The American Republic



Chapter III. Origin of Government

Government is both a fact and a right. Its origin as a fact, is simply a question of history; its origin as a right or authority to govern, is a question of ethics. Whether a certain territory and its population are a sovereign state or nation, or not--whether the actual ruler of a country is its rightful ruler, or not--is to be determined by the historical facts in the case; but whence the government derives its right to govern, is a question that can be solved only by philosophy, or, philosophy failing, only by revelation.

Political writers, not carefully distinguishing between the fact and the right, have invented various theories as to the origin of government, among which may be named--
I. Government originates in the right of the father to govern his child.
II. It originates in convention, and is a social compact.
III. It originates in the people, who, collectively taken, are sovereign.
IV. Government springs from the spontaneous development of nature.
V. It derives its right from the immediate and express appointment of God;--
VI. From God through the Pope, or visible head of the spiritual society;--
VII. From God through the people;--
VIII. From God through the natural law.

I. The first theory is sound, if the question is confined to the origin of government as a fact. The patriarchal system is the earliest known system of government, and unmistakable traces of it are found in nearly all known governments--in the tribes of Arabia and Northern Africa, the Irish septs and the Scottish clans, the Tartar hordes, the Roman qentes, and the Russian and Hindoo villages. The right of the father was held to be his right to govern his family or household, which, with his children, included his wife and servants. From the family to the tribe the transition is natural and easy, as also from the tribe to the nation. The father is chief of the family; the chief of the eldest family is chief of the tribe; the chief of the eldest tribe becomes chief of the nation, and, as such, king or monarch. The heads of families collected in a senate form an aristocracy, and the families themselves, represented by their delegates, or publicly assembling for public affairs, constitute a democracy. These three forms, with their several combinations, to wit, monarchy, aristocracy, democracy, and mixed governments, are all the forms known to Aristotle, and have generally been held to be all that are possible.

Historically, all governments have, in some sense, been developed from the patriarchal, as all society has been developed from the family. Even those governments, like the ancient Roman and the modern feudal, which seem to be founded on landed property, may be traced back to a patriarchal origin. The patriarch is sole proprietor, and the possessions of the family are vested in him, and he governs as proprietor as well as father. In the tribe, the chief is the proprietor, and in the nation, the king is the landlord, and holds the domain. Hence, the feudal baron is invested with his fief by the suzerain, holds it from him, and to him it escheats when forfeited or vacant. All the great Asiatic kings of ancient or modern times hold the domain and govern as proprietors; they have the authority of the father and the owner; and their subjects, though theoretically their children, are really their slaves.

In Rome, however, the proprietary right undergoes an important transformation. The father retains all the power of the patriarch within his family, the patrician in his gens or house, but, outside of it, is met and controlled by the city or state. The heads of houses are united in the senate, and collectively constitute and govern the state. Yet, not all the heads of houses have seats in the senate, but only the tenants of the sacred territory of the city, which has been surveyed and marked by the god Terminus. Hence the great plebeian houses, often richer and nobler than the patrician, were excluded from all share in the government and the honors of the state, because they were not tenants of any portion of the sacred territory. There is here the introduction of an element which is not patriarchal, and which transforms the patriarch or chief of a tribe into the city or state, and founds the civil order, or what is now called civilization. The city or state takes the place of the private proprietor, and territorial rights take the place of purely personal rights.

In the theory of the Roman law, the land owns the man, not the man the land. When land was transferred to a new tenant, the practice in early times was to bury him in it, in order to indicate that it took possession of him, received, accepted, or adopted him; and it was only such persons as were taken possession of, accepted or adopted by the sacred territory or domain that, though denizens of Rome, were citizens with full political rights. This, in modern language, means that the state is territorial, not personal, and that the citizen appertains to the state, not the state to the citizen. Under the patriarchal, the tribal, and the Asiatic monarchical systems, there is, properly speaking, no state, no citizens, and the organization is economical rather than political. Authority--even the nation itself--is personal, not territorial. The patriarch, the chief of the tribe, or the king, is the only proprietor. Under the Graeco-Roman system all this is transformed. The nation is territorial as well as personal, and the real proprietor is the city or state. Under the Empire, no doubt, what lawyers call the eminent domain was vested in the emperor, but only as the representative and trustee of the city or state.

When or by what combination of events this transformation was effected, history does not inform us. The first-born of Adam, we are told, built a city, and called it after his son Enoch; but there is no evidence that it was constituted a municipality. The earliest traces of the civil order proper are found in the Greek and Italian republics, and its fullest and grandest developments are found in Rome, imperial as well as republican. It was no doubt preceded by the patriarchal system, and was historically developed from it, but by way of accretion rather than by simple explication. It has in it an element that, if it exists in the patriarchal constitution, exists there only in a different form, and the transformation marks the passage from the economical order to the political, from the barbaric to the civil constitution of society, or from barbarism to civilization.

The word civilization stands opposed to barbarism, and is derived from civitas--city or state. The Greeks and Romans call all tribes and nations in which authority is vested in the chief, as distinguished from the state, barbarians. The origin of the word barbarian, barbarus, or barbaros, is unknown, and its primary sense can be only conjectured. Webster regards its primary sense as foreign, wild, fierce; but this could not have been its original sense; for the Greeks and Romans never termed all foreigners barbarians, and they applied the term to nations that had no inconsiderable culture and refinement of manners, and that had made respectable progress in art and sciences--the Indians, Persians, Medians, Chaldeans, and Assyrians. They applied the term evidently in a political, not an ethical or an aesthetical sense, and as it would seem to designate a social order in which the state was not developed, and in which the nation was personal, not territorial, and authority was held as a private right, not as a public trust, or in which the domain vests in the chief or tribe, and not in the state; for they never term any others barbarians.

Republic is opposed not to monarchy, in the modern European sense, but to monarchy in the ancient or absolute sense. Lacedaemon had kings; yet it was no less republican than Athens; and Rome was called and was a republic under the emperors no less than under the consuls. Republic, respublica, by the very force of the term, means the public wealth, or, in good English, the commonwealth; that is, government founded not on personal or private wealth, but on the public wealth, public territory, or domain, or a Government that vests authority in the nation, and attaches the nation to a certain definite territory. France, Spain, Italy, Holland, Belgium, Denmark, even Great Britain in substance though not in form, are all, in the strictest sense of the word, republican states; for the king or emperor does not govern in his own private right, but solely as representative of the power and majesty of the state. The distinctive mark of republicanism is the substitution of the state for the personal chief, and public authority for personal or private right. Republicanism is really civilization as opposed to barbarism, and all civility, in the old Sense of the word, or Civilian in Italian, is republican, and is applied in modern tiles to breeding or refinement of manners, simply because these are characteristics of a republican, or polished [from ....., city] people. Every people that has a real civil order, or a fully developed state or polity, is a republican people; and hence the church and her great doctors when they speak of the state as distinguished from the church, call it the republic, as may be seen by consulting even a late Encyclical of Pius IX., which some have interpreted wrongly in an anti-republican sense.

All tribes and nations in which the patriarchal system remains, or is developed without transformation, are barbaric, and really so regarded by all Christendom. In civilized nations the patriarchal authority is transformed into that of the city or state, that is, of the republic; but in all barbarous nations it retains its Private and personal character. The nation is only the family or tribe, and is called by the name of its ancestor, founder, or chief, not by a geographical denomination. Race has not been supplanted by country; they are a people, not a state. They are not fixed to the soil, and though we may find in them ardent love of family, the tribe, or the chief, we never find among them that pure love of country or patriotism which so distinguished the Greeks and Romans, and is no less marked among modern Christian nations. They have a family, a race, a chief or king, but no patria, or country. The barbarians who overthrew the Roman Empire, whether of the West or the East, were nations, or confederacies of nations, but not states. The nation with them was personal, not territorial. Their country was wherever they fed their flocks and herds, pitched their tents, and encamped for the night. There were Germans, but no German state, and even to-day the German finds his "father-land" wherever the German speech is spoken. The Polish, Sclavonian, Hungarian, Illyrian, Italian, and other provinces held by German states, in which the German language is not the mother-tongue, are excluded from the Germanic Confederation. The Turks, or Osmanlis, are a race, not a state, and are encamped, not settled, on the site of the Eastern Roman or Greek Empire.

Even when the barbaric nations have ceased to be nomadic, pastoral, or predatory nations, as the ancient Assyrians and Persians or modern Chinese, and have their geographical boundaries, they have still no state, no country. The nation defines the boundaries, not the boundaries the nation. The nation does not belong to the territory, but the territory to the nation or its chief. The Irish and Anglo-Saxons, in former times, held the land in gavelkind, and the territory belonged to the tribe or sept; but if the tribe held it as indivisible, they still held it as private property. The shah of Persia holds the whole Persian territory as private property, and the landholders among his subjects are held to be his tenants. They hold it from him, not from the Persian state.

The public domain of the Greek empire is in theory the private domain of the Ottoman emperor or Turkish sultan. There is in barbaric states no republic, no commonwealth; authority is parental, without being tempered by parental affection. The chief is a despot, and rules with the united authority of the father and the harshness of the proprietor. He owns the land and his subjects.

Feudalism, established in Western Europe after the downfall of the Roman Empire, however modified by the Church and by reminiscences of Graeco-Roman civilization retained by the conquered, was a barbaric constitution. The feudal monarch, as far as he governed at all, governed as proprietor or landholder, not as the representative of the commonwealth. Under feudalism there are estates, but no state. The king governs as an estate, the nobles hold their power as an estate, and the commons are represented as an estate. The whole theory of power is, that it is an estate; a private right, not a public trust. It is not without reason, then that the common sense of civilized nations terms the ages when it prevailed in Western Europe barbarous ages.

It may seem a paradox to class democracy with the barbaric constitutions, and yet as it is defended by many stanch democrats, especially European democrats and revolutionists, and by French and Germans settled in our own country, it is essentially barbaric and anti-republican. The characteristic principle of barbarism is, that power is a private or personal right, and when democrats assert that the elective franchise is a natural right of man, or that it is held by virtue of the fact that the elector is a man, they assert the fundamental principle of barbarism and despotism. This says nothing in favor of restricted suffrage, or against what is called universal suffrage. To restrict suffrage to property-holders helps nothing, theoretically or practically. Property has of itself advantages enough, without clothing its holders with exclusive political rights and privileges, and the laboring classes any day are as trustworthy as the business classes. The wise statesman will never restrict suffrage, or exclude the poorer and more numerous classes from all voice in the government of their country. General suffrage is wise, and if Louis Philippe had had the sense to adopt it, and thus rally the whole nation to the support of his government, he would never have had to encounter the revolution of 1848. The barbarism, the despotism, is not in universal suffrage, but in defending the elective franchise as a private or personal right. It is not a private, but a political right, and, like all political rights, a public trust. Extremes meet, and thus it is that men who imagine that they march at the head of the human race and lead the civilization of the age, are really in principle retrograding to the barbarism of the past, or taking their place with nations on whom the light of civilization has never yet dawned. All is not gold that glisters.

The characteristic of barbarism is, that it makes all authority a private or personal right; and the characteristic of civilization is, that it makes it a public trust. Barbarism knows only persons; civilization asserts and maintains the state. With barbarians the authority of the patriarch is developed simply by way of explication; in civilized states it is developed by way of transformation. Keeping in mind this distinction, it may be maintained that all systems of government, as a simple historical fact, have been developed from the patriarchal. The patriarchal has preceded them all, and it is with the patriarchal that the human race has begun its career. The family or household is not a state, a civil polity, but it is a government, and, historically considered, is the initial or inchoate state as well as the initial or inchoate nation. But its simple direct development gives us barbarism, or what is called Oriental despotism, and which nowhere exists, or can exist, in Christendom. It is found only in pagan and Mohammedan nations; Christianity in the secular order is republican, and continues and completes the work of Greece and Rome. It meets with little permanent success in any patriarchal or despotic nation, and must either find or create civilization, which has been developed from the patriarchal system by way of transformation.

But, though the patriarchal system is the earliest form of government, and all governments have been developed or modified from it, the right of government to govern cannot be deduced from the right of the father to govern his children, for the parental right itself is not ultimate or complete. All governments that assume it to be so, and rest on it as the foundation of their authority, are barbaric or despotic, and, therefore , without any legitimate authority. The right to govern rests on ownership or dominion. Where there is no proprietorship, there is no dominion; and where there is no dominion, there is no right to govern. Only he who is sovereign proprietor is sovereign lord.

Property, ownership, dominion rests on creation. The maker has the right to the thing made. He, so far as he is sole creator, is sole proprietor, and may do what he will with it. God is sovereign lord and proprietor of the universe because He is its sole creator. He hath the absolute dominion, because He is absolute maker. He has made it, He owns it; and one may do what he will with his own. His dominion is absolute, because He is absolute creator, and He rightly governs as absolute and universal lord; yet is He no despot, because He exercises only His sovereign right, and His own essential wisdom, goodness, justness, rectitude, and immutability, are the highest of all conceivable guaranties that His exercise of His power will always be right, wise, just, and good. The despot is a man attempting to be God upon earth, and to exercise a usurped power. Despotism is based on, the parental right, and the parental right is assumed to be absolute. Hence, your despotic rulers claim to reign, and to be loved and worshipped as gods. Even the Roman emperors, in the fourth and fifth centuries, were addressed as divinities; and Theodosius the Great, a Christian , was addressed as "Your Eternity," Eternitas vestras--so far did barbarism encroach on civilization, even under Christian emperors.

The right of the father over his child is an imperfect right, for he is the generator, not the creator of his child. Generation is in the order of second causes, and is simply the development or explication of the race. The early Roman law, founded on the confusion of generation with creation, gave the father absolute authority over the child--the right of life and death, as over his servants or slaves; but this was restricted under the Empire, and in all Christian nations the authority of the father is treated, like all power, as a trust. The child, like the father himself, belongs to the state, and to the state the father is answerable for the use he makes of his authority. The law fixes the age of majority, when the child is completely emancipated; and even during his nonage, takes him from the father and places him under guardians, in case the father is incompetent to fulfil or grossly abuses his trust. This is proper, because society contributes to the life of the child, and has a right as well as an interest in him. Society, again, must suffer if the child is allowed to grow up a worthless vagabond or a criminal; and has a right to intervene, both in behalf of itself and of the child, in case his parents neglect to train him up in the nurture and admonition of the Lord, or are training him up to be a liar, a thief, a drunkard, a murderer, a pest to the community. How, then, base the right of society on the right of the father, since, in point of fact, the right of society is paramount to the right of the parent?

But even waiving this, and granting what is not the fact that the authority of the father is absolute, unlimited, it cannot be the ground of the right of society to govern. Assume the parental right to be perfect and inseparable from the parental relation, it is no right to govern where no such relation exists. Nothing true, real, solid in government can be founded on what Carlyle calls a "sham." The statesman, if worthy of the name, ascertains and conforms to the realities, the verities of things; and all jurisprudence that accepts legal fictions is imperfect, and even censurable. The presumptions or assumptions of law or politics must have a real and solid basis, or they are inadmissible. How, from the right of the father to govern his own child, born from his loins, conclude his right to govern one not his child? Or how, from my right to govern my child, conclude the right of society to found the state, institute government, and exercise political authority over its members?

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Revised April 13, 2008

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