Abbildungen der Seite

separate and combined action; and what are the laws which give and secure to the people the personal and political liberty they enjoy.

The supreme powers of government are two, the legislative and the executive; the latter (at least in the English constitution), as the source from which all inferior magistrates derive their authority, includes the judicial power, as well as the execution of the laws, and the administration of the affairs of the State, at home and abroad. It is the committing of these two powers (or of the legislative power alone, as supreme, when the executive is separate, and has no share in the legislation) to one, to a few, or to many, that determines the form of the government. Thus there are three simple forms,-monarchy, where the sovereign power is committed to one, as a king or emperor; aristocracy, where it is vested in the chief persons of the State, or the nobles; and democracy, where the people hold the supreme power themselves, and employ it in making the laws, and in executing them by officers of their own appointment. Under all these forms of government, when righteously administered, freedom and happiness may be attainable; but experience has proved that each contains peculiar inherent defects, which render it unfavourable to thegoverned, in the hands of tyrannical, ambitious, ignorant, or unconscientious men. Thus mankind have found that monarchy, although founded on the purest principle of paternity, will, when uncontrolled, aspire to despotism; that aristocracy, instead of continuing, in hereditary descent, to be the government of the wisest and best


into oligarchy, or the tyranny of a few; whilst democracy is exposed to two opposite dangers ;—that of degenerating to be the government of the lowest and most ignorant of the people (termed by jurists an ochlocracy); or of yielding to the ambition of demagogues, who delude or coerce the people, obtain the honours of the republic, and end in securing for themselves despotic power.

1 Locke on Government, passim.

men, will

CH. 1.]



The defects of these simple forms of government led the jurists of antiquity to desire and consider of other systems; and it is remarkable that Cicero and Tacitus, through their own powers of reflection, perceived that a government in which the three simple forms are combined, is theoretically the best.

“In my judgment," wrote Cicero, “that is the best constituted form of government which in moderation is compounded of these three constituent parts,-the royal, the aristocratical, and the popular."

“ If we consider,” observed Tacitus, “the nature of civil government, we shall find that in all nations the supreme authority is vested either in the people, the nobles, or a single ruler. A constitution compounded of these three simple forms

may in theory be beautiful, but can never exist in fact; or, if it should, it will be but of short duration."

The beautiful theory which Tacitus thought impracticable, has been realized, whilst his prediction has proved erroneous. A constitution compounded of the three simple forms has long existed, and continues to confer freedom and happiness on the people, in the English government by king, lords, and commons.

It may be asked why the combination of the three simple forms was considered likely to be exempt from the evils found inseparable from each alone. It is obviously an advantage to obtain, for any system of government, the approval and acquiescence of the people subject to its jurisdiction; but when, by a long course of prosperity, distinctions founded on wealth and social influence, and transmitted by hereditary descent, have divided the people into ranks or classes, which may be termed aristocratic and democratic,—with separate and often discordant views and in

1 “Statuo esse optime constitutam rempublicam quæ ex tribus generibus illis, regali, optimo, et populari, modice confusa.” (Cic. Fragm.)

2 “ Nam cunctas nationes et urbes populus, aut primores, aut singuli, regunt: delecta ex his et constituta reipublicæ forma, laudari facilius, quam evenire, vel, si evenit, haud diuturna esse potest.” (Tac. Ann. iv.)

« ZurückWeiter »