« ForrigeFortsett »
and property would be at the disposal of every man who was able and willing to take them from us. In a free country, every violation of law is an attack upon the public liberty. The laws of God and our country are our best and only security against oppression; and therefore liberty can exist amongst us no longer than while those laws are obeyed. Milton, who loved liberty as much, I believe, as any man ever did, has truly observed, when speaking of it, that 'who loves that, must first be wise and good.' See his twelfth sonnet.
Does liberty consist in our being governed by laws of our own making? I know not how many political writers have laid this down as a first principle, and a self-evident maxim: and yet, if Britain be a free government, this maxim is grossly absurd. Who are they who can be said to be governed by laws of their own making? I know of no such persons; I never heard or read of any such, except, perhaps, among pirates and other banditti, who, trampling on all laws, divine and human, refuse to be governed in any other way than by their own licentious regulations. The greatest part of the laws by which we are governed were made long ago : I should be glad to know how a man co-operates in making a law before he is born. But are we not instrumental in making those laws which are made in our own time? Granting that we are, which is by no means the case, these are not the only laws by which we are governed : we must obey the common law of the land, which is of immemorial standing, as well as the statutes made in the last session of parliament.
The British laws are enacted by the king, lords, and commons, wlio may amount in all to about eight hundred persons: the inhabitants of Great Britain, who must obey these laws, are computed at eight millions. In Britain, therefore, not to mention the rest of the empire, are more than seven millions of persons, who are governed by laws which they neither make, nor can alter: and even the king, lords, and commons, are them. selves governed by laws which were made before they were born. Nay more: if the majority of the lords and commons agree to a bill, which afterwards receives the royal assent, that bill is a law, though the minority vote against it; and the minority in both houses might comprehend three hundred and eighty persons : so that a law to bind the whole British nation might, according to the principles of our constitution, be made, even contrary to the will of three hundred and eighty members of the legislature.—Nay, further; in the house of commons, forty members, in ordinary cases of legislation, make a house, or quorum; the majority is twenty-one, which, deduc from five hundred and fifty-eight, the number of members in that house, leaves five hundred and thirty-seven: so that a bill might pass the house of commons, if the house happened to be very thin, contrary to the will of five hundred and thirty-seven members of that house; and yet, if such a bill were afterwards ratified by the lords, and assented to by the king, it would be a law.-Surely, if we are a free people, liberty must be something that does not consist in our being governed by laws of our own making.
influence in the legislature by means of his representative freely chosen, who appears and acts for him in parliament. But this is not true. There are not, in this island, one million of persons who have a vote in electing parliament-men: and yet, in this island, there are eight millions of persons who must obey the law. And for their conduct, as lawgivers, our parliament-men are not answerable to their electors, or to any other persons whatever: and it not often happens, that in making laws they are unanimous; yet the minority in botle houses inust obey the laws that are made against their will. Besides, we are all subject to the law of God, and are free in proportion as we obey it; for his service is perfect freedom. But who will say that man is the maker of God's law?-We see, then, that our liberty does not consist either in the power of doing what we please, or in being governed by laws made by ourselves.
They who are hindered from doing what the law allows, or who have reason to be afraid of one another, even while they are doing their duty, cannot be said to enjoy liberty. Where this is the case, there must be in the hands of certain individuals some exorbitant power productive of oppression, and not subject to law; or there must prevail in the state a spirit of licentiousness which the law cannot controul.-Nor can men be said to be free, who are liable to have oppressive laws imposed on them, or to be tried by tyrannical or incompetent judges. In Great Britain, by a contrivance to be explained hereafter, our laws are made by men, whose interest it is to make them equitable; and who, with a very few exceptions of
little moment, are themselves subject to the laws they make. In Britain, too, by the institution of juries, our judges, in all criminal, and in many civil causes, are our equals; men, who are acquainted with our circumstances, to whose prudence and probity we have no objection, and who are favourably inelined towards us, on account of our being their equals. In Great Britain, therefore, an honest man has nothing to fear, either from the law or from the judge.- Neither can those people be accounted free, who dare not complain when they suffer injury, or who are denied the privilege of declaring their sentiments freely to one another. In both these respects our freedom is secured by the liberty of the press.
Political liberty, therefore, I would describe thus : It is that state in which men are so governed by equitable laws, and so tried by equitable judges, that no person can be hindered from doing what the law allows, or have reason to be afraid of any person, so long as he does his duty. This is true liberty; for this
the only sort of liberty that promotes virtue and happiness; and surely no wise or good man would ever wish for any other.
ON SMUGGLING, AND ITS VARIOUS SPECIES. There are many people that would be thought, and even think themselves, honest men, who fail nevertheless in particular points of honesty ; deviating from that character sometimes by the prevalence of mode or custom, and sometimes through mere inattention; so that their honesty is partial only, and not general or universal. Thus one, who would scorn to over-reach you in a bargain, shall make no scruple of tricking you a little now and then at cards ; another, that plays with the utmost fairness, shall with great freedom cheat you in the sale of a horse. But there is no kind of dishonesty, into which otherwise good people more easily and frequently fall, than that of defrauding government of its revenues by smuggling, when they have an opportunity, or encouraging smugglers, by buying their goods.
I fell into these reflections the other day, on hearing two gentlemen of reputation discoursing about a small estate, which one of them was inclined to sell, and the other to buy; when the seller, in recommending the place, remarked, that its situation was very advantageous on this account, that, being on the sea-coast in a smuggling country, one had frequent opportunities of buying many of the expensive articles used in a family (such as tea, coffee, chocolate, brandy, wines, cambrics, Brussels' laces, French silks, and all kinds of India goods), twenty, thirty, and in some articles, fifty per cent cheaper than they could be had in the more interior parts, of traders that paid duty.-The other honest gentleman allowed this to be an advantage, but insisted, that the seller, in the advanced price he demanded on that account, rated the advantage much above its value. And neither of them seemed to think dealing with smugglers a practice, that an honest man (provided he got his goods cheap) had the least reason to be ashamed of.
At a time when the load of our public debt, and