Imágenes de páginas


How Subjection to Civil Government is Maintained

COULD we view our own species from a distance, or regard mankind with the same sort of observation with which we read the natural history, or remark the manners, of any other animal, there is nothing in the human character which would more surprise us, than the almost universal subjugation of strength to weakness;-than to see many millions of robust men, in the complete use and exercise of their personal faculties, and without any defect of courage, waiting upon the will of a child, a woman, a driveller, or a lunatic. And although, when we suppose a vast empire in absolute subjection to one person, and that one depressed beneath the level of his species by infirmities or vice, we suppose perhaps an extreme case: yet in all cases, even in the most popular forms of civil government, the physical strength resides in the governed. In what manner opinion thus prevails over strength, or how power, which naturally belongs to superior force, is maintained in opposition to it; in other words, by what motives the many are induced to submit to the few, becomes an inquiry which lies at the root of almost every political speculation. It removes, indeed, but does not resolve, the difficulty, to say that civil governments are now a-days almost universally upholden by standing armies; for the question, still returns; How are these armies themselves kept in subjection, or made to obey the commands, and carry on the designs, of the prince or state which employs them.

Now, although we should look in vain for any single reason which will account for the general submission of mankind to civil government; yet it may not be difficult to assign for every class and character in the community, considerations powerful enough to dissuade each from any attempts to resist established authority. Every man has his motive, though not the same. In this, as in other instances, the conduct is similar, but 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-inte


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 corroborrated, and its influence considerably augmented, by an accession of religious sentiments, and by that sacredness which men are wont to ascribe to the person of princes. Princes theinselves have 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 coronations, 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 Hoiner, 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 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 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 upon this principle, that several statesmen of those times advised Cromwell to assume the title of king, together with the ancient style 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 opinion 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 con


4. As ignorance of union, and want of communication, appear amongst the principal preservatives of civil authority, it behoves every state to keep its subjects in this want and 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 inay have little to fear from its Popish subjects, scattered as they are

throughout the kingdom, and intermixed with the Protestant inhabi tants, 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 explo sion.


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 citizen 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 convened 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 under 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 compact, 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 patronised 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, similar to what is here described, was ever made or entered into in reality; no such original convention of the people was ever actually holden, 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 compact 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 establishment of the United States of North America. We saw the people assembled to elect deputies, for the avowed purpose of framing the constitution of a new empire. We saw this deputation of the people deliberating 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 magistrates of the state, but as limitations of power, which were to control and regulate the future legislature. even here much was presupposed. In settling the constitution, many important parts were presumed to be already settled. The qualifications of the constituents who were admitted to vote in the election of members of congress, as well as the mode of electing the representatives, were taken from the old forms of government. That was -wanting, from which every social union should set off, and which alone - makes the resolution of the society the act of the individual,-the unconstrained consent of all to be bound by the decision of the majority; and yet, without this previous consent, the revolt, and the regulations which followed it were compulsory upon dissentients.


But the original compact, we are told, is not proposed as a fact, but as a fiction, which furnishes a commodious explication of the

« AnteriorContinuar »