to his real greatness? Garlands and coronets may be bestowed on the unworthy, and prostituted to the intriguing. Till mankind be satisfied with the naked statement of what they really perceive, till they confess virtue to be then most illustrious, when she most disdains the aid of ornament, they will never arrive at that manly justice of sentiment at which they seem destined one day to arrive. By this scheme of naked truth, virtue will be every day a gainer; every succeeding observer will more fully do her justice, while vice, deprived of that varnish with which she delighted to gloss her actions, of that gaudy exhibition which may be made alike by every pretender, will speedily sink into unheeded contempt.


[1]. Footnote 34 from Book V

[2]. In reality these appellations are little less absurd than those by which they are superseded.



Aristocracy, in its proper signification, is neither less nor more than a scheme for rendering more permanent and visible, by the interference of political institution, the inequality of mankind. Aristocracy, like monarchy, is founded in falsehood, the offspring of art foreign to the real nature of things, and must therefore, like monarchy, be supported by artifice and false pretences. Its empire however is founded in principles more gloomy and unsocial than those of monarchy. The monarch often thinks it advisable to employ blandishments and courtship with his barons and officers; but the lord deems it sufficient to rule with a rod of iron.

Both depend for their perpetuity upon ignorance. Could they, like Omar, destroy the productions of profane reasoning, and persuade mankind that the Alcoran contained everything which it became them to study, they might then renew their lease of empire. But here again aristocracy displays its superior harshness. Monarchy admits of a certain degree of monkish learning among its followers. But aristocracy holds a stricter hand. Should the lower ranks of society once come to be generally able to write and read, its power would be at an end. To make men serfs and villains, it is indispensibly necessary to make them brutes. This is a question which has long been canvassed with eagerness and avidity. The resolute advocates of the old system have, with no contemptible foresight, opposed the communication of knowledge as a most alarming innovation. In their well known observation 'that a servant who has been taught to write and read ceases to be any longer the passive machine they require', is contained the embryo from which it would be easy to explain the whole philosophy of European society.

And who is there that can ponder with unruffled thoughts the injurious contrivances of these self-centred usurpers, contrivances the purpose of which is to retain the human species in a state of endless degradation? It is in the subjects we are here examining that the celebrated maxim of 'many made for one' is brought to the test. Those reasoners were, no doubt, 'wise in their generation', who two centuries ago conceived alarm at the blasphemous doctrine 'that government was instituted for the benefit of the governed, and, if it proposed to itself any other object, was no better than an usurpation'. It will perpetually be found that the men who, in every age, have been the earliest to give the alarm of innovation, and have been ridiculed on that account as bigoted and timid, were, in reality, persons of more than common discernment, who saw, though but imperfectly, in the rude principle, the inferences to which it inevitably led. It is time that men of reflection should choose between the two sides of the alternative: either to go back, fairly and without reserve, to the primitive principles of tyranny; or, adopting any one of the maxims opposite to these, however neutral it may at first appear, not feebly and ignorantly to shut their eyes upon the system of consequences it draws along with it.

It is not necessary to enter into a methodical disquisition of the different kinds of aristocracy, since, if the above reasonings have any force, they are equally cogent against them all. Aristocracy may vest its prerogatives principally in the individual, as in Poland; or restrict them to the nobles in their corporate capacity, as in Venice. The former will be more tumultuous and disorderly; the latter more jealous, intolerant and severe. The magistrates may either recruit their body by election among themselves, as in Holland; or by the choice of the people, as in ancient Rome.

The aristocracy of ancient Rome was incomparably the most venerable and illustrious that ever existed. It may not therefore be improper to contemplate in them the degree of excellence to which aristocracy may be raised. They included in their institution some of the benefits of democracy, as, generally speaking, no man became a member of the senate but in consequence of his being elected by the people to the superior magistracies. It was reasonable therefore to expect that the majority of the members would possess some degree of capacity. They were not like modern aristocratical assemblies, in which, as primogeniture, and not selection, decides upon their prerogatives, we shall commonly seek in vain for capacity, except in a few of the lords of recent creation. As the plebeians were long restrained from looking for candidates, except among the patricians, that is, the posterity of senators, it was reasonable to suppose that the most eminent talents would be confined to that order. A circumstance which contributed to this was the monopoly of liberal education and the cultivation of the mind, a monopoly which the invention of printing has at length fully destroyed. Accordingly, all the great literary ornaments of Rome were either patricians, or of the equestrian order, or their immediate dependents. The plebeians, though, in their corporate capacity, they possessed, for some centuries, the virtues of sincerity, intrepidity, love of justice and of the public, could scarcely boast of any of those individual characters in their part that reflect lustre on mankind, except the two Gracchi: while the patricians told of Brutus, Valerius, Coriolanus, Cincinnatus, Camillus, Fabricius, Regulus, the Fabii, the Decii, the Scipios, Lucullus, Marcellus, Cato, Cicero and innumerable others. With this retrospect continually suggested to their minds, it was almost venial for the stern heroes of Rome, and the last illustrious martyrs of the republic, to entertain aristocratical sentiments.

Let us however consider impartially this aristocracy, so superior to any other of ancient or modern times. Upon the first institution of the republic, the people possessed scarcely any authority, except in the election of magistrates, and even here their intrinsic importance was eluded by the mode of arranging the assembly, so that the whole decision vested in the richer classes of the community. No magistrates of any description were elected but from among the patricians. All causes were judged by the patricians, and from their judgement there was no appeal. The patricians intermarried among themselves, and thus formed a republic of narrow extent, in the midst of the nominal one, which was held by them in a state of abject servitude. The idea which purified these usurpations in the minds of the usurpers was 'that the vulgar are essentially coarse, grovelling and ignorant, and that there can be no security for the empire of justice and consistency, but in the decided ascendancy of the liberal'. Thus, even while they opposed the essential interests of mankind, they were animated with public spirit and an unbounded enthusiasm of virtue. But it is not less true that they did oppose the essential interests of mankind. What can be more memorable in this respect than the declamations of Appius Claudius, whether we consider the moral greatness of mind by which they were dictated, or the cruel intolerance they were intended to enforce? It is inexpressibly painful to see so much virtue, through successive ages, employed in counteracting the justest requisitions. The result was that the patricians, notwithstanding their immeasurable superiority in abilities, were obliged to resign, one by one, the exclusions to which they clung. In the interval they were led to have recourse to the most odious methods of opposition; and every man among them contended who should be loudest in applause of the nefarious murder of the Gracchi. If the Romans were distinguished for so many virtues, constituted as they were, what might they not have been but for the iniquity of aristocratical usurpation? The indelible blemish of their history, the love of conquest, originated in the same cause. Their wars, through every period of the republic, were nothing more than the contrivance of the patricians, to divert their countrymen from attending to the sentiments of political truth, by leading them to scenes of conquest and carnage. They understood the art, common to all governments, of confounding the understandings of the multitude, and persuading them that the most unprovoked hostilities were merely the dictates of necessary defence.

Aristocracy, as we have already seen, is intimately connected with an extreme inequality of possessions. No man can be a useful member of society except so far as his talents are employed in a manner conducive to the general advantage. In every society, the produce, the means of contributing to the necessities and conveniences of its members, is of a certain amount. In every society, the bulk at least of its members contribute by their personal exertions to the creation of this produce. What can be more desirable and just than that the produce itself should, with some degree of equality, be shared among them? What more injurious than the accumulating upon a few every means of superfluity and luxury, to the total destruction of the ease, and plain, but plentiful subsistence of the many? It may be calculated that the king, even of a limited monarchy, receives as the salary of his office, an income equivalent to the labour of fifty thousand men.[1] Let us set out in our estimate from this point, and figure to ourselves the shares of his counsellors, his nobles, the wealthy commoners by whom the nobility will be emulated, their kindred and dependents. Is it any wonder that, in such countries, the lower orders of the community are exhausted by the hardships of penury and immoderate fatigue? When we see the wealth of a province spread upon the great man's table, can we be surprised that his neighbours have not bread to satiate the cravings of hunger?

Is this a state of human beings that must be considered as the last improvement of political wisdom? In such a state it is impossible that eminent virtue should not be exceedingly rare. The higher and the lower classes will be alike corrupted by their unnatural situation. But to pass over the higher class for the present, what can be more evident than the tendency of want to contract the intellectual powers? The situation which the wise man would desire, for himself, and for those in whose welfare he was interested, would be a situation of alternate labour and relaxation, labour that should not exhaust the frame, and relaxation that was in no danger of degenerating into indolence. Thus industry and activity would be cherished, the frame preserved in a healthful tone, and the mind accustomed to meditation and improvement. But this would be the situation of the whole human species if the supply of our wants were fairly distributed. Can any system be more worthy of disapprobation than that which converts nineteen-twentieths of them into beasts of burden, annihilates so much thought, renders impossible so much virtue, and extirpates so much happiness?

But it may be alleged 'that this argument is foreign to the subject of aristocracy; the inequality of conditions being the inevitable consequence of the institution of property'. It is true that many disadvantages have hitherto flowed out of this institution, in the simplest form in which it has yet existed; but these disadvantages, to whatever they may amount, are greatly aggravated by the operations of aristocracy. Aristocracy turns the stream of property out of its natural course, in following which it would not fail to fructify and gladden, in turn at least, every division of the community; and forwards, with assiduous care, its accumulation in the hands of a very few persons.

At the same time that it has endeavoured to render the acquisition of permanent property difficult, aristocracy has greatly increased the excitements to that acquisition. All men are accustomed to conceive a thirst after distinction and pre-eminence, but they do not all fix upon wealth as the object of this passion, but variously upon skill in any particular art, grace, learning, talents, wisdom and virtue. Nor does it appear that these latter objects are pursued by their votaries with less assiduity than wealth pursued by those who are anxious to acquire it. Wealth would be still less capable of being mistaken for the universal passion, were it not rendered by political institution, more than by its natural influence, the road to honour and respect.

There is no mistake more thoroughly to be deplored on this subject than that of persons sitting at their ease and surrounded with all the conveniences of life who are apt to exclaim, 'We find things very well as they are'; and to inveigh bitterly against all projects of reform, as 'the romances of visionary men, and the declamations of those who are never to be satisfied'. Is it well that so large a part of the community should be kept in abject penury, rendered stupid with ignorance, and disgustful with vice, perpetuated in nakedness and hunger, goaded to the commission of crimes, and made victims to the merciless laws which the rich have instituted to oppress them? Is it sedition to enquire whether this state of things may not be exchanged for a better? Or can there be anything more disgraceful to ourselves than to exclaim that 'All is well', merely because we are at our ease, regardless of the misery, degradation and vice that may be occasioned in others?

It is undoubtedly a pernicious mistake which has insinuated itself among certain reformers that leads them the perpetual indulgence of acrimony and resentment, and renders them too easily reconciled to projects of commotion and violence. But, if we ought to be aware that mildness and an unbounded philanthropy are the most effectual instruments of public welfare, it does not follow that we are to shut our eyes upon the calamities that exist, or to cease from the most ardent aspirations for their removal.

There is one argument to which the advocates of monarchy and aristocracy always have recourse, when driven from every other pretence; the mischievous nature of democracy. 'However imperfect the two former of these institutions may be in themselves, they are found necessary,' we are told, 'as accommodations to the imperfection of human nature.' It is for the reader who has considered the arguments of the preceding chapters to decide how far it is probable that circumstances can occur which should make it our duty to submit to these complicated evils. Meanwhile let us proceed to examine that democracy of which so alarming a picture has usually been exhibited.


[1]. Taking the average price of labour at one shilling per diem.



Democracy is a system of government according to which every member of society is considered as a man, and nothing more. So far as positive regulation is concerned, if indeed that can, with any propriety, be termed regulation, which is the mere recognition of the simplest of all moral principles, every man is regarded as equal. Talents and wealth, wherever they exist, will not fail to obtain a certain degree of influence, without requiring positive institution to second their operation.

But there are certain disadvantages that may seem the necessary result of democratical equality. In political society, it is reasonable to suppose that the wise will be outnumbered by the unwise; and it will be inferred 'that the welfare of the whole will therefore be at the mercy of ignorance and folly'. It is true that the ignorant will generally be sufficiently willing to listen to the judicious, 'but their very ignorance will incapacitate them from discerning the merit of their guides. The turbulent and crafty demagogue will often possess greater advantages for inveigling their judgement than the man who, with purer intentions, may possess a less brilliant talent. Add to this that the demagogue has a never failing resource, in the ruling imperfection of human nature, that of preferring the specious present to the substantial future. This is what is usually termed playing upon the passions of mankind. Politics have hitherto presented an enigma that all the wit of man has been insufficient to solve. Is it to be supposed that the uninstructed multitude should always be able to resist the artful sophistry, and captivating eloquence, that may be employed to perplex the subject with still further obscurity? Will it not often happen that the schemes proposed by the ambitious disturber will possess a meretricious, attraction which the severe and sober project of the discerning statesman shall be unable to compensate?

'One of the most fruitful sources of human happiness is to be found in the steady and uniform operation of certain fixed principles. But it is the characteristic of a democracy to be wavering and inconstant. The speculator only, who has deeply meditated his principles, is inflexible in his adherence to them. The mass of mankind, as they have never arranged their reflections into system, are at the mercy of every momentary impulse, and liable to change with every wind. But this inconstancy is directly the reverse of political justice.

'Nor is this all. Democracy is a monstrous and unwieldy vessel, launched upon the sea of human passions, without ballast. Liberty, in this unlimited form, is in danger to be lost almost as soon as it is obtained. The ambitious man finds nothing, in this scheme of human affairs, to set bounds to his desires. He has only to dazzle and deceive the multitude, in order to rise to absolute power.

'A further ill consequence flows out of this circumstance. The multitude, conscious of their weakness in this respect, will, in proportion to their love of liberty and equality, be perpetually suspicious and uneasy. Has any man displayed uncommon virtues, or rendered eminent services to his country? He will presently be charged with secretly aiming at the tyranny. Various circumstances will come in aid of this accusation; the general love of novelty, envy of superior merit, and the incapacity of the multitude to understand the motives and character of those who excel them. Like the Athenian, they will be tired of hearing Aristides constantly called the just. Thus will merit be too frequently the victim of ignorance and envy. Thus will all that is liberal and refined, whatever the human mind in its highest state of improvement is able to conceive, be often overpowered by the turbulence of unbridled passion, and the rude dictates of savage folly.'

If this picture must be inevitably realized wherever democratical principles are established, the state of human nature would be peculiarly unfortunate. No form of government can be devised which does not partake of monarchy, aristocracy or democracy. We have taken a copious survey of the two former, and it would seem impossible that greater or more inveterate mischiefs can be inflicted on mankind than those which are inflicted by them. No portrait of injustice, degradation and vice can be exhibited that can surpass the fair and inevitable inferences from the principle upon which they are built. If then democracy can, by any arguments, be brought down to a level with such monstrous institutions as these, in which there is neither integrity nor reason, our prospects of the future happiness of mankind will indeed be deplorable.

But this is impossible. Supposing that we should even be obliged to take democracy with all the disadvantages that were ever annexed to it, and that no remedy could be discovered for any of its defects, it would still be preferable to the exclusive system of other forms. Let us take Athens, with all its turbulence and instability; with the popular and temperate usurpations of Pisistratus and Pericles; with its monstrous ostracism, by which, with undisguised injustice, they were accustomed periodically to banish some eminent citizen, without the imputation of a crime; with the imprisonment of Miltiades, the exile of Aristides, and the murder of Phocion: - with all these errors on its head, it is incontrovertible that Athens exhibited a more illustrious and enviable spectacle than all the monarchies and aristocracies that ever existed. Who would reject their gallant love of virtue and independence because it was accompanied with irregularities? Who would pass an unreserved condemnation upon their penetrating mind, their quick discernment, and their ardent feeling because they were subject occasionally to be intemperate and impetuous? Shall we compare a people of such incredible achievements, such exquisite refinement, gay without insensibility, and splendid without intemperance, in the midst of whom grew up the greatest poets, the noblest artists, the most finished orators, and the most disinterested philosophers, the world ever saw - shall we compare this chosen seat of patriotism, independence and generous virtue with the torpid and selfish realms of monarchy and aristocracy? All is not happiness that looks tranquillity. Better were a portion of turbulence and fluctuation than that unwholesome calm in which all the best faculties of the human mind are turned to putrescence and poison.

In the estimate that is usually made of democracy, one of the sources of our erroneous judgement lies in our taking mankind such as monarchy and aristocracy have made them, and thence judging how fit they are to manage for themselves. Monarchy and aristocracy would be no evils if their tendency were not to undermine the virtues and the understandings of their subjects. The thing most necessary is to remove all those restraints which prevent the human mind from attaining its genuine strength. Implicit faith, blind submission to authority, timid fear, a distrust of our powers, an inattention to our own importance and the good purposes we are able to effect, these are the chief obstacles to human improvement. Democracy restores to man a consciousness of his value, teaches him, by the removal of authority and oppression, to listen only to the suggestions of reason, gives him confidence to treat all other men with frankness and simplicity, and induces him to regard them no longer as enemies against whom to be upon his guard, but as brethren whom it becomes him to assist. The citizen of a democratical state, when he looks upon the oppression and injustice that prevail in the countries around him, cannot but entertain an inexpressible esteem for the advantages he enjoys, and the most unalterable determination to preserve them. The influence of democracy upon the sentiments of its members is altogether of the negative sort, but its consequences are inestimable. Nothing can be more unreasonable than to argue from men as we now find them to men as they may hereafter be made. Strict and accurate reasoning, instead of suffering us to be surprised that Athens did so much, would at first induce us to wonder that she retained so many imperfections.

The road to the improvement of mankind is in the utmost degree simple, to speak and act the truth. If the Athenians had had more of this, it is impossible they should have been so flagrantly erroneous. To express ourselves to all men with honesty and unreserve, and to administer justice without partiality, are principles which, when once thoroughly adopted, are in the highest degree prolific. They enlighten the understanding, give decision to the judgement, and strip misrepresentation of its speciousness. In Athens, men suffered themselves to be dazzled by splendour and show. If the error in their constitution which led to this defect can be discovered, if a form of political society can be devised in which men shall be accustomed to judge simply and soberly, and be habitually exercised to the manliness of truth, democracy will, in that society, cease from the turbulence, instability, fickleness and violence that have too often characterized it. Nothing can be more worthy to be depended on than the omnipotence of truth, or, in other words, than the connection between the judgement and the outward behaviour.[1] The contest between truth and falsehood is of itself too unequal for the former to stand in need of support from any political ally. The more it is discovered, especially that part of it which relates to man in society, the more simple and self-evident will it appear; and it will be found impossible any otherwise to account for its having been so long concealed than from the pernicious influence of positive institution.

There is another obvious consideration that has frequently been alleged to account for the imperfection of ancient democracies, which is worthy of our attention, though it be not so important as the argument which has just been stated. The ancients were unaccustomed to the idea of deputed or representative assemblies; and it is reasonable to suppose that affairs might often be transacted with the utmost order, in such assemblies, which might be productive of much tumult and confusion if submitted to the personal discussion of the citizens at large.[2] By this happy expedient, we secure many of the pretended benefits of aristocracy, as well as the real benefits of democracy. The discussion of national affairs is brought before persons of superior education and wisdom: we may conceive them, not only the appointed medium of the sentiments of their constituents, but authorized, upon certain occasions, to act on their part, in the same manner as an unlearned parent delegates his authority over his child to a preceptor of greater accomplishments than himself. This idea, within proper limits, might probably be entitled to approbation, provided the elector had the wisdom not to recede from the exercise of his own understanding in political concerns, exerted his censorial power over his representative, and were accustomed, if the representative were unable, after the fullest explanation, to bring him over to his opinion, to transfer his deputation to another.

The true value of the system of representation seems to be as follows. Large promiscuous assemblies, such as the assemblies of the people in Athens and Rome, Must perhaps always be somewhat tumultuous, and liable to many of the vices of democracy enumerated in the commencement of this chapter. A representative assembly, deputed on the part of the multitude, will escape many of their defects. But representative government is necessarily imperfect. It is, as was formerly observed,[3] a point to be regretted, in the abstract notion of civil society, that a majority should overbear a minority, and that the minority, after having opposed and remonstrated, should be obliged practically to submit to that which was the subject of their remonstrance. But this evil, inseparable from political government, is aggravated by representation, which removes the power of making regulations one step further from the people whose lot it is to obey them. Representation therefore, though a remedy, or rather a palliative, for certain evils, is not a remedy so excellent or complete as should authorize us to rest in it as the highest improvement of which the social order is capable.[4]

Such are the general features of democratical government: but this is a subject of too much importance to be dismissed without the fullest examination of everything that may enable us to decide upon its merits. We will proceed to consider the further objections that have been alleged against it.


[1]. Book I, Chap. V.

[2]. The general grounds of this institution have been stated, Book III, Chap. IV. The exceptions which limit its value will be seen in the twenty-third chapter of the present book.

[3]. Book III, Chap. II.

[4]. See this subject pursued in Chap. XXIII, XXIV.



All the arguments that have been employed to prove the insufficiency of democracy grow out of this one root, the supposed necessity of deception and prejudice for restraining the turbulence of human passions. Without the assumption of this principle the argument could not be sustained for a moment. The direct and decisive answer would be, 'Are kings and lords intrinsically wiser and better than their humbler neighbours? Can there be any solid ground of distinction except what is founded in personal merit? Are not men, really and strictly considered, equal, except so far as what is personal and inalienable, establishes a difference?' To these questions there can be but one reply, 'Such is the order of reason and absolute truth, but artificial distinctions are necessary for the happiness of mankind. Without deception and prejudice the turbulence of human passions cannot be restrained.' Let us then examine the merits of this theory; and these will be best illustrated by an instance.

It has been held, by some divines and some politicians, 'that the doctrine which teaches that men will be eternally tormented in another world, for their errors and misconduct in this, is in its own nature unreasonable and absurd, but that it is necessary, to keep mankind in awe. Do we not see', say they, 'that, notwithstanding this terrible denunciation, the world is overrun with vice? What then would be the case if the irregular passions of mankind were set free from their present restraint, and they had not the fear of this retribution before their eyes?'

This argument seems to be founded in a singular inattention to the dictates of history and experience, as well as to those of reason. The ancient Greeks and Romans had nothing of this dreadful apparatus of fire and brimstone, and a torment 'the smoke of which ascends for ever and ever'. Their religion was less personal than political. They confided in the Gods as protectors of the state, and this inspired them with invincible courage. In periods of public calamity, they found a ready consolation in expiatory sacrifices to appease the anger of the Gods. The attention of these beings was conceived to be principally directed to the ceremonial of religion, and very little to the moral excellencies and defects of their votaries, which were supposed to be sufficiently provided for by the inevitable tendency of moral excellence or defect to increase or diminish individual happiness. If their systems included the doctrine of a future existence, little attention was paid by them to the connecting the moral deserts of individuals in this life with their comparative situation in another. In Homer, the Elysian fields are a seat of perpetual weariness and languor: Elysium and Tartarus are enclosed in the same circuit; and the difference between them, as most, amounts to no more than the difference between sadness and misery. The same omission, of future retribution as the basis of moral obligation, runs through the systems of the Persians, the Egyptians, the Celts, the Phoenicians, the Jews, and indeed every system which has not been, in some manner or other, the offspring of the Christian. If we were to form our judgement of these nations by the above argument, we should expect to find every individual among them cutting his neighbour's throat, and inured to the commission of every enormity. But they were, in reality, as susceptible of the regulations of government, and the order of society, as those whose imaginations have been most artfully terrified by the threats of future retribution; and some of them were much more generous, determined and attached to the public weal.

Nothing can be more contrary to a just observation of the nature of the human mind than to suppose that these speculative tenets have much influence in making mankind more virtuous than they would otherwise be found. Human beings are placed in the midst of a system of things, all the parts of which are strictly connected with each other, and exhibit a sympathy and unison, by means of which the whole is rendered familiar, and, as it were, inmate to the mind. The respect I shall obtain, and the happiness I shall enjoy, for the remainder of my life are topics of which I feel the entire comprehension. I understand the value of ease, liberty and knowledge, to myself, and my fellow men. I perceive that these things, and a certain conduct intending them, are connected, in the visible system of the world, and not by any supernatural and unusual interposition. But all that can be told me of a future world, a world of spirits, or of glorified bodies, where the employments are spiritual, and the first cause is to be rendered a subject of immediate perception, or of a scene of retribution, where the mind, doomed to everlasting inactivity, shall be wholly a prey to the upbraidings of remorse, and the sarcasms of devils, is so foreign to everything with which I am acquainted, that my mind in vain endeavours to believe or to understand it. If doctrines like these occupy the habitual reflections of any, it is not of the lawless, the violent and ungovernable, but of the sober and conscientious, overwhelming them with gratuitous anxiety, or persuading them passively to submit to despotism and injustice, that they may receive the recompense of their patience hereafter. This objection is equally applicable to every species of deception. Fables may amuse the imagination; but can never stand in the place of reason and judgement as the principles of human conduct. -Let us proceed to a second instance.

It is affirmed by Rousseau, in his treatise of the Social Contract, 'that no legislator could ever establish a grand political system without having recourse to religious imposture. To render a people who are yet to receive the impressions of political wisdom susceptible of the evidence of that wisdom would be to convert the effect of civilization into the cause. The legislator being deprived of assistance from the two grand operative causes among men, reasoning and force, is obliged to have recourse to an authority of a different sort, which may draw without compulsion, and persuade without elucidation.'[1]

These are the dreams of a fertile conception, busy in the erection of imaginary systems. To a wary and sceptical mind, that project would seem to promise little substantial benefit, which set out from so erroneous a principle. To terrify or seduce men into the reception of a system the reasonableness of which they were unable to perceive is surely a very questionable method for rendering them sober, judicious, reasonable and happy.

In reality, no grand political system ever was introduced in the manner Rousseau describes. Lycurgus, as he observes, obtained the sanction of the oracle at Delphi to the constitution he had established. But was it by an appeal to Apollo that he persuaded the Spartans to renounce the use of money, to consent to an equal division of land, and to adopt various other regulations, the most contrary to their preconceived habits and ideas? No: it was by an appeal to their understandings, in the midst of long debate and perpetual counteraction, and through the inflexibility of his courage and resolution, that he at last attained his purpose. Lycurgus thought proper, after the whole was concluded, to obtain the sanction of the oracle, conceiving that it became him to neglect no method of substantiating the benefit he had conferred on his countrymen. It is indeed scarcely possible to persuade a society of men to adopt any system without convincing them that it is their wisdom to adopt it. It is difficult to conceive a company of such miserable dupes, as to receive a code, without any imagination that it is salutary or wise or just, but upon this single recommendation that it is delivered to them from the Gods. The only reasonable, and infinitely the most efficacious method of changing the established customs of any people is by creating in them a general opinion of their erroneousness and insufficiency.

But, if it be indeed impracticable to persuade men into the adoption of any system without employing as our principal argument the intrinsic rectitude of that system, what is the argument which he would desire to use who had most at heart the welfare and improvement of the persons concerned? Would he begin by teaching them to reason well, or to reason ill? by unnerving their mind with prejudice, or new stringing it with truth?

How many arts, and how noxious to those towards whom we employ them, are necessary, if we would successfully deceive? We must not only leave their reason in indolence at first, but endeavour to supersede its exertion in any future instance. If men be, for the present, kept right by prejudice, what will become of them hereafter, if, by any future penetration, or any accidental discovery, this prejudice shall be annihilated? Detection is not always the fruit of systematical improvement, but may be effected by some solitary exertion of the faculty, or some luminous and irresistible argument, while everything else remains as it was. If we would first deceive, and then maintain our deception unimpaired, we shall need penal statutes, and licensers of the press, and hired ministers of falsehood and imposture. Admirable modes these for the propagation of wisdom and virtue!

There is another case, similar to that stated by Rousseau, upon which much stress has been laid by political writers. 'Obedience,' say they, 'must either be courted or compelled. We must either make a judicious use of the prejudices and the ignorance of mankind, or be contented to have no hold upon them but their fears, and to maintain social order entirely by the severity of punishment. To dispense us from this painful necessity, authority ought carefully to be invested with a sort of magic persuasion. Citizens should serve their country, not with a frigid submission that scrupulously weighs its duties, but with an enthusiasm that places its honour in its loyalty. For this reason, our governors and superiors must not be spoken of with levity. They must be considered, independently of their individual character, as deriving a sacredness from their office. They must be accompanied with splendour and veneration. Advantage must be taken of the imperfection of mankind. We ought to gain over their judgements through the medium of their senses, and not leave the conclusions to be drawn to the uncertain process of immature reason.[2]

This is still the same argument under another form. It takes for granted that a true observation of things is inadequate to teach us our duty; and of consequence recommends an equivocal engine, which may with equal ease be employed in the service of justice and injustice, but would surely appear somewhat more in its place in the service of the latter. It is injustice that stands most in need of superstition and mystery, and will most frequently be a gainer by the imposition. This hypothesis proceeds upon an assumption which young men sometimes impute to their parents and preceptors. It says, 'Mankind must be kept in ignorance: if they know vice, they will love it too well; if they perceive the charms of error, they will never return to the simplicity of truth.' And, strange as it may appear, this bare-faced and unplausible argument has been the foundation of a very popular and generally received hypothesis. It has taught politicians to believe that a people, once sunk into decrepitude, as it has been termed, could never afterwards be endured with purity and vigour.[3]

There are two modes according to which the minds of human beings may be influenced by him who is desirous to conduct them. The first of these is a strong and commanding picture, taking hold of the imagination, and surprising the judgement; the second, a distinct and unanswerable statement of reasons, which, the oftener they are reflected upon, and the more they are sifted, will be found by so much the more cogent.

One of the tritest and most general, as well as most self-evident, maxims in the science of the human mind is that the former of these is only adapted to a temporary purpose, while the latter alone is adequate to a purpose that is durable. How comes it then eh et, in the business of politics and government, the purposes of which are evidently not temporary, the fallacious mode of proceeding should have been so generally and so eagerly resorted to?

This may be accounted for from two considerations: first the diffidence, and secondly, the vanity and self-applause, of legislators and statesmen. It is an arduous task always to assign reasons to those whose conduct we would direct; it is by no means easy to answer objections and remove difficulties. It requires patience; it demands profound science and severe meditation. This is the reason why, in the instance already alluded to, parents and preceptors find a refuge for their indolence, while by false presences they cheat the young into compliance, in preference to showing them, as far as they may be capable of understanding it, the true face of things.

Statesmen secretly distrust their own powers, and therefore substitute quackery in the room of principle.

But, beside the recommendations that quackery derives from indolence and ignorance, it is also calculated to gratify the vanity of him that employs it. He that would reason with another, and honestly explain to him the motives of the action he recommends, descends to a footing of equality. But he who undertakes to delude us, and fashion us to his purpose by a specious appearance, has a feeling that he is our master. Though his task is neither so difficult nor so honourable as that of the ingenuous dealer, he regards it as more flattering. At every turn he admires his own dexterity; he triumphs in the success of his artifices, and delights to remark how completely mankind are his dupes.

There are disadvantages of no ordinary magnitude that attend upon the practice of political imposture.

It is utterly incompatible with the wholesome tone of the human understanding. Man, we have seen some reason to believe, is a being of progressive nature, and capable of unlimited improvement. But his progress must be upon the plain line of reason and truth. As long as he keeps the open road, his journey is prosperous and promising; but, if he turn aside into by-paths, he will soon come to a point where there is no longer either avenue or track. He that is accustomed to a deceitful medium will be ignorant of the true colours of things. He that is often imposed on will be no judge of the fair and the genuine. Human understanding cannot be tampered with, with impunity; if we admit prejudice, deception and implicit faith in one subject, the inquisitive energies of the mind will be more or less weakened in all. This is a fact so well known that the persons who recommend the governing mankind by deception are, to a man, advocates of the opinion that the human species is essentially stationary.

A further disadvantage of political imposture is that the bubble is hourly in danger of bursting, and the delusion of coming to an end. The playing upon our passions and our imagination, as we have already said, can never fully answer any but a temporary purpose. In delusion there is always inconsistency. It will look plausibly, when placed in a certain light; but it will not bear handling, and examining on all sides. It suits us in a certain animated tone of mind; but, in a calm and tranquil season, it is destitute of power. Politics and government are affairs of a durable concern; they should therefore rest upon a basis that will abide the test.

The system of political imposture divides men into two classes, one of which is to think and reason for the whole, and the other to take the conclusions of their superiors on trust. This distinction is not founded in the nature of things; there is no such inherent difference between man and man as it thinks proper to suppose. Nor is it less injurious than it is unfounded. The two classes which it creates must be more and less than man. It is too much to expect of the former, while we consign to them an unnatural monopoly, that they should rigidly consult for the good of the whole. It is an iniquitous requisition upon the latter that they should never employ their understandings, or penetrate into the essences of things, but always rest in a deceitful appearance. It is iniquitous to deprive them of that chance for additional wisdom which would result from a greater number of minds being employed in the enquiry, and from the disinterested and impartial spirit that might be expected to accompany it.

How strangely incongruous is that state of mind which the system we are here examining is adapted to recommend. Shall those persons who govern the springs, and carry on the deception, be themselves in the secret of the imposition or not? This is a fundamental question. It has often been started in relation to the authors or abettors of a new fabric of superstition. On the one hand, we should be apt to imagine that, for a machine to be guided well, it is desirable that those who guide it should be acquainted with its principle. We should suppose that, otherwise, the governors we speak of would not always know the extent and the particulars as to which the deception was salutary and that, where 'the blind led the blind', the public welfare would not be in a much better condition than the greatest advocates of imposture could suppose it to be under the auspices of truth. But then again, on the other hand, no man can be powerful in persuasion in a point where he has not first persuaded himself. Beside that the secret must, first or last, be confided to so many hands that it will be continually in danger of being discovered by the public at large. So that for these reasons it would seem best that he who first invented the art of leading mankind at pleasure, and set the wheels of political craft in motion, should suffer his secret to die with him.

And what sort of character must exist in a state thus modified? Those at the head of affairs, if they be acquainted with the principle of the political machine, must be perpetually anxious lest mankind should unexpectedly recover the use of their faculties. Falsehood must be their discipline and incessant study. We will suppose that they adopt this system of imposture, in the first instance, from the most benevolent motives. But will the continual practice of concealment, hypocrisy and artifice make no breaches in their character? Will they, in despite of habit, retain all that ingenuousness of heart which is the first principle of virtue?

With respect to the multitude, in this system, they are placed in the middle between two fearful calamities, suspicion on one side, and infatuation on the other. Even children, when their parents explain to them that there is one system of morality for youth and another for mature age, and endeavour to cheat them into submission, are generally found to suspect the trick. It cannot reasonably be thought that the mass of the governed in any country should be less clear sighted than children. Thus they are kept in perpetual vibration, between rebellious discontent, and infatuated credulity. Sometimes they suppose their governors to be the messengers and favourites of heaven, a supernatural order of beings; and sometimes they suspect them to be a combination of usurpers to rob and oppress them. For they dare not indulge themselves in solving the dilemma, because they are held in awe by oppression and the gallows.

Is this the genuine state of man? Is this a condition so desirable that we should be anxious to entail it upon posterity for ever? Is it high treason to enquire whether it may be meliorated? Are we sure that every change from such a situation of things is severely to be deprecated? Is it not worth while to suffer that experiment which shall consist in a gradual, and almost insensible, abolition of such mischievous institutions?

It may not be uninstructive to consider what sort of discourse must be held, or book written, by him who should make himself the champion of political imposture. He cannot avoid secretly wishing that the occasion had never existed. What he undertakes is to lengthen the reign of 'salutary prejudices'. For this end, he must propose to himself the two opposite purposes, of prolonging the deception, and proving that it is necessary to deceive. By whom is it that he intends his book should be read? Chiefly by the governed; the governors need little inducement to continue the system. But, at the same time that he tells us, we should cherish the mistake as mistake, and the prejudice as prejudice, he is himself lifting the veil, and destroying his own system. While the affair of our superiors and the enlightened is simply to impose upon us, the task is plain and intelligible. But, the moment they begin to write books, to persuade us that we ought to be willing to be deceived, it may well be suspected that their system is upon the decline. It is not to be wondered at if the greatest genius, and the sincerest and most benevolent champion, should fail in producing a perspicuous or very persuasive treatise, when he undertakes so hopeless a task.

The argument of such a system must, when attentively examined, be the most untenable that can be imagined. It undertakes to prove that we must not be governed by reason. To prove! How prove? Necessarily, from the resources of reason. What can be more contradictory? If I must not trust the conclusions of reason relative to the intrinsic value of things, why trust to your reasons in favour of the benefit of being deceived? You cut up your own argument by the roots. If I must reject the dictates of reason in one point, there can be no possible cause why I should adopt them in another. Moral reasons and inducements, as we have repeatedly shown, consist singly in this, an estimate of consequences. What can supersede this estimate? Not an opposite estimate; for, by the nature of morality, the purpose, in the first instance, is to take into account all the consequences. Not something else, for a consideration of consequences is the only thing with which morality and practical wisdom are directly concerned. The moment I dismiss the information of my own eyes and my own understanding, there is, in all justice, an end to persuasion, expostulation or conviction. There is no presence by which I can disallow the authority of inference and deduction in one instance that will not justify a similar proceeding in every other. He that, in any case, designedly surrenders the use of his own understanding is condemned to remain for ever at the beck of contingence and caprice, and is even bound in consistency no more to frame his course by the results of demonstration than by the wildest dreams of delirium and insanity.


[1]. 'Pour qu'un peuple naissant pút goûter les seines maximes de la politique et suivre les régles fondamentales de la raison de l'ètat, il faudroit que l'effet pût devenir la cause, que l'esprit social, qui doit être l'ouvrage de l'institution, prèsidât á l'institution même, et que les hommes fussent avant les lois ce qu'ils doivent devenir par elles. Ainsi donc le le`gislateur ne pouvant employer ni la force ni le raisonnement; c'est une necessitè qu'il recour a une autoritè d'un autre ordre, qui puisse entrainer sans violence, et persuader sans convaincre.' Du Contrat Social, Liv. II, Chap. vii.

Having frequently quoted Rousseau in the course of this work, it may be allowable to say one word of his general merits, as a moral and political writer. He has been subjected to continual ridicule for the extravagance of the proposition. with which he began his literary career; that the savage state was the genuine and proper condition of man. It was however by a very slight mistake that he missed the opposite opinion which it is the business of the present enquiry to establish. He only substituted, as the topic of his eulogium, the period that preceded government and laws, instead of the period that may possibly follow upon their abolition. It is sufficiently observable that, where he describes the enthusiastic influx of truth that first made him a moral and political writer (in his second letter to Malesherbes), he does not so much as mention his fundamental error, but only the just principles which led him into it. He was the first to teach that the imperfections of government were the only perennial source of the vices of mankind; and this principle was adopted from him by Helvetius and others. But he saw further than this, that government, however formed, was little capable of affording solid benefit to mankind, which they did not. This principle has since (probably without being suggested by the writings of Rousseau) been expressed with great perspicuity and energy, but not developed, by Thomas Paine, in the first page of his Common Sense.

Rousseau, notwithstanding his great genius, was full of weakness and prejudice. His Emile deserves perhaps, upon the whole, to be regarded as one of the principal reservoirs of philosophical truth as yet existing in the world; though with a perpetual mixture of absurdity and mistake. In his writings expressly political, Du Contrat Social and Considérations sur la Pologne, the superiority of his genius seems to desert him. To his merits as an investigator, we should not forget to add that the term eloquence is perhaps more precisely descriptive of his mode of composition than of that of any other writer that ever existed.

[2]. This argument is the great common place of Mr Burke's Reflections on the Revolution in France, and of a multitude of other works, ancient and modern, upon the subject of government.

[3]. Book I, Chap. VII.



Exclusively of those objections which have been urged against the democratical system, as it relates to the internal management of affairs, there are others, upon which considerable stress has been laid, in relation to the transactions of a state with foreign powers, to war and peace, and to treaties of alliance and commerce.

There is indeed an eminent difference, with respect to these, between the democratical system and all others. It is perhaps impossible to show that a single war ever die! or could have taken place, in the history of mankind, that did not in some way originate with those two great political monopolies, monarchy and aristocracy. This might have formed an additional article, in the catalogue of the evils to which they have given birth, little inferior to any of those we have enumerated. But nothing could be more idle than to overcharge a subject the evidence of which is irresistible.

What could be the source of misunderstanding between states, where no man, or body of men, found encouragement to the accumulation of privileges to himself, at the expense of the rest? Why should they pursue additional wealth or territory? These would lose their value the moment they became the property of all. No man can cultivate more than a certain portion of land. Money is representative, and not real wealth. If every man in the society possessed a double portion of money, bread, and every other commodity, would sell at double their present price, and the relative situation of each individual would be just what it had been before. War and conquest cannot be beneficial to the community. Their tendency is to elevate a few at the expense of the rest; and consequently they will never be undertaken but where the many are the instruments of the few. But this cannot happen in a democracy till the democracy shall become such only in name. If expedients can be devised for maintaining this species of government in its purity, or if there be anything, in the nature of wisdom and intellectual improvement, which has a tendency daily to make truth more prevalent over falsehood, the principle of offensive war will be extirpated. But this principle enters into the very essence of monarchy and aristocracy.

It is not meant here to be insinuated that democracy has not repeatedly been a source of war. It was eminently so among the ancient Romans; the aristocracy found in it an obvious expedient for diverting the attention and encroachments of the people. It may be expected to be so wherever the form of government is complicated, and the nation at large is enabled to become formidable to a band of usurpers. But war will be foreign to the character of any people in proportion as their democracy becomes simple and unalloyed.

Meanwhile, though the principle of offensive war be incompatible with the genius of democracy, a democratica1 state may be placed in the neighbourhood of states whose government is less equal, and therefore it will be proper to enquire into the supposed disadvantages which the democratical state may sustain in the contest. The only species of war in which it can consistently be engaged will be that the object of which is to repel wanton invasion. Such invasions will be little likely frequently to occur. For what purpose should a corrupt state attack a country that has no feature in common with itself upon which to build a misunderstanding and that presents, in the very nature of its government, a pledge of its inoffensiveness and neutrality? Add to which, it will presently appear that this state which yields the fewest incitements to provoke an attack will prove a very undesirable adversary to those by whom an attack shall be commenced.

One of the most essential principles of political justice is diametrically the reverse of that which impostors, as well as patriots, have too frequently agreed to recommend. Their perpetual exhortation has been, "Love your country. Sink the personal existence of individuals in the existence of the community. Make little account of the particular men of whom the society consists, but aim at the general wealth, prosperity and glory. Purify your mind from the gross ideas of sense, and elevate it to the single contemplation of that abstract individual, of which particular men are so many detached members, valuable only for the place they fill."[1]

The lessons of reason on this head are different from these. "Society is an ideal existence, and not, on its own account, entitled to the smallest regard. The wealth, prosperity and glory of the whole are unintelligible chimeras. Set no value on anything but in proportion as you are convinced of its tendency to make individual men happy and virtuous. Benefit, by every practicable mode, man wherever he exists; but be not deceived by the specious idea of affording services to a body of men, for which no individual man is the better. Society was instituted, not for the sake of glory, not to furnish splendid materials for the page of history, but for the benefit of its members. The love of our country, as the term has usually been understood, has too often been found to be one of those specious illusions which are employed by impostors for the purpose of rendering the multitude the blind instruments of their crooked designs."

In the meantime, the maxims which are here controverted have had by so much the more success in the world as they bear some resemblance to the purest sentiments of virtue. Virtue is nothing else but kind and sympathetic feelings reduced into principle. Undisciplined feeling would induce me, now to interest myself exclusively for one man, and now for another, to be eagerly solicitous for those who are present to me, and to forget the absent. Feeling ripened into virtue embraces the interests of the whole human race, and constantly proposes to itself the production of the greatest quantity of happiness. But, while it anxiously adjusts the balance of interests, and yields to no case, however urgent, to the prejudice of the whole, it keeps aloof from the unmeaning rant of romance, and uniformly recollects that happiness, in order to be real, must necessarily be individual.

The love of our country has often been found to be a deceitful principle, as its direct tendency is to set the interests of one division of mankind in opposition to another, and to establish a preference built upon accidental relations, and not upon reason. Much of what has been understood by the appellation is excellent, but perhaps nothing that can be brought within the strict interpretation of the phrase. A wise and well informed man will not fail to be the votary of liberty and justice. He will be ready to exert himself in their defence, wherever they exist. It cannot be a matter of indifference to him when his own liberty and that of other men with whose merits and capacities he has the best opportunity of being acquainted are involved in the event of the struggle to be made. But his attachment will be to the cause, as the cause of man, and not to the country. Wherever there are individuals who understand the value of political justice, and are prepared to assert it, that is his country. Wherever he can most contribute to the diffusion of these principles and the real happiness of mankind, that is his country. Nor does he desire, for any country, any other benefit than justice.

To apply these principles to the subject of war. -- And, before that application can be adequately made, it is necessary to recollect, for a moment, the force of the term.

Because individuals were liable to error, and suffered their apprehensions of justice to be perverted by a bias in favour of themselves, government was instituted. Because nations were susceptible of a similar weakness, and could find no sufficient umpire to whom to appeal, war was introduced. Men were induced deliberately to seek each other's lives, and to adjudge the controversies between them, not according to the dictates of reason and justice, but as either should prove most successful in devastation and murder. This was no doubt in the first instance the extremity of exasperation and rage. But it has since been converted into a trade. One part of the nation pays another part, to murder and be murdered in their stead; and the most trivial causes, a supposed insult, or a sally of youthful ambition, have sufficed to deluge provinces with blood.

We can have no adequate idea of this evil unless we visit, at least in imagination, a field of battle. Here men deliberately destroy each other by thousands, without resentment against, or even knowledge of, each other. The plain is strewed with death in all its forms. Anguish and wounds display the diversified modes in which they can torment the human frame. Towns are burned; ships are blown up in the air, while the mangled limbs descend on every side; the fields are laid desolate; the wives of the inhabitants exposed to brutal insult; and their children driven forth to hunger and nakedness. It is an inferior circumstance, though by no means unattended with the widest and most deplorable effects, when we add, to these scenes of horror, and the subversion of all ideas of moral justice they must occasion in the auditors and spectators, the immense treasures which are wrung, in the form of taxes, from those inhabitants whose residence is removed from the seat of war.

After this enumeration, we may venture to enquire what are the justifiable causes and rules of war.

It is not a justifiable reason 'that we imagine our own people would be rendered more cordial and orderly, if we could find a neighbour with whom to quarrel, and who might serve as a touchstone to try the characters and dispositions of individuals among ourselves'.[2] We are not at liberty to have recourse to the most complicated and atrocious of all mischiefs, in the way of an experiment.

It is not a justifiable reason, 'that we have been exposed to certain insults, and that tyrants, perhaps, have delighted in treating with contempt, the citizens of our happy state who have visited their dominions'. Government ought to protect the tranquillity of those who reside within the sphere of its functions; but, if individuals think proper to visit other countries, they must be delivered over to the protection of general reason. Some proportion must be observed between the evil of which we complain and the evil which the nature of the proposed remedy inevitably includes.

It is not a justifiable reason 'that our neighbour is preparing, or menacing, hostilities'. If we be obliged to prepare in our turn, the inconvenience is only equal; and it is not to be believed that a despotic country is capable of more exertion than a free one, when the task incumbent on the latter is indispensable precaution.

It has sometimes been held to be sound reasoning upon this subject 'that we ought not to yield little things, which may not, in themselves, be sufficiently valuable to authorize this tremendous appeal, because a disposition to yield only invites further experiments,. Much otherwise; at least when the character of such a nation is sufficiently understood. A people that will not contend for nominal and trivial objects, that adheres to the precise line of unalterable justice, and that does not fail to be moved at the moment that it ought to be moved, is not the people that its neighbours will delight to urge to extremities.

'The vindication of national honour' is a very insufficient reason for hostilities. True honour is to be found only in integrity and'. justice. It has been doubted how far a view to reputation ought, in matters of inferior moment, to be permitted to influence the conduct of individuals; but, let the case of individuals be decided as it may, reputation, considered as a separate motive in the instance of nations, can perhaps never be justifiable. In individuals, it seems as if I might, consistently with the utmost real integrity, be so misconstrued and misrepresented by others as to render my efforts at usefulness almost necessarily abortive. But this reason does not apply to the case of nations. Their real story cannot easily be suppressed. Usefulness and public spirit, in relation to them, chiefly belong to the transactions of their members among themselves; and their influence in the transactions of neighbouring nations is a consideration evidently subordinate - The question which respects the justifiable causes of war would be liable to few difficulties, if we were accustomed, along with the word, strongly to call up to our minds the thing which that word is intended to represent.

Accurately considered, there can probably be but two causes of war that can maintain any plausible claim to justice; and one of them is among those which the logic of sovereigns, and the law of nations, as it has been termed, have been thought to proscribe: these are the defence of our own liberty, and of the liberty of others. The well known objection to the latter of these cases is 'that one nation ought not to interfere in the internal transactions of another'. But certainly every people is fit for the possession of any immunity, as soon as they understand the nature of that immunity, and desire to possess it and it is probable that this condition may be sufficiently realized in cases where, from the subtlety of intrigue, and the tyrannical jealousy of neighbouring kingdoms, they may be rendered incapable of effectually asserting their rights. This principle is capable of being abused by men of ambition and intrigue; but, accurately considered, the very same argument that should induce me to exert my self for the liberties of my own country is equally cogent, so far as my opportunities and ability extend, with respect to the liberties of any other country. But what is my duty in this case is the duty of all; and the exertion must be collective, where collective exertion only can be effectual.


[1]. Du Contrat Social, etc. etc. etc.

[2]. The reader will easily perceive that the presences by which the people of France were instigated to a declaration of war, in April 1792, were in the author's mind in this and the two following articles. Nor will a few lines be misspent in this note in stating the feelings of a dispassionate observer, upon the wantonness with which they have appeared ready, upon different occasions, to proceed to extremities. If policy were in question, it might be doubted whether the confederacy of kings would ever have been brought into action against them, had it not been for their precipitation; and it might be asked, what impression they must expect to find produced upon the minds of other states; by their intemperate commission of hostility? But that equal humanity, which prescribes to us never, by a hasty interference, to determine the doubtful balance in favor of murder, is a superior consideration, in comparison with which policy is scarcely worthy to be named.



Let us pass, from the causes to the objects of war. As defence is the only legitimate cause, the object pursued, reasoning from this principle, will be circumscribed within very narrow limits. It can extend no further than the repelling the enemy from our borders. It is perhaps desirable that, in addition to this, he should afford some proof that he does not propose immediately to renew his invasion; but this, though desirable, affords no sufficient apology for the continuance of hostilities. Declarations of war, and treaties of peace, were the inventions of a barbarous age, and would probably never have grown into established usages if war had customarily gone no further than to the limits of defence.

The criminal justice, as it has been termed, of nations within themselves has only three objects that it can be imagined to have in view, the reformation of the criminal, the restraining him from future excesses, and example. But none of these objects, whatever may be thought of them while confined to their original province, can sufficiently apply to the case of war between independent states. War, as we have already seen, perhaps never originates, on the offending side, in the sentiments of a nation, but of a comparatively small number of individuals: and, were it otherwise, there is something so monstrous in the idea of changing the principles of a whole country by the mode of military execution that every man not lost to sobriety and common sense may be expected to shrink from it with horror.

Restraint appears to be sometimes necessary, with respect to the offenders that exist in the midst of a community, because it is customary for such offenders to assail us with unexpected violence; but nations cannot move with such secrecy as to make an unforeseen attack an object of considerable apprehension. The only effectual means of restraint, in this case, is by disabling, impoverishing and depopulating the country of our adversaries; and, if we recollected that they are men as well as ourselves, and the great mass of them innocent of the quarrel against us, we should be little likely to consider these expedients with complacency. -- The idea of making an example of an offending nation is reserved for that God whom the church, as by law established, instructs us to adore.

Indemnification is another object of war which the same mode of reasoning will not fail to condemn. The true culprits can never be discovered, and the attempt would only serve to confound the innocent and the guilty: not to mention that, nations having no common umpire, the reverting, in the conclusion of every war, to the justice of the original quarrel, and the indemnification to which the parties were entitled, would be a means of rendering the controversy endless. The question respecting the justifiable objects of war would be liable to few difficulties if we laid it down as a maxim that, as often as the principle or object of a war already in existence was changed, it was to be considered as equivalent to the commencement of a new war. This maxim, impartially applied, would not fail to condemn objects of prevention, indemnification and restraint.

The celebrated topic of the balance of power is a mixed consideration, having sometimes been proposed as the cause for beginning a war, and sometimes as an object to be pursued in a war already begun. A war undertaken to maintain the balance of power may be either of defence, as to protect a people who are oppressed, or of prevention, to counteract new acquisitions, or to reduce the magnitude of old possessions. We shall be in little danger of error however if we pronounce wars undertaken to maintain the balance of power to be universally unjust. If any people be oppressed, it is our duty, as has been already said, as far as a favourable opportunity may invite us, to fly to their succour. But it would be well if, in such cases, we called our interference by the name which justice prescribes, and fought against the oppression, and not the power. All hostilities against a neighbouring people, because they are powerful, or because we impute to them evil designs which they have not begun to carry in execution, are incompatible with every principle of morality. If one nation choose to be governed by the monarch, or an individual allied to the monarch, of another, as seems to have been the case in Spain, upon the extinction of the elder branch of the house of Austria, we may endeavour, as individuals, to enlighten them on the subject of government, and imbue them with principles of liberty; but it is an execrable piece of tyranny to tell them, 'You shall exchange the despot you love for the despot you hate, on account of certain remote consequences we apprehend from the accession of the former.' The presence of the balance of power has, in a multitude of instances, served as a veil to the intrigue of courts; but it would be easy to show that the present independence of the different states of Europe has, in no instance, been materially assisted by the wars undertaken for that purpose. The fascination of a people desiring to become the appendage of a splendid despotism will rarely occur; and, when it does, can justly be counteracted only by peaceable means. The succouring a people in their struggle against oppression must always be just, with this limitation, that to attempt it without an urgent need on their part may uselessly extend the calamities of war, and has a tendency to diminish those energies among themselves the exertion of which might contribute to their virtue and happiness. Add to this, that the object itself, the independence of the different states of Europe, is of an equivocal nature. The despotism which at present prevails in the majority of them is certainly not so excellent as to make us very anxious for its preservation. The press is an engine of so admirable a nature for the destruction of despotism as to elude the sagacity perhaps of the most vigilant police; and the internal checks upon freedom in a mighty empire and distant provinces can scarcely be expected to be equally active with those of a petty tyrant. The reasoning will surely be good with respect to war, which has already been employed upon the subject of government, that an instrument, evil in its own nature, ought never to be selected as the means of promoting our purpose, in any case in which selection can be practised.



Another topic respecting war, which it is of importance to consider in this place, relates to the mode of conducting it. Upon this article, our judgement will be greatly facilitated by a recollection of the principles already established, first, that no war is justifiable but a war purely defensive; and secondly, that a war already begun is liable to change its character in this respect, the moment the object pursued in it becomes in any degree varied. From these principles it follows as a direct corollary that it is never allowable to make an expedition into the provinces of the enemy, unless for the purpose of assisting its oppressed inhabitants. It is scarcely necessary to add that all false casuistry respecting the application of this exception would be particularly odious; and that it is better undisguisedly to avow the corrupt principles of policy by which we conduct ourselves than hypocritically to claim the praise of better principles, which we fail not to wrest to the justification of whatever we desire. The case of relieving the inhabitants of our enemy's territory, and their desire of obtaining relief, ought to be unequivocal; we shall be in great danger of misapprehension on the subject when the question comes under the form of immediate benefit to ourselves; and, above all, we must recollect that human blood is not to be shed upon a precarious experiment.

The occasional advantages of war that might be gained by offensive operations might be abundantly compensated by the character of magnanimous forbearance that a rigid adherence to defence would exhibit, and the effects that character would produce, both upon foreign nations, and upon our own people. Great unanimity at home can scarcely fail to be the effect of a direct and clear conformity to political justice. The enemy who penetrates into our country, wherever he meets a man will meet a foe. Every obstacle will oppose itself to his progress, while everything will be friendly and assisting to our own forces. He will scarcely be able to procure the slightest intelligence, or understand in any case his relative situation. The principles of defensive war are so simple as to procure an almost infallible success. Fortifications are a very equivocal species of protection, and will perhaps oftener be of advantage to the enemy, by being first taken, and then converted into magazines for his armies. A moving force on the contrary, if it only hovered about his march, and avoided general action, would always preserve the real superiority. The great engine of military success or miscarriage is the article of provisions; and the further the enemy advanced into our country, the more easy would it be to cut off his supply; at the same time that, so long as we avoided general action, any decisive success on his part would be impossible. These principles, if rigidly practiced, would soon be so well understood that the entering in a hostile manner the country of a neighbouring nation would come to be regarded as the infallible destruction of the invading army. Perhaps no people were ever conquered at their own doors, unless they were first betrayed, either by divisions among themselves, or by the abject degeneracy of their character. The more we come to understand of the nature of justice, the more it will show itself to be stronger than a host of foes. Men whose bosoms are truly pervaded with this principle cannot perhaps be other than invincible. Among the various examples of excellence, in almost every department, that ancient Greece has bequeathed us, the most conspicuous is her resistance with a handful of men against three millions of invaders.[1]

One branch of the art of war, as well as of every other human art, has hitherto consisted in deceit. If the principles of this work be built upon a sufficiently solid basis, the practice of deceit ought, in almost all instances, to be condemned, whether it proceed from false tenderness to our friends, or from a desire to hasten the downfall of injustice. Vice is neither the most allowable nor effectual weapon with which to contend against vice. Deceit is certainly not less deceit, whether the falsehood be formed into words, or be conveyed through the medium of fictitious appearances. A virtuous and upright nation would be scarcely more willing to mislead the enemy, by false intelligence, or treacherous ambuscade, than by the breach of their engagements, or by feigned demonstrations of friendship. There seems to be no essential difference between throwing open our arms to embrace them and advancing towards them with neutral colours, or covering ourselves with a defile or a wood. By the practice of surprise and deceit, we shall oftenest cut off their straggling parties, and shed most blood. By an open display of our force, we shall prevent detachments from being made, and intercept the possibility of supply, without unnecessary bloodshed; and there seems no reason to believe that our ultimate success will be less secure. Why should war be made the science of disingenuousness and mystery, when the plain dictates of good sense would answer all its legitimate purposes? The first principle of defence is firmness and vigilance. The second perhaps, which is not less immediately connected with the end to be attained, is frankness, and the open disclosure of our purpose, even to our enemies. What astonishment, admiration and terror might this conduct excite in those with whom we had to contend? What confidence and magnanimity would accompany it in our own bosoms? Why should not war, as a step towards its complete abolition, be brought to such perfection as that the purposes of the enemy might be baffled without firing a musket, or drawing a sword?

Another corollary, not less inevitable, from the principles which have been delivered is that the operations of war should be limited, as accurately as possible, to the generating no further evils than defence inevitably requires. Ferocity ought carefully to be banished from it. Calamity should, as entirely as possible, be prevented, to every individual who is not actually in arms, and whose fate has no immediate reference to the event of the war. This principle condemns the levying military contributions, and the capture of mercantile vessels. Each of these atrocities would be in another way precluded, by the doctrine of simple defence. We should scarcely think of levying such contributions if we never attempted to pass the limits of our own territory; and every species of naval war would probably be proscribed.

The utmost benevolence ought to be practiced towards our enemies. We should refrain from the unnecessary destruction of a single life, and afford every humane accommodation to the unfortunate. The bulk of those against whom we have to contend are, comparatively speaking, innocent of the projected injustice. Those by whom it has been most assiduously fostered are entitled to our kindness as men, and to our compassion as mistaken. It has already appeared that all the ends of punishment are foreign to the transactions of war. It has appeared that the genuine melioration of war, in consequence of which it may be expected absolutely to cease, is by gradually disarming it of its ferocity. The horrors of war have sometimes been attempted to be vindicated by a supposition that the more intolerable it was made, the more quickly would it cease to infest the world. But the direct contrary of this is the truth. Severities beget severities. It is a most mistaken way of teaching men to feel that they are brothers, by imbuing their minds with unrelenting hatred. The truly just man cannot feel animosity, and is therefore little likely to act as if he did.

Having examined the conduct of war as it respects our enemies, let us next consider it in relation to the various descriptions of persons by whom it is to be supported. We have seen how little a just and upright war stands in need of secrecy. The plans for conducting a campaign, instead of being, as artifice and ambition have hitherto made them, inextricably complicated, will probably be reduced to two or three variations, suited to the different circumstances, that can possibly occur in a war of simple defence. The better these plans are known to the enemy, the more advantageous will it be to the resisting party. Hence it follows that the principles of implicit faith and military obedience, as they are now understood, will be no longer necessary. Soldiers will cease to be machines. The circumstance that constitutes men machines, in this sense of the word, is not the uniformity of their motions, when they see the reasonableness of that uniformity: it is their performing any motion, or engaging in any action, the object and utility of which they do not clearly understand. It is true that, in every state of human society, there will be men of an intellectual capacity much superior to their neighbours. But defensive war, and every other species of operation, in which it will be necessary that many individuals should act in concert, will perhaps be found so simple in their operations as not to exceed the apprehension of the most common capacities. It is ardently to be desired that the time should arrive when no man should lend his assistance to any operation without, in some degree, exercising his judgement, respecting the honesty, and the expected event, of that operation.

The principles here delivered on the conduct of war lead the mind to a very interesting subject, that of foreign and distant territories. Whatever may be the value of these principles considered in themselves, they become altogether nugatory the moment the idea of foreign dependencies is admitted. But, in reality, what argument possessing the smallest degree of plausibility can be alleged in favour of that idea? The mode in which dependencies are acquired must be either conquest, cession or colonization. The first of these no true moralist or politician will attempt to defend. The second is to be considered as the same thing in substance as the first, but with less openness and ingenuity. Colonization, which is by much the most specious presence, is however no more than a presence. Are these provinces held in a state of dependence for our sake or for theirs? If for ours, we must recollect that this is still a usurpation, and that justice requires we should yield to others what we demand for ourselves, the privilege of being governed by the dictates of their own reason. If for theirs, they must be told that it is the business of associations of men to defend themselves, or, if that be impracticable, to look for support to a confederation with their neighbours. They must be told that defence against foreign enemies is a very inferior consideration, and that no people were ever either wise or happy who were not left to the fair development of their inherent powers. Can anything be more absurd than for the West India islands, for example, to be defended by fleets and armies to be transported across the Atlantic? The support of a mother country extended to her colonies is much oftener a means of involving them in danger than of contributing to their security. The connection is maintained by vanity on one side and prejudice on the other. If they must sink into a degrading state of dependence, how will they be the worse in belonging to one state rather than another? Perhaps the first step towards putting a stop to this fruitful source of war would be to annihilate that monopoly of trade which enlightened reasoners at present agree to condemn, and to throw open the ports of our colonies to all the world. The principle which will not fail to lead us right upon this subject of foreign dependencies, as well as upon a thousand others, is the principle delivered in entering upon the topic of war, that that attribute, however splendid, is not really beneficial to a nation that is not beneficial to the great mass of individuals of which the nation consists.


[1]. These chapters were written during the month of September 1792, before the intelligence of Dumouriez's success, and while the heart of every lover of liberty ached for the event of the campaign.



The last topic which it may be necessary to examine, as to the subject of war, is the conduct it becomes us to observe respecting it, in a time of peace. This article may be distributed into two heads, military establishments, and treaties of alliance.

If military establishments in time of peace be judged proper, their purpose may be effected either by consigning the practice of military discipline to a certain part of the community, or by making every man, whose age is suitable for that purpose, a soldier.

The preferableness of the latter of these methods to the former is obvious. The man that is merely a soldier must always be uncommonly depraved. War, in his case, inevitably degenerates from the necessary precautions of a personal defence into a trade, by which a man sells his skill in murder, and the safety of his existence, for a pecuniary recompense. The man that is merely a soldier ceases to be, in the same sense as his neighbours, a citizen. He is cut off from the rest of the community, and has sentiments and a rule of judgement peculiar to himself. He considers his countrymen as indebted to him for their security; and, by an unavoidable transition of reasoning, believes that, in a double sense, they are at his mercy. On the other hand, that every citizen should exercise in his turn the functions of a soldier seems peculiarly favourable to that confidence in himself, and in the resources of his country, which it is so desirable he should entertain. It is congenial to that equality which must operate to a considerable extent before mankind in general can be either virtuous or wise. And it seems to multiply the powers of defence in a country, so as to render the idea of its falling under the yoke of an enemy in the utmost degree improbable.

There are reasons however that will oblige us to doubt respecting the propriety of cultivating, under any form, the system of military discipline in time of peace. It is, in this respect, with nations as it is with individuals. The man that, with a pistol-bullet, is sure of his mark, or that excels his contemporaries in the exercise of the sword, can scarcely escape those obliquities of understanding which accomplishments of this sort are adapted to nourish. It is not to be expected that he should entertain all that confidence in justice, and distaste of violence, which reason prescribes. It is beyond all controversy that war, though the practice of it, under the present state of the human species, should be found, in some instances, unavoidable, is a proceeding pregnant with calamity and vice. It cannot be a matter of indifference for the human mind to be systematically familiarized to thoughts of murder and desolation. The pupil of nature would not fail, at the sight of a musket or a sword, to be impressed with sentiments of abhorrence. Why expel these sentiments? Why connect the discipline of death with ideas of festivity and splendour; which will inevitably happen if the citizens, without oppression, are accustomed to be drawn out to encampments and reviews? Is it possible that he who has not learned to murder his neighbour with a grace is imperfect in the trade of man?

If it be replied 'that the generating of error is not inseparable from military discipline, and that men may at some time be sufficiently guarded against the abuse, even while they are taught the use of arms'; it will be found upon reflection that this argument is of little weight. If error be not unalterably connected with the science of arms, it will for a long time remain so. When men are sufficiently improved to be able to handle, familiarly, and with application of mind, the instruments of death, without injury to their dispositions, they will also be sufficiently improved to be able to master any study with much greater facility than at present, and consequently the cultivation of the art military in time of peace will have still fewer inducements to recommend it to our choice to apply these considerations to the present situation of mankind.

We have already seen that the system of a standing army is altogether indefensible, and that a universal militia is a more formidable defence, as well as more agreeable to the principles of justice and political happiness. It remains to be seen what would be the real situation of a nation, surrounded by other nations, in the midst of which standing armies were maintained, that should nevertheless, upon principle, wholly neglect the art military in seasons of peace. In such a nation it will probably be admitted that, so far as relates to mere numbers, an army may be raised upon the spur of occasion nearly as soon as in a nation the citizens of which had been taught to be soldiers. But this army, though numerous, would be in want of many of those principles of combination and activity which are of material importance in a day of battle. There is indeed included in the supposition that the internal state of this people is more equal and free than that of the people by whom they are invaded. This will infallibly be the case in a comparison between a people with a standing army and a people without one; between a people who can be brought blindly and wickedly to the invasion of their peaceful neighbours, and a people who will not be induced to fight but in their own defence. The latter therefore will be obliged to compare the state of society and government, in their own country, and among their neighbours, and will not fail to be impressed with great ardour in defence of the inestimable superiority they possess. Ardour, even in the day of battle, might prove sufficient. A body of men, however undisciplined, whom nothing could induce to quit the field would infallibly be victorious over their veteran adversaries who, under the circumstances of the case, could have no accurate conception of the object for which they were fighting, and therefore could not entertain an inextinguishable love for it. It is not certain that activity and discipline, opposed to ardour, have even a tendency to turn the balance of slaughter against the party that wants them. Their great advantage consists in their power over the imagination to astonish, to terrify and confound. An intrepid courage in the party thus assailed would soon convert them from sources of despair into objects of contempt.

But it would be extremely unwise in us to have no other resource but in the chance of this intrepidity. A resource much surer, and more agreeable to justice, is in recollecting that the war of which we treat is a war of defence. Battle is not the object of such a war. An army which, like that of Fabius, by keeping on the hills, or by whatever other means, rendered it impracticable for the enemy to force them to an engagement might look with indifference upon his impotent efforts to enslave the country. One advantage included in such a system of war is that, as its very essence is protraction, the defending army might, in a short time, be rendered as skilful as the assailants. Discipline, like every other art, has been represented, by vain and interested men, as surrounded with imaginary difficulties, but is, in reality exceedingly simple; and would be learned much more effectually in the scene of a real war than in the puppet-show exhibitions of a period of peace.

It is desirable indeed that we should have a commander of considerable skill, or rather of considerable wisdom, to reduce this patient and indefatigable system into practice. This is of greater importance than the mere discipline of the ranks. But the nature of military wisdom has been greatly misrepresented. Experience in this, as well as in other arts, has been unreasonably magnified, and the general power of a cultivated mind been thrown into shade. It will probably be no long time before this quackery of professional men will be thoroughly exploded. How often do we meet with those whom experience finds incorrigible; while it is recorded of one of the greatest generals of antiquity that he set out for his appointment wholly unacquainted with his art, and was indebted for that skill, which broke out immediately upon his arrival, to the assiduity of his enquiries, and a careful examination of those writers by whom the art had most successfully been illustrated?[1] In all events it will be admitted that the maintenance of a standing army, or the perpetual discipline of a nation, is a very dear price to pay for the purchase of a general, as well as that the purchase would be extremely precarious if we were even persuaded to consent to the condition. It may perhaps be true, though this is not altogether clear, that a nation by whom military discipline was wholly neglected would be exposed to some disadvantage. In that case, it becomes us to weigh the neglect and cultivation together, and to cast the balance on the side to which, upon mature examination, it shall appear to belong.

A second article which belongs to the military system in a season of peace is that of treaties of alliance. This subject may easily be dispatched. Treaties of alliance, if we examine and weigh the history of mankind, will perhaps be found to have been, in all cases, nugatory, or worse. Governments, and public men, will not, and ought not, to hold themselves bound to the injury of the concerns they conduct, because a parchment, to which they or their predecessors were a party, requires it. If the concert demanded in time of need approve itself to their judgement, and correspond with their inclination, it will be yielded, though they are under no previous engagement for that purpose. Treaties of alliance serve to no other end than to exhibit, by their violation, an appearance of profligacy and vice, which unfortunately becomes too often a powerful encouragement to the inconsistency of individuals. Add to this, that if alliances were engines as powerful as they are really important, they could seldom be of use to a nation uniformly adhering to the principles of justice. They would be useless, because they are, in reality, ill calculated for any other purposes than those of ambition. They might be pernicious, because it would be beneficial for nations, as it is for individuals, to look for resources at home, instead of depending upon the precarious compassion of their neighbours.

It would be unjust to dismiss the consideration of this most dreadful, yet perhaps, in the present state of things, sometimes unavoidable, calamity of war, without again reminding the reader of its true character. It is that state of things where a man stands prepared to deal slaughter and death to his fellow men. Let us image to ourselves a human being, surveying, as soon as his appetite for carnage is satiated, the scene of devastation he has produced. Let us view him surrounded with the dying and the dead, his arms bathed to the very elbow in their blood. Let us investigate along with him the features of the field, attempt to divide the wounded from the slain, observe their distorted countenances, their mutilated limbs, their convulsed and palpitating flesh. Let us observe the long drawn march of the hospital-waggons, every motion attended with pangs unutterable, and shrieks that rend the air. Let us enter the hospital itself, and note the desperate and dreadful cases that now call for the skill of the surgeon, even omitting those to which neither skill nor care is ever extended. Whence came all this misery? What manner of creature shall we now adjudge the warrior to be? What had these men done to him? Alas! he knew them not; they had never offended; he smote them to the death, unprovoked by momentary anger, coldly deliberating on faults of which they were guiltless, and executing plans of wilful and meditated destruction. Is not this man a murderer? Yet such is the man who goes to battle, whatever be the cause that induces him. Who that reflects on these things does not feel himself prompted to say, 'Let who will engage in the business of war; never will I, on any pretence, lift up a word against my brother'?

We have entered, in these chapters, somewhat more at large into the subject of war than the question of democracy, might seem to require. So far as this is a digression, the importance of the topic may perhaps plead our excuse.


[1]. Ciceronis Luculluss, five Academicorum Liber Secundus. init.



Having thus endeavoured to reduce the question of war to its true principles, it is time that we should recur to the maxim delivered at our entrance upon this subject, that individuals are everything, and society, abstracted from the individuals of which it is composed, nothing. An immediate consequence of this maxim is that the internal affairs of the society are entitled to our principal attention, and the external are matters of inferior and subordinate consideration. The internal affairs are subjects of perpetual and hourly concern, the external are periodical and precarious only. That every man should be impressed with the consciousness of his independence, and rescued from the influence of extreme want and artificial desires, are purposes the most interesting that can suggest themselves to the human mind; but the life of man might pass in a state uncorrupted by ideal passions without its tranquillity being so much as once disturbed by foreign invasions. The influence that a certain number of millions' born under the same climate with ourselves, and known by the common appellation of English or French, shall possess over the administrative councils of their neighbour millions, is a circumstance of much too airy and distant consideration to deserve to be made a principal object in the institutions of any people. The best influence we can exert is that of a sage and upright example.

If therefore it should appear that of these two articles internal and external affairs, one must, in some degree, be sacrificed to the other, and that a democracy will, in certain respects, be less fitted for the affairs of war than some other species of government, good sense will not hesitate in the alternative. We shall have sufficient reason to be satisfied if, together with the benefits of justice and virtue at home, we have no reason to despair of our safety from abroad. A confidence in this article will seldom deceive us if our countrymen, however little trained to formal rules, and the uniformity of mechanism, have studied the profession of man, understand his attributes and his nature, and have their necks unbroken to the yoke of blind credulity and abject submission. Such men, inured, as we are now supposing them, to a rational state of society, will be full of calm confidence and penetrating activity, and these qualities will stand them in stead of a thousand lessons in the school of military mechanism. if democracy can be proved adequate to wars of defence, and other governments be better fitted for wars of a different sort, this would be an argument, not of its imperfection, but its merit.

It has been one of the objections to the ability of a democracy in war 'that it cannot keep secrets. The legislative assembly, whether it possess the initiative, or a power of control only, in executive affairs, will be perpetually calling for papers, plans and information, cross-examining ministers, and sifting the policy and justice of public undertakings. How shall we be able to cope with an enemy, if he know precisely the points we mean to attack, the state of our fortifications, and the strength and weakness of our armies? How shall we manage our treaties with skill and address, if he be precisely informed of our sentiments, and have access to the instructions of our ambassadors?'

It happens in this instance that that which the objection attacks as the vice of democracy is one of its most essential excellencies. The trick of a mysterious carriage is the prolific parent of every vice; and it is an eminent advantage incident to democracy that, though the proclivity of the human mind has hitherto reconciled this species of administration, in some degree, to the keeping of secrets, its inherent tendency is to annihilate them. Why should disingenuity and concealment be thought virtuous or beneficial on the part of nations in cases where they would inevitably be discarded with contempt by an upright individual? Where is there an ingenuous and enlightened man who is not aware of the superior advantage that belongs to a proceeding, frank, explicit and direct? Who is there that sees not that this inextricable labyrinth of reasons of state was artfully invented, lest the people should understand their own affairs, and, understanding, become inclined to conduct them? With respect to treaties, it is to be suspected that they are, in all instances, superfluous. But, if public engagements ought to be entered into, what essential difference is there between the governments of two countries endeavouring to overreach each other, and the buyer and seller in any private transaction adopting a similar proceeding?

This whole system proceeds upon the idea of national grandeur and glory, as if, in reality, these words had any specific meaning. These contemptible objects, these airy names, have, from the earliest page of history, been made a colour for the most pernicious undertakings. Let us take a specimen of their value from the most innocent and laudable pursuits. If I aspire to be a great poet or a great historian, so far as I am influenced by the dictates of reason, it is that I may be useful to mankind, and not that I may do honour to my country. Is Newton the better because he was an Englishman; or Galileo the worse because he was an Italian? Who can endure to put this high-sounding nonsense in the balance against the best interests of mankind, which will always suffer a mortal wound when dexterity, artifice and concealment are made the topics of admiration and applause? The understanding and the virtues of mankind will always keep pace with the manly simplicity of their designs, and the undisguised integrity of their hearts.

It has further been objected to a democratical state, in its transactions with foreign powers, 'that it is incapable of those rapid and decisive proceedings which, in some situations, have so eminent a tendency to ensure success'. If by this objection it be understood that a. democratical state is ill fitted for dexterity and surprise, the rapidity of an assassin, it has already received a sufficient answer. If it be meant that the regularity of its proceedings may ill accord with the impatience of a neighbouring despot, and, like the Jews of old, we desire a king 'that we may be like the other nations', this is a very unreasonable requisition. A just and impartial enquirer will be little desirous to see his country placed high in the diplomatical roll, deeply involved in the intrigues of nations, and assiduously courted by foreign princes, as the instrument of their purposes. A more groundless and absurd passion cannot seize upon any people than that of glory, the preferring their influence in the affairs of the globe to their internal happiness and virtue; for these objects will perpetually counteract and clash with each other.

But democracy is by no means necessarily of a phlegmatic character, or obliged to take every proposition that is made to it, ad referendum, for the consideration of certain primary assemblies, like the states of Holland. The first principle in the institution of government itself is the necessity, under the present imperfections of mankind, of having some man, or body of men, to act on the part of the whole. Wherever government subsists, the authority of the individual must be, in some degree, superseded. It does not therefore seem unreasonable for a representative national assembly to exercise, in certain cases, a discretionary power. Those privileges which are vested in individuals selected out of the mass by the voice of their fellows, and who will speedily return to a private station, are by no means liable to the same objections as the executive and unsympathetic privileges of an aristocracy. Representation, together with many disadvantages, has this benefit, that it is able, impartially, and with discernment, to call upon the most enlightened part of the nation to deliberate for the whole, and may thus generate a degree of wisdom, and a refined penetration of sentiment, which it would have been unreasonable to expect as the result of primary assemblies.

A third objection more frequently offered against democratical government is 'that it is incapable of that mature and deliberate proceeding, which is alone suitable to the decision of such important concerns. Multitudes of men have appeared subject to fits of occasional insanity: they act from the influence of rage, suspicion and despair: they are liable to be hurried into the most unjustifiable extremes, by the artful practices of an impostor.' One of the most obvious answers to this objection is that for all men to share the privileges of all is the law of our nature, and the dictate of justice. The case, in this instance, is parallel to that of an individual in his private concerns. It is true that, while each man is master of his own affairs, he is liable to the starts of passion. He is attacked by the allurements of temptation and the tempest of rage, and may be guilty of fatal error, before reflection and judgment come forward to his aid. But this is no sufficient reason for depriving men of the direction of their own concerns. We should endeavour to make them wise, not to make them slaves. The depriving men of their self government is, in the first place, unjust, while, in the second, this self-government, imperfect as it is, will be found more salutary than anything that can be substituted in its place. -- Another answer to this objection will occur in the concluding chapters of the present book.



One of the articles which has been most eagerly insisted on, by the advocates of complexity in political institutions, is that of "checks, by which a rash proceeding may be prevented, and the provisions under which mankind have hitherto lived with tranquillity, may not be reversed without mature deliberation." We will suppose that the evils of monarchy and aristocracy are, by this time, too notorious to incline the speculative enquirer to seek for a remedy, in either of these. 'Yet it is possible, without the institution of privileged orders, to find means that may answer a similar purpose in this respect. The representatives of the people may be distributed, for example, into two assemblies; they may be chosen with this particular view, to constitute an upper and a lower house, and may be distinguished from each other either by various qualifications of age or fortune, or by being chosen by a greater or smaller number of electors, or for a shorter or longer term.'

To every inconvenience that experience can produce, or imagination suggest, there is probably an appropriate remedy. This remedy may either he sought in a more strict prosecution of the principles of reason and justice, or in artificial combinations encroaching upon those principles. Which are we to prefer? No doubt, the institution of two houses of assembly is contrary to the primary dictates of reason and justice. How shall a nation be governed? Agreeably to the opinions of its inhabitants, or in opposition to them? Agreeably to them undoubtedly. Not, as we cannot too often repeat, because their opinion is a standard of truth, but because, however erroneous that opinion may be, we can do no better. There is no effectual way of improving the institutions of any people, but by enlightening their understandings. He that endeavours to maintain the authority of any sentiment, not by argument, but by force, may intend a benefit, but really inflicts an extreme injury. To suppose that truth can be instilled through any medium but that of its intrinsic evidence is a flagrant and pernicious error. He that believes the most fundamental proposition through the influence of authority does not believe a truth, but a falsehood. The proposition itself he does not understand, for thoroughly to understand it is to perceive the degree of evidence with which it is accompanied; is to know the full meaning of its terms, and, by necessary consequence, to perceive in what respects they agree or disagree with each other. All that he believes is that it is very proper he should submit to usurpation and injustice.

It was imputed to the late government of France that, when they called an assembly of notables in 1787, they contrived, by dividing the assembly into seven distinct corps, and not allowing them to vote otherwise than in these corps, that the vote of fifty persons should be capable of operating, as if they were a majority, in an assembly of one hundred and forty-four. It would have been still worse if it had been ordained that no measure should be considered as the measure of the assembly, unless it were adopted by the unanimous voice of all the corps: eleven persons might then, in voting a negative, have operated as a majority of one hundred and forty four. This may serve as a specimen of the effects of distributing a representative national assembly into two or more houses. Nor should we suffer ourselves to be deceived under the pretence of the innocence of a negative in comparison with an affirmative. In a country in which universal justice was already established, there would be little need of a representative assembly. In a country into whose institutions error has insinuated itself, a negative upon the repeal of those errors is the real affirmative.

The institution of two houses of assembly is the direct method to divide a nation against itself. One of these houses will, in a greater or less degree, be the asylum of usurpation, monopoly and privilege. Parties would expire, as soon as they were born, in a country where opposition of sentiments, and a struggle of interests, were not allowed to assume the formalities of distinct institution.

Meanwhile, a species of, check perfectly simple, and which appears sufficiently adequate to the purpose, suggests itself in the idea of a slow and deliberate proceeding, which the representative assembly should prescribe to itself. Perhaps no proceeding of this assembly should have the force of a general regulation, till it had undergone five or six successive discussions in the assembly, or till the expiration of one month from the period of its being proposed. Something like this is the order of the English house of commons, nor does it appear to be, by any means, among the worst features of our constitution. A system like this would be sufficiently analogous to the proceedings of a wise individual, Who certainly would not wish to determine upon the most important concerns of his life without a severe examination; and still less would omit this examination if his decision were destined to be a rule for the conduct, and a criterion to determine upon the rectitude, of other men.

Perhaps, as we have said, this slow and gradual proceeding ought, in no instance, to be dispensed with, by the national representative assembly. This seems to he the true line of separation between the functions of the assembly as such and the executive power, whether we suppose the executive separate, or simply place it in a committee of the representative body. A plan of this sort would produce a character of gravity and good sense, eminently calculated to fix the confidence of the citizens. The mere votes of the assembly, as distinguished from its acts and decrees, might serve as an encouragement to the public functionaries, and as affording a basis of expectation, respecting the speedy cure of those evils of which the public might complain; but they should never be allowed to be pleaded as the complete justification of any action. A precaution like this would not only tend to prevent the fatal consequences of any precipitate judgment of the assembly within itself, but of tumult and disorder from without. An artful demagogue would find it more easy to work up the people into a fit of momentary insanity than to retain them in it for a month, in opposition to the efforts of their real friends to undeceive them. Meanwhile, the consent of the assembly to take their demand into consideration might reasonably be expected to moderate their impatience.

Scarcely any plausible argument can be adduced in favour of what has been denominated by political writers a division of powers. Nothing can seem less reasonable than to prescribe any positive limits to the topics of deliberation in an assembly adequately representing the people; or peremptorily to forbid them the exercise of functions the depositories of which are placed under their inspection and censure. Perhaps, upon any emergence, totally unforeseen at the time of their election, and uncommonly important, they would prove their wisdom by calling upon the people to elect a new assembly, with a direct view to that emergence. But the emergence, as we shall have occasion more fully to observe in the sequel, cannot with any propriety be prejudged, and a rule laid down for their conduct, by a body prior to, or distinct from, themselves. The distinction of legislative and executive powers, however intelligible in theory, will by no means authorize their separation in practice.

Legislation, that is, the authoritative enunciation of abstract or general propositions, is a function of equivocal nature and will never be exercised in a pure state of society, or a state approaching to purity, but with great caution and unwillingness. It is the most absolute of the functions of government, and government itself is a remedy that inevitably brings its own evils along with it. Administration, on the other hand, is a principle of perpetual application. So long as men shall see reason to act in a corporate capacity, they will always have occasions of temporary emergency for which to provide. In proportion as they advance in social improvement, executive power will, comparatively speaking, become everything, and legislative nothing. Even at present, can there be any articles of greater importance than those of peace and war, taxation and the selection of proper periods for the meeting of deliberative assemblies, which, as was observed in the commencement of the present book, are articles of temporary regulation?[1] Is it decent, can it be just, that these prerogatives should be exercised by any power less than the supreme, or be decided by any authority but that which most adequately represents the voice of the nation? This principle ought, beyond question, to be extended universally. There can be no just reason for excluding the national representative from the exercise of any function, the exercise of which, on the part of the society, is, in any case, necessary.

The functions therefore of ministers and magistrates, commonly so called, do not relate to any particular topic respecting which they have a right exclusive of the representative assembly. They do not relate to any supposed necessity for secrecy; for secrecy, in political affairs, as we have had occasion to perceive,[2] is rarely salutary or wise; and secrets of state will commonly he found to consist of that species of information relative to the interests of a society, respecting which the chief anxiety of its depositaries is that it should be concealed from the members of that society. It is the duty of the assembly to desire information without reserve, for themselves and the public, upon every subject of general importance; and it is the duty of ministers and others to communicate such information, though it should not be expressly desired. The utility therefore of ministerial functions being, in a majority of instances, less than nothing in these respects, there are only two classes of utility that remain to them; particular functions, such as those of financial detail or minute superintendence, which cannot be exercised unless by one or a small number of persons;[3] and measures proportioned to the demand of those necessities which will not admit of delay, and subject to the revision and censure of the deliberative assembly. The latter of these classes will perpetually diminish as men advance in improvement; nor can anything politically be of greater importance than the reduction of that discretionary power in an individual which may greatly affect the interests, or fetter the deliberations of the many.


[1]. Chap. I.

[2]. Chap. XVIII; Chap. XX.

[3]. Chap. I.



Thus we have endeavoured to unfold and establish certain general principles upon the subject of legislative and executive power. But there is one interesting topic that remains to be discussed. How much of either of these powers does the public benefit require us to maintain?

We have already seen[1] that the only legitimate object of political institution is the advantage of individuals. All that cannot be brought home to them, national wealth, prosperity and glory, can be advantageous only to those self-interested impostors who, from the earliest accounts of time, have confounded the understandings of mankind, the more securely to sink them in debasement and misery.

The desire to gain a more extensive territory, to conquer or to hold in awe our neighbouring states, to surpass them in arts or arms, is a desire sounded in prejudice and error. Usurped authority is a spurious and unsubstantial medium of happiness. Security and peace are more to be desired than a national splendour that should terrify the world. Mankind are brethren. We associate in a particular district or under a particular climate, because association is necessary to our internal tranquillity, or to defend us against the wanton attacks of a common enemy. But the rivalship of nations is a creature of the imagination. If riches be our object, riches can only be created by commerce; and the greater is our neighbour's capacity to buy, the greater will be our opportunity to sell. The prosperity of all is the interest of all.

The more accurately we understand our own advantage, the less shall we be disposed to disturb the peace of our neighbour. The same principle is applicable to him in return. It becomes us therefore to desire that he may be wise. But wisdom is the growth of equality and independence, not of injury and oppression. If oppression had been the school of wisdom, the improvement of mankind would have been inestimable, for they have been in that school for many thousand years. We ought therefore to desire that our neighbour should be independent. We ought to desire that he should be free; for wars do not originate in the unbiased propensities of nations, but in the cabals of government and the propensities that governments inspire into the people at large.[2] If our neighbour invade our territory, all we should desire is to repel him from it,[3] and, for that purpose, it is not necessary we should surpass him in prowess, since upon our own ground his match is unequal.[4] Not to say that to conceive a nation attacked by another, so long as its own conduct is sober, equitable and moderate, is an exceedingly improbable suppositions.[5]

Where nations are not brought into avowed hostility, all jealousy between them is an unintelligible chimera. I reside upon a certain spot because that residence is most conducive to my happiness or usefulness. I am interested in the political justice and virtue of my species because they are men, that is, creatures eminently capable of justice and virtue; and I have perhaps additional reason to interest myself for those who live under the same government as myself because I am better qualified to understand their claims, and more capable of exerting myself in their behalf. But I can certainly have no interest in the infliction of pain upon others, unless so far as they are expressly engaged in acts of injustice. The object of sound policy and morality is to draw men nearer to each other, not to separate them; to unite their interests, not to oppose them.

Individuals ought, no doubt, to cultivate a more frequent and confidential intercourse with each other than at present subsists; but political societies of men, as such, have no interests to explain and adjust, except so far as error and violence may tender explanation necessary. This consideration annihilates, at once, the principal objects of that mysterious and crooked policy which has hitherto occupied the attention of governments. Before this principle, officers of the army and the navy, ambassadors and negotiators, all the train of artifices that has been invented to hold other nations at bay, to penetrate their secrets, to traverse their machinations, to form alliances and counter-alliances, sink into nothing. The expense of government is annihilated, and, together with its expense, the means of subduing and undermining the virtues of its subjects.[6]

Another of the great opprobriums of political science is, at the same time, completely removed, that extent of territory, subject to one head, respecting which philosophers and moralists have alternately disputed whether it be most unfit for a monarchy, or for a democratical government. The appearance which mankind, in a future state of improvement, may be expected to assume is a policy that, in different countries, will wear a similar form, because we have all the same faculties and the same wants but a policy the independent branches of which will extend their authority over a small territory, because neighbours are best informed of each others concerns, and are perfectly equal to their adjustment. No recommendation can be imagined of an extensive rather than a limited territory, except that of external security.

Whatever evils are included in the abstract idea of government, they are all of them extremely aggravated by the extensiveness of its jurisdiction, and softened under circumstances of an opposite nature. Ambition, which may be no less formidable than a pestilence in the former, has no room to unfold itself in the latter. Popular commotion is like the waters of the earth, capable where the surface is large, of producing the most tragical effects, but mild and innocuous when confined within the circuit of a humble lake. Sobriety and equity are the obvious characteristics of a limited circle.

It may indeed be objected 'that great talents are the offspring of great passions, and that, in the quiet mediocrity of a petty republic, the powers of intellect may be expected to subside into inactivity'. This objection, if true, would be entitled to the most serious consideration. But it is to be considered that, upon the hypothesis here advanced, the whole human species would constitute, in some sense, one great republic, and the prospects of him who desired to act beneficially upon a great surface of mind would become more animating than ever. During the period in which this state was growing, but not yet complete, the comparison of the blessings we enjoyed with the iniquities practising among our neighbours would afford an additional stimulus to exertion.[7]

Ambition and tumult are evils that arise out of government, in an indirect manner, in consequence of the habits, which government introduces, of concert and combination extending themselves over multitudes of men. There are other evils inseparable from its existence. The object of government is the suppression of such violence, as well external as internal, as might destroy, or bring into jeopardy, the well being of the community or its members; and the means it employs are constraint and violence of a more regulated kind. For this purpose the concentration of individual forces becomes necessary, and the method in which this concentration is usually obtained is also constraint. The evils of constraint have been considered on a former occasion.[8]) Constraint employed against delinquents, or persons to whom delinquency is imputed, is by no means without its mischiefs. Constraint employed by the majority of a society against the minority, who may differ from them upon some question of public good, is calculated, at first sight at least, to excite a still greater disapprobation.

Both these exertions may indeed appear to rest upon the same principle. Vice is unquestionably no more, in the first instance,than error of judgement, and nothing can justify an attempt to correct it by force, but the extreme necessity of the case.[9] The minority, if erroneous, fall under precisely the same general description, though their error may not be of equal magnitude. But the necessity of the case can seldom be equally impressive. If the idea of secession, for example, were somewhat more familiarized to the conceptions of mankind, it could seldom happen that the secession of the minority from difference of opinion could in any degree compare, in mischievous tendency, with the hostility of a criminal offending against the most obvious principles of social justice. The cases are parallel to those of offensive and defensive war. In putting constraint upon a minority, we yield to a suspicious temper that tells us the opposing party may hereafter, in some way, injure us, and we will anticipate his injury. In putting constraint upon a criminal, we seem to repel an enemy who has entered our territory, and refuses to quit it.

Government can have no more than two legitimate purposes, the suppression of injustice against individuals within the community, and the common defence against external invasion. The first of these purposes, which alone can have an uninterrupted claim upon us, is sufficiently answered by an association, of such an extent, as to afford room for the institution of a jury to decide upon the offences of individuals within the community, and upon the questions and controversies respecting property which may chance to arise. It might be easy indeed for an offender to escape from the limits of so petty a jurisdiction; and it might seem necessary, at first, that the neighbouring parishes,[10] or jurisdictions, should be governed in a similar manner, or at least should be willing, whatever was their form of government, to co-operate with us in the removal or reformation of an offender whose present habits were alike injurious to us and to them. But there will be no need of any express compact, and still less of any common centre of authority, for this purpose. General justice, and mutual interest, are found more capable of binding men than signatures and seals. In the meantime, all necessity for causing the punishment of the crime, to pursue the criminal would soon, at least, cease, if it ever existed. The motives to offence would become rare: its aggravations few: and rigour superfluous. The principal object of punishment is restraint upon a dangerous member of the community; and the end of this restraint would be answered by the general inspection that is exercised by the members of a limited circle over the conduct of each other, and by the gravity and good sense that would characterize the censures of men, from whom all mystery and empiricism were banished. No individual would be hardy enough in the cause of vice to defy the general consent of sober judgement that would surround him. It would carry despair to his mind, or, which is better, it would carry conviction. He would be obliged, by a force not less irresistible than whips and chains, to reform his conduct.

In this sketch is contained the rude outline of political government. Controversies between parish and parish would be, in an eminent degree, unreasonable, since, if any question arose, about limits, for example, the obvious principles of convenience could scarcely fail to teach us to what district any portion of land should belong. No association of men, so long as they adhered to the principles of reason, could possibly have an interest in extending their territory. If we would produce attachment in our associates, we can adopt no surer method than that of practising the dictates,of equity and moderation; and, if this failed in any instance, it could only fail with him who, to whatever society he belonged, would prove an unworthy member. The duty of any society to punish offenders is not dependent upon the hypothetical consent of the offender to be punished, but upon the duty of necessary defence.

But however irrational might be the controversy of parish with parish in such a state of society, it would not be the less possible. For such extraordinary emergencies therefore, provision ought to be made. These emergencies are similar in their nature to those of foreign invasion. They can only be provided against by the concert of several district declaring and, if needful, enforcing the dictates of justice.

One of the most obvious remarks that suggests itself, upon these two cases, of hostility between district and district, and of foreign invasion which the interest of all calls upon them jointly to repel, is that it is their nature to be only of occasional recurrence, and that therefore the provisions to be made respecting them need not be, in the strictest sense, of perpetual operation. In other words, the permanence of a national assembly, as it has hitherto been practised in France, cannot be necessary in a period of tranquillity, and may perhaps be pernicious. That we may form a more accurate judgement of this, let us recollect some of the principal features that enter into the constitution of a national assembly.


 [1]. Chap. XVI, p. 508; Chap.XX, p. 531.

 [2]. Chap. XVI.

 [3]. Chap. XVII.

 [4]. Chap. XVIII.

 [5]. Chap. XVI.

 [6]. Hume's Essays, Part I, Essay V.

 [7]. This objection will be fully discussed in the eight book of the present work.

 [8]. Book II, Chap. VI.

 [9]. Book II, Chap. VI: Book IV, Chap. VIII.

[10]. The word parish is here used without regard to its origin, and merely in consideration of its being a word descriptive of a certain small portion of territory, whether in population or extent, which custom has rendered familiar to us.



In the first place, the existence of a national assembly introduces the evils of a fictitious unanimity. The public, guided by such an assembly, must act with concert, or the assembly is a nugatory excrescence. But it is impossible that this unanimity can really exist. The individuals who constitute a nation cannot take into consideration a variety of important questions without forming different sentiments respecting them. In reality, all questions that are brought before such an assembly are decided by a majority of votes, and the minority, after having exposed, with all the power of eloquence, and force of reasoning, of which they are capable, the injustice and folly of the measures adopted, are obliged, in a certain sense, to assist in carrying them into execution. Nothing can more directly contribute to the depravation of the human understanding and character. It inevitably renders mankind timid, dissembling and corrupt. He that is not accustomed exclusively to act upon the dictates of his own understanding must fall inexpressibly short of that energy and simplicity of which our nature is capable. He that contributes his personal exertions, or his property, to the support of a cause which he believes to be unjust will quickly lose that accurate discrimination, and nice sensibility of moral rectitude, which are the principal ornaments of reason.

Secondly, the existence of national councils produces a certain species of real unanimity, unnatural in its character, and pernicious in its effects. The genuine and wholesome state of mind is to be unloosed from shackles, and to expand every fibre of its frame, according to the independent and individual impressions of truth upon that mind. How great would be the progress of intellectual improvement if men were unfettered by the prejudices of education, unseduced by the influence of a corrupt state of society, and accustomed to yield without fear, to the guidance of truth, however unexplored might be the regions, and unexpected the conclusions to which she conducted us? We cannot advance in the voyage of happiness unless we be wholly at large upon the stream that carry us thither: the anchor that we at first looked upon as the instrument of our safety will, at last, be found to be the means of detaining our progress. Unanimity of a certain sort is the result to which perfect freedom of enquiry is calculated to conduct us; and this unanimity would, in a state of perfect freedom, become hourly more conspicuous. But the unanimity that results from men's having a visible standard by which to adjust their sentiments is deceitful and pernicious.

In numerous assemblies, a thousand motives influence our judgements, independently of reason and evidence. Every man looks forward to the effects which the opinions he avows will produce on his success. Every man connects himself with some sect or party. The activity of his thought is shackled, at every turn, by the fear that his associates may disclaim him. This effect is strikingly visible in the present state of the British parliament, where men, whose faculties are comprehensive almost beyond all former example, may probably be found influenced by these motives sincerely to espouse the grossest and most contemptible errors.

Thirdly, the debates of a national assembly are distorted from their reasonable tenour by the necessity of their being uniformly terminated by a vote. Debate and discussion are, in their own nature, highly conducive to intellectual improvement; but they lose this salutary character, the moment they are subjected to this unfortunate condition. What can be more unreasonable than to demand that argument, the usual quality of which is gradually and imperceptibly to enlighten the mind, should declare its effect in the close of a single conversation? No sooner does this circumstance occur than the whole scene changes its character. The orator no longer enquires after permanent conviction, but transitory effect. He seeks rather to take advantage of our prejudices than to enlighten our judgement. That which might otherwise have been a scene of patient and beneficent enquiry is changed into wrangling, tumult and precipitation.

Another circumstance that arises out of the decision by vote is the necessity of constructing a form of words that shall best meet the sentiments, and be adapted to the pre-conceived ideas, of a multitude of men. What can be conceived at once more ludicrous and disgraceful than the spectacle of a set of rational beings employed for hours together in weighing particles, and adjusting commas? Such is the scene that is incessantly witnessed in clubs and private societies. In parliaments, this sort of business is usually adjusted before the measure becomes a subject of public inspection. But it does not the less exist; and sometimes it occurs in the other mode, so that, when numerous amendments have been made to suit the corrupt interest of imperious pretenders, the Herculean task remains at last to reduce the chaos into a grammatical and intelligible form.

The whole is then wound up, with that flagrant insult upon all reason and justice, the deciding upon truth by the casting up of numbers. Thus everything that we have been accustomed to esteem most sacred is determined, at best, by the weakest heads in the assembly, but, as it not less frequently happens, through the influence of the most corrupt and dishonourable intentions.

In the last place, national assemblies will by no means be thought to deserve our direct approbation if we recollect, for a moment, the absurdity of that fiction by which society is considered, as it has been termed, as a moral individual. It is in vain that we endeavour to counteract the laws of nature and necessity. A multitude of men, after all our ingenuity, will still remain a multitude of men. Nothing can intellectually unite them, short of equal capacity and identical perception. So long as the varieties of mind shall remain, the f6rce of society can no otherwise be concentrated than by one man, for a shorter or a longer term, taking the lead of the rest, and employing their force, whether material, or dependent on the weight of their character, in a mechanical manner, just as he would employ the force of a tool or a machine. All government corresponds, in a certain degree, to what the Greeks denominated a tyranny. The difference is that, in despotic countries, mind is depressed by an uniform usurpation; while, in republics, it preserves a greater portion of its activity, and the usurpation more easily conforms itself to the fluctuations of opinion.

The pretence of collective wisdom is among the most palpable of all impostures. The acts of the society can never rise above the suggestions of this or that individual, who is a member of it. Let us enquire whether society, considered as an agent, can really become the equal of certain individuals, of whom it is composed. And here, without staying to examine what ground we have to expect that the wisest member of the society will actually take the lead in it, we find two obvious reasons to persuade us that, whatever be the degree of wisdom inherent in him that really superintends, the acts which he performs in the name of the society will be both less virtuous and less able than the acts he might be expected to perform in a simpler and more unencumbered situation. In the first place, there are few men who, with the consciousness of being able to cover their responsibility under the name of a society, will not venture upon measures less direct in their motives, or less justifiable in the experiment, than they would have chosen to adopt in their own persons. Secondly, men who act under the name of a society are deprived of that activity and energy which may belong to them in their individual character. They have a multitude of followers to draw after them, whose humours they must consult, and to whose slowness of apprehension they must accommodate themselves. It is for this reason that we frequently see men of the most elevated genius dwindle into vulgar leaders when they become involved in the busy scenes of public life.

From these reasonings we seem sufficiently authorized to conclude that national assemblies, or, in other words, assemblies instituted for the joint purpose of adjusting the differences between district and district, and of consulting respecting the best mode of repelling foreign invasion, however necessary to be had recourse to upon certain occasions, ought to be employed as sparingly as the nature of the case will admit. They should either never be elected but upon extraordinary emergencies, like the dictator of the ancient Romans, or else sit periodically, one day for example in a year, with a power of continuing their sessions within a certain limit, to hear the complaints and representations of their constituents. The former of these modes is greatly to be preferred. Several of the reasons already adduced are calculated to show that election itself is of a nature not to be employed but when the occasion demands it. There would probably be little difficulty in suggesting expedients, relative to the regular originating of national assemblies. It would be most suitable to past habits and experience that a general election should take place whenever a certain number of districts demanded it. it would be most agreeable to rigid simplicity and equity that an assembly of two or two hundred districts should take place, in exact proportion to the number of districts by whom that measure was desired.

It will scarcely be denied that the objections which have been most loudly reiterated against democracy become null in an application to the form of government which has now been delineated. Here we shall with difficulty find an opening for tumult, for the tyranny of a multitude drunk with unlimited power, for political ambition on the part of the few, or restless jealousy and precaution on the part of the many. Here the demagogue would discover no suitable occasion for rendering the multitude the blind instrument of his purposes. Men, in such a state of society, might be expected to understand their happiness, and to cherish it. The true reason why the mass of mankind has so often been made the dupe of knaves has been the mysterious and complicated nature of the social system. Once annihilate the quackery of government, and the most homebred understanding might be strong enough to detect the artifices of the state juggler that would mislead him.



It remains for us to consider what is the degree of authority necessary to be vested in such a modified species of national assembly as we have admitted into our system. Are they to issue their commands to the different members of the confederacy? Or is it sufficient that they should invite them to co-operate for the common advantage, and, by arguments and addresses, convince them of the reasonableness of the measures they propose? The former of these might at first be necessary. The latter would afterwards become sufficient.[1] The Amphictyonic council of Greece possessed no authority but that which flowed from its personal character. In proportion as the spirit of party was extirpated, as the restlessness of public commotion subsided, and as the political machine became simple, the voice of reason would be secure to be heard. An appeal, by the assembly, to the several districts would not fail to unite the approbation of reasonable men unless it contained in it something so evidently questionable as to make it perhaps desirable that it should prove abortive.

This remark leads us one step further. Why should not the same distinction between commands and invitations, which we have just made in the case of national assemblies, be applied to the particular assemblies or juries of the several districts? At first, we will suppose that some degree of authority and violence would be necessary. But this necessity does not appear to arise out of the nature of man, but out of the institutions by which he has been corrupted. Man is not originally vicious. He would not refuse to listen to, or to be convinced by, the expostulations that are addressed to him, had he not been accustomed to regard them as hypocritical, and to conceive that, while his neighbour, his parent, and his political governor pretended to be actuated by a pure regard to his interest or pleasure, they were, in reality, at the expense of his, promoting their own. Such are the fatal effects of mysteriousness and complexity. Simplify the social system in the manner which every motive but those of usurpation and ambition powerfully recommends; render the plain dictates of justice level to every capacity; remove the necessity of implicit faith; and we may expect the whole species to become reasonable and virtuous. It might then be sufficient for juries to recommend a certain mode of adjusting controversies, without assuming the prerogative of dictating that adjustment. It might then be sufficient for them to invite offenders to forsake their errors. If their expostulations proved, in a few instances, ineffectual, the evils arising out of this circumstance would be of less importance than those which proceed from the perpetual violation of the exercise of private judgement. But, in reality, no evils would arise: for, where the empire of reason was so universally acknowledged, the offender would either readily yield to the expostulations of authority; or, if he resisted, though suffering no personal molestation, he would feel so uneasy, under the unequivocal disapprobation, and observant eye, of public judgement, as willingly to remove to a society more congenial to his errors.

The reader has probably anticipated the ultimate conclusion from these remarks. If juries might at length cease to decide, and be contented to invite, if force might gradually be withdrawn and reason trusted alone, shall we not one day find that juries themselves and every other species of public institution may be laid aside as unnecessary? Will not the reasonings of one wise man be as effectual as those of twelve? Will not the competence of one individual to instruct his neighbours be a matter of sufficient notoriety, without the formality of an election? Will there be many vices to correct, and, much obstinacy to conquer? This is one of the most memorable stages of human improvement. With what delight must every well informed friend of mankind look forward to the auspicious period, the dissolution of political government, of that brute engine which has been the only perennial cause of the vices of mankind, and which, as has abundantly appeared in the progress of the present work, has mischiefs of various sorts incorporated with its substance, and no otherwise removable than by its utter annihilation!


[1]. Such is the idea of the author of Gulliver's Travels (Part IV), a man who appears to have had a more profound insight into the true principles of political justice than any preceding or contemporary author. It was unfortunate that a work of such inestimable wisdom failed at the period of its publication from the mere playfulness of its form, in communicating adequate instruction to mankind. Posterity only will be able to estimate it as it deserves.

 Writings of William Godwin

 Classical Liberals