Imatges de pàgina
PDF
EPUB

their youth or infancy. In this instance certainly the state does not presume a compact. Also if the subject be bound only by his own consent, and if the voluntary abiding in the country be the proof and intimation of that confent, by what arguments should we defend the right, which sovereigns universally assume, of prohibiting, when they please, the departure of their subjects out of the realm ?

Again, when it is contended that the taking and holding possession of land amounts to an acknowledgment of the sovereign, and a virtual promise of allegiance to his laws, it is necessary to the validity of the argument to prove, that the inhabitants, who first composed and con-. stituted the state, collectively poffefred a right to the soil of the country-a right to parcel it out to whom they pleased, and to annex to the donation what conditions they thought fit. How came they by this right? An agreement amongst themselves would not confer it: that could only adjust what already belonged to them. A fociety of men vote themselves to be the owners of a region of the world ;--does that vote, unaccompanied especially with any culture, inclosure, or proper act of occupation, make it theirs ? does it entitle them to exclude others from it,

or

a

or to dictate the conditions upon which it shall be enjoyed? Yet this original collective right and ownership is the foundation of all the reasoning by which the duty of allegiance is inferred from the possession of land.

The theory of government which affirms the existence and the obligation of a social compact, would, after all, merit little discussion, and, however groundless and unnecessary, should receive no opposition from 1:5, did it not appear to lead to conclusions unfavourable to the improvement, and to the peace, of human fociety.

ist. Upon the supposition that government was first erected by, and that it derives all its just authority from, resolutions entered into by

convention of the people, it is capable of being presumed, that many points were settled by that convention, anterior to the establiihment of the subsisting legislature, and which the legislature, consequently, has no right to alter, or interfere with. These points are called the fundamentals of the constitution; and as it is impoflible to determine how many, or what they are, the suggesting of any such, ferves extremely to em barrass the deliberations of the legislature, and affords a dangerous pretence for disputing the authority of the laws. It was this sort of reasons

[ocr errors]
[ocr errors]

ing (so far as reasoning of any kind rvas employed in the question) that produced in this nation the doubt, which so much agitared the minds of men in the reign of the second Charles, whether an Act of Parliament could of right alter or limit the fucceffion of the Crown.

2dly. If it be by virtue of a compact, that the subject owes obedience to civil government, it will follow, that he ought to abide by the form of government which he finds established, be it ever so absurd, or inconvenient. He is bound by his bargain. It is not permitted to any man to retreat from his engagement, merely because he finds the performance disadvantageous, or because he has an opportunity of entering into a better. This law of contracts is universal: and to call the relation between the sovereign and the subjects a contract, yet not to apply to it the rules, or allow of the effects of a contract, is an arbitrary use of names, and an unsteadiness in reasoning, which can tcach nothing. Resistance to the encroachments of the supreme magistrate may be justified upon this principle ; recourse to arms, for the purpose of bringing about an amendment of the conftitution, never can. No form of government contains a provision for its own dissolutions and

few

ment.

few governors will consent to the extinction, or even to any abridgement, of their own power. It does not therefore appear, how despotic governments can ever, in consistency with the obligation of the subject, be changed or mitigated. Despotism is the constitution of

many states : and

: whilst a despotic prince exacts from his subjects the most rigorous servitude, according to this account, he is only holding them to their agree

A people may vindicate, by force, the rights which the constitution has left them; but every attempt to narrow the prerogative of the crown, by new limitations, and in opposition to the will of the reigning prince, whatever opportunities may invite, or success follow it, must be condemned as an infraction of the compact between the sovereign and the subject.

3dly. Every violation of the compact on the part of the governor releases the subject from his allegiance, and diffolves the government. I do not perceive how we can avoid this consequence, if we found the duty of allegiance upon compact, and confess any analogy between the social compact and other contracts. In private contracts, the violation and non-performance of the conditions, by one of the parties, vacates the obligation of the other. Now the terms and articles of the social compact being no where extant or expressed ; the rights and offices of the administrator of an empire being so many and various ; the imaginary and controverted line of his prerogative being so liable to be overstepped in one part or other of it: the position, that every such transgression amounts to a forfeiture of the government, and consequently authorizes the people to withdraw their obedience and provide for themselves by a new fettlement, would endanger the stability of every political fabric in the world, and has in fact always supplied the disaffected with a topic of feditious declamation. If occasions have arisen, in which this plea has been resorted to with justice and success, they have been occasions in which a revolution was defensible upon other and plainer principles. The plea itself is at all times captious and unsafe.

articles

Wherefore, rejecting the intervention of a compact, as unfounded in its principle, and dangerous in the application, we assign for the only ground of the subject's obligation, THE WILL OF GOD, AS COLLECTED FROM EXPE

[ocr errors]

DIENCY.

The

« AnteriorContinua »