Cyclopædia of Political Science, Political Economy, and the Political History of the United States

Edited by: Lalor, John J.
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New York: Maynard, Merrill, and Co.
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Includes articles by Frédéric Bastiat, Gustave de Molinari, Henry George, J. B. Say, Francis A. Walker, and more.
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Abdication - Duty




ABDICATION, the renunciation of sovereign, monarchical or imperial power. It would seem natural that a prince, weary of the burdens and even of the pleasures of government, should have the right to lay down his crown and end his days in the repose of private life. It seems just as natural that he should have the right to leave the throne, of his own free will, when military reverses, the disaffection of his people, or other causes, render his abdication useful or necessary to the general well-being of the state. History gives us an account of many abdications, some of which are still fresh in the minds of men. These important acts, if not always accomplished with the consent of the nation affected by them, have been generally considered an exercise of right on the part of sovereigns. Many publicists, however, have thought proper to justify them, by advancing reasons which, in most cases are weak enough. There are authors, on the other hand, who have denied to princes the right of abdication, but, with few exceptions, it has been denied only by the opponents of kingly power. Their chief objections may be summed up as follows 1. According to natural law, a king has not the right to abdicate, because he has not the right to reign. In other words: We deny that a prince has the right to reign; therefore he has no right to abdicate. A thing or a right is not wiped out simply because it pleases me to assert that neither the one nor the other exists. We see nothing in natural law (by which we mean law conformable to human nature) opposed to monarchy. We even find arguments somewhat in favor of this form of government. Besides, we might ask: Where is your code of natural law? who drew it up? who has accepted it? where is it in force? 2. Constitutional kings can reign only with the formal consent of the nation, or its representatives, there being here a question of a mutual agreement which can he dissolved only with the consent of both parties. To this it may be answered that this consent would never be wanting, since the nation has every interest not to retain on the throne a prince who has weighty reasons for wanting to leave it. We find this argument altogether out of place in the mouths of men or from the pens of writers who maintain that a nation has always the right to set aside a king. What in this case becomes of the mutual agreement? How prohibit one party doing what the other claims a right to do? 3. From the point of view of divine right, abdication is unlawful, for the reason that the prince having been invested with supreme power by an act not of his own volition, can not, of his own motion, divest himself of that power. Various arguments may be used to refute this objection, which, be it remarked, does not come from the legitimist side. But if the refutation is to have full force, we must remain at the divine-right point of view. All that follows from investiture by divine right is that the nation can not dethrone its prince legally. But if monarchy is a divine institution, it follows that it is the monarch's duty to leave nothing un-done to accomplish his mission, even to disappearing from the scene when it seems to him that the public interest demands that sacrifice from him. These are the chief objections brought forward against the right of abdication. In England the right of abdication is denied to the king, but it does not appear whether in the name of the constitution or of divine right. We simply find the following axiom: "The king of England may not abdicate except with the consent of parliament." When we ask why he may not, the only answer we get is, that an abdication made at his sole instance would be inconsistent with the nature of the royal function. This is assertion, not argument. Should an English king abdicate, what would be the consequence? We have no doubt that parliament would take cognizance of the fact and sanction it as perfectly conformable to natural law. We here give a list of the abdications most remarkable for their causes, their results, or the name of the sovereign who laid down his crown. Among the Roman emperors, Diocletian and Maximianus put aside the purple in 305. In France it suffices to mention Napoleon I. (1814 and 1815), Charles X. (1830), and Louis Philippe (1848). In Germany Charles V. exchanged the imperial and royal crowns for the habit of a monk (1556). In 1848 the emperor of Austria preferred his ease to the struggles with which the events of that time threatened him. Successors of Charles V. in Spain abdicated for several reasons, Philip V. in 1724 and Charles IV. in 1808. The dynasty of Savoy affords more numerous examples of abdication: Amadeus, in 1494; Victor Amadeus, in 1750; Charles Emmanuel, in 1802; Victor Emmanuel I., in 1819; Charles Albert, in 1849. In Poland we find, since the abdication of the prince who afterwards became Henry III. of France, that of Augustus in 1707; Augustus Stanislas, in 1735; and Poniatowski, in 1795. All are familiar with the abdication of Queen Christina of Sweden, in 1654. That of Richard II. of England (1399), is not so well remembered. As to James II., he did not formally abdicate, but the English parliament declared, in 1688, that he "having endeavored to subvert the constitution of the kingdom by breaking the original contract between king and people; and, by the advice of Jesuits and other wicked persons, having violated the fundamental laws, and having withdrawn himself out of the kingdom, has abdicated the government, and that the throne is thereby vacant." There was, in this case, a lively discussion as to whether the word "desert" or "abdicate" should be used. To sum up, we may mention the abdication of King Louis of Holland in 1810, of Louis of Bavaria in 1848, of the Hohenzollern Princes in favor of Prussia in 1849, and of the Duke of Saxe Altenburg in favor of his brother in 1849. Abdication is performed generally by a solemn act, and almost always in favor of the natural heir; but it is not always voluntary, and history shows us that it is often followed by regret. (See RESIGNATION.)


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