« AnteriorContinua »
line to follow, the being ever ready to make peace when to be obtained without submitting to terms that in their consequence must annihilate this Empire, and with firmness to make every effort to deserve success.
If the consequences expected by the King did not result, there was certainly every reason at the time to believe that such would be the case, and they were only averted by the firmness of both King and nation, and by the great valour of the navy and army. But over all, controlling the whole course of events was the idea of the Whig of 1688 as the origin and the preserver of human liberty, and that by supporting Massachusetts they were advancing the cause of that Revolution. “The cause of America,” said Chatham, “is allied to every true Whig. They will not bear the enslaving of America. The whole Irish nation, all the true English Whigs, the whole nation of America, these combined make many millions of Whigs averse to the system."
It was a most pitiable error. The British nation as a whole were not just then greatly concerned with politics, but with the portentous increase of their world commerce which had followed the war. So far as abstract principles were concerned, these were being beaten out peacefully for commercial purposes by Adam Smith and others, and so far as they affected legal and political issues, by Blackstone and other lawyer philosophers.
But it was otherwise with various little factions of Whigs. Nursing a bitter enmity against the young King and his nonparty minister who had put an end to their seventy years or so of exclusive rule, and deriving a disproportionate influence with the colonists from speeches of their orators in Parliament, from the splendid and venerable name of Pitt now struggling as Chatham with physical and mental decay, from the pamphlets poured out on both sides of the ocean, and especially from the trend of all human thought, political and social, their ideas of popular government and political liberty still centred on the Revolution of 1688. They do not appear to have seen that that Revolution was only a step in a long growth of free institutions dating back in the islands to a remote and dim past, a growth rendered possible by the insular position and the freedom given by the sea, and shared by no other people in the world except by those who lived in the colonies under British rule.
While these men were looking back to the Revolution of 1688, of which the central principle and for which the only excuse was that the ruler should not be allowed to dispense with or to stand outside the common law, handed down as a priceless heritage from remotest periods, the Americans, led by the Republicans of New England, "the dissidence of dissent " as Burke called
“ them, were looking forward over the heads of the British politicians to the fulfilment of the theories of the European continental sophists. These theories proposed to remake social life from the beginning, sweeping aside all historical sequence, all natural growth of human institutions from the past, all law, all authority human and divine. For this historical growth they proposed to substitute an imaginary primal contract, made, when in the woods the naked savage ran, between man anterior to government, thus leaving man unconfined by any social limitations, and therefore equal and absolutely without control, or, as they expressed it, free, bound by no will but his own imaginary goodness. To the support of this negation of free institutions, leading then and ever since to military despotism, the Whig party in Britain, unconsciously I can only suppose, gave themselves.
iii. The Declaration of Independence. The Rights of Man.The meaning of the theories in action was soon apparent. On July 4, 1776, the Colonies made their Declaration of Independence. They cast to one side all the many centuries of growth of the British Constitution and, following the theories of republican Massachusetts, began,“We hold these truths to be selfevident that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness. That, to secure these Rights, Governments are instituted among men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed.” Then follows a variety of violent language and an exhaustive series of lies directed against the King and his ministers.
However men were created, it is quite certain that, as soon as they become members of a society, even of the most primitive kind, they surrender some of their rights and give up some of their freedom either to force or to legal custom. In a society there can be no absolute freedom such as was contemplated by the European theorists, no equality whatever, such only as may
be consistent with the freedom and status of other men. With the European theorists, outside the charmed circle of British liberty, the destruction of all existing institutions was but the expression of the extreme reaction from feudal despotism which prevailed on the Continent.
At the time of the French Revolution the absurdity of these theories was seen by the moderate men. But Christianity so far influences the minds of good men that when men calling themselves idealists set to work to destroy the fabric of society, the better men are very slow to question the possibility of the conversion of the theory into fact. When the French Assembly set out to draw up their Declaration of the Rights of Man, Malouet and the Bishop of Langres, among others, protested against it as unnecessary. In speaking to men only of their rights they incurred a dangerous risk, since there is no right of nature which is not modified by (le droit positif) practical law. Why, say they, carry them to the top of the mountain to show them the territory (domaine) which belongs to them, when one is at once obliged to bring them down and put them in a political order where they must find boundaries at every step ? They asked for a declaration of rights and duties, urging that man was in general more inclined to use his rights than to fulfil his duties. Besides, said the Bishop, the French are not Americans. These are a young people, entirely composed of freeholders (propriétaires) already accustomed to equality, ignorant of feudalism and prepared to receive liberty with all their hearts, in contrast to France, a nation grown old in the midst of differing laws, formed of an immense mass of men without property and always provoked with good cause at the sight of luxury and wealth. But by a great majority the Assembly carried the Declaration of Rights sans rien de plus.
This is no mere ancient history. A historian of French Commerce, writing in 1911-12, sets forth, (Levasseur, Vol. II., ch. 1) "La société française, malgré tous les changements de régime politique qu'elle a subis, et malgré les modifications de son état social, reste constituée sur les fondements de droit civil et même en grande partie d'organisation administrative que la Révolution et le Consulat ont posés.” They are facts that we may well remember in our dealings with France to-day.
A far greater danger is the mental confusion over political
phraseology. One of our prominent politicians, speaking in 1919, said, “The Declaration of Independence is not only an American document. It follows on Magna Charta and the Petition of Rights, and is the third of the great title deeds on which the liberties of the English-speaking races are founded; which is dangerous falsehood. So long as public men suffer from this confusion of ideas there is great danger of the loss of that liberty which is founded on obedience to law.
Such absurd mis-statements of historical facts and principles must be my excuse for hammering at this contrast between the British free institutions which had their origin in England, and the political forms which grew out of the Revolutionary doctrine of the Rights of Man put forward by New England as an excuse for non-payment of customs. I do so because these two systems of life, the one indigenous to England, the other originating in theory in France and in action in America, still divide sharply the modern world of Europe and its off spring. Wherever the British settle and rule, the liberty which springs from the Common Law, the common agreement by the executive and the people ruled to obey the customs made by themselves, controls their actions and to some extent their treatment of the weaker races, and governs the constitution which each little off-shoot accepts from the motherland.
But where the theories of the inherent rights of the individual as overruling social obligations has became the basis of political systems, as in those European countries in which the violent reaction from absolute monarchy brought about revolution and anarchy, and in their settlements in other continents, the forces of anarchy and reaction are as powerful in their swing to-day as in the eighteenth century. The position has not changed in the least. Our French neighbours, under their various republics, are as far from liberty as they were under Louis XIV.
Wherever the continental nations have established colonies or have been able to stamp their form of rule on other men, the result has been a Republic which has been fitly described, whether in South America or in Europe, as despotism tempered by revolution. Breaking up the old empires in Europe, similar forms of government have been provided for the small states made out of the destroyed empires, and all South America may be said to have succumbed to this error.
Our liberties are founded as then on custom which, says Hale, cannot be authoritatively altered or changed but by act of Parliament. He states it clearly in his Analysis of the Law of England. Though the King cannot make Statutes, Laws or Acts of Parliament himself without the consent of both Houses of Parliament, yet no law can be made to bind the subject without him. The European opposite of absolute authority was expressed by Louis XV., writing in 1776 (France under Louis XV., by J. B. Perkins, 1897), “ In my person alone is the authority ; legislative power belongs to me alone ; public order emanates from me; I am its supreme guardian." The King of Spain, except so far as his authority was confined by the patronage and local influence of the Councils; might have said the same.
But, you will say, what about North America ? How can you account for the stability and freedom and undoubted progress of the United States, the nation which produced Marshall and Wheaton, Lee and Jackson? The answer is simple. If you wish to know the position of our unwritten and therefore progressive constitution at the time of the American Revolution, so that you may judge how far King George, after the abdication of the first two Hanoverians, exercised personal government beyond his strict constitutional rights, you may study the limitations of the President of the United States at the present day. For the American Constitution is sound, because it was modelled on the British tradition, not on European imagination, so that the president as near as possible stands in King George's place.
That is not all. The two peoples are drifting far apart in language and in the ideas and conventions of social life. But they are closely bound by one essential tie, even if it is abused or modified still a great binding power, the common law on which the system of political society of the whole people rests.
The Declaration of Independence of July the Fourth remains. Except for the eulogy of British politicians, and its honour by the negroes and small boys who blow off their fingers and set fire to their clothes, as on its equivalent Guy Fawkes' Day, it has no influence on politics.
iv. The Parliamentary Opposition and the War.—The debates in Parliament when the war in America had begun are of little