« AnteriorContinuar »
cution of it, is subject to no constitutional checks or controuls; but being possessed of the whole power of government, is as absolute as it is possible for civil power to be. I fay, as it is possible; because civil power, when any where vested, unless in the collective body of the society, however absolute it may be in some respects, is not so in all.' We call it absolute, where the constitution has provided no constant and uniform controul of it; that is, we call it absolute when it is so in respect of any conftitutional restraint. But still, as it is only civil power, it will be limited by its own nature : for as this is a power formed for certain purposes, it cannot, in its own nature, be so far absolute, as to be free, either to promote those purposes, or to prevent them.
No less just is the censure which the Doctor passes on these two lines of Pope,
For forms of government let fools contest,
Whate'er is belt administer'd is best, No, says our worthy Doctor, for politicians are very well employed, when comparing and balancing the advantages and inconveniences of each form of government: because, thoo the result of their enquiries will not determine the form of that which any particular nation has agreed to establish, yet it may ferve to sew every nation what is the most desireable form, and may lead them, as they have opportunity, to make such alterations in their own, as will bring them nearer to that point, tho’they should not quite reach it. Certainly our English poet has but little reason on his fide, when he represents such an enquiry as the business of fools, and maintains, that the only difference between civil conftitutions of government, consists in their being better or worse adminiftered; for, in his judgment, that constitution is beft, be it what it will, which is best administered. Now whatever public benefit depends upon the character of persons in power, it is derived from their wisdom and goodness, and not from the nature of the form of government; so that to call that form the best which is best administered, seems at least to be speaking improperly : cr if we will call it the best, we must in the mean time allow, that it is the best by accident only, and not in its own nature. In the common course of human affairs, it is almost imposfible to prevent the civil power from coming into the hands of weak and bad men, whatever the constitution be. That form of government therefore is best in itself, which guards most effectually against this evil ; or, if this evil ever does happen, lays the persons in power under such checks and reftraints, as are most likcly to prevent them from abusing their trust; or, lastly, when this trust is abused, has provided the readiest means for correcting abuses. An absolute monarchy is a conftitution which has so little title to these characters, that it can have no pretension to be thought the only natural, much less the only possible form of government, upon account of its being the best.
He next, and with great candour and fagacity, maintains, against Mr. Locke, the possibility of monarchical, or absolute government in point of right, or as consistent with civil society. But this we think of no great moment; tho' it would be doing the Doctor injustice not to acknowlege his ability and acuteness in contending this with Locke. But he uses, and deservedly, much more freedom towards Gronovius, who, altho' a commentator on Grotius, mistook, or misrepresented, on more than one occasion, his real meaning. But rather than enter into these disputes, which are indeed of no high import, we shall present our readers with what, in our opinion, is much more valuable, the distinctions which the Doctor makes between slavery and civil subjection, on the one hand, and private and civil despotism on the other; and the consequences he draws from these distinctions. The flave is bound, fays the Doctor, to make the good of his master the end of all his actions, and consequently to conform himself, in all things, to the will of his master: and the subject is bound to preserve and advance the good of the civil community; and consequently to conform himself to the will of such community, in all things relating to the general good. Private despotism, therefore, implies a right in the master to direct all the actions of the slave to his own benefit; whereas civil despotism implies no more than a right in the civil governor to direct the actions of the subject to the general good. And whether civil subjection is due to one man, or to more, it is still but civil subjection; and the power acquired by it, is only civil power, that is, a power of directing and compelling the subjects to promote the common good. This power is not tyrannical in itself, nor does it imply, that they who are entrusted with it have any right to compel the subjects to pursue any other end. But where the benefit or interest of the governor is the chief end proposed, and they who are under authority are obliged to direct their actions to the advancement of this end; the power, by whatever means acquired, or however lawful, is private despotism, and not civil power. And tho' the common benefit of all its parts, of the governing, as well as of the governed, be the end and purpose of civil society; yet when governors set up a separate interest of their own, and act as
If they were not parts of the society, neither the end of instituting a form of government, nor that of uniting into a civil society, can bind the people to pursue this separate interest, to the hurt of the public welfare.
The Doctor thinks, that, under all governments, the people have a natural, tho' not a constitutional right, to oppose and defeat, on certain occasions, the oppressive measures, and tyrannical efforts of their governors. He explains himself thus. No one will imagine, that the people, upon every supposed mismanagement of public affairs, or even upon such real mismanagement as human nature is liable to in every station, have a right to dethrone their King, degrade their nobles, discharge their representatives, resume the civil power, and new model the state ; and yet this must be the necessary consequence of supposing a constitutional fuperiority in the collective body of the people, under every form of government. Indeed the common benefit of the whole, which is the end of civil society, as well as of every other, and the right which all have to endeavour to be happy, may naturally entitle a collective body to oppose unconstitutional oppression, and release themfelves from the compact, by which the civil power is settled in the established governours, when these governours so far violate it, as to make their continuance in power planely and notoriously incompatible with the common safety. If this is all that is meant by saying, that in monarchical constitutions, the people are superior to the King, we may allow it; but should observe at the same time, that this right is called by an improper name: for instead of being a constitutional superiority, fubsisting whilst the compact continues which introduced and established the form of government, it seems rather to be a natural equality, resulting from the breach of compact. And with respect to forming a judgment of the nature of any civil constitution, the Doctor excellently observes, that whoever would form a true judgment, concerning the constitution of civil government, in his own, or in any other country, must consider it as a question of fact, and make use of the helps of records and history, instead of amusing himself with abstract reasonings. He adds some useful cautions with respect to these helps, which we have not room to insert. Let us, however, transcribe a remark or two of the Doctor's, upon regal power and dignity. As a power to govern does not imply a power to chule and appoint a governour, a King may be invested with the sovereign power of governing, without having full property in it, that is, a right to alienate it. If the conftitutional laws require the King to promise, or swear, to observe
certain rules in his future government; or if the people, wher they make over the civil power to him, impofe upon him this oath or promise, and will not lodge the power in his hands upon any other terms, I do not see how fuch promise or oath can be consistent with the notion of his being, in all respects, superior to the people in civil power. A promise or oath of this fort, is planely a stipulation between him and them, and is the method they make use of to ascertain their own constitutional rights, as well as bind him not to exercise his power to the violation of them. Now if they have a conftitutional authority to require him to promise or swear, as aforesaid, it seems abfurd to suppose, that they have no conftitutional authority to enforce the observance of those rules, and the performance of such promise, or oath. But how such authority as this, in the people, is consistent with full or abo folute sovereignty in him, is more than I can understand. In the fifth
chapter the Doctor specifies the changes produced in the rights of individuals, by civil union. These changes, as induced by the social union, principally affect the rights which every one naturally has of defending himself, and punishing an aggreffor. Here it is observed, that each individual is understood, by joining himself to a civil society, to have parted with his private right of defence, and of inflicting punishment; not merely because this act places him under the protection of the society, but because it places him under the protection of a society which is obliged not only to protect him against others, but others against him.-For whoever connects himself with a civil society, intimates. by this act, not only that he is willing to acquire for himself a right of being protected by the common force against any causeless harm from another, or punishment by private authority; but likewise, that he consents, that others also shall be protected by the iame force, against causeless harın from him, or punishment at his pleasure. Without thus agreeing to the right which others have to be protected, and consequently to the limitation of his own power, he could acquire no right of protection for himself.
Let us here insert another reflection of the Doctor's upon executive power. Had the executive body nothing else entrusted to it, by the constitution, befides executive power, as it could not punith, so neither could it pardon, at discretion: for the executive power, in itself, is not, in any respect, a difcretionary power; but is obliged to act, or not act, as the common understanding, speaking by the laws, directs it. When therefore the conftitution of government allows the civil magistrate, or executive body, to have a discretionary power of pardoning; this is considered as something diftinct from mere executive power, and is called prerogative.
In the sixth chapter, entitled, Of Civil Laws, tho' many excellent obfervations and instructions occur, particularly with respect to the checks proper to be put upon the legislative power; yet we shall only present our readers with some part of what the Doctor advances, concerning the power of civil law to annul promises, oaths, and matrimony: things, at first hearing; seemingly irreversible. The Doctor allows, that the civil legislative power, tho' it may restrain or alter the rights of the subjects is not, however, strictly speaking, even in these respects, an absolute power; but limitted, by its own nature; to the purposes of advancing or securing the general good. Now, as to promises and oaths, when the law of God or nature, which in general require us to fulfil our promises; &c. has left us, however, at liberty to engage in them or not, the civil law may, in that case, deprive us of that liberty, when it appears inconsistent with the common good : and then our obligation to comply with the prior civil law, being antecedent to our engaging in such promise, &c. will make it void, tho' we happen to engage in it. So much concerning the efficacy of the legislator's act, when it precedes the promise. But even when it is subsequent to the promise, &c. it is still of equal force: for thus the Doctor argues. When we are under any antecedent obligation, we have no moral power, that is; no right of binding ourselves to do what is contrary to that obligation. The law forbidding performance is here, indeed, supposed to follow the act, which it invalidates. But every member of a civil society is obliged, by the social compact; to obey all the laws of it, at what time soever those laws are made. And as to matrimony, when a marriage is folemnized, otherwise than the law requires, the parties are not bound to each other as husband and wife: the bargain which they have made in words is no bargain at all, and produces no obligation, As they are not therefore husband and wife, our natural or religious notion of marriage is out of the question ; for as there is no contract at all, there cannot be any perpetual contract; as they are not joined together at all, they cannot be joined together by God; and consequently we can have no grounds to conclude, that they cannot be put asunder by man.
The next chapter, which is the seventh, is curious. It confiders the different kinds and methods of interpretation. The rules, tho' not too many, cannot be understood without REVIEW, Sept. 1756.