previous
next

§ 144. “A Subject or a Citizen.”

A subject is one who, from his birth or oath, owes lawful obedience or allegiance to his liege lord or sovereign. “Citizen” is the term usually employed, under a republican form of government, as the equivalent of “subject” in monarchies of feudal origin. (Ency. of the Laws of Eng., iii. p. 35.) See Note § 463 infra, “Subject of the Queen.”

“While the active duties of the citizen of a Commonwealth can hardly be discharged beyond the territories of that Commonwealth, the duties of the subject of a king, the subject, that is, of a personal master, are as binding on one part of the earth's surface as on another. I have just used words which go to the root of the matter. I have used words ‘citizen’ and ‘subject.’ The difference between the two conceptions can nowhere put on a more living shape than in the use of those two names. The Greek would have deemed himself degraded by the name of ‘subject.’ To him the word that best translates it expressed the position of men who, either in their own persons or


  ― 492 ―
in the person of the cities to which they belonged, were shorn of the common rights of every city, of every citizen. We use the word ‘subject’ daily without any feeling of being lowered by it. It has become so familiar that it is assumed as the natural phrase to express membership of a political body, and it is often used when it is quite out of place. I once read, and that in a formal document, of a ‘Swiss subject,’ and I had the pleasure of explaining that there had been no subjects, no Unterthanen, in Switzerland since 1798. And the question comes, What are we to say instead? ‘Swiss citizen,’ ‘French citizen,’ ‘citizen of the United States,’ have this awkwardness about them, that the community whose membership they express is not a city. The very awkwardness points to the main difference between the world of old Hellas and the world of modern Europe, the difference in scale. Be it kingdom or be it commonwealth, the State with which modern politics have to deal is not a city but something vastly greater.” (Freeman, Greater Greece and Greater Britain, pp. 23–24.)

previous
next