Page images
PDF
EPUB

government.

Various forts of ed, upon man's first uniting into society, the

whole power of the community naturally in them, may employ all that power in making laws for the community from time to time, and executing those laws by officers of their own appointing, and then the form of the government is a perfect democracy; or else, may put the power of making laws into the hands of a few select men, and their heirs or successors, and then it is an oligarchy; or else into the hands of one man, and then ic is a monarchy; if to him and his heirs, it is an hereditary monarchy; if to him only for life, but upon his death the power only of nominating a successor to return to them, an elektive monarchy: and so accordingly of these the community may make compounded and mixed forms of government, as they think good. And if the legislative power be at first given by the majority to one or more perfons only for their lives, or any limited time, and then the supreme power to revert to them again ; when it is fo reverted, the community may dispose of it again anew, into what hands they please, and so conftitute a new form of government, For the form of government depending upon the placing the supreme power, which is the legijative, it being impoffibie to conceive,

that

power.

that an inferior power should prescribe to a superior, or any, but the supreme, make laws, according as the power of making laws is placed, such is the form of the commonwealth.”

The supremacy, or sovereignty of all po- Legislative litical power, is the legislative power in a state; and the first and fundamental positive law of all commonwealths, is the establishing of the legislative power. This, in fact, is the act of the community's vesting their own right or power in their delegates or trustees : and the English community had certainly the same right, as every other community, upon uniting in society, to make this delegation, or create this trust in whatever manner they chose ; in other words, they were perfectly free to adopt a democratical, an aristocratical, or an hereditary, or an elective monarchical form of government. This was, as I have before proved, a freedom given by God to each community ; fingula species regiminis funt de jure gentium ; but the choice being once made, or these delegates and trustees having been once nominated and appointed, the submisfion of the people to them is jure divino. * “ This legislative is not only the supreme

[blocks in formation]

power of the commonwealth, but facred and unalterable in the hands, where the community have once placed it; nor can any edict of any body else, in what form soever conceived, or by what power soever backed, have the force and obligation of a law, which has not its sanction from that legisative, which the public has chosen and appointed ; and so, in a constituted commonwealth, there can be but one supreme power, which is the legislative, to which all the rest are and must be subordinate.”

This nation or community, have for many centuries chosen, and the majority, at this hour continue to chuse a form of government partaking of the democratical, aristocratical, and monarchical; for * « these three species of government have all of them their several perfections and imperfections: democracies are usually the best calculated to direct the end of a law; aristocracies to invent the means, by which that end shall be obtained ; and monarchies to carry those means into execution ; and the ancients, as was observed, had, in general, no idea of any other permanent form of government, but these three ; for though Cicero ť

Blakist. Introd, to his Comm. p. 50, in the quarta edition.

+ In his Fragments de Rep. c. ii,

declares

mixed governo nent,

our own.

declares himself of opinion, “esse optimè con- The ideas of ftitutam rempublicam, quæ ex tribus generibus concerning a illis, regali, optimo, et populari sit modicè confufa ;" yet Tacitus treats this notion of a mixed

government, formed out of them all, and partaking of the advantages of each, as a visionary whim, and one, that if effected could never be lasting or secure *.

But, happily for us of this isand, the Exemplified in British constitution has long remained, and I trust will long continue, a standing exception to the truth of this observation. For, as with us the executive power of the laws is lodged in a single person, they have all the advantages of strength and dispatch, that are to be found in the most absolute monarchy; and, as the legislature of the kingdom is entrusted to three distinct powers entirely independent of each other; first, the king; secondly, the lords spiritual and temporal, which is an aristocratical assembly of persons selected for their piety, their birth, their wisdom, their valour, or their property; and, thirdly, the house of commons, freely chosen by the people, from among themselves, which

• Cunctas nationes et urbes, populus, aut primores, aut finguli regunt: delecta ex his et constituta reipublicæ forma laudari faciliùs, quam evenire ; vel, fi evenit haud diuturna effe poteft. Ann. 1. 4,

I A

makes

makes it a kind of democracy; as this ag. gregate body, actuated by different springs, and attentive to different interests, composes the British parliament, and has the supreme disposal of every thing, there can no incon. venience be attempted by either of the three branches, but will be withstood by one of the other two; each branch being armed with a negative power, sufficient to repel any innovation, which it shall think inexpedient or dangerous. · Here then is lodged the fovereignty of the British conftitution; and lodged as beneficially as is possible for society."

It is not only allowed by our own authors, which is very natural, but also by all foreign writers; who have treated upon the constitution and laws of England, that the mixed form of our government gives it a decided preference over every other government ancient or modern, The first part then of our constitution, which comes under my confideration, is the investiture or deposit of the Jupreme legislative power, with the fiduciary delegates of the community; and when I do this, I recede in no degree from the prin. ciples I have already laid down; nor am I conscious or apprehensive, that they tend to the utter subversion, not only of all government, in all modes, and to all stable securities to ra

[ocr errors]
« PreviousContinue »