In which are explained the different forms of
government, the ways of acquiring or losing sovereignty, and the reciprocal
duties of sovereigns and subjects.
Of the various forms of government.
I. NATIONS have been
sensible, that it was essential to their happiness and safety to establish some
form of government. They have all agreed in this point, that it was necessary
to institute a supreme power, to whose will every thing should be ultimately
II. But the more the establishment of a supreme power is necessary, the
more important is the choice of the person, invested with that high dignity.
Hence it is that, in. regard to this article, nations are extremely divided,
having entrusted the supreme power in different hands, according as they judged
it most conducive to their safety and happiness; neither have they taken this
step without making several systems and restrictions, which may vary greatly.
This is the origin of the different forms of government.
III. There are therefore various forms of government, according to the
different subjects, in whom the sovereignty immediately resides, and according
as it is inherent either in a single person, or in a single assembly, more or
less compounded; and this is what forms the constitution of the state.
IV. These different forms of government may be reduced to two general
classes, namely to the simple forms, or to those, which are compounded or
V. There are three simple forms of government; Democracy, Aristocracy,
VI. Some nations, more diffident than others, have placed the sovereign
power in the multitude itself, that is to say, in the heads of families,
assembled and met in council; and such governments are called Popular or
VII. Other nations of a bolder turn, passing to the opposite extreme,
have established Monarchy, or the government of a single man. Thus Monarchy is
a state, in which the supreme power, and all the rights essential to it, reside
in a single person, who is called King, Monarch, or Emperor.
VIII. Others have kept a due medium between those two extremes, and
lodged the whole sovereign authority in a council, composed of select members,
and this is termed an Aristocracy, or the government of the Nobles.
IX. Lastly other nations have been persuaded, that it was necessary, by
a mixture of the simple forms, to establish a compound government, and, making
a division of the sovereignty, to intrust the different parts of it to
different hands; to temper, for example. Monarchy with Aristocracy; and at the
same time to give the people a share in the sovereignty; this may be executed
X. In order to have a more particular knowledge of the nature of these
different forms of government, we must observe, that, as in Democracies the
sovereign is a moral person, formed by the union of all the heads of families
into a single will, there are three things absolutely necessary for the
constitution of this form of government.
1. That there be a certain place, and regulated times for deliberating
in common on the public affairs; the members of the sovereign council might
assemble at different times, or places, whence factions would arise, which
would interrupt the union essential to the state.
2. It must be established for a rule, that the plurality of suffrages
shall pass for the will of the whole; otherwise no affair could be determined,
it being impossible that a great number of people should be always of the same
opinion. We must therefore esteem it the essential quality of a moral body,
that the resolution of the majority shall pass for the will of the whole.
3. Lastly it is essential, that magistrates should be appointed to
convene the people in extraordinary cases, to dispatch ordinary affairs in
their name, and to see that the decrees of the assembly be executed; for, since
the sovereign council cannot always sit, it is evident that it cannot take the
direction of every thing itself.
XI. With regard to Aristocracies, since the sovereignty resides in a
council or senate, composed of the principal men of the nation, it is
absolutely necessary that the conditions essential to the constitution of a
Democracy, and which we have above mentioned, should also concur to establish
XII. Further, Aristocracy may be of two kinds, either by birth and
hereditary, or elective. The aristocracy by birth, and hereditary, is that,
which is confined to a certain number of families, to which birth alone gives
right, and which passes from parents to their children, without any choice, and
to the exclusion of all others. On the contrary, the elective Aristocracy is
that, in which a person arrives at the government by election only, and without
receiving any right from birth.
XIII. In a word, it may be equally observed of Aristocracies and
Democracies, that, whether in a popular state, or in a government of the
nobles, every citizen, or every member of the supreme council, has not the
supreme power, nor even a part of it; but this power resides either in the
general assembly of the people, convened according to the laws, or in the
council of the nobles; for it is one thing to have a share in the sovereignty,
and another to have the right of suffrage in an assembly invested with the
XIV. As to Monarchy, it is established, when the whole body of the
people confer the sovereign power on a single person, which is done by an
agreement betwixt the king and his subjects, as we have before explained.
XV. There is therefore this essential difference between Monarchy and
the two other forms of government, that, in Democracies and Aristocracies, the
actual exercise of the sovereign authority depends on the concurrence of
certain circumstances of time and place; whereas in a Monarchy, at least when
it is simple and absolute, the prince can give his orders at all times, and in
all places. It is Rome wherever the Emperor resides.
XVI. Another remark, which very naturally occurs on this occasion, is,
that in a Monarchy, when the king orders any thing contrary to justice and
equity, he is certainly to blame, because in him the civil and natural wills
are the same thing. But when the assembly of the people, or a senate, form an
unjust resolution, only those citizens or senators, who carried the point,
render themselves really accountable, and not those, who were of the opposite
sentiment. Let this suffice for the simple forms of government.
XVII. As to mixed or compound governments, they are established, as we
have observed, by the concurrence of the three simple forms, or only of two;
when for example the king, the nobles, and the people, or only the two latter,
share the different parts of the sovereignty between them, so that one
administers some parts of it, and the others the remainder. This mixture may be
made various ways, as we observe in most republics.
XVIII. It is true, to consider sovereignty in itself, and in the height
of plenitude and perfection, all the rights, which it Includes, ought to belong
to a single person, or to one body, without any partition; so that there be but
one supreme will to govern the subject. There cannot properly speaking be
several sovereigns in a state, who shall act as they please, independently of
each other. This is morally impossible, and besides would manifestly tend to
the ruin and destruction of society.
XIX. But this union of the supreme power does not hinder the whole body
of the nation, in which this power originally resides, from regulating the
government by a fundamental law, in such a manner, as to commit the exercise of
the different parts of the supreme power to different persons or bodies, who
may act independently of each other, in regard to the rights committed to them,
but still subordinate to the laws, from which those rights are derived.
XX. And provided the fundamental laws, which establish this species of
partition in the sovereignty, regulate the respective limits of the different
branches of the legislature, so that we may easily see the extent of their
jurisdiction; this partition produces neither a plurality of sovereigns, nor an
opposition between them, nor any irregularity in the government.
XXI. In a word, in this case there is, properly speaking, but one
sovereign, who in himself is possessed of the fulness of power. There is but
one supreme will. This sovereign is the body of the people, formed by the union
of all the orders of the state; and this supreme will is the very law, by which
the whole body of the nation makes its resolutions known.
XXII. They, who thus share the sovereignty among them, are properly no
more, than the executors of the law; since it is from the law itself, that they
hold their power. And as these fundamental laws are real covenants, or what the
civilians call pacta conventa, between the different orders of the
republic, by which they mutually
stipulate, that each shall have such a particular part of the sovereignty, and
that this shall establish the form of government, it is evident that, by these
means, each of the contracting parties acquires a right not only of exercising
the power, granted to it, but also of preserving that original right.
XXIII, Such party cannot even be divested of its right in spite of
itself, and by the will of the rest, so long at least as it conducts itself in
a manner conformable to the laws, and not manifestly opposite to the public
XXIV. In a word, the constitution of those governments can be changed
only in the same manner, and by the same methods, by which it was established,
that is to say, by the unanimous concurrence of all the contracting parties,
who have fixed the form of government by the original contract.
XXV. This constitution of the state by no means destroys the union of a
moral body, composed of several persons, or of several bodies, really distinct
in themselves, but joined by a fundamental law in a mutual engagement.
XXVI. From what has been said on the nature of mixed or compound
governments it follows, that, in all such states, the sovereignty is limited;
for as the different branches are not committed to a single person, but lodged
in different hands, the power of those, who have a share in the government, is
thereby restrained; and as they are thus a check to each other, this produces
such a balance of authority, as secures the public weal, and the liberty of
XXVII. But with respect to simple governments; in these the sovereignty
may be either absolute or limited. Those, who are possessed of the sovereignty,
exercise it sometimes in an absolute, and sometimes in a limited manner, by
fundamental laws, which prescribe bounds to the sovereign, with regard to the
manner, in which he ought to govern.
XXVIII. On this occasion it is expedient to observe, that all the
accidental circumstances, which can modify simple Monarchies or Aristocracies,
and which in some measure may be said to limit sovereignty, do not, for that
reason, change the form of government, which still continues the same. One
government may partake somewhat of another, when the manner, in which the
sovereign governs, seems to be borrowed from the form of the latter; but it
does not, for that reasons change its nature.
XXIX. For example, in a Democratic state the people may intrust the care
of several affairs either to a principal member, or to a senate. In an
Aristocracy there may be a chief magistrate, invested with a particular
authority, or an assembly of the people to be consulted on some occasions. Or
lastly, in a Monarchic state, important affairs may be laid before a senate,
&c. But these accidental circumstances do by no means change the form of
the government; neither is there a partition of the sovereignty on this
account; the state still continues purely either Democratic, Aristocratic, or
XXX. In a word there is a wide difference between exercising a proper
power, and acting by a foreign and precarious authority, which may every minute
be taken away by him, who conferred it. Thus what constitutes the
characteristic of mixed or compound commonwealths, and distinguishes them from
simple governments, is, that the different orders of the state, who have a
share in the sovereignty, possess the rights, which they exercise, by an equal
title, that is to say, in virtue of the fundamental law, and not under the
title of commission, as if the one was only the minister or executor of the
other's will. We must therefore be sure to distinguish between the form of
government, and the manner of governing.
XXXI. These are the principal observations with respect to the various
forms of government. Puffendorf explains himself in a somewhat different
manner, and calls those governments irregular, which we have styled mixed; and
he gives the name of regular to the simple governments.
XXXII. But this regularity is only in idea; the true rule of practice
ought to be that, which is most conformable to the end of civil society,
supposing men to be in their usual state, and taking the general course of
things into the account, according to the experience of all countries and ages.
Now on this footing, the states, in which the whole depends on a single will,
are so far from being happy, that it is certain their subjects have the most
frequent reason to lament the loss of their natural independence.
XXXIII Besides, it is with the body politic, as with the human body;
there is a difference between a sound and cachectic state.
XXXIV. These disorders arise either from the abuse of the sovereign
power, or from the bad constitution of the state; and the causes thereof are to
be sought for either in the defects of the governors, or in those of the
XXXV. In Monarchies, the defects of the person are, when the king has
not the qualifications necessary for reigning, when he has little or no
attachment to the public good, and when he delivers his subjects up as a prey,
either to the avarice or ambition of his ministers, &c.
XXXVI. With regard to Aristocracies, the defects of the persons are,
when, by intrigue and other sinister methods, they introduce into the council
either wicked men, or such, as are incapable of business, while persons of
merit are excluded; when factions and cabals are formed; and when the nobles
treat the populace as slaves, &c.
XXXVII. In fine, we sometimes see also in Democracies, that their
assemblies are disturbed with intestine broils, and merit is oppressed by envy,
XXXVIII. In regard to the defects of government, they are of various
kinds. For example, if the laws of the state be not conformable to the natural
genius of the people, tending to engage in a war a nation, that is not
naturally warlike, but inclined to the peaceful arts; or if they be not
agreeable to the situation and the natural products of the country; thus it is
bad conduct not to promote commerce and manufactures in a province, well
situated for that purpose, and abounding with the materials of trade. It is
also a defect of government, if the constitution of the state renders the
dispatch of affairs very slow or difficult, as in Poland, where the opposition
of a single member dissolves the diet.
XXXIX. It is customary to give particular names to these defects in
government. Thus the corruption of Monarchy is called Tyranny. Oligarchy is the
abuse of Aristocracy; and the abuse of Democracy is called Ochlocracy. But it
often happens, that these words denote less a defect or disorder in the state,
than some particular passion or disgust in those, who use them.
XL. To conclude this chapter, we have only to take some notice of those
compound forms of government, which are formed by the union of several
particular states. These may be defined an assemblage of perfect governments
strictly united by some particular bond, so that they seem to make but a single
body with respect to the affairs, which interest them in common, though each
preserves its sovereignty full and entire, independently of the others.
XLI. This assemblage is formed either by the union of two or more
distinct states under one and the same king; as for instance, England,
Scotland, and Ireland, before the union lately made between England and
Scotland; or when several independent states agree among themselves to form but
a single body; such are the united provinces of the Netherlands, and the Swiss
XLII. The first kind of union may happen either by marriage, or by
succession, or when a people choose for their king the sovereign of another
country; so that those different states come to be united under a prince, who
governs each in particular by its fundamental laws.
XLIII. As to the compound governments, formed by the perpetual
confederacy of several states, it is to be observed, that this is the only
method, by which several small governments, too weak to maintain themselves
separately against their enemies, are enabled to preserve their liberties.
XLIV. These confederate states engage to each other only to exercise,
with common consent, certain parts of the sovereignty, especially those, which
relate to their mutual defence against foreign enemies. But each of the
confederates retains an entire liberty of exercising, as it thinks proper,
those parts of the sovereignty, which are not mentioned in the treaty of union,
as parts, that ought to be exercised in common.
XLV. Lastly it is absolutely necessary, in confederate states, to
ascertain a time and place for assembling, when occasion requires, and to
invest some member with a power of convening the assembly for extraordinary
affairs, and such as will not admit of delay. Or they may establish a perpetual
assembly, composed of the deputies of each state, for dispatching common
affairs according to the orders of their superiors.
1. See part i. chap. vii. No. 35, &c.
2. See Law of Nature and Nations, book vii.
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