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The government of the Hebrews has been called a theocracy, which means a form of government which assigns all the power to God; he being, in fact, the proper king. In the first place, this government was under Moses, the legislator; then under Joshua, his successor; then under judges, and then under kings and high-priests. In all these cases, God was acknowledged to be the true king of the nation—but it was only under Moses that he was regarded as dwelling, person
ally, among the people. Afterwards he was cunsidered as ruling through the judges or kings, who were to look to him for advice or counsel, and who were to be appointed by him.
When David became king, God ordained that the monarchy should be hereditary in his family. His successors practically altered the government, and, instead of acknowledging God as king, they seemed to throw off his authority, and to rule according to their own will.
They would not submit to the restraints which had been observed by former rulers, and which operated like a constitution to limit the power of the kings, and to protect the people. They therefore not only fell into idolatry, but they were guilty of cruelty and oppression. The country was accordingly subject to great miseries, and at last the nation was scattered.
In whatever point of view we regard the Hebrew system of laws, as established by Moses, they are most remarkable. This people had lived for several centuries in Egypt, where there was an universal belief in many gods, and where idolatry was the universal practice of the people. The government, too, was despotic, placing absolute power in the hands of the kings and priests.
Yet, immediately on leaving Egypt, we find the people receiving from Moses a creed, both civil and religious, entirely distinct from that of the Egyptians, and unlike any other which had ever existed. It must be recollected that Moses lived about 1500 years
before Christ, which was a thousand years before Confucius, the lawgiver of China, and 800 before Solon, the Grecian lawgiver.
The great idea of the Mosaic institutions was
the existence of one God-as distinguished from the creed of many gods, which prevailed at that time in all other nations with the doctrine that the people were responsible to him for every action. In order to inculcate these principles and eradicate all the idolatrous notions which the Hebrews had imbibed in Egypt, Moses instituted a great variety of rites and ceremonies, all calculated to produce these effects, and, at the same time, to keep the descendants of Jacob as a distinct and peculiar people.
Such being his leading design, nothing could be better conceived than the means he adopted for his purpose. To superintend the religious rites and ceremonies, priests, being the descendants of Aaron, were appointed, and numerous assistants, called Levites, from Levi, their progenitor, were also appointed. These latter obeyed the priests in the services of the temple, and sang and played on instruments in the daily services. They also studied the law, and were the common judges, being however inferior to the priests, who were not only judges of religious questions, but of civil and criminal cases.
There is no part of government more important than that of the administration of justice, by which is meant the settlement of questions arising under the laws. Under the patriarchs, the judicial power was invested in the heads of tribes or families, who could banish, disinherit, or inflict sentence of death, according to their own will. In the time of Moses, a change was made in this respect; he was made supreme judge, and subsequently the priests had jurisdiction. There were also courts established, to which authority was
given over thousands, hundreds, fifties, and tens. These courts were again changed at several subsequent periods.
Before the courts, a man could plead his own cause, though men of wisdom and influence seem to have appeared in behalf of those incapable of speaking for themselves. In criminal cases the person charged was exhorted first to tell the truth, and then the witnesses were put under oath. Witnesses were examined separately, but in presence of the accused. When a man was found guilty of a crime, he was immediately hurried away to execution.
Though the institutions of the Hebrews were essentially different from those which prevail in this more enlightened day, still it must be admitted that they were far more favorable to individual liberty than the institutions of other countries of that age, and more so indeed than those of the principal monarchies of Asia now existing. The administration of justice, in the time of David, among the Hebrews, was
consonant to human rights, than it is now in China, the most civilized country of Asia.
Political Institutions of China.
Emperor of China. The early history of China is involved in the mists of obscurity. The historians of the country claim an incredible antiquity, and pretend to tell us of dynasties that reigned over the nation for ages before the period assigned to the creation of the world.
It is now, and has been for ages, the policy of the government to exclude strangers from the country, so that little is known of it. The steps by which the government has arrived at its present state cannot be traced, and we can therefore do little more than give an outline of it, as it now exists. It has probably undergone little alteration for centuries.
The government of China is professedly patriarchal; the emperor having the title of holy son