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C.D. Warner, et al., comp.  The Library of the World’s Best Literature.
An Anthology in Thirty Volumes.  1917.
 
Of the Government of Poland
By John Caldwell Calhoun (1782–1850)
 
From ‘A Disquisition on Government’

IT is then a great error to suppose that the government of the concurrent majority is impracticable; or that it rests on a feeble foundation. History furnishes many examples of such governments; and among them one in which the principle was carried to an extreme that would be thought impracticable, had it never existed. I refer to that of Poland. In this it was carried to such an extreme that in the election of her kings, the concurrence or acquiescence of every individual of the nobles and gentry present, in an assembly numbering usually from one hundred and fifty to two hundred thousand, was required to make a choice; thus giving to each individual a veto on his election. So likewise every member of her Diet (the supreme legislative body), consisting of the King, the Senate, bishops and deputies of the nobility and gentry of the palatinates, possessed a veto on all its proceedings; thus making a unanimous vote necessary to enact a law or to adopt any measure whatever. And as if to carry the principle to the utmost extent, the veto of a single member not only defeated the particular bill or measure in question, but prevented all others passed during the session from taking effect. Further the principle could not be carried. It in fact made every individual of the nobility and gentry a distinct element in the organism; or to vary the expression, made him an estate of the kingdom. And yet this government lasted in this form more than two centuries, embracing the period of Poland’s greatest power and renown. Twice during its existence she protected Christendom, when in great danger, by defeating the Turks under the walls of Vienna, and permanently arresting thereby the tide of their conquests westward.  1
  It is true her government was finally subverted, and the people subjugated, in consequence of the extreme to which the principle was carried; not however because of its tendency to dissolution from weakness, but from the facility it afforded to powerful and unscrupulous neighbors to control by their intrigues the election of her kings. But the fact that a government in which the principle was carried to the utmost extreme not only existed, but existed for so long a period in great power and splendor, is proof conclusive both of its practicability and its compatibility with the power and permanency of government.  2
 
 
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