Images de page
PDF
ePub

many a man from among what they call the dregs of the people, often lies in the rough outside of the latter,-a disguise which

may fall off on the first opportunity: and more than once has it happened, that from the middle of a multitude, in appearance contemptible, a Viriatus has been suddenly seen to rise, or a Spartacus to burst forth.

Time and a more favourable situation, are therefore the only things wanting to the people; and the freedom of the press affords the remedy to these disadvantages. Through its assistance, every individual may, at his leisure and in retirement, inform himself of every thing that relates to the questions on which he is to take a resolution. Through its assistance, a whole nation, as it were, holds a council, and deliberates,--slowly indeed (for a nation cannot be informed like an assembly of judges), but after a regular manner, and with certainty. Through its assistance, all matters of fact are at length made clear : and, through the conflict of the different answers and replies, nothing at last remains but the sound part of the arguments.

*

* This right of publicly discussing political subjects is alone a great advantage to a people who enjoy it: and if the citizens of Geneva preserved their liberty better than

Hence, though all good men may not think themselves obliged to concur implicitly in the tumultuary resolutions of a people whom their orators take pains to agitate, yet, on the other hand, when this same people, left to itself, perseveres in opinions which have for a long time been discussed in public writings, and from which it is essential to add) all errors concerning facts have been removed, such

the people were able to do in the other commonwealths of Switzerland, it was, I think, owing to the extensive right they possessed of making public remonstrances to their magistrates. To these remonstrances the magistrates (for instance the council of twenty-five, to which they were usually made) were obliged to give an answer. If this answer did not satisfy the remonstrating citizens, they took time, perhaps two or three weeks, to make a reply to it, which must also be answered ; and the number of citizens who went up with each new remonstrance increased, according as they were thought to have reason on their side. Thus, the remonstrances which were made on account of the sentence against Rousseau, and were delivered at first by only forty citizens, were afterwards often accompanied by about nine hundred. This circumstance, together with the ceremony with which those remonstrances or representations were delivered, rendered them a great check on the conduct of the magistrates : they were even still more useful to the citizens of Geneva, as preventives than as remedies; and nothing was more likely to deter the magistrates from taking a step of any kind than the thought that it might give rise to a representation.

perseverance is certainly a very respectable decision : and then it is, though only then, that we may with safety say,—" the voice of the peo

. "ple is the voice of God.”

How therefore can the people of England act, when, having formed opinions which may really be called their own, they think they have just cause to complain of the administration ? It is, as has been said above, by means of the right they have of electing their representatives ; and the same method of general intercourse that has informed them with regard to the objects of their complaints, will likewise enable them to apply the remedy to them.

Through this medium they are acquainted with the nature of the subjects that have been deliberated upon in the assembly of their representatives ;-they are informed by whom the different motions were made.-by whom they were supported ;--and the manner in which the suffrages are delivered, is such, that they always can know the names of those who have voted constantly for the advancement of pernicious measures.

And the people not only know the particular dispositions of every member of the house of commons, but, from the general notoriety of

I am

aware

affairs, have also a knowledge of the political sentiments of a great number of those whom their situation in life renders fit to fill a place in that house. And availing themselves of the several vacancies that happen, and still more of the opportunity of a general election, they purify, either successively or at once, the legislative assembly; and thus, without any commotion or danger to the state, they effect a material reformation in the views of the government.

that

some persons will doubt these patriotic and systematic views, which I am here attributing to the people of England, and will object to me the disorders that sometimes happen at elections. But this reproach, which, by the way, comes with little propriety from writers who would have the people transact every thing in their own persons,—this reproach, I say, though true to a certain degree, is not, however, so much so, as it is thought by certain persons who have taken only a superficial survey of the state of things.

Without doubt, in a constitution in which all important causes of uneasiness are so effectually prevented, it is impossible but that the people will have long intervals of inattention. Being then suddenly called, from this state of inactivity, to elect representatives, they have not examined beforehand the merits of those who solicit their votes; and the latter have not had, amidst the general tranquillity, any opportunity of making themselves known to them.

The elector, persuaded, at the same time, that the person whom he will elect will be equally interested with himself in the support of public liberty, does not enter into laborious disquisitions, and from which he sees he may exempt himself.

Obliged, however, to give the preference to somebody, he forms his choice on motives which would not be excusable, if it were not that some motives are necessary to make a choice, and that, at this instant, he is not influenced by any other; and indeed it must be confessed, that, in the ordinary course of things, and with electors of a certain rank in life, that candidate who gives the best entertainment has a great chance to get the better of his competitors.

But if the measures of government, and the reception of those measures in parliament, by means of a too complying house of commons, should ever be such as to spread a serious alarm among the people, the same causes which have concurred to establish public liberty

х

« PrécédentContinuer »