Governments in Greece.

I. The return of the Heraclidae occasioned consequences of which the most important were the least immediate. Whenever the Dorians forced a settlement, they dislodged such of the previous inhabitants as refused to succumb. Driven elsewhere to seek a home, the exiles found it often in yet fairer climes, and along more fertile soils. The example of these involuntary migrators became imitated wherever discontent prevailed or population was redundant: and hence, as I have already recorded, first arose those numerous colonies, which along the Asiatic shores, in the Grecian isles, on the plains of Italy, and even in Libya and in Egypt, were destined to give, as it were, a second youth to the parent states.

II. The ancient Greek constitution was that of an aristocracy, with a prince at the head. Suppose a certain number of men, thus governed, to be expelled their native soil, united by a common danger and common suffering, to land on a foreign shore, to fix themselves with pain and labour in a new settlement - it is quite clear that a popular principle would insensibly have entered the forms of the constitution they transplanted. In the first place, the power of the prince would be more circumscribed - in the next place, the free spirit of the aristocracy would be more diffused: the first, because the authority of the chief would rarely be derived from royal ancestry, or hallowed by prescriptive privilege; in most cases he was but a noble, selected from the ranks, and crippled by the jealousies, of his order: the second, because all who shared in the enterprise would in one respect rise at once to an aristocracy - they would be distinguished from the population of the state they colonized. Misfortune, sympathy, and change would also contribute to sweep away many demarcations; and authority was transmuted from a birthright into a trust, the moment it was withdrawn from the shelter of ancient custom, and made the gift of the living rather than a heritage from the dead. It was probable, too, that many of such colonies were founded by men, among whom was but little disparity of rank: this would be especially the case with those which were the overflow of a redundant population; the great and the wealthy are never redundant! - the mass would thus ordinarily be composed of the discontented and the poor, and even where the aristocratic leaven was most strong, it was still the aristocracy of some defeated and humbled faction. So that in the average equality of the emigrators were the seeds of a new constitution; and if they transplanted the form of monarchy, it already contained the genius of republicanism. Hence, colonies in the ancient, as in the modern world, advanced by giant strides towards popular principles. Maintaining a constant intercourse with their father-land, their own constitutions became familiar and tempting to the population of the countries they had abandoned; and much of whatsoever advantages were derived from the soil they selected, and the commerce they found within their reach, was readily attributed only to their more popular constitutions; as, at this day, we find American prosperity held out to our example, not as the result of local circumstances, but as the creature of political institutions.

One principal cause of the republican forms of government that began (as, after the Dorian migration, the different tribes became settled in those seats by which they are historically known) to spread throughout Greece, was, therefore, the establishment of colonies retaining constant intercourse with the parent states. A second cause is to be found in the elements of the previous constitutions of the Grecian states themselves, and the political principles which existed universally, even in the heroic ages: so that, in fact, the change from monarchy to republicanism was much less violent than at the first glance it would seem to our modern notions. The ancient kings, as described by Homer, possessed but a limited authority, like that of the Spartan kings - extensive in war, narrow in peace. It was evidently considered that the source of their authority was in the people. No notion seems to have been more universal among the Greeks than that it was for the community that all power was to be exercised. In Homer's time popular assemblies existed, and claimed the right of conferring privileges on rank. The nobles were ever jealous of the prerogative of the prince, and ever encroaching on his accidental weakness. In his sickness, his age, or his absence, the power of the state seems to have been wrested from his hands - the prey of the chiefs, or the dispute of contending factions. Nor was there in Greece that chivalric fealty to a person which characterizes the North. From the earliest times it was not the MONARCH, that called forth the virtue of devotion, and inspired the enthusiasm of loyalty. Thus, in the limited prerogative of royalty, in the jealousy of the chiefs, in the right of popular assemblies, and, above all, in the silent and unconscious spirit of political theory, we may recognise in the early monarchies of Greece the germes of their inevitable dissolution. Another cause was in that singular separation of tribes, speaking a common language, and belonging to a common race, which characterized the Greeks. Instead of overrunning a territory in one vast irruption, each section seized a small district, built a city, and formed an independent people. Thus, in fact, the Hellenic governments were not those of a country, but of a town; and the words "state" and "city" were synonymous [152]. Municipal constitutions, in their very nature, are ever more or less republican; and, as in the Italian states, the corporation had only to shake off some power unconnected with, or hostile to it, to rise into a republic. To this it may be added, that the true republican spirit is more easily established among mountain tribes imperfectly civilized, and yet fresh from the wildness of the natural life, than among old states, where luxury leaves indeed the desire, but has enervated the power of liberty, "as the marble from the quarry may be more readily wrought into the statue, than that on which the hand of the workman has already been employed." [153]

III. If the change from monarchy to republicanism was not very violent in itself, it appears to have been yet more smoothed away by gradual preparations. Monarchy was not abolished, it declined. The direct line was broken, or some other excuse occurred for exchanging an hereditary for an elective monarchy; then the period of power became shortened, and from monarchy for life it was monarchy only for a certain number of years: in most cases the name too (and how much is there in names!) was changed, and the title of ruler or magistrate substituted for that of king.

Thus, by no sudden leap of mind, by no vehement and short-lived revolutions, but gradually, insensibly, and permanently, monarchy ceased - a fashion, as it were, worn out and obsolete - and republicanism succeeded. But this republicanism at first was probably in no instance purely democratic. It was the chiefs who were the visible agents in the encroachments on the monarchic power - it was an aristocracy that succeeded monarchy. Sometimes this aristocracy was exceedingly limited in number, or the governing power was usurped by a particular faction or pre-eminent families; then it was called an OLIGARCHY. And this form of aristocracy appears generally to have been the most immediate successor to royalty. "The first polity," says Aristotle [154], "that was established in Greece after the lapse of monarchies, was that of the members of the military class, and those wholly horsemen," . . . . . "such republics, though called democracies, had a strong tendency to oligarchy, and even to royalty." [155] But the spirit of change still progressed: whether they were few or many, the aristocratic governors could not fail to open the door to further innovations. For, if many, they were subjected to dissensions among themselves - if few, they created odium in all who were excluded from power. Thus fell the oligarchies of Marseilles, Ister, and Heraclea. In the one case they were weakened by their own jealousies, in the other by the jealousies of their rivals. The progress of civilization and the growing habits of commerce gradually introduced a medium between the populace and the chiefs. The MIDDLE CLASS slowly rose, and with it rose the desire of extended liberties and equal laws. [156]

IV. Now then appeared the class of DEMAGOGUES. The people had been accustomed to change. They had been led against monarchy, and found they had only resigned the one master to obtain the many: - A demagogue arose, sometimes one of their own order, more often a dissatisfied, ambitious, or empoverished noble. For they who have wasted their patrimony, as the Stagirite shrewdly observes, are great promoters of innovation! Party ran high - the state became divided - passions were aroused - and the popular leader became the popular idol. His life was probably often in danger from the resentment of the nobles, and it was always easy to assert that it was so endangered. - He obtained a guard to protect him, conciliated the soldiers, seized the citadel, and rose at once from the head of the populace to the ruler of the state. Such was the common history of the tyrants of Greece, who never supplanted the kingly sway (unless in the earlier ages, when, born to a limited monarchy, they extended their privileges beyond the law, as Pheidon of Argos), but nearly always aristocracies or oligarchies [157]. I need scarcely observe that the word "tyrant" was of very different signification in ancient times from that which it bears at present. It more nearly corresponded to our word "usurper," and denoted one who, by illegitimate means, whether of art or force, had usurped the supreme authority. A tyrant might be mild or cruel, the father of the people, or their oppressor; he still preserved the name, and it was transmitted to his children. The merits of this race of rulers, and the unconscious benefits they produced, have not been justly appreciated, either by ancient or modern historians. Without her tyrants, Greece might never have established her democracies. As may be readily supposed, the man who, against powerful enemies, often from a low origin and with empoverished fortunes, had succeeded in ascending a throne, was usually possessed of no ordinary abilities. It was almost vitally necessary for him to devote those abilities to the cause and interests of the people. Their favour had alone raised him - numerous foes still surrounded him - it was on the people alone that he could depend.

The wiser and more celebrated tyrants were characterized by an extreme modesty of deportment - they assumed no extraordinary pomp, no lofty titles - they left untouched, or rendered yet more popular, the outward forms and institutions of the government - they were not exacting in taxation - they affected to link themselves with the lowest orders, and their ascendency was usually productive of immediate benefit to the working classes, whom they employed in new fortifications or new public buildings; dazzling the citizens by a splendour that seemed less the ostentation of an individual than the prosperity of a state. But the aristocracy still remained their enemies, and it was against them, not against the people, that they directed their acute sagacities and unsparing energies. Every more politic tyrant was a Louis the Eleventh, weakening the nobles, creating a middle class. He effected his former object by violent and unscrupulous means. He swept away by death or banishment all who opposed his authority or excited his fears. He thus left nothing between the state and a democracy but himself; himself removed, democracy ensued naturally and of course. There are times in the history of all nations when liberty is best promoted - when civilization is most rapidly expedited - when the arts are most luxuriantly nourished by a strict concentration of power in the hands of an individual - and when the despot is but the representative of the popular will [158]. At such times did the tyrannies in Greece mostly flourish, and they may almost be said to cease with the necessity which called them forth. The energy of these masters of a revolution opened the intercourse with other states; their interests extended commerce; their policy broke up the sullen barriers of oligarchical prejudice and custom; their fears found perpetual vent for the industry of a population whom they dreaded to leave in indolence; their genius appreciated the arts - their vanity fostered them. Thus they interrupted the course of liberty only to improve, to concentre, to advance its results. Their dynasty never lasted long; the oldest tyranny in Greece endured but a hundred years [159] - so enduring only from its mildness. The son of the tyrant rarely inherited his father's sagacity and talents: he sought to strengthen his power by severity; discontent ensued, and his fall was sudden and complete. Usually, then, such of the aristocracy as had been banished were recalled, but not invested with their former privileges. The constitution became more or less democratic. It is true that Sparta, who lent her powerful aid in destroying tyrannies, aimed at replacing them by oligarchies - but the effort seldom produced a permanent result: the more the aristocracy was narrowed, the more certain was its fall. If the middle class were powerful - if commerce thrived in the state - the former aristocracy of birth was soon succeeded by an aristocracy of property (called a timocracy), and this was in its nature certain of democratic advances. The moment you widen the suffrage, you may date the commencement of universal suffrage. He who enjoys certain advantages from the possession of ten acres, will excite a party against him in those who have nine; and the arguments that had been used for the franchise of the one are equally valid for the franchise of the other. Limitations of power by property are barriers against a tide which perpetually advances. Timocracy, therefore, almost invariably paved the way to democracy. But still the old aristocratic faction, constantly invaded, remained powerful, stubborn, and resisting, and there was scarcely a state in Greece that did not contain the two parties which we find to-day in England, and in all free states - the party of the movement to the future, and the party of recurrence to the past; I say the past, for in politics there is no present! Wherever party exists, if the one desire fresh innovations, so the other secretly wishes not to preserve what remains, but to restore what has been. This fact it is necessary always to bear in mind in examining the political contests of the Athenians. For in most of their domestic convulsions we find the cause in the efforts of the anti-popular party less to resist new encroachments than to revive departed institutions. But though in most of the Grecian states were two distinct orders, and the Eupatrids, or "Well-born," were a class distinct from, and superior to, that of the commonalty, we should err in supposing that the separate orders made the great political divisions. As in England the more ancient of the nobles are often found in the popular ranks, so in the Grecian states many of the Eupatrids headed the democratic party. And this division among themselves, while it weakened the power of the well-born, contributed to prevent any deadly or ferocious revolutions: for it served greatly to soften the excesses of the predominant faction, and every collision found mediators between the contending parties in some who were at once friends of the people and members of the nobility. Nor should it be forgotten that the triumph of the popular party was always more moderate than that of the antagonist faction - as the history of Athens will hereafter prove.

V. The legal constitutions of Greece were four - Monarchy, Oligarchy, Aristocracy, and Democracy; the illegal, was Tyranny in a twofold shape, viz., whether it consisted in an usurped monarchy or an usurped oligarchy. Thus the oligarchy of the Thirty in Athens was no less a tyranny than the single government of Pisistratus. Even democracy had its illegal or corrupt form - in OCHLOCRACY or mob rule; for democracy did not signify the rule of the lower orders alone, but of all the people - the highest as the lowest. If the highest became by law excluded - if the populace confined the legislative and executive authorities to their own order - then democracy, or the government of a whole people, virtually ceased, and became the government of a part of the people - a form equally unjust and illegitimate - equally an abuse in itself, whether the dominant and exclusive portion were the nobles or the mechanics. Thus in modern yet analogous history, when the middle class of Florence expelled the nobles from any share of the government, they established a monopoly under the name of liberty; and the resistance of the nobles was the lawful struggle of patriots and of freemen for an inalienable privilege and a natural right.

VI. We should remove some very important prejudices from our minds, if we could once subscribe to a fact plain in itself, but which the contests of modern party have utterly obscured - that in the mere forms of their government, the Greek republics cannot fairly be pressed into the service of those who in existing times would attest the evils, or proclaim the benefits, of constitutions purely democratic. In the first place, they were not democracies, even in their most democratic shape: - the vast majority of the working classes were the enslaved population. And, therefore, to increase the popular tendencies of the republic was, in fact, only to increase the liberties of the few. We may fairly doubt whether the worst evils of the ancient republics, in the separation of ranks, and the war between rich and poor, were not the necessary results of slavery. We may doubt, with equal probability, whether much of the lofty spirit, and the universal passion for public affairs, whence emanated the enterprise, the competition, the patriotism, and the glory of the ancient cities, could have existed without a subordinate race to carry on the drudgeries of daily life. It is clear, also, that much of the intellectual greatness of the several states arose from the exceeding smallness of their territories - the concentration of internal power, and the perpetual emulation with neighbouring and kindred states nearly equal in civilization; it is clear, too, that much of the vicious parts of their character, and yet much of their more brilliant, arose from the absence of the PRESS. Their intellectual state was that of men talked to, not written to. Their imagination was perpetually called forth - their deliberative reason rarely; - they were the fitting audience for an orator, whose art is effective in proportion to the impulse and the passion of those he addresses. Nor must it be forgotten that the representative system, which is the proper conductor of the democratic action, if not wholly unknown to the Greeks [160], and if unconsciously practised in the Spartan ephoralty, was at least never existent in the more democratic states. And assemblies of the whole people are compatible only with those small nations of which the city is the country. Thus, it would be impossible for us to propose the abstract constitution of any ancient state as a warning or an example to modern countries which possess territories large in extent - which subsist without a slave population - which substitute representative councils for popular assemblies - and which direct the intellectual tastes and political habits of a people, not by oratory and conversation, but through the more calm and dispassionate medium of the press. This principle settled, it may perhaps be generally conceded, that on comparing the democracies of Greece with all other contemporary forms of government, we find them the most favourable to mental cultivation - not more exposed than others to internal revolutions - usually, in fact, more durable, - more mild and civilized in their laws - and that the worst tyranny of the Demus, whether at home or abroad, never equalled that of an oligarchy or a single ruler. That in which the ancient republics are properly models to us, consists not in the form, but the spirit of their legislation. They teach us that patriotism is most promoted by bringing all classes into public and constant intercourse - that intellect is most luxuriant wherever the competition is widest and most unfettered - and that legislators can create no rewards and invent no penalties equal to those which are silently engendered by society itself - while it maintains, elaborated into a system, the desire of glory and the dread of shame.