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HISTORY

OF ENGLAND

IN

THE EIGHTEENTH CENTURY.

CHAPTER X.

ONE of the most difficult problems which the framers of constitutions are called upon to solve is that of providing that the direction of affairs shall be habitually in the hands of men of very exceptional ability, and at the same time of preventing the instability, insecurity, and alarm which perpetual and radical changes in the Government must produce. Among the many objections to hereditary despotism, one of the most obvious is that it implies that the members of a single family, educated for the most part under circumstances peculiarly fitted to enervate the character, shall, during many generations, be competent to discharge one of the most arduous of human undertakings, the direction of the complicated and often conflicting interests of a nation. Among the many objections to elective monarchy, the most serious is that it condemns the country in which it exists to perpetual conspiracies, tumults, and intrigues, which are fatal to the formation of settled political habits, and derange every part of the national organisation. Considered as a matter of pure theory, no form of government might appear more reasonable than that under which the leading men in the country assemble at each vacancy of the throne to choose the man who appears to them the most fitted for the crown. But no form of government has been more decisively condemned by

VOL. III.

B

experience. The elected sovereign is always likely to conspire with the assistance either of his own army or of foreign Powers to perpetuate the sovereignty in his family. The other great powers in the State, through fear of such attempts, are tempted to reduce the military establishments below what is necessary for the security of the nation. Bitter factions, profoundly detrimental to the well-being of the community, are inevitably formed among the great families who are competing to raise their candidates to the throne. Every illness of the sovereign gives rise to intrigues, conspiracies, and insecurity; his death usually leads to disorder, and sometimes to anarchy and civil war. Each new King ascends the throne tainted by the arts of electioneering, deeply pledged to one section of his people, the object of the vehement hostility of another section, and conscious that large classes are looking forward eagerly to his death. Such are the inevitable vices of elective monarchy, and they are so grave that, with the exception of the Papacy, which rests upon conditions wholly unlike those of any other monarchy, this form of government has been long extirpated from Europe. The crowns of Sweden and of Denmark became in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries strictly hereditary. The German Empire, and the kingdoms of Hungary, Poland, and Bohemia passed away or were absorbed, and they perished mainly by their own incurable weakness.

Several attempts have been made in the way of compromise to obviate these evils, and to combine the advantages of hereditary and of elective monarchy. One theory of government which was widely diffused in antiquity, and which may be traced far into the middle ages, but which has now passed altogether out of the sphere of practical politics, was that royalty was hereditary in a single family, but that the chiefs, tribes, or nations had the power of electing whom they pleased from among its members.

Another theory, which if not openly avowed, has been sometimes practically adopted, is that the King holds his office only during good behaviour. In modern France the sovereign has always been an active power in the State, continually intervening in the direction of affairs, but liable, whenever he

showed himself either incompetent or unpopular, to be displaced by a sudden revolution. To men who are firmly convinced that the ecclesiastical notion about the Divine right of kings is a baseless superstition, that the sovereign is but the first magistrate of the State, and that the office he holds is intended for the benefit of his people, such a system appears at first sight very simple. In the natural course of events it must often happen that the sovereign, being selected by no principle of competition and being exposed to more than ordinary temptations, must be contemptible both in intellect and character, and large sections of his subjects come to look upon him as nothing better than an overpaid and inefficient official, who, on the first offence, should be unceremoniously discharged.

But the evils which have resulted from the predominance of such a way of thinking in a community are so great that they have led many who have no personal sympathy with the superstitious estimate of royalty, as a matter of expediency, rather to encourage than oppose it. An hereditary monarchy which subsists only on the condition of the monarch being a superior man must be in a chronic state of insecurity, and the stability of the government is one of the first conditions of national well-being. Every revolution brings to the surface the worst elements in the community, demoralises public life, impairs material interests, and weakens the empire of the law. It is a great calamity for a people when its criminal classes have learnt to take an active part in politics. It is a still greater calamity when the appetite for organic and revolutionary change has taken hold of large classes, when the political enthusiasm of opposition assumes the form of rebellion, and when the prevailing disposition is to undervalue the slow process of constitutional reform, and to look upon force as the natural solution of political questions. This habit of regarding revolution as in itself admirable and desirable, and making, in the words of Burke, the extreme remedy of the State its habitual diet, is perhaps the most fatal of all the diseases which now affect political bodies in Europe. It necessarily throws the rulers into the posture of self-defence, and makes them nervously and constantly jealous of their subjects. It produces reactions in

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