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being the declared will of God, to induce them cheerfully to acquiesce, and steadfastly to practise the things that are just and honest. Though they have nothing to depend on but their industry, while many around them have been born to fortunes, they surely cannot fare worse than if these fortunes had not been made by the savings of successive generations. Would they have been better fed or more comfortably clothed if mankind had possessed all things in common ;-and if in place of having moved onwards to the habits and the accommodations of civilized life, they had continued to nestle in the cavern, and to cover themselves in the skins of animals? Do they complain that they have nothing, while others by their superabundance are elevated above manual labour ! Let them remember that but for the institution of property, and that consequent inequality of circumstances which necessarily accompanies it, this surplus could never have existence ;-there could, therefore, have been no fund for rewarding industry; all would be on the same level of penury and wretchedness; all would often be in want, and none would have permanent plenty; all would be poor, and none could possibly become rich. The poorest among us would be poorer than they now are, with the additional inconvenience of finding their industry of little use to them, while all around them presented a scene of misery.
The children of the poorest parents in a civilized country are born to no inconsiderable inheritance ;to an inheritance of far greater value than that of an African Prince-the absolute master of the lives and liberties of ten thousand naked savages. How su
perior is their habitation, their food, their clothing, and their attendance, from what they could have had if the rights of property had never existed. In such a country as our own, where the blessings of an elementary education are within the reach of all, and where the restrictions on trade are slender and few, every man has the fair prospect of obtaining, as the reward of his industry, a sufficiency for himself and his family. He who has health to labour, and who has the opportunity of selling his labour to the best advantage, has it in his power to place himself above indigence. Nor will it be doubted, that he who obtains this blessing as the reward of his labour, has much greater happiness in its acquisition, than he whose fortune has been accumulated by others;—so that in place of repining at what he might otherwise regard as an unequal distribution of Providence, he has much ground for thankfulness that the preponderance of substantial enjoyment is so decidedly in his favour.
The duty of acting with honesty towards the property of others, and of cultivating a contented state of mind, may, on these grounds alone, be enforced. But revelation suggests many other views to reconcile us to the practice of this duty. It teaches us that the providence of God, which ruleth over all, makes man the special object of its care; that He who feeds the raven when he cries, and clothes with beauty the grass of the field, will support him under necessities and distresses, and supply the means for their removal ; and that the trials and sufferings of the present state are overruled, for promoting his real and everlasting good. It teaches us to look for our chief happiness to higher sources of enjoyment than this world can afford; while it presents to the contempla: tion of our faith a new heaven and a new earth, “ where there shall be no more death, neither sorrow nor crying, neither any more pain; the former things having passed away."
IN WHAT DOES THE RIGHT OF PROPERTY CONSIST?
DIFFERENT solutions have been given of the question, In what does the right of property consist ?—and they all appear to contain a portion of truth. That principle, doubtless, affords the just solution which unites these together, and to which, as a general law, they are referrible.
Some moralists are of opinion, that the right of property consists in what may be called the general consent of mankind;—that when a particular person was allowed to occupy a piece of ground, others, by tacit consent, relinquished their right to it;—tha as the piece of ground belonged to mankind collectively, they, when they permitted the first peaceable occupier to remain on it, ceased to have any claim on it. This opinion resolves itself into the right of possession; a right, which, for the greater part, it is expedient to consider as valid in a civilized country.
Others are of opinion, and of this number is Locke, that each man's labour is his own exclusively: that by occupying a piece of ground, a man inseparably mixes his labour with it; by which means it afterwards becomes his own, as it cannot be taken from him without depriving him, at the same time, of something which is indisputably his. To distinguish this right from that of possession, I would call it the right of labour. This, as Paley obseryes, . is a fair ground, where the value of the labour bears a considerable proportion to the value of the thing; or, where the thing derives its chief use and value from the labour. Thus, game and fish, though they be common whilst at large in the woods or water, instantly become the property of the person that catches them; because an animal, when caught, is much more valuable than when at liberty; and this increase of value, which is inseparable from, and makes a great part of, the whole value, is strictly the property of the fowler or fisherman, being the produce of his personal labour.
A third opinion on this subject is, that as God has provided liberally for the wants of all his creatures, he has given leave to each to take what his necessities may require; and that by virtue of this grant a man may appropriate what he needs without asking or waiting for the consent of others. This opinion is just only in cases in which the things that I want are unappropriated. For, though the God of nature has provided an ample feast for all his children, I cannot sit down and eat, if it has been already appropriated before I come into the world, unless I can offer the possessors what they will consider as an equivalent.
Admitting that these opinions afforded a perfect solution of the question, “ In what is the right of property founded ?” they would be of little use in vindicating our present claims of property in land, unless it were more probable than it is, that our estates were actually acquired at first in some of the ways which these accounts suppose; and that a regular regard had been paid to justice in every succeeding transmission of them since*. Without
further analysis of this subject, we are prepared, by the different views that have been taken of it, to give our assent to the general position, that all right is founded on the will of God, and that this will, in relation to property, is in general expressed by the law of the land. If we have shewn that the intentions of God with regard to the fruits of the earth could not be fulfilled in any other way than by establishing the right of property, we have in reality shewn that it is his will that it should be established; and if we have succeeded in proving that the efforts and the feelings to which property gives rise are essentially connected with the progress of reason, and the happiness of mankind, there can be no doubt, that it is the will of God that this right should be universally recognised.
If these principles be just, it follows, that the right to an estate does not at all depend on the manner or justice of the original acquisition, nor upon the justice of each subsequent change of possession. The law of the land, which is the ordinance of God not less than the institution of property, must be regarded as in this case the rule of right.
* See Paley's Moral Philosophy.