Imágenes de páginas





Different Forms of Government compared.

o f all governments, democracy is the

U most turbulent: despotism, which benumbs the mental faculties, and relaxes every spring of action, is in the opposite extreme. Mixed governments, whether monarchical or republican, stand in the middle : they promote activity, but feldom any dangerous excess.

Pure democracy, like that of Athens, Argos, and Carthage, is the very worst form of government, if we make not delpotism an exception. The people, in whom resides the sovereign power, are insolent in prosperity, timid in adversity, cruel in anger, blind and prodigal in affection, and incapable of embracing steadily a prudent measure. Thucydides relates (a), that Agis with a gallant army of Spartans surrounded the army of Argos; and, tho' secure of victory, suffered them

(a) Lib. 5.

[ocr errors][ocr errors][merged small][merged small]

to retreat, upon folemn assurances from
Thrasyllus, the Argian general, of ter-
minating all differences in an amicable
treaty. Agis, perhaps justly, was bitterly
censured for suffering victory to flip out
of his hands : but the Argians, dreaming
of victory when the danger was over,
brought their general to trial, confiscated
his effects, and would have stoned him to
death, had he not taken refuge in a
temple. Two Athenian generals, after
one naval victory, being intent on a second,
deputed Theramenes to perform the last
duty to the dead. A violent storm pre-
vented Theramenes from executing the
trust reposed in him ; but it did not pre-
vent the people of Athens from putting
their two generals to death, as if they had
neglected their duty. The fate of Socrates
is a fad instance of the changeable, as well
as violent, difpofition of a democratical.
ftate. He was condemned to death, for
attempting innovations in the established
religion : the sentence was grossly unjust :
he attempted no innovation ; but only, a-
mong his friends, expressed purer notions
of the Deity than were common in Greece
at that time. But his funeral obsequies


[merged small][merged small][ocr errors][ocr errors][merged small]

were scarce over, when bitter remorse seized the people. His accusers were put to death without trial, every person banished who had contributed to the sentence pronounced against him, and his ftatue was erected in the most public part of the city. The great Scipio, in his camp near Utica, was surrounded with three Carthaginian armies, which waited only for day-light to fall upon him. He prevented the impending blow, by surprising them in the dead of night; which gave him a complete victory. This misfortune, for it could scarce be called bad conduct, provoked the democracy of Carthage, to pronounce sentence of death against Asdrubal their general. Great trading towns cannot flourish, if they be not faithful to their engagements, and honeft in their dealings : whence then the fides Punica ? A democracy is in its nature rash, violent, and fluctuating; and the Carthaginians merited the reproach, not as individuals, but as a democratical state.

A commonwealth governed by chosen citizens, is very different from a democracy, where the mob rules. The folid foundation of such a commonwealth, is

equality equality among the citizens. Inequality of riches cannot be prevented in a commercial state ; but inequality of privileges may be prevented, by excluding no citizen from the opportunity of commanding as well as of obeying. The invidious distinction of Patrician and Plebeian was a grofs malady in the Roman' republic, a perpetual source of diffension between two bodies of men, equally well born, equally sich, and equally fit for war. This illpoised government would have put an end to the republic, had not the Plebeians prevailed, who were the more numerous. That reformation produced to Rome plenty of able men, qualified to govern both in peace and in war.

A commonwealth is the best form of government for a small state : there is little room for inequality of rank or of property; and the people can act in a body. Monarchy is preferable for a large state, where the people, widely spread, cannot be easily collected into a body. Attica was a kingdom, while its twelve cantons were remote from each other, and but slenderly connected. Theseus, by collecting the people of figure into the city



of Athens, and by a general assembly of all the cantons held there, fitted Artica to be a commonwealth.

When a nation becomes great and populous, it is ill fitted for being a commonwealth : ambition is apt to trample upon justice, selfishness upon patriotism, and the public is facrificed to private views. To prevent corruption from turning incurable, the only remedy is a strict rotation in office, which ought never to be dispensed with on any pretext *. By such rotation, every citizen in his turn governs and is governed: the highest office is limited as to time, and the greatest men in the state must subinit to the sacred law of obeying as well as of commanding. A man long accustomed to power, is not happy in a private station : that corrupting habit is prevented by an alternate succession of public and private life ; which is more agreeable by variety, and contributes no less to virtue

* A commonwealth with such a rotation may be aptly compared to a group of jets d'eau, rising one above another in beautiful order, and preserving the fame order in descending : the form of the group continues invariable, but the forming parts are always changing


« AnteriorContinuar »