The Principles of Natural and Politic Law (1748)
Jean Jacques Burlamaqui
Of the different ways of losing sovereignty.
I. LET us now inquire how sovereignty may be lost; and in this there is no great difficulty, after the principles we have established on the ways of acquiring it.
II. Sovereignty may be lost by abdication, that is, when the reigning prince renounces the sovereignty, so far as it regards himself. Of this the history even of latter ages furnishes us with remarkable examples.
III. As sovereignty derives its original from a covenant between the king and his subjects; if, for plausible reasons, the king thinks proper to renounce the supreme dignity, the people have not properly a right to constrain him to keep it.
IV. But such an abdication must not be made at an unseasonable juncture; as for instance when the kingdom is likely to sink into a minority, especially if it be threatened with a war; or when the prince, by his bad conduct, has thrown the state into a dangerous convulsion, in which he cannot abandon it without betraying his trust, and ruining his country.
V. But we may safely say, that a prince very rarely finds himself in such circumstances, as should engage him to renounce the crown. However his affairs may be situated, he may ease himself of the drudgery of government, and still retain the superior command. A king ought to die upon the throne; and it is a weakness unworthy of him, to divest himself of his authority. Besides, experience has shown, that abdication is too frequently attended with unhappy catastrophes.
VI. It is therefore certain, that a prince may, for himself, renounce the crown, or the right of succession. But there is great doubt whether he can do it for his children.
VII. To judge rightly of this point, which has embarrassed so many politicians, we must establish the following principles.
1. Every acquisition of right or power over another, and consequently of sovereignty, supposes the consent of him, over whom this right is to be acquired, and the acceptance of him, who is to acquire it. Till this acceptance is settled, the intention of the former does not produce, in favor of the latter, an absolute and irrevocable right. It is only a simple designation, which he is at liberty to accept or not.
VIII. 2. Let us apply these principles. The princes of the blood royal, who have accepted the will of the people, by which the crown has been conferred on them, have certainly thereby acquired an absolute and irrevocable right, of which they cannot be stripped without their consent.
IX. 3. With regard to those, who are not yet born, as they have not accepted the designation of the people, they have not as yet acquired any right. Hence it follows, that in relation to them, this designation is only an imperfect act, a kind of expectancy, the completion of which entirely depends on the will of the people.
X. 4. But it may be said, the ancestors of those, who are not yet born, have consented and stipulated for them, and consequently received the engagement of the people in their behalf. But this is rather an argument in favor of renunciation, which it effectually establishes; for as the right of those, who are not yet born, has no other foundation, than the concurrence of the will of the people and of their ancestors, it is evident that this right may be taken from them, without injustice, by those very persons, from the single will of whom they hold it.
XI. 5. The single will of a prince, without the consent of the nation, cannot effectually exclude his children from the crown, to which the people have called them. In like manner the single will of the people, without the consent of the prince, cannot deprive his children of an expectancy, which their father has stipulated with the people for in their favor. But, if these two wills unite, they may without doubt alter what they have established.
XII. 6. It is true, this renunciation ought not to be made without a cause, and through inconstancy and levity. Under these circumstances it cannot be justified, and the good of the state does not permit, that, without necessity, an alteration should be made in the order of the succession.
XIII. 7. If, on the other hand, the nation be so situated, that the renunciation of a prince, or a princess, is absolutely necessary to its tranquillity and happiness, then the supreme law of the public good, which has established the order of the succession, requires it should be set aside.
XIV. 8. Let us add, that it is for the general good of nations, that such renunciations be valid, the parties interested should not attempt to disannul them. For there are times and conjunctures, in which they are necessary for the welfare of the state; and if those, with whom we are treating, should come to think, that the renunciation would afterwards be set aside, they certainly would have nothing to do with us. Now this must be productive of bloody and cruel wars. Grotius decides this question nearly in the same manner. The reader may see what he says of it.1
XV. 9. Since war or conquest is a method of acquiring sovereignty, as we have seen in the preceding chapter, it is evidently also a mean of losing it.
XVI. With regard to tyranny and the deposing of sovereigns, both which are also ways of losing the supreme power, as these two articles bear some relation to the duties of subjects towards their sovereigns, we shall treat of them in the next chapter more particularly, after we have considered those duties.
1. Book ii, chap. vii. § 26. and book ii. chap. iv. § 10.