Open main menu

Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 18.djvu/644

This page has been validated.

questions of general importance. The members of every society, however, have a right to be present at all its councils, and to give their voices on the questions mooted, although the patriarchs alone take a part in their public discussion. . . . The federal patriarchs, in like manner, consult with the heads of tribes, and assemble when necessary the entire population of the federal group."

In New Zealand the government was conducted in accordance with public opinion expressed in general assemblies; and the chiefs "could not declare peace or war, or do anything affecting the whole people, without the sanction of the majority of the clan." Of the Tahitians, Ellis tells us that the king had a few chiefs as advisers, but that no affair of national importance could be undertaken without consulting the land-holders or second rank, and also that public assemblies were held. Similarly of the Malagasy: "The greatest national council in Madagascar is an assembly of the people of the capital, and the heads of the provinces, towns, villages, etc." The king usually presides in person.

Though in these last cases we see considerable changes in the relative powers of the three components, so that the inner few have gained in authority at the expense of the outer many, yet all three are still present; and they continue to be present when we pass to sundry historic peoples. Even of the Phœnicians, Movers notes that "in the time of Alexander a war was decided upon by the Tyrians without the consent of the absent king, the senate acting together with the popular assembly." Then there is the familiar case of the Homeric Greeks, whose Agora, presided over by the king, was "an assembly for talk, communication and discussion to a certain extent by the chiefs, in presence of the people as listeners and sympathizers," who were seated around; and. that the people were not always passive is shown by the story of Thersites, who, ill-used though he was by Odysseus and derided by the crowd for interfering, had first made his harangue. Again, the king, the senate, and the freemen, in primitive Rome, stood in relations which had manifestly grown out of those existing in the original assembly; for, though the three did not simultaneously cooperate, yet on important occasions the king communicated his proposals to the assembled burgesses, who expressed their approval or disapproval, and the clan-chiefs, forming the senate, though they did not debate in public, had yet such joint power that they could, on occasion, negative the decision of king and burgesses. Concerning the primitive Germans, Tacitus, as translated by Mr. Freeman, writes: "On smaller matters the chiefs debate, on greater matters all men; but so that those things whose final decision rests with the whole people are first handled by the chiefs. . . . The multitude sits armed in such order as it thinks good; silence is proclaimed by the priests, who have also the right of enforcing it. Presently the king or chief, according to the age of each, according to his birth,