D. S. (David Samuel) Margoliouth.

The Popular science monthly (Volume 19) online

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Spartan constitution descended, the assembled chiefs had to gain the
assent of their surrounding followers before important actions could
be undertaken.

Concluding, then, that war originates political deliberation, and
that the select body which especially carries on this deliberation first
takes shape on occasions when the public safety has to be provided


for, WQ shall be prei)are(l the better to understand the traits which
characterize the consultative body in later stages of its development.

Already we have seen that at the outset the militant class was of
necessity the land-owning class. In the savage tribe there are no
owners of the tract occupied, save the warriors who use it in common
for hunting. During pastoral life, good regions for cattle-feeding are
jointly held against intruders by force of arras. And, where the agri-
cultural stage has been reached, communal possession, family posses-
sion, and individual possession, have from time to time to be defended
by the sword. Hence, as was shown, the fact that in early stages the
bearing of arms and the holding of land habitually go together.

While, as among hunting-peoples, land continues to be held in com-
mon, the contrasts which arise between the few and the many are
such only as result from actual or supposed personal superiority of
one kmd or other. It is true that, as pointed out, differences of wealth,
in the shape of chattels, boats, slaves, etc., cause some class-differentia-
tions ; and that thus, even before private land-owning begins, quantity
of possessions aids in distinguishing the governing from the governed.
When the pastoral state is arrived at and the patriarchal type estab-
lished, such ownership as there is vests in the eldest son of the eldest ;
or if, as Sir Henry Maine says, he is to be considered trustee- for the
group, still his trusteeship joins with his military headship in giving
him supremacy. At a later stage, when lands come to be occupied by
settled families and communities, and land-ownership gains definite-
ncss, this union of traits in each head of a group becomes more marked ;
and, as was shown when treating of the diffei-entiation of nobles from
freemen, several influences conspire to give the eldest son of the eldest
superiority in extent of landed possessions, as well as in degree of
]iower. Nor is this fundamental relation changed when a nobility of
service replaces a nobility of birth, and when, as presently happens,
the adherents of a conquering invader are rewarded by portions of the
subjugated territory, granted on condition of continued military ser-
vice. Throughout, the tendency continues to be for the class of mili-
tary superiors to be identical with the class of large land-owners.

It follows, then, that, beginning with the general assemblage of
armed freemen, all of them holding land individually or in groups,
Avhose council of leaders, deliberating in presence of the rest, are dis-
tinguished only as being the most capable warriors, there will, through
frequent wars and progressing consolidations, be produced a state in
which this council of leaders becomes further distinguished from the
rest by the larger possessions, and consequent greater powers, of its
members. Becoming more and more contrasted with the general
mass of armed freemen, the consultative body will tend gradually
to subordinate it, and, eventu.illv scnnr.itiii",'- itself, will become inde-


The growth of this temporary council of war, in which the king,
acting as general, summons to give their advice the leaders of his
forces, into the permanent consultative body in which the king, in his
capacity of ruler, presides over the deliberations of the same men on
public affairs at large, is exemplified in various parts of the world.
The consultative body is everywhere composed, of minor chiefs, or
heads of clans, or feudal lords, in whom the military and civil rule of
local groups is habitually joined with wide possessions ; and the exam-
ples frequently exhibit this composition on both a small and a large
scale — both locally and generally. A rude and early form of the
arrangement is shown in Africa. Among the Caffres " every chief
chooses from among his most wealthy subjects five or six, Avho act as
counselors to him. . . . The great council of the king is composed of
the chiefs of particular kraals." A Bechuana tribe " generally includes
a number of towns or villages, each having its distinct head, under
whom there are a number of subordinate chiefs," w^ho " all acknowl-
edge the supremacy of the principal one. His power, though very
great and in some instances despotic, is, nevertheless, controlled by
the minor chiefs, who, in their jnchos or pitshos^ their parliament or
public meetings, use the greatest plainness of speech in exposing what
they consider culpable or lax in his government." Of the Wanyam-
wezi. Burton says that the Sultan is " surrounded by a council, varying
from two to a score of chiefs and elders. . . . His authority is circum-
scribed by a rude balance of power ; the chiefs around him can prob-
ably bring as many warriors into the field as he can." Similarly in
Ashantee. " The caboceers and captains . . . claim to be heard on
all questions relating to -war and foreign politics. Such matters are
considered in a general assembly, and the king sometimes finds it pru-
dent to yield to the views and urgent representations of the majority."
From the ancient American states, too, instances may be cited. In
Mexico " general assemblies were presided over by the king every
eighty days. They came to these meetings from all parts of the coun-
try " ; and then we read further that the highest rank of nobility, the
Teuctli, " took precedence of all others in the senate, both in the order
of sitting and voting," showing what was the composition of the sen-
ate. It was so, too, with the Central Americans of Vera Paz : " Though
the supreme rule was exercised by a king, there were inferior lords as
his coadjutors, who mostly were titled lords and vassals ; they formed
the royal council, . . . and joined the king in his palace as often as
they were called upon." Turning to Europe, mention may first be
made of ancient Poland. Originally formed of independent tribes,
"each governed by its own hniaz, or judge, whom age or reputed wis-
dom had raised to that dignity," and each led in w^ar by a temporary
voivod or captain, these tribes had, in the course of that compounding
and recorapounding which wars produced, differentiated into classes
of nobles and serfs, over whom was an elected king. Of the organi-


zation which existed before the king lost his power, we are told

Though each of these palatines, bishops, and barons, could thus advise his
sovereign, the formation of a regular senate was slow, and completed only when
experience had proved its utility. At first, the only subjects on which the mon-
arch deliberated with his barons related to war ; what he originally granted
througli courtesy, or through diflBdence in himself, or with a view to lessen his
responsibility in case of ftiilure, thexj eventually claimed as a right.

So, too, during internal wars and wars against Rome, the primitive
Germanic tribes, once semi-nomadic and but slightly organized, pass-
ing through the stage in which armed chiefs and freemen periodically
assembled for deliberations on war and other matters, evolved a kin-
dred structure. In Charlemagne's time, at the great assembly of the
year —

The dukes, counts, bishops, scabini, and centenaries — all who were cuiuR-c-ied
with the government or the administration — were officially present ; the great
and small proprietors, the barons and gentry, were so in virtue of their fiefs, the
freemen in virtue of their character as warriors, though undoubtedly there were
few freemen obhged to bear arms not provided with some portion of landed

And then at a later period, as Hallam writes —

In all the German principalities a form of limited monarchy prevailed, reflect-
ing, on a reduced scale, the general constitution of the empire. As the emper-
ors shared their legislative sovereignty with the Diet, so all the princes who
belonged to that assembly had their own provincial states, composed of their
feudal vassals and of their mediate towns within their territory —

the mass of the rural population having thus ceased to possess power.
Similarly during the later feudal period in France. An " ordinance of
1*228, respecting the heretics of Languedoc, is rendered with the advice
of our great men and prudhommes " ; and one " of 1246, concerning
levies and redemptions in Anjou and Maine," says that, " having called
around us, at Orleans, the barons and great men of the said counties,
and having held attentive counsel with them," etc.

To meet the probable criticism that no notice has been taken of
the ecclesiastics usually included in the consultative body, it is needful
to point out that due recognition of them does not involve any essen-
tial change in the account above given. Though modern usages lead
us to think of the priest-class as distinct from the warrior-class, yet it
was not originally distinct. With the truth that, habitually in militant
societies, the king is at once commander-in-chief and high-priest, car-
rying out in both capacities the dictates of his deity, we may join the
truth that the subordinate priest is usually a direct or indirect aider
of the wars thus supposed to be divinely prompted. In illustration of
the one truth may be cited the fact that, before going to war, Radama,
King of Madagascar, " acting as priest as well as general, sacrificed a


cock and a heifer, and offered a prayer at the tomb of Andria-Masina,
his most renowned ancestor." And in ilhistration of the other truth
may be cited the fact that, among the Hebrews, whose priests accom-
panied the army to battle, we read of Samuel, a priest from childhood
upward, as conveying to Saul God's command to " smite Amalek," and
as having himself hewed Agag in pieces. More or less active partici-
pation in war by priests we everywhere find in savage and semi-civil-
ized societies ; as among the Dakotas, Mundrucus, Abipones, Khonds,
whose priests decide on the time for war, or give the signal for attack ;
as among the Tahitians, whose priests " bore arms, and marched with
the warriors to battle " ; as among the Mexicans, whose priests, the
habitual instigators of wars, accompanied their idols in front of the
army, and " sacrificed the first-taken prisoners " at once ; as among
the ancient Egyptians, of whom we read that " the priest of a go.d was
often a military or naval commander," And the naturalness of the
connection, thus common in rude and in ancient societies, is shown by
its revival in later societies, notwithstanding an adverse creed. After
Christianity had passed out of its early extra-political stage into the
stage in which it became a state religion, its priests, during actively
militant periods, reacquired the primitive militant character. " By the
middle of the eighth century [in France], regular military service on
the part of the clergy was already fully developed." In the early
feudal period, bishops, abbots, and priors, became feudal lords, with
all the powers and responsibilities attaching to their positions : they
had bodies of troops in their pay, took towns and fortresses, sustained
sieges, led or sent troops in aid of kings. And Orderic, in 1094, de-
scribes the priests as leading their parishioners to battle, and the abbots
their vassals. Though in recent times Church dignitaries do not
actively participate in war, yet their advisatory function respecting it
— often prompting rather than restraining — has not even now ceased,
as among ourselves was lately shown in the vote of the bishops, who,
with one exception, approved the invasion of Afghanistan.

That the consultative body habitually includes ecclesiastics, does
not, therefore, conflict with the statement that, beginning as a war-
council, it grows into a permanent assembly of minor military heads.

Under a different form there is here partially repeated what was
set forth when treating of oligarchies : the difference arising from in-
clusion of the king as a cooperative factor. Moreover, much that was
before said respecting the influence of war in narrowing oligarchies
applies to that narrowing of the primitive consultative assembly by
which there is produced from it a body of land-owning military nobles.
But that consolidation of small societies into large ones effected by
war brings other influences which join in working this result.

In early assemblies of men similarly armed it must happen that
though the inferior many will recognize that authority of the superior


few which is due to their leaderships as warriors, to their clan-head-
(ships, or to their supposed supernatural descent, yet the superior few,
(ouscious that they are no match for the inferior many in a physical
contest, will be obliged to treat their opinions with some deference —
will not be able completely to monopolize power. But as fast as there
jnogresses that class-diflferentiation before described, and as fast as
the superior few acquire better weapons than the inferior many, or, as
among various ancient peoples, have war-chariots, or, as in medieval
Europe, wear coats of mail or plate-armor and are mounted on horses,
they, feeling their advantage, will pay less respect to the opinions of
tlie many. And the habit of ignoring their opinions will be followed
by the habit of regarding any expression of their opinions as an imper-

This gradual usurpation will be furthered by the growth of those
bodies of armed dependents with which the superior few surround
themselves — mercenaries and others, who, while unconnected with the
common freemen, are bound by fealty to their employers. These,
too, with better weapons and defensive api)liances than the mass, will
be led to regard them with contempt, and to aid in subordinating

xsot only on the occasions of general assemblies, but from day to
(lay in their respective localities, the increasing power of the chiefs
thus caused will tend to reduce the freemen more and more to the
rank of dependents, and especially so where the military service of
such nobles to their king is dispensed with or allowed to lapse, as hap-
pened in Denmark about the thirteenth century :

The free peasantry, who were originally independent proprietors of the
soil, and had an equal suffrage with the highest nohles in the land, were thus
compelled to seek the protection of these powerful lords, and to come under
vassalage to some neighborhig Herremand or bishop or convent. The provin-
cial diets, or Lands-Ting, were gradually superseded by the general national
Parliament of the Dannehof, Adel-Ting, or Herredag ; the latter being exclu-
sively composed of the princes, prelates, and other great men of the kingdom.
... As the influence of the peasantry had declined, while the burghers did not
yet enjoy any share of political power, the constitution, although disjointed and
fluctuating, was rapidly approaching the form it ultimately assumed— that of a
feudal and sacerdotal oligarchy.

A further influence conducing to loss of power by the armed free-
men and gain of power by the armed chiefs, who form the consultative
body, follows that widening of the occupied area which goes along
with the compounding and recompounding of societies. As Richter
remarks of the Merovingian period : " Under Chlodovech and his im-
mediate successors, the people assembled in arms had a real participa-
tion in the resolutions of the king. But, with the increasing size of
the kingdom, the meeting of the entire people became impossible."
Only those who lived near the appointed places could attend. Two


facts, one already given under another head, may be named as illus-
trating this effect : " The greatest national council in Madagascar is an
assembly of the people of the capital and the heads of the provinces,
districts, towns, villages," etc. ; and, speaking of the English AVite-
nagemot, Mr, Freeman says, " Sometimes we find direct mention of
the presence of large and popular classes of men, as the citizens of
London or Winchester " : the implication in both cases being that all
freemen had a right to attend, but that only those on the spot could
readily avail themselves of the right. This cause for restriction,
which is commented upon by 3Ir. Freeman, operates in several ways.
The actual cost of a journey to the place fixed for the meeting, when
a kingdom has become large, is too great to be borne by a man who
owns but a few acres. Further, there is the indirect cost entailed by
loss of time, which, to one who personally labors or superintends labor,
is serious. Again, there is the danger, which in turbulent times is
considerable, save to those who go with bodies of well-armed retainers.
And obviously these deterrent causes must tell where, for the above
reasons, the incentives to attend have become small.

*Yet another cause cooperates. "When the occupied area is large,
and therefore the number inhabiting it great, an assembly of all the
armed freemen, could they be gathered, would be disabled from taking
part in the proceedings, both by its size and by its lack of organiza-
tion. A multitude made of those who have come from scattered
points over a wide country, mostly unknown to one another, unable to
hold previous communication, and therefore without plans, as well as
without leaders, can not cope with the relatively small but well-organ-
ized body of those having common ideas and acting in concert.

Xor should there be omitted the fact that when the causes above
named have conspired to decrease the attendance of men in arms who
live far off, and when there grows up the usage of summoning the
more important among them, it naturally happens that in course of
time the receipt of a summons becomes the authority for attendance,
and the absence of a summons becomes equivalent to the absence of a
right to attend.

Here, then, are several influences, all directly or indirectly conse-
quent upon war, which join in differentiating the consultative body
from the mass of armed freemen out of which it arises.

Given the ruler, and given the consultative body thus arising, there
remains to ask, What are the causes of change in their relative powers ?
Always between these two authorities there must be a struggle — each
trying to subordinate the other. Under what conditions, then, is the
king enabled to override the consultative body ; and under what con-
ditions is the consultative body enabled to override the king ?

Inevitably a belief in the superhuman nature of the king gives him
an immense advantage in the contest for supremacy. If he is god-


descended, open opposition to his will by his advisers is out of the
question ; and members of his council, singly or in combination, dare
do no more than tender humble advice. Moreover, if the line of suc-
cession is so settled that there rarely or never occur occasions on
which the king has to be elected by the chief men, so that they have
no opportunity of choosing one who will conform to their wishes, they
are further debarred from maintaining any authority. Hence, habitu-
ally, we do not find consultative bodies having an independent status
in the despotically governed countries of the East, ancient or modern.
Though we read of the Egyptian king that " he appears to have been
attended in war by the council of the thirty, composed apparently of
privy councilors, scribes, and high officers of state," the implication is
that the members of this council were functionaries, having such
powers only as the king deputed to them. Similarly in Babylonia and
Assyria, attendants and others who performed the duties of ministers
and advisers to the god-descended rulers did not form established as-
semblies for deliberative purposes. In ancient Persia, too, there was
a like condition. The hereditary king, almost sacred and bearing ex-
travagant titles, though subject to some check from princes and nob4es
of royal blood who were leaders of the army, and who tendered advice,
was not under the restraint of a constituted body of them. Through-
out the history of Japan down to our own time a kindred state of
things existed. The Daimios were required to be present at the capi-
tal during prescribed intervals, as a precaution against insubordina-
tion ; but they were never, while there, called together to take any
share in the government. And hereditary divine kingship, having
this as its concomitant in Japan, has it likewise in China. We read
that, "although there is nominally no deliberative or advisatory body
in the Chinese Government, and nothing really analogous to a con-
gress, parliament, or tlers-etat, still necessity compels the Emperor to
consult and advise with some of his officers." Nor does Europe fail
to yield us evidence of like meaning. I do not refer only to the case
of Russia, but more especially to the case of France during the time
when monarchy had assumed its most absolute form. In the age
when divines like Bossuet taught that "the King is accountable to no
one, . . . the whole state is in him, and the will of the whole people
is contained in his" — in the age when the King (Louis XIY), "im-
bued with the idea of his omnipotence and divine mission," " was
regarded by his subjects with adoration " — he " had extinguished and
absorbed even the minutest trace, idea, and recollection of all other
authority except that which emanated from himself alone." Along
with establishment of hereditary succession and acquirement of divine
prestige, such power of the other estates as existed in early days had

Conversely, there are cases showing that where the kitig has never
had, or does not preserve, the prestige of supposed descent from a


god, and where lie continues to be elective, the power of the consul-
tative body is apt to override the royal power, and eventually to sup-
press it. The first to be named is that of Rome. Originally " the
king convoked the senate when he pleased, and laid before it his ques-
tions ; no senator might declare his opinion unasked ; still less might
the senate meet without being summoned." But here, where the king,
though regarded as having divine approval, was not held to be of di-
vine descent, and where, though usually nominated by a predecessor,
he was sometimes practically elected by the senate and always sub-
mitted to the form of popular approval, the consultative body pres-
ently became supreme. " The senate had in course of time been con-
verted, from a corporation intended merely to advise the magistrates,
into a board commanding the magistrates, and self-governing." Af-
terward "the right of nominating and canceling senators, originally
belonging to the magistrates, was withdrawn from them " ; and, final-
ly, " the irremovable character and life-tenure of the members of the
ruling order, who obtained seat and vote, was definitely consolidat-
ed " : the oligarchic constitution became pronounced. The history of
Poland yields another example. After unions of simply-governed
tribes had produced small states and generated a nobility, and after
these small states had been united, there arose a kingship. At first
elective, as kingships habitually are, this continued so — never became
hereditary. On the occasion of each election out of the royal clan,
there was an opportunity of choosing for king one whose character the
turbulent nobles thought fittest for their own purposes ; and hence it
resulted that the power of the kingship decayed. Eventually —

Of the three orders into which the state was divided, the Icing, thongli his
authority had been anciently despotic, was the least important. His dignity was
unaccompanied with power; he was merely the president of the senate, and the
chief judge of the republic.

And then there is the instance furnished by Scandinavia, already
named in another relation. Danish, Norwegian, and Swedish kings
were originally elective ; and, though, on sundry occasions, hereditary
succession became for a time the usage, there were repeated lapses into
the elective form, with the result that predominance was gained by
the feudal chieftains and prelates forming the consultative body.

Online LibraryD. S. (David Samuel) MargoliouthThe Popular science monthly (Volume 19) → online text (page 43 of 110)