Whether lack of use can take away the authority of the people

But perhaps someone will reply, 'you speak to us here of peers, of lords and officers of the crown. But to me these are nothing but shadows of the past, and as substantial as actors on a stage. I don't see any "authority of the people," and what's worse, most of the royal officers think of nothing but themselves, serving as sycophants to those kings who bat poor people around like tennis balls. Hardly any will extend either compassion or a helping hand to those in misery who are fleeced and scorched to the very bones by their insolent and insupportable oppression. And if any so much as desire to do so, they are immediately condemned as rebels and seditious, and are forced either to flee, or else, if they remain, put both of life and liberty at risk.' What is the answer to this? It is this: The outrageousness of kings, the ignorance of the people, together with the wicked complicity of the great ones of the kingdom, has been for the most part such throughout the world, that the licentious and unbridled power wherewith most kings are transported and which has made them insupportable, has in a manner, by the length of continuance, gained right of prescription, and the people, for want of using it, have quit or lost their just and ancient authority. So that it ordinarily happens that what all men's care ought to attend on, is for the most part neglected by every man; for what is committed to the generality, no man thinks is commended to his custody in particular. Notwithstanding, no such prescription nor prevarication can justly act against the right of the people. It is commonly said that the exchequers admit no rule of prescription against it, much less against the whole body of the people, whose power transcends the king's, and in whose right the king assumes to himself that privilege; for otherwise, wherefore is the prince only administrator, and the people true proprietor of the public exchequer, as we will prove here presently after.

Furthermore, it is not a thing resolved on by all, that no tyrannous intrusion or usurpation, and continuation in the same course, can by any length of time prescribe against lawful liberty. If it be objected that kings were enthroned and received their authority from the people who lived five hundred years ago, and not by those now living, I answer that the commonwealth never dies, whereas kings are taken out of this life one after another. For as the continual running of the water gives the river a perpetual being, so the alternative revolution of birth and death renders the people (quoad hunc mundum) immortal.

And further, just as we have at today the same Seine and Tiber rivers as 1,000 years ago, in like manner is there also the same people of Germany, France, and Italy (excepting intermixing of colonies, or such like). Neither can the progress of time, nor changing of individuals alter in any way the right of those people. Furthermore, they say the king receives his kingdom from his father, and not from the people, and he from his grandfather, and so one from another upward.

I ask, could the grandfather or ancestor transfer a greater right to his successor than he had himself? If he could not (as without doubt it must need be so) is it not clear that what the successor further arrogates to himself is equivalent to highway robbery? On the contrary, the people retain their right of eviction (of the king) intact. Although the officers of the crown have for a time lost or left their ranks, this cannot in any true right go against the people, but rather the opposite: As one would not grant audience or show favor to a slave who had long held his master prisoner, and did not only vaunt himself to be free, but also presumptuously assumed power over the life and death of his master, neither would any man allow the excuses of a thief, because he had continued in that trade thirty years, or that he had been bred for that way of life by his father, if he presumed that his long continuance in that function counts as lawfulness. Rather, the longer he had continued in his wickedness, the more grievous should be his punishment. In like manner, the prince is altogether unsupportable, who, because he succeeds a tyrant, or has kept the people (by whose suffrages he holds the crown) in long slavery, or has suppressed the officers of the kingdom (who should be protectors of the public liberty), that he therefore presumes that what he affects is lawful for him to effect, and that his will is not to be restrained or corrected by any positive law whatsoever. For long continuation in tyranny detracts nothing from the right of the people. Actually, it rather much aggravates the ruler's outrages. But what if the peers and principal officers of the kingdom make themselves parts with the king? What if betraying the public bring down the yoke of tyranny upon the people's neck? Does it follow that by this prevarication and treason the authority is assumed by the king? Does this detract anything from the right of the people's liberty, or does it add any licentious power to the king? Let the people thank themselves, say you, who relied on the disloyal loyalty of such men.

But I answer, that these officers are indeed those protectors whose principal care and study should be that the people are maintained in the free and absolute fruition of their goods and liberty. And therefore, in the same manner as if a treacherous advocate for a sum of money should agree to betray the cause of his client into the hands of his adversary, which he ought to have defended, does not have power for all that to alter the course of justice, nor of a bad cause to make a good one, although perhaps for a time he can make it look like one.

In like manner this conspiracy of the great ones combined to ruin the inferiors cannot nullify the right of the people. In the mean season, those great ones incur the punishment that they themselves allot against prevaricators, and for the people, the same law allows them to choose another advocate and afresh to pursue their cause, as if it were then only to begin.

For if the people of Rome condemned the captains and generals of their armies because they negotiated with their enemies to their disadvantage (although they were drawn to it by necessity, being on the verge of being overthrown) and would not be bound to perform the soldiers' negotiated decisions, much less shall a free people be tied up to bear the yoke of slavery, which is cast on them by those who should and might have prevented it; but being neither forced nor compelled, did, for their own particular gain, willingly betray those who had committed their liberty to their custody.

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