Page images
PDF
EPUB

sons. Do they hope then to return as conquerors—they, who have had no share in the late eventful crisis ? Do they hope to drag us back to the year 1789; as if Reason could forgo its progress ? Would they drive us to avow, that the whole Revolution was but a chaos of crimes, when they can advert to none of which they were not the prime movers? The protectors of the soil are always the vital strength of a nation; of our own nation, victors through a series of prosperous years. Their laurels must not be touched, unless to be partaken with their brethren-but they will never per mit them to be rudely sullied.

Why was the tyranny of Napoleon so long tolerated? He exalted the national pride. With what devotion was he not served, even by those who most abhorred him! Despair alone could leave his eagles unprotected; but his reputation still dignified the last adversity; and even in his misfortune, he negociated on an equal footing with those allies, who were giving law to our capital.

Ainong warlike nations, hereditary right is of little account : this is no theory, but an established fact. In the first ages of our monarchy, the crown was not always conferred on the eldest, but on him who seemed best qualified for military command: nature seems to have enrooted in the human heart, an instinctive passion for military fame: it reverberates through the meanest village hamlet of every people. You may draw forth tears of emulous sympathy, by relating a single martial deed, that reflects honor on the nation, or a private family. Why was the French people attached so fondly to its Kings ? Because it viewed them as its natural protectors, the props of its glory; because it was wont to regard its prince as the noblest of cavaliers.

The mass of a people are unskilled in genealogy, and think but little of hereditary right: they take no interest in the quarrels of their governors, their private life, or even their political crimes, but as they affect themselves : their common sense tells them, that to govern them well is the best claim to dominion, and that it is escheated by misconduct in government : he who promotes their welfare is always legitimate, or easily made su. The Romans soon forgot the first years of Augustus, because the horrible excesses of the Triumvir were almost instantly obliterated by the paternal go. vernment of the Emperor. The English yet respect the memory

[ocr errors]

of the tyrant Usurper William the Conqueror, because he raised the national character : the wayward and savage Henry VIII. is enrolled among their principal benefactors, because he freed them from the yoke of Rome. They honor Cromwell, who brought their legitimate Sovereign to the block, because the Protector was more able than the King; and, not long after, they abjured their new legitimate, James II. and gave his throne to another usurper. The expulsion of the Merovingians by the usurper Pepin the Short, and that of the descendants of Charlemagne by Eudes and Hugh Capet, were applauded by the French, because the new princes governed better than those whom they deposed. France had already assented to the usurpation of Napoleon, and, but for the headlong and unprincipled rashness of his later expeditions, she would have ratified the distinction of “ The Great,” which his sycophants had too hastily assigned to him; and this same nation will now, perhaps, be more strict with its legitimate prince, because we always think ourselves intitled to expect more from him who voluntarily undertakes, than from him who is put down : one who expels another, and appropriates his seat, virtually contracts the responsibility of filling it to more advantage.

There are persons who startle at the very name of liberty, because they judge of it by our revolution; but without reflecting, that this revolution was, in fact, a continual despotism. Alas! the whole history of the world scarcely affords a few pages, devoted to the results of real liberty: this history is hardly more than the unvaried portraiture of unlicensed power: the people are only contemplated as the instruments and the victims of the ambition of their chiefs ; we witness nothing but the contest of subjects for the private interest of their Princes Kings who are themselves regicides and parricides, Priests who incite mankind to slaughter, and ever and anon prepare the pile of death. The eye can but repose on the generous efforts of some brave men, who consecrate themselves to the deliverance of their fellow-countrymen; if they succeed, they are called heroes ; if they fail, they are traitors and demagogues.

But how will this revolution, which, closely viewed, appears so repulsive, be regarded in the annals of history? What are the events we have beheld, compared with the incursion of the Barbarians into the Roman empire? Can they be classed with the bar. barities occasioned by the discovery of the new world ? With the exterminating wars, which in Asia have so often desolated countries more extensive than all Europe? But we consider no part of the world or its history, except the almost impalpable atom which limits our existence. We are like a common-wealth of ants, who murmur at the wrack of the universe, because a passenger has inadvertently trod on their habitations. How! were these mighty catastrophes the effect of liberty or.of ambition ?

In a state of nature, Man is only cruel by necessity. In a state of society, he is wilfully so, to satiate his caprices, and to allay the host of passions that spring up from his intercourse with his fellowcreatures.

Undoubtedly, I do not prefer a state of nature ; but social establishments will admit of infinite gradations, one extreme being a state of perfect independence, and the other consisting in absolute despotism. ' .

Now these two extremes are equally vicious, though uniform in their results; for in both cases it is evident, and borne out by experience, that intellectual cultivation, industry, or national prosperity, cannot exist. We have then to solve the problem, how to find a permanent medium between these two extremes, and to explain respectively the characteristics of regulated liberty, and of legitimate power. · But by what criterion shall we estimate the evil and the good ? Is it by reason alone, by recognized authorities, or by experience ? The incompetence of reason, as I have already observed, is sufficiently proved by the excesses to which it impelled us.

Nature has her moral as well as her physical laws, and they are alike difficult of discovery: it is the part of experience to commu. nicate them, and on this basis alone can we found rational and solid principles.

The son of untutored Nature, like other animals, acknowleges no restraint: he subjects every thing to his physical wants ; but it is Man in Society whom we now consider. We presume that he mingles with his fellow-creatures, and that his chief happiness requires a well organized society, connected by mutual good-will ; so that we have to inquire, how this society should be constituted, for the attainment of its highest degree of prosperity.

We feel that this maximum of prosperity is incompatible with individual solitude, because men would be without that first and fostering care which a mother bestows on her children. So that this state of life out only misses its end, but is even impracticable. We therefore conclude, that the most eligible state of civilization demands the sacrifice of some portion of natural liberty.

But experience also proves, that under the other extreme of · absolute despotism, science gradually expires, the arts are uncul

tivated, emulation dies away, all grow indifferent to national glory and public prosperity; while agriculture, commerce, and population, gradually perish.

The inaximum, then, of national prosperity, is between absolute liberty and absolute power; and in order to reach it, liberty, on the one hand, must be restricted within a certain scope, and, on the other hand, power must be circumscribed. This restricted liberty, I term social liberty, and this modified power, legitimate power.

Of the citizens, one party must abandon the chimæra of absolute liberty, and the other its unjustifiable claim to absolute power. On both sides, there must be a liberal sacrifice of whatever impedes the prosperity which all persons should ardently seek. These Reflexions, doubtless, should have preceded the Revolution; and the Revolution had not been.

In order to fix with precision the medium between these extremes, we should know the most perfect state of social comfort, which no one can hope to attain ; but if we only approximate to it, we shall yet establish the principle, that such a state of affairs is equally inconsistent with indefinite liberty and with absolute power.

Social government may be differently organized, and infinitely modified; for experience has decided that it may prosper, either in a moderated monarchy, or a well-poised democracy; nor is it my object to enter into bewildering and difficult discussions; I only say, that the question may be differently determined, accordingly to the nature of each country's government, and that some features are common to all; such as the regulation of finance, of

endowments for the education of youth, and the civil and criminal legislation of the public power.'

Although, in speculation, it be impossible to fix the limits of the different powers, they ought not the less to be adapted to the highest national prosperity; and therefore privileges and distinctions should only form a part of the organization, so far as they tend to the completion of this primal object : they are wheels calculated to move the machine, and, independently, of no value; they should be removed, when they only perplex the mechanism and increase the friction. Whatever might be the importance of any one of these parts, were it even like the main spring of a watch, still would it be absurd to say, that the watch was made for the spring, and not the spring subservient to the watch. We may here apply the fable of the limbs and the stomach; the limbs are not made for the stomach, nor that for the limbs, but both are framed for the general accommodation of the human system.

But, we shall be told; though we know that the maximum of national prosperity is our chief object, if we cannot accurately discover this maximum, how 'shall we attain it? By what tracks of research shall we find it? And when we discover these paths, how shall we all unite to pursue them?

To this I answer, that we shall discover these tracks in succession, concurrently with the diffusion of intellectual science, and that the prevalence of a patriotic spirit will persuade us to act in concert.

The science of government, like all other sciences, is perfected unconsciously, by the experience of reflexion. When all mankind shall sincerely inquire for that which best befits universal happiness, each dawn will add to the knowledge of the past day: we shall no longer walk at random, and all will emulously contribute their stores of intelligence and enthusiasm to the common stock.

But what will be the fountain-head of all these exertions ? What will impel this common tendency towards a single object? It can only be a powerful and a noble passion; it can only be the love of our country. We must therefore inspire this love; we must infuse a patriotic spirit. In this requisite, we are almost inconceivably deficient. No man, we may almost affirm, can comprehend or feel the sentiment of sacrificing individual interest to public benefit,

[ocr errors]
« PreviousContinue »