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ON GOVERNMENT.—No. I.*
FROM THE PENNSYLVANIA GAZETTE, APRIL I, 1736.
GOVERNMENT is aptly compared to architecture; if the superstructure is too heavy for the foundation, the building totters, though assisted by outward props of art. But leaving it to everybody to mould the similitude according to his particular fancy, I shall only observe, that the people have made the most considerable part of the legislature in every free state; which has been more or less so, in proportion to the share they have had in the administration of affairs. The English constitution is fixed on the strongest basis; we
for the remaining part of the term of sixteen years, repaying, by fewer and, of course, proportionably larger instalments, and during the last six years of the sixteen, the sums paid in were not to be remitted, but the notes burnt and destroyed; so that, at the end of the sixteen years, the whole might be called in and burnt, and the accounts completely settled.
"The trustees were taken from all the different counties of the province, their residence in different parts giving them better opportunities of being acquainted with the value and circumstances of estates offered in mortgage.
"They were to continue but four years in office; were to account annually to committees of Assembly; and, at the expiration of that term, they were to deliver up all moneys and securities in their hands, to their successors, before their bonds and securities could be discharged.
"Lest a few wealthy persons should engross the money, which was intended for more general benefit, no one person, whatever security he might offer, could borrow more than one hundred pounds.
"Thus, numbers of poor new settlers were accommodated and assist ed with money to carry on their settlements, to be repaid in easy portions yearly, as the yearly produce of their lands should enable them." POWNALL'S Administration of the Colonies, 4th edit. pp. 234 - 236. - EDITOR.
* What proof there is, that the two essays on Government were written by Franklin, except that they appeared in his Gazette, I have no means of determining. The internal evidence does not appear very strong. They are included in Duane's edition. — EDITOR.
choose whomsoever we please for our representatives, and thus we have all the advantages of a democracy, without any of its inconveniences.
Popular governments have not been framed without the wisest reasons. It seemed highly fitting, that the conduct of magistrates, created by and for the good of the whole, should be made liable to the inspection and animadversion of the whole. Besides, there could not be a more potent counterpoise to the designs of ambitious men, than a multitude that hated and feared ambition. Moreover, the power they possessed, though great collectively, yet, being distributed among a vast number, the share of each individual was too inconsiderable to lay him under any temptations of turning it to a wrong use. Again, a body of people thus circumstanced cannot be supposed to judge amiss on any essential points; for, if they decide in favor of themselves, which is extremely natural, their decision is just, inasmuch, as whatever contributes to their benefit is a general benefit, and advances the real public good. Hence we have an easy solution of the sophism, so often proposed by the abettors of tyranny, who tell us, that, when differences arise between a prince and his subjects, the latter are incapable of being judges of the controversy, for that would be setting up judge and party in the same person.
Some foreigners, have had a truer idea of our constitution. We read in the Memoirs of the late archbishop of Cambray, Fenelon, the celebrated author of Telemachus, a conversation which he had with the Pretender, (son of James the Second, of England.) "If ever you come to the crown of England," says the bishop, "you will be a happy prince; with an unlimited power to do good, and only restrained from doing evil." A blunt Briton, perhaps, would have
said, in plain English, "You'll be at liberty to do as much good as you please, but, by G-, you shall do us no hurt." The bishop sweetened the pill; for such it would appear in its simple form, to a mind fraught with notions of arbitrary power, and educated among a people, who, with the utmost simplicity, boast of their slavery.
What can be more ridiculous than to hear them frequently object to the English gentlemen that travel in their country, "What is your king? Commend me to our grand monarch, who can do whatever he pleases." But, begging pardon of these facetious gentlemen, whom it is not my intention to disturb, in their many notions of government, I shall go on to examine what were the sentiments of the ancient Romans on this head.
We find that their dictator, a magistrate never created but in cases of great extremity, vested with power as absolute during his office (which never exceeded six months) as the greatest kings were never possessed of; this great ruler was liable to be called to an account by any of the tribunes of the people, † whose persons were at the same time rendered sacred by the most solemn laws.
This is evident proof, that the Romans were of opinion, that the people could not in any sense divest themselves of the supreme authority, by conferring the most extensive power they possibly could imagine, on one or more persons acting as magistrates.
This appears still more evident, in remarking that the people sat as umpire of the differences which had
*Qu'est ce que votre roi? Parlez-moi de notre grand monarque, morbleu! qui peut faire tout ce qu'il veut.
Si antiquus animus plebi Romanæ esset, (says one of the tribunes,) audaciter se laturum fuisse de abrogando Q. Fabii [dictatoris] imperio. -T. Liv. lib. xxii. cap. 25.
arisen between the dictator and senate, in the case of young Fabius.*
The great deference, which Cicero paid to the judgment of the Roman people, appears by those inimitable orations, of which they were the sole judges and auditors. That great orator had a just opinion of their understanding. Nothing gave him a more sensible pleasure than their approbation. But the Roman populace were more learned than ours, more virtuous perhaps; but their sense of discernment was not better than ours. However, the judgment of a whole people, especially of a free people, is looked upon to be infallible; so that it has become a common proverb, that the voice of God is the voice of the people, Vox Dei est populi vox. And this is universally true, while they remain in their proper sphere, unbiased by faction, undeluded by the tricks of designing men.
Thank God! we are in the full enjoyment of all these privileges. But can we be taught to prize them too much? or how can we prize them equal to their value, if we do not know their intrinsic worth, and that they are not a gift bestowed upon us by other men, but a right that belongs to us by the laws of God and nature?
Since they are our right, let us be vigilant to preserve them uninfringed, and free from encroachments. If animosities arise, and we should be obliged to resort to party, let each of us range himself on the side which unfurls the ensigns of public good. Faction will then vanish, which, if not timely suppressed, may overturn the balance, the palladium of liberty, and crush us under its ruins.
Tribunos plebis appello, (says an illustrious senator to the dictator,) et provoco ad populum, eumque tibi, fugienti senatus judicium, judicem fero.-T. Liv. lib. viii. cap. 33.
The design of this paper is to assert the common rights of mankind, by endeavouring to illustrate eternal truths, that cannot be shaken even with the foundations of the world.
I may take another opportunity to show, how a government, founded on these principles, rises into the most beautiful structure, with all the graces of symmetry and proportion, as much different from that raised on arbitrary power, as Roman architecture from a Gothic building.
ON GOVERNMENT. —No. II.
FROM THE PENNSYLVANIA GAZette, april 8, 1736.
AN ancient sage of the law* says, "The King can do no wrong; for, if he doeth wrong, he is not the King." And in another place, "When the King doth justice, he is God's vicar; but when he doth unjustly, he is the agent of the Devil." The politeness of the later times has given a softer turn to the expression. It is now said, The King can do no wrong, but his ministers may. In allusion to this, the Parliament of 1641 declared they made war against the King for the King's service. But his Majesty affirmed, that such a distinction was absurd; though, by the way, his own creed contained a greater absurdity, for he believed he had an authority from God to oppress the subjects, whom by the same authority he was obliged to cherish and defend. Aristotle calls all princes tyrants, from the
* Bracton, De Legibus et Consuetudinibus Angliæ; an author of great weight, contemporary with Henry the Third.
Rex non facit injuriam, quia, si facit injuriam, non est rex.
Dum facit justitiam, vicarius est Regis æterni; minister autem Diaboli, dum deck net ad injuriam.