[EM] Salus populi suprema lex -- John Locke

Narins, Josh josh.narins at lehman.com
Tue Mar 19 08:19:21 PST 2002

Dickens wrote a lot about this in the Pickwick Papers.

I read that there were districts were one person voted for the MP.

Another district, containing "two gentleman and some cows" sent two MPs to

In the US, in the 1910s, things were very lopsided, also. Some districts
have 4 times as many people as others.

-----Original Message-----
From: DEMOREP1 at aol.com [mailto:DEMOREP1 at aol.com]
Sent: Tuesday, March 19, 2002 12:28 AM
Subject: [EM] Salus populi suprema lex -- John Locke

D- Locke in the below is referring to the old depopulated *rotten boroughs* 
dating from the early Middle Ages (having very few voters controlled by a 
very few landlords -- many in the House of Lords) used to elect many members

of the English House of Commons.   

It was not until the 1833 U.K. Great Reform Act that the rotten boroughs
wiped out -- setting the stage for the Victorian Era in the U.K. (i.e. a 
repeal of a whole lot of special interest acts of Parliament from the Middle

Ages, modernization of the common law, etc.)

Thus, putting up with Anti-Democracy legislative bodies is nothing new.
The Second Treatise of Government by John Locke (1690)  -- Excerpt

157. Things of this world are in so constant a flux that nothing remains
in the same state. Thus people, riches, trade, power, change their stations;

flourishing mighty cities come to ruin, and prove in time neglected desolate

corners, whilst other unfrequented places grow into populous countries
with wealth and inhabitants. But things not always changing equally, and 
private interest often keeping up customs and privileges when the reasons of

them are ceased, it often comes to pass that in governments where part of
legislative consists of representatives chosen by the people, that in tract 
of time this representation becomes very unequal and disproportionate to the

reasons it was at first established upon. To what gross absurdities the 
following of custom when reason has left it may lead, we may be satisfied 
when we see the bare name of a town, of which there remains not so much as 
the ruins, where scarce so much housing as a sheepcote, or more inhabitants 
than a shepherd is to be found, send as many representatives to the grand 
assembly of law-makers as a whole county numerous in people and powerful in 
riches. This strangers stand amazed at, and every one must confess needs a 
remedy; though most think it hard to find one, because the constitution of 
the legislative being the original and supreme act of the society,
to all positive laws in it, and depending wholly on the people, no inferior 
power can alter it. And, therefore, the people when the legislative is once 
constituted, having in such a government as we have been speaking of no
to act as long as the government stands, this inconvenience is thought 
incapable of a remedy.

158. Salus populi suprema lex is certainly so just and fundamental a rule, 
that he who sincerely follows it cannot dangerously err. If, therefore, the 
executive who has the power of convoking the legislative, observing rather 
the true proportion than fashion of representation, regulates not by old 
custom, but true reason, the number of members in all places, that have a 
right to be distinctly represented, which no part of the people, however 
incorporated, can pretend to, but in proportion to the assistance which it 
affords to the public, it cannot be judged to have set up a new legislative,

but to have restored the old and true one, and to have rectified the 
disorders which succession of time had insensibly as well as inevitably 
introduced; for it being the interest as well as intention of the people to 
have a fair and equal representative, whoever brings it nearest to that is
undoubted friend to and establisher of the government, and cannot miss the 
consent and approbation of the community; prerogative being nothing but a 
power in the hands of the prince to provide for the public good in such
which, depending upon unforeseen and uncertain occurrences, certain and 
unalterable laws could not safely direct. Whatsoever shall be done
for the good of the people, and establishing the government upon its true 
foundations is, and always will be, just prerogative. The power of erecting 
new corporations, and therewith new representatives, carries with it a 
supposition that in time the measures of representation might vary, and
have a just right to be represented which before had none; and by the same 
reason, those cease to have a right, and be too inconsiderable for such a 
privilege, which before had it. It is not a change from the present state 
which, perhaps, corruption or decay has introduced, that makes an inroad
the government, but the tendency of it to injure or oppress the people, and 
to set up one part or party with a distinction from and an unequal
of the rest. Whatsoever cannot but be acknowledged to be of advantage to the

society and people in general, upon just and lasting measures, will always, 
when done, justify itself; and whenever the people shall choose their 
representatives upon just and undeniably equal measures, suitable to the 
original frame of the government, it cannot be doubted to be the will and
of the society, whoever permitted or proposed to them so to do.

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