Proclamations are not Laws.

OUR author according to his usual method and integrity, lays great weight upon proclamations, as the significations of the king's pleasure, which in his opinion is our only law.[1] But neither law nor reason openly directing, nor by consequences insinuating, that such a power should be put into an uncertain or suspected hand, we may safely deny them to be laws, or in any sense to have the effect of laws. Nay, they cannot be so much as significations of his will; for as he is king, he can have no will but as the law directs. If he depart from the law, he is no longer king, and his will is nothing to us. Proclamations, at most, are but temporary, by the advice of council, in pursuance of the law. If they be not so, the subject is no way obliged to obey them, and the counsellors are to be punished for them. These laws are either immemorial customs, or statutes. The first have their beginning and continuance from the universal consent of the nation. The latter receive their authority and force of laws from parliaments, as is frequently expressed in the preambles. These are under God the best defence of our lives, liberties, and estates: they proceed not from the blind, corrupt, and fluctuating humor of a man, but from the mature deliberation of the choicest persons of the nation, and such as have the greatest interest in it. Our ancestors have always relied upon these laws; and 'tis to be hoped we shall not be so abandoned by God, so deprived of courage and common sense, to suffer ourselves to be cheated of the inheritance which they have so frequently, so bravely, and so constantly defended. Tho experience has too well taught us, that parliaments may have their failings, and that the vices, which are industriously spread amongst them, may be too prevalent; yet they are the best helps we have, and we may much more reasonably depend upon them, than upon those who propagate that corruption among them for which only they can deserve to be suspected. We hope they will take care of our concernments, since they are as other men so soon as a session is ended, and can do nothing to our prejudice that will not equally affect them and their posterity; besides the guilt of betraying their country, which can never be washed off. If some should prove false to their trust, 'tis probable that others would continue in their integrity: Or if the base arts, which are usually practised by those who endeavour to delude, corrupt, enslave and ruin nations, should happen to prevail upon the youngest and weakest it may be reasonably hoped, that the wisest will see the snares, and instruct their companions to avoid them. But if all things were so put into the hands of one man, that his proclamations were to be esteemed laws, the nation would be exposed to ruin, as soon as it should chance to fall into an ill hand. 'Tis in vain to say we have a good king, who will not make an ill use of his power; for even the best are subject to be deceived by flatterers, and crown'd heads are almost ever encompassed by them. The principal art of a courtier is to observe his master's passions, and to attack him on that side where he seems to be most weak. It would be a strange thing to find a man impregnable in every part; and if he be not, 'tis impossible he should resist all the attempts that are made upon him. If his judgment come to be prepossess'd, he and all that depend on him are lost. Contradictions, tho never so just, are then unsafe, and no man will venture upon them, but he who dares sacrifice himself for the publick good. The nature of man is frail, and stands in need of assistance. Virtuous actions that are profitable to a commonwealth, ought to be made, as far as it is possible, safe, easy, and advantageous: and 'tis the utmost imprudence to tempt men to be enemies to the publick, by making the most pernicious actions to be the means of obtaining honour and favour, whilst no man can serve his country, but with the ruin of himself and his family.

However in this case the question is not concerning a person: the same counsels are to be follow'd when Moses or Samuel is in the throne, as if Caligula had invaded it. Laws ought to aim at perpetuity, but the virtues of a man die with him, and very often before him. Those who have deserved the highest praises for wisdom and integrity, have frequently left the honors they enjoyed to foolish and vicious children. If virtue may in any respect be said to outlive the person, it can only be when good men frame such laws and constitutions as by favouring it preserve themselves. This has never been done otherwise, than by balancing the powers in such a manner, that the corruption which one or a few men might fall into, should not be suffer'd to spread the contagion to the ruin of the whole. The long continuance of Lycurgus his laws is to be attributed to this: They restrained the lusts of kings, and reduced those to order who adventured to transgress them: Whereas the whole fabrick must have fallen to the ground in a short time, if the first that had a fancy to be absolute, had been able to effect his design. This has been the fate of all governments that were made to depend upon the virtue of a man, which never continues long in any family, and when that fails all is lost. The nations therefore that are so happy to have good kings, ought to make a right use of them, by establishing the good that may outlast their lives. Those of them that are good, will readily join in this work, and take care that their successors may be obliged in doing the like, to be equally beneficial to their own families, and the people they govern. If the rulers of nations be restrained, not only the people is by that means secured from the mischiefs of their vices and follies, but they themselves are preserved from the greatest temptations to ill, and the terrible effects of the vengeance that frequently ensues upon it. An unlimited prince might be justly compared to a weak ship exposed to a violent storm, with a vast sail and no rudder. We have an eminent example of this in the book of Esther.[2] A wicked villain having filled the ears of a foolish king with false stories of the Jews, he issues out a proclamation for their utter extirpation; and not long after being informed of the truth, he gave them leave by another proclamation to kill whom they pleased, which they executed upon seventy thousand men. The books of Ezra, Nehemiah and Daniel, manifestly discover the like fluctuation in all the counsels of Nebuchadnezzar, Cyrus, Darius, and Artaxerxes. When good men had credit with them, they favour'd the Israelites; sent them back to their own country; restored the sacred vessels that had been taken away; gave them all things necessary for the rebuilding of the city, and advanced the chief of them to the highest employments. But if they fell into ill hands, three just men must be thrown into the burning furnace for refusing to worship an idol; Daniel must be cast to the lions; the holy city esteemed rebellious, and those who endeavoured to rebuild it, enemies to kings. Such was the state of things, when their proclamations passed for laws, and numbers of flattering slaves were ready to execute their commands, without examining whether they were just or unjust, good or bad. The life and death of the best men, together with the very being of nations, was exposed to chance, and they were either preserved or destroyed according to the humor of that man who spoke last to the king, or happened to have credit with him. If a frantick fancy come into the head of a drunken whore, Persepolis must be burnt, and the hand of Alexander is ready to execute her will.[3] If a dancing wench please Herod, the most venerable of all human heads must be offered in a dish for a sacrifice to the rage of her impure mother.[4] The nature of man is so frail, that wheresoever the word of a single person has had the force of a law, the innumerable extravagances and mischiefs it has produced have been so notorious, that all nations who are not stupid, slavish and brutish, have always abominated it, and made it their principal care to find out remedies against it, by so dividing and balancing the powers of their government, that one or a few men might not be able to oppress and destroy those they ought to preserve and protect. This has always been as grateful to the best and wisest princes, as necessary to the weakest and worst, as I have proved already by the examples of Theopompus, Moses, and many others. These considerations have given beginning, growth and continuance to all the mixed governments that have been in the world; and I may justly say there never was a good one that was not mixed. If other proofs of their rectitude were wanting, our author's hatred would be enough to justify them. He is so bitter an enemy to mankind, as to be displeased with nothing but that which tends to their good, and so perverse in his judgment, that we have reason to believe that to be good which he most abhors. One would think he had taken the model of the government he proposes, from the monstrous tyranny of Ceylon an island in the East-Indies, where the king knows no other law than his own will. He kills, tears in pieces, impales, or throws to his elephants whomsoever he pleases: No man has anything that he can call his own: He seldom fails to destroy those who have been employ'd in his domestick service, or publick offices; and few obtain the favour of being put to death and thrown to the dogs without torments. His subjects approach him no otherwise, than on their knees, licking the dust, and dare assume to themselves no other name than that of dogs, or limbs of dogs. This is a true pattern of Filmer's patriarchical monarch. His majesty, as I suppose, is sufficiently exalted; for he does whatever he pleases. The exercise of his power is as gentle as can reasonably be expected from one who has all by the unquestionable right of usurpation; and knows the people will no longer suffer him, and the villains he hires to be the instruments of his cruelty, than they can be kept in such ignorance, weakness and baseness, as neither to know how to provide for themselves, or dare to resist him. We ought to esteem ourselves happy, if the like could be established among us; and are much obliged to our author for so kindly proposing an expedient that might terminate all our disputes. Let proclamations obtain the power of laws, and the business is done. They may be so ingeniously contrived, that the ancient laws, which we and our fathers have highly valued, shall be abolished, or made a snare to all those that dare remember they are Englishmen, and are guilty of the unpardonable crime of loving their country, or have the courage, conduct, and reputation requir'd to defend it. This is the sum of Filmer's philosophy, and this is the legacy he has left to testify his affection to the nation; which having for a long time lain unregarded, has been lately brought into the light again, as an introduction of a popish successor,[5] who is to be established, as we ought to believe, for the security of the Protestant religion, and our English liberties. Both will undoubtedly flourish under a prince who is made to believe the kingdom is his patrimony; that his will is a law, and that he has a power which none may resist. If any man doubt whether he will make a good use of it, he may only examine the histories of what others in the same circumstances have done in all places where they have had power. The principles of that religion are so full of meekness and charity; the popes have always shew'd themselves so gentle towards those who would not submit to their authority; the Jesuits who may be accounted the soul that gives life to the whole body of that faction, are so well natur'd, faithful and exact in their morals; so full of innocence, justice and truth, that no violence is to be fear'd from such as are govern'd by them. The fatherly care shew'd to the Protestants of France, by the five last kings of the house of Valois; the mercy of Philip the second of Spain to his pagan subjects in the West-Indies, and the more hated Protestants in the Netherlands; the moderation of the dukes of Savoy towards the Vaudois in the marquisat of Saluzzo and the valleys of Piedmont; the gentleness and faith of the two Marys queens of England and Scotland; the kindness of the papists to the Protestants of Ireland in the year 1641; with what we have reason to believe they did and do still intend, if they can accomplish the ends of their conspiracy; In a word, the sweetness and apostolical meekness of the Inquisition, may sufficiently convince us that nothing is to be feared where that principle reigns. We may suffer the word of such a prince to be a law, and the people to be made to believe it ought to be so, when he is expected. Tho we should waive the bill of exclusion, and not only admit him to reign as other kings have done, but resign the whole power into his hands, it would neither bring inconvenience or danger on the present king. He can with patience expect that nature should take her course, and would neither anticipate nor secure his entrance into the possession of the power, by taking one day from the life of his brother. Tho the papists know that like a true son of their church, he would prefer the advancement of their religion before all other considerations; and that one stab with a dagger, or a dose of poison, would put all under his feet, not one man would be found among them to give it. The assassins were Mahometans, not pupils of the honest Jesuits, nor ever employ'd by them. These things being certain, all our concernments would be secure, if instead of the foolish statutes and antiquated customs, on which our ancestors and we have hitherto doted, we may be troubled with no law but the king's will, and a proclamation may be taken for a sufficient declaration of it. We shall by this means be delivered from that liberty with a mischief,[6] in which our mistaken nation seems so much to delight. This phrase is so new, and so peculiar to our author, that it deserves to be written upon his tomb. We have heard of tyranny with a mischief, slavery and bondage with a mischief; and they have been denounced by God against wicked and perverse nations, as mischiefs comprehending all that is most to be abhorr'd and dreaded in the world. But Filmer informs us that liberty, which all wise and good men have in all ages esteemed to be the most valuable and glorious privilege of mankind, is a mischief. If he deserve credit, Moses, Joshua, Gideon, Samson, and Samuel, with others like them, were enemies to their country, in depriving the people of the advantages they enjoy'd under the paternal care of Pharaoh, Adonibezek, Eglon, Jabin, and other kings of the neighbouring nations, and restoring them to that liberty with a mischief which he had promised to them. The Israelites were happy under the power of tyrants, whose proclamations were laws; and they ought to have been thankful to God for that condition, and not for the deliverances he wrought by the hands of his servants. Subjection to the will of a man is happiness, liberty is a mischief. But this is so abominably wicked and detestable, that it can deserve no answer.

[1] [Patriarcha, ch. 32 .]

[2] Cap. 3.

[3] [Alexander was said to have been persuaded to burn the palace of Xerxes in Persepolis by the Greek camp-follower Thais.]

[4] [Matthew 14:1-12.]

[5] [The future James II, crowned in 1685.]

[6] []