Page images

ciples in controversy. They may serve a particular turn, but, in other cases, may be càpable of the most dangerous application; whereas universal truth will, in all possible cases, have the best consequences, and be ever favourable to the true interests of mankind.”


[ocr errors][merged small]



T is singular, that in the variety of anci

ent and modern authors, who speak familiarly of the constitution, I scarcely find one, that attempts to define it; and yet I think it the first duty of every writer to define, at least according to his own conceptions, that, which he undertakes to discuss *.

By the constitution of England, I mean Definition of those immediate emanations from the first tion.

the constiina principles of civil government, which the community have adopted as general rules ...' for carrying into action that right or power of sovereignty, which unalienably resides with them, and which consequently form the immediate basis or ground, upon which all the laws of the community are founded. The transcendent force of the reasons for these

*By conftitution we mean, whenever we speak with propriety and exactness, that assemblage of laws, inftitutions, and customs, derived from certain fixed principles of reason, directed to certain fixed objects of public good, that compose the general system, according to which the community hath agreed to be governed.” Disertation upon Parties, Letter X. p. 105, printed 1739. L


rules has acquired from the community an universal and unexceptionable admission of them, which has superseded the necessity of expressing them in a given form of words, like particular laws. They are not like those metaphysical or mathematical rules, which serve to direct and regulate the practice; but they are themselves active and practical rules, which can never cease to operate their effect upon the government, whilst the government fubfifts; they have a political buoyancy in the state, and like a cork in the waves, which may by commotion of the element, be lost for a time from the fight, but in the calm must necessarily

resume its visible station on the surface. Instances of the *« And, indeed, we may observe the remarkways returning able manner, in which it has been maintained

in the midst of such general commotions, as seemed unavoidably to prepare its deftruction. It rose again, we see, after the wars between Henry the Third and his barons ; after the usurpation of Henry the Fourth ; and after the long and bloody contentions between the houses of York and Lancaster nay, though totally destroyed in appearance,

constitution al

to its level.

[ocr errors]

* De Lolme on the Conftitution of England, b. ii. c. xviii.

after . Locke of Civil Government, c. xviii. + Ibid. c. xvi.

after the fall of Charles the First; and, though the greatest efforts had been made to establish another form of government in its stead, yet, no sooner was Charles the Second called over, than the conftitution was re-established upon all its ancient foundations.”

The state of compulsive force, usurpation; or tyranny, is a teniporary subversion of the government, as a tempestuous commotion of the sea is a temporary derangement or violation of the natural laws of specific gravity, by which the cork would for ever remain afloat upon the water.

* " As usur- Difference of pation,” says Mr. Locke, « is the exercise of ufurpation and power, which another hath a right to, so tyranny is the 'exercise of power beyond right, which no body can have a right to." And he fays elfewhere, +“No polities can be founded on any thing, but the consent of the people.” Before I enter immediately upon the

particular nature of our constitution, it will not be improper to submit to my readers what this solid and perspicuous philosopher says of the general forms of a common-wealth. I“ The majority having, as has been thew


[Ibid, c. xvi.


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 it 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 persons only for their lives, or any limited time, and then the supreme power to revert to them again ; when it is so reverted, the community may dispose of it again anew, into what hands they please, and so constitute a new form of

government. For the form of government depending upon the placing the supreme power, which is the legislative, it being impossible to conceive,


[ocr errors]
« PreviousContinue »