Imágenes de páginas
PDF
EPUB

only require us to suffer wrong, -and if they go further and command us to do wrong, they are identical with the latter, -we may obey, and are bound to obey, when our disobedience would cause scandal or breed disturbance in the state.

But who is to determine whether the laws are just or unjust? Not absolutely in all cases the state, for that would inake the distinction between just and unjust laws nugatory, since the state, in enacting a law, decides that it is just; not the individual, for that would make the law depend on the assent of the subject for its legality, which we have seen is not the fact, and cannot be the fact, if we are to have government at all. There is here, to many minds, no doubt, a serious difficulty ; but, without considering it in a light which would involve a controversy foreign to our present purpose, we may answer the question by laying down the principle, that authority is always presumptively in the right, and the law prima facie evidence of justice. The onus probandi rests on the shoulders of the subject, who inust prove the law to be unjust, before he can" have the right to refuse it obedience. For this his own private judgment or conviction can never suffice. If he can allege nothing against the law but his own individual persuasion of its injustice, he is bound, by his general obligation to obey the laws, to obey it. No one, then, can ever be justified in dis. obeying on his own private authority. . He must sustain his refusal to obey by an authority higher than his own, higher than that of the state, or else he will be guilty of resisting the ordinance of God, and, therefore, purchase damnation to himself. Hence, where there is no infallible authority to decide, the subject must always presume the law to be just, and faithfully obey it, unless it manifestly and undeniably ordains what is wrong in itself, and prohibited by the law of God.

This rule may strike some as too stringent, but, if examined, closely, it will be found to allow all the liberty to the subject compatible with the existence of government. If, for instance, the government should comand me to lie, to steal, to rob, to bear false witness, or any thing else manifestly against the law of nature or the law of God, I should hold myself bound to disobey, and to take the consequences of my disobedience. So also, if my government should declare war against an unoffending state, manifestly for the purpose of stripping it of its territory, destroying its independence, and reducing its people to slavery, or for the purpose of overthrowing the Christian religion and substituting a false religion, and should command me to aid it in its nefarious designs, I should hold myself bound in conscience to refuse at all hazards; for such a war would be manifestly and palpably unjust, not in my judgment only, but in that of all sound-minded men. Such a case would be clear, and duty would be so plain that no question could arise. But in a case less clear and manifest, in a case where there was room for doubt, for an honest difference of opinion, I should hold myself bound to obey the orders of the government, for conscience' sake, leaving the responsibility with it, sure of incurring no blame myself.

In conclusion, we say, that, though we have defended the lawfulness of war, when declared by the sovereign authority, for a just cause, and prosecnted with right intentions, we have no sympathy with that restless and ambitious spirit that craves war for the sake of excitement or glory. Only a stern necessity can ever justify the resort to arms, and that necessity does not in reality often exist. In most cases, the war, with a little prudence, a little forbearance, a little use of reason, might be avoided; and a terrible responsibility rests upon rulers when they unnecessarily plunge two nations in the horrors of war. Yet it belongs to the sovereign anthority to judge of the necessity of the war, no less than to declare it; and when not manifestly and undeniably for that which is wrong in itself, the subject is bound to obey, and give his life, if need be, for his country. But the subject can, with a good conscience, fight only under the national banner. He can never justly fight under the blood-red flag of the factionist or of the revolutionist. The loyal subject hears no call to the battle-field but that of his sovereign. This sovereign he hears, by him he stands, for him he is ready to tight against any enemies, from within or from withont. But there he stops. He can join with no faction, with no party, against the legitimate authorities of his country. No dreams of free institutions, of popular government, of an earthly paradise can make him raise the parricidal hand, and seek by violence to overthrow legitimate government, and introduce a new political order. No, dearly as we love liberal institutions, and as ready as we are to spill our blood in their defence where they are the legal order, we would rush to the side of authority, and spill the same blood against them, if there were an attempt by violence to introduce them. True freedom is only where the law is supreme, and the law is suipreme only where the people reverence it, and feel themselves bound by their duty to God to obey it.

SLAVERY AND THE MEXICAN WIR.*

[From Brownson's Quarterly Review for July, 1817.]

We always read Mr. Rhett's speeches with interest, and rarely without instruction. He ranks high among the most eminent of South Carolina's gifted sons, is high-minded and honorable, one of the few—alas ! very few-of our public men who act always from principle. He may sometimes be unsound in his views, but he always aims at truth and justice, and acknowledges that in politics, as in every thing else, a man should always act under a deep and abiding sense of moral obligation.

The speech before us is earnest, able, and eloquent, the production of the statesman and the constitutional lawyer. It is on a subject of great and almost fearful interest, which is every day forcing itself more and more directly upon the attention of the American people. It is confined, indeed, principally to the inquiry, Where vests the political sovereignty, under our system of government? but it raises this inquiry only in its bearing on the great and absorbing question of slavery. The question of slavery is becoming for us, through the influence of causes no longer controllable, the question of questions, which can henceforth be blinked with safety by no section of the Union, but which must be met and in some way disposed of, or it will dispose of the Union itself. How it is to be met and disposed of it is not easy to say, and not for us to attempt to say.

As conductor, some years since, of the Boston Quarterly Review, we took frequent occasion to express our views of

*Speech of the Hon. R. B. RIETT, of South Carolina, on the Oregon Territory Bill, excluding Slavery from that Territory,—the Missouri Com promise being proposed and rejected. Delivered in the House of Representatives of the United States, January 14, 1817.

[ocr errors]

the abolitionists; and though many, many changes have come over nis, and we can hardly be recognized by our readers as the same man that we were then, our estimation of them remains unaltered, except that, if possible, we now hold them in still greater detestation. They are the worst enemies of their country, and the worst enemies, too, of the slave. They are a band of mad fanatics, and we have no language strong enough to express our abhorrence of their principles and proceedings. But we cannot shut our eyes to the fact, that they have the sympathy of a large portion of the people of the free states, and that in several of the northern states they are already powerful enough to make it an object for demagogues to bid for their suffrages. Both political parties pander to them. Even the administration seems to court them; for it has appointed from this commonwealth scarcely an individual to a prominent office in its gift, not selected from the abolition section of its friends, -certainly, no one distinguished for his bold and resolute opposition to abolition movements. In the Whig party the tendency to abolitionism, or to court the abolitionists, is, perhaps, still more decided than in the Democratic party. In Maine, New Hampshire, Vermont, Connecticut, the party, at least just before elections, is almost avowedly abolitionist, and would be in this state, were it not for å few distinguished leaders, whose intluence we are sorry to see daily declining. Young Whigdom in all the free states, composed of young men and boys, not to say young misses, who are soon to be the Whig party itself, is virtnally an abolition party, and its leaders are nearly as far gone as Garrison, Phillips, Leavitt, and Abby Foster.

All the sects, if we except, perhaps, High Church Episcopalians, are either already carried away by the abolition fanaticism, or rapidly yielding to it. The great body of Unitarian ministers in New England, once a respectable and conservative body of men, exerting, indeed, a bad influence on religion, yet highly commendable for political and social virtues, are almost to a man now mad and fanatical socialists and abolitionists. If some few yet hold out, they are timid, and without influence on the general action of the body of which they are members. Nearly all the young men from Protestant theological seminaries come out infected, and, wherever settled as ministers, seek to enlist their congregations in the movement. Only the church, which can be surprised by no new moral or social question, which

has nothing to learn from experience, and whose doctrines on all subjects are long ago determined and fixed, remains unaffected by the fanaticism around her, and pays no attention to the decisions of modern casuists.

Add to this the new aspect the question assumes through the anticipated extension of American territory by conquests from Mexico, and the bravest must admit that there is serious cause for alarm. The slave-holding states contend that the territories of the United States not yet erected into states belong to all the states in common, and must be as open to their citizens to settle and occupy with their property, as to the citizens of the free states; and there is a very general determination on the part even of the most moderate of the citizens of the free states to resist the further extension of the slave system. The majority of them will not seek to disturb it where it now legally exists, but they feel, that, for the sake of humanity and the honor of the American states, they ought resolutely to oppose all efforts to open new territory to it. If any new territory shall be acquired by the Union, a conflict is likely to come, whose shock may shiver the Union, and reduce it to its primitive elements.

For ourselves, we adopt no extreme views on the question of slavery. We have no sympathy with the abolitionists ; we entertain not for a moment even one of their fundamental principles. Man, we are ready to maintain, may have property in man, a valid right to the services of his slave, though no dominion over his soul; slavery is not malum in se and in no case justifiable; there is nothing in slavery that necessarily prevents the slave-holder from being a true and pions Christian; and where the master is a true Christian, and takes care that his people are instructed and brought up in the true Christian faith and worship, slavery is tolerable, and for negroes, perhaps, even more than tolerable. Many of the laws of the slave-holding states on slavery are mnecessary, unjust, cruel, and disgraceful; a large body of the slave-holders are deeply censurable for neglecting to recognize and respect marriage among their people, and for bringing them up in heathenisin or heresy ; but we have no sympathy with those who denounce them because they are slaveholders, and we have no reason to suppose that they cannot, in the moral, social, and religious virtues, compare favorably with their brethren of the North; and, whatever repugnance we may feel, personally, to the slave system, we are fully convinced that the greatest disservice they could do their

« AnteriorContinuar »