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Or views his coffers with suspicious eyes,
But grant, the virtues of a temp'rate prime
age there is, and who shall wish its end ?
But few there are whom hours like these await,
The teeming mother anxious for her race,
With distant voice neglected virtue calls,
Where then shall hope and fear their objects find ?
THE IDEA OF A PATRIOT KING.
BY LORD BOLINGBROKE.
(HENRY ST. JOHN, Viscount BOLINGBROKE, English statesman and philosopher, was born at Battersea in 1678; graduated at Oxford. Entering public life in 1700, he became Secretary for War and later Secretary of State, during the War of the Spanish Succession; and negotiated the Peace of Utrecht in 1713. In 1714 he ousted his colleague Harley (Lord Oxford), and became chief minister. Five days later Queen Anne died ; George I. at once removed Bolingbroke ; the latter fled to France to escape impeachment, leagued himself with the Pretender, and became his Secretary of State. In 1723 he returned to England, but was not allowed to resume his seat in the House of Lords. The rest of his life was spent in political agitation, in philosophic and polemic writing, and in justifying his own career. He died December 12, 1751. He gave Pope many of the ideas for the “Essay on Man," and was a leading Deist. His oratory was said by his contemporaries to have surpassed that of every other
Of his collected works, the best remembered are: “A Dissertation upon Parties,
," " The Idea of a Patriot King,” and “Letters on the Study and Use of History."]
The good of the people is the ultimate and true end of government. Governors are therefore appointed for this end; and the civil constitution which appoints them, and invests them with their power, is determined to do so by that law of nature and reason, which has determined the end of government, and which admits this form of government as the proper mean of arriving at it. Now, the greatest good of a people is their liberty; and in the case here referred to, the people has judged it so, and provided for it accordingly. Liberty is to the collective body, what health is to every individual body. Without health no pleasure can be tasted by man: without liberty no happiness can be enjoyed by society. The obligation, therefore, to defend and maintain the freedom of such constitutions, will appear most sacred to a Patriot King.
Kings who have weak understandings, bad hearts, and strong prejudices, and all these, as it often happens, inflamed by their passions, and rendered incurable by their self-conceit and presumption ; such kings are apt to imagine, and they conduct themselves so as to make many of their subjects imagine, that the king and the people in free governments are rival powers, who stand in competition with one another, who have different interests, and must of course have different views : that the rights and privileges of the people are so many spoils taken from the right and prerogative of the crown; and that
the rules and laws, made for the exercise and security of the former, are so many diminutions of their diguity, and restraints on their power.
A Patriot King will see all this in a far different and much truer light. The constitution will be considered by him as one law, consisting of two tables, containing the rule of his government, and the measure of his subjects' obedience; or as one system, composed of different parts and powers, but all duly proportioned to one another, and conspiring by their harmony to the perfection of the whole. He will make one, and but one, distinction between his rights and those of his people: he will look on his to be a trust, and theirs a property. He will discern, that he can have a right to no more than is trusted to him by the constitution : and that his people, who had an original right to the whole by the law of nature, can have the sole indefeasible right to any part; and really have such a right to that part which they have reserved to themselves. In fine, the constitution will be reverenced by him as the law of God and of man; the force of which binds the king as much as the meanest subject, and the reason of which binds him much more.
The freedom of a constitution rests on two points. The orders of it are one : so Machiavel calls them, and I know not how to call them more significantly. He means not only the forms and customs, but the different classes and assemblies of men, with different powers and privileges attributed to them, which are established in the state. The spirit and character of the people are the other. On the mutual conformity and harmony of these the preservation of liberty depends. To take away, or essentially to alter the former, cannot be brought to pass, while the latter remains in original purity and vigor : nor can liberty be destroyed by this method, unless the attempt be made with a military force sufficient to conquer the nation, which would not submit in this case till it was conquered, nor with much security to the conqueror even then. But these orders of the state may be essentially altered, and serve more effectually to the destruction of liberty than the taking of them away would serve, if the spirit and character of the people are lost.
Now this method of destroying liberty is the most dangerous on many accounts, particularly on this : that even the reign of the weakest prince, and the policy of the weakest ministry, may effect the destruction, when circumstances are favorable to this method. If a people is growing corrupt, there is no need of capacity to contrive, nor of insinuation to gain, nor of plausibility to seduce, nor of eloquence to persuade, nor of authority to impose, nor of courage to attempt. The most
, incapable, awkward, ungracious, shocking, profligate, and timorous wretches, invested with power, and masters of the purse, will be sufficient for the work, when the people are complices in it. Luxury is rapacious ; let them feed it: the more it is fed, the more profuse it will grow. Want is the consequence of profusion, venality of want, and dependence of venality. By this progression, the first men of a nation will become the pensioners of the last; and he who has talents, the most implicit tool to him who has none. The distemper will soon descend, not indeed to make a deposit below, and to remain there, but to pervade the whole body.
It may seem a singular, but it is perhaps a true proposition, that such a king and such a ministry are more likely to begin, and to pursue with success, this method of destroying a free constitution of government, than a king and a ministry that were held in great esteem would be. This very esteem might put many on their guard against the latter ; but the former may draw from contempt the advantage of not being feared : and an advantage this is in the beginning of corruption. Men are willing to excuse, not only to others but to themselves, the first steps they take in vice, and especially in vice that affects the public, and whereof the public has a right to complain. Those, therefore, who might withstand corruption in one case, from a persuasion that the consequence was too certain to leave them any excuse, may yield to it when they can flatter themselves, and endeavor to flatter others, that liberty cannot be destroyed, nor the constitution be demolished, by such hands as hold the scepter and guide the reins of the administration. But alas ! the flattery is gross, and the excuse without color. These men may ruin their country, but they cannot impose on any, unless it be on themselves. Nor will even this imposition
, on themselves be long necessary.
Their consciences will be soon seared, by habit and by example: and they, who wanted an excuse to begin, will want none to continue and to complete, the tragedy of their country. Old men will outlive the shame of losing liberty, and young men will arise who know not that it ever existed. A spirit of slavery will oppose and
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