« PreviousContinue »
worship of gods. The mythology of the heroic ages, and of many barbarous nations, was easily converted to this purpose. Some princes, like the heroes of Homer, and the founder of thé Roman name, derived their birth from the gods ; others, with Numa, pretended a secret communication with some divine being; and others, again, like the incas of Peru, and the ancient Saxon kings, extracted their descent from the deities of their country. The Lama of Thibet, at this day, is held forth to his subjects, not as the offspring or successor of a divine race of princes, but as the im mortal God himself, the object at once of civil obe. dience and religious adoration. This instance is singular, and may be accounted the farthest point to which the abuse of human credulity has ever been carried. But in all these instances the purpose was the same-to engage the reverence of mankind, by an application to their religious principles.
The reader will be careful to observe that, in this article, we denominate every opinion, whether true or false, a prejudice, which is not founded upon argument, in the mind of the person who entertains it.
II. They who obey from reason, that is to say, from conscience as instructed by reasonings and conclusions of their own, are determined by the consideration of the necessity of some government or other; the certain mischief of civil commotions ; and the danger of resettling the government of their country better, or at all, if once subverted or disturbed.
III. They who obey from self-interest, are kept in order by want of leisure ; by a succession of private cares, pleasures, and engagements; by contentment, or a sense of the ease, plenty, and safety, which they enjoy ; or lastly, and principally, by fear, foreseeing that they would bring themselves by resistance into a worse situation than their present, inasmuch as the strength of government, each discontented subject reflects, is greater than his own, and he knows not that others would join him.
This last consideration has often been called opi. nion of power.
This account of the principles by which mankind are retained in their obedience to civil government, may suggest the following cautions :
1. Let civil governors learn hence to respect their subjects ; let them be admonished, that the physical strength resides in the governed ; that this strength wants only to be felt and roused, to lay prostrate the most ancient and confirmed dominion ; that civil authority is founded in opinion ; that general opinion therefore ought always to be treated with deference, and managed with delicacy and circumspection.
2. Opinion of right, always following the custom, being for the most part founded in nothing else, and lending one principal support to government ; every innovation in the constitution, or, in other words, in the custom of governing, diminishes the stability of government. Hence some absurdities are to be retained, and many small inconveniences endured in every country, rather than that the usage should be violated, or the course of public affairs diverted from their old and smooth channel. Even names are not indifferent. When the multitude are to be dealt with, there is a charm in sounds. It was upon this principle, that several statesmen of those times advised Cromwell to assume the title of king, together with the ancient stvle and insignia of royalty. The minds of many, they contended, would be brought to acquiesce in the authority of a king, who suspected the office, and were offended with the administration, of a protector. Novelty reminded them of usurpation. The adversaries of this design opposed the measure, from the same persuasion of the efficacy of names and forms, jealous lest the veneration paid to these, should add an influence to the new settlement which might insnare the liberty of the commonwealth.
3. Government may be too secure. The greatest tyrants have been those, whose titles were the most unquestioned. Whenever therefore the opi. nion of right becomes too predominant and superstitious, it is abated by breaking the custom. Thus
the Revolution broke the custom of succession, and thereby moderated, both in the prince and in the people, those lofty notions of hereditary, right, which in the one were become a continual incentive to tyranny, and disposed the other to invite servitude, by undue compliances and dangerous concessions.
4. As ignorance of union, and want of communi. cation, appear amongst the principal preservatives of civil authority, it behooves every state to keep its subjects in this want of ignorance, not only by vigilance in guarding against actual confederacies and combinations, but by a timely care to prevent great collections of men of any separate party of religion, or of like occupation or profession, or in any way connected by a participation of interest or passion, from being assembled in the same vicinity. A Protestant establishment in this country may have little to fear from its Popish subjects, scattered as they are throughout the kingdom, and intermixed with the Protestant inhabitants, which yet might think them a formidable body, if they were gathered together into one county. The most frequent and desperate riots are those which break out amongst men of the same profession, as weavers, miners, sailors. This circumstance makes a mutiny of soldiers more to be dreaded than any other insurrection. Hence also one danger of an overgrown metropolis, and of those great cities and crowded districts, into which the inhabitants of trading countries are commonly collected. The worst effect of popular tumults consists in this, that they discover to the insurgents the secret of their own strength, teach them to depend upon it against a future occasion, and both produce and diffuse sentiments of confidence in one another, and assurances of mutual support. Leagues thus formed and strengthened, may overawe or overset the power of any state ; and the danger is greater, in proportion as, from the propinquity of habitation and intercourse of employment, the passions and counsels of a party can be circulated with ease and rapidity, It is by these means, and in such situations, that the minds of men are so affected and prepared, that the most dreadful uproars often arise from the
slightest provocations. When the train is laid, a spark will produce the explosion.
CHAP. III. The duty of submission to civil government explained.
The subject of this chapter is sufficiently distinguished from the subject of the last, as the motives which actually produce civil obedience, may be, and often are, very different from the reasons which make that obedience a duty.
In order to prove civil obedience to be a moral duty, and an obligation upon the conscience, it hath been usual with many political writers (at the head of whom we find the venerable name of Locke) to state a compact between the citizens and the state, as the ground and cause of the relation between them; which compact, binding the parties for the same general reason that private contracts do, resolves the duty of submission to civil government into the universal obligation of fidelity in the performance of promises. This compact is twofold :
First, An express compact by the primitive founders of the state, who are supposed to have convered for the declared purpose of settling the terms of their political union, and a future constitution of government. The whole body is supposed, in the first place, to have unanimously consented to be bound by the resolutions of the majority; that majority, in the next place, to have fixed certain fundamental regulations; and then to have constituted, either in one person, or in an assembly (the rule of succession, or appointment, being at the same time determined,) a standing legislature, to whom, urder these pre-established restrictions, the government of the state was thenceforward committed, and whose laws the several members of the convention were, by their first undertaking, thus personally engaged to obey. This transaction is sometimes called the social scompact, and these supposed original regulations compose what are meant by the constitution, the fundamental laws of the constitution ;
and form, on one side, the inherent indefeasible prerogative of the crown; and, on the other, the inalienable, imprescriptible birthright of the subject.
Secondly, A tacit or implied compact, by all succeeding members of the state, who, by accepting its protection, consent to be bound by its laws; in like manner as, whoever voluntarily enters into a private society is understood, without any other or more explicit stipulation, to promise a conformity with the rules and obedience to the government of that society, as the known conditions upon which he is admitted to a participation of its privileges.
This account of the subject, although specious, and patronized by names the most respectable, appears to labour under the following objections : that it is founded upon a supposition false in fact, and leading to dangerous conclusions.
No social compact, Esimilar to what is here de. scribed, was ever made or entered into in reality no such original convention of the people was ever actually hoïden, or in any country could be holden, antecedent to the existence of civil government in that country. It is to suppose it possible to call savages out of caves and deserts, to deliberate and vote upon topics, which the experience, and studies, and refinements, of civil life, alone suggest. Therefore no government in the universe began from this original. Some imitation of a social con. pact may have taken place at a revolution. The present age has been witness to a transaction, which bears the nearest resemblance to this political idea, of any of which history has preserved the account or memory : I refer to the establishmet of the United States of North America. We saw the people assembled to elect deputies, for the avor ed purpose of framing the constitution of a new em. pire. We saw this deputation of the people de. liberating and resolving upon a form of government, erecting a permanent legislature, distributing the functions of sovereignty, establishing and promulgating a code of fundamental ordinances, which were to be considered by succeeding generations, not merely as laws and acts of the state, but as the very terms and conditions of the confederation ; as binding not only upon the subjects and magis.