Page images

imagining, that it would be in their power, at any time, to make themselves masters of this inconsiderable republic. But when that people had fully established their new kingdom, and were free from the expense of other wars, they then found Venice so much increased in strength, that, however much they might have wished to comprehend it within their dominions, it appeared no longer consistent with sound policy to make the attempt. They therefore chose rather to confirm that ancient alliance by fresh treaties.

When Charlemagne overturned the kingdom of the Lombards, and, after having sent their king Didier prisoner to France, was crowned emperor at Rome, by Leo III, the Venetian state cultivated the favour of that conqueror with so much address, that instead of attempting any thing against their independence, he confirmed the treaty they had made with the Lombards; by which, among other things, the limits, or boundaries, between the two states, were ascertained.

In the wars with the eastern empire, and in those of later date between France and the house of Austria, Venice always endeavoured to avoid the resentment of either of the contending parties; secretly, however, assisting that which was at the greatest distance from her own dominions, and, of consequence, the least formidable to her. Those great powers, on their parts, were so eager to humble, or destroy, each other, that the rising vigour of Venice was permitted to grow, for ages, almost unobserved. Like the fame of Marcellus, it might have been said of that republic,

Crescit occulto velut arbor ævo.

And when, at length, she began to excite the jealousy of the great states of Europe, she had acquired strength and revenues sufficient to resist not only one, but great combinations of those powers leagued for her destruction.

This republic, in its various periods of increase, of meridian splendour, and of declension, has already existed for a longer time than any other of which his history makes

mention. The Venetians themselves assert, that this dur ation is owing to the excellent materials of which their government has been composed, by which they imagine it has long since been brought to the highest degree of perfection.

As I have bestowed some time since we came hither in considering the Venetian history and government, I shall, in my next, take a general view of those boasted materials, that we may able to judge whether or not this high eulogium is well founded.



THE first form of government established at Venice, was purely democratical. Magistrates were chosen by a general assembly of the people: they were called tribunes; and as this small community inhabited several little islands, a tribune was appointed to judge causes, and distribute justice on each of those islands. His power was continued one year; at the expiration of which, he was accountable for his conduct to the general assembly of the people, who annually elected a new set of tribunes.

This simple form of government, while it marks a strict regard to that freedom so delightful to the mind of man, was found sufficient, for the space of a hundred and fifty years, to maintain order in a small community, situated as this was. At length the bad administration of some of the tribunes, discord and animosity among others, and some suspicions that the Lombards promoted civil dissension, with a view to bring the republic under their dominion, awakened the fears of the people, and made them listen to the opinions of those who thought a change in the form of government necessary.

After various debates and proposals, it was finally determined, that a chief magistrate should be elected, as the centre of public authority, whose power might give such vigour and efficacy to the laws, as was absolutely neces

sary in times of danger, and whose duty should be, to direct the force of the resources of the state with promptitude; uncramped by that opposition, and consequent dilatoriness, which had been too apparent under the tribunes. This magistrate was not to be named king, but duke, which has since been corrupted to doge; the office was not to be hereditary, but elective; and the doge was to enjoy it for life. It was agreed that he should have the nomination of all the inferior magistrates, and the power of making peace, and declaring war, without consulting any but such of the citizens as he should think proper.

When the election took place, all the suffrages fell upon Paul Luc Anafeste, who entered into this new office in the year 697.

The Venetians must certainly have felt great inconveniences from their former government, or have been under great dread from domestic or foreign enemies, before they could submit to such a fundamental change in the nature of their constitution. It is evident, that, on this occasion, they seem to have lost that jealous attention to liberty which they formerly possessed; for while they withheld from their chief magistrate the name, they left him all the power, of a king. There is no period when real and enlightened patriots ought to watch with more vigilance over the rights of the people, than in times of danger from foreign enemies; for the public in general are then so much engrossed by the dangers from without, that they overlook the encroachments which are more apt, at those times than any other, to be made on their constitution from within: and it is of small importance that men defend their country from foreign foes, unless they retain such a share of internal freedom, as renders a country worth the defending.

It is highly probable, that the great degree of popularity which their first doge had acquired before he arrived. at that dignity, and the great confidence the people had in his public and private virtues, rendered them unwilling to limit the power of a person who, they were convinced,

would make a good use of it. If the man had been immortal, and incorruptible, they would have been in the right; however, it must be confessed, that this doge justified their good opinion more than favourites of the people generally do.

In the councils which he called on any matter of importance, he sent messages to those citizens, for whose judgment he had the greatest esteem, praying, that they would come, and assist him with their advice. This method was observed afterwards by succeeding doges, and the citizens so sent for were called Pregadi. The doge's council are still called Pregadi, though they have long sat independent of his invitation.

The first, and second doge, governed with moderation and ability; but the third gave the Venetians reason to repent that they had not confined the powers of their chief magistrate within narrower limits. After having served the state by his military talents, he endeavoured to enslave it ; his projects were discovered; but as the improvident people, in the last arrangement of their constitution, had preserved no legal remedy for such an evil, they were obliged to use the only means now in their power. They assaulted the doge in his palace, and put him to death without farther ceremony.

The people had conceived so much hatred for him, that, after his death, they resolved to abolish the office. In the general assembly it was agreed, that the chief magistrate, for the future, should be elected every year; that he should have the same power as formerly, while he remained in office; but, as this was to be for a short time, they imagined he would behave with equity and moderation; and as they had an equal dislike to doge and tribune, he was called Master of the Militia.

The form of government, introduced by this revolution, was but of short duration. Factions arose, and became too violent for the transient authority of the masters of the militia to restrain. The office expired five years af ter its institution; and, by one of those strange and unac◄

[merged small][ocr errors]

countable changes of sentiment, to which the multitude are so subject, the authority of the doge was restored in the person of the son of their last doge, whom, in a fit of furious discontent, they had assassinated. This restoration happened about the year 730.

For a long time after this, the Venetian annals display many dreadful scenes of cruelty, revolt, and assassination; doges abusing their power, endeavouring to establish a permanent and hereditary despotism, by having their eldest sons associated in the office with themselves, and then oppressing the people with double violence. The people, on the other hand, after bearing, with the most abject patience, the capricious cruelty of their tyrants, rising at once, and murdering them, or driving them with ignominy, out of their dominions. Unable to bear either limited or absolute government, the impatient and capricious multitude wish for things which have always been found incompatible: the secrecy, promptitude, and efficacy, of a despotic government, with all the freedom and mildness of a legal and limited constitution.

It is remarkable, that when the doge was, even in a small degree, popular, he seldom found any difficulty in getting his son elected his associate in the sovereign authority; and when that was not the case, there are many instances of the son being chosen directly on the death of his father.

Yet, about the middle of the tenth century, the son of the doge, Peter Candiano, took arms, and rebelled against his father. Being soon after defeated, and brought in chains to Venice, he was condemned to banishment, and declared incapable of being ever elected doge. It appears, however, that this worthless person was a great favourite of the people; for no sooner was his father dead, than he was chosen to succeed him, and conducted, in great pomp, from Ravenna, the place of his exile, to Venice.

The Venetians were severely punished for this instance of levity. Their new doge shewed himself as tyrannical in the character of a sovereign, as he had been undutiful

« ՆախորդըՇարունակել »