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It is to be regretted the world does not discriminate more justly in its use of political terms. Governments are usually called either monarchies or republics. The former class embraces equally those institutions in which the sovereign is worshipped as à God, and those in which he performs the humble office of a mannekin. In the latter we find aristocracies and democracies blended in the same generic appellation. The consequence of a generalization so wide is an utter confusion on the subject of the polity of states.
The author has endeavoured to give his countrymen, in this book, a picture of the social system of one of the soi-disant republics of the other hemisphere. There has been no attempt to pourtray historical character only
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too fictitious in their graver dress, but simply to set forth the familiar operation of Venetian policy. For the justification of his likeness, after allowing for defects of execution, he refers to the well-known work of M. Daru.
A history of the progress of political liberty, written purely in the interests of humanity, is still a desideratum in literature. In nations which have made a false commencement, it would be found that the citizen, or rather the subject, has extorted immunity after immunity, as his growing intelligence and importance have both instructed and required him to defend those particular rights, which were necessary to his well-being. A certain accumulation of these immunities constitutes, with a solitary and recent exception in Switzerland, the essence of European liberty, even at this hour. It is scarcely necessary to tell the reader that this freedom, be it more or less, depends on a principle entirely different from our own. Here the immunities do not proceed from, but they are granted to the government, being, in other words, concessions of natural rights made by
the people to the state, for the benefits of social protection. So long as this vital difference shall exist between ourselves and other nations, it will be vain to think of finding material analogies in their institutions. It is true that, in an age like this, public opinion is itself a charter, and that the most despotic government which exists within the pale of Christendom, must, in some degree, respect its influence. The mildest and justest governments in Europe are, at this moment, theoretically, despotisms. The characters of both prince and people enter largely into the consideration of so extraordinary results, and it should never be forgotten that, though the latter be sufficiently secure, the former is liable to change. But, admitting every benefit which can possibly flow from a just administration, and under wise and humane princes, a government which is not properly based on the people, possesses an unavoidable and oppressive evil of the first magnitude—that of the necessity of supporting itself by physical force and onerous impositions, against the natural action of the majority.
Were we to characterize a republic, we should
both theoretically and practically, is derived from the nation, with a constant responsibility of the agents of the public to the people; a responsibility that is neither to be evaded nor denied. That such a system is better on a large than on a small scale, though contrary to brilliant theories which have been written to uphold different institutions, must be evident on the smallest reflection, since the danger of all popular governments is from popular mistakes, and a people of diversified interests and extended territorial possessions, are much less likely to be their subjects than the inhabitants of a single town or county. If to this definition we should add, as an infallible test of the genus, that a true republic is a government of which all others are jealous and vituperative on the instinct of self-preservation, we believe there would be no mistaking the class. How far Venice would have been obnoxious to this proof, the reader is left to judge for himself.