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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, Vow Dei est populi vow. 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 mature ?
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 senatas judicium, judicem fero.— T. Liv. lib. viii. cap. 33.
WOL. II. 36 x *
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 1741 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 declinet ad injuriam.
moment they set up an interest different from that of their subjects; and this is the only definition he gives us of tyranny. Our own countryman, before cited, and the sagacious Greek, both agree on this point, that a governor, who acts contrary to the ends of government, loses the title bestowed on him at his institution. It would be highly improper to give the same name to things of different qualities, or that produce different effects. Matter, while it communicates heat, is generally called fire, but when the flames are extinguished, the appellation is changed. Sometimes indeed the same sound serves to express things of a contrary nature; but that only denotes a defect, or poverty, in the language.
A wicked prince imagines, that the crown receives a new lustre from absolute power, whereas every step he takes to obtain it is a forfeiture of the crown.
His conduct is as foolish as it is detestable; he aims at glory and power, and treads the path that leads to dishonor and contempt; he is a plague to his country, and deceives himself.
During the inglorious reigns of the Stuarts (except a part of Queen Anne's), it was a perpetual struggle between them and the people; those endeavouring to subvert, and these bravely opposing the subverters of liberty. What were the consequences ? One lost his life on the scaffold, another was banished. The memory of all of them stinks in the nostrils of every true lover of his country; and their history stains with indelible blots the English annals.
The reign of Queen Elizabeth furnishes a beautiful contrast. All her views centred in one object, which was the public good. She made it her study to gain the love of her subjects, not by flattery or little soothing arts, but by rendering them substantial favors. It was far from her policy to encroach on their privileges; she augmented and secured them.
And it is remarked to her eternal honor, that the acts presented to her for her royal approbation (forty or fifty of a session of Parliament) were signed without examining any farther than the titles. This wise and good Queen only reigned for her people, and knew that it was absurd to imagine they would promote any thing contrary to their own interests, which she so studiously endeavoured to advance.* On the other hand, when this Queen asked money of the Parliament, they frequently gave her more than she demanded, and never inquired how it was disposed of, except for form's sake, being fully convinced she would not employ it but for the general welfare. Happy princess, happy people ! What harmony, what mutual confidence! Seconded by the hearts and purses of her subjects, she crushed the exorbitant power of Spain, which threatened destruction to England, and chains to all Europe. That monarchy has ever since pined under the stroke, so that now, when we send a man-of-war or two to the West Indies, it puts her into such a panic fright, that, if the galleons can steal home, she sings Te Deum as for a
This is a true picture of government; its reverse is tyranny.
* This notion of the infallible perception by the people of their true interest, and their unerring pursuit of it, was very prevalent in the provinces, and, for a time, in the States after the establishment of American independence. A striking instance of it is mentioned by Mr. Justice Story, in his Eulogy on Chief Justice Marshall, who, during the earlier part of his life, did not dream that the voice of the people could be other than the voice of God. — W. PHILLIPS.
ON FREEDOM OF SPEECH AND THE PRESS. *
FROM THE PENNSYLVANIA GAZETTE, NOVEMBER, 1737.
FREEDOM of speech is a principal pillar of a free government; when this support is taken away, the constitution of a free society is dissolved, and tyranny is erected on its ruins. Republics and limited monarchies derive their strength and vigor from a popular examination into the action of the magistrates; this privilege in all ages has been, and always will be abused. The best of men could not escape the censure and envy of the times they lived in. Yet this evil is not so great as it may appear at first sight. A magistrate, who sincerely aims at the good of society, will always have the inclinations of a great majority on his side, and an impartial posterity will not fail to render him justice.
Those abuses of the freedom of speech are the excesses of liberty. They ought to be repressed ; but to whom dare we commit the care of doing it ? An evil magistrate intrusted with power to punish for words, would be armed with a weapon the most destructive and terrible. Under pretence of pruning off the exuberant branches, he would be apt to destroy the tree.
It is certain, that he who robs another of his moral reputation more richly merits a gibbet, than if he had plundered him of his purse on the highway. Augustus Cæsar, under the specious pretext of preserving the
* This essay, in regard to its genuineness, may fairly be considered in the same light as those preceding it, on Government. Though written with ability, and probably expressing the sentiments of Franklin, yet the characteristics of the style are not such as to make it evident, on that ground alone, that the performance came from his pen. It is proper to state, however, that Mr. Duane has included it in his edition, and thus given it the sanction of his judgment. - EDITOR.