« PreviousContinue »
quicker blow under an arbitrary monarchy, than under a limited and balanced government: but still necessity and credit are natural enemies, and cannot be long reconciled in any situation. From necessity and corruption, a free state may lose the spirit of that complex constitution which is the foundation of confidence. On the other hand, I am far from being sure, that a monarchy, when once it is properly re gulated, may not for a long time furnish a foundation for credit upon the solidity of its maxims, though it affords no ground of trust in its institutions.
CRIMES SHOULD NOT BE CONFOUNDED. The persons, who make a naval war upon us, in consequence of the present troubles, may be rebels ; hut to call and treat them as pirates, is confounding, not only the natural distinction of things, but the order of crimes; which, whether by putting them from a higher part of the scale to the lower, or from the lower to the higher, is never done without dangerously disordering the whole frame of jurisprudence. Though piracy may be, in the eye of the law, a less offence than treason; yet as both are, in effect, punished with the same death, the same forfeiture, and the same corruption of blood, I never would take from any fellow creature whatever, any sort of advantage which he may derive to his safety from the pity of mankind, or to his reputation from their general feelings, by degrading his offence, when I cannot soften his punishment. The general sense of mankind tells me, that those offences, which may possibly arise from mistaken virtue, are not in the class of infamous actions. Lord Coke, the oracle of the English law, conforms to that general sense where he says, that “ those things which are of the highest crimi
nality, may be of the least disgrace.”
A LANDED estate is certainly the very worst which the crown can possess. All minute and dispersed possessions, possessions that are often of indeterminate value, and which require a continúed personal attendance, are of a nature more proper for private management, than public administration. They are fitter for the care of a frugal land steward, than of an office in the state. Whatever they may possibly have been in other times, or in other countries, they are not of magnitude enough with us, to occupy a public department, nor to provide for a public object.
THOSE despotic governments, which are founded on the passions of men, and principally upon the passion of fear, keep their chief as much as may be from the public eye. The policy has been the same in many cases of religion. Almost all the heathen temples were dark. Even in the barbarous temples of the Americans at this day, they keep their idol in a dark part of the hut, which is consecrated to his worship. For this purpose too the druids performed all their ceremonies in the bosom of the darkest woods, and in the shade of the oldest and most spreading oaks.
THERE are two capital faults in our law with relation to civil debts. One is, that every man is presumed solvent. A presumption, in innumerable cases, directly against truth. Therefore the debtor is ordered, on a supposition of ability and fraud, to be coerced his liberty until he makes payment. By this means, in all cases of civil insolvency, without a pardon from his creditor, he is to be imprisoned for life:-and
thus a miserable mistaken invention of artificial science, operates to change a civil into a criminal judgment, and to scourge misfortune or indiscretion with a punishment which the law does not inflict on the greatest crimes.
The next fault is, that the inflicting of that punishment is not on the opinion of an equal and public judge ; but is referred to the arbitrary discretion of a private, nay interested, and irritated, individual. He, who formally is, and substantially ought to be, the judge, is in reality no more than ministerial, a mere executive instrument of a private man, who is at once judge and party. Every idea of judicial order is subverted by this procedure. If the insolvency be no crime, why is it punished with arbitrary imprisonment? Ifit be a crime, why is it delivered into private hands to pardon without discretion, or to punish without mercy and without measure ?
DEFENSIVE ALLIANCE. An offensive alliance, in which union is preserved, by common efforts in common dangers, against a common active enemy, may preserve its consistency, and may produce for a given time, some considerable effect; though this is not easy, and for any very long period, can hardly be expected. But a defensive alliance, formed of long discordant interests, with innumerable discussions existing, having no one pointed object to which it is directed, which is to be held together with an unremitted vigilance, as watchful in peace as in war, is so evidently impossible, is such a chimera, is so contrary to human nature, and the course of human affairs, that I am persuaded no person in his senses, except those whose country, religion, and sovereign, are deposited in the French funds, could dream of it. There is not the slightest petty boundary suit, no difference between a family arrangement, no sort of misunderstanding, or cross purpose between the pride and etiquette of courts, that would not entirely disjoint this sort of alliance, and render it as futile in its effects, as it is feeble in its principle.
It is in the nature of all defensive measures to be sharp and vigorous under the impressions of the first alarm, and to relax by degrees ; until at length the danger, by not operating instantly, comes to appear as a false alarm; so much so that the next menacing appearance will look less formidable, and will be less provided against. But to those who are on the offensive it is not necessary to be always alert. Possibly it is more their interest not to be so. For their unforeseen attacks contribute to their success.
* * * *
Alas! the few of us, who have protracted life in any measure near to the extreme limits of our short period, have been condemned to see strange things ; new systems of policy, new principles, and not only new men, but what might appear a new species of
I believe that any person who was of age to take a part in public affairs forty years ago (if the intermediate space of time were expunged from his memory) would hardly credit his senses, when he should hear from the highest authority, that an army of two hundred thousand men was kept up in this island, and that in the neighbouring island there were at least fourscore thousand more. But when he had recovered from his surprise on being told of this army, which has not its parallel, what must be his astonishment to be told again, that this mighty force was kept up for the mere purpose of an inert and passive defence, and that, in its far greater part, it was disabled by its constitution and very essence, from defending us against an enemy by any one preventive stroke, or any one operation of active hostility? What must his reflections be, on learning further, that a fleet of five hundred men of war, the best appointed, and to the full as ably commanded as this country ever had upon the sea, was for the greater part employed in carrying on the same system of unenterprising defence? What must be the sentiments and feelings of one, who remembers the former energy of England, when he is given to understand, that these two islands, with their extensive, and every where vulnerable coast, should be considered as a garrisoned sea-town; what would such a man, what would any man think, if the garrison of so strange a fortress should be such, and so feebly commanded, as never to make a sally; and that, contrary to all which has hitherto been seen in war, an infinitely inferior army, with theshattered relics of an alınost annihilated navy, ill found, and ill managed, may with safety besiege this superior garrison, and without hazarding the life of a man, ruin the place, merely by the menaces and false appearances of an attack ? Indeed, indeed, my dear friend, I look upon this matter of our defensive system as much the most important of all considerations at this moment.
DEFINITIONS. I HAVE no great opinion of a definition, the celebrated remedy for the cure of this disorder. For when we define, we seem in danger of circumscribing nature within the bounds of our own notions, which we often take up by hazard, or embrace on trust, or form out of a limited and partial consideration of the object