Good Governments admit of Changes in the Superstructures, whilst the Foundations remain unchangeable.

IF I go a step farther, and confess the Romans made some changes in the outward form of their government, I may safely say they did well in it, and prosper'd by it. After the expulsion of the kings, the power was chiefly in the nobility, who had been leaders of the people; but it was necessary to humble them, when they began to presume too much upon the advantages of their birth; and the city could never have been great, unless the plebeians who were the body of it, and the main strength of their armies, had been admitted to a participation of honours. This could not be done at the first: They who had been so vilely oppressed by Tarquin, and harass'd with making or cleansing sinks, were not then fit for magistracies, or the command of armies; but they could not justly be excluded from them, when they had men who in courage and conduct were equal to the best of the patricians; and it had been absurd for any man to think it a disparagement to him to marry the daughter of one whom he had obey'd as dictator or consul, and perhaps follow'd in his triumph. Rome that was constituted for war, and sought its grandeur by that means, could never have arriv'd to any considerable height, if the people had not been exercised in arms, and their spirits raised to delight in conquests, and willing to expose themselves to the greatest fatigues and dangers to accomplish them. Such men as these were not to be used like slaves, or oppressed by the unmerciful hand of usurers. They who by their sweat and blood were to defend and enlarge the territories of the state, were to be convinced they fought for themselves; and they had reason to demand a magistracy of their own, vested with a power that none might offend, to maintain their rights, and to protect their families, whilst they were abroad in the armies. These were the tribunes of the people, made, as they called it, sacrosancti or inviolable; and the creation of them was the most considerable change that happened till the time of Marius, who brought all into disorder. The creation or abolition of military tribunes with consular power, ought to be accounted as nothing; for it imported little whether that authority were exercised by two, or by five: That of the decemviri was as little to be regarded, they were intended only for a year; and tho new ones were created for another, on pretence that the laws they were to frame could not be brought to perfection in so short a time, yet they were soon thrown down from the power they usurped, and endeavoured to retain contrary to law: The creation of dictators was no novelty, they were made occasionally from the beginning, and never otherwise than occasionally, till Julius Caesar subverted all order, and invading that supreme magistracy by force, usurped the right which belong'd to all.[1] This indeed was a mortal change even in root and principle. All other magistrates had been created by the people for the publick good, and always were within the power of those that had created them. But Caesar coming in by force, sought only the satisfaction of his own raging ambition, or that of the soldiers, whom he had corrupted to destroy their country; and his successors governing for themselves by the help of the like rascals, perpetually exposed the empire to be ravaged by them. But whatever opinion any man may have of the other changes, I dare affirm, there are few or no monarchies (whose histories are so well known to us as that of Rome) which have not suffer'd changes incomparably greater and more mischievous than those of Rome whilst it was free. The Macedonian monarchy fell into pieces immediately after the death of Alexander: 'Tis thought he perished by poison: His wives, children and mother, were destroyed by his own captains: The best of those who had escaped his fury, fell by the sword of each other. When the famous Argyraspides[2] might have expected some reward of their labours, and a little rest in old age, they were maliciously sent into the East by Antigonus to perish by hunger and misery, after he had corrupted them to betray Eumenes. No better fate attended the rest; all was in confusion, every one follow'd whom he pleased, and all of them seemed to be filled with such a rage that they never ceased from mutual slaughters till they were consumed; and their kingdoms continued in perpetual wars against each other, till they all fell under the Roman power. The fortune of Rome was the same after it became a monarchy: Treachery, murder and fury, reigned in every part; there was no law but force; he that could corrupt an army, thought he had a sufficient title to the empire: by this means there were frequently three or four, and at one time thirty several pretenders, who called themselves emperors; of which number he only reigned that had the happiness to destroy all his competitors; and he himself continued no longer than till another durst attempt the destruction of him and his posterity. In this state they remained, till the wasted and bloodless provinces were possess'd by a multitude of barbarous nations. The kingdoms established by them enjoy'd as little peace or justice; that of France was frequently divided into as many parts as the kings of Meroveus or Pepin's race had children, under the names of the kingdoms of Paris, Orleans, Soissons, Aries, Burgundy, Austrasia, and others: These were perpetually vexed by the unnatural fury of brothers or nearest relations, whilst the miserable nobility and people were obliged to fight upon their foolish quarrels, till all fell under the power of the strongest. This mischief was in some measure cured by a law made in the time of Hugh Capet, that the kingdom should no more be divided: But the apanages, as they call them, granted to the king's brothers, with the several dukedoms and earldoms erected to please them and other great lords, produced frequently almost as bad effects. This is testified by the desperate and mortal factions, that went under the names of Burgundy and Orleans, Armagnae and Orleans, Montmorency and Guise: These were followed by those of the League,[3] and the Wars of the Huguenots: They were no sooner finish'd by the taking of La Rochelle, but new ones began by the intrigues of the duke of Orleans, brother to Lewis the 13th, and his mother; and pursued with that animosity by them, that they put themselves under the protection of Spain: To which may be added, that the houses of Condé, Soissons, Montmorency, Guise, Vendôme, Angoulême, Bouillon, Rohan, Longueville, Rochefoucault, Eperne and I think I may say every one that is of great eminency in that kingdom, with the cities of Paris, Bourdeaux, and many others, in the space of these last fifty years, have sided with the perpetual enemies of their own country.

Again, other great alterations have happened within the same kingdom: The races of kings four times wholly changed: Five kings deposed in less than 150 years after the death of Charles the Great: The offices of maire du palais, and constable, erected and laid aside: The great dukedoms and earldoms, little inferior to sovereign principalities, establish'd and suppress'd: The decision of all causes, and the execution of the laws, placed absolutely in the hands of the nobility, their deputies, seneschals, or vice-seneschals, and taken from them again: Parliaments set up to receive appeals from the other courts, and to judge sovereignly in all cases, expressly to curb them: The power of these parliaments, after they had crushed the nobility, brought so low, that within the last twenty years they are made to register, and give the power of laws, to edicts, of which the titles only are read to them; and the general assemblies of estates, that from the time of Pepin had the power of the nation in their hands, are now brought to nothing, and almost forgotten.

Tho I mention these things, 'tis not with a design of blaming them, for some of them deserve it not; and it ought to be consider'd that the wisdom of man is imperfect, and unable to foresee the effects that may proceed from an infinite variety of accidents, which according to emergencies, necessarily require new constitutions, to prevent or cure the mischiefs arising from them, or to advance a good that at the first was not thought on: And as the noblest work in which the wit of man can be exercised, were (if it could be done) to constitute a government that should last forever, the next to that is to suit laws to present exigencies, and so much as is in the power of man to foresee: And he that should resolve to persist obstinately in the way he first entered upon, or to blame those who go out of that in which their fathers had walked, when they find it necessary, does as far as in him lies, render the worst of errors perpetual. Changes therefore are unavoidable, and the wit of man can go no farther than to institute such, as in relation to the forces, manners, nature, religion or interests of a people and their neighbours, are suitable and adequate to what is seen, or apprehended to be seen: And he who would oblige all nations at all times to take the same course, would prove as foolish as a physician who should apply the same medicine to all distempers, or an architect that would build the same kind of house for all persons, without considering their estates, dignities, the number of their children or servants, the time or climate in which they live, and many other circumstances; or, which is, if possible, more sottish, a general who should obstinately resolve always to make war in the same way, and to draw up his army in the same form, without examining the nature, number, and strength of his own and his enemies' forces, or the advantages and disadvantages of the ground. But as there may be some universal rules in physick, architecture and military discipline, from which men ought never to depart; so there are some in politicks also which ought always to be observed: and wise legislators adhering to them only, will be ready to change all others as occasion may require, in order to the publick good. This we may learn from Moses, who laying the foundation of the law given to the Israelites in that justice, charity and truth, which having its root in God is subject to no change, left them the liberty of having judges or no judges, kings or no kings, or to give the sovereign power to high priests or captains, as best pleased themselves; and the mischiefs they afterwards suffer'd, proceeded not simply from changing, but changing for the worse. The like judgment may be made of the alterations that have happen'd in other places. They who aim at the publick good, and wisely institute means proportionable and adequate to the attainment of it, deserve praise; and those only are to be dislik'd, who either foolishly or maliciously set up a corrupt private interest in one or a few men. Whosoever therefore would judge of the Roman changes, may see, that in expelling the Tarquins, creating consuls, abating the violence of usurers, admitting Plebeians to marry with the patricians, rendering them capable of magistracies, deducing colonies, dividing lands gained from their enemies, erecting tribunes to defend the rights of the commons, appointing the decemviri to regulate the law, and abrogating their power when they abused it, creating dictators and military tribunes with a consular power, as occasions requir'd; they acted in the face of the sun for the good of the public; and such acts having always produced effects suitable to the rectitude of their intentions, they consequently deserve praise. But when another principle began to govern, all things were changed in a very different manner: Evil designs, tending only to the advancement of private interests, were carried on in the dark by means as wicked as the end. If Tarquin when he had a mind to be king, poison'd his first wife and his brother, contracted an incestuous marriage with his second by the death of her first husband, murder'd her father and the best men in Rome, yet Caesar did worse: He favour'd Catiline and his villainous associates; bribed and corrupted magistrates; conspir'd with Crassus and Pompey; continued in the command of an army beyond the time prescribed by law, and turned the arms with which he had been entrusted for the service of the commonwealth, to the destruction of it; which was rightly represented by his dream, that he had constuprated his mother: In the like manner when Octavius, Antonius and Lepidus, divided the empire, and then quarrelled among themselves; and when Galba, Otho, Vitellius and Vespasian set up parties in several provinces, all was managed with treachery, fraud and cruelty; nothing was intended but the advancement of one man, and the recompence of the villains that served him: And when the empire had suffered infinite calamities by pulling down or rejecting one, and setting up another, it was for the most part difficult to determine who was the worst of the two; or whether the prevailing side had gained or lost by their victory. The question therefore upon which a judgment may be made to the praise or dispraise of the Roman government, before or after the loss of their liberty, ought not to be, whether either were subject to changes, for neither they nor anything under the sun was ever exempted from them; but whether the changes that happened after the establishment of absolute power in the emperors, did not solely proceed from ambition, and tend to the publick ruin: whereas those alterations related by our author concerning consuls, dictators, decemviri, tribunes and laws, were far more rare, less violent, tending to, and procuring the publick good, and therefore deserving praise. The like having been proved by the examples of other kingdoms, and might be farther confirmed by many more, which on account of brevity I omit, is in my opinion sufficient to manifest, that whilst the foundation and principle of a government remains good, the superstructures may be changed according to occasions, without any prejudice to it.

[1] Jura omnium in se traxit. Suet. [Actually in Tacitus, Annals, bk. 1, ch. 2.]

[2] []

[3] [League of the Public Weal founded by some French nobility to oppose Louis XI.]