Category Archives: Constitution

Item of the Day: Polybius, translated by Edward Spelman (1743)

Full Title: A Fragment Out of the Sixth Book of Polybius, Containing a Dissertation upon Government in general, particularly applied to That of the Romans, together with a Description of the several Powers of Consuls, Senate, and People of Rome. Translated from the Greek with Notes. To which is prefixed a Preface, wherein the System of Polybius is applied to the Government of England: And, to the above-mentioned Fragment concerning the Powers of the Senate, is annexed a Dissertation upon the Constitution of it. By a Gentleman. London: Printed by J. Tettenham, and sold by W. Meyer . . . , M.DCC.XLIII. [1743].


Of the several FORMS of GOVERNMENT: Of the Origin, and natural Transition of those Governments to one another: That the best Constitution is That, which is compounded of all of them; and that the Constitution of the Romans is such a one.

Concerning those Greek Commonwealths, which have often encreased in Power, and often, to their Ruine, experienced a contrary Turn of Fortune, it is an easy Matter both to relate past Transactions, and foretel those to come; there being no great Difficulty, either in recounting what one knows, or in publishing Conjectures of future Events, from those that are past. But concerning the Roman commonwealth, it is not at all easy, either to give an account of the present State of their Affairs, by Reason of the Variety of their Institutions; or to foretel what may happen to them, through the Ignorance of the peculiar Frame of their government, both publick and private, upon which such Conjectures must be founded. For which Reason, an uncommon Attention and Enquiry seem requisite, to form a clear Idea of the Points, in which the Roman Commonwealth differs from Those of Greece.

It is, I find, customary with those, who professedly treat this Subject, to establish three Sorts of Government; kindly Government, Aristocracy, and Democracy: Upon which, one may, I think, very properly ask them, whether they lay these down as the only Forms of Government, or, as the best: For, in both Cases, they seem to be in an Error; since it is manifest that the best Form of Government is That which is compounded of all three. This we not only find to be founded in Reason, but also in Experience; Lycurgus having set the Example of this Form of Goverment in the Institution of the Lacedaemonian Commonwealth. Besides, these three are not to be received as the only Forms; since we may have observed some monarchical and tyrannical Governments, which, though widely different from kingly Government, seem still to bear some Resemblance to it. For which Reason, all Monarchs agree in using their utmost Endeavours, however falsely, or abusively, to be styled Kings. We may have also observed still more Oligarchies, which seemed, in some Degree, to resemble Artistocracies, though the Difference between them has been extremely great. The same Thing may be said also of Democracy.

What I have advanced, will become evident from the following Considerations; for, every Monarchy is not presently to be called a kingly Government, but only That, which is the Gift of a willing People, and is founded on their Consent, rather than on Fear and Violence. Neither, is every Oligarchy to be looked upon as Aristocracy, but only That, which is administered by a select Number of those, who are most eminent for their Justice and Prudence. In the same Manner, that Government ought not to be looked upon as a Democracy, where the Multitude have a Power of doing whatever they desire and propose; but That only, in which it is an established Law and Custom to worship the Gods, to honour their Parents, to respect their Elders, and obey the Laws; when, in Assemblies so formed, every Thing is decided by the Majority, such a Government deserves the Name of a Democracy.

So that, six Kinds of Government must be allowed; three, which are generally established, and have been already mentioned; and three, that are allied to them, namely, Monarchy, Oligarchy and the Government of the Multitude. The first of these is instituted by Nature, without the Assistance of Art: The next is kingly Government, which is derived from the other by Art, and Improvement; when this degenerates into the Evil, that is allied to it, I mean, Tyranny, the Destruction of the Tyrant gives Birth to Aristocracy; which, degenerating also, according to the Nature of Things, into Oligarchy, the People, inflamed with Anger, revenge the Injustice of their Magistrates, and form a Democracy; from the Insolence of which, and their Contempt of the Laws, arises, in Time, the Government of the Multitude.

Whoever examines, with Attention, the natural Principles, the Birth, and Revolution of each of these Forms of Government, will be convinced of the Truth of what I have advanced: For he alone, who knows in what Manner each of them is produced, can form a Judgment of the Encrease, the Perfection, the Revolution, and the End of each; and when, by what Means, and to which of the former States they will return. I thought this Detail, in a particular Manner, applicable to the Roman Government, because the Establishment and Encrease of That was, from the Beginning, founded on Nature. . . .


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Filed under 1740's, Constitution, Eighteenth century, Government, Greek/Roman Translations, Political Philosophy, Posted by Caroline Fuchs, Roman Empire

Item of the Day: John Adam’s Defence of the Constitutions of Government of the United States of America (1794)

Full Title: A Defence of the Constitutions of Government of the United States of America, Against the Attack of M. Turgot in his Letter to Dr. Price, Dated the Twenty-Second Day of March, 1778. By John Adams . . . In Three Volumes, Vol. I. A New Edition. London: Printed for John Stockdale, Piccadilly, 1794.


THE arts and sciences in general, during the three or four last centuries, have had a regular course of progressive improvement. The inventions in mechanic arts, the discoveries in natural philosophy, navigation, and commerce, and the advancement of civilization and humanity, have occasioned changes in the condition of the world, and have the human character, which would have astonished the most refined nations of antiquity. A continuation of similar exertions is every day rendering Europe more and more like one community, or single family. Even in the theory and practice of government, in all the simple monarchies, considerable improvements have been made. The checks and balances of republican governments have been in some degree adopted by the courts of princes. By the erection of various tribunals to register laws and exercise the judicial power–by indulging the petitions and remonstrances of subjects, until by habit they are regarded as rights–a controul [sic] has been established over ministers of state and the royal councils, which approaches, in some degree, to the spirit of republics. Property is generally secure, and personal liberty seldom invaded. The press has great influence, even where it is not expressly tolerated; and the public opinion must be respected by a minister, or his place becomes insecure. Commerce begins to thrive, and if religious toleration were established, and personal liberty a little more protected, by giving an absolute right to demand a public trial in a certain reasonable time–and the states invested with a few more privileges, or rather restored to some that have been taken away–these governments would be brought to as great a degree of perfection, they would approach as near to the character of governments of laws and not of men, as their nature will probably admit of. In so general a refinement, or more properly reformatin of manners and improvement in knowledge, is it not unaccountable that the knowledge of the principles and construciton of free governments, in which the happiness of life, and even the further progress of improvement in education and society, in knowledge and virtue, are so deeply interested, should have remained at a full stand for two or three thousand years? —According to a story in Herodotus, the nature of monarchy, aristocracy, and democracy, and the advances and inconveniencies of each, were as well understood at the time of the neighing of the horse of Darius as they are at this hour. A variety of mixtures of these simple species were conceived and attmepted, with different success, by the Greeks and Romans. Representations, instead of collections, of the people–a total separation of the executive from the legislative power, and of the judicial from both–and a balance in the legislature by three independent equal branches–are perhaps the three only discoveries in the constitution of a free government, since the institution of Lycurgus. Even these have been so unfortunate, that they have never spread: the first has been given up by all the nations, excepting one, who had once adopted it; and the other two, reduced to practice, if not invented, by the English nation, have never been imitated by any other except their own descendants in America. While it would be rash to say, that nothing further can be done to bring a free government, in all its parts, still nearer to perfection–the represenations of the people are most obviously susceptible of improvement. The end to be aimed at, in the formation of a representative assembly, seems to be the sense of the people, the public voice: the perfection of the portrait consists in its likeness. Numbers, or property, or both, should be the rule; and the proportions of electors and members an affair of calculation. The duration should not be so long that the deputy should have time to forget the opinions of his constituents. Corruption in elections is the great enemy of freedom. Among the prvisions to prevent it, more frequent elections, and a more general privilege of voting, are not all that might be devised. Dividing the districts, diminishing the distance of travel, and confining the choice to residents, would be great advances towards the annihilation of corruption . . .


(See also posting from March 22, 2007)

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Filed under 1790's, Adams, Constitution, Early Republic, Government, Legal, Posted by Caroline Fuchs

Item of the Day: The New Constitution of France (1793)

Full Title: The New Constitution of France. Literally Translated from the Original Copy. Presented to the People of France for their Consideration. By the Committee of Constitution. Consisting of Barrere, Brisot, Condorcet, Gensonne, Petion, Danton, Sieyes, Thomas Paine, and Vergmaud. London: Printed for James Ridgway, York-street, St. Jame’s-Square, 1793.







THE object of all union of men in society, being the maintaining of natural, civil, and political rights, these rights ought to be the basis of the social compact. The acknowledgment and declaration of them ought to precede the constitution which assures the guarantee of them.

I. The natural, civil and political rights of men are liberty, equality, security, property, the social guarantee, and resistance of oppression.

II. Liberty consists in the power of doing whatever is not contrary to the rights of others. Thus the exercise of the natural rights of every man has no bounds, but those which secure to the other members of the society the enjoyment of the same rights.

III. The conservation of liberty depends on submission to the law, which is the expression of the general will. Whatever is not forbidden by the law cannot be hindered; and no one can be constrained to do what it does not ordain.

IV. Every man is free to manifest his thoughts and his opinions.

V. The liberty of the press, or any other mode of publishing his thoughts, can neither be interdicted, nor suspended, nor limited.

VI. Every citizen is free in the exercise of his worship.

VII. Equality consists in this, that every one may enjoy the same rights.

VIII. The Law ought to be equal for all, whether it rewards or punishes; whether it protects or represses.

IX. All the citizens are admissible to all public places, employments and functions. People that are free acknowledge no motives of preference, but talents and vitues.

X. Security consists in the protection granted by the society to every citizen for the conservation of his person, of his property and of his right.

XI. No one can be tried, accused, and apprehended, or detained, but in cases determined by the law, and according to the forms which it has prescribed. Every other act exercised against a citizen is arbitrary and null.

XII. Those who shall solicit, expedite, sign, execute, or cause to be executed, these arbitrary acts, are culpable, and ought to be punished. . . .





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Filed under 1790's, Constitution, France, Government, Posted by Caroline Fuchs