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innovation. The statute 37 Hen. VIII. c. 9, confined interest to ten per cent, and so did the statute of 13 Eliz. c. 8. But as, through the encouragements given in her reign to commerce, the nation grew more wealthy: so, under her successor, the statute, 21 Jac. I* c. 17, reduced it to eight per cent.: as did the statute 12 Chas. II. c. 13, to six, and by the statute 12 Anne, c. 16, it was brought down to five per cent., at which point it has remained ever since.
If then we are to model our conduct after the manner of our ancestors, these repeated alterations in the value of the interest of money, would raise a strong presumption in favour of a further reduction. Now, the fallacy of the sophism made use of in the recent debate, consisted in this: that though the truth was told, the whole truth was not. It was the duty of those members, who argued against the repeal, not only to have mentioned the last statute of Anne, but also the preceding statutes. And they were also bound to show that "the wisdom of our ancestors," who lived in the reign of Anne, was a safer guide to us than the wisdom of their predecessors. If all the cases were collected, in which sophisms have been employed to mislead the
judgment, they would fill many volumes. The preceding one is sufficient to illustrate our argument. Ex uno disce ornnes.
In the wide range of legislative and political subjects, which interest the feelings and engage attention, there is none in which parliamentary logic and sophisms have been more instrumental in retarding the progress of truth, than in discussions concerning the liberty of the press, as it regards religious opinions. In the present chapter, we shall endeavour to show that no legislative assembly, in a free country, has any right to interfere in matters of religious opinion. This proposition must be understood in the widest possible sense, without any exceptions or reservation whatever. A disciple of the Blackstonian school may regard this doctrine as founded in error, dangerous in its consequences, and irreconcileable with the idea of legislative supremacy. He would shape his objection somewhat in the following form:—" In every state there must exist some power from which there is no appeal, whether that power is lodged with an individual, or an assembly. In England the legislative authority is vested in the King and the two Houses of Parliament. When these three functionaries agree to pro
hibit the doing of any act, by affixing punish ment to the commission of it, their fiat is decisive, and the whole community is bound by it: otherwise there would exist an imperium in imperio, that is to say, some persons would exercise a power paramount to that of the King and Parliament. But by the supposition, the supremacy of the state resides in the King and Parliament; therefore, whatever they exact possesses the force of law, and every member of the body politic is bound to acknowledge and obey their decrees."—This argument is plausible; and the apparent logical precision by which it is enforced, is calculated to give it currency among superficial thinkers, who are either unable or unwilling to undergo the fatigue of investigating the true principles of legislation. Unfortunately for the happiness of mankind, the ignorant and indolent constitute nine-tenths of the species, who are satisfied with embracing the opinions of their forefathers, and so long as they themselves enjoy the comforts and luxuries of life, never disturb the monotony of their ideas by reflecting on the general condition of society. Men of this description reconcile to themselves this disgraceful indifference, by endeavouring to persuade themselves, that what proceeds in reality from sluggishness, arises from a
modest distrust of their own powers, and a respectful deference to the opinions of popular writers.
In order to establish and illustrate the truth of the proposition, which denies the right of legislative interference in matters of religious opinion, it will be necessary to examine somewhat closely the leading principles and fundamental maxims of penal jurisprudence.*
In the earlier periods of society, when the true principles of legislation were unknown, punishments were vindictive and sanguinary. The lex talionis corresponded with the rude notions of a barbarous age, and an eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth, appeared a perfect standard of retributive justice. The cul
* The reader must not forget that belief is an involuntary operation of the mind, and consequently, that there are certain propositions which every man must acknowledge to be true, whether he pleases or not. For instance, no man can deny that all the parts are equal to, and no more than equal to the whole; or that a son is necessarily younger than his father. If any system of religion were established in which these impossible and contradictory propositions were declared to be consistent either with reason or faith, and eternal damnation pronounced against all who doubted them; and if, in order to compel the laity to assent to these monstrous absurdities, the legislature were to fine and imprison all the heretics, it is very possible that the certainty of pre
tivation of the fine arts and the advancement of literature, tended to soften the asperities of human nature; and in proportion as civilization extended its influence, humanity followed in its train.
Didicisse fideleter artes,
The trial by ordeal, the use of the rack, and other instruments of torture, were discontinued, and during the last century, the labours of Beccaria and Montesquieu prepared the road to a complete reform in criminal jurisprudence. To them Europe is principally indebted, as being the first who gave a deathblow to the reigning prejudices; but notwithstanding their valuable exertions, and the writings of several philosophers who have
sent, and the dread of future punishment, might induce the prudent or the timid to make a public declaration in a church, or a court of justice, in favour of the orthodox nonsense. Those who had an interest in supporting the doctrines, would affect to rejoice at the conversion of their enlightened brethren; but those who were guided by common sense, would charge the proselytes with perjury. It is by this compulsory system, which identifies politics with religion, and makes the latter subservient to the former, that reliques, images and pictures, have become objects of adoration.