Sidor som bilder
PDF
ePub

which might be borne ; but spreads and grows up into the unfortunate importance of a national calamity.

“Now, as a law directed against the mass of the nation, has not the nature of a reasonable institution, so neither has it the authority; for, in all forms of government, the people is the true legislator, &c. But though the means, and, indeed, the nature of a public advantage, may not always be evident to the understanding of the subject, no one is so gross and stupid as not to distinguish between a benefit and an injury. No one can imagine, then, an exclusion of a great body of men, not from favors, privileges, and trusts, but from the common advantages of society, can ever be a thing intended for their good, or can ever be ratified by any implied consent of theirs. If, therefore, at least, an implied human consent is necessary to the existence of a law, such a constitution cannot, in propriety, be a law at all.

"But, if we would suppose that such a ratification was made, not virtually, but actually, by the people; not representatively, but even collectively, still it would be null and void. They have no right to make a law prejudicial to the whole community, even though the delinquents, in making such an act, should be themselves the chief sufferers by it; because it would be made against the principles of a superior law, which it is not in the power of any community, or of the whole race of man to alter. I mean the will of Him who gave us our nature, and, in giving, impressed an invariable law upon it. It would be hard to point out any error more truly subversive of all the order and beauty, of all the peace and happiness of human society, than the position, that any body of men have a right to make what laws they please, or that laws can derive any authority from their institution merely, and independent of the quality of the subject matter. No arguments of policy, reason of state, or preservation of the constitution, can be pleaded in favor of such a practice. They may indeed impeach the frame of that constitution ; bnt can never touch this immoveable principle. This seems to be, indeed, the doctrine which Hobbs broached in the last century, and which was then so ably and so frequently refuted. Cicero exclaims, with the utmost indignation and contempt, against such a notion; he considers it not only as unworthy of a philosopher, but of an illiterate peasant; that of all things this was the most truly absurd, to fancy that the rule of justice was to be taken froin the constitutions of commonwealths,

as

or that laws derive their authority from the statutes of the people, the edicts of princes, or the devices of judges.

In reality there are two, and only two foundations of law; and they are, both of them, conditions without which nothing can give it any force : I mean equity and utility. With regard to the former, it grows out of the great rule of equality, which is grounded upon our common nature, and which Philo, with propriety, calls the mother justice. All human laws are, properly speaking, only declaratory; they may alter the mode and application, but have no power over the substance of original justice. The other founda. tion of law, which is utility, must be understood not of partial or limited, but of general or of public utility, connected in the same manner with, and derived directly from our rational nature ; for, any other utility may be that of a robber; but cannot be that of a citizen; the interest of the domestic economy, and not that of a member of a commonwealth. This present equality can never be the foundation of statutes, which create an artificial difference among men, the laws before us do, in order to induce a consequential inequality in the distribution of justice. Law is made for human action, respecting society, and must be governed by the same rules of equity which govern every private action; and so Tully considers it in his offices.

"If any proposition can be clear of itself, it is this, that a law which shuts out from all secure and valuable property, the bulk of the people, cannot be made for the utility of the party so excluded. This, therefore, is not the utility which Tully mentions. But if it were true, (as it is not) that the real interests of the community could be separated from the happiness of the rest, still it would afford no just foundation for a statute providing exclusively for that interest at the expense of the other; because it would be repugnant to the essence of law, which requires that it be made, as much as possible, for the benefit of the whole. If this principle be denied, or evaded, what ground have we left to reason on? We must, at once, make a total change in all our ideas, and look for new definitions of law. Where to find it, I confess myself at a loss. If we resort to the fountains of jurisprudence, they will not supply us with any thing that is for our purpose. (Mr. Burke then quotes Paulus and Saurez, who support him, &c.) Partiality and law are contradictory terms. Neither the merits, nor the ill deserts; neither the wealth, nor the importance, nor the indignity, or obscurity of the one part or the other, can make any alteration in this fundamental truth. On the other hand, I defy any man living to settle a correct standard, which may discriminate between equitable rule and the most direct tyranny. For, if we can once prevail upon ourselves, from the strictness and the integrity of this prin.. ciple, in favor even of a considerable party, the argument will hold for one that is no less so; and thus we shall go on, narrowing the bottom of public right, until, step by step, we arrive, though after no very long or very forced deduction, at what one of our poets calls the erroneous faiththe faith of the many created for the advantage of a single person. I cannot see a glimmering of distinction to evade it; nor is it possible to allege any reason for the proscription of so large a part of the kingdom, which would not hold equally to support, under parallel circumstances, the proscription of the whole.

"I am sensible that these principles, in their abstract right, will not be very strenuously opposed. Reason is never inconvenient but when it comes to be applied. Mere general truths interfere very little with the passions. They can, until they are roused by a troublesome application, rest with great tranquility, side by side, with tempers and proceedings the most opposite to them. Men want to be reminded who do not want to be taught; because, those original ideas of rectitude, to which the mind is compelled to assent, when they are proposed, are not always as present as they ought to be. When people are gone, if not into a denial, at least into an oblivion of those ideas; when they know them as barren speculations, and not as practical motives for conduct, it will be proper to press, as well as offer them to the understanding; and when one is attacked by prejudices which aim to intrude themselves into the place of law, what is left for us but to vouch and call to warrantry those principles of original justice from whence alone our title to every thing valuable in society is derived ? Can it be thought to arise from a superfluous, vain parade of displaying general and uncontroverted maxims that we should revert, at this time, to the first principles of law, when we have directly under our consideration a whole body of statutes, which, I say, are so many contradictions, which their advocates allow to be so many exceptions to those very principles ? Take them in the most favorable light, every exception from an original and fixed rule of equality and justice ought, surely, to be very well authorised in the reason of their deviation, and very rare in their use; for, if they should grow to be frequent, in what would they differ from an abrogation of the rule itself? By becoming thus frequent, they might even go further, and, establishing themselves into a principle, convert the rule into the exception. It cannot be dissembled that this is not at all remote from the case before us, where the great body of the people are excluded from all valuable property-where the greatest and most ordinary benefits of society are conferred as privileges, and not enjoyed on the footing of common rights. It has been shown, I hope, with sufficient evidence, that a constitution against the interests of the many, is rather of the nature of a grievance than a law; that, of all griev. ances, it is the most mighty and important; that it is made without due authority, against all the acknowledged principles of jurisprudence; against the opinions of the great lights of that science; and that such is the tacit consent even of all who act in the most contrary manner. There is not such a convenient ductility in the human understand. ing, as to make us capable of being persuaded that men can possibly mean the ultimate good of the whole society, by rendering miserable the greater part of it; or that any one has such a reversionary benevolence as seriously to in• tend the late good of a whole posterity, who can give up the present enjoyment which every honest man must have in the happiness of his contemporaries. Every body is satisfied that a conservation and secure enjoyment of our natural rights, is the great and ultimate purpose of civil society; and that, therefore, all forms, whatsoever, of government, are only good as they are subservient to that purpose to which they are entirely subordinate. Now, to aim at the establishment of any form of government, by sacrificing what is the substance of it; to take away, or, at least, to suspend the rights of nature, in order to an approved system for the protection of them; and for the sake of that about which men must dispute forever; to postpone those things about which they have no controversy at all, and this not in minute, but in large and principal objects, is a procedure as preposterous and absurd' in argument, as it is oppressive and cruel in its effects; for the Protestant reli. gion, nor (I speak with reverence, I am sure) the truth of our common christianity is not so clear as this proposition : that all men, at least the majority of men, in the society, ought to enjoy, the common advantage of it.”

Thus, Mr. Stockton, I have given your readers a specimen of the heifers with which I plough. By masters, like this one, ancient and modern, have I been taught to exalt the principles of equity and utility infinitely above the factitious rules by which men continue to render the many subservient to the few. The same arguments by which Mr. Burke's essay on popery laws can be refuted, will convince me that all the rule-making power among us ought to be in the hands of travelling preachers; for we have only to change the property and liberty of the Papists of Ireland, for the right of suffrage in the Methodist Episcopal Church, and all the irresistible logic of this mighty master applies in its fullest force ; here, not the majority, but the whole are deprived of their rights. The rule of right is converted into an exception.

The wide difference between the views of certain travelling preachers and myself, respecting the rights of church members, gives me most sensible concern. Might I not, with some show of reason, make one request of them ? As I know all their masters and teachers, and they have not read mine, and it is probable that their minds are as susceptible of the same kind of light as mine, I only ask them to read for themselves. If any man among us, not yet convinced that the church has legislative rights, will read Burke on the Popery Laws of Ireland, and tell me his opinion remains unaltered, then shall I begin to distrust the truth of my own convictions, or the correctness of my conclusions. But I shall not believe, until I see it, that even this short and imperfect extract can be read and understood without shaking confidence in legislative monopolies, in church as well as in state. My six letters are so arranged as to oblige those who oppose the principle on which they are predicated, either to acknowledge their mistake, or to maintain, in the face of the world, that, if every member of the Methodist Episcopal Church were opposed to the present power of the travelling preachers, they (the travelling preachers) have a right to maintain it. Has an apprehension of this conclusion had any influence over those brethren who advise the discontented to withdraw ?

Letters on Church Government, inscribed to the Reverend William McKendree, by Martin Luther-Rey. Alexander McCaine, begin here.

« FöregåendeFortsätt »