S. Austin Allibone, comp. Prose Quotations from Socrates to Macaulay. 1880.
For my own part, I think a man makes an odious and despicable figure, that is violent in a party; but a woman is too sincere to mitigate the fury of her principles with temper and discretion, and to act with that caution and reservedness which are requisite in our sex. When this unnatural zeal gets into them, it throws them into ten thousand heats and extravagances; their generous souls set no bounds to their love or their hatred; and whether a whig or a tory, a lap-dog or a gallant, an opera or a puppet-show, be the object of it, the passion, while it reigns, engrosses the whole woman.
Joseph Addison: Spectator, No. 57.
There cannot be a greater judgment befall a country than such a dreadful spirit of division as rends a government into two distinct people, and makes them greater strangers and more averse to one another than if they were actually two different nations. The effects of such a division are pernicious to the last degree, not only with regard to those advantages which they give the common enemy, but to those private evils which they produce in the heart of almost every particular person. This influence is very fatal both to men’s morals and their understandings; it sinks the virtue of a nation, and not only so, but destroys even common sense.
A furious party spirit, when it rages in its full violence, exerts itself in civil war and bloodshed; and when it is under its greatest restraints naturally breaks out in falsehood, detraction, calumny, and a partial administration of justice. In a word, it fills a nation with spleen and rancour, and extinguishes all the seeds of good nature, compassion, and humanity.
Joseph Addison: Spectator, No. 125.
No authors draw upon themselves more displeasure than those who deal in political matters, which is justly incurred, considering that spirit of rancour and virulence with which works of this nature abound.
Men who possess a state of neutrality in times of public danger desert the interests of their fellow-subjects.
A British ministry ought to be satisfied if, allowing to every particular man that his private scheme is wisest, they can persuade him that, next to his own plan, that of the government is the most eligible.
We are called upon to commemorate a revolution  as happy in its consequences, as full of the marks of a divine contrivance, as any age or country can show.
The causes and motives of seditions are, innovation in religion, taxes, alteration in laws and customs, breaking of laws and privileges, general oppression, advancement of unworthy persons, strangers, deaths, disbanded soldiers, factions grown desperate; and whatsoever in offending people joined and knitted them in a common cause.
As there are mountebanks for the natural body, so are there mountebanks for the politic body; men that perhaps have been lucky in two or three experiments, but want the grounds of science, and therefore cannot hold out.
Leagues within the state are ever pernicious to monarchies; for they raise an obligation paramount to obligations of sovereignty, and make the king tanquam unus ex nobis.
If a man so temper his actions as in some one of them he doth content every faction, the music of praise will be fuller.
I will say positively and resolutely that it is impossible an elective monarchy should be so free and absolute as an hereditary.
Where the people are well educated, the art of piloting a state is best learned from the writings of Plato.
In general, all mankind will agree that government should be reposed in such persons in whom these qualities are most likely to be found the perfection of which is among the attributes of Him who is emphatically styled the Supreme Being; the three great requisites, I mean, of wisdom, of goodness, and of power: wisdom, to discern the real interest of the community; goodness, to endeavour always to pursue that real interest; and strength, or power, to carry this knowledge and intention into action. These are the natural foundations of sovereignty, and these are the requisites that ought to be found in every well-constituted frame of government.
Sir William Blackstone: Comment.: Of the Nature of Laws in General.
Political reason is a computing principle,—adding, subtracting, multiplying, and dividing, morally, and not metaphysically, or mathematically, true moral demonstrations.
The speculative line of demarcation, where obedience ought to end and resistance begin, is faint, obscure, and not easily definable.
I believe the instances are exceedingly rare of men immediately passing over a clear marked line of virtue into declared vice and corruption. There are a sort of middle tints and shades between the two extremes; there is something uncertain on the confines of the two empires which they first pass through, and which renders the change easy and imperceptible. There are even a sort of splendid impositions so well contrived, that, at the very time the path of rectitude is quitted forever, men seem to be advancing into some higher and nobler road of public conduct. Not that such impositions are strong enough in themselves; but a powerful interest, often concealed from those whom it affects, works at the bottom, and secures the operation.
I had indeed often reflected on that subject [political society] before I could prevail on myself to communicate my reflections to anybody. They were generally melancholy enough; as those usually are which carry us beyond the mere surface of things; and which would undoubtedly make the lives of all thinking men extremely miserable, if the same philosophy which caused the grief did not at the same time administer the comfort.
The very name of a politician, a statesman, is sure to cause terror and hatred; it has always connected with it the ideas of treachery, cruelty, fraud, and tyranny; and those writers who have faithfully unveiled the mysteries of state-freemasonry have ever been held in general detestation, for even knowing so perfectly a theory so detestable. The case of Machiavel seems at first sight something hard in that respect. He is obliged to bear the iniquities of those whose maxims and rules of government he published. His speculation is more abhorred than their practice.
All writers on the science of policy are agreed, and they agree with experience, that all governments must frequently infringe the rules of justice to support themselves; that truth must give way to dissimulation, honesty to convenience, and humanity itself to the reigning interest. The whole of this mystery of iniquity is called the reason of state. It is a reason which I own I cannot penetrate.
It is a misfortune that in no part of the globe natural liberty and natural religion are to be found pure, and free from the mixture of political adulteration. Yet we have implanted in us by Providence, ideas, axioms, rules, of what is pious, just, fair, honest, which no political craft nor learned sophistry can entirely expel from our breasts. By these we judge, and we cannot otherwise judge, of the several artificial modes of religion and society, and determine of them as they approach to or recede from this standard.
We have shown that political society, on a moderate calculation, has been the means of murdering several times the number of inhabitants now upon the earth, during its short existence, not upwards of four thousand years in any accounts to be depended on. But we have said nothing of the other, and perhaps as bad, consequence of those wars, which have spilled such seas of blood and reduced so many millions to a merciless slavery.
People not very well grounded in the principles of public morality find a set of maxims in office ready made for them, which they assume as naturally and inevitably as any of the insignia or instruments of the situation. A certain tone of the solid and practical is immediately acquired. Every former profession of public spirit is to be considered as a debauch of youth, or, at best, as a visionary scheme of unattainable perfection. The very idea of consistency is exploded. The convenience of the business of the day is to furnish the principle for doing it.
: Observations on “The Present State of the Nation,”
To complain of the age we live in, to murmur at the present possessors of power, to lament the past, to conceive extravagant hopes of the future, are the common dispositions of the greatest part of mankind; indeed, the necessary effects of the ignorance and levity of the vulgar. Such complaints and humours have existed in all times; yet, as all times have not been alike, true political sagacity manifests itself in distinguishing that complaint which only characterizes the general infirmity of human nature from those which are symptoms of the particular distemperature of our own air and season.
: Thoughts on the Cause of the Present Discontents,
It is an advantage to all narrow wisdom and narrow morals, that their maxims have a plausible air; and, on a cursory view, appear equal to first principles. They are light and portable. They are as current as copper coin; and about as valuable. They serve equally the first capacities and the lowest; and they are, at least, as useful to the worst men as to the best. Of this stamp is the cant of Not men, but measures; a sort of charm by which many people get loose from every honourable engagement. When I see a man acting this desultory and disconnected part, with as much detriment to his own fortune as prejudice to the cause of any party, I am not persuaded that he is right, but I am ready to believe he is in earnest. I respect virtue in all its situations; even when it is found in the unsuitable company of weakness. I lament to see qualities rare and valuable squandered away without any public utility.
: Thoughts on the Cause of the Present Discontents.
It is very rare indeed for men to be wrong in their feelings concerning public misconduct; as rare to be right in their speculations upon the cause of it. I have constantly observed that the generality of people are fifty years, at least, behindhand in their politics. There are but very few who are capable of comparing and digesting what passes before their eyes at different times and occasions, so as to form the whole into a distinct system. But in books everything is settled for them, without the exertion of any considerable diligence or sagacity. For which reason men are wise with but little reflection, and good with but little self-denial, in the business of all times except their own.
: Thoughts on the Cause of the Present Discontents.
He tells you that “the topic of instructions has occasioned much altercation and uneasiness in this city;” and he expresses himself (if I understand him rightly) in favour of the coercive authority of such instructions.
Certainly, gentlemen, it ought to be the happiness and glory of a representative to live in the strictest union, the closest correspondence, and the most unreserved communication with his constituents. Their wishes ought to have great weight with him; their opinions high respect; their business unremitted attention. It is his duty to sacrifice his repose, his pleasure, his satisfaction, to theirs,—and above all, ever, and in all cases, to prefer their interest to his own.
But his unbiassed opinion, his mature judgment, his enlightened conscience, he ought not to sacrifice to you, to any man, or to any set of men living. These he does not derive from your pleasure,—no, nor from the law and the Constitution. They are a trust from Providence, for the abuse of which he is deeply answerable. Your representative owes you, not his industry only, but his judgment; and he betrays, instead of serving you, if he sacrifices it to your opinion.
My worthy colleague says, his will ought to be subservient to yours. If that be all, the thing is innocent. If government were a matter of will upon any side, yours, without question, ought to be superior. But government and legislation are matters of reason and judgment, and not of inclination; and what sort of reason is that in which the determination precedes the discussion, in which one set of men deliberate and another decide, and where those who form the conclusion are perhaps three hundred miles distant from those who hear the arguments?
: Speech at the Conclusion of the Poll at Bristol,
I hope there are none of you corrupted with the doctrine taught by wicked men for the worst purposes, and received by the malignant credulity of envy and ignorance, which is, that the men who act upon the public stage are all alike, all equally corrupt, all influenced by no other views than the sordid lure of salary and pension. The thing I know by experience to be false. Never expecting to find perfection in men, and not looking for divine attributes in created beings, in my commerce with my contemporaries I have found much human virtue. I have seen not a little public spirit, a real subordination of interest to duty, and a decent and regulated sensibility to honest fame and reputation. The age unquestionably produces (whether in a greater or less number than former times I know not) daring profligates and insidious hypocrites. What then? Am I not to avail myself of whatever good is to be found in the world, because of the mixture of evil that will always be in it? The smallness of the quantity in currency only heightens the value. They who raise suspicions on the good on account of the behaviour of ill men are of the party of the latter.
: Letter to the Sheriffs of Bristol, April
This moral levelling is a servile principle. It leads to practical passive obedience far better than all the doctrines which the pliant accommodation of theology to power has ever produced. It cuts up by the roots not only all idea of forcible resistance, but even of civil opposition. It disposes men to an abject submission, not by opinion, which may be shaken by argument or altered by passion, but by the strong ties of public and private interest. For, if all men who act in a public situation are equally selfish, corrupt, and venal, what reason can be given for desiring any sort of change, which, besides the evils which must attend all changes, can be productive of no possible advantage? The active men in the state are true samples of the mass. If they are universally depraved, the commonwealth itself is not sound. We may amuse ourselves with talking as much as we please of the virtue of middle or humble life; that is, we may place our confidence in the virtue of those who have never been tried. But if the persons who are continually emerging out of that sphere be no better than those whom birth has placed above it, what hopes are there in the remainder of the body which is to furnish the perpetual succession of the state? All who have ever written on government are unanimous, that among a people generally corrupt liberty cannot long exist. And, indeed, how is it possible, when those who are to make the laws, to guard, to enforce, or to obey them, are, by a tacit confederacy of manners, indisposed to the spirit of all generous and noble institutions?
: Letter to the Sheriffs of Bristol, April
Believe me, it is a great truth, that there never was, for any long time, a corrupt representation of a virtuous people; or a mean, sluggish, careless people that ever had a good government of any form. If it be true in any degree that the governors form the people, I am certain that it is as true that the people in their turn impart their character to their rulers. Such as you are, sooner or later, must Parliament be.
: To a Member of the Bell Club, Bristol, Oct.
It is impossible for me, with any agreement to my sense of propriety, to accept any sort of compensation for services which I may endeavour to do upon a public account. If the bill you allude to should come before you receive this, I must return it by post to the gentleman who transmits it. I have attempted to be useful on many occasions, and to various descriptions of men, and all I wish in return is, that if I have been so fortunate as to do them any service, they will endeavour to improve it to the best advantage to themselves.
: To Dr. Curry, Aug.
14, 1779, refusing a present of five hundred guineas for his efforts in Parliament on behalf of the persecuted Roman Catholics of Ireland.
But if I profess all this impolitic stubbornness, I may chance never to be elected into Parliament. It is certainly not pleasing to be put out of the public service. But I wish to be a member of Parliament to have my share of doing good and resisting evil. It would therefore be absurd to renounce my objects in order to obtain my seat. I deceive myself, indeed, most grossly, if I had not much rather pass the remainder of my life hidden in the recesses of the deepest obscurity, feeding my mind even with the visions and imaginations of such things, than to be placed on the most splendid throne of the universe, tantalized with a denial of the practice of all which can make the greatest situation any other than the greatest curse.
: Speech at Bristol previous to the Election,
I have known merchants with the sentiments and the abilities of great statesmen, and I have seen persons in the rank of statesmen with the conceptions and characters of peddlers. Indeed, my observation has furnished me with nothing that is to be found in any habits of life or education, which tends wholly to disqualify men for the functions of government, but that by which the power of exercising those functions is very frequently obtained. I mean a spirit and habits of low cabal and intrigue: which I have never, in one instance, seen united with a capacity for sound and manly policy.
: Speech on Mr. Fox’s East India Bill,
Dec. 1, 1783.
In our politics, as in our common conduct, we shall be worse than infants, if we do not put our senses under the tuition of our judgment, and effectually cure ourselves of that optical illusion which makes a brier at our nose of greater magnitude than an oak at five hundred yards’ distance.
: Speech on the Nabot of Arcot’s Debts,
Feb. 28, 1785.
I cannot stand forward and give praise or blame to anything which relates to human actions and human concerns on a simple view of the object, as it stands stripped of every relation, in all the nakedness and solitude of metaphysical abstraction. Circumstances (which with some gentlemen pass for nothing) give in reality to every political principle its distinguishing colour and discriminating effect. The circumstances are what render every civil and political scheme beneficial or noxious to mankind.
: Reflections on the Revolution in France,
If civil society be made for the advantage of man, all the advantages for which it is made become his right. It is an institution of beneficence; and law itself is only beneficence acting by a rule. Men have a right to live by that rule; they have a right to justice, as between their fellows, whether their fellows are in politic functions or in ordinary occupation. They have a right to the fruits of their industry, and to the means of making their industry fruitful. They have a right to the acquisitions of their parents, to the nourishment and improvement of their offspring, to instruction in life, and to consolation in death. Whatever each man can separately do, without trespassing upon others, he has a right to do for himself; and he has a right to a fair portion of all which society, with all its combinations of skill and force, can do in his favour. In this partnership all men have equal rights; but not to equal things.
And as to the share of power, authority, and direction which each individual ought to have in the management of the state, that I must deny to be amongst the direct original rights of man in civil society; for I have in my contemplation the civil social man, and no other. It is a thing to be settled by convention.
If civil society be the offspring of convention, that convention must be its law. That convention must limit and modify all the descriptions of constitution which are formed under it. Every sort of legislative, judicial, or executory power are its creatures. They can have no being in any other state of things; and how can any man claim, under the conventions of civil society, rights which do not so much as suppose its existence,—rights which are absolutely repugnant to it?
The vanity, restlessness, petulance, and spirit of intrigue of several petty cabals, who attempt to hide their total want of consequence in bustle and noise, and puffing and mutual quotation of each other, makes you imagine that our contemptuous neglect of their abilities is a general mark of acquiescence in their opinions. No such thing, I assure you. Because half a dozen grasshoppers under a fern make the field ring with their importunate chink, whilst thousands of great cattle reposed beneath the shadow of the British oak chew the cud and are silent, pray do not imagine that those who make the noise are the only inhabitants of the field,—that, of course, they are many in number,—or that, after all, they are other than the little, shrivelled, meagre, hopping, though loud and troublesome insects of the hour.
Society is, indeed, a contract. Subordinate contracts for objects of mere occasional interest may be dissolved at pleasure; but the state ought not to be considered as nothing better than a partnership agreement in a trade of pepper and coffee, calico or tobacco, or some other such low concern, to be taken up for a little temporary interest, and to be dissolved by the fancy of the parties. It is to be looked on with other reverence; because it is not a partnership in things subservient only to the gross animal existence of a temporary and perishable nature. It is a partnership in all science, a partnership in all art, a partnership in every virtue and in all perfection. As the ends of such a partnership cannot be obtained in many generations, it becomes a partnership not only between those who are living, but between those who are living, those who are dead, and those who are to be born.
That Jacobinism which is speculative in its origin, and which arises from wantonness and fulness of bread, may possibly be kept under by firmness and prudence. The very levity of character which produces it may extinguish it. But Jacobinism which arises from penury and irritation, from scorned loyalty and rejected allegiance, has much deeper roots. They take their nourishment from the bottom of human nature, and the unalterable constitution of things, and not from humour and caprice, or the opinions of the day about privileges and liberties. These roots will be shot into the depths of hell, and will at last raise up their proud tops to heaven itself. This radical evil may baffle the attempts of heads much wiser than those are who in the petulance and riot of their drunken power are neither ashamed nor afraid to insult and provoke those whom it is their duty, and ought to be their glory, to cherish and protect.
One cannot help shuddering with horror when one contemplates the terrible consequences that are frequently the results of craft united with folly, placed in an unnatural elevation. Such ever will be the issue of things when the mean vices attempt to mimic the grand passions. Great men will never do great mischief but for some great end. For this, they must be in a state of inflammation, and, in a manner, out of themselves. Among the nobler animals, whose blood is hot, the bite is never poisonous except when the creature is mad; but in the cold-blooded reptile race, whose poison is exalted by the chemistry of their icy complexion, their venom is the result of their health, and of the perfection of their nature. Woe to the country in which such snakes, whose primum mobile is their belly, obtain wings, and from serpents become dragons. It is not that these people want natural talents, and even a good cultivation; on the contrary, they are the sharpest and most sagacious of mankind in the things to which they apply. But, having wasted their faculties upon base and unworthy objects, in anything of a higher order they are far below the common rate of two-legged animals.
Where I speak of responsibility, I do not mean to exclude that species of it which the legal powers of the country have a right finally to exact from those who abuse a public trust: but, high as this is, there is a responsibility which attaches on them from which the whole legitimate power of the kingdom cannot absolve them; there is a responsibility to conscience and to glory, a responsibility to the existing world, and to that posterity which men of their eminence cannot avoid for glory or for shame,—a responsibility to a tribunal at which not only ministers, but kings and parliaments, but even nations themselves, must one day answer.
: Letters on a Regicide Peace,
Letter III., 1797.
In a free country there is much clamour with little suffering; in a despotic state there is little complaint, but much suffering.
Lazare N. M. Carnot.
In politics, what begins in fear usually ends in folly.
Samuel Taylor Coleridge.
To give laws unto a people; to institute magistrates and officers over them; to punish and pardon malefactors; to have the sole authority of making war and peace, are the true marks of sovereignty.
Sir John Davies.
All political institutions will probably, from whatever cause, tend to become worse by time. If a system were now formed that should meet all the philosopher’s and the philanthropist’s wishes, it would still have the same tendency; only I do hope that henceforward to the end of time, men’s minds will be extensively awake to the nature and operation of their institutions; so that after a new era shall commence, governments shall not slide into depravity without being keenly watched, nor be watched without the sense and spirit to arrest their deterioration.
John Foster: Journal.
After the fall of the republic the Romans combated only for the choice of masters.
He that enjoyed crowns, and knew their worth, excepted them not out of the charge of universal vanity; and yet the politician is not discouraged at the inconstancy of human affairs, and the lubricity of his subject.
It is greater to understand the art whereby the Almighty governs the motions of the great automaton than to have learned the intrigues of policy.
Ceremonies are different in every country; but true politeness is everywhere the same.
This innocent word Trimmer signifies no more than this: that if men are together in a boat, and one part of the company would weigh it down on one side, another would make it lean as much to the contrary; it happens that there is a third opinion, of those who conceive it would be as well if the boat went even, without endangering the passengers. Now, ’tis hard to imagine by what figure in language, or by what rule in sense, this comes to be a fault; and it is much more a wonder it should be thought a heresy.
Lord Halifax: The Character of a Trimmer, Preface.
From the notion that political society precludes an appeal to natural rights, the greatest absurdities must ensue. If that idea be just, it is improper to say of any administration that it is despotic or oppressive, unless it has receded from its first form and model. Civil power can never exceed its limits until it deviates into a new track. For if every portion of natural freedom be given up by yielding to civil authority, we can never claim any other liberties than those precise ones which were ascertained in its first formation.
Robert Hall: Apology for the Freedom of the Press, Sect. IV.
It is certain two nations cannot engage in hostilities but one party must be guilty of injustice; and if the magnitude of crimes is to be estimated by a regard to their consequences, it is difficult to conceive an action of equal guilt with the wanton violation of peace. Though something must generally be allowed for the complexness and intricacy of national claims, and the consequent liability to deception, yet where the guilt of an unjust war is clear and manifest, it sinks every other crime into insignificance. If the existence of war always implies injustice in one at least of the parties concerned, it is also the fruitful parent of crimes. It reverses, with respect to its objects, all the rules of morality. It is nothing less than a temporary repeal of the principles of virtue. It is a system out of which almost all the virtues are excluded, and in which nearly all the vices are incorporated. Whatever renders human nature amiable or respectable, whatever engages love or confidence, is sacrificed at its shrine.
Robert Hall: Reflections on War.
Then does party animosity reach its height when to an interference of interests sufficient to kindle resentment is superadded a persuasion of rectitude, a conviction of truth, an apprehension in each party that they are contending for principles of the last importance, on the success of which the happiness of millions depends. Under these impressions men are apt to indulge the most selfish and vindictive passions without suspicion or control. The understanding indeed, in that state, instead of controlling the passions, often serves only to give steadiness to their impulse, to ratify and consecrate, so to speak, all their movements.
Robert Hall: Reflections on War.
If the course of politic affairs cannot in any good course go forward without fit instruments, and that which fitteth them be their virtues, let polity acknowledge itself indebted to religion, godliness being the chiefest top and well-spring of all true virtues, even as God is of all good things.
The most inviolable attachment to the laws of our country is everywhere acknowledged a capital virtue; and where the people are not so happy as to have any legislature but a single person, the strictest loyalty is, in that case, the truest patriotism.
Sir Alexander [Macdonald] observed, that the Chancellors in England are chosen from views much inferior to the office, being chosen from temporary political views.
JOHNSON: Why, sir, in such a government as ours, no man is appointed to an office because he is the fittest for it, nor hardly in any other government; because there are so many connections and dependencies to be studied. A despotic prince may choose a man to an office merely because he is the fittest for it. The king of Prussia may do it.
Dr. Samuel Johnson: Boswell’s Johnson, year 1772.
Such was the end of the Restoration—the most difficult government among all those which history records for men’s instruction, and which, with the best intentions, leads to the most inevitable faults; because those things which revolution had abolished, and which are identified with the exiled dynasty, naturally struggle to come back with that dynasty, and give umbrage to new things; and because kings and people, who mutually regret each other, and would fain be reconciled, are constantly irritated by their recollections and by old parties, who seek to recover their dogmas and privileges at the expense of both king and people. New monarchies are demolished by their enemies; restored ones by their friends. Nothing survives but the Divine power, which manifests itself in the sovereignty of the people, and which liberty renders legitimate.
Alphonse Lamartine: Hist, of the Restor. of Monarchy in France, vol. iv., book 50, xxviii.
To understand political power right, and derive it from its original, we must consider what state all men are naturally in; and that is a state of perfect freedom to order their actions and dispose of their possessions and persons.
Political power I take to be a right of making laws with penalties; and of employing the force of the community in the execution of such laws, and in the defence of the common wealth; and all this only for the public good.
The errors of both parties arise from an ignorance or a neglect of fundamental principles of political science. The writers on one side imagine popular government to be always a blessing; Mr. Mitford omits no opportunity of assuring us that it is always a curse. The fact is, that a good government, like a good coat, is that which fits the body for which it is designed. A man who, upon abstract principles, pronounces a constitution to be good, without an exact knowledge of the people who are to be governed by it, judges as absurdly as a tailor who should measure the Belvedere Apollo for the clothes of all his customers. The demagogues who wished to see Portugal a republic, and the wise critics who revile the Virginians for not having instituted a peerage, appear equally ridiculous to all men of sense and candour.
That is the best government which desires to make the people happy and knows how to make them happy. Neither the inclination nor the knowledge will suffice alone; and it is difficult to find them together.
Pure democracy, and pure democracy alone, satisfies the former condition of this great problem. That the governors may be solicitous only for the interests of the governed, it is necessary that the interests of the governors and the governed should be the same. This cannot often be the case where power is intrusted to one or to a few. The privileged part of the community will doubtless derive a certain degree of advantage from the general prosperity of the state; but they will derive a greater from oppression and exaction. The king will desire an useless war for his glory, or a parc-aux-cerfs for his pleasure. The nobles will demand monopolies and lettres-de-cachet. In proportion as the number of governors is increased, the evil is diminished. There are fewer to contribute, and more to receive. The dividend which each can obtain of the public plunder becomes less and less tempting. But the interests of the subjects and the rulers never absolutely coincide till the subjects themselves become the rulers, that is, till the government be either immediately or mediately democratical.
But this is not enough. “Will without power,” said the sagacious Casimir to Milor Beefington, “is like children playing at soldiers.” The people will always be desirous to promote their own interests; but it may be doubted whether, in any community, they were ever sufficiently educated to understand them. Even in this island, where the multitude have long been better informed than in any other part of Europe, the rights of the many have generally been asserted against themselves by the patriotism of the few.
Lord Thomas Babington Macaulay: Mitford’s Greece, Nov. 1824.
The people are to be governed for their own good; and, that they may be governed for their own good, they must not be governed by their own ignorance. There are countries in which it would be as absurd to establish popular governments as to abolish all the restraints in a school, or to untie all the strait-waistcoats in a madhouse.
Hence it may be concluded that the happiest state of society is that in which supreme power resides in the whole body of a well-informed people. This is an imaginary, perhaps an unattainable, state of things. Yet, in some measure, we may approximate to it; and he alone deserves the name of a great statesman whose principle it is to extend the power of the people in proportion to the extent of their knowledge, and to give them every facility for obtaining such a degree of knowledge as may render it safe to trust them with absolute power. In the mean time, it is dangerous to praise or condemn constitutions in the abstract; since, from the despotism of St. Petersburg to the democracy of Washington, there is scarcely a form of government which might not, at least in some hypothetical case, be the best possible.
If, however, there be any form of government which in all ages and all nations has always been, and must always be, pernicious, it is certainly that which Mr. Mitford, on his usual principle of being wiser than all the rest of the world, has taken under his especial patronage,—pure oligarchy.
This is closely, and indeed inseparably, connected with another of his eccentric tastes, a marked partiality for Lacedæmon, and a dislike of Athens.
Lord Thomas Babington Macaulay: Mitford’s Greece.
Oligarchy is the weakest and the most stable of governments; and it is stable because it is weak. It has a sort of valetudinarian longevity; it lives in the balance of Sanctorius; it takes no exercise; it exposes itself to no accident; it is seized with an hypochondriac alarm at every new sensation; it trembles at every breath; it lets blood for every inflammation; and thus, without ever enjoying a day of health or pleasure, drags on its existence to a doting and debilitated old age.
Lord Thomas Babington Macaulay: Mitford’s Greece.
Nothing is more remarkable in the political treatises of Machiavelli than the fairness of mind which they indicate. It appears where the author is in the wrong, almost as strongly as where he is in the right. He never advances a false opinion because it is new or splendid, because he can clothe it in a happy phrase, or defend it by an ingenious sophism. His errors are at once explained by a reference to the circumstances in which he was placed. They evidently were not sought out; they lay in his way and could scarcely be avoided. Such mistakes must necessarily be committed by early speculators in every science. In this respect it is amusing to compare The Prince and the Discourses with the Spirit of Laws. Montesquieu enjoys, perhaps, a wider celebrity than any political writer of modern Europe. Something he doubtless owes to his merit, but much more to his fortune. He had the good luck of a Valentine. He caught the eye of the French nation at the moment when it was waking from the long sleep of political and religious bigotry; and, in consequence, he became a favourite. The English, at that time, considered a Frenchman who talked about constitutional checks and fundamental laws, as a prodigy not less astonishing than the learned pig or the musical infant. Specious but shallow, studious of effect, indifferent to truth, eager to build a system, but careless of collecting those materials out of which alone a sound and durable system can be built, the lively President constructed theories as rapidly and as lightly as card houses, no sooner projected than completed, no sooner completed than blown away, no sooner blown away than forgotten. Machiavelli errs only because his experience, acquired in a very peculiar state of society, could not always enable him to calculate the effect of institutions differing from those of which he had observed the operation. Montesquieu errs, because he has a fine thing to say, and is resolved to say it. If the phenomena which lie before him will not suit his purpose, all history must be ransacked. If nothing established by authentic testimony can be racked or chipped to suit his Procrustean hypothesis, he puts up with some monstrous fable about Siam, or Bantam, or Japan, told by writers compared with whom Lucian and Gulliver were veracious, liars by a double right, as travellers and as Jesuits.
Lord Thomas Babington Macaulay: Machiavelli, March, 1827.
Every political sect has its esoteric and its exoteric school, its abstract doctrines for the initiated, its visible symbols, its imposing forms, its mythological fables, for the vulgar. It assists the devotion of those who are unable to raise themselves to the contemplation of pure truth, by all the devices of Pagan or Papal superstition. It has its altars and its deified heroes, its relics and pilgrimages, its canonized martyrs and confessors, its festivals, and its legendary miracles. Our pious ancestors, we are told, deserted the High Altar of Canterbury, to lay all their oblations on the shrine of St. Thomas. In the same manner the great and comfortable doctrines of the Tory creed, those particularly which relate to restrictions on worship and on trade, are adored by squires and rectors in Pitt Clubs, under the name of a minister who was as bad a representative of the system which has been christened after him as Becket of the spirit of the Gospel. On the other hand, the cause for which Hampden bled on the field and Sydney on the scaffold is enthusiastically toasted by many an honest radical who would be puzzled to explain the difference between Ship-money and the Habeas Corpus Act. It may be added that, as in religion, so in politics, few even of those who are enlightened enough to comprehend the meaning latent under the emblems of their faith can resist the contagion of the popular superstition. Often, when they flatter themselves that they are merely feigning a compliance with the prejudices of the vulgar, they are themselves under the influence of their very prejudices. It probably was not altogether on grounds of expediency that Socrates taught his followers to honour the gods whom the state honoured, and bequeathed a cock to Esculapius with his dying breath. So there is often a portion of willing credulity and enthusiasm in the veneration which the most discerning men pay to their political idols. From the very nature of man it must be so. The faculty by which we inseparably associate ideas which have often been presented to us in conjunction is not under the absolute control of the will. It may be quickened into morbid activity. It may be reasoned into sluggishness. But in a certain degree it will always exist.
Lord Thomas Babington Macaulay: Hallam’s Constit. Hist., Sept. 1828.
No men occupy so splendid a place in history as those who have founded monarchies on the ruins of republican institutions. Their glory, if not of the purest, is assuredly of the most seductive and dazzling kind. In nations broken to the curb, in nations long accustomed to be transferred from one tyrant to another, a man without eminent qualities may easily gain supreme power. The defection of a troop of guards, a conspiracy of eunuchs, a popular tumult, might place an indolent senator or a brutal soldier on the throne of the Roman world. Similar revolutions have often occurred in the despotic state of Asia. But a community which has heard the voice of truth and experienced the pleasures of liberty, in which the merits of statesmen and of systems are freely canvassed, in which obedience is paid, not to persons, but to laws, in which magistrates are regarded not as the lords but as the servants of the public, in which the excitement of a party is a necessary of life, in which political warfare is reduced to a system of tactics,—such a community is not easily reduced to servitude. Beasts of burden may easily be managed by a new master. But will the wild ass submit to the bonds? Will the unicorn serve and abide by the crib? Will leviathan hold out his nostrils to the hook? The mythological conqueror of the East, whose enchantments reduced wild beasts to the tameness of domestic cattle, and who harnessed lions and tigers to his chariot, is but an imperfect type of those extraordinary minds which have thrown a spell on the fierce spirits of nations unaccustomed to control, and have compelled raging factions to obey their reins and swell their triumph. The enterprise, be it good or bad, is one which requires a truly great man. It demands courage, activity, energy, wisdom, firmness, conspicuous virtues, or vices so splendid and alluring as to resemble virtues.
Those who have succeeded in this arduous undertaking form a very small and a very remarkable class. Parents of tyranny, heirs of freedom, kings among citizens, citizens among kings, they unite in themselves the characteristics of the system which springs from them, and those of the system from which they have sprung. Their designs shine with a double light, the last and dearest rays of departing freedom mingled with the first and brightest glories of empire in its dawn. The high qualities of such a prince lend to despotism itself a charm drawn from the liberty under which they were formed, and which they have destroyed. He resembles an European who settles within the Tropics and carries thither the strength and the energetic habits acquired in regions more propitious to the constitution. He differs as widely from princes nursed in the purple of imperial cradles, as the companions of Gama from their dwarfish and imbecile progeny, which, born in a climate unfavourable to its growth and beauty, degenerates more and more, at every descent, from the qualities of the original conquerors.
In this class three men stand pre-eminent, Cæsar, Cromwell, and Bonaparte. The highest place in this remarkable triumvirate belongs undoubtedly to Cæsar. He united the talents of Bonaparte to those of Cromwell; and he possessed also, what neither Cromwell nor Bonaparte possessed, learning, taste, wit, eloquence, the sentiments and manners of an accomplished gentleman.
Lord Thomas Babington Macaulay: Hallam’s Constitutional History.
The severity with which the Tories, at the close of the reign of Anne, treated some of those who had directed public affairs during the War of the Grand Alliance, and the retaliatory measures of the Whigs, after the accession of the House of Hanover, cannot be justified; but they were by no means in the style of the infuriated parties whose alternate murders had disgraced our history towards the close of the reign of Charles the Second. At the fall of Walpole far greater moderation was displayed. And from that time it has been the practice, a practice not strictly according to the theory of our constitution, but still most salutary, to consider the loss of office, and the public disapprobation, as punishments sufficient for errors in the administration not imputable to personal corruption. Nothing, we believe, has contributed more than this lenity to raise the character of public men. Ambition is of itself a game sufficiently hazardous and sufficiently deep to inflame the passions, without adding property, life, and liberty to the stake. Where the play runs so desperately high as in the seventeenth century, honour is at an end. Statesmen, instead of being as they should be, at once mild and steady, are at once ferocious and inconsistent. The axe is ever before their eyes. A popular outcry sometimes unnerves them, and sometimes makes them desperate; it drives them to unworthy compliances, or to measures of vengeance as cruel as those which they have reason to expect. A Minister in our times need not fear to be firm or to be merciful. Our old policy in this respect was as absurd as that of the king in the Eastern tale who proclaimed that any physician who pleased might come to court and prescribe for his diseases, but that if the remedies failed the adventurer should lose his head. It is easy to conceive how many able men would refuse to undertake the cure on such conditions; how much the sense of extreme danger would confuse the perceptions and cloud the intellect of the practitioner, at the very crisis which most called for self-possession, and how strong his temptation would be, if he found that he had committed a blunder, to escape the consequences of it by poisoning his patient.
But in fact it would have been impossible, since the Revolution, to punish any Minister for the general course of his policy, with the slightest semblance of justice; for since that time no Minister has been able to pursue any general course of policy without the approbation of the Parliament.
Lord Thomas Babington Macaulay: Hallam’s Constitutional History.
Perhaps it may be laid down as a general rule that a legislative assembly, not constituted on democratic principles, cannot be popular long after it ceases to be weak. Its zeal for what the people, rightly or wrongly, conceive to be their interest, its sympathy with their mutable and violent passions, are merely the effects of the particular circumstances in which it is placed. As long as it depends for existence on the public favour, it will employ all the means in its power to conciliate that favour. While this is the case, defects in its constitution are of little consequence. But, as the close union of such a body with the nation is the effect of an identity of interest not essential but accidental, it is in some measure dissolved from the time at which the danger which produced it ceases to exist.
Hence, before the Revolution, the question of Parliamentary reform was of very little importance. The friends of liberty had no very ardent wish for reform.
Lord Thomas Babington Macaulay: Hallam’s Constitutional History.
Firmness is a great virtue in public affairs, but it has its proper sphere. Conspiracies and insurrections in which small minorities are engaged, the outbreakings of popular violence unconnected with any extensive project or any durable principle, are best repressed by vigour and decision. To shrink from them is to make them formidable. But no wise ruler will confound the pervading taint with the slight local irritation. No wise ruler will treat the deeply-seated discontents of a great party as he treats the fury of a mob which destroys mills and power-looms. The neglect of this distinction has been fatal even to governments strong in the power of the sword. The present time is indeed a time of peace and order. But it is at such a time that fools are most thoughtless and wise men most thoughtful. That the discontents which have agitated the country during the late and the present reign, and which, though not always noisy, are never wholly dormant, will again break forth with aggravated symptoms, is almost as certain as that the tides and seasons will follow their appointed course. But in all movements of the human mind which tend to great revolutions there is a crisis at which moderate concession may amend, conciliate, and preserve. Happy will it be for England if, at that crisis, her interests be confided to men for whom history has not recorded the long series of human crimes and follies in vain.
Lord Thomas Babington Macaulay: Hallam’s Constitutional History.
Every school-boy, whose studies have gone so far as the Abridgments of Goldsmith, can mention instances in which sovereigns have allied themselves with the people against the aristocracy, and in which the nobles have allied themselves with the people against the sovereign. In general, when there are three parties, every one of which has much to fear from the others, it is not found that two of them combine to plunder the third. If such a combination be formed, it scarcely ever effects its purpose. It soon becomes evident which member of the coalition is likely to be the greater gainer by the transaction. He becomes an object of jealousy to his ally, who, in all probability, changes sides and compels him to restore what he has taken. Everybody knows how Henry VIII. trimmed between Francis and the Emperor Charles. But it is idle to cite examples of the operation of a principle which is illustrated in almost every page of history, ancient or modern, and to which almost every state in Europe has, at one time or another, been indebted for its independence.
Lord Thomas Babington Macaulay: Mill’s Essay on Government, March, 1829.
In no form of government is there an absolute identity of interest between the people and their rulers. In every form of government, the rulers stand in some awe of the people. The fear of resistance and the sense of shame operate in a certain degree on the most absolute kings and the most illiberal oligarchies. And nothing but the fear of resistance and the sense of shame preserves the freedom of the most democratic communities from the encroachments of their annual and biennial delegates.
Lord Thomas Babington Macaulay: Mill’s Essay on Government.
This is that noble science of Politics, which is equally removed from the barren theories of the Utilitarian sophists, and from the petty craft so often mistaken for statesmanship by minds grown narrow in habits of intrigue, jobbing, and official etiquette;—which of all sciences most tends to expand and invigorate the mind,—which draws nutriment and ornament from every part of philosophy and literature, and dispenses in return nutriment and ornament to all.
Lord Thomas Babington Macaulay: Mill’s Essay on Government.
We say again and again, that we are on the defensive. We do not think it necessary to prove that a quack medicine is poison. Let the vendor prove it to be sanitive. We do not pretend to show that universal suffrage is an evil. Let its advocates show it to be a good. Mr. Mill tells us that, if power be given for short terms to representatives elected by all the males of mature age, it will then be for the interest of those representatives to promote the greatest happiness of the greatest number. To prove this, it is necessary that he should prove three propositions: first, that the interest of such a representative body will be identical with the interest of the constituent body; secondly, that the interest of the constituent body will be identical with that of the community; thirdly, that the interest of one generation of a community is identical with that of all succeeding generations. The two first propositions Mr. Mill attempts to prove, and fails. The last he does not even attempt to prove. We therefore refuse our assent to his conclusions. Is this unreasonable?
Lord Thomas Babington Macaulay: Westminster Reviewer’s Defence of Mill, June, 1829.
Constitutions are in politics what paper money is in commerce. They afford great facilities and conveniences. But we must not attribute to them that value which really belongs to what they represent. They are not power, but symbols of power, and will, in an emergency, prove altogether useless unless the power for which they stand be forthcoming. The real power by which the community is governed is made up of all the means which all its members possess of giving pain or pleasure to each other.
Lord Thomas Babington Macaulay: Utilitarian Theory of Government, Oct. 1829.
The glory of the National Assembly [of France] is this, that they were in truth, what Mr. Burke called them in austere irony, the ablest architects of ruin that ever the world saw. They were utterly incompetent to perform any work which required a discriminating eye and a skilful hand. But the work which was then to be done was a work of devastation. They had to deal with abuses so horrible and so deeply rooted that the highest political wisdom could scarcely have produced greater good to mankind than was produced by their fierce and senseless temerity. Demolition is undoubtedly a vulgar task; the highest glory of the statesman is to construct. But there is a time for everything,—a time to set up, and a time to pull down. The talents of revolutionary lenders and those of the legislator have equally their use and their season. It is the natural, the almost universal, law that the age of insurrections and proscriptions shall precede the age of good government, of temperate liberty, and liberal order. And how should it be otherwise? It is not in swaddling-bands that we learn to walk. It is not in the dark that we learn to distinguish colours. It is not under oppression that we learn how to use freedom.
Lord Thomas Babington Macaulay: Mirabeau, July, 1832.
Their successors expiated the crime. The effect of a change from good government to bad government is not fully fell for some time after the change has taken place. The talents and the virtues which a good constitution generates may for a time survive that constitution. Thus the reigns of princes who have established absolute monarchy on the ruins of popular forms of government often shine in history with a peculiar brilliancy. But when a generation or two has passed away, then comes signally to pass that which was written by Montesquieu, that despotic governments resemble those savages who cut down the tree in order to get at the fruit. During the first years of tyranny is reaped the harvest sown during the last years of liberty. Thus the Augustan age was rich in great minds formed in the generation of Cicero and Cæsar. The fruits of the policy of Augustus were reserved for posterity. Philip the Second was the heir of the Cortes and of the Justiza Mayor; and they left him a nation which seemed able to conquer all the world. What Philip left to his successors is well known.
Lord Thomas Babington Macaulay: Lord Mahon’s War of the Succession in Spain, Jan. 1833.
We shall not, we hope, be suspected of a bigoted attachment to the doctrines and practices of past generations. Our creed is that the science of government is an experimental science, and that, like all other experimental sciences, it is generally in a state of progression. No man is so obstinate an admirer of the old times as to deny that medicine, surgery, botany, chemistry, engineering, navigation, are better understood now than in any former age. We conceive that it is the same with political science. Like those physical sciences which we have mentioned, it has always been working itself clearer and clearer, and depositing impurity after impurity. There was a time when the most powerful of human intellects were deluded by the gibberish of the astrologer and the alchemist; and just so there was a time when the most enlightened and virtuous statesman thought it the first duty of a government to persecute heretics, to found monasteries, to make war on Saracens. But time advances: facts accumulate; doubts arise. Faint glimpses of truth begin to appear, and shine more and more unto the perfect day. The highest intellects, like the tops of mountains, are the first to catch and to reflect the dawn. They are bright, while the level below is still in darkness. But soon the light, which at first illuminated only the loftiest eminences, descends on the plain, and penetrates to the deepest valley. First come hints, then fragments of systems, then defective systems, then complete and harmonious systems. The sound opinion, held for a time by one bold speculator, becomes the opinion of a small minority, of a strong minority, of a majority of mankind. Thus the great progress goes on, till school-boys laugh at the jargon which imposed on Bacon, till country rectors condemn the illiberality and intolerance of Sir Thomas More.
Lord Thomas Babington Macaulay: Sir James Mackintosh, July, 1835.
[Halifax] was the chief of those politicians whom the two great parties contemptuously called Trimmers. Instead of quarrelling with this nickname, he assumed it as a title of honour, and vindicated with great vivacity the dignity of the appellation. Everything, he said, trims between extremes…. Thus Halifax was a Trimmer on principle.
Lord Thomas Babington Macaulay: History of England, ch. ii.
I have long been convinced that institutions purely democratic must, sooner or later, destroy liberty, or civilization, or both…. I have not the smallest doubt that, if we had a purely democratic government here, the effect would be the same [as in France in 1848]. Either the poor would plunder the rich, and civilization would perish; or order and property would be saved by a strong military government, and liberty would perish. You may think that your country enjoys an exemption from these evils. I will frankly tell you that I am of a very different opinion. Your fate I believe to be certain, though it is deferred by a physical cause…. The day will come when in the State of New York, a multitude of people, none of whom has had more than half a breakfast, or expects to have more than half a dinner, will choose a legislature. Is it possible to doubt what sort of legislature will be chosen? On one side is a statesman preaching patience, respect for vested rights, strict observance of public faith. On the other is a demagogue ranting about the tyranny of capitalists and usurers, and asking why anybody should be permitted to drink champagne and to ride in a carriage while thousands of honest folks are in want of necessaries? Which of the two candidates is likely to be preferred by a working man who hears his children cry for more bread?… There is nothing to stop you. Your Constitution is all sail and no anchor.
Lord Thomas Babington Macaulay: Letter to Henry S. Randall, Esq., of New York, May 23, 1857.
We have already seen that the interest of the community, considered in the aggregate, or in the democratical point of view, is, that each individual should receive protection; and that the powers which are constituted for that purpose should be employed exclusively for that purpose…. We have also seen that the interest of the king and of the governing aristocracy is directly the reverse. It is to have unlimited power over the rest of the community, and to use it for their own advantage. In the supposed case of the balance of the monarchical, aristocratical, and democratical powers, it cannot be for the interest of either the monarchy or the aristocracy to combine with the democracy; because it is the interest of the democracy, or community at large, that neither the king nor the aristocracy should have one particle of power, or one particle of the wealth of the community for their own advantage.
The democracy or community have all possible motives to endeavour to prevent the monarchy and aristocracy from exercising power, or obtaining the wealth of the community for their own advantage. The monarchy and aristocracy have all possible motives for endeavouring to obtain unlimited power over the persons and property of the community. The consequence is inevitable: they have all possible motives for combining to obtain that power.
James Mill: Essays on Government, etc., 1828.
In the grand discovery of modern times, the system of representation, the solution of all the difficulties, both speculative and practical, will perhaps be found. If it cannot, we seem to be forced upon the extraordinary conclusion that good government is impossible. For, as there is no individual or combination of individuals, except the community itself, who would not have an interest in bad government if intrusted with its powers, and as the community itself is incapable of exercising those powers, and must intrust them to certain individuals, the conclusion is obvious: the community itself must check those individuals; else they will follow their interest and produce bad government. But how is it the community can check? The community can act only when assembled; and when assembled, it is incapable of acting. The community, however, can choose representatives.
James Mill: Essays on Government, etc.
The qualification must either be such as to embrace the majority of the population, or something less than the majority. Suppose, in the first place, that it embraces the majority; the question is, whether the majority would have an interest in oppressing those who, upon this supposition, would be deprived of political power? If we reduce the calculation to its elements, we shall see that the interest which they would have of this deplorable kind, though it would be something, would not be very great. Each man of the majority, if the majority were constituted the governing body, would have something less than the benefit of oppressing a single man. If the majority were twice as great as the minority, each man of the majority would only have one-half the benefit of oppressing a single man…. Suppose, in the second place, that the qualification did not admit a body of electors so large as the majority in that case, taking again the calculation in its elements, we shall see that each man would have a benefit equal to that derived from the oppression of more than one man; and that, in proportion as the elective body constituted a smaller and smaller minority, the benefit of misrule to the elective body would be increased, and bad government would be insured.
James Mill: Essays on Government, etc.
For who would vindicate your right of unrestrained suffrage, or of choosing what representatives you liked best, merely that you might elect the creatures of your own faction, whoever they might be, or him, however small might be his worth, who would give you the most lavish feasts and enable you to drink to the greatest excess?… For, should the management of the republic be intrusted to persons to whom no one would willingly intrust the management of his private concerns: and the treasury of the state be left to the care of those who had lavished their own fortunes in an infamous prodigality? Should they have the charge of the public purse, which they would soon convert into a private, by their unprincipled peculations? Are they fit to be the legislators of a whole people who themselves know not what law, what reason, what right and wrong, what crooked and straight, what licit and illicit means? who think that all power consists in outrage, all dignity in the parade of insolence?
A private conscience sorts not with a public calling, but declares that person rather meant by nature for a private fortune.
Let him enquire into the manners, revenues, and alliances of princes, things in themselves very pleasant to learn, and very useful to know. In this conversing with men, I mean, and principally those who only live in the records of history, he shall by reading those books converse with those great and heroick souls of former and better ages. ’Tis an idle and vain study, I confess, to those who make it so, by doing it after a negligent manner, but to those who do it with care and observation ’tis a study of inestimable fruit and value; and the only one, as Plato reports, the Lacedæmonians reserved to themselves. What profit shall he not reap as to the business of men by reading the lives of Plutarch?
Michel de Montaigne: Essays, Cotton’s 3d ed., ch. xxv.
Whilst politicians are disputing about monarchies, aristocracies, and republics, Christianity is alike applicable, useful, and friendly to them all.
The world is become too busy for me: everybody is so concerned for the public that all private enjoyments are lost or disrelished.
A man coming to the water-side is surrounded by all the crew; every one is officious, every one making applications, every one offering his services; the whole bustle of the place seems to be only for him. The same man going from the water-side, no noise is made about him, no creature takes notice of him, all let him pass with utter neglect! The picture of a minister when he comes into power, and when he goes out.
Alexander Pope: Thoughts on Various Subjects.
The empire being elective, and not successive, the emperors, in being, made profit of their own times.
Men lay the blame of those evils whereof they know not the ground upon public misgovernment.
In a troubled state we must do as in foul weather upon a river, not to think to cut directly through, for the boat may be filled with water; but rise and fall as the waves do, and give way as much as we conveniently can.
The thorough-paced politician must laugh at the squeamishness of his conscience, and read it another lecture.
I have often wondered how it should be possible that this turn to politics should so universally prevail to the exclusion of every other subject out of conversation; and, upon mature consideration, find it is for want of discourse. Look round you among all the young fellows you meet, and you see those who have the least relish for books, company, or pleasure, though they have no manner of qualities to make them succeed in those pursuits, shall make very passable politicians. Thus the most barren invention shall find enough to say to make one appear an able man in the top coffee-houses. It is but adding a certain vehemence in uttering yourself, let the thing you say be never so flat, and you shall be thought a very sensible man, if you were not too hot.
Sir Richard Steele: Tatler, No. 232.
The man who can make two ears of corn, or two blades of grass, grow on the spot where only one grew before, would deserve better of mankind, and render more essential service to the country, than the whole race of politicians put together.
I could produce innumerable instances from my own observation of events imputed to the profound skill and address of a minister, which, in reality, were either mere effects of negligence, weakness, humour, passion, or pride; or at best, but the natural course of things left to themselves.
All pretences to neutrality are justly exploded, only intending the safety and ease of a few individuals, while the public is embroiled. This was the opinion and practice of the latter Cato.
States call in foreigners to assist them against a common enemy; but the mischief was, these allies would never allow that the common enemy was subdued.
Public business suffers by private infirmities, and kingdoms fall into weaknesses by the diseases or decays of those that manage them.
Sir William Temple.
The best service they could do to the state was to mend the lives of the persons who composed it.
Sir William Temple.
The Nation which indulges towards another an habitual hatred, or an habitual fondness, is in some degree a slave. It is a slave to its animosity or to its affection, either of which is sufficient to lead it astray from its duty and its interest. Antipathy in one nation against another disposes each more readily to offer insult and injury, to lay hold of slight causes of umbrage, and to be haughty and intractable when accidental or trifling occasions of dispute occur. Hence frequent collisions, obstinate, envenomed, and bloody contests…. So, likewise, a passionate attachment of one Nation for another produces a variety of evils. Sympathy for the favourite Nation, facilitating the illusion of an imaginary common interest, in cases where no real common interest exists, and infusing into one the enmities of the other, betrays the former into a participation in the quarrels and wars of the latter, without adequate inducement or justification. It leads also to concessions to the favourite Nation of privileges denied to others, which is apt doubly to injure the Nation making the concessions: by unnecessarily parting with what ought to have been retained; and by exciting jealousy, ill-will, and a disposition to retaliate, in the parties from whom equal privileges are withheld.
George Washington: Farewell Address to the People of the United States.
There is an indissoluble union between a magnanimous policy and the solid rewards of public prosperity and felicity.
How many thousands pronounce boldly on the affairs of the public whom God nor men never qualified for such judgment!
Dr. Isaac Watts.
The ancient despotism of France, detestable as it was, did not cause more misery in a century than the Reign of Terror did in a year. And, universally, the longer and the more grievously any people have been oppressed, the more violent and extravagant will be the reaction. And the people will often be in the condition of King Lear, going to and fro between his daughters, and deprived first of half his attendants, then of half the remainder, then of all.
Richard Whately: Annot. on Bacon’s Essay, Of Innovations.
We find—in the case of political affairs—that the most servile submission to privileged classes, and the grossest abuses of power by these, have been the precursors of the wildest ebullitions of popular fury,—of the overthrow indiscriminately of ancient institutions, good and bad,—and of the most turbulent democracy; generally proportioned in its extravagance and violence to the degree of previous oppression and previous degradation. And again we find that whenever men have become heartily wearied of licentious anarchy, their eagerness has been proportionably great to embrace the opposite extreme of rigorous despotism; like shipwrecked mariners clinging to a bare and rugged rock as a refuge from the waves.
Richard Whately: Annot. on Bacon’s Essay, Of Innovations.