Idea of a Perfect Commonwealth

An old engine may be rejected if we discover another engine that is more accurate and commodious, or we can try a new one safely even if the success is doubtful.

The European mathematicians have been much divided on the shape of the ship best for sailing.

One form of government is more perfect than another, independent of the manners of particular people.

The subject is surely the most worthy curiosity of any the wit of man can possibly devise.

I just want to revive this subject of speculation.

All plans of government, which suppose great reformation in the manners of mankind, are plainly imaginary.

The chief defects of the Oceana are:

  1. First, Its rotation is inconvenient, by throwing men, of whatever abilities, by intervals, out of public employments.
  2. Secondly, Its agriculture is impracticable.
    • Men will soon learn the art, which was practised in ancient Rome, of hiding their possessions under other people’s name.
    • In the end, the abuse will become so common that they will throw off even the appearance of restraint.
  3. Thirdly, The Oceana does not provide enough security for liberty, or the redress of grievances.
    • The senate must propose, and the people consent.
      • Through this, the senate has a negative on the people which goes before the votes of the people.
        • This is of much greater consequence.
      • The King would be an absolute monarch if his negative could prevent any bill from coming into parliament.
        • Currently, his negative follows the votes of the houses and is of little consequence.
    • Such is the difference in the manner of placing the same thing.
      • A popular bill is debated in parliament.
        • All its conveniencies and inconveniencies are weighed and balanced.
        • Few princes will reject it as it is the unanimous desire of the people.
      • In the Scottish parliament, the King could crush disagreeable bills through the lords of the articles.
        • The British government would have no balance, nor would grievances ever be redressed.
    • And it is certain, that exorbitant power proceeds not, in any government, from new laws, so much as from neglecting to remedy the abuses, which frequently rise from the old ones.
    • A government, says Machiavel, must often be brought back to its original principles.
    • It appears then, that, in the Oceana, the whole legislature may be said to rest in the senate; which Harrington would own to be an inconvenient form of government, especially after the Agrarian is abolished.


Here is the ideal form of government:

This will lead to:

Every new law must first be debated in the senate [by the executive, like a veto].

The magistrates, though the law be referred to them, may:

The senate:

The Council Members

The power of the old senate continues for three weeks after the annual election of the county representatives.

Each council has:

All these must be senators.

The Councils

The protector and two secretaries have session and suffrage in the council of state.

None of these councils can give orders themselves, except where they receive such powers from the senate.

The Court of Competitors

Besides these councils or courts, there is another called the court of competitors

The Senate

The senate possesses all the judicative authority of the house of Lords -- all the appeals from the inferior courts.

The Representatives

The representatives have all the authority of the British justices of peace in trials, commitments, etc.

The magistrates name rectors or ministers to all the parishes.

The Militia

The militia is established in imitation of that of Switzerland.

Justice System

All crimes are tried within the county by the magistrates and a jury.

The capital may be allowed 4 members in the senate.

When they enact any by-law, the greater number of counties or divisions determines the matter.

The first year in every century is set apart for correcting all inequalities, which time may have produced in the representative.

Therefore, in their parochial meetings, will probably choose the best representative:

The nobles in Poland are more than 10,000.

All free governments must consist of 2 councils, a lesser senate and greater people

Cardinal de Retz says, that all numerous assemblies are:

This is confirmed by daily experience.

There are two things to be guarded against in every senate:

In a senate regularly chosen by the people, almost any man may be fit for any civil office.

In foreign politics the interest of the senate cannot be separated from that of the people

The chief support of the British government is the opposition of interests;

It is necessary, likewise, to prevent both combination and division in the thousand magistrates.

The 10,000 are too large a body either to unite or divide, except when they:

A small commonwealth is the happiest government in the world within itself, because every thing lies under the eye of the rulers:

Every county-law may be annulled either by the senate or another county because that shows an opposition of interest: In which case no part should decide for itself.

In many governments, the rewards of inferior magistrates arise only from their ambition, vanity, or public spirit.

This plan of government is practicable as it is seen in and proven by the commonwealth of the United Provinces

In my plan, the counties are not so independent of each other

Larger powers, though of the safest kind, are intrusted to the senate than the States-General possess;

The chief changes that could be made on the British government are:

  1. The plan of Cromwell’s parliament should be restored, by:
    • making the representation equal, and
    • allowing none to vote in the county elections who does not have a property of £200 value.
  2. Such a house of Commons would be too weighty for a frail house of Lords, like the present
    • Therefore, the Bishops and Scotch Peers should be removed.
      • The number of the upper house should be raised to 300-400.
      • Their seats not hereditary, but during life
      • They should have the election of their own members
      • no commoner should be allowed to refuse a seat that was offered him.
      • By this means the house of Lords would consist entirely of the men of chief credit, abilities, and interest in the nation
      • Every turbulent leader in the house of Commons might be taken off, and connected by interest with the house of Peers.

Such an aristocracy would be an excellent barrier both to the monarchy and against it.

This plan of limited monarchy is still liable to three great inconveniencies.

  1. It removes not entirely, though it may soften, the parties of court and country
  2. The king’s personal character must still have great influence on the government.
  3. The sword is in the hands of one man.
    • He will always neglect to discipline the militia, in order to have a pretence for keeping up a standing army.

There is a fallacy:

The contrary seems probable.

On the other hand, a city readily concurs in the same notions of government

Democracies are turbulent

Aristocracies are better adapted for peace and order

Should such a government be immortal?