« PreviousContinue »
continued to act with the steadiness and success of a natural instinct. This will appear in the first concoction of her government–in the gradual development of her institutions—and in all their oscillations, up to the period when they acquired a stability, which resisted all farther shocks and alterations. In submitting to the common necessity, of obeying one leader in war, and having a supreme magistrate to guard their laws, maintain their religion, and preside over the ordinary tribunals, the Venetians never for a moment relinquished their right of conferring these powers by election; they continually asserted their power to degrade their possessor from the throne to which they had raised him, nor did they deem any means for the attainment of this end unlawful: they gradually limited his authority, till at length they subjected him to the control of an Aristocracy, which derived its constitutional claim to represent the people, from the natural influence of wealth, and the respect derived from a long line of renowned ancestors. To vest the substantial power in an oligarchy like this, arising from the very nature of civil society, it is only necessary that its members should act with some degree of concert; but the Venetian Few at last matured this concert into an artful and organised conspiracy; and, by carefully preserving the republican forms, together with the inveterate hatred of monarchy, and the national independence, continued to increase their power without awakening suspicion ; while, as a means of accommodating the primitive laws of the land to their own exclusive interest, they seized eagerly on every opportunity of enforcing, and bringing into operation, such arbitrary expedients as, in former ages, had only been resorted to in cases of extraordinary emergency. The authority and number of these unconstitutional precedents thus gradually increased, until they came to be regarded as practical parts of the constitution, and, in fact, furnished the elements out of which the State Inquisition was eventually formed.
To illustrate what we have now said, we shall proceed to lay before our readers such a series of facts, in the first ten centuries of Venetian history, as we think will exhibit a comprehensive view of the stages by which Democracy gradually dwindled into hereditary Aristocracy; and that, in its turn, into a mysterious and unrelenting Oligarchy.
The small band of fugitives, who, escaping from the devastations of the Goths, first peopled the lagunes of the Adriatic Gulf, (A. D. 420,) were governed by magistrates sent from Padua. The names and posterity of some of these men are not yet extinct. Antonio Calvo, Alberto Faliero, Tomaso Candiano, Albino Moro, Hugo Fosco, Cesare Danlo.* From the four first sprang the patrician families of the Calvi, Candiani, Moro, and Falieri, which were in existence up to the time of the destruction of the republic. From the fifth, the Foscolo, Foscari, and Foscarini derived their origin; and Danlo is thought to have been the parent stem of the house of Dandolo.
In the lagunes, which are navigable at high water, but are left partially dry in the ebb, the fugitives found numerous spots amid the rocks and little islands, sufficiently extensive to admit of cultivation. Their natural produce and aliment was, however, fish; and their only marketable commodities, the salt which they collected in their lagunes, and the fish which they cured with it. Their occupations consisted in building and navigating small boats for their neighbours. Such was their first acquaintance with that element which was afterwards to bear the proud fleets of their daring navigators, victorious warriors, and enterprising merchants. The greater number of the islands were marshes. The most elevated of them, called Rialto, was situated nearly in the middle. In progress of time, several of them were united by bridges, and formed the site of the city of Venice.
Meanwhile, Padua was still the metropolis ; but having been shortly after devastated by the incursions of barbarians, (A. D. 450–60,) her little colonies were emancipated from her guardianship, and left to maintain as they could their feeble independence. From that time, each island elected a tribune; and it appears that the assembly of these magistrates constituted a national council. But as the necessity of carrying on offensive and defensive wars with their neighbours increased, the executive power, not very precisely separated, indeed, from the legislative and judicial, was vested in a single tribune. (A. D. 503.) Though, however, this functionary was elective, and bound in most things by the deliberations and decrees of the other tribunes, his authority was too extensive to be viewed without jealousy and apprehension ; and was soon distributed among ten, and afterwards among twelvethough occasionally this number was diminished to seven, They were chosen annually, and were bound to govern the republic with the concurrence of a popular assembly, and the assistance of a council of forty persons, both chosen by the people, and who also performed the functions of judges.
This extremely pure Democracy lasted for more than two centuries and a half; when, as wealth and population increased, the
* Daru, Hist. de Venice, Pièces Justif. section 6, vol. vii. p. I. VOL. XLVI. NO. 91.
offices of the magistracy naturally devolved upon those who possessed the influence of property in the highest degree; and as these were, of course, comparatively few in number, the abuse of power became less difficult. Hence arose dissensions among those who aspired to govern, intrigues in the annual elections, licentiousness among the people, and all the symptoms of impending civil war, at the very time when their struggles with external enemies imperiously demanded union and co-operation. In this emergency, they elected, for the first time, a chief Magistrate, called a Doge, who was to hold his office for life. (A. D. 697.) This title, which is a corruption of Dux, while it excluded the idea of Sovereignty, more peculiarly indicated the office of leader of the national armies. He was an object, however, of constant jealousy and vigilance to the existing magistrates, and especially to the council of forty, in which the seeds of the state inquisition, though yet imperceptible on the surface, had taken firm root. Having thus provided a conductor of their wars abroad, and combined vigour in the government with security to popular rights at home, their determination never to yield even the shadow of their political independence acquired new strength.
There was not at that time a single prince in Europe, whether hereditary or elective, who could emancipate himself from vassalage to the Emperor, either of the East or of the West, or perhaps to both. Yet, at that very moment, Venice regarded the concessions made to her by both empires as rewards for her eo-operation in their commercial and maritime expeditions, but never acknowledged them to be held at the pleasure of either emperor as feudal chief. All her historians treat this as a fundamental axiom of the law of nations; while foreign writers have denied it, and have contended that the right of the emperors to make or to recall grants is inalienable.
Charlemagne, indeed, affected to consider the Venetians as his feudal dependents; but either he wanted their assistance, or felt that he had not power to withhold what they demanded; for it is unquestionable, that he declared them independent.* Immediately after the establishment of his family on the throne of Italy, Pepin found a pretext for charging the Venetians with ingratitude, or disobedience to the emperor, and attacked them with all his forces, and with the determination entirely to subdue them: but they repulsed his fleet, manned with the troops that had conquered the western empire, and thus put an end to
Machiavelli. Storia. Lib. I.
all claims on their allegiance. We may advert hereafter to the pretensions of the Emperor of the East; but we shall now only say a word on the degree of obedience paid by Venice to the Ecclesiastical oracles of Rome.
“ The Doges were invested with power" (we translate from Andrea Dandolo, who was himself a Doge, and the earliest of Venetian historians) " of convoking assemblies; of declaring war, or concluding treaties; of commanding the armies of the state ; of appointing the military tribunes and the judges ; of hearing appeals, and deciding definitively on all matters at issue; of collecting the citizens in their different islands, and in the quarters or districts of Venice, for the purpose of choosing their parish priests and bishops ; of judging all matters concerning the clergy, in causes as well civil as criminal, leaving to the pope the decision of such only as were purely spiritual ; lastly, of awarding ecclesiastical punishments, investing the bishops, and installing them in their churches. By the assertion of this latter right, however consonant at the time with the practice of the church of Rome, Venice involved herself afterwards in a struggle with the popes; yet though this struggle was so fierce as sometimes to threaten her immediate destruction, and though every monarch successively yielded to the arrogant pretensions of the sovereign pontiffs, she never, through the whole period of her existence, permitted the court of Rome to interfere in the government of her church.”*
Although invested with such vast powers, it does not appear that the first Doge abused them; he advanced the glory, and augmented the prosperity of the state, and died respected by his subjects. The second did little either for the advantage or injury of the republic. The third, availing himself of the pretext afforded him by a letter from the pope, requesting his aid against the Barbarians, made war upon the Lombards, besieged them in Ravenna, which they had occupied, and reconquered, and restored it to the Emperor of the East. As a reward for these services, he obtained for the republic a tract of land bordering on the sea, and extending to the Adige. But his successes against an enemy hitherto deemed invincible, and the magnificence which he affected after his return from this expedition, alarmed the jealousy of his countrymen, who foresaw a dictator in their victorious general. He was assassinated by the populace in his palace, and the dignity of Doge was abolished. (A. D. 737.)
In its stead was established the office of a chief, removable
* Ejusque jussione (Ducis) clericorum consilia et electiones prælaturarum a Clero et Populo debeant inchoare, et electi ab eo (Duce) investitionem accipere, et ejus mandato inthronisari.-And. Dandolo, apud Gallicioli, chron. I.-Daru, Hist. vol. 1. p. 42.
from year to year, with the title of Maestro della Milizia. Only four successive leaders enjoyed this dignity; the fifth was imprisoned, his eyes were put out, and he was deposed. (A. D. 742.)
The Venetians then restored the office of Doge, which was, as before, elective, and held for life. Of forty-three who reigned in the course of three hundred years, scarcely one-half concluded their career in peace. Five were compelled to abdicate, three were assassinated by conspirators, one was condemned to death according to legal forms, and nine sentenced to be deposed, and deprived of sight, or to exile, and sometimes to all these punishments united. Some only escaped them by dying on the field of battle. Yet few of them, if any, had brought any great calamity upon the republic, whilst many had extended her dominion and her fame, by the acquisition of extensive provinces on the Adriatic, and by planting some of those colonies in the Archipelago, which afterwards facilitated her conquests in the East, and aided the growth of her adventurous commerce.
The persecutions and punishments which followed every attempt, on the part of the Doges, to render the throne hereditary, and the judicial trial and execution, by which the state repressed all schemes of personal ambition, afford the strongest proofs that the abhorrence of the Venetians for the government of one man continued unabated during the first seven centuries of their political existence. The real depositary of the republican power, was the council of forty. Like the Ephori of Sparta, they exercised directly but few of the functions of the executive-but they ruled over their kings. On the forty also devolved the sovereign power during the interregna; sometimes after the deposition or death of Doges, whom they themselves had tried and condemned. Thus slowly and imperceptibly arose that aristocratical domination which prepared the way for the silent usurpations of the oligarchy, and was at length matured into the tremendous despotism of the State-Inquisition. A body of Magistrates, however, existed in Venice, at this period, whose functions were totally different from those of the Ephori, and were borrowed (if, indeed, they were imitated at all,) from those of the tribunes of the people in Rome. They were called Avvogadore del Comun -advocates of the Commonwealth. They were three in number; but the Veto of one of them was sufficient to suspend the execution of all sentences of the courts of justice, all decrees of the Doges, and all deliberations of the council of forty, or of the popular assemblies. The Avvogador assigned no reason for his Veto till the expiration of a month and a day, and might even twice extend this for a like period; he had then the privilege of appointing either the Doge or the Forty, or any other body of