« PreviousContinue »
society requires it, that is, so long as the establish ed government cannot be resisted or changed without public inconveniency, it is the will of God (which will universally determines our duty) that the established government be obeyed,"-and no longer.
This principle being admitted, the justice of every particular case of resistance is reduced to a computation of the quantity of the danger and grievance on the one side, and of the probability and expense of redressing it on the other.
But who shall judge this? We answer, "Every man for himself." In contentions between the sovereign and the subject, the parties acknowledge no common arbitrator; and it would be absurd to refer the decision to those whose conduct has provoked the question, and whose own interest, authority, and fate, are immediately concerned in it.The danger of error and abuse is no objection to the rule of expediency, because every other rule is liable to the same or greater; and every rule that can be propounded upon the subject (like all rules indeed which appeal to, or bind, the conscience) must in the application depend upon private judg ment. It may be observed, however, that it ought equally to be accounted the exercise of a man's own private judgment, whether he be determined by reasonings and conclusions of his own, or submit to be directed by the advice of others, provided he be free to choose his guide.
We proceed to point out some easy but important inferences, which result from the substitution of public expediency into the place of all implied compacts, promises, or conventions whatsoever.
I. It may be as much a duty, at one time, to resist government, as it is, at another, to obey it; to wit, whenever more advantage will, in our opinion, accrue to the community from resistance, than mischief.
II. The lawfulness of resistance, or the lawfulness of a revolt, does not depend alone upon the grievance which is sustained or feared, but also upon the probable expense and event of the contest. They who concerted the Revolution in England, were justifiable in their counsels, because, from the
apparent disposition of the nation, and the strength and character of the parties engaged, the measure was likely to be brought about with little mischief or bloodshed; whereas it might have been a question with many friends of their country, whether the injuries then endured and threatened would have authorized the renewal of a doubtful civil war. III. Irregularity in the first foundation of a state, or subsequent violence, fraud, or injustice, in getting possession of the supreme power, are not sufficient reasons for resistance, after the government is once peaceably settled. No subject of the British empire conceives himself engaged to vindicate the justice of the Norman claim or conquest, or apprehends that his duty in any manner depends upon that controversy. So likewise, if the house of Lancaster, or even the posterity of Cromwell, had been at this day seated upon the throne of England, we should have been as little concerned to inquire how the founder of the family came there. No civil contests are so futile, although none have been so furious and sanguinary, as those which are excited by a disputed succession.
IV. Not every invasion of the subject's rights, or liberty, or of the constitution; not every breach of promise, or of oath; not every stretch of prerogative, abuse of power, or neglect of duty, by the chief magistrate, or by the whole or any branch of the legislative body justifies resistance, unless these crimes draw after them public consequences of sufficient magnitude to outweigh the evils of civil disturbance. Nevertheless, every violation of the constitution ought to be watched with jealousy, and resented as such, beyond what the quantity of estimable damage would require or warrant; because a known and settled usage of governing affords the only security against the enormities of uncontrolled dominion, and because this security is weakened by every encroachment which is made without opposition, or opposed without effect.
V. No usage, law, or authority whatever, is so binding, that it need or ought to be continued, when it may be changed with advantage to the commuaity. The family of the prince, the order of succession, the prerogative of the crown, the form and
parts of the legislature, together with the respective powers, office, duration, and mutual dependency, of the several parts, are all only so many laws, mutable like other laws, whenever expediency requires, either by the ordinary act of the legislature, or, if the occasion deserve it, by the interposition of the people. These points are wont to be approached with a kind of awe; they are represented to the mind as principles of the constitution settled by our ancestors, and, being settled, to be no more committed to innovation or debate; as foundations never to be stirred; as the terms and conditions of the social compact, to which every citizen of the state has engaged his fidelity, by virtue of a promise which he cannot now recall. Such reasons have no place in our system: to us, if there be any good reason for treating these with more deference and respect than other laws, it is either the advantage of the present constitution of government, (which reason must be of different force in different countries,) or because in all countries it is of importance that the form and usage of governing be acknowledged and understood, as well by the governors as by the governed, and because, the seldomer it is changed, the more perfectly it will be known by both sides.
VI. As all civil obligation is resolved into expediency, what, it may be asked, is the difference between the obligation of an Englishman and a Frenchman? or why, since the obligation of both appears to be founded in the same reason, is a Frenchman bound in conscience to bear any thing from his king, which an Englishman would not be bound to bear? Their conditions may differ, but. their rights, according to this account, should seem to be equal; and yet we are accustomed to speak of the rights as well as of the happiness of a free people, compared with what belong to the subjects of absolute monarchies: how, you will say, can this comparison be explained, unless we refer to a difference in the compacts by which they are respectively bound?-This is a fair question, and the answer to it will afford a farther illustration of our principles. We admit then that there are many things which a Frenchman is bound in conscience,
as well as by coercion, to endure at the hands of his prince, to which an Englishman would not be obliged to submit; but we assert that it is for these two reasons alone: first, because the same act of the prince is not the same grievance, where it is agreeable to the constitution, as where it infringes it; secondly, because redress in the two cases is not equally attainable. Resistance cannot be attempted with equal hope of success, or with the same prospect of receiving support from others, where the people are reconciled to their sufferings, as where they are alarmed by innovation. In this way, and not otherwise, the subjects of different states possess different civil rights; the duty of obedience is defined by different boundaries; and the point of justifiable resistance placed at different parts of the scale of suffering; all which is sufficiently intelligible without a social compact.
VII. "The interest of the whole society is binding upon every part of it." No rule, short of this, will provide for the stability of civil government, or for the peace and safety of social life. Wherefore, as the individual members of the state are not permitted to pursue their private emolument to the prejudice of the community, so is it equally a consequence of this rule, that no particular colony, province, town or district, can justly concert measures for their separate interest, which shall appear at the same time to diminish the sum of public proserity. I do not mean, that it is necessary to the justice of a measure, that it profit each and every part of the community) for, as the happiness of the whole may be increased, whilst that of some parts is diminished, it is possible that the conduct of one part of an empire may be detrimental to some other part, and yet just, provided one part gain more in happiness than the other part loses, so that the common weal be augmented by the change ;) but what I affirm is, that those counsels can never be reconciled with the obligations resulting from civil union, which cause the whole happiness of the society to be impared for the conveniency of a part. This conclusion is applicable to the question of right between Great Britain and her revolted colonies. Had I been an American, I should not have thought it enough to have had it even demonstrated,
that a separation from the parent state would pro duce effects beneficial to America; my relation to that state imposed upon me a farther inquiry, name. ly, whether the whole happiness of the empire was likely to be promoted by such a measure not indeed the happiness of every part; that was not ne cessary, nor to be expected ;-but whether what Great Britain would lose by the separation, was likely to be compensated to the joint stock of hap piness, by the advantages which America would receive from it. The contested claims of sovereign states and their remote dependencies may be submitted to the adjudication of this rule with mutual safety. A public advantage is measured by the ad vantage which each individual receives, and by the number of those who receive it. A public evil is compounded of the same proportions. Whilst, therefore, a colony is small, or a province thinly inhabited, if a competition of interests arise be tween the original country and their acquired dominions, the former ought to be preferred; because it is fit that, if one must necessarily be sacrificed. the less give place to the greater: but when, by an increase of population, the interest of the provinces begins to bear a considerable proportion to the ex tire interest of the community, it is possible that they may suffer so much by their subjection, that not only theirs, but the whole happiness of the em pire, may be obstructed by their union. The rule and principle of the calculation being still the same, the result is different and this difference begets & new situation, which entitles the subordinate parts of the state to more equal terms of confederation, and, if these be refused, to independency.
Of the duty of civil obedience, as stated in the
WE affirm that, as to the extent of our civil rights and obligations, Christianity hath left us where she found us; that she hath neither altered nor ascer Zained it; that the New Testament contains not