Imágenes de páginas
PDF
EPUB

duties. Accordingly the duty to magistrates is enjoined in the very same terms, as that which is owed to parents.

Fear God, says St. Peter; honour the king. We are also directed by St. Paul to render reverence, honour, custom, and tribute, to the several orders of magistracy, as from time to time they are due.

It is my design in this discourse to state, in a summary manner, the Nature of civil government; and the respective duties of Rulers and Subjects. This I shall do without even a remote reference either to the past, or present, state of our own government. I never preached what is commonly called a political sermon, on the Sabbath, in my life : and I shall not begin now; although to preach such sermons is unquestionably the right, and in certain cases as unquestionably the duty, of every Minister of the Gospel. All, that I shall attempt to perform, is to exbibit some of the primary principles, and duties, which pertain to government, as a branch of moral science. The knowledge of these is in some degree necessary to every man, who wishes to discharge either the duties, of a ruler, or those of a subject.

The foundation of all government is, undoubtedly, the Will of God. Government, since the days of Mr. Locke, has been extensively supposed to be founded in the Social Compact. No opinion is more groundless than this. The great man, whom I have mentioned, was probably led to adopt it, from his zeal to oppose the ridiculous whims of Sir Robert Filmer; who taught, that kings had a divine, hereditary right to their thrones, by virtue of the original gift of universal dominion to Adam. In opposing this monstrous absurdity, Mr. Locke fell into another not a whit more rational, or defensible. This doctrine supposes, that mankind were originally without any government; and that in an absolute state of nature they voluntarily came together, for the purpose of constituting a body politic, creating rulers, prescribing their functions, and making laws directing their own civil duties. It supposes, that they entered into grave and philosophic deliberations ; individually consented to be bound by the will of the majority; and cheerfully gave up the wild life of savage liberty, for restraints, which, however necessary and useful, no Savage could ever brook even for a day. Antecedently to such an assembly, and its decisions, this doctrine supposes, that men have no civil rights, obligations, or duties, and of course, that those, who do not consent to be bound by such a compact, are, now, not the subjects of either : such a compact, in the apprehension of the abettors of this doctrine, being that, which creates all the civil rights, obligations, and duties, of man.

The absurdities of this doctrine are endless. He, who knows any thing of the nature of savages, knows perfectly, that no savage was ever capable of forming such a design; and that civilized life is indispensably necessary to the very perception of the things, pre-supposed by this doctrine, and absolutely pre-requisite to the very existence of such an assembly. Every one, acquainted at all with savages, knows equally well, that, if they were capable of all this comprehension, nothing, short of omnipotence, could persuade them to embrace such a scheme of conduct. There is nothing, which a savage hates more, than the restraints of civilized life; rothing, which he despises more, than the civi. lized character, its refinements, its improvements, nay, its very enjoyments. . To have formed such an assembly, or even to have proposed such a system, men must have already been long governed, and civilized.

At the same time, there is no fact, more clearly evinced by the history of man, than that such a compact never existed. This even the abettors of it are obliged to confess; and this cuts up the doctrine by the roots. For if the social compact was not a fact; it is nothing.

But it is alleged, that, although this compact was never an express one, il may, still, be fairly considered as a tacit and implied compact. To the very existence of a compact it is indispensable, that the contracting party should be conscious, that the subject of the compact is proposed to him for his deliberation, choice, and consent; and that he does actually deliberate, choose, and consent. But there is not even the shadow of a pretence, that any man, considering himself as being in a state of nature, and subject to no civil government, was ever conscious of being invited to become a party to such a compact, and of having this question ever proposed to him for such deliberation, or such consent. There is, therefore, as little foundation for the supposition of a tacit, as for that of an express, social compact.

It is further alleged, that this scheme, although confessedly imaginary, may yet be advantageously employed to illustrate the nature of civil government. In answer to this allegation, I shall only observe, that the philosopher, who believes falsehood to be necessary, or useful, to the illustration of truth, must be very hardly driven by his own weakness, or by the erroneousness of

his system.

[ocr errors]

If it were indeed true, that government is thus founded, then these fatal consequences would follow.

Every despotism on earth must stand as long as the world continues. Every subject of despotic power is by this doctrine supposed to promise his obedience to it; and no man can ever withdraw himself from the obligation of his own promise. A new govern. ment can never upon this scheme be substituted for a former, but by the choice of the majority of those, who are subject to it: and, as men come into the world, there never can be, in any country, a majority of inhabitants, who have not already promised obedience to the existing government. A minority, therefore, must always comprise the whole number of those, who can lawfully act in the business of modelling the government anew. Nor could even these act in concert, without being guilty of rebellion. Nor could those, who had already promised obedience, be released from their promise. Jf, therefore, a new government were to be constituted; there must be two sets of inhabitants, every where intermingled throughout such a country, and obeying two disinct and hostile governments.

If any man, in any country, declines his consent to the compact; he is under no obligation to obey the existing government. Personal consent, according to this scheme, is all, that constitutes such obligation. Such a man may, therefore, fix himself in a state of nature. If he attacks others, indeed; they may attack him in turn : but the government cannot lawfully meddle with him, nor with his concerns.

If the ruler should violate any, even the least, part of his own engagements; then the subjects are released from their engagements; and of course, from all obligation to obey the laws. In other words, from the least violation of the ruler's engagements a state of anarchy lawfully, and necessarily, ensues. If the suhjects pass by such violation in silence; their consent to it is equally implied with their supposed original compact. Of course, the ruler may lawfully commit the same violation again as often as he pleases; nor can the subjects lawfully complain; because they have consented to it in the same manner as to the pre-existing government. Every such violation, therefore, which is not openly resisted, is finally sanctioned.

On the other hand, if a subject violate any of his engagements, however small; the ruler may lawfully make him an Outlaw; and deprive him of every privilege, which he holds as a citizen.

A foreigner, passing through such a country, can be under no obligation to obey its laws; and, if he does any thing, which may be construed as an outrage; must either be suffered to do it with impunity, or must be attacked by private violence. Such attacks, a few times repeated, would convert any people into a horde of robbers.

No man could, in such a government, be punished with death; however enormous might be his crimes; because no man ever thought of making, or has any right to make, a surrender of his own life into the hands of others.

All these, and a multitude of other, deplorable consequences follow, irresistibly follow, from the doctrine, that government is founded on the social compact.

Government, as I have already remarked, is founded in the Will of God. The evidence of this position is complete. That God made mankind in order to make them happy, if they themselves will consent to be so, cannot be questioned. As little can it be questioned, that government is indispensable to their happiness, and to all the human means of it; to the safety of life, liberty, and property; to peace; to order ; to useful knowledge; to morals; and to religion. Nay, it is necessary to the very existence of any considerable numbers of mankind. A country without government would speedily, for want of those means of subsistence and comfort, to the existence of which it is indispensable, become an Arabian desert; and that, however fruitful its soil, or salubrious its climate. Mankind have never yet been

[ocr errors]

able to exist for any length of time in a state of anarchy. What reason so completely evinces, the Scriptures decide in the most peremptory manner. The powers that be, says St. Paul, are ordained of God : in other words; Government is an Ordinance of God.

It is not here to be intended, that God has ordained a given form of government. This he has never done, except in a single instance. He gave the Israelites a system, substantially of the republican form. This fact may, perhaps, afford a presumption in favour of such a form, wherever it is capable of existing, but can do nothing more. Nothing more is here intended, than that God has willed the existence of Government itself. He has undoubtedly left it to nations to institute such modes of it, whenever this is in their power, as should best suit their own state of society.

As God willed the existence of government for the happiness of mankind; it is unanswerably certain, that every government is agreeable to his will just so far, as it promotes that happiness; that that government, which promotes it most, is most agreeable to his will; and that that government, which opposes human hap

, piness, is equally opposed to his will. From these undeniable principles both rulers and subjects may easily learn most of their own duty. Whatever is conformed to them is right: whatever is contrary to them is wrong of course. This, it will be remembered, is the dictate both of common sense, and of the Scrip. tures.

Every ruler is accordingly bound to remember, that he is raised to the chair of magistracy, solely for the good of those whom he governs. His own good he is to find in the consciousness of having promoted that of others; and in the support, affection, and respect, which they render, and are bound to render, him for discharging this important duty. There is no greater mistake, there is no more anti-scriptural, or contemptible, absurdity, than the doctrine of millions made for one ; of a ruler, raised to the chair of magistracy, to govern for himself; to receive homage; to roll in splendour ; to riot in luxury ; to gratify pride, power, and ambition, at the expense of the toils and sufferings of his fellow-men. Such a ruler is only a public robber. Every Vol. IV.

18

[ocr errors]
« AnteriorContinuar »