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A BALANCED GOVERNMENT

 

by John Adams

 

AMIDST all their exultationsAmericans and Frenchmen should remember thatthe perfectibility of man is only human and ter- restrial perfectibility. Coldwill still freezeand fire will never cease to burn; disease and vice willcontinue to disorderand death to terrify mankind. Emulation next toself-preservation will forever be the great spring of human actionsand thebalance of a well-ordered government will alone be able to prevent thatemulation from degenerating into dangerous ambitionirregular rivalriesdestructive factionswasting seditionsand bloodycivil wars.

The great question will forever remainwho shall work? Our species cannotall be idleLeisure for study must ever be the portion of a few. The numberemployed in government must forever be very small. Foodraimentandhabitationsthe indispensable wants of allare not to be obtained without thecontinual toil of ninety-nine in a hundred of mankind. As rest is rapture to theweary manthose who labor little will always be envied by those who labor muchthough the latter in reality be probably the most enviable. With all theencouragementspublic and privatewhich can ever be given to general educationand it is scarcely possible they should be too many or too greatthe laboringpart of the people can never be learned. The controversy between the rich andthe poorthe laborious and the idlethe learned and the ignorantdistinctionsas old as the creationand as extensive as the globedistinctions which no artor policyno degree of virtue or philosophy can ever wholly destroywillcontinueand rivalries will spring out of them. These parties will berepresented in the legislatureand must be balancedor one will oppress theother. There will never probably be found any other mode of establishing such anequilibriumthan by constituting the representation of each an independentbranch of the legislatureand an independent executive authoritysuch as thatin our governmentto be a third branch and a mediator or an arbitrator betweenthem. Property must be securedor liberty cannot exist. But if 'unlimited orunbalanced power of disposing propertybe put into the hands of those who haveno propertyFrance will findas we have foundthe lamb committed to thecustody of the wolf. In such a caseall the pathetic exhortations and addressesof the national assembly to the peopleto respect propertywill be regarded nomore than the warbles of the songsters of the forest. The great art oflaw-giving consists in balancing the poor against the rich in the legislatureand in constituting the legislative a perfect balance against the executivepowerat the same time that no individual or party can become its rival. Theessence of a free government consists in an effectual control of rivalries. Theexecutive and the legislative powers are natural rivals; and if each has not aneffectual control over the otherthe weaker will ever be the lamb in the pawsof the wolf. The nation which will not adopt an equilibrium of power must adopta despotism. There is no other alternative. Rivalries must be controlledorthey will throw all things into confusion; and there is nothing but despotism ora balance of power which can control them. Even in the simple monarchiesthenobility and the judicatures constitute a balancethough a very imperfect oneagainst the royalties.

Let us conclude with one reflection more which shall barely be hinted atasdelicacyif not prudencemay requirein this placesome degree of reserve.Is there a possibility that the government of nations may fall into the hands ofmen who teach the most disconsolate of all creedsthat men are but firefliesand that this all is without a father? Is this the way to make manas mananobject of respect? Or is it to make murder itself as indifferent as shooting aploverand the extermination of the Rohilla nation as innocent as theswallowing of mites on a morsel of cheese? If such a case should happenwouldnot one of thesethe most credulous of all believershave reason to pray tohis eternal nature or his almighty chance (the more absurdity there is in thisaddress the more in character) give us again the gods of the Greeks; give usagain the more intelligible as well as more comfortable systems of Athanasiusand Calvin; naygive us again our popes and hierarchiesBenedictines andJesuitswith all their superstition and fanaticismimpostures and tyranny. Acertain duchessof venerable years and masculine understandingsaid of some ofthe philosophers of the eighteenth centuryadmirably well-"On ne croitpas dans le Christianismemais on croit toutes les sottises possibles."

The End