ページの画像
PDF
ePub

government that may establish order and security, with as little sacrifice as possible of natural rights; - a government which may repress vice effectually, without impeding human improvement, or encroaching in any respect on human happiness. From this definition it appears, that the dangers to which any system of government is exposed are of three kinds : first, that it may provide no security against those who administer it assuming to themselves arbitrary power; secondly, that it may be so framed as to interfere unnecessarily and impertinently with natural rights; or, thirdly, that it may be so flimsy and weak in its texture, as not to be able to repress that vice and licentiousness against which it was originally instituted. The same barrier will provide against the two first dangers. All government is founded on the opinion of the governed; and if the laws give no support to a restriction on private judgment, and present no impediment to the communication of that judgment from one citizen to another, a national judgment, or public opinion, will, in every en: lightened country, be formed on the measures, as well as on the character, of the governors, which will operate with irresistible force. A security, therefore, against the unnecessary interference of government with private rights

will

prove a security against governors assuming arbitrary power, at least in an enlightened nation; and if there be no obstruction from government, all nations, in the present state of things, must become enlightened. Hence the jealousy with which wise men have always looked on any encroachments on the right of private judgment, and on the right of communicating this judgment, that is, the liberty of the press. Rara temporum felicitas (says Tacitus) ubi sentire quæ velis, et quæ sentias dicere licet.

But whilst we guard against the danger of conveying to government any power that is not necessary to the general good, we should not be inattentive to the opposite danger, that of withholding powers essential to it. If we fall into this extreme, the consequence must be, that vice and disorder will not be suppressed, that the good and virtuous will be exposed to the tyranny of the bold and the profligate; and, in one word, that a remedy will not be provided for the weakness and wickedness of man, the end and object of a scientific government. A government wanting in any one essential power is defective in all. It wants that solidity and regularity, which, by impressing reverence, procures obedience. The governed know its weakness, and, therefore, are wanton. The

governors

know its weakness, and, therefore, are jealous. The former push their freedom into licentious, ness; the latter, to repress that licentiousness, will aim at the suppression of the freedom from which it springs. Hence uproar, disorder, and misrule, tending directly to arbitrary power.

The politicians of America, in their struggle with England, had the former dangers in view; and, of course, seem fully on their guard against them. But this circumstance has, in reality, led them into the opposite danger, that of forming an inefficient government. To any person of reflection, the objections formed against the federal constitution, on account of the extent of its powers, must appear weak in the extreme. It is as clear as day, that its powers are too limited; and that nothing but a very high degree of reverence for the persons who may be called to administer it will enable it to go on at all. The objections urged against the powers it possesses are chiefly drawn from those made by the popular party in England against the influence of the crown. These were taken up, and enlarged on, by the politicians of America during their contest with this kingdom; and now they are transferred to the new federal government, without a proper allowance for the very great difference of circumstances. The

executive power in Britain is hereditary, is possessed of immense patronage, has the command of a standing army, has the power of increasing, to any extent, one branch of the legislature, and has a negative upon all the measures of both. It is, besides, supported by a slavish hierarchy, and by the habitual reverence which habit produces in the minds of the people towards long-established authority. On the other hand, the controul which will be possessed by your general government over your state governments, whatever it may be, is entirely dependent on the will of the people. Your president is elective, your senate and representatives are elective; and each individual exercising authority is not only immediately dependent on public opinion for the continuance of that authority, but is likewise personally amenable to legal punishment for any malversation in office. If to this the nature and extent of the country, the opposite interests and jealous observation of the state governments, and the state of society among you be added, there seems little less than an impossibility in the way of the general congress collectively, or the president individually, raising an arbitrary power on the ruins of general liberty.

It appears to me that the true security of liberty is not generally understood among you. In the frequent references made in your

debates to the history of the nation, it is universally taken for granted, that the House of Commons is the palladium on which British freedom depends. Nothing can be less true. The House of Commons is almost always divided between two popular demagogues, one of which must be the minister of the crown. But the party headed by the Crown are sometimes in a minority in the Commons, though on questions in which they have the national good decidedly in view. Such was the case, by the union of Mr. Fox and Lord North, in the year 1783 on the subject of the peace, when, by their victory over Lord Shelburne, they forced themselves into office. When there, they carried the India Bill, against the King, through the Commons, by a majority of two to one; which, had it not been thrown out by the Lords, would have overturned the whole system of our government. Fortunately for the people, our legislature consists of three distinct bodies, and the conspiracy of any one branch against the public good cannot be carried into effect without the co-operation of the other two. Fortunately also, the forms of our constitution oblige every measure to go through repeated inves

« 前へ次へ »