Imágenes de páginas
PDF
EPUB

the principles which produce it extremely various.

There are three distinctions of character, into which the subjects of a state may be divided : into those who obey from prejudice; those who obey from reason; and those who obey from self-interest. · I. They who obey from prejudice, are determined by an opinion of right in their governors; which opinion is founded upon prescription. In monarchies and aristocracies which are hereditary, the prescription operates in favour of particular families ; in republics and elective offices, in favour of particular forms of government, or constitutions. Nor is it to be wondered at, that mankind should reverence authority founded in prescription, when they observe that it is prescription which confers the title to almost every thing else. The whole course, and all the habits, of civil life, favour this prejudice. Upon what other foundation stands any man's right to his estate? The right of primogeniture, the succession of kindred, the descent of property, the inheritance of honours, the demand of tithes, tolls, rents, or services, from the estates of others, the right of way,

the powers

of office and magistracy, the privileges of nobility, the immunities of the clergy; upon what are they all founded, in the apprehension at least of the multitude, but upon prescription? To what else, when the claims are contested, is the appeal made ? It is natural to transfer the same principle to the affairs of government'; and to regard those exertions of power, which have been long exercised and acquiesced in, as so many rights in the sovereign; and to consider obedience to his commands, within certain accustomed limits, as enjoined by that rule of conscience, which requires' us to render to every man his due.

In hereditary monarchies, the prescriptive title is corroborated, and its influence considerably augmented, by an accession of religious sentiments, and by that sacredness which men are wont to ascribe to the per-sons of princes. Princes themselves bave not failed to take advantage of this disposition, by claiming a superior dignity, as it were, of nature, or a peculiar delegation from the Supreme Being. For this purpose were introduced the titles of Sacred Majesty, of God's Anointed, Representative, Vicegerent, together with the ceremonies of investitures and coro

nations, which are calculated not so much to recognise the authority of sovereigns, as to consecrate their

persons.

Where a fabulous religion permitted it, the public veneration has been challenged by bolder pretensions. The Roman emperors usurped the titles and arrogated the 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 the 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 immortal God himself, the object at once of civil obedience 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 reason ings 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 re-settling the government of their coune try 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 suca cession of private cares, pleasures, and en gagements; 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 présent, 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 opinion 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

« AnteriorContinuar »