Jean Paul Marat
WHEN the people, incensed at such outrageous attempts, make an insurrection, the Prince orders troops to march against them, and if his own forces be not sufficient, he has recourse to his neighbours *; he then exhorts hi subjects to return to obedience, threatens to employ force in case they should oppose, and gives them to understand that they must submit without terms.
Thus Princes begin by craft to reduce their subjects to subjection, and afterwards enslave them by violence.
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NOT only the ambitious projects of Princes, their dark dealings, their villainous attempts, establish slavery; but the inconsideration and folly of the people also prepare the way to tyranny.
In a free government, when care is not taken from time to time to bring back the constitution to its first principles, in proportion as the epoch of its origin becomes remote, the people lose sight of their rights, they soon forget them in part, and afterwards retain no notion of them. The people, by long losing sight of their rights, by ever seeing the Prince at the helm, and by ever obeying his commands, at length consider themselves as mere cyphers, and the Prince as sole master.
The only just aim of a political association, is the happiness of the people, and whatever be the pretensions of Princes, all other considerations ought to yield to public welfare; but the people are inclined to look upon the Princes authority alone, as being sacred; they never believe themselves authorised to oppose by force his arbitrary mandates; to prevail with him they believe no means lawful but supplications *, and are ever ready to submit to the most grievous oppression, rather than punish the Lord's anointed.
When subjects groan under the yoke of a cruel Prince, hardly any person finds fault; but when a whole nation passes sentence upon a tyrant, every one expresses his disapprobation *.
As soon as the Prince can secure malefactors from punishment, duty is disregarded, and protection sought after.
Men, when protected, become proud of the disgraceful yoke of a despot, and are ashamed of the honourable restraint of laws +.
Kings, magistrates, commanders of armies, and all those who, adorned with marks of power, hold the reins of the empire or direct public affairs, are objects of public admiration - Like ancient idols, stupidly admired and adored. Besides
Besides pageantry, the people respect in Princes the advantage of birth *, a fine + stature, beauty and these frivolous endowments serve not less to increase their empire, than they do that of love.
The good successes of Princes supply their want of merit with the people: for although events be ever so much accidental, they always consider brilliant successes as the effects of ability in those who command, and this much contributes to increase the veneration the people show to them ++.
BUT nothing contributes to it so much as the stupid admiration of the people for certain striking characters.
Let a Prince be diligent, resolute, valiant, enterprising, and magnificent, no more is wanting; if disgraced by a thousand vices, those few good qualities are thought to be a sufficient endowment.
We do not pass the same judgement upon Princes as upon private persons. We only consider their actions as being bold, great, extraordinary, instead of considering them as being just, good or virtuous. We overlook their disregard of their word, their want of honour, their treachery, perjury, treason, unmercifulness, cruelty; we admire their magnificent follies, instead of looking upon them with indignation; we praise their iniquitous undertakings, instead of branding them with infamy; and oftentimes are so inconsiderate as to reward with a crown, crimes which merited capital punishment.
Let us overlook the encomiums bestowed on Alexander, Caesar, Henry VIII. Charles V.; and from the many instances recorded in history, select that of Louis XIV. whom courtiers, poets, academicians, and historians have so greatly cried up, whom inconsiderate men have so stupidly admired, but whose memory good men ought to detest.
A good Prince ought to have constantly in view the welfare of his people; but, if the conduct of this monarch be attentively enquired into, it will appear, that during the whole course of his long reign, he only sought after what could be undertaken to his own glory: all his desires, all his discourses, all his actions ever aimed at same: and to this deplorable folly he continually sacrificed the happiness of his subjects.
Instead of applying the public money to promote the true interests of the nation, he distributed it to his creatures; squandered it in feasts, balls, tournaments, in making cascades and waterworks amidst arid plains, and in forcing nature.
Instead of permitting his subjects to enjoy the fruits of industry and honest diligence amidst the blessings of peace, he sacrificed to the ambition of being distinguished as a conqueror, their tranquillity, their well-being, their blood: and, whilst disputing the laurels with the enemy, let them starve in the career of his victories *.
To indulge his caprice, his pride, his wants ever new, not content with exhausting the produce of past years, he destroyed the promises of years to come, deeply involved the public in debt +, and brought the greatest calamities upon his dominions.
Infatuated with a lust of power, he attempted to make all bow under him, crushed all those who opposed his will, and in order to show how unbounded was his authority, exerted his tyrannic empire over even the minds of his people, and armed a ferocious soldiery * against those subjects who refused to betray their consciences.
He erected indeed for the public some monuments of ostentation, hitherto so much celebrated; but had he remitted to his people the immense sums they cost, that money would have incomparably more contributed to the good of the public. Instead of a few infirm soldiers maintained in the Invalides, a multitude of husbandmen would have been preserved from beggary; with those sums he exacted from them, they had cultivated their fields, improved their small patrimonies, secured their subsistence, and their unhappy issue would not now linger in misery.
For a few idle persons to pass away their time in those spacious gardens which surround his palaces, what a multitude of useful labourers were reduced to wretched habitations ! what a great number of them buried in the mud + !
He indeed promoted commerce, arts and sciences; but what are these advantages to the miseries he brought upon his dominions ? what are they to the torrents of blood shed by his boundless ambition, to the indigence in which his overbearing pride plunged his people, to the sufferings of the multitudes he reduced to beggary ? what are they to the calamities inseparable from that folly of ever keeping on foot a numerous army of idle satellites - a folly of which he first gave the example, and which, becoming epidemical, has seized Princes, and almost ruined Europe ?
Monarchs are so accustomed to take advice in all public undertakings from their own passions only, and this abuse is the source of so many miseries, that the means of indulging such a fatal presumption cannot be too soon wrested out of their hands.
The true glory of Princes is the enforcing obedience to the laws, preserving the blessings of peace, and promoting the public welfare: but for our misfortune, and from our folly, it is not after this glory those at the helm aspire.
How inconsiderate is mankind ! Are not the vices of Princes more than enough to effect our misery, without inciting them, by a stupid admiration of their follies, to aggravate our deplorable condition ?
NOT only an extreme propensity in the people to be dazzled by the false lustre of pageantry, the ensigns or pomp of power, great undertakings and brilliant success, but their prejudices oftentimes contribute to confer new prerogatives on Princes.
The vulgar proportionate their respect to * power, not merit; they disregard monarchs who are not absolute, and reverence despots. Obedience on the throne is according to them equally ridiculous and contemptible. Sovereign without Power, Crowned Slave, these are the titles they give the Prince who is not powerful enough to crush them; but they admire him when he can silence the laws.
Men, far from opposing the attempts of the crown to usurp absolute authority, even dispute sometimes with each other who has the sad prerogative of being subject to the most powerful Prince.
The designs of administration must be private; they cannot be made public without divulging the secrets of government, and rendering its undertakings abortive: hence it is inferred, that the subject's glory consists in a passive obedience to the arbitrary commands of Princes.
The king having a right to appoint ministers, the people have no right to oppose them *.
Certain people entertain the dangerous opinion that the glorious authority of a Prince consists in the servility + of his subjects: others pretend to the false glory of a loyalty proof against every consideration ++: and it is the folly of all nations to exult in the pretended wisdom of their own laws.
What people did ever deserve this last reproach more than ourselves? We never ease boasting of the excellencies of our constitution, and by continually extolling it, we are not sensible of its defects, and neglect to reform them.
The constitution of England is, no doubt, a monument of political wisdom, if compared to others; yet it is not so perfect as we are pleased to affirm, nor can it be so, considering its origin and its revolutions. If traced to its first principle, and will be found to be very simple, and such as suited uncivilised men; good enough for a people who subsisted by pillaging, but containing a thousand sources of anarchy.
As soon as these concealed causes unfolded themselves, the kingdom was tore by domestic factions, remained exposed to foreign invasion, became the prey of an usurper, and was reduced to the most deplorable subjection by its rulers. Under our kings of the houses of Plantagenet, Tudor, and Stuart, despotism was attached to the monarchy. The dispensing power, the power of rendering arbitrary judgements, of imprisoning, of exacting forced loans and benevolences, of pressing and quartering soldiers, of erecting monopolies, were all exercised in their turn.
Weary of groaning under oppression, we have sometimes attempted to shake off our yoke; but all our measures to recover liberty, far from being free national transactions, were mere acts of violence of the strongest party.
During our civil dissentions, every party, as it prevailed, has almost always been busy in crushing the others: and amidst the insolence of victory erected themselves as the masters of the nation.
Yet if ever the triumphing party stipulated for common liberty; unable, in the tumult of arms and the public agitation of mind, to establish it on a firm basis, in order to form a regular administration of justice, they have applied only a palliative remedy to the most urgent evils, and brought back the constitution to its first principles, or nearer its primitive institution.
The only favourable juncture for securing public liberty, was at the accession of the house of Brunswick; as the triumphant party then formed a great majority in the nation, and the Prince * was without ambitious designs; but this favourable juncture we let slip.
But I leave the consideration of defects which might have been reformed, for the examination of defects which still remain.
In a well constituted government, the people at large is the real sovereign, to them belongs supreme power: but among us the Prince has circumscribed the boundaries of national * liberties; whilst the nation ought to have circumscribed those of royal prerogative. This defect in the constitution is capital. Several of our kings have availed themselves of it to tyrannise over the subjects; it proved the cause of all the differences between Parliament and James I. Charles I. and Charles II. it was likewise in virtue of it that James II. reassumed the charters of the city of London, nay, those of all the corporations in the kingdom.
Yet let a veil be drawn over this humiliating origin of our birth-rights. Thus emancipated, had we at least recovered sovereignty: but we are still no more than an emancipated people; in no national transactions does the parliament appear conscious of their preeminence; in all their addresses to the throne, respecting affairs of public concern, they ever mention the king's person and prerogative in the first place; the religion, the laws, and liberty of the kingdom ever in the last.
The representatives of the people are admitted into the great council of the nation as trustees for the people, as well as counsellors for the king; but in the oath of fidelity they take at their admission, they consider themselves as the king's servants only *.
To the people at large only the legislative power ought to belong; this power they exercise either by themselves or by representatives: but among us one particular class of subjects share that power independently of any constitutive authority. By birth, they are the king's hereditary counsellors, they make one of the three estates in conjunction with the lords spiritual, and with them, are supreme judges in the realm; nay, the arbiters of it: they dispose of the crown, when the throne becomes vacant, and pronounce in last resort upon all causes that have been decided in any of the courts of justice.
To such extensive power are annexed high dignity, and many prerogatives equally oppressive and insulting * to other subjects. Is it for their sublime virtues and exalted merit, that they are honoured with a coronet ? No, the fatal privileges which they claim and arrogate to themselves, are but the inheritance of the plunders, usurpations, and violences of their ancestors.
When the people at large cannot act by themselves, to them belongs the right of nominating their representatives; but among us this right is peculiar to a small part of the nation +, to the prejudice of the rest. Nay, of this part of the nation, few individuals have as great influence as the most numerous corporations; many small boroughs having a right to send representatives in parliament. Let us overlook the monstrous abuse that four or five thatched houses should be upon a level in the great council of the nation with the largest cities of the kingdom: but these insignificant boroughs have been privileged by the crown for the purpose of corruption, and dependency; for by the influence of the court their members are always chosen.
In a moment of patriotic * fermentation, a law indeed was enacted for voiding all elections of parliament-men, where the elected members had been at any expense in meat, drink, or money, to procure votes: but was any provision made by that law for discovering and persecuting secret offenders; and do our elections the less exhibit scenes of scandalous transactions ? Instead of seeing electors zealous to declare themselves for merit only, and candidates waiting for their lot with a becoming dignity: a cringing band of suitors are seen, bestowing, without shame, flatteries and bribes on men they look upon with contempt, the instant they have extorted their votes; and a prostituted herd of voters glutting themselves without remorse at lawless banquetings.
The people's representatives are the defenders, not the arbiters of the constitution. Guardians of the national rights, they ought always to defend and never attack them. Hence, although they may be intrusted with a boundless authority to redress public grievances, they ought to have only a limited one to enact statutes *: but where are the boundaries fixed to the power of our deputies, in order to secure from their attempts the sanctuary of the laws ?
When the representatives are intrusted with an unlimited power, the people ought at least to have a constitutional authority to restrain or disown them as soon as they abuse their trust: By what obligations are our deputies restrained to the observance of the duties of their office ? We have a right, indeed, to watch over their conduct; but when they make iniquitous laws, how are we to disown them ? When they attack our liberties, how repress them ? By petitioning the Prince ? What a fine contrivance, to have recourse for redress of our grievances to the chief author of them ! Has he not many times rendered illusive the right of remonstrating, by disregarding our petitions ? How then are we to obviate this denial of justice? We have no other law, therefore, than the arbitrary commands of our representatives, who may at will neglect our interests, attack our liberties and sell our birth-rights; without being called to any account, or incurring any other damage, than not being chosen another, time. Even this trifling restraint is wanting in our constitution ! Have not our commissioners taken upon themselves to determine the duration of their commission ? If they are authorised to extend it to seven years, why not to twenty, forty, sixty; why not to render themselves independent of their constituents ? Thus we are reduced to the deplorable situation of seeing our liberties invaded without being able to oppose more than vain murmurs, or reduced to the situation still more deplorable of vindicating our rights with arms in our hands +.
The representatives of the people, being intrusted with the interests of the public, ought to enter into an engagement with their constituents: our deputies, when at first admitted into the senate, take, indeed, an oath of fidelity, but in that oath there is not a single word mentioned about the nation ++.
The representatives of the people ought ever to act according to the instructions of their constituents: but our deputies exercise their delegated power without ever consulting us. When once elected, they take not any more notice of us. We have therefore no hand in the laws enacted by them; and how many times have the resolves of the house been directly opposite to the sentiments of the people they represent ? What are then our representatives, but our masters ?
The laws enacted in the great council of the nation ought to promote public welfare: but among us what a neglect of national interest; how seldom does any bill, but of a private nature, pass ? Even to make a motion for these bills, friends in the house are always necessary, and frequently such friends are bought. Has it not been notorious in many instances, that parliament-men have been induced for lucre's sake to prostitute their abilities, and sacrifice their country in the furtherance of any job, how dirty and iniquitous soever ? Open the journal of the British senate, and there you will find many proofs of this sad truth *.
The representatives of the people ought to attend with diligence the duty of their office: but our deputies either sit or absent themselves just as they please, except in some extraordinary juncture; and by their negligence ever make it the more easy for the minister to carry his point. Neglect of duty is even at present an artifice several of them make use of to make their best advantage of that power they are trusted with: nay, the most insignificant among them, by thus absenting themselves, have found out a method to oblige the minister to stipulate; for in the great council of the nation matters are carried by the number of votes, not by the weight of arguments.
As the people alone have a right to select their representatives, they alone have a right to declare their choice, and to maintain it: but our deputies have arrogated to themselves the essential privilege of judging of returns, nay, of excluding such members as they object to, in spite of their constituents.
Talents and virtue ought to be the only qualifications required in representatives of the people; and the man whom they grace, whatever be his rank or circumstances, ought to be preferred to that honourable office: but our deputies constrain their constituents to select them from among a particular class of subjects which is not * the least ignorant, nor the least corrupted part of the nation.
Every Englishman of an unspotted character, a good understanding, and an independent, though small fortune, might have formerly offered himself as candidate: but now neither virtue, patriotic zeal, nor services are regarded; money without merit opens the door of the senate, by which fools and knaves enter commonly in such droves as leave very little room for the admission of worthy men. In order to secure its freedom, parliament, it is said, has thus lodged more or less power in the several degrees of subjects, as they have greater or less interest in the common stock. I confess that those ought to have the care of public affairs, who, ceteris paribus, have the largest stake in public weal, because the public have then, in the property of wealthy men, a security for their good conduct, which is wanting in men without fortune; but wealthy men are not are not always those who have the greatest concern for public safety, and fortune alone is a very bad guarantee. I appeal to precedents. those members who gave up to Henry VII Henry VIII. and Mary, the birth-rights of the subjects; all those who prostituted themselves to the will of James I. Charles II. and James II; all those who had, by their violent proceedings relating to foreign affairs, so much disgusted the whole nation, and given cause to the Kentish petition *, were they not men of property? all those likewise who have lately devoted themselves to the court, are they not men of property ? If ever virtue has shone in parliament, it was only when the iniquitous practices of the court, and the venality of the senate had brought the nation to the very brink of destruction; and when the care of public safety obliged the electors to be determined in their choice of representatives only by probity, abilities, and patriotic zeal.
The allurements tendered to virtue are not of so palpable and striking a kind as the baits of corruption; and none but the wise and virtuous are greedy of them: men whose whole merit consists in their fortune, covet only to enlarge their estate at the expense of their honour, and the interest of their country; ever ready to join those at the helm in measures ruinous to the people, as long as they find in it their own interest. - To select our representatives from among wealthy men, is prudent, if they are not destitute of merit: but when luxury, extravagance, ignorance, debauchery, and venality, are their only characteristics, why not turn our choice upon the virtuous and wise, who grace the other class of society ?
Besides, from such an inconsiderate choice ever results a partiality in the laws. When deputies exercise acts of legislation, they seldom make any laws which restrains themselves; and often make such as they may turn to their own advantage. We have no need to look for the proofs of this truth in foreign annals, it is unfortunately but too obvious in those of our own country.
To complain that the inferior classes of the people receive no advantage from the laws relating to property (since being without fortune, they have no share in lucrative establishments, and nothing to lose) would perhaps be deemed too great a presumption by those opulent Sybarites who, from their elevation, look down with contempt upon the poor, whom they believe not made to share their pleasures.
Let us then overlook the advantages of society, and confine ourselves to the prospect of its disadvantages. I shall not mention here the hearth-money, the game-laws, and the heavy taxes laid on the necessaries of life, so oppressive to the poor *; there are more important instances of oppression.
The act for raising the recruits, passed in 1703-4, empowers the justices of peace to take up such idle persons as have no calling nor means of subsistence, and to deliver them to the officers of the army.
In a society originally formed among men much in the same circumstances, and wherein poverty should be constantly the consequence of bad conduct; such an act might have the sacred character of justice. But in a government established among men, where the strongest and most artful have invaded almost every thing; in a government where poverty is often the consequence of misfortunes, nay, of the injustice of knaves; where the industry and diligence of parents cannot always afford their giving any education to their family, or preserving their morals unspotted; where, without a proper capital, it is almost impossible to carry on any lucrative business, or even to get an honest livelihood, and where poverty becomes the everlasting lot of the poor, what law could be more unjust ?
Reduced to linger in misery, are the indigents besides to be forced to protect, at the expense of their blood, the inheritance, or secure the peace of the posterity of their usurpers, and at the risk of their lives, to defend the power of their tyrants ? Hear, however, their insolent oppressors giving, without the least remorse, their advice thereon: Wars sweep away, four or five times in a century, vagrants, beggars, and such like dregs of mankind.
There are foundations for poor among us, it will be said: but what pen, eloquent enough, could describe with propriety the shocking scene of a workhouse, or what man ever so savage could take a view of it without shaking with horror. Dismal places ! wherein the needy is kept alive by unwholesome food, lays in nastiness, breathes an infected air, and groans under the severe hand of a warden; wretched habitations! wherein abuses, diseases and hunger reign constantly. Of those who are confined there, how many fall victims to their hard fate; and how few, rather than re-enter therein, unless compelled by intolerable necessity prefer not starving at the door of the rich ?
The poor, almost entirely destitute of assistance against hunger, and as little against disease. Who does not know that letters of recommendation are necessary among us, to be admitted into hospitals ? Thus whilst the door of them is ever open to the servants of our gentry and nobility, it is almost constantly shut against the needy, the unsupported, the friendless wretch.
Among the many dismal and horrid scenes of oppression which, in our so much exalted government, are but too often disclosed respecting the poor, let one more suffice.
"The injured member of society, whom the jury acquit, or whom the villain by whose machination he was confined dares not appear to prosecute, is dragged back to his dungeon, where he is again confined, without mercy, by the tyrant of the gaol, till he has paid what he demands of him under the specious denomination of fees;" thus unjustly condemned to suffer punishments which ought to be inflicted on profligate malefactors alone, and reduced, in the horrors of his mind, incessantly to curse the day of his birth.
A few, a very few, benevolent members, after having received intimation of these cruelties, have indeed sometimes made a motion to enquire into the state of the gaols, but to no effect. The legislators, remote as they are from such a wretched condition, behold without concern those abominable abuses, and never think them worth being reformed. Who are the friends to the poor in a senate composed of rich men only; who are the members acquainted with the sufferings of the needy, the misery wherein he lingers, and the injuries he undergoes; or if they are acquainted with them, who are the members eager to rescue and relieve him ? But they do not thus forget their own interests; and whilst leaving without pity a vast number of their fellow creatures to groan under the weight of the most cruel oppression, they, without shame, make, alter, and amend acts for securing the property of their dogs.
Be it again said, as long as the members that compose the legislature are selected from among one particular class of people, it must never be expected to see them applying themselves to promote common welfare: and like the parliament under Mary *, having secured their own possessions, they will be unconcerned for all the rest.
But let us draw, with indignation, a veil over these mysteries of iniquity, to continue our examination.
Although at the mercy of our representatives, yet we have much more to dread from our Princes.
Our forefathers, indeed, have taken much care to circumscribe the prerogative of the crown, but not enough to curb its power.
The king ought to be only the prime magistrate of the people, but he is the arbiter of the nation.
Sole master of calling and dissolving parliament, if he but refuses to assemble them, legislature is annihilated: In such case what constitutional authority has a right to interpose? The law has provided for it, it is said, as it obliges the king, by his own wants, to call a parliament. But should a crafty Prince lay by, during many years, the fruit of his economy, as well as the produce of selling the forest woods, creating dignities *, granting letters patents for monopoly and grants of concealments, or have recourse to the expedient of levying loans, and shutting the exchequer, who can answer that a mean could not be thus contrived for doing without the legislature ?
Did not Charles I. govern for twelve years together without a parliament? Yes, but he got money by levying arbitrary taxes, and forcing loans. Did not Charles II. become absolute master of his kingdom, without army, without money, without foreign assistance, and govern us with tyrannic sway? How little was then wanting to reduce us to perpetual servitude ? Was it the wisdom of our constitution, or even our virtue, that rescued the state from the brink of destruction ?
But let us suppose that what has once happened never will happen again.
The session of parliament holds as long as the king pleases, and we are too well acquainted with the use our Princes of the Stuart line made of this prerogative, not to dread the consequences of it.
The king has no legislative power, but can procure a legislature at his devotion, by his great influence in the election of representatives. When a new parliament is called, besides the votes procured by the money which is privately distributed for that purpose, the minister disposes of all the votes of the tradesmen who serve his majesty in the several towns, and of all those that placeman and other creatures of the court command in the several boroughs: The lord lieutenants, and other persons in authority, in the counties and towns, exert, moreover, all their interests and address to get such members chosen as are favourable to the designs of the crown.
Not satisfied with secret practices, the administration even employs violence in order to fill the great council of the nation with court dependants. It is illegal to bring troops into the neighbourhood of an election; but the minister biases the electors, by hiring a band of determinate villains to frighten them into a choice of a ministerial candidate: and of what crime soever such villains may be guilty, the Prince is not ashamed to screen them from punishment.
As the place-bill does not regard the upper house, by creating peers of the realm such commoners as have greatest influence in elections, and securing these new peers, it is in the power of the court ever to command a majority in the lower house.
If the king neglects to influence a choice of representatives; when they are chosen, he may influence their resolutions at his will.
The king has no demesnes within the kingdom; but he is the fountain of all honours, and disposes of all places, ecclesiastical, civil, and military. Hence a great number of hirelings in parliament; this number he can ever increase, it being in his power to multiply places and offices: nay, by only augmenting the number of the officers of his household, he may dispose at his will of the whole senate.
The place-bill, it is said, prevents in that respect the influence of the king, and is the great bulwark of parliamentary independence. A gross error this.
Does a commission in the army, the navy, or the militia, vacate a seat in parliament ? Does even the place of attorney or solicitor general, lord lieutenant of the counties, receiver of the king's customs, keeper of his majesty's gates, roads, and bridges, director and clerk of the royal hospitals, lord of the board of trade and plantations, lord of the admiralty, member of the court of exchequer, and board of green cloth, commissioner of the treasury, groom of their majesties' bed-chambers, and any other office of the household; nay, does a place of privy counsellor, or of secretary of state, incapacitate from being a representative ? Suppose, however, that the place-bill incapacitated persons who have an office or place of profit under the king, or receive a pension from the crown, to serve as a member of the house of commons; does it incapacitate those who receive marks of dignity or titles of honour, does it incapacitate those whose relations and friends have places of profit under the court, those who receive secret douceurs, those who are dependant on placemen and creatures of the court; does it regard the house of peers, although it be well known that the lords dispose of a third part of the house of commons ? In fine, that great bulwark of parliamentary independence was no sooner erected than subverted by private contracts, no provision having been made by that last for discovering secret offenders.
Besides the places and dignities, of which the king disposes, the exorbitant sums assigned for the maintenance of his household, the pensions he grants, the douceurs his ministers manage for his tools in negotiating public loans *, the promises with which they feed the hopes of those hungry harpies who seek to feast on the vitals of their country, the tricks of craft + with which they deceive the simple, the smiles of the court which lull the vain into obsequiousness, the interested but warm rhetoric of his creatures which draws into his party all those who have not an understanding clear enough to secure their virtue these means, I say, enable him to have at his disposal the greatest number of votes in the great council of the nation, to corrupt the members of the legislature gradually, make them speak as he pleases, and convert tyranny into law.
The commons nominate their speaker, but their choice is void, unless approved by the king; and the influence of a speaker on the proceedings and resolves of the whole house, is too well known, to consider this prerogative as of no consequence.
Even the policy of the legislature is favourable to the views of the crown. In parliament, every member gives his vote openly: this method of voting is excellent in itself; but as the ministers are admitted into the senate, it serves but to force the corrupted members to become traitors to their country.
Although the king cannot call to an account the members for freedom of speech in parliament; yet if any or them, in giving full scope to his patriotic zeal, drops a few inconsiderate expressions, the creatures of the Prince exclaim against this want of consideration for royal majesty, and cry out, The Tower, the Tower; on the contrary, if the hirelings retained by the court display in their fawning speeches the most odious flatteries, they have nothing to fear but the bitter smiles of the friends of liberty.
When the commons have disregarded their duty, was there ever found any virtue among the lords? But we know too much of their proceedings to turn on that side our fond hopes. Even in the most critical junctures, and when the commons were struggling against the encroachments of the crown under the Stuarts, the lords remained idle, and seemed to show little concern at the fears and jealousies expressed by the people. Besides, there is in their house a sacred tribe, ever blindly devoted from principle to the court.
However, supposing there were in the upper house many virtuous members, as the place-bill does not regard it, by making new peers, the court may always secure a majority, as has been oftentimes the case.
The legislature is indeed a check upon the crown; yet only when it is entirely independent. For as soon as selfish interested views prevail among its members, the parliament - the strength and glory of Britain, turns a profligate faction, who, partaking of the Prince's bounty, and hoping to share with him the spoils of their country, join those at the helm in their criminal designs, and support their destructive measures; - a band of disguised traitors, who, under the name of guardians, traffic away the national interests and the rights of a free-born people.
A King of England will ever endeavour to make his progress to absolute empire by a pensionary parliament. I have shewn what confidence the people may place in the great council of the nation, as long as our so much exalted constitution shall remain as it is. Under Charles II. the parliament was filled with a band of abject pensioners, and the nation wept at the sight of their senators clothed with the badges of slavery: what once was seen, may be seen again; alas, is it not in some sort already the case ? Peruse the list of the house of commons, and you will find it chiefly composed of men who have offices, or places of profit under the king. Nor is even this the worst of the dismal prospect which lies before us.
The king has no right to lay any tax, but the crown has the prerogative of disposing of the public money, when deposited in an aggregated fund in the treasury. To prevent the misapplication of public revenue, it has been resolved to allow out of it separate incomes for the support of the government, and the maintenance of the crown dignity; the rest is under the command of the parliament, and the commons examine the current service of each year. But as the sum allotted for secret services has not been limited by law, a pretence of squandering the nation's money is left to the ministry, if not a safe and easy mean of filling up the kings coffers, and enriching themselves.
A warrant for paying money out of the treasury must, indeed, go through the hands of proper officers; but the king nominates these officers, and removes them at pleasure.
To prevent abuses, the commons have the right of inquiring into the disposal of public money; but this prerogative of the crown is liable to the control of the house, only when parliament is assembled.
The house has a right to call the great officers of the crown to an account; but with money which has been embezzled, the minister can engage them not to take cognisance of his misdemeanour and plundering. An enormous defect in our constitution this, of which we had lately the sad experience !
Royal prerogative is not circumscribed here. The king alone has a right to make war, peace, and treaties, even without consulting the nation. Independently of that monstrous abuse of intrusting a sole individual with a power to sacrifice to his caprices the blood of a multitude, of diverting the public attention in a critical juncture, evading the redress of national grievances, and making away with many troublesome patriots, by nominating them to perilous employments; how many other inconveniencies !
The king's designs, when they have received the sanction of both houses, are ever carried into execution at the nation's expense: the sum they require may be employed against its destination: how many instances of this under Charles II. ?
No war is made but a treaty follows, and few treaties are concluded without money. Thus when the Prince sells to the enemy the fruits of national victories, or to any power the weight of his influence on the affairs of Europe, the sums remitted remain in his hands; but the charges of insuccess are always placed to the account of the public *.
The king is the generalissimo + of the army; and though the parliament grants him subsidies for a year only; yet during that interval what could not be done by an audacious monarch, who, having secured, for a long time, the affections both of soldiers and officers, should on a sudden pull off the mask ?
The soldiers are patriots, it is objected, the officers are men of honour, and those at the head of the army, men of great property. What an objection this ! The soldiers are patriots; but they are raised out of the most necessitous, the most ignorant, the most vicious part of the nation. What trust can be placed in such an abandoned race, whom idleness, debauchery, or crimes have driven to enlist for bread ? Is it to be supposed that mercenaries who sell themselves for six-pence a day, would not be ready to obey any command of a Prince, who should flatter them with the hope of rendering their condition comfortable with the spoils of the citizens ?
The officers are men of honour. Such among them who should prove incorruptible, might be removed; yet how few would refuse to purchase the smiles of a court at the expense of public liberty, and prefer duty to favour, riches, and dignities ? Besides, when once the soldiers are secured, what is more easy than making officers ?
Those at the head of the army are men of great property. Well, were they not men of property who, at the head of armies, have joined with Princes to reduce the people to subjection ?
Were they not men of property who, at the head of the army of Charles I. attempted to enslave the nation ?
Are they not men of property who, at the head of the army, keep their fellow subjects in foreign counties submissive to the government ?
If the Prince should begin by bestowing on officers dazzling tokens of favour, is it to be imagined that they would refuse present profit from a fear of future disadvantage ?
If the power of the crown be formidable to the people at large, it is much more so to individuals.
A minister can, when he pleases, have persons arbitrarily seized, together with their papers and books, or oppress them other ways: but when a plaintiff brings an action against a minister, how difficult for him to obtain justice ! Although we boast of having the best digested and most excellent body of laws, which any nation on the face of the globe could ever possess; yet our laws are so prodigiously multiplied, and many of them so inaccurate, so obscure, that the subtle politics of a jesuistical ministry may very often evade the letter of them. Whenever the crown has encroached upon the subjects, in how many important points has the matter entirely rested upon the opinion of the judges ? But how clear and indisputable soever the claim of the plaintiff may be; besides the secret dealings of the government to support their arbitrary proceedings, how many means are employed to avoid trying the legality of their proceedings ? Casting effoigns, pleading privilege, standing out in contempt of the court, evading the judgement by bills of exception, special verdicts, motions for a new trial, writs of error, etc. are all made use of in their turn. Thus they prevent the cause being finally decided, by delaying until the poor prosecutor be overborn, in the long run, by dint of expense, or until an accidental event, if not some dark expedient deprive him of any further need of a court of justice. However, supposing it to be as easy as it is difficult, to obtain redress, the arbitrary proceedings of the government, although condemned, are but little, if the least restrained. Let the encroachments of a minister be ever so outrageous, instead of meeting with a just retaliation, or having a severe censure passed on him; the punishment he suffers is but apparent, for the only satisfaction that the injured party can pretend to is damages, which are ever defrayed at the public expense. Thus administration, having trampled under foot the rights of the subjects, mocks the sword of justice
These are enormous defects in our constitution, and more than sufficient to ruin liberty: yet now many more remain * ?
We have laws, it is perpetually objected: but of what use are laws, the execution of which we have no power to secure ?
Did they prevent Edward II from tyrannically exerting the pretended prerogative of the crown; such as the dispensing power, the extension of the forests, the erecting monopolies, the exacting of loans, the stopping of justice by particular warrants, the renewal of the commission of the trail-baton, the extending the authority of the privy council and star-chamber to the decision of private causes +, etc.
Did the great charter, so many times solemnly ratified, prevent the kings from violating it so frequently and so flagrantly ?
Did the petition of rights restrain Charles I. from levying ship-money, exacting of loans, and governing his people with a tyrannical sway ?
Did all our laws prevent Charles II. from enslaving the nation ? And whilst we were groaning under the oppressive hand of James II. was it not accidentally that liberty sprung up from its ruins ? If the audacity alone of some of our Princes proved sufficient to subject us to servitude; how much more so when aided by refined artifice? Times have changed, I allow, but the constitution is much the same.
Be it said, therefore, notwithstanding all those encomiums bestowed on our constitution, liberty is precarious among us, it depends on the want of genius and audacity of our Princes, and chiefly on that spirit of independency which prevails in these times all over the nation.
As long as this spirit shall prevail, liberty may be enjoyed; we are undone as soon as it becomes extinct.
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Jean Paul Marat