Page images
PDF
EPUB

those selfish and narrow-hearted people, whose whole praife is, that they do no harm, are not to be reckoned upon as members of society, but are mere cyphers in the creation. Such sordid difpofitions as will admit no thought of any thing but felf, can never be fit for any place in that more extensive future society, which will be composed wholly of beings enobled and perfected by virtue and universal benevolence: For in that higher state, every individual will be connected with the whole, and the whole with every individual: so that there will be no detached or separate beings. This shews the necessity of our becoming habituated to consider ourselves as parts of the whole, and of enlarging our minds by an extensive benevolence. This also shews the strange absurdity of making retirement from fociety, in the active time of life, a part of religion; as by that unnatural and monstrous practice one third part of our duty is wholly cut off, and the human mind, which ought by all possible methods to be drawn and engaged to fociety, is detached and separated from it, and habituated to think with horror of the very state for which it was formed.

Affection to our neighbour will prevent our injuring him, and incline us to do him the utmost justice, first as to his fortune or poffessions. I begin with this, as that part of our neighbour's concerns, which is of the the least consequence; intending to proceed afterwards to those which touch more nearly. Now the foundation of property is in reason or rectitude; that is to say, That a person may in such a manner come to be pofsesled of a portion of the good things of life, that he may have an exclusive right to it against all mankind ; so that for any other to deprive him of such possession against his confent, would be iniquitous. As the infinite Author of all things has an unquestionable title to all creatures and things in the universe, it is evident, that he may, in the course of his providence, give to any man the possession of any of the good things of life; and what He gives cannot without injustice be, by any private person, forcibly or clandestinely taken away. At the same time, the general consent of society, or the law

of

of the country in which a person lives, may, for wise and generally beneficial purposes, render property otherwise rightful, not tenable, and may make all things common, except where the Divine law has absolutely prohibited alienation, as in matrimony,

In a country, where exclusive property is established and supported by law or mutual agreement, a right to valuable posleffions may come first by birth. It is plainly agreeable to reason, that a parent provide for his own offspring, preferably to strangers. The natural affection of even the inferior creatures for their young, leads to this. By the same rule, all successions among persons related by marriage or blood, are equitably and legally established; and it becomes injustice to deprive any one of property so acquired. The fruits of a person's ingenuity, or labour, are also lawful property. Purchase is the giving what one had a right to, for something which belonged to another, and therefore purchase gives a just right. Free gift, from one who has power to give, makes a just title. In things which have been claimed by no one, the first poffellion gives a title, as in the case of ultrabited countries

. To seize a country by force of arms, to the prejudice of the original inhabitants, is a flagrant injustice. For as the firit entrance into an uninhabited country, being by the direction of Providence, gives the first discoverers a title to it, it is evident, that no person can, without violating the laws of justice, difturb the first possessors in their property, or pretend to a settlement in that country, but by agreement with the first poffeffors.

I do not think it necessary to my purpose to determine, with the utmost exactness, the boundaries of property, or how far one person may lawfully encroach upon another's right. Whoever fincerely loves his neighbour with the same measure of affection as himself, will be as tender of his property as he would with others to be of his own; and whoever resolves to regulate his conduct according to rectitude, will be more delicately fearful of breaking in upon another's right, than of losing part of his own; and with the utmost reason: For in violating his neighbour's right, he becomes guilty before God; whereas in losing his own, the worst consequence is, his being deprived of what is of no great value in itself, and which he must soon leave behind him.

Whatever practices tend to the violation of any person's just property, they are all contrary to the affection we ought to entertain for our neighbour, and to strict rectitude. Whether such practices are openly violent, or more indirect and concealed, the consequences being the same, the vice is the same; unlefs where increased or diminished by circumstances of greater or less aggravation. Thus, receiving or concealing the property of another, whether stolen, robbed, or found, if the proprietor is known, or assisting or countenancing another in such practices, is the same injury to our neighbour as direct theft.

The most extensive and ruinous violation of property, is that which is committed by those scourges and curses of this lower world, Tyrants. When one of those furies, the disgrace and horror of the human species, breaks loose upon mankind, a whole kingdom is robbed, a quarter of the world is plundered. And in that day, when all differences of rank will be at an end, dreadful in that day will be the charge against those who, being by Divine Providence raised for the general happiness of mankind, have used their power only to spread extensive misery and distress among God's creatures.

Whoever is by the Divine Providence raised to a station of power and influence, and takes the advantage of his power to oppress his inferiors, shews himself not only unjust, but cowardly: For true greatness of mind scorns any unfair advantage. And if it be unjust to appro. priate to one's self what belongs to another, however able he may be to bear the loss, much more cruel and base is it for the rich to avail themselves of their power to the distressing of their poor tenants or dependents. What will add but a small matter to the already overgrown wealth and superfluous state of the powerful landlord, wrung from the poor industrious farmer, reduces him, and his numerous family, to the extreinity of distress. And that heart must have little feeling, that would not spare a superfluous dish, or a needless bottle, rather than a family of half a dozen fellow-creatures hould want bread,

I know

I know of no oppression in this happy country, of such great and extensive bad consequence, as that occafioned by the abuse of law : The grievance of which is so much more calamitous, as the very intention of the law is the redress of grievances. It is notorious, that it is in the power of any rascally pettifogger to keep a whole town in fear, and to ruin as many as he pleases of the poor and industrious part of the inhabitants, who are, without doubt, collectively considered, the most valuable part of the people : And the judge upon the bench must fit and see such wicked practices, without having it in his power to give any relief to an unhappy subject, who is stripped, and his family beggared, to satisfy a voracious blood-sucker; and all under pretence of equity. One single regulation would at once put a ftop to this whole complaint, viz. A law, by which in all cases of prosecution about private concerns, if one of the parties chose to submit the cause to arbitration, the other should be obliged to stand to the award. The most judicious and prudent set of men in the nation, I mean the merchants, find this the most amicable, equi. table, and frugal manner of deciding disputes about property, and generally use it. And it were to be wished that it were universal; which it is to be hoped the abominable iniquity of the law will at last bring about.

The ancient maxim, that the rigour of the law is the height of injuftice, is undoubtedly true. And whoever is ready to take all advantages of his neighbour, which the law, strained to its utmost strictness, will give him, Thews himself (so far from loving his neighbour as himfelf) to be of a disposition to plunder his neighbour for his own advantage in the most iniquitous manner, if he could but at the same time keep himself safe ; and that it is not the love of justice and of his neighbour, but fear of punishment, that restrains him from the most notorious violation of property by theft or robbery.

If by borrowing money, or buying goods upon credit, knowing one's felf, to be in no condition to pay, while the person he deals with believes him fit to be trusted, if by such means as these one may as much in

jure

jure his neighbour's estate, as by open violence or theft, it is evident that all such proceedings are highly unjust. Every man has a right to know the truth in all cases which concern himself: And whoever conceals from his neighbour a truth, which, if he had known, he would have acted another part than he did, is the cause of all the loss he may suffer by such transaction. Yet nothing is more common than for traders to borrow Jarge fums a very few days before their becoming infolvent. In which, besides the injuitice, the abuse of friendship and confidence greatly aggravates the iniquity.

It is lamentable to observe how little regard is too generally paid to such promises as people think themfelves not legally liable to be compelled to the performance of. Breaking promises is violating sacred truth. And withholding from a person what one has absolutely promised him, fuppofing it still in his power to perform his promise, is depriving him of what he has a right to claim : which is in effect a violation of

property. Elpecially in the case of a dependence upon a promise given, by which the expectant is disappointed, and greatly injured. This is direct injustice, falschood, and cruelty. Nor does the confideration of an unexpected expence, which the fulfilling of the promise may occafion, bring any excuse for violating it. All that was to have been corfidered beforehand, and accounted upon, before you gave your promife. At the same time a generous man will quit his right to what has been promised him, when he finds, that the promiser cannot, without considerable detriment, fulfil his engagement.

To withhold a just debt, though the creditor should not have it in his power to recover it by law, is equally unjuit, as in the case of its being recoverable. The intention of the law of bankruptcy is to give unfortunate debtors an opportunity of doing justice to their creditors. Therefore he, who takes the advantage of his being cleared by the statute of bankruptcy, and refuses to make complete payment of his whole debts, when it comes afterwards to be in his power, is guilty of the

fame

« PreviousContinue »