Images de page

cution of it, is fubject to no conftitutional checks or controuls; but being poffeffed of the whole power of government, is as abfolute as it is poffible for civil power to be. I fay, as it is poffible; because civil power, when any where vefted, unless in the collective body of the fociety, however abfolute it may be in fome refpects, is not fo in all. We call it abfolute, where the conftitution has provided no conftant and uniform controul of it; that is, we call it abfolute when it is fo in respect of any conftitutional reftraint. But ftill, as it is only civil power, it will be limited by its own nature: for as this is a power formed for certain purposes, it cannot, in its own nature, be fo far abfolute, as to be free, either to promote those purposes, or to prevent them.

No lefs juft is the cenfure which the Doctor paffes on these two lines of Pope,

For forms of government let fools contest,

Whate'er is beft administer'd is best.

No, fays our worthy Doctor, for politicians are very well employed, when comparing and balancing the advantages and inconveniences of each form of government: because, tho' the result of their enquiries will not determine the form of that which any particular nation has agreed to establish, yet it may ferve to fhew every nation what is the moft defireable form, and may lead them, as they have opportunity, to make fuch alterations in their own, as will bring them nearer to that point, tho' they should not quite reach it. Certainly our Englith poet has but little reafon on his fide, when he represents fuch an enquiry as the business of fools, and maintains, that the only difference between civil conftitutions of government, confifts in their being better or worse adminiftered; for, in his judgment, that conftitution is beft, be it what it will, which is beft adminiftered. Now whatever public benefit depends upon the character of perfons in power, it is derived from their wisdom and goodness, and not from the nature of the form of government; so that to call that form the best which is best adminiftered, feems at least to be speaking improperly cr if we will call it the beft, we must in the mean time allow, that it is the beft by accident only, and not in its own nature. In the common course of human affairs, it is almost impoffible to prevent the civil power from coming into the hands of weak and bad men, whatever the conftitution be. That form of government therefore is beft in itfelf, which guards most effectually against this evil; or, if this evil ever does happen, lays the perfons in power under fuch checks and reftraints, as are most likely to prevent them from abufing their truft; or,


laftly, when this truft is abufed, has provided the readieft means for correcting abuses. An abfolute monarchy is a conftitution which has fo little title to these characters, that it can have no pretenfion to be thought the only natural, much lefs the only poffible form of government, upon account of its being the best.

He next, and with great candour and fagacity, maintains, against Mr. Locke, the poffibility of monarchical, or absolute government in point of right, or as confiftent with civil fociety. But this we think of no great moment; tho' it would be doing the Doctor injuftice not to acknowlege his ability and acuteness in contending this with Locke. But he uses, and defervedly, much more freedom towards Gronovius, who, altho' a commentator on Grotius, miftook, or misreprefented, on more than one occafion, his real meaning. But rather than enter into these difputes, which are indeed of no high import, we shall prefent our readers with what, in our opinion, is much more valuable, the diftinctions which the Doctor makes between flavery and civil fubjection, on the one hand, and private and civil defpotifm on the other; and the confequences he draws from thefe diftinctions. The flave is bound, fays the Doctor, to make the good of his mafter the end of all his actions, and confequently to conform himself, in all things, to the will of his mafter: and the subject is bound to preserve and advance the good of the civil community; and confequently to conform himself to the will of fuch community, in all things relating to the general good. Private defpotism, therefore, implies a right in the mafter to direct all the actions of the flave to his own benefit; whereas civil defpotifm implies no more than a right in the civil governor to direct the actions of the fubject to the general good. And whether civil fubjection is due to one man, or to more, it is ftill but civil fubjection; and the power acquired by it, is only civil power, that is, a power of directing and compelling the fubjects to promote the common good. This power is not tyrannical in itself, nor does it imply, that they who are entrusted with it have any right to compel the subjects to pursue any other end. But where the benefit or intereft of the governor is the chief end proposed, and they who are under authority are obliged to direct their actions to the advancement of this end; the power, by whatever means acquired, or however lawful, is private defpotifm, and not civil power. And tho' the common benefit of all its parts, of the governing, as well as of the governed, be the end and purpose of civil fociety; yet when governors fet up a feparate intereft of their own, and act as

If they were not parts of the fociety, neither the end of inftituting a form of government, nor that of uniting into a civil fociety, can bind the people to pursue this separate intereft, to the hurt of the public welfare.

The Doctor thinks, that, under all governments, the people have a natural, tho' not a conftitutional right, to oppose and defeat, on certain occafions, the oppreffive measures, and tyrannical efforts of their governors. He explains himself thus. No one will imagine, that the people, upon every supposed mismanagement of public affairs, or even upon fuch real mifmanagement as human nature is liable to in every station, have a right to dethrone their King, degrade their nobles, discharge their representatives, refume the civil power, and new model the state; and yet this must be the neceffary consequence of fuppofing a conftitutional fuperiority in the collective body of the people, under every form of government. Indeed the common benefit of the whole, which is the end of civil fociety, as well as of every other, and the right which all have to endeavour to be happy, may naturally entitle a collective body to oppose unconstitutional oppreffion, and release themfelves from the compact, by which the civil power is settled in the established governours, when these governours fo far violate it, as to make their continuance in power planely and notorioufly incompatible with the common fafety. If this is all that is meant by faying, that in monarchical conftitutions, the people are fuperior to the King, we may allow it; but fhould obferve at the fame time, that this right is called by an improper name: for inftead of being a conftitutional fuperiority, fubfifting whilft the compact continues which introduced and established the form of government, it seems rather to be a natural equality, refulting from the breach of compact. And with refpect to forming a judgment of the nature of any civil conftitution, the Doctor excellently obferves, that whoever would form a true judgment, concerning the conftitution of civil government, in his own, or in any other country, must confider it as a question of fact, and make use of the helps of records and hiftory, instead of amufing himself with abstract reasonings. He adds fome useful cautions with respect to these helps, which we have not room to infert. Let us, however, transcribe a remark or two of the Doctor's, upon regal power and dignity. As a power to govern does not imply a power to chule and appoint a governour, a King may be invested with the fovereign power of governing, without having full property in it, that is, a right to alienate it. If the conftitutional laws require the King to promife, or fwear, to obferve


certain rules in his future government; or if the people, wher they make over the civil power to him, impofe upon him this oath or promise, and will not lodge the power in his hands upon any other terms, I do not fee how fuch a promise or oath can be confiftent with the notion of his being, in all respects, superior to the people in civil power. A promise or oath of this fort, is planely a ftipulation between him and them, and is the method they make use of to ascertain their own conftitutional rights, as well as bind him not to exercise his power to the violation of them. Now if they have a conftitutional authority to require him to promife or fwear, as aforefaid, it seems abfurd to fuppofe, that they have no conftitutional authority to enforce the obfervance of thofe rules, and the performance of fuch promife, or oath. But how fuch authority as this, in the people, is confiftent with full or abfolute fovereignty in him, is more than I can understand.

In the fifth chapter the Doctor fpecifies the changes produced in the rights of individuals, by civil union. These changes, as induced by the focial union, principally affect the rights which every one naturally has of defending himself, and punishing an aggreffor. Here it is obferved, that each individual is understood, by joining himself to a civil fociety, to have parted with his private right of defence, and of inflicting punishment; not merely because this act places him under the protection of the fociety, but because it places him under the protection of a fociety which is obliged not only to protect him against others, but others against him.-For whoever connects himself with a civil fociety, intimates by this act, not only that he is willing to acquire for himself a right of being protected by the common force against any caufelefs harm from another, or punishment by private authority; but likewife, that he confents, that others alfo fhall be protected by the fame force, against causeless harm from him, or punishment at his pleasure. Without thus agreeing to the right which others have to be protected, and confequently to the limitation of his own power, he could acquire no right of protection for himself.

Let us here infert another reflection of the Doctor's upon executive power. Had the executive body nothing elfe entrufted to it, by the conftitution, befides executive power, as it could not punish, fo neither could it pardon, at discretion: for the executive power, in itfelf, is not, in any respect, a difcretionary power; but is obliged to act, or not act, as the common understanding, fpeaking by the laws, directs it. When therefore the conftitution of government allows the

civil magistrate, or executive body, to have a discretionary power of pardoning; this is confidered as fomething diftinét from mere executive power, and is called prerogative.

In the fixth chapter, entitled, Of Civil Laws, tho' many excellent obfervations and inftructions occur, particularly with refpect to the checks proper to be put upon the legislative power; yet we fhall only present our readers with fome part of what the Doctor advances, concerning the power of civil law to annul promifes, oaths, and matrimony: things, at first hearing, feemingly irreverfible. The Doctor allows, that the civil legiflative power, tho' it may reftrain or alter the rights of the fubject, is not, however, ftrictly speaking, even in these respects, an abfolute power; but limitted, by its own nature, to the purposes of advancing or fecuring the general good. Now, as to promifes and oaths, when the law of God or nature, which in general require us to fulfil our promifes, &c. has left us, however, at liberty to engage in them or not, the civil law may, in that cafe, deprive us of that liberty, when it appears inconfiftent with the common good: and then our obligation to comply with the prior civil law, being antecedent to our engaging in fuch promife, &c. will make it void, tho' we happen to engage in it. So much concerning the efficacy of the legiflator's act, when it precedes the promife. But even when it is fubfequent to the promise, &c. it is still of equal force: for thus the Doctor argues. When we are under any antecedent obligation, we have no moral power, that is, no right of binding ourselves to do what is contrary to that obligation. The law forbidding performance is here, indeed, fuppofed to follow the act, which it invalidates. But every member of a civil fociety is obliged, by the focial compact, to obey all the laws of it, at what time foever thofe laws are made. And as to matrimony, when a marriage is folemnized, otherwife than the law requires, the parties are not bound to each other as husband and wife: the bargain which they have made in words is no bargain at all, and produces no obligation. As they are not therefore husband and wife, our natural or religious notion of marriage is out of the queftion; for as there is no contract at all, there cannot be any perpetual contract; as they are not joined together at all, they cannot be joined together by God; and confequently we can have no grounds to conclude, that they cannot be put afunder by man.

The next chapter, which is the feventh, is curious. It confiders the different kinds and methods of interpretation. The rules, tho' not too many, cannot be understood without REVIEW, Sept. 1756.


« PrécédentContinuer »