Imágenes de páginas
PDF
EPUB
[blocks in formation]

that Adams drew the conservative ideas, by which he exercised most influence in his country-his belief in the rule of law, his belief in the natural aristocracy, and his belief in the whole system of checks and balances.

It is possible now to sum up the influence of Harrington in America. As one of the small band of liberal and republican authors, whom the Americans studied, he helped to produce the atmosphere of republicanism, in which independence was declared. His influence on American institutions is, however, also definite.

The final adoption of the ballot is largely due to the colonial precedents of Carolina, Pennsylvania, and New Jersey where the electoral methods suggested for

Oceana"

were imitated. Rotation in the Senate was taken from Franklin's Articles of Confederation and borrowed by him from these same middle colonies. The eventual predominance of the double-chamber system must be attributed largely to Adams—whose debt to Harrington has been indicated. The confidence felt in written constitutions was inspired by the doctrinaire belief in an empire of laws, and the lasting nature with which the author of " Oceana credited them. Finally it was Harrington who had formed a theory which could make John Dickinson write that "a landed interest widely diffused, by the personal virtues of honest industry, fair dealing and laudable frugality, is the firmest foundation that can be laid for the secure establishment of civil liberty and national independence,”1 which could make Noah Webster

· The passage which precedes this shows clearly the influence, conscious or unconscious, of Harrington. “By the policy of Henry the Seventh of England, in order to strengthen himself against the nobility, the acquisition of property in lands by the Commons was facilitated.”

[blocks in formation]

argue that “A general and tolerably equal distribution of landed property is the whole basis of national freedom. The system of the great Montesquieu will ever be erroneous, till the words property or lands in fee-simple are substituted for virtue throughout the Spirit of Laws,"1 which could make Jefferson call the abolition of primogeniture “the best of all Agrarian laws," placing this and the abolition of entails alongside of religious liberty and popular education as the four great preservatives of liberty and democracy. Washington believed in the agricultural republic from a moral point of view, Franklin from an economic point of view; these men added the political point of view.

1 Webster is basing this passage on Moyle, who has been referred to above as almost a plagiarist of Harrington.

· Jefferson's copy of “ Oceana” is still to be seen in the Library of Congress at Washington.

CHAPTER IX

HARRINGTON'S INFLUENCE IN FRANCE

THE part played by theorists in bringing on the French Revolution has been and will be a matter for difference of opinion. Their influence in the political reconstruction is evident to all.

It is impossible here to enter into a detailed discussion of this, but certain facts may be noticed. The classics played a far more important part than they ever played in the English Rebellion.

They were quoted not only to stimulate a love of liberty, but also to engender a belief in the power of legislation. Lycurgus, popularised by Plutarch, might any day be reincarnated and make a constitution for France. And names, proposed or adopted, such as consuls, tribunes, censors, ephors, areopagites, as well as councils and senates, were constant reminders of the revival of the Greek and Roman ideals. The English Rebellion with its Hampden, its Sidney, and its Cromwell was studied with a certain amount of interest; its literature was translated; its causes and its failure were discussed ; and its constitutional experiments were recalled. The American Revolution, in which so many Frenchmen had themselves been engaged, was observed in all its phases. Its constructive side especially was followed with critical eyes. · The State constitutions were translated and discussed in pamphlets. Adams' defence of them appeared in a French edition. The Federal Constitution was read by everybody. American nomenclature was borrowed for Bills of Rights, National

[blocks in formation]

Conventions, and Committees of Public Safety. The whole history of a revolution that had taken place so recently attracted the liveliest attention. It was, in fact, taken for granted that all educated Frenchmen had studied the classics and knew all that could at that time be known of the English and American Revolutions.

How far Harrington had been read in France during the eighteenth century is not easy to determine. Bernard had published extracts and summaries of his works in French in the two literary periodicals which he was editing in the Netherlands. And one can well imagine that the Economists with their belief in the theory that land is the source of all wealth would be attracted by a writer who had taken the political standpoint and called land the source of all power. Montesquieu was certainly acquainted with Harrington. In one place he coupled him with Plato, Aristotle, Machiavel, and More ;? while in the most famous chapter in all his writings, the chapter on the English Constitution, he gave the following mixed praise. “ Harrington in his 'Oceana' has also inquired into the utmost degree of liberty to which the constitution of a state may be carried. But of him indeed it may be said that for want of knowing the nature of real liberty he busied himself in pursuit of an imaginary one; and that he built Chalcedon, though he had a Byzantium before his eyes.

Whatever attention he had attracted previously, he was at any rate not neglected in the revolutionary

3

1 Nouvelles de la République de Lettres," Sept. 1700, p. 243 ff. “Bibliothèque Britannique," July-September 1737. p. 408 ff. Cf. also Dedieu, Montesquieu et la Tradition politique Anglaise en France," pp. 12 and 62.

Spirit of the Laws," i. 174. London 1878.

3 Ibid. ii. 269.

FRENCH TRANSLATIONS OF HARRINGTON 203

period. In 1794 the librarian of the Bibliothèque Nationale wrote a short article in the “Moniteur," in which after commending especially the famous petition of July 6th, and criticising the Puritan tendency of Harrington's writings he appealed for a good edition of

Oceana.” The article expressed the preference for an edition over a translation. In the following year this appeal was partly answered, for translations of Harrington's “Works

Works” and his “Political Aphorisms” were published. And it was claimed that all that was necessary for the salvation of France was a realisation of Harrington's theories. If institutions were sufficiently good and sufficiently well safeguarded, no Cromwell or Robespierre (it was somewhat early to write Napoleon) could destroy them.

There was one reason in particular, which might make the French sympathetic towards Harrington. The same good fortune or insight which had enabled him to prophesy the independence of America, enabled him to forecast the revolutionary ascendancy of France. “If," he had written, France, Italy, and Spain were not all sick, all corrupted together, there would be none of them so; for the sick would not be able to withstand the sound, nor the sound to preserve their health without curing of the sick. The first of these nations (which, if you stay her leisure, will in my mind be France) that recovers the health of antient prudence, shall certainly govern the world.” 2 This extraordinary prophecy was soon pointed out. In a letter to the Moniteur,” dated

1 The “ Works were translated by P. F. Henry in 3 vols. The Aphorisms" by Aubin.

Oceana," p. 203. Nevile's more definite prophecy of the Revolution (Plato Redivivus, pp. 140 and 147) should also be compared.

« AnteriorContinuar »