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NECKAR'S LAST VIEWS. E. Review, 1803.
Dernières Wues de Politiques, et de Finance. Par M. Neckar. An 10. 1802.
IF power could be measured by territory, or counted by population, the inveteracy, and the disproportion which exists between France and England, must occasion to every friend of the latter country the most serious and well-founded apprehensions. Fortunately however for us, the question of power is not only what is the amount of population ? but, how is that population go. verned ? How far is a confidence in the stability of political institutions established by an experience of their wisdom 2 Are the various interests of society adjusted and protected by a system of laws thoroughly tried, gradually ameliorated, and purely administered 2 What is the degree of general prosperity evinced by that most perfect of all criteria, general credit 2. These are the considerations to which an enlightened politician, who speculates on the future destiny of nations, will direct his attention, more than to the august and imposing exterior of territorial dominion, or to those brilliant moments, when a nation, under the influence of great passions, rises above its neighbours, and above itself, in military renown. If it be visionary to suppose the grandeur and safety of the two nations as compatible and co-existent, we have the important (though the cruel) consolation of reflecting, that the French have yet to put together the very elements of a civil and political constitution; that they have to experience all the danger and all the inconvenience which result from the rashness and the imperfect views of legislators, who have every thing to conjecture, and every thing to create; that they must submit to the confusion of repeated change, or the greater evil
of obstinate perseverance in error; that they must live for a century in that state of perilous uncertainty in which every revolutionised nation remains, before rational liberty becomes feeling and habit, as well as law, and is written in the hearts of men as plainly as in the letter of the statute; and that the opportunity of beginning this immense edifice of human happiness is so far from being presented to them at present, that it is extremely problematical whether or not they are to be bandied from one vulgar usurper to another, and remain for a century subjugated to the rigour of a military government, at once the scorn and the scourge of Europe.* To the more pleasing supposition, that the First Consul will make use of his power to give his country a free constitution, we are indebted for the work of M. Neckar now before us, a work of which good temper is the characteristic excellence: it every where preserves that cool impartiality which it is so difficult to retain in the discussion of subjects connected with recent and important events; modestly proposes the results of reflection; and, neither deceived nor wearied by theories, examines the best of all that mankind have said or done for the attainment of rational liberty. The principal object of M. Neckar's book is to examine this question, ‘An opportunity of election supposed, and her present circumstances considered—what is the best form of government which France is capable of receiving o' and he answers his own query, by giving the preference to a Republic One and Indivisible. The work is divided into four parts. 1. An Examination of the present constitution of France. 2. On the best form of a Republic One and Indivisible. 3. On the best form of a Monarchical Government. 4. Thoughts upon Finance.
* All this is, unfortunately, as true now as it was when written thirty years ago.
From the misfortune which has hitherto attended all discussions of present constitutions in France, M. Neckar has not escaped. The subject has proved too rapid for the author; and its existence has ceased before its properties were examined. This part of the work, therefore, we shall entirely pass over: because, to discuss a mere name, is an idle waste of time; and no man pretends that the present constitution of France can, with propriety, be considered as any thing more. We shall proceed to a description of that form of a republican government which appears to M. Neckar best calculated to promote the happiness of that country.
Every department is to be divided into five parts, each of which is to send one member. Upon the eve of an election, all persons paying 200 livres of government taxes in direct contribution, are to assemble together, and choose 100 members from their own number, who form what M. Neckar calls a Chamber of Indication. This Chamber of Indication is to present five candidates, of whom the people are to elect one; and the right of voting in this latter election is given to every body engaged in a wholesale or retail business; to all superintendents of manufactures and trades; to all commissioned and non-commissioned officers and soldiers who have received their discharge; and to all citizens paying, in direct contribution, to the amount of twelve livres. Votes are not to be given in one spot, but before the chief magistrate of each commune where the voter resides, and there inserted in registers; from a comparison of which, the successful candidate is to be determined. The municipal officers are to enjoy the right of recommending one of these candidates to the people, who are free to adopt their recommendation or not, as they ma think proper. The right of voting is confined to qualified single men of twenty-five years of age; married men of the same description may vote at any age.
To this plan of election we cannot help thinking there are many great and insuperable objections. The first and infallible consequence of it would be, a devolution of the whole elective franchise upon the Chamber of Indication, and a complete exclusion of the people from any share in the privilege; for the Chamber, bound to return five candidates, would take care to return four out of the five so thoroughly objectionable, that the people would be compelled to choose the fifth. Such has been the constant effect of all elections so constituted in Great Britain, where the power of conferring the office has always been found to be vested in those who named the candidates, not in those who selected an individual from the candidates named. But if such were not the consequences of a double election; and if it were so well constituted, as to retain that character which the Legislature meant to impress upon it, there are other reasons which would induce us to pronounce it a very pernicious institution. The only foundation of political liberty is the spirit of the people; and the only circumstance which makes a lively impression upon their senses, and powerfully reminds them of their importance, their power, and their rights, is the periodical choice of their representatives. How easily that spirit may be totally extinguished, and of the degree of abject fear and slavery to which the human race may be reduced for ages, every man of reflection is sufficiently aware; and he knows that the preservation of that feeling is, of all other objects of political science, the most delicate and the most difficult. It appears to us, that a people who did not choose their representatives, but only those who chose their representatives, would very soon become indifferent to their elections altogether. To deprive them of their power of nominating their own candidate, would be still worse. The eagerness of the people to vote, is kept alive by their occasional expulsion of a candidate who has rendered himself objectionable, or the adoption of one who knows how to render himself agreeable, to them. They are proud of being solicited personally by a man of family or wealth. The uproar even, and the confusion and the clamour of a popular election in England, have their use: they give a stamp to the names, Liberty, Constitution, and People: they infuse sentiments which nothing but violent passions and gross objects of sense could infuse; and which would never exist, perhaps, if the sober constituents were to sneak, one by one, into a notary's office to deliver their votes for a representative, or were to form the first link in that long chain of causes and effects, which, in this compound kind of elections, ends with choosing a member of Parliament.
“Above all things (says M. Neckar) languor is the most deadly to a republican government; for when such a political association is animated neither by a kind of instinctive affection for its beauty, nor by the continual homage of reflection to the happy union of order and liberty, the public spirit is half lost, and with it the republic. The rapid brilliancy of despotism is preferred to a mere complicated machine, from which every symptom of life and organisation is fled.'
Sickness, absence, and nonage, would (even under the supposition of universal suffrage) reduce the voters of any country to one fourth of its population. A qualification much lower than that of the payment of twelve livres in direct contribution, would reduce that fourth one half, and leave the number of voters in France three millions and a half, which, divided by 600, gives between five and six thousand constituents for each representative; a number not amounting to a third part of the voters for many counties in England, and which certainly is not so unwieldy as to make it necessary to have recourse to the complex mechanism of double elections. Besides, too, if it could be believed that the peril were considerable, of gathering men together in such masses, we have no hesitation in saying that it would be infinitely preferable to thin their numbers, by increasing the value of the qualification, than to obviate the apprehended bad effects, by complicating the system of election.
M. Neckar (much as he has seen and observed) is clearly deficient in that kind of experience which is gained by living under free governments: he mistakes the riots of a free, for the insurrections of an enslaved, people; and appears to be impressed with the most tremendous notions of an English election. The dif