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for stating, I will say not only the general will, but likewise the general understanding; and, undoubtedly, in this abstract point of view, it may seem repugnant to good sense to allow that a single person should have a right to answer: I oppose this general will, this general understanding. This idea even becomes still more unpalatable, when it is to be settled by the constitution, that the man armed with this terrible veto shall be likewise armed with the whole publick force, without which the general will can never be certain of being executed.
All these objections vanish before this important truth, that, without the right of resistance in the hands of the depositary of the publick force, that force might frequently be employed, in spite of him, to execute a will that was contrary to the general will.
Now, to prove, by an example, that this danger would exist, were the prince despoiled of the veto upon all legislative propositions which might be
presented to him by the national assembly, I ask you only to suppose an improper choice of representatives, and two interiour regulations, already proposed and authorized by the example of England; namely :
The excluding the publick from the house of assembly upon the simple requisition of a member; and the interdicting the publick papers to give an account of the debates.
These two regulations once obtained, it is evident that the next step, and that very quickly, would be the expulsion of every indiscreet member; and the terrour of the despotism of the national assembly operating upon the assembly itself, nothing further would be wanting, under a weak prince, than a little
a time and address to establish by law the domination of twelve hundred aristocrats, reduce the royal authority to be nothing but the passive instrument of their will, and replunge the people into that state of degradation, which ever accompanies the servitude of the prince.
The prince is the perpetual representative of the people, as the deputies are its representatives elected for a certain term. The rights of the one, like those of the others, are founded only on the interest of those who gave them their political existence.
None exclaims against the veto of the national assembly, which, in fact, is only the right of the people intrusted to its representatives, in order to be opposed to every proposition which might tend to the re-establishment of ministerial despotism. Wherefore, then, exclaim against the veto of the prince, which is likewise but a right of the people intrusted specially to the prince, since the prince is as much interested as the people in preventing the establishment of aristocracy?
But, it is said, the deputies of the people in the national assembly, being invested with power for a limited time only, and having no share in the execu. tive power, the ill use which they might make of their veto can never be attended with such fatal consequences, as those which would ensue where an unremoveable prince opposed a law that was just and reasonable.
In the first place, if the prince hath not the veto, who shall hinder the representatives of the people from prolonging, and, soon after, from eternizing their duration? (It was thus that the long parliament overturned the political liberty of Great Britain, and not, as you have been told, by suppressing the house of peers.) Nay, who shall hinder them from appropriating to themselves that part of the executive power which disposes of employments and favours? Will there be wanting pretexts to justify this usurpation? Places filled so scandalously! Favours prostituted so unworthily! &c.
Secondly, the veto, whether of the prince or of the deputies to the National Assembly, possesses no other. virtue than that of quashing a single proposition : there can result, then, from the veto, of whatever kind it be, only an inaction of the executive power with respect to the measure in question.
Thirdly, the veto of the prince may, doubtless, oppose the passing of a good law; but it may likewise preserve us from a bad one, the possibility of which last is incontestable.
Fourthly, I will suppose that the veto of the prince does actually prevent the enaction of a law framed with the deepest wisdom, and most advantageous to the nation ; what will be the consequence, if the annual return of the National Assembly be as solidly secured as the crown upon the head of him who wears it ; that is to say, if the annual return of the National Assembly be secured by a law truly constitutional, which forbids, under pain of conviction of incapability, the proposing either the grant of any kind of impost, or of the military establishment, for more than one year? Let us suppose that the prince hath made use of his veto ; the assembly will first determine, whether the use which he hath made of it is, or is not, followed by consequences inimical to liberty. In the second case, the difficulty raised by the interposition of the veto being found of no avail
, or of very slight importance, the National Assembly will vote the impost and the army for the ordinary term, and then all will remain in the order already established.
In the first case, the assembly will have divers means of influencing the king's will ; it the taxes; it may refuse the army; it may refuse both one and the other, or merely vote them for a very short term. Whatever may be the measure adopted by the assembly, the prince, threatened with a paralytick stroke to the executive power at a certain period, is reduced to the sole expedient of appealing to his people by a dissolution of the assembly. If, then, at such a juncture the people should return
a the same deputies to the assembly, will it not necessarily follow that the prince must obey ? for that is the true word, whatever idea he may hitherto have conceived of his pretended sovereignty, when he ceases to agree in opinion with his people, and the people knows what it is about.
Suppose now the right of the veto taken away from the prince, and the prince obliged to sanction an unjust law; you have no longer any hope but in a general insurrection, the happiest issue of which would probably prove more fatal to the unworthy representatives of the people than the dissolution of their assem. bly. But is it very certain that such an insurrection would prove fatal only to the unworthy representatives of the people ?-I see there still a resource for the partisans of ministerial despotism. I see there the imminent danger to the publick peace disturbed, and perhaps violated. I see there the almost inevitable combustion, but too long dreaded in a state where a revolution so necessasy, but yet so rapid, hath sown the seeds of division and hatred, which the establishment of the constitution, by the successive labours of the assembly, alone can stifle in their birth.
You see, gentlemen, I have all along supposed the permanence of the National Assembly, and have even drawn from it all my arguments in favour of the royal sanction, which appears to me the impregnable rampart of political liberty, provided the king can never persist in his veto without dissolving, nor dissolve without immediately convening another assembly ; because the constitution must not suffer the community to be at any time without representatives; provi. ded that a constitutional law declares all the taxes, and even the army, annulled of right, three months after the dissolution of the National Assembly; provided, in fine, that the responsibility of the ministers should always be insisted on with the most inflexible rigour; and, although the affairs of the publick were not to improve, each year, by the progress of the publick understanding, would it not yet be sufficient to glance our eyes upon the formidable extent of our duties, in order to determine us to declare the annuality* of the National Assembly?
* I cannot find this word in Johnson's Dictionary, nevertheless, I adopt it for want of a better.
The finances alone demand, perhaps for half a century, our legislative labours.
Which of us, I will be bold to ask, hath calculated the immediate action, and the more remote re-action of that multitude of taxes which is crushing us under its weight, upon the general opulence; taxes which we are now sensible that we can no longer do without ?
Is there any one of our taxes, the influence of which upon the comfort of the labourer we have dreamt of examining into, comfort without which no nation can eyer be rich ?
Do you know to what extent inquisitors, spies, and informers, secure the product of some? Are you sufficently aware, that it is the genius of the treasury to have recourse only to the musket, the gibbet, and the galleys, to prevent the diminution of the rest?
Is it impossible to imagine any thing less ridicu. lously absurd, less horribly partial, than this system of finance, which our grand financiers have hitherto considered as so well balanced ?
Have we clear ideas of property ? and are these ide. as sufficiently spread abroad amongst men, to assure the laws that they will produce that sort of obedience which the thinking man never refuses, and which the honest man holds in honour ?
Will you ever have any publick credit in this kingdom, as long as you have no law to assure you, that the nation annually assembled shall receive from the ministers of the finances, an exact account of their stewardship; that all the creditors of the state may,
very year, demand from the nation the payment of the interest due to them; that, in fine, every year the stranger may know where to look for that nation, which will always be afraid of dishonouring itself, a circumstance which will never give the ministry any disquiet?
If you pass from the finances to the code civil and criminal, do you not perceive that the impossibility, at least before a long time hath elapsed, of drawing up one which may prove worthy of you, cannot exempt you from profiting by that knowledge which will be