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before the mass of mankind the question, “ Will you be governed by a king, or will you be governed by a constitution ?” the inquiry comes out thus—“Will you be governed in a way you understand, or will you be governed in a way you do not understand ?” The issue was put to the French people; they were asked, “Will you be governed by Louis Napoleon, or will you be governed by an assembly?” The French people said, “We will be governed by the one man we can imagine, and not by the many people we cannot imagine.”
The best mode of comprehending the nature of the two governments, is to look at a country in which the two have within a comparatively short space of years succeeded each other.
« The political condition,” says Mr. Grote, 6 which Grecian legend everywhere presents to us, is in its principal features strikingly different from that which had become universally prevalent among the Greeks in the time of the Peloponnesian war. Historical oligarchy, as well as democracy, agreed in requiring a certain established system of government, comprising the three elements of specialised functions, temporary functionaries, and ultimate responsibility (under some forms or other) to the mass of qualified citizens—either a Senate or an Ecclesia, or both. There were, of course, many and capital distinctions between one government and another, in respect to the qualification of the citizen, the attributes and efficiency of the general assembly, the admissibility to power, &c.; and men might often be dissatisfied with the way in which these questions were determined in their own city. But in the mind of every man, some determining rule or system-something like what in modern times is called a constitution—was indispensable to any government entitled to be called legitimate, or capable of creating in the mind of a Greek a feeling of moral obligation to obey it. The functionaries who exercise authority under it might be more or less competent or popular; but his personal feelings towards them were commonly lost in his attachment or aversion to the general system. If any energetic man could by audacity or craft break down the constitution, and render himself permanent ruler according to his own will and pleasure, even though he might govern well, he could never inspire the people with any sentiment of duty towards him: his sceptre was illegitimate from the beginning, and even the taking of his life, far from being interdicted by that moral feeling which condemned the shedding of blood in other cases, was considered meritorious : he could not even be mentioned in the language except by a name (Túpavvos, despot) which branded him as an object of mingled fear and dislike.
“ If we carry our eyes back from historical to legendary Greece, we find a picture the reverse of what has been here sketched. We discern a government in which there is little or no scheme or eystem, still less any idea of responsibility to the governed, but in which the mainspring of obedience on the part of the people consists in their personal feeling and reverence towards the chief. We remark, first and foremost, the King ; next, a limited number of subordinate kings or chiefs; afterwards, the mass of armed freemen, husbandmen, artisans, freebooters, &c.; lowest of all, the free labourers for hire and the bought slaves. The King is not distinguished by any broad, or impassable boundary from the other chiefs, to each of whom the title Basileus is applicable as well as to himself: his supremacy has been inherited from his ancestors, and passes by inheritance, as a general rule, to his eldest son, having been conferred upon the family as a privilege by the favour of Zeus. In war, he is the leader, foremost in personal prowess, and directing all military movements; in peace, he is the general protector of the injured and oppressed; he offers up moreover those public prayers and sacrifices which are intended to obtain for the whole people the favour of the gods. An ample domain is assigned to him as an appurtenance of his lofty position, and the produce of his fields and his cattle is consecrated in part to an abundant, though rude hospitality. Moreover he receives frequent presents, to avert his enmity, to conciliate his favour, or to buy off his exactions; and when plunder is taken from the enemy, a large previous share, comprising probably the most alluring female captive, is reserved for him apart from the general distribution.
“Such is the position of the King in the heroic times of Greece--the only person (if we except the heralds and priests, each both special and subordinate) who is then presented to us as clothed with any individual authority -the person by whom all the executive functions, then few in number, which the society requires, are either performed or directed. His personal ascendancy-derived from divine countenance,bestowed both upon himself individually and upon his race, and probably from accredited divine descent—is the salient feature in the picture: the people hearken to his voice, embrace his propositions, and obey his orders: not merely resistance, but even criticism upon his acts, is generally exhibited in an odious point of view, and is indeed never heard of except from some one or more of the subordinate princes.”
The characteristic of the English Monarchy is that it retains the feelings by which the heroic kings governed their rúde age, and has added the feelings by which the constitutions of later Greece ruled in more refined ages. We are a more mixed people than the Athenians, or probably than any political Greeks. We have progressed more unequally. The slaves in ancient times were a separate order; not ruled by the same laws, or thoughts, as other men. It was not necessary to think of them in making a constitution: it was not necessary to improve them in order to make a constitution possible. The Greek legislator had not to combine in his polity men like the labourers of Somersetshire, and men like Mr. Grote. He had not to deal with a community in which primitive barbarism lay as a recognised basis to acquired civilisation. We have. We have no slaves to keep down by special terrors and independent legislation. But we have whole classes unable to comprehend the idea of a constitution —unable to feel the least attachment to impersonal laws. Most do indeed vaguely know that there are some other institutions besides the Queen, and some rules by which she governs. But a vast number like their minds to dwell more upon her than upon anything else, and therefore
she is inestimable. A Republic has only difficult ideas in government; a Constitutional Monarchy has an easy idea too; it has a comprehensible element for the vacant many, as well as complex laws and notions for the inquiring few.
A family on the throne is an interestingʻidea also. It brings down the pride of sovereignty to the level of petty life. No feeling could seem more childish than the enthusiasm of the English at the marriage of the Prince of Wales. They treated as a great political event, what, looked at as a matter of pure business, was very small indeed. But no feeling could be more like common human nature as it is, and as it is likely to be. The women-one half the human race at least-care fifty times more for a marriage than a ministry. All but a few cynics like to see a pretty novel touching for a moment the dry scenes of the grave world. A princely marriage is the brilliant edition of a universal fact, and as such, it rivets mankind. We smile at the Court Circular; but remember how many people read the Court Circular! Its use is not in what it says, but in those to whom it speaks. They say that the Americans were more pleased at the Queen's letter to Mrs. Lincoln, than at any act of the English Government. It was a spontaneous act of intelligible feeling in the midst of confused and tiresome business. Just so a royal family sweetens politics by the seasonable addition of nice and pretty events. It introduces irrelevant facts into the business of government, but they are facts which speak to 6 men's bosoms” and employ their thoughts.