Page images

casion whatsoever, is little less than to make use of the whole power ; that is, to declare an opinion to be law, which has always been contested, or, perhaps, never started at all, before such an incident brought it on the stage. Not to consent to the enacting of such a law, which has no view begides the general good, unless another law shall at the same time pass, with no other view but that of advancing the power of one party alone; what is this, but to claim a positive voice, as well as a negative ? To pretend, that great changes* and alienations of property have created new and great dependencies, and consequently new additions of power, as some reasoners liave done, is a most dangerous tenet. If dominion must follow property, let it follow in the fame place; for, change in property, through the bulk of a nation, makes flow marches, and its due power always attends it. To conclude, that, whatever attempt is begun by an assembly, ought to be pursued to the end, without regard to the greatest incidents that may happen to alter the case; to count it mean, and below the dignity of a house, to quit a prosecution; to refolve upon a conclusion, before it is possible to be apprised of the premises : to act thus, I say, is to affect not only absolute power, but infallibility too. Yet, such unaccountable proceedings as these, have popular assemblies engaged in, for want of fixing the due limits of power and privilege.

* This seems to allude to a practice of the house of Commons, called Tacking : when they suspected that a favourite bill would be rejected, they tacked it to a money-bill; and, as it was not possible to proceed without the supply, and as it became neceffary to reject or receive both the bills thus tacked together, this expedient perfectly answered its purpose. Hawkes.

Great changes may, indeed, be made in a government, yet the form continue, and the balance be held: but large intervals of time must pass between every such innovation, enough to melt down and make it of a piece with the conftitution. Such, we are told, were the proceedings of Solon, when he modelled anew the Athenian commonwealth; and what convulsions in our own, as well as other states, have been bred by a neglect of this rule, is fresh and notorious enough: it is too soon, in all conscience, to repeat this error again.

Having shewn, that there is a natural balance of power in all free states, and how it hath been divided, sometimes by the people themselves, as in Rome, at others by the institutions of the legislators, as in the several states of Greece and Sicily ; the next thing is, to examine, what methods have been taken to break or overthrow this balance, which every one of the three parties hath continually endeavoured, as opportunities have served; as might appear from the stories of most ages and countries : for absolute power, in a particular ftate, is of the fame nature with universal monarchy in several states adjoining to each other. So endless and exorbitant are the desires of men, whether considered in their persons or their states, that they will grasp at all, and can form no scheme of perfect happiness with less. Ever since men have been united into governments, the hopes and endeavours after universal monarchy, have been bandied among them, from the reign of Ninus to this of the Most Christian King; in which pursuits, commonwealths have had their share, as well as monarchs : so the Athenians, the Spartans, the Thebans, and the Achaians, did several times aim at the universal monarchy of Greece ; fo the commonwealths of Carthage and Rome affected the universal monarchy of the then known world. In like manner, hath absolute power been pursued by the several parties of each particular ftate; wherein single persons have met with most fuccess, though the endeavours of the few and the many have been frequent enough ; yet, being neicher so uniform in their designs, nor fo direct in their views, they neither could manage nor maintain the power they had got ; but were ever deceived by the popularity and ambition of some single person. So that it will be always a wrong step in policy, for the Nobles or Commons to carry their endeavours after power so far, as to overthrow the balance; and it would be enough to damp their warmth in fuch pursuits, if they could once reflect, that, in such a course, they will be sure to run upon the very rock that they meant to avoid ; which, I fuppofe, they would have us think, is the tyranny of a fingle person.


Many examples might be produced, of the endeavours of each of these three rivals after abrolute power, but I shall suit my discourse to the time I am writing in, and relate only such diffenfions in Greece and Rome, between the Nobles and Commons, with the consequences of them, wherein the latter were the aggressors.

I shall begin with Greece, where my observations shall be confined to Athens, though several instances might be brought from other states thereof.

CH A P. II. Of the dissensions in Athens, between the few and


many: TH HESEUS is the first, who is recorded, with

any appearance of truth, to have brought the Grecians from a barbarous manner of life, among scattered villages, into cities; and to have established the popular fate in Athens, assigning to himself the guardianship of the laws, and chief command in war.

He was forced, after some time, to leave the Athenians to their own mea. sures, upon account of their seditious temper, which ever continued with them, till the final diffolution of their government by the Romans. It seems, the country about Attica was the moft barren of any in Greece ; -through which means it happened, that the natives were never expelled by the fury of invaders, (who thought it not worth a conquest) but continued always Aborigines; and therefore, retained, through all revolutions, a tincture of that turbulent spirit, wherewith their government began. This institution


of Theseus, appears to have been rather a fort of mixed monarchy, than a popular ftate, and, for aught we know, might continue fe during the series of kings till the death of Codrus. From this last prince, Solon was said to be descended; who, finding the people engaged in two violent factions of the poor and the rich, and in great confusion thereupon ; refusing the monarchy, which was offered him, chose rather to cast the government after another model, wherein he made due provisions for fettling the balance of power, chusing a Senate of four hundred, and disposing the magiftracies and offices according to mens estates; leaving to the multitude their votes in electing, and the power of judging certain processes by appeal. This council of four hundred was chosen, one hundred out of each tribe, and seems to have been a body representative of the people, though the people collective reserved a share of power to themselves. It is a point of history perplexed enough ; but thus much is certain, that the balance of power was provided for ; else Pififtratus, called by authors the tyrant of Athens, could never have governed so peaceably as he did, without changing any of Solon's laws. * These several powers, together with that of the archon or chief magiftrate, made up the form of government in Athens, at what time it began to appear upon the scene of action and story. The first great man bred up under this inftitu

Herodot. lib. I.

« PreviousContinue »