Charles Borgeaud.

The rise of modern democracy in old and New England online

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Rise of Modern Democracy

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Member of the Faculty of Laiu Geneva


Balltol College Oxford





Butler & Tanner,

The Selwood Printing Works,

Frome, AM) London.


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If it b3 true that " good wins needs no bush," a
translation of Dr. Borgeaud's constitutional studies
should not need preliminary apologies. The extent
of his researches, the accuracy of his knowledge, and
the sobriety of his judgment, those who read his pages
can hardly fail to observe. These are the qualities
which justify the attempt of Mrs. Birkbeck Hill to
present in an English dress this sketch of the
development of democratic ideas in England and

At the same time, however, it may bs for the
convenience of her readers to show the relation of
these two essays to the rest of Dr. Borgeaud's
works, and to give a brief summary of his conclu-

After obtaining his degree of Doctor in Philosophy
at Jena, in 1883, by a thesis on the religious philo-
sophy of Rousseau, Dr. Borgeaud devoted himself to
the history of democratic ideas, and democratic
government. In 18S7, he gained the additional
title of Doctor in Law, at Geneva, by his Histoire
du Plebiscite dans VAntiqitite} But this investiga-
tion of the working of the popular vote in Greece
and Rome did not throw much light on the origins
of modern democracy. Our modern conception of

E. Thorin, Paris, 1887.


a democracy differs very widely from that of the
ancients. Ancient democracies had no idea of
universal suffrage, and instead of the rights of man
recognised only the privileges of the citizen. For
them the state was a city, and its political centre
the spot where the sovereign assembly of citizens
met to vote. Those who were not there were not
represented, and the further the city state extended
its borders, the fewer those citizens who could
actually exercise their right of voting. Hence the
results of the author's enquiry were rather negative
than positive. They may be summed up by the
statement, that the most permanent effect of ancient
democracy was a new conception of Law. Primi-
tive Law possessed a religious character. It was a
revelation — an expression of the will of Heaven
made known to men, and as perfect and unchange-
able as Heaven itself. But the operation of the
system of popular suffrage — so to speak — secu-
larised Law. It became the expression of the will
of the people, at once the result of the development
of political society, and the instrument by which
that result was effected. In the East, Law retained
its original character, and remained what it was in
the beginning, something divine and unchangeable.
In the West it altered its original character, and
became human and progressive. The formula of
Gaius sums up the result of this process of evolu-
tion. " Lex est quod populus jubet atquc consti-

But this conception of Law, which was one of


the conquests of Greek and Roman civilisation,
was more or less lost to the world in the night of
the Middle Ages, to be won back, however, for
Western nations by the Renaissance and the Refor-
mation. The religious revolution of the sixteenth
century, and the political revolutions of the seven-
teenth and eighteenth centuries which sprung from
it, were destined to make this conception of Law the
basis of the modern State.

In the contemporary constitutional systems which
form the subject of Dr. Borgeaud's latest work,^ the
sovereignty^ of the people is the basis of the political
organization of the state, and the law is really, in
the phrase of Gains, " What the people ordains and
determines." In other respects, however, the debt
of modern to ancient democracies is singularly
small. The chief characteristic of the modern
democratic state is the existence of a written con-
stitution, consisting of a body of fundamental laws,
intended to ensure the permanence of its political
Ufe, to define the limits of the authority of the
government, and to guarantee the rights of the
individual citizen. In all such constitutions, how-
ever, there are certain provisions for the modifica-
tion and the revision of the Constitution itself by
the suffrages of the nation, as the necessities of the
national life may from time to time demand. The
manner in which these constitutions originally

^ Etablisseme)it et Revision des Co7istitutions en Ame'rique el
en Europe. Paris, Thorin et Fils, 1893.


came into being, and the nature of the process by
Avhich they have been, or may be altered, is the
special point to which Dr. Borgeaud directs his
investigations. His book is, in short, a study on the
making of constitutions.

With what conscientious thoroughness Dr. Bor-
geaud prepared himself for this survey of contem-
porary constitutional systems the two studies now
translated show.^ The great merit of his method of
treating these questions is that he combines the
examination of written constitutional texts with the
investigation of the general ideas from which they
proceeded, and the historical conditions under which
they arose. These essays form a connecting link
between his two larger works. He endeavours to
trace the conception of a written constitution to its
source, to show under what circumstances it origin-
ally developed, and of what nature the first written
constitutions were. It is, as he points out, to the
Reformation, and to the democratic ideas engen-
dered by the Reformation, that the written constitu-
tions of modern popular states owe their existence.
It w^as in England and in New England that the
conception first took a positive form. And it was
also in England, during the struggle between
Cavaliers and Puritans, that the fundamental prin-
ciples of modern democracy first found expression.

A recent American author. Professor H. L.

' Published in the Annales de V^cole librc dcs Sciences
Politiques, April, 1890, and January, 1891.


Osgood, writing on the kindred subject of the
" Political Ideas of the Puritans," comes indepen-
dently to conclusions substantially identical with
those of Dr. Borgeaud.^ " The modern revolu-
tionary movement," says Professor Osgood, " began
not in the eighteenth but in the sixteenth century.
Protestantism, especially in the form which Calvin
gave it, was hostile to absolutism both in Church
and in State, and carried with it a moral vigour
without w^hich the mere revival of classical learn-
ing would have been powerless to effect deep social
changes. Calvinism, in spite of the aristocratic
character which it temporarily assumed, meant
democracy in Church government. It meant more
than that, for its aim was to make society in all its
parts conform to a religious ideal." . . . Cal-
vin ists " did not need to search the records of anti-J
quity to find communities where the theory oft
human equality was approximately realized. The
local Church furnished a much better model than any
Greek state. The theory upon which it w^as based
was easily transferred to the domain of politics."

The influence which the ecclesiastical organiza-
tion of the Independent Churches exercised upon the
development of democratic ideas in the state is very
clearly and convincingly show^n by Dr. Borgeaud.
It was from these congregations, with their " Church-
covenant," that the idea of a political society, founded
on a mutual compact between its members, found its

The Political Science Quarterly., March and June, 1891.


way into English political thoug-ht. Before Hobbes
and Locke had worked out the speculative conse-
quences of the "social contract," that conception
was already betiring fruit on English soil.

A proof of this is the proposed constitution for the
republic which the leaders of the Puritan army
presented to Parliament about a week before the
execution of Charles I. Its very title is full of
significance. Just as the members of a newly
gathered Independent congregation solemnly en-
gaged themselves " to walk together according to
the holy rules of God's Word," and attested their
covenant by their signatures, so this constitution
was to be tendered to the nation, that those who
were willing that the political life of the nation
should be governed by its principles might signify
their adhesion b}^ subscribing it. Thus not in
name only but in fact the fabric of the new state was
to rest on the Agreement of the People.

Dr. Borgeaud narrates at length the history ot
this scheme, and admirably brings out its signifi-

English constitutional historians have generally
neglected it. The judicious Hallam never mentions
it at all. Mr. Gardiner, it is true, in the third volume
of his great History of the Civil War — which ap-
peared too late for Dr. Borgeaud to consult it — both
traces the history of the scheme, and criticises its

"The Agreement of the People was the first
example of that system which now universally pre-


vails in the State Governments of the American
Republic. In both countries the idea of restrain-
ing" the authority of the legislative body by reserv-
ing" certain matters to be dealt with by the people
themselves, arose from the same cause— jealousy
of the representative body. Yet the difference
between the Agreement of the People and an
American State constitution is enormous. In
America, at the present day, the intervention of the
people is an active, living force. The people make
and unmake constitutions with decisive rapidity.
The Agreement of the People was but the dream of
a few visionaries."

And yet this criticism, just though it is, is only
a part of the truth. The scheme exercised no per-
manent influence on the development of English
institutions. It had too little popular support to be,
as it was intended to be, a successful expedient for
the peace and settlement of a divided nation. But
if its importance to the historian of English insti-
tutions is comparatively small, its value to the
historian of political ideas is exceedingly great, and
it is for that reason that it fills so large a place in
Dr. Borgeaud's pages. Nor was the scheme itself
altogether a dream. In the political controversies
of the period no less than three of these drafts of
constitutions appear, all bearing the name of
Agreement of the People. There is first of all
the original sketch proposed by John Lilburne and
a section of the army in the autumn of 1647 ; there
is, secondly, the better known and more detailed


scheme drawn up by the leaders of the army in the
winter of 1648, and presented by them to Parliament
in January, 1649; and, lastly, there is a third put
forward in the spring of 1649 by Lilburne and the
Levellers as the manifesto of those extremists for
whom the second scheme was too moderate. No
attempt was made to put into execution any of these
three, but the discussion which they aroused famili-
arised people with the idea of a written constitution.
In December, 1653, such a constitution was actually
drawn up by the officers of the army, and established
as the constitution of England, not, indeed, by the
suffrages of the people, but by the swords of the
army. The Instniment of Government and the
constitutional schemes embodied in these Agree-
ments of tJie People^ all had this characteristic in
common, that they all attempted to restrict the
authority of the legislative body by defining certain
fundamental laws, which it was not to be within its
competence to alter. Strikingly modern in their
sound are the arguments by which it was defended.
" Though it be not of necessity," wrote the official
apologist of the Instrimienty " yet it were a thing
to be wished that popular consent might always,
and all times, have the sole influence in the institu-
tion of governments ; but when an establishment is
once procured, after the many shakings and rents
of civil divisions, and contestings for liberty, as
here now in England . . . we conceive it
highly concerns us, to put in some sure proviso, to
prevent a razing of those foundations of liberty


that have been but newly laid.' Passing to the
details of this constitution, one of its special recom-
mendations in his eyes, was its separation of the
legislative and executive powers. " The placing the
legislative and executive powers in the same per-
sons is a marvellous inlet to corruption and tyranny,
whereas the keeping of these two apart, flowing in
distinct channels, so that they may never meet in
one (save upon some transitory extraordinary occa-
sion), there lies a grand secret of liberty and good

I have dwelt so long on the Instrument of Govern-
ment^ not only because of its intrinsic interest, as
the only paper constitution under which England
ever lived, but also because of its close relation to
the Agreement of the People. It was the only reali-
zation of any part of the programme which Dr.
Borgeaud sets forth. While it lasted, its history is
the record of a continual struggle between a legis-
lative body refusing to recognise the validity of the
restrictions imposed on its authority, and an army
determined to maintain them. It never had any
hold on the nation at large, and what one military
revolution had made another could unmake. Six
years later Lambert's and Monk's soldiers put an
end to the " insubstantial fabric" which Cromwell's
officers had erected.

But the ideas which were defeated in the old
England had struck deeper root in the new, and
the written constitutions which here were the dream
of a few visionaries became there the foundation-


Stones of great states. The story of the constitu-
tions which succeeded is the natural sequel qf the
story of the programmes which failed.

Dr. Borgeaud's essay on "The First American
Constitutions " has also this additional ralue. The
connection between Independency and popular
government was far plainer and more obvious in
America than in England, and his American in-
stances demonstrate still more conclusively the
importance of the Reformation in the evolution of

C. H. Firth.


Whatever value there may be in the following
translation I feel it to be due to Mr. C. H. Firth,
^^■ho has most kindly revised the ^\■hole with great
care, and to Dr. Borgeaud, who has read all the

A. B. H.




Modern Democracy the Result of the Reformation . i


Puritanism and the English Revolution.

The early Puritans — Thomas Cartwright — The Admonitions to
Parliament— Political Life stirred by Puritanism — Spread of
Puritan Doctrines — James I. — Conference at Hampton Court
— Charles I. — The Presbyterians and the Covenant — The
Independents — Origin of their Doctrines — The Writings of
Robert Brown — Brownist Congregationalism —The Dissen-
ters and the Army of Cromwell— The Coup d'Etat of the
Independents — The Petition of the Army — Proposals for a
Constitution to be submitted to the Vote of the People . 1 1


History of the Agreement of the People.

The Army and the Democrats of Southwark— John Lilburne —
The Remonstrance of 1646 — Disbanding of the Troops —
The Agitators— The Rendezvous of Newmarket and of
Triploe Heath — Declaration to Parliament — The Policy of
Cromwell — The Grandees and the Democrats — "The Case
of the Army Truly Stated " — Sketch of the Agreement —
Debates in the Council of Officers — Resistance of Cromwell
— The Rendezvous at Ware — Military Execution — Firmness
of the Democrats — Their Victory over Cromwell — The
Agreement presented to Parliament by the General-in-Chief 45


The Idea of a Constitution Established by the People.

A Social Contract — Origin of the Theory — First Form : A Con-
tract between Prince and People — Second Form : A Con-
tract between Individuals — Hooker, Hobbes, Milton, Locke,
Rousseau — Brownism as it affected the Theory of a Contract
between Individuals — Church Covenants — The Law affecting
ancient Gilds— Need of Definition of the Powers of Par-
liament .......... 77




The Fall of the Democratic Party. page

The Agreement abandoned by Cromwell — Military Insurrection
— New Proposals of Lilburne — The Plot suppressed —
Cromwell Dictator ........ 91



The Contract of the Mayflojver — The Brownist
Church of Robinson — Church Covenants the
Origin of Political Agreements .... 105



Differences of Opinion among the early Congregationalists —
Democracy and Theocracy— The Settlements in Connecticut
the Result of Democratic Secessions — The " Fundamental
Orders" of Connecticut — Statutes of Ancient Gilds— Organi-
zation of the Brotherhoods of the Middle Ages — Exercise of
Constituent Power by the Breihren — Amendment of the
" Fundamental Orders " — The Constitution of New Haven
— Theory of Mr. Brooks Adams — Mistaken Theory of the
German Origin of these Constitutions . . . . • H?



Its First Charter — Religious Ideas of the Emigrants — Growth of
the Idea of Aristocracy — Theocracy — Democratic Opposition
— The two Repuljlics of Massachusetts and of Calvin . . 142


Rhode Island.

Providence founded by Roger Williams — First Covenant and
Fundamental Articles of 1640 — Colonization of Aquidneck
(Rhode Island) — Democracy — The Charter of the Providence
Plantations— Organization of a Democratic Government —
Valuable Help rL-ndered l)y Roger Williams — The Second
Charter of 1663 — The Cradle of American Democracy . -155



Modern Democracy the Result of the Reformation.

When Mary Stuart, Queen of France and of Scot-
land, returned to the kingdom of her forefathers,
after the sudden death of Francis the Second, John
Knox was the most popular man in the country.
She summoned the disciple of Calvin to Holyrood,
and during their first interview asked him this ques-
tion : " Think you that subjects, having power, may
resist their princes ? " " If princes do exceed their
bounds," quoth he, " Madam, and do against that
wherefore they should be obeyed, then I do not
doubt but they may be resisted, even by power," ^

* John Knox, Hist, of the Reformation of the Church of
Scotland, book iv., ii. 14. Edinburgh, 1816.


That modern democracy is the result of the Re-
formation is now-a-days occasionally called in ques-
tion. Luther, the friend and adviser of German
princes, Calvin, the founder of the aristocratic
government of Geneva during the sixteenth and
seventeenth centuries, are quoted in proof of this.
But we are too prone to forget that the man is not
the doctrine, that the influence of the latter extends
to a far wider circle than can ever be reached by the
former, that, above all, the doctrine lives after the
man has passed away.

Modern democracy is the child of the Reformation ,
lot of the reformers. This looks like a paradox, but
'on consideration it will be found that this distinction
alone supplies an explanation of the facts of the case.
It is owing to the neglect of it that criticism has
been so often in the wrong, and that so many contra-
dictory opinions have been successively maintained
about the spirit of the revolution of the sixteenth

Two principles, two levers were used to break the
authority of the Holy See ; free enquiry, and the


priesthood of all believers. To make the religious
revolution lawful, it was necessary to proclaim these
two principles, which contained in them the germs of
the political revolution.

This does not mean that the reformers foresaw this,
or that they thought in any way of shaking the
authority of the civil power such as they believed
it to be. On the contrary, everywhere they sought
its support. They affirmed its Divine Right. All
crowns were sacred to them except the tiara. To
free themselves from the yoke of Rome, and to re-
store the Christian Church of the first centuries, they
appealed to the word of God, contained in the Bible.
But their appeal had results far wider than they ex-
pected. The authority of Rome meant monarchical
authority. If the Divine Right of the pontiff might
be disputed, why not that of kings .-' The primitive
Church was democratic in its organization ; to return
to it meant to break with received ideas, to make the
community the visible centre of the Church, and the
people the principal factor of social life. Such a path
leads a long way. The men who entered on it in


the sixteenth century either did not see where it must
lead them, or they beHeved themselves capable of
stopping short before they should have reached the

When the reformers were called upon to put their
theories into practice, when they had to build up after
having thrown down, each one of them had his own
season of distinctly conservative re-action, in which
he seemed to deny by his deeds what he had taught
in his writings. Free enquiry had given birth to the
doctrines of the Anabaptists. Luther invoked the
sword of the princes against the Anabaptists ; at
Zurich, where the Council was inspired by Zwinglius,
they were drowned ; Calvin had Servetus burned, and
Melancthon, " the gentle Melancthon," wrote to con-
gratulate him on the act.

The leaders of the Reformation meant by free en-
quiry the right of every one to open the Bible and
read there what they themselves had read in it. They
meant nothing more by free enquiry ; but it was free
enquiry none the less, and all their authority could
not prevent the doctrine from bearing its true fruit,


from setting free the conscience and creating the in-

Universal priesthood carries with it the equality^
of all within the Church, the sovereign power of the
community in the matter of eccles iastical govern-
ment. The faithful are to choose their ministers.
This is formally declared by Calvin in his Institution
Chretienne. Here the jurist inspired the theologian,
and the logician guided his pen. But when the
political question arose in Geneva in connection
with the religious question, the man took the upper
hand, and his work became aristocratic. When'
he organized his Church, the author of the Institu-
tion Chretienne made the authority of the com-
munity of the faithful illusory, by the forms which
he imposed upon its exercise. The congregation
was to elect its pastors, but only those who were
presented to it by the Venerable Company of eccle-
siastics in charge. It had only to confirm a choice
already made. But the principle which had been
laid down remained, and it had its proper conse-
quences. In the other reformed Churches, the election


of ministers was a reality, the power of the con-
gregation was not only a right but also a fact.

This theory, more than any other, contributed to
bring back to life in the modern world, that of the
sovereignty of the people.

The idea to which ancient democracy had given
birth never entirely disappeared during the Middle
Ages. Under the influence of Aristotle it is to be
found here and there, amongst learned men of the
most opposite parties ; in Thomas Aquinas, the leader
of thought among the Guelphs, as well as in Marsilio
of Padua, one of the most illustrious writers of the
Ghibellines. After the discovery of the Pandects, it
may be met with among the juris-consults. "That
which is decided by the prince," says Ulpian, " has
the force of law, because the people delegates
its authority to him by the lex regia which raises
him to the empire." ^ But most of the Roman

' Quod principi placuit, legis habet vigorem ; utpote quum
lege regia cjuje de imperio ejus lata est populus ei ct in cum

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Online LibraryCharles BorgeaudThe rise of modern democracy in old and New England → online text (page 1 of 9)