« PrécédentContinuer »
it expect the success of any future and distant measures,
The public notoriety of the debates in parliament induces all individuals, soldiers as well as others, to pay some attention to political subjects: and the liberty of speaking, printing, and intriguing, being extended to every order of the nation by whom they are surrounded, makes them liable to imbibe every notion that may be directly contrary to the views of that power which maintains them.
The case would be still worse if the sovereign should engage in a contest with a very numerous part of the nation. The general concern would increase in proportion to the vehemence of the parliamentary debates : individuals, in all the different classes of the public, would try their eloquence on the same subjects ; and this eloquence would be in great measure exerted, during such interesting times, in making converts of the soldiery : these evils the sovereign could not obviate, nor even know, till it should be in every respect too late. A prince, engaged in the contest we suppose, would scarcely have completed his first preparations,—his project would scarcely be half-ripe for execution,-before his army would be taken from him. And the more powerful this army might be, the more adequate, seemingly, from its numbers, to the task it is intended for, the more open it would be to the danger we mention.
Of this, James the Second made a very remarkable experiment. He had augmented his army to the number of thirty thousand. But when the day came in which their support was to have been useful to him, some deserted to the enemy; others threw down their arms; and those who continued to stand together, showed more inclination to be spectators of, than agents in the contest. In short, he gave all over for lost, without making any trial of their assistance. *
* The army made loud rejoicings on the day of the acquittal of the bishops, even in the presence of the king, who had purposely repaired to Hounslow Heath on that day. He had not been able to bring a single regiment to declare an approbation of his measures in regard to the test and penal statutes. The celebrated ballad Lero lero lillibulero, which is reported to have had such an influence on the minds of the people at that time, and of which bishop Burnet says, “ never perhaps so slight a thing had “ so great an effect,” originated in the army : “ the whole "army, and at last people both in city and country, were “ perpetually singing it.”
To a king of England, engaged in a project against public liberty, a numerous army ready formed beforehand, must, in the present situation of things, prove a
It is from the civil branch of its office the crown derives that strength by which it subdues even the military power, and keeps it in a state of subjection to the laws, unexampled in any other country. It is from a happy arrangement of things it derives that uninterrupted steadiness, that indivisible solidity, which procure to the subject both so certain a protection, and so extensive a freedom. It is from the nation it receives the force with which it governs the nation. Its resources are official energy, and not compulsion,-free action and not fear,—and it continues to reign through the political drama, the struggle of the voluntary passions of those who
obedience to it. *
or, like the daughter of king Nisus, of cutting off the fatal hair with which the fate of the cityt is connected.
* Many persons, satisfied with seeing the elevation and upper parts of a building, think it immaterial to give a look under ground, and notice the foundation. Those readers, therefore, who choose, may consider the long chapter that has just been concluded, as a kind of foreign digression, or parenthesis, in the course of the work.
Scylla. + Megara besieged by Minos-. Epit.
How far the Examples of Nations who have lost their
Liberty are applicable to England. EVERY government (those writers observe, who have treated on these subjects) containing within itself the efficient cause of its ruin, a cause which is essentially connected with those very circumstances that had produced its prosperity : the advantages attending the English government cannot therefore, according to these writers, exempt it from that latent defect which is secretly working its ruin; and M. de Montesquieu, giving his opinion both of the cause and the effect, says, that the English constitution will lose its liberty, will perish : “ Have not Rome, Lacedæmon, and Carthage, “perished ? It will perish when the legisla“ tive power shall have become more corrupt " than the executive.”
Though I do by no means pretend that any human establishment can escape the fate to which we see every thing in nature is subject, nor am so far prejudiced by the sense I enter
tain of the great advantages of the English government as to reckon among them that of eternity, I will, however, observe, in general, that as it differs by its structure and resources from all those with which history makes us acquainted, so it cannot be said to be liable to the same dangers. To judge of one from the other, is to judge by analogy where no analogy is to be found ; and my respect for the author I have quoted will not preclude me from saying that his opinion has not the same weight with me on this occasion that it has on many others.
Having neglected, as indeed all systematic writers upon politics have done, to inquire attentively into the real foundations of power and of government among mankind, the principles he lays down are not always so clear, or even so just, as we might have expected from a man of so acute a genius. When he speaks of England, for instance, bis observations are much too general: and though he had frequent opportunities of conversing with men who had been personally concerned in the public affairs of this country, and he had been himself an eye-witness of the operations of the English government, yet, when he attempts to