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A third Advantage peculiar to the English Govern
ment.-- The Business of proposing Laws, lodged in
the Hands of the People. A THIRD circumstance, which I propose to show to be peculiar to the English government, is the manner in which the respective offices of the three component parts of the legislature have been divided, and allotted to each of them.
In most of the ancient free states, the share of the people in the business of legislation was to approve or reject the propositions which were made to them, and to give the final sanction to the laws. The function of those persons (or in general those bodies), who were intrusted with the executive power, was, to prepare and frame the laws, and then to propose them to the people: and, in a word, they possessed that branch of the legislative power which may be called the initiative, that is, the prerogative of putting that power in action. *
* This power of previously considering and approving such laws as were afterwards to be propounded to the This initiative, or exclusive right of proposing in legislative assemblies, attributed to the magistrates, is indeed very useful, and perhaps even necessary, in states of a republican form, for giving a permanence to the laws, as well as for preventing the disorders and struggles for power which have been mentioned before; but, upon examination, we shall find that this expedient is attended with inconveniences of little less magnitude than the evils it is meant to remedy.
people, was, in the first times of the Roman republic, constantly exercised by the senate: laws were made, populi jussu, ex auctoritate senatûs. Even in cases of elections, the previous approbation and auctoritas of the senate, with regard to those persons who were offered to the suffrages of the people, were required. Tum enim non gerebat is magistratum qui ceperat, si patres auctores non erant facti. Cic. pro Plancio, 3.
At Venice the senate also exercises powers of the same kind, with regard to the grand council or assembly of the nobles. In the canton of Bern, all propositions must be discussed in the little council, which is composed of twenty-seven members, before they are laid before the council of the two hundred, in whom resides the sovereignty of the whole canton. And, in Geneva, the law is “ that nothing shall be treated in the general council or “ assembly of the citizens, which has not been previously “ treated and approved in the council of the two hundred: " and that nothing shall be treated in the two hundred “ which has not been previously treated and approved in “ the council of the twenty-five."
These magistrates, or bodies, at first indeed apply frequently to the legislature for a grant of such branches of power as they dare not of themselves assume, or for the removal of such obstacles to their growing authority as they do not yet think it safe for them peremptorily to set aside. But when their authority has at length gained a sufficient degree of extent and stability, as farther manifestations of the will of the legislature could then only create obstructions to the exercise of their power, they begin to consider the legislature as an enemy whom they must take great care never to rouse. They consequently convene the assembly of the people as seldom as they
When they do it, they carefully avoid proposing any thing favourable to public liberty. They soon even entirely cease to convene the assembly at all; and the people, after thus losing the power of legally asserting their rights, are exposed to that which is the highest degree of political ruin, the loss of even the remembrance of them, unless some indirect means are found, by which they may from time to time give life to their dormant privileges : means which may be
found, and succeed pretty well in small states, where provisions can more easily be made to answer their intended ends ; but, in states of considerable extent, have always been found, in the event, to give rise to disorders of the same kind with those which were at first in: tended to be prevented.
But as the capital principle of the English constitution totally differs from that which forms the basis of republican governments, só it is capable of procuring to the people advantages that are found to be unattainable in the latter. It is the people in England, or at least those who represent them, who possess the initiative in legislation, that is to say, who perform the office of framing laws, and proposing them.
And among the many circumstances in the English government, which would appeur entirely new to the politicians of antiquity, that of seeing the person intrusted with the executive power bear that share in legislation which they looked upon as being nécessarily the lot of the people, and the people enjoy that which they thought the indispensable office of its magistrates, would not certainly be the least occasion of their surprise.
I foresee that it will be objected, that, as the king of England has the power of dissolv
ing, and even of not calling parliaments, he is hereby possessed of a prerogative which, in fact, is the same with that which I have just now represented as being so dangerous.
To this I answer, that all circumstances ought to be combined. Doubtless, if the crown had been under no kind of dependence whatever on the people, it would long since have freed itself from the obligation of calling their representatives together; and the British parliament, like the national assemblies of several other kingdoms, would most likely have no existence now, except in history.
But, as we have above seen, the necessities of the state, and the wants of the sovereign himself, put him under a necessity of having frequent recourse to his parliament ; and then the difference may be seen between the prerogative of not calling an assembly, when powerful causes nevertheless render such a measure necessary, and the exclusive right, when an assembly is convened, of proposing laws to it.
In the latter case, though a prince, let us even suppose, in order to save appearances, might condescend to mention any thing besides his own wants, it would be at most to propose the giving up of some branch of his prerogative upon which he set no value, or to reform such abuses as his inclination does not