Oldalképek
PDF
ePub
[merged small][merged small][merged small][ocr errors][ocr errors]

but the Author of Life can be the dispenser of liberty. Long preparation is requisite to obtain it, and individual virtue and courage can alone preserve it. We readily conceive how the germ of this great blessing is planted by nature in the heart of man; how a capacity for the love of liberty is a part of his being ; but we must remember it must first be known to a certain extent before it can be loved. Nations, in their very infancy, enjoy liberty to the exact extent to which their capacity and virtue entitle them. Such we all know to have been the case with Britain ; a nation which never permanently lost its liberty, and which has steadily increased and refined it, as it has itself advanced in civilization and knowledge. All the state papers to which writers so often refer as "charters of liberty," are nothing more than declaratory deeds and conventional guarantees of pre-existing facts and privileges. English liberty found its origin neither in Magna Charta, the Bill of Rights, the Habeas Corpus, or any other law. The germ was planted in the breasts of the Britons and Saxons, even in the obscurity of their ancient barbarism. There Cæsar found it, and thence in vain he sought to drive it. He tells us himself that the Britons were a fierce people, zealous for liberty, and so obstinately valiant in the defence of it, that, though unskilled and overpowered, their country could not be subdued otherwise than by the slaughter of all the warriors. And if ever fear was known to the heart of Cæsar, it was when he had to cope with Ariovistus, at the head of the German tribes; of which the Saxons were renowned as the most valiant, and the greatest lovers and defenders of liberty. When Caractacus, the brave and sturdy Welchman, after defending his country seven years against the Romans, was carried captive to the Emperor, he wore a prouder mien than all the Romans present. Tacitus, also,* speaks of this nation in language which meets corroboration at a period as recent as the times of Charles II.

[ocr errors][ocr errors]

"The Britons are willing to supply our armies with new levies ; they pay their tribute without a murmur; and they perform all the services

* In his Life of Agricola. Chapter 13.

of government with alacrity, provided they have no reason to complain of oppression. When injured, their resentment is quick, sudden and impatient: they are conquered, not broken hearted; reduced to obedience, not subdued to slavery."

Now the Britons, at the time of which these writers speak, were by no means in the so-called “state of nature.” They lived under kings and such governments as were demanded by their society; hence, the liberty they enjoyed, and of which they are described as being so tenacious, was not the "natural liberty ” which “God hath given them.” And, although a critical definition of the word is not desired here, it is well to have some general understanding on the subject. It admits of both a positive and negative explanation. Dr. Ferguson describes it at various places thus :*

“ Liberty, in one sense, appears to be the portion of polished nations alone. The savage is personally free, because lie lives unresti ained, and acts with the members of liis tribe on terms of equality. The barbarian is frequently independent, from a continuance of the same circumstanices, or because he has courage and a sword. But good policy alone cai: provide for the regular administration of justice, or constitute a force in the state, which is ready on every occasion to defend the rights of its members." "Liberty results, we say, from the governinent of laws; and we are apt to consider statutes not merely as the resolutions and maxims of a people determined to be free, not as the writings by which their rights are kept on record, but as a power erected to guard them, and as a barrier which the caprice of men cannot transgress.” Besides, Liberty is a right which every individual must be ready to viudicate for himself, and which he who pretends to bestow as a favour, has by that very act in reality denied. Even political establishments, though they appear to be independent of the will and arbitration of men, cannot be relied on for the preservation of freedom; they may nourish, but should not supersede, that firm and resolute spirit with which the liberal mind is always prepared to resist indignities, and to refer its safety to itself."

“ Were a nation, therefore, given to be moulded by a sovereign, as the clay is put into the hands of the potter, this project of bestowing liberty on people who are actually servile, is, perhaps, of all others the most difficult, and requires most to be executed in silence and with the deepest reserve. Men are qualified

Men are qualified to receive this blessing only in proportion as they are made to apprehend their own rights; and are made to respect the just pretensions of mankind, in proportion as they are willing to sustain, in their own persons, the burden of government and of national defence; and are willing to prefer the engagements of a

[ocr errors]

* Section V., pages 437, 439 and 444.

liberal mind to the enjoyment of sloth, or the delusive hopes of a safety purchased by submission and fear."

Dr. Lieber, in his recent elaborate and highly valuable treatise, gives the same explanation as his learned co-labourer of Edinburgh. He says:*

“In a general way, it may here be stated as an explanation—not offered as a definition—that when the terin civil liberty is cised, there is now always meant a high degree of mutually guaranteed protection against iuterference with the interests and rights beld dear and important by large classes of civilized men, or by all the members of a state, together with an effectual share in the making and administration of tho laws, as the best apparatus to secure that protection, and constituting the most dignified government of men who are conscious of their rights and of the destiny of humanity. But what are these guarantees? these interests and rights? Who are civilized men? In what does that share consist? Which are the men that are conscious of their rights? What is the destiny of humanity? Who are the large classes?

“I nean by civil liberty, that liberty which plainly results from the application of the general idea of freedom to the civil state of man, that is, to his relations as a political being-a being obliged by his nature, and destined by his Creator, to live in society. Civil liberty is the result of man's twofold character, as an individual and social being, so soon as both are equally respected.

"Some bare confounded liberty, the status of the freeman, as opposed to slavery, with civil liberty. But every one is aware that, while we speak of freemen in Asia, meaning only non-slaves, we would be very unwilling to speak of civil liberty in that part of the globe.

" The Roman lawyers say that liberty is the power (authority) of doing that which is not forbidden by the law. That the supremacy of the law and exclusion of arbitrary interference is a necessary element of all liberty, every one will readily admit; but if no additional characteristics be given, we have, indeed, no more than a definition of the status of a non-slave. It does not state whence the laws ought to come, or what spirit ought to pervade them. The same lawyers say: Whatever may please the ruler las the force of law. They might have said with equal correctness : Freeman is he who is directly subject to the emperor; slave is he who is subject to the emperor through an individual master. It settles nothing as to what we call liberty, as little as the other dictum of the civil law, which divides all men into freemen and slaves. The meaning of freemen in this case is nothing more than non-slave, whilo our word freemen, when we use it in connection with civil liberty, means not merely a negation of slavery, but the enjoyment of positivo and high civil privileges and rights.

“Liberty has not unfrequently been defined as consisting in the rule of the majority—or it k is been said, where the people rule there is lib

* Vol. 1, pages 34, 36, 37, 38, 42 and 53.

erty. The rule of the majority, of itself, indicates the power of a certain body; but power is not liberty. Suppose the majority bid you drink hemlock, is there liberty for you? Or suppose the majority give away liberty, and establish a despot ? We might say with greater truth, that where the minority is protected, although the majority rule, there, probably, liberty exists. But in this latter case it is the protection, or, in other words, rights beyond the reach of the majority, which constitute liberty, not the power of the majority. There can be no doubt that the majority ruled in the French massacres of the Protestants; was there liberty in France on that account?

“We come thus to the conclusion that liberty applied to political man, practically means, in the main, protection or checks against undue interference, whether this be from individuals, froni masses, or from government. The highest amount of liberty comes to signify the safest guarantees of undisturbed legitimate action, and the most efficient checks against undue interference, Men, however, do not occupy themselves with that which is unnecessary. Breathing is unquestionably a right of each individual, proved by his existence; but, since no power has yet interfered with the undoubted right of respiration, no one has ever thought it necessary to guarantee this elementary right. We advance, then, a step farther in practically considering civil liberty, and find that it chiefly consists in guarantees and corresponding checks) of those rights which experience has proved to be most exposed to interference, and which men hold dearest and most important."

And Mr. Calhoun, our great philosophic statesman, gives the result of his profound thought, and long experience, in the following clear exposition :*

"A community may possess all the necessary qualifications in so high a degree as to be capable of self-government under the most adverse circumstances ; while, on the other hand, another may be so sunk in ignorance and vice as to be incapable of forming a conception of liberty, or of living, even when most favoured by circumstances, under any other than an absolute or despotic government. The principle, in all communities, according to these numerous and various causes, assigns to power

eir proper spheres. To allow to liberty, in any case, a sphere of action more extended than this assigns, would lead to anarchy; and this, probably, in the end, to a contraction instead of an enlargement of its sphere. Liberty, then, when forced on a people unfit for it, would, instead of a blessing, be a curse; as it would, in its reaction, lead directly to anarchy--the greatest of all curses. No people, indeed, can long enjoy more liberty than that to which their situation and advanced intelligence and morals fairly entitle them. If more than this be allowed, they must soon fall into confusion and disorder to be followed, if not by anarchy and despotism, by a change to a form of government more simple and absolute; and, therefore, better suited to their

* Calhoun's Works. Vol. 1, page 54.

condition. And, hence, although it inay be true that a people may not have as much liberty as they are fairly entitled to, and are capable of enjoying, yet the reverse is unquestionably true, that no people can long possess more than they are fairly entitled to.

"Liberty, indeed, though among the greatest of blessings, is not so great as that of protection; inasmuch as the end of the former is the progress and improvement of the race —while that of the latter is its preservation and perpetuation. And, hence, when the two come into conflict, liberty must, and ever ought, to yield to protection; as the existence of the race is of greater moment than its improvement.

" It follows, from what has been stated, that it is a great and dangerous error to suppose that all people are equally entitled to liberty. It is a reward to be earned, not a blessing to be gratuitously lavished on all alike;—a reward reserved for the intelligent, the patriotic, the virtuous and deserving ;--and not a boon to be bestowed on a people too ignorant, degraded and vicious, to be capable either of appreciating or of enjoying it. Nor is it any disparagement to liberty that such is, and ought to be, the case. On the contrary, its greatest praise-its proudest distinction is, that an all-wise Providence has reserved it, as the noblest and highest reward for the development of our faculties, moral and intellectual. A reward more appropriate than liberty could not be conferred on the deserving ;--nor a punishment inflicted on the undeserving more just, than to be subject to lawless and despotic rule. This dispensation seems to be the result of some fixed law ;-and every effort to disturb or defeat it, by attempting to elevate a people in the scale of liberty, above the point to which they are entitled to rise, must ever prove abortive, and end in disappointment.”

With all this evidence before us, we are left no room to doubt that there is a law in our nature which regulates the balance between power and liberty here described ;-a law which makes the liberty we enjoy commensurate with our capacity for enjoying it; and which, when resolved into principle, must be found to be the great cardinal principle of government. We have but to remember that the great end of life is happiness, and the problem is solved. It is neither liberty, nor property, nor fame, that is the grand object of life; these are but the means to be used, and used by those only who are capable of applying them. We all aim at happiness, and he that can attain it, in a state of subjection were wise to hug his chains, for liberty, any change, however promising, could not improve his fortunes, and might entail misery upon him. Some of the older writers have unwittingly established the doctrine, when they defined liberty to be the security of person and property. They saw that happiness was

« ElőzőTovább »