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describe it, he rather tells us what he conjectured than what he saw. *
The examples he quotes, and the causes of dissolution which he assigns, particularly confirm this observation. The government of Rome, to speak of the one which, having gradually, and as it were of itself, fallen to ruin, may afford matter for exact reasoning, had no relation to that of England. The Roman people were not, in the latter ages of the common-wealth, a people of citizens but of conquerors. Rome was not a state, but the head of a state. By the immensity of its conquests, it came in time to be in a manner only an accessory part of its own empire. Its power became so great, that, after having conferred it, it was at length no longer able to resume it: and from that moment it became itself subjected to it, for the same reason that the provinces were so.
The fall of Rome, therefore, was an event peculiar to its situation ; and the change of manners which accelerated this fall, had also an effect which it could not have had but in
* The part of Montesquieu's work, relating to the English constitution, is said to have been written by the famous chancellor York, whose appointment to the chancellorship produced so fatal an effect.-EDIT.
that same situation. Men who had drawn to themselves all the riches of the world, could no longer be content with the supper of Fabricius, or with the cottage of Cincinnatus. The people who were masters of all the corn of Sicily and Africa, were no longer obliged to plunder their neighbours. All possible enemies, besides, being exterminated, Rome, whose power was military, ceased to be an army; and that was the æra of her corruption; if, indeed, we ought to give that name to what was the inevitable consequence of the nature of things.
In a word, Rome was destined to lose her liberty when she lost her empire; and she was destined to lose her empire, whenever she should begin to enjoy it.
But England forms a society founded upon principles entirely different. Here, all liberty and power are not accumulated as it were in one point, so as to leave every where else, only slavery and misery, consequently only seeds of division and secret animosity. From one end of the island to the other, the same laws take place, and the same interest prevail : the whole nation besides, equally concurs in the framing of the government: no one part, therefore, has cause to fear that the other
parts will suddenly supply the necessary forces to destroy its liberty : and the whole have, of course, no occasion for those ferocious kinds of virtue which are indispensably necessary to those who, from the situation to which they have brought themselves, are continually exposed to dangers, and, after having invaded every thing, must abstain from every thing.
The situation of the people of England, therefore, essentially differs from that of the people of Rome. The form of the English government does not differ less from that of the Roman republic : and the great advantages it has over the latter, for preserving the liberty of the people from ruin, have been described at length in the course of this work.
Thus, for instance, the ruin of the Roman republic was principally brought about by the exorbitant power to which several of its citizens were successively enabled to rise. In the latter times of the commonwealth, those citizens went so far as to divide among themselves the dominions of the republic in much the same manner as they might have done lands of their own.
And to them others in a short time succeeded, who, not only did the same, but even proceeded to such a degree of tyrannical insolence, as to make cessions to each other, by express and formal compacts, of the lives of thousands of their fellow-citizens. But the great and constant authority and weight of the crown, in England, prevent, in their very beginning (as we have seen) all misfortunes of this kind ; and the reader may recollect what has been said before on that subject.
At last, the ruin of the republic, as every one knows, was completed. One of those powerful citizens to whom we alluded, in process of time, found means to exterminate all his competitors : he immediately assumed the whole power of the state, and erected an arbitrary monarchy. But such a sudden and violent establishment of a monarchical power, and all the fatal consequences that would result from such an event, are calamities which cannot take place in England. That kind of power has here existed for ages: it is circumscribed by fixed laws, and established upon regular and well-known foundations.
Nor is there any great danger that this power may, by means of those legal prerogatives it already possesses, suddenly assume others, and at last openly make itself absolute. The important privilege of granting to the crown its necessary supplies, we have before observed, is vested in the nation : and how
extensive soever the prerogatives of a king of England may be, it constantly lies in the power of his people either to grant or deny him the means of exercising them.
This right, possessed by the people of England, constitutes the great difference between them and all the other nations that live under monarchical governments. It likewise gives them a great advantage over such as are formed into republican states, and confers on them a mean of influencing the conduct of the government, not only more effectual, but also (which is more in point to the subject of this chapter) incomparably more lasting and secure than those reserved to the people, in the states we mention.
In those states, the political rights which usually fall to the share of the people are those of voting in general assemblies, either when laws are to be enacted, or magistrates to be elected. But as the advantages arising from these general rights of giving votes are never very clearly ascertained by the generality of the people, so neither are the consequences attending particular forms or modes of giving these votes generally and completely understood. They accordingly never entertain any strong and constant preference for one method