- skip - 1795 Pigott’s Political Dictionary / G / Government

Government

.—an universal contract, the object of which is the happiness of a state, for whose benefit it was formed.

Whenver the object is not attained, it is natural, lawful, and right, to alter the government, and the only competent judges in these cases are the people themselves, who, while they enjoy plenty, security, and freedom, will necessatily support the system which insures to them those blessings, and who, by a parity of reasoning, will murmur and complain, and at length, resist, when they find themselves oppressed by sumptuary and sanguinary laws, and borne down by a weight of taxation, that renders all their industry and labour fruitless.

That government is best which the people think so, and they, not I, are the natural, lawful, and competent judges on this matter.

Burke’s Thoughts on the Cause of the present Discontents.

Economy is the wisest principle of all virtuous governments. Whenever we perceive a departure from this principle, and a nation providing luxuriously for myriads of pensioners and placemen, by exorbitant salaries, and when we hear those minions asserting their well earned claims (which consist merely in the fawning sycophancy of courtiers) to those salaries, boasting of them as a reward conferred on their services by the best of princes; (the old hacknayed language of pensioned slaves,) although it be from the pockets of a starving people,, and not from the overflowing treasures of this best of princes, that the payment is extorted;—when we witness these gentry refusing to yield up the smallest part of their sinecures and douceurs towards the expence of the war, in which they have involved those who are suffering the most grievously and innocently from it, and when we behold the lethargy of the people, under all the bitter calamities that have been this wantonly and barbarously inflicted on them, tamely submitting to the provoking arrogance, and glaring falsehoods with which they are insulted, we may safely say that both the government and the people have reached the acmè of degeneracy and corruption; but as evil governments in the first instance, corrupt the morals of the nation, so by excess of their corruptions, is a nation finally regenerated. So it was in France:—so will it be in England.

In monarchical states, the art of government generally consists, in taking as much money as possible from one class of citizens, in order to bestow it on another class; and what ought to be very extraordinary, instead of taking it from the rich, to improve the condition of the poor, it is extorted from the poor, to pamper the luxuries of the rich. For proof of this assertion, consult the history of our civil list.

There are in print many more books on government, than there are princes on the earth, yet with three or four thousand volumes on the subject, kings still appear mainly ignorant of their duties, altogether unskilled in the art of governing mankind.

The maxim in kingly governments, “that kings can do no wrong,” seems to be borrowed from the scriptures. Puffendorf observes that David having sworn not to attempt the life of Shimei his privy counsellor, did not violate his oath, when (according to Jewish tradition,) he ordered his son Solomon to put Shimei to death, because David had only sworn that he himself would not kill Shimei. Puff. book IV. ch. XI. art. XIII.

Puffendorf, by approving this conduct in the Lord’s Annointed, sanctions an example, that will not be much to the taste of privy counsellors.

“Let the good of the people be the supreme law.” Such is the fundamental maxim of nations. But the good of the people is made ot consist in destroying their neighbours, and in seizing their possessions. The rights of war. Old as the world is, at this very day it would be impossible to point out one government favourable to the art of thinking, or to the improvement and delights of society. The nation that attempted, and is still struggling to confer this benefit on mankind, is marked out by the rest for destruction. Government, according to the present system, being for the advantage of the few, to the detriment of the many, the few having the power in their hands, are straining every nerve to increase that power, and to render themselves invincible; but the natural strength lies in the people, and whenever they are rouosed to exert it, all factitions unnatural powers will be at once destroyed and buried in the dust.

Of all governments, hereditary monarchies are certainly the most unnatural and preposterous, for, agreeably with this system, the chances are far more probably, that a nation be governed by folly and vice, than by wisdom and virtue, since it willl hardly be denied, that the majority of the world is composed of the former. Indeed all history confirms this Truth.

But there is a kind of stupid vanity in men, that inclines them to flatter the government under which they are born “though it be the most servile and miserable on the earth.” Modern Romans are proud of St. Peter’s church, and of their antique Grecian statues; yet it would be better for the people, that these superb monuments were a heap of ruins, if thereby they were ot be better fed, or better clothed; and happier, far happier would it be for humanity, and more honourable to its character, if all the treasures of the churches were, as in France, made national property, and converted to public use.

All governments which have hitherto existed had their origin in conquest and terror. Their principle “le droit du plus fort,” the right of the strongest,—we have heard triumphantly boasted the glorious republics of Greece. But what a government must that be which drive Aristides into banishment, and which condemned Phocion and Socrates to death! Yet these republics, it must be confessed, were comparatively excellent; far superrior to the Government of the neighbouring monarchies. The ancient republics did not understand the representative system.

Puffendorf, in his seventh book, chap. v. promises to examine, which is the best form of government. He tells us “that several have pronounced in favour of monarchy, and that others, on the contraty, are furious against Kings; but that, for his own part, it would be foreign from his subject, to enter into the reasons of the latter;” and perhaps it would be wise in us to imitate the example of Puffendorf, and be silent; therefore we shall conclude the article on the word government, with the following allegorical fable.

“An eagle ruled over all birds throughout the whole country of Oritnia; it is true, that he had no other right than that of his beak and his claws; but nevertheless, after having provided for his own luxuries and pleasures, he governed as well as any other bird of prey.——

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Entry taken from A Political Dictionary, by Charles Pigott, 1795.

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Fulsome
Government