attract our attention in modern history, turned their passion for wealth to labour, industry, and commerce. Though they sometimes fought for the advantages of an exclusive commerce, yet their wars had less tendency to enrich them with the spoils of their enemies, than to remove competitors and rivals, and to enjoy a monopoly, of which the ignorance of the times magnified the benefits, and kept the vices and inconveniencies out of sight.

It was only in labour, manufactures, and commerce, that the Hanseatic towns and the cities of Spain, France, and Germany, when they escaped from feudal depredations, sought for means to enrich themselves the object of their league was merely a system of defence contrived for the interest of the confederates, and inoffensive in every other respect. History accuses them neither of violence nor of usurpation.

Though the Portuguese and Spaniards, who first sailed beyond the Cape of Good Hope, and found a new world, shewed themselves on the outset as conquerors in the countries which they discovered ; though they carried thither the spirit of rapine and conquest which was still predominant in Europe, and stripped the vanquished of their manufactured and agricultural produce; the impossibility of turning this produce to advantage, without exchanging it for other commodities, subjected them to the law of competition, which, as it excludes every idea nf force and violence, is intimately allied to notions of justice and equality, and connects all men by the need in which they stand of each other.

This barter, exchange, or commerce, which was become the basis of the connection of the European nations with each other, exercised also a favourable influence over their relations with the nations of Hindostan and America. In vain do force and violence still attempt to keep them in subjection, and to maintain an odious, monopoly in those two portions of the globe. Modern nations have no solid and durable means to enrich themselves, but by labour, by the developement and improvement of their faculties, by the economy and rapid circulation of their

produce, and by its wise application, distribution, and consumption. From Kamtschatka to the Pillars of Hercules, from the Elbe to the Ionian Sca, labour is the power

which distributes wealth, and whose favours all nations implore ; and it is particularly worthy of remark, that this wealth, far from occasioning the destruction or decline of opulent nations, has proved the firmest support of their prosperity, power, and grandeur. Whenever particular causes have dried up or diminished the source and abundance of this wealth, nations have declined in consideration, grandeur, and power, in the ratio of their impoverishment. Venice, Genoa, Florence, the Hanseatic Towns, and even Holland, lost their preponderance, or political influence, only when their commerce, the principal source of their riches, declined, and, taking a different road, went to enrich nations possessed of a more extensive territory and a larger population.

Thus the nations of antiquity, as well as those of the middle age and modern times, have all been ruled by the passion for riches : they only differ in th means employed to satisfy that passion. This difference satisfactorily explains the various effects which wealth has had upon these different nations, and throws a brilliant light upon its true nature.

The ancients and the people of the middle age knew and practised but one way to grow rich, and to increase and keep their riches: they placed their hope and confidence in the right of the strongest, to which they made their institutions, their laws, their manmers, and their customs, subservient. Their only object was to render their population numerous, brave, skilled in arms, and always ready to sacrifice themselves for the purpose of subduing other nations and seizing their wealth,

But, by a singular fatality, it happened that, in proportion as these nations improved in military science, as their arms were successful and their wealth augmented by victories, their domination lost its stability, they became less able to defend themselves, their grandeur shortly declined, and they were soon subdued,

Both moralists and publicists have observed this phenomenon, and have thence inferred that wealth caused the fall of the great empires of antiquity: and it must be confessed, that their opinion appears indeed an immediate consequence of the most certain and best authenticated facts.

But have they not gone too far, when they magnified this consequence into a principle, and pronounced the wealth and safety of nations, and the opulence and preservation of empires, to be absolutely incompatible?

Had they inquired without prejudice into the causes which rendered riches fatal to the Persians, to the Greeks, to the Carthaginians, to the Romans, and to the nations of the middle age, they would have perceived that these causes did not arise from a vice particularly inherent in wealth, but from the system of violence by which these nations acquired their riches; from the nature of their military government, which concentrated wealth in the least numerous class, and, as it enslaved or impoverished the other chisses, rendered wealth equally fatal to the rich and to the poor, to individuals and to the state.

Among the Persians, the Greeks, and the Romans, the people were divided into two classes. (ve, composed of slaves, formed three-fourths, two-thirds, or at least half of the population. The other, Cori posed of freemen, formed the state, the nation, the result.

Although all the individuals of this cias: had an equal right to the benefits of the social compact, they yet did not share these benefits in equal portions.

Independently of the inequality of individual faculties which in every community opposes the equal distribution of wealth, an essentially military government favoured this inequality, and aggravated its press sure and misery.

At the origin of empires, the vices of this concentration were not felt, because the military force consisted of all the citizens, and all had more or less share in the booty and riches conquered upon the enemy. The desire of wealth was at that period the surest pledge of victory, and the most powerful cause of the elevation and grandeur of the state. But when the whole body of the citizens was no longer wanted

[ocr errors]

either for defence or for attack, when one part of the forces of the state sufficed for its views and projects, the military government became concentrated, and wealth, following the laws of this concentration, passed almost exclusively into the hands of those who were invested with power.

In vain did the classes, deprived of their share in the general riches, murmur and revolt at the voice of a tribune, a demagogue, an ephorus, or a popular orator; their cries were stifled or appeased, but the wrongs of which they complained were not repaired, and wealth always followed the bias of concentration. Matters went so far, that the greatest number of freemen had no means of subsistence, but what they derived from the generosity of their patrons, the liberality of candidates, and the distributions made by the public exchequer.

Such a distribution of wealth must inevitably prove fatal. It gave every thing to a small number of individuals, and denied every thing to the general mass of citizens. It created at once extreme poverty and extreme wealth ; it placed want on one side, and on the other the arbitrary power of prolonging or ending its misery. It inevitably occasioned every disorder attendant on general depravity, perverted institutions, laws, and manners, corrupted the morals of the people, and subverted justice and humanity.

Slaves, over whom their masters generally had the right of life and death, were and must necessarily have been the passive instruments of their caprices and vices.

The freemen who were poor, and dependent for

« ForrigeFortsett »