Imágenes de páginas

voice in the choice of him who was over them, more than if they had been the beasts of the field or the clods of the valley. He had risen to power without their will, and often against it. He was not of them, was not responsible to them, and claimed authority over them and over all that was theirs, unlimited and uncontrolled. The nations indeed moaned beneath the tyranny of the despotic oppression, but it was the moan of despair. Or if in their agony a hand was raised to resist cruelty and wrong, it was soon crushed and riveted down by some new and heavier chain. Few had the courage to struggle for liberation, and even when the effort was made, it was rather like the frantic writhings of a man goaded to madness, and beating himself against the walls of his cell, than the wise and rational labors which could obtain freedom, and secure it when obtained. The gloom of the picture was increased by the downward tendency of things from age to age; every change being only from bad to worse; and this change affecting rulers as well as ruled, making the one more corrupt, as it made the other more wretched. Indeed, such must always be the effect of despotism on the despot himself. The possession of power without responsibility might corrupt an angel. It was their grasping after it that caused angels to fall, and converted them into fiends. We can then readily perceive what must have been its effect on men born a fallen race, and

66 whose feet” from infancy had been “swift to shed blood.” Accordingly the thrones of that day became filled by kings who were rather monsters than men, and who sported with the lives and happiness of their subjects in the very wantonness of cruelty and injustice.

Now from what quarter, or by what power was this sore evil which lay upon the earth to be either checked or remedied? The principles of stable and equitable government form one of the most complicated of human sciences. None but comprehensive and enlightened minds can fully understand them. The wise and great men who were the fathers of our Republic found the application of them to the wants and welfare of our land, long after they had been tried elsewhere, to be a work which tasked their powers as statesmen to the utmost.

If then, in the midst of the darkness and degradation which were universal throughout the world in the days of old, we find the nation of the Hebrews, yesterday enslaved, feeble and rude, and still struggling with the privations and dangers of the wilderness, yet rising up to our view at once, and showing themselves possessed of laws which secured to them every blessing of civil freedom, which so combined the various powers of the state as equally to secure the rights of the weak and the strong, the poor and the rich; the question arises,-How came this favored people into the possession of enactments ensuring to them a freedom so invaluable in itself, so unknown before their day, and to which the nations around them were still utter strangers ? Was it “ from heaven or of men ?” Was it taught them of God, or did it spring from the then dim wisdom of earth? I ask the statesman, who knows what government is, and the wisdom required to devise it. I ask the historian, who has read history with the eye of philosophy, and who knows what the events of time should teach us. Both, I venture to say, will answer, that such an achievement was as far beyond the wisdom of that day, as the creation of a world lay beyond its power.

Let us then turn at once to the Book in which are recorded the ordinances given to the Hebrews for their government as a nation; and let us see how far it reveals the principles which are essential to civil liberty as displayed in a wisely constructed Republic. Essential, we say, for there are many things in civil polity, when wisely adjusted, which should be left to be regulated by circumstances or considerations of expediency. Such are the number of offices which the laws may embrace; their relations to each other, and the terms on which they are held.

[ocr errors]

These may be different in one nation from what they are in another, and yet the people themselves may be equally free. In like manner also, a government may be varied so as to meet the various pursuits and interests of different nations, and yet preserve all that enters into a true perception of public freedom. A community that is chiefly employed in commerce, will require laws very different from those adapted to the welfare of a people who expend their main strength in agriculture. But, notwithstanding these diversities in free States, still these are great features which cannot be severed from public liberty without either impairing or destroying it; and these, we say, are all to be found divinely appointed, and brought more or less into action in the commonwealth of the Hebrews. We

find here

Government by representation, the election of rulers by the ruled, the public officer chosen by the public voice.-—“This,” observes the celebrated Chateaubriand, “may be classed among three or four discoveries that have created another universe.” The question we would ask is, where, when, and among whom was this great principle first introduced ? The great majority of nations are still ignorant of it. There was a time, as we have seen; when it was unknown to all. We ask, what people first brought it into practice and enjoyed the freedom that springs from it?

An accomplished historian of modern times, thinks it can be traced to the early councils of the Christian church.* We believe that a still higher antiquity belongs to it, and that we first meet with it among the Hebrews, when in the wilderness, soon after they were brought out from the bondage of Egypt.

The subject may be said to come before us, but bearing a merely incipient shape, in the advice of Jethro to Moses, when " Israel was encamped at the mount of God." Exodus, 18:13-24. “ It came to pass on the morrow," as we are told, “ that Moses sat to judge the people, and the people stood by Moses from the morning unto the evening.” When Jethro had seen how constantly and laboriously Moses was occupied in “judging between one and another” of the people, "when they had a matter;" he wisely said, “ the thing that thou doest is not good. Thou will surely wear away, both thou and this people that is with thee; for this thing is too heavy for thee; thou art not able to perform it thyself alone. Hearken now unto my voice, I will give thee counsel, and God shall be with thee: Be thou for the people to God-ward, that thou mayest bring

* Note B.

« AnteriorContinuar »