Of the duty of sovereigns.

I. THERE is a sort of commerce, or reciprocal return of the duties of the subjects to the sovereign, and of his to them. Having treated of the former, it remains that we take a view of the latter.

II. From what has been hitherto explained concerning the nature of sovereignty, its end, extent, and boundaries, the duty of sovereigns may easily be gathered. But since this is an affair of the last importance, it is necessary to say something more particular on it, and to collect the principal heads of it as it were into one view.

III. The higher a sovereign is raised above the level of other men, the more important are his duties; if he can do a great deal of good, he can also do a great deal of mischief. It is on the good or evil conduct of princes, that the happiness or misery of a whole nation or people depends. How happy is the situation, which, on all instances, furnishes occasions of doing good to so many thousands! but at the same time how dangerous is the post, which exposes every moment to the injuring of millions; besides the good, which princes do, sometimes extends to the most remote ages; as the evils they commit are multiplied to latest posterity. This sufficiently discovers the importance of their duties.

IV. In order to have a proper knowledge of the duty of sovereigns, we need only attentively consider the nature and end of civil societies, and the exercise of the different parts of sovereignty.

V. 1. The first general duty of princes is carefully to inform themselves of every thing, that falls under the complete discharge of their trust; for a person cannot well acquit himself in that, which he has not first rightly learnt.

VI. It is a great mistake to imagine, that the knowledge of government is an easy affair; on the contrary nothing is more difficult, if princes would discharge their duty. Whatever talents or genius they may have received from nature, this is an employment, that requires the whole man. The general rules of governing well are few in number; but the difficulty is to make a just application of them to rimes and circumstances; and this demands the greatest efforts of diligence and human prudence.

VII. 2. When a prince is once convinced of the obligation he is under to inform himself exactly of all, that is necessary for the discharge of his trust, and of the difficulty of getting this information, he will begin with removing every obstacle, which may oppose it. At first it is absolutely necessary, that princes should retrench their pleasures and useless diversions, so far as these may be a hindrance to the knowledge and practice of their duty. Then they ought to endeavour to have wise, prudent, and experienced persons about them; and on the contrary to remove flatterers, buffoons, and others, whose whole merit consists in things, that are frivolous and unworthy the attention of a sovereign. Princes ought not to choose for favorites those, who are most proper to divert them, but such as are most capable of governing the state.

VIII. Above all things, they cannot guard too much against flattery. No human condition has so great an occasion for true and faithful advice, as that of kings. And yet princes, corrupted by flattery, take every thing, that is free and ingenuous, to be harsh and austere. They are become so delicate, that every thing, which is not an adulation, offends them. But nothing ought they to be so greatly afraid of, as this very adulation, since there are no miseries, into which they may not be hurried by its poisonous insinuation. On the contrary, the prince is happy, even if he has but a single subject, who is so generous as to speak the truth to him; such a man is the treasure of the state. Prudent sovereigns, who have their true interests at heart, ought continually to imagine, that court sycophants only regard themselves, and not their master; whereas a sincere counsellor, as it were, forgets himself, and thinks only on the advantage of his master.

IX. 3. Princes ought to use all possible application to understand the constitution of the state, and the natural temper of their subjects. They ought not in this respect to be contented with a general and superficial knowledge. They should enter into particulars, and carefully examine into the constitution of the state, into its establishment and power, whether it be old or of late date, successive or elective, acquired by legal methods or by arms; they should also see how far this jurisdiction reaches, what neighbours are about them, what allies, and what strength, and what conveniences the state is provided with. For according to these considerations the scepter must be swayed, and the rider must take care to keep a stiffer or stacker rein.

X. 4. Sovereigns ought also to endeavour to excel in such virtues, as are most necessary to support the weight of so important a charge, and to regulate their outward behaviour in a manner worthy of their rank and dignity.

XI. We have already shown, that virtue in general consists in that strength of mind, which enables us not only to consult right reason on all occasions, but also to follow her counsels with ease, and effectually to resist every thing capable of giving us a contrary bias. This single idea of virtue is sufficient to show how necessary it is to all men. But none have more duties to fulfil, none are more exposed to temptation, than sovereigns; and none of course have a greater necessity for the assistance of virtue. Besides, virtue in princes has this advantage, that it is the surest method of inspiring their subjects with the like principles. For this purpose they need only show the way. The example of the prince has a greater force than the law. It is as it were a living law, of more efficacy than precept. But to descend to particulars.

XII. The virtues most necessary to sovereigns are, 1. Piety, which is certainly the foundation of all other virtues; but it must be a solid and rational piety, free from superstition and bigotry. In the high situation of sovereigns, the only motive, which can most surely induce them to the discharge of their duty, is the fear of God. Without that they will soon run into every vice, which their passions dictate; and the people will become the innocent victims of their pride, ambition, avarice, and cruelty. On the contrary, we may expect every thing, that is good, from a prince, who fears and respects God, as a supreme Being, on whom he depends, and to whom he must one day give an account of his administration. Nothing can be so powerful a motive as this to engage princes to perform their duty, nothing can so well cure them of that dangerous mistake, that, being above other men, they may act as absolute lords, as if they were not to render an account of their conduct, and be judged in their turn, after having passed sentence on others.

XIII. 2. The love of Equity and Justice. The principal end a prince was made for is to take care, that every one should have his right. This ought to engage him to study not only the science of those great civilians, who ascend to the first principles of law, which regulate human society, and are the basis as it were of government and politics; but also that part of the law, which descends to the affairs of particular persons. This branch is generally left for the gentlemen of the long robe, and not admitted into the education of princes, though they are every day to pass judgment upon the fortunes, liberties, lives, honor, and reputation of their subjects. Princes are continually talked to of valour and liberality; but if justice do not regulate these two qualities, they degenerate into the most odious vices. Without justice valour does nothing but destroy; and liberality is only a foolish profuseness. Justice keeps all in order, and contains within bounds him, who distributes it, as well as those, to whom it is distributed.

XIV. 3. Valour. But it must be set in motion by justice, and conducted by prudence. A prince should expose his person to the greatest perils, as often as it is necessary. He dishonors himself more by being afraid of danger in time of war, than by never taking the field. The courage of him, who commands others, ought not to be dubious; but neither ought he to run headlong into danger. Valour can no longer be a virtue, than it is guided by prudence; without this it is a stupid contempt of life, and a brutal ardor. Inconsiderate valour is always insecure. He, who is not master of himself in dangers, is rather fierce than brave; if he does not fly, he is at least confounded He loses that presence of mind, which would be necessary for him to give proper orders, to take advantage of opportunities, and to rout the enemy. The true way of finding glory is calmly to wait for the favorable occasion. Virtue is the more revered, as she shows herself plain, modest, and averse to pride and ostentation. In proportion as the necessity of exposing yourself to danger augments, your foresight and courage ought also to increase.

XV. 4. Another virtue, very necessary in princes, is to be extremely reserved in discovering their thoughts and designs. This is evidently necessary to those, who are concerned in government. It includes a wise diffidence, and an innocent dissimulation.

XVI. 5. A prince must, above all things, accustom himself to moderate his desires. For as he has the power of gratifying them, if he once gives way to them, he will run to the greatest excess, and, by destroying his subjects, will at last complete his own ruin. In order to form himself to this moderation, nothing is more proper, than to accustom himself to patience.

This is the most necessary of all virtues for those, who are to command. A man must be patient to become master of himself and others. Impatience, which seems to be a vigorous exertion of the soul, is only a weakness and inability of suffering pain. He, who cannot wait and suffer, is like a person, who cannot keep a secret. Both want resolution to contain themselves. The more power an impatient roan has, the more fatal his impatience will be to him. He will not wait; he gives himself no time to judge; he forces every thing to please himself; he tears off the boughs, to gather the fruit, before it is ripe; he breaks down the gates, rather than stay till they are opened to him.

XVII. 6. Goodness and Clemency are also virtues very necessary to a prince. His office is to do good, and it is for this end the supreme power is lodged in bis hands. It is also principally by this, that he ought to distinguish himself.

XVIII. 7. Liberality, well understood and well applied, is so much the more essential to a prince, as avarice is a disgrace to a person, whom it costs almost nothing to be liberal. To take it exactly, a king, as a king, has nothing properly his own; for be owes his very self to others. But, on the other hand, no person ought to be more careful in regulating the exercise of this noble virtue. It requires great circumspection, and supposes, in the prince, a just discernment and a good taste to know how to bestow and dispense favors on proper persons. He ought, above all things, to use this virtue for rewarding merit and virtue.

XIX. But liberality has its bounds, even in the most opulent princes. The state may be compared to a family. The want of foresight, profusion of treasure, and the voluptuous inclination of princes, who are masters of it, do more mischief, than the most skilful ministers can repair.

XX. To reimburse his treasures, squandered away without necessity, and often in criminal excesses, be must have recourse to expedients, which are fatal to the subjects and the state. He loses the hearts of the people, and causes murmurs and discontents, which are ever dangerous, and of which an enemy may take advantage. These are inconveniences, that even common sense might point out, if the strong propensity to pleasure, and the intoxication of power, did not often extinguish the light of reason in princes. To what cruelty and injustice did not the extravagant profusions of Nero carry him? A prudent economy, on the contrary, supplies the deficiencies, of the revenue, maintains families and states, and preserves them in a nourishing condition. By economy princes not only have money in time of need, but also possess the hearts of their subjects, who freely open their purses upon any unforeseen emergency, when they see that the prince has been sparing in his expenses; the contrary happens when he has squandered away his treasures.

XXI. This is a general idea of the virtues most necessary to a sovereign, besides those, which are common to him with private people, and of which some are included even in those, we have been mentioning. Cicero follows almost the same ideas in the enumeration he makes of the royal virtues.[1]

XXII. It is by the assistance of these virtues, of which we here have given an idea, that sovereigns are enabled to apply themselves with success to the functions of government, and to fulfil the different duties of it. Let us say something more particular on the actual exercise of those duties.

XXIII. There is a general rule, which includes all the duties of a sovereign, and by which he may easily judge how to proceed under every circumstance. Let the safety of the people be the supreme law. This ought to be the chief end of all his actions. The supreme authority has been conferred upon him with this view; and the fulfilling of it is the foundation of his right and power. The prince is properly the servant of the public. He ought as it were to forget himself, in order to think only on the advantage and good of those, whom he governs. He ought not to look upon any thing as useful to himself, which is not so to the state. This was the idea of the heathen philosophers. They defined a good prince one, who endeavours to render his subjects happy; and a tyrant, on the contrary, one, who aims only at his own private advantage.

XXIV. The very interest of the sovereign demands, that he should direct all his actions to the public good. By such a conduct he wins the hearts of his subjects, and lays the foundation of solid happiness and true glory.

XXV. Where the government is most despotic, there sovereigns are least powerful. They ruin every thing, and are the sole possessors of the whole country; but then the state languishes, because it is exhausted of men and money; and this first loss is the greatest and most irreparable. His subjects seem to adore him, and to tremble at his very looks. But see what will be the consequence upon the least revolution; then we find, that this monstrous power, pushed to excess, Cannot long endure, because it has no resource in the hearts of the people. On the first blow, the idol tumbles down, and is trampled under foot. The king, who, in his prosperity, found not a man, who durst tell him the truth, shall not find one in his adversity, that will vouchsafe either to excuse, or defend him against his enemies. It is therefore equally essential to the happiness of the people and of sovereigns, that the latter should follow no other rule in the manner of governing, than that of the public welfare.

XXVI. It is not difficult, from this general rule, to deduce those of a more particular nature. The functions of the government relate either to the domestic interests of the state, or to its foreign concerns.

XXVII. As for the domestic interests of the state, the first care of the sovereign ought to be, 1. to form his subjects to good manners. For this purpose the duty of supreme rulers is, not only to prescribe good laws, by which every one may know how he ought to behave, in order to promote the public good; but especially to establish the most perfect manner of public instruction, and of the education of youth. This is the only method of making the subjects conform to the laws both by reason and custom, rather than through fear of punishment.

XXVIII. The first care of a prince therefore ought to be to erect public schools for the education of children, and for training them betimes to wisdom and virtue. Children are the hope and strength of a nation. It is too late to correct them when they are spoiled. It is infinitely better to prevent the evil, than to be obliged to punish it. The king, who is the father of all his people, is more particularly the father of all the youth, who are as it were the flower of the whole nation. And as it is in the flower, that fruits are prepared, so it is one of the principal duties of the sovereign to take care of the education of youth, and the instruction of his subjects, to plant the principles of virtue early in their minds, and to maintain and confirm them in that happy disposition. It is not laws and ordinances, but good morals, that properly regulate the state.

Quid leges sine moribus
Vanæ proficiunt?

Hor. lib. iii. Od. 24. v. 35, 36.

And what are laws unless obey'd
By the same moral virtues they were made?


Those, who have had a bad education, make no scruple to violate the best political institutions; whereas they, who have been properly trained up, cheerfully conform to all good institutions. In fine, nothing is more conducive to so good an end in states, than to inspire the people in the earlier part of life with the principles of the Christian religion, purged from all human invention. For this religion includes the most perfect scheme of morality, the maxims of which are extremely well adapted for promoting the happiness of society.

XXIX. 2. The sovereign ought to establish good laws for the settling of such affairs, as the subjects have most frequent occasion to transact with each other. These laws ought to be just, equitable, clear, without ambiguity and contradiction, useful, accommodated to the condition and the genius of the people, at least so far, as the good of the state will permit, that, by their means, differences may be easily determined. But they are not to be multiplied without necessity.

XXX. I said, that laws ought to be accommodated to the condition and genius of the people; and for this reason I have before observed, that the sovereign ought to be thoroughly instructed in this article; otherwise one of these two inconveniences must happen, either that the laws are not observed, and then it becomes necessary to punish an infinite number of people, while the state reaps no advantage from it; or that the authority of the laws is despised, and then the state is OH the brink of destruction.

XXXI. I mentioned also, that law ought not to be multiplied. without necessity; for this would only tend to lay snares for the subject, and expose him to inevitable punishments, without any advantage to the society. In fine it is of great importance to regulate what relates to the administration and ordinary forms of justice, so that every subject may have it in his power to recover his right, without losing much time, or being at a great expense.

XXXII. 3. It would be of no use to make good laws, if people were suffered to violate them with impunity. Sovereigns ought therefore to see them properly executed, and to punish the delinquents without exception of persons, according to the quality and degree of the offence. It is even sometimes proper to punish severely at first. There are circumstances, In which it is clemency to make such early examples, as shall stop the course of iniquity. But what is chiefly necessary, and what justice and the public good absolutely require, is, that the severity of the laws be exercised not only upon the subjects of moderate fortune and condition, but also upon the wealthy and powerful. It would be unjust, that reputation, nobility, and riches, should authorise any one to insult those, who are destitute of these advantages. The populace are often reduced by oppression to despair, and their fury at last throws the state into convulsions.

XXXIII. 4. Since men first joined in civil societies to screen themselves from the injuries and malice of others, and to procure all the sweets and pleasures, which can render life commodious and happy; the sovereign is obliged to hinder the subjects from wronging each other, to maintain order and peace in the community by a strict execution of the laws, to the end, that his subjects may obtain the advantages, which mankind can reasonably propose to themselves by joining in society. When the subjects are not kept within rule, their perpetual intercourse easily furnishes them with opportunities of injuring one another. But nothing is more contrary to the nature and end of civil government, than to permit subjects to do themselves justice, and, by their own private force, to revenge the injuries they think they have suffered, We shall here add a beautiful passage from Mr. de la Bruiere upon this subject.[2] What would it avail me, or any of my fellow subjects, that my sovereign was successful and crowned with glory, that my country was powerful and the terror of neighbouring nations, if I were forced to lead a melancholy and miserable life under the burthen of oppression and indigence? If, while I was secured from the incursions of a foreign enemy, I found myself exposed at home to the sword of an assassin, and was less In danger of being robbed or massacred in the darkest nights, and in a thick forest, than in the public streets? If safety, cleanliness, and good order, had not rendered living in towns so pleasant, and had not only furnished them with the necessaries, but moreover with all the sweets and conveniences of life? If being weak and defenceless, I were encroached upon in the country, by every neighbouring great man? If so good a provision had not been made to protect me against his injustice? If I had not at hand so many, and such excellent masters, to educate my children in those arts and sciences, which will one day make their fortune? If the conveniency of commerce had not made good, substantial stuffs for my cloathing, and wholesome food for my nourishment, both plentiful and cheap? If, to conclude, the care of my sovereign had not given me reason to be as well contented with my fortune, as his princely virtues must needs make him with his?

XXXIV. 5. Since a prince can neither see nor do every thing himself, he must have the assistance of ministers. But, as these derive their whole authority from their master, all the good or evil they do is finally imputed to him. It is therefore the duty of sovereigns to choose persons of integrity and ability for the employments, with which they entrust them. They ought often to examine their conduct, and to punish or recompense them, according to their merits. In fine, they ought never to refuse to lend a patient ear to the humble remonstrances and complaints of their subjects, when they are oppressed and trampled on by ministers and subordinate magistrates.

XXXV. 6. With regard to subsidies and taxes, since the subjects are not obliged to pay them, but as they are necessary to defray the expenses of the state, in war or peace; the sovereign ought to exact no more, than the public necessities, or the signal advantage of the state, shall require. He ought also to see, that the subjects be incommoded as little as possible by the taxes laid upon them. There should be a just proportion in the tax of every individual, and there must be no exception or immunity, which may turn to the disadvantage of others. The money collected ought to be laid out in the necessities of the state, and not wasted in luxury, debauchery, foolish largesses, or vain magnificence. Lastly the expenses ought to be proportioned to the revenue.

XXXVI. 7. It is the duty of a sovereign to draw no further supplies from his subjects, than he really stands in need of. The wealth of the subjects forms the strength of the state, and the advantage of families and individuals, A prince therefore ought to neglect nothing, that can contribute to the preservation and increase of the riches of his people. For this purpose he should see, that they draw all the profit they can from their lands and waters, and keep themselves always employed in some industrious exercise or other. He ought to further and promote the mechanic arts, and give all possible encouragement to commerce. It is likewise his duty to bring his subjects to a frugal method of living by good sumptuary laws, which may forbid superfluous expenses, and especially those, by which the wealth of the natives is translated to foreigners.

XXXVII. 8. Lastly, it is equally the interest and duty of a supreme governor to guard against factions and cabals, whence seditions and civil wars easily arise. But above all he ought to take care, that none of his subjects place a greater dependance, even under the pretext of religion, or any other power, either within or without the realm, than on his lawful sovereign. This in general is the law of the public good in regard to the domestic interests, or internal tranquillity of the state.

XXXVIII. As to foreign concerns, the principal duties of the king are,

1. To live in peace with his neighbours, as much as he possibly can.

2. To conduct himself with prudence in regard to the alliances and treaties, he makes with other powers.

3. To adhere faithfully to the treaties he has made.

4. Not to suffer the courage of his subjects to be enervated, but, on the contrary, to maintain and augment it by good discipline.

5. In due and seasonable time to make the preparations necessary to put himself in a posture of defence.

6. Not to undertake any unjust or rash war.

7. Lastly, even in times of peace to be very attentive to the designs and motions of his neighbours.

XXXIX. We shall say no more of the duties of sovereigns. It is sufficient at present to have pointed out the general principles, and collected the chief heads. What we have to say hereafter, concerning the different parts of sovereignty, will give the reader a more distinct idea of the particular duties attending it.


1. Fortem, justum, severum, gravem, magnanimum, largum, beneficum, liberalem dici, hæ sunt regiæ laudes. Orat. pro rege Dejotaro, cap. 9.

2. Characters and manners of the present age, chap. x. of the sovereign.

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