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Let there be light, and there was light*. In respect to all other beings, their volitions are only efficient within a certain sphere marked out by their Creator.
As man apparently holds the lowest place in the scale of rational existence, it is probable his liberty corresponds to his situation, and is consequently of less extent than what naturally belongs to the other orders of intelligences; of whom the least, for any thing we know to the contrary, may be able to wield these elements at his pleasure, over which the most powerful combination of human strength and skill has so little command.
Whatever then is naturally beyond the sphere of human power, is no object of human liberty; no one, for instance, is free to walk across the ocean, or fly to the moon; to control the course of the winds, or the tides of the oceant; and in innumerable cases, within the natural limits, , liberty may be wanting: how often is a man unable, and therefore not at liberty to gratify his ambition, his appetites, or his interest, however willing he may be to do it, merely for want of occasions and opportunities :
* Ps. xxxiii. 9. Gen. i. 3. of “Canute was the greatest and most powerful prince of his time. Some of his flatterers breaking out one day in admiration of his grandeur, exclaimed that every thing was possible for him: upon which the monarch, Indeed an unrestrained liberty would be
Thus we see the narrow boundaries of the liberty of man. The cases are comparatively few in which he is able to act as he will, and this inability is one of the happiest circumstances of his condition; since, in his present state of depravity, power generally. serves him to no other end than to do mischief to himself, to disturb the regular course of nature, or the order of political and social life.
it is said, ordered his chair to be set on the sea-shore; and as the waters approached, he commanded them to retire. But when the sea still advanced, and began to wash him with its billows, he turned to his courtiers, and remarked to them, that every creature in the universe was feeble and impotent, and that power resided only with that Being who could say to the ocean, Thus far shalt thou go and no further." See Hume's Hist. of England.
incompatible with the very being of society, which cannot subsist without submission to some common authority, by which the relative conduct of its members may be regulated, and their several claims adjudged and settled.
But though all political society in its very nature implies restraint, yet, under a wise government, none will be imposed wantonly or without sufficient reason : either it will be necessary for the protection of each member of the community in his particular rights; for the maintenance of public order; or it will in some other way contribute to the common good. Hence, as under such a government the subject is only prevented from doing wrong, whether in respect to individuals or to the public at large, it is obvious that the restraints under which he lies, must be no less favourable to his own virtue, and consequently to his real happiness, than they are needful to the security and welfare of his fellow-citizens.
To be deterred from violence, injustice, and brutality, must always be for our benefit; and although a restriction in things of an indifferent nature, which the public good may sometimes render necessary, may possibly operate to our particular disadvantage, this is more than compensated by the salutary check it gives to our natural selfishness, which would lead us to pursue our own at the expence of the general interest.
II. We have next to consider government as it improves and enlarges liberty.
And, in the first place, let it be observed, that even the restraints we have now stated, produce, on the whole, this effect; since they less abridge our own liberty, as binding upon ourselves, than they extend it as binding upon others. To be fully satisfied of this, we need only to attend to the fol. lowing consideration :-If every man was left to act according to his own will and pleasure, there would arise a general cone test for power, for wealth, and sensual gratifications; in the pursuit of these objects each would be liable to be thwarted by the ability or address, the force or artifice of his neighbour; he could not even rear a hut, or plant a garden, without danger of ob
struction in the attempt, or of deprivation in the possession; whereas every member of a well-regulated state may, with a manly security, pursue his own good or convenience, or those of his friends or neighbours, in any way that is not plainly inconsistent with the laws of his country. Whence it is obvious, that law, even in its restraints and prohibitions, is a source of liberty.
2. In a state of civil society, liberty is further increased by that accession of power which arises from mutual aid and co-operation; for, as in free-agents, power and liberty are commensurate, whatever goes to extend the former must equally extend the latter.
A solitary individual, in whatever cir. cumstances, can do but little; nor can a nation of savages, where every one acts in a great measure independently of the rest, do much more. Throughout such a state there will unavoidably be found a kind of melancholy sameness and monotony; the same miserable habitations, the same precarious mode of subsistence, the same rudeness of character and manners; all which must evince how greatly the human powers