Things of this World are in so constant a Flux, that nothing remains long 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, filled 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 the 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 Sheep-coat; or more inhabitants than a Shepherd is to be found, sends 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 set of the Society, antecedent 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 Power to act as long as the Government stands; this inconvenience is thought incapable of a remedy.
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 publick, 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 an 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 publick good, in such Cases, which depending upon unforeseen and uncertain Occurrences, certain and unalterable Laws could not safely direct, whatsoever shall be done manifestly for the good of the People, and the 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 those places 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 Priviledge, which before had it. ‘Tis not a change from the present State, which perhaps Corruption, or decay has introduced, that makes an Inroad upon 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 subjection 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 act of the Society, whoever permitted, or caused them so to do.
Source: John Locke, Second Treatise on Government, 1689. Spelling has been modernized in this selection by Steve Farrell and The Moral Liberal.
Daily Dabble in the Classics is a project of Steve Farrell and the Moral Liberal. The copyright of all quotes and works selected are in the Public Domain (unless otherwise noted). As edited, uniquely formatted, and or with commentary or introductory notes added: Copyright © 2012 Steve Farrell and The Moral Liberal.