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had dug from the mines or brought up from the bottom of the ocean, our coffers and our caskets would be empty indeed. But, even if this were not so, whence came all the arts and sciences, the discoveries and the inventions, without which, and without a common right to which, the valuation of the property of a whole nation would scarcely equal the inventory of a single man,— without which, indeed, we should now be in a state of barbarism? Whence came a knowledge of agriculture, without which we should have so little to reap? or a knowledge of astronomy, without which we could not traverse the oceans? or a knowledge of chemistry and mechanical philosophy, without which the arts and trades could not exist? Most of all this was found out by those who have gone before us; and some of it has come down to us from a remote antiquity. Surely, all these boons and blessings belong as much to posterity as to ourselves. They have not descended to us to be arrested and consumed here or to be sequestrated from the ages to come. Cato and Archimedes, and Kepler and Newton, and Franklin and Arkwright and Fulton, and all the bright host of benefactors to science and art, did not make or bequeath their discoveries or inventions to benefit any one generation, but to increase the common enjoyments of mankind to the end of time. So of all the great lawgivers and moralists who have improved the civil institutions of the state, who have made it dangerous to be wicked, or, far better than this, have made it hateful to be so. Resources developed and property acquired after all these ages of preparation, after all these facilities and securities, accrue, not to the benefit of the possessor only, but to that of the next and of all succeeding generations.
Surely, these considerations limit still more extensively that absoluteness of ownership which is so often claimed by the possessors of wealth.
But sometimes the rich farmer, the opulent manufacturer, or the capitalist, when sorely pressed with his natural and moral obligation to contribute a portion of his means for the education of the young, replies,—either in form or in spirit,— " My lands, my machinery, my gold, and my silver are mine: may I not do what I will with my own?" There is one supposable case, and only one, where this argument would have plausibility. If it were made by an isolated, solitary being,- a being having no relations to a community around him, having no ancestors to whom he had been indebted for ninety-nine
parts in every hundred of all he possesses, and expecting to leave no posterity after him,— it might not be easy to answer it. If there were but one family in this Western hemisphere and only one in the Eastern hemisphere, and these two families bore no civil and social relations to each other, and were to be the first and last of the whole race, it might be difficult, except on very high and almost transcendental grounds, for either one of them to show good cause why the other should contribute to help educate children not his own. And perhaps the force of the appeal for such an object would be still further diminished if the nearest neighbor of a single family upon our planet were as far from the earth as Uranus or Sirius. In self-defence or in selfishness one might say to the other: “What are your fortunes to me? You can neither benefit nor molest me. Let each of us keep to his own side of the planetary spaces." is this the relation which any man amongst us sustains to his fellows? In the midst of a populous community to which he is bound by innumerable ties, having had his own fortune and condition almost predetermined and foreordained by his predecessors, and being about to exert upon his successors as commanding an influence as has been exerted upon himself, the objector can no longer shrink into his individuality, and disclaim connection and relationship with the world at large. He cannot deny that there are thousands around him on whom he acts, and who are continually reacting upon him. The earth is much too small or the race is far too numerous to allow us to be hermits, and therefore we cannot adopt either the philosophy or the morals of hermits. All have derived benefits from their ancestors; and all are bound, as by an oath, to transmit those benefits, even in an improved condition, to posterity. We may as well attempt to escape from our own personal identity as to shake off the threefold relation which we bear to others, the relation of an associate with our contemporaries, of a beneficiary of our ancestors, of a guardian to those who, in the sublime order of Providence, are to succeed us. Out of these relations, manifest duties are evolved. The society of which we necessarily constitute a part must be preserved; and, in order to preserve it, we must not look merely to what one individual or one family needs, but to what the whole community needs, not merely to what one generation needs, but to the wants of a succession of generations. To draw conclusions without considering these facts is to leave out the most important part of the premises.
A powerfully corroborating fact remains untouched. Though the earth and the beneficent capabilities with which it is endued belong in common to the race, yet we find that previous and present possessors have laid their hands upon the whole of it,have left no part of it unclaimed and unappropriated. They have circumnavigated the globe; they have drawn lines across every habitable portion of it, and have partitioned amongst themselves not only its whole area or superficial contents, but have claimed it down to the centre and up to the concave,a great inverted pyramid for each proprietor, so that not an unclaimed rood is left, either in the caverns below or in the aërial spaces above, where a new adventurer upon existence can take unresisted possession. They have entered into a solemn compact with each other for the mutual defence of their respective allotments. They have created legislators and judges and executive officers, who denounce and inflict penalties even to the taking of life; and they have organized armed bands to repel aggression upon their claims. Indeed, so grasping and rapacious have mankind been in this particular, that they have taken more than they could use, more than they could perambulate and survey, more than they could see from the top of the masthead or from the highest peak of the mountain. There was some limit to their physical power of taking possession, but none to the exorbitancy of their desires. Like robbers, who divide their spoils before they know whether they shall find a victim, men have claimed a continent while still doubtful of its existence, and spread out their title from ocean to ocean before their most adventurous pioneers had ever seen a shore of the realms they coveted. The whole planet, then, having been appropriated,― there being no waste or open lands from which the new generations may be supplied as they come into existence,- have not those generations the strongest conceivable claim upon the present occupants for that which is indispensable to their well-being? They have more than a pre-emptive, they have a possessory right to some portion of the issues and profits of that general domain, all of which has been thus taken up and appropriated. A denial of this right by the present possessors is a breach of trust, a fraudulent misuse of power given and of confidence implied. On mere principles of political economy, it is folly; on the broader principles of duty and morality, it is embezzlement.
It is not at all in contravention of this view of the subject
that the adult portion of society does take, and must take, upon itself the control and management of all existing property until the rising generation has arrived at the age of majority. Nay, one of the objects of their so doing is to preserve the rights of the generation which is still in its minority. Society,
to this extent, is only a trustee managing an estate for the benefit of a part owner or of one who has a reversionary interest in it. This civil regulation, therefore, made necessary even for the benefit of both present and future possessors, is only in furtherance of the great law under consideration.
Coincident, too, with this great law, but in no manner superseding or invalidating it, is that wonderful provision which the Creator has made for the care of offspring in the affection of their parents. Heaven did not rely merely upon our perceptions of duty toward our children and our fidelity in its performance. A powerful, all-mastering instinct of love was therefore implanted in the parental and especially in the maternal breast, to anticipate the idea of duty and to make duty delightful. Yet the great doctrine founded upon the will of God as made known to us in the natural order and relation of things would still remain the same, though all this beautiful portion of our moral being, whence parental affection springs, were a void and a nonenity. Emphatically would the obligations of society remain the same for all those children who have been bereaved of parents, or who, worse than bereavement, have only monster parents of intemperance or cupidity, or of any other of those forms of vice that seem to suspend or to obliterate the law of love in the parental breast. For these society is doubly bound to be a parent, and to exercise all that rational care and providence which a wise father would exercise for his own children.
If the previous argument began with sound premises, and has been logically conducted, then it has established this position,— that a vast portion of the present wealth of the world either consists in, or has been immediately derived from, those great natural substances and powers of the earth which were bestowed by the Creator alike on all mankind; or from the discoveries, inventions, labors, and improvements of our ancestors, which were alike designed for the common benefit of all their descendants. The question now arises, At what time is this wealth to be transferred from a preceding to a succeeding generation? At what point are the latter to take possession of
it or to derive benefit from it? or at what time are the former to surrender it in their behalf? Is each existing generation, and each individual of an existing generation, to hold fast to his possessions until death relaxes his grasp? or is something of the right to be acknowledged, and something of the benefit to be yielded, beforehand? It seems too obvious for argument that the latter is the only alternative. If the incoming generation have no rights until the outgoing generation have actually retired, then is every individual that enters the world liable to perish on the day he is born. According to the very constitution of things, each individual must obtain sustenance and succor as soon as his eyes open in quest of light or his lungs gasp for the first breath of air. His wants cannot be delayed If the demands of his
until he himself can supply them. nature are ever to be answered, they must be answered years before he can make any personal provision for them, either by the performance of any labor or by any exploits of skill. The infant must be fed before he can earn his bread, he must be clothed before he can prepare garments, he must be protected from the elements before he can erect a dwelling; and it is just as clear that he must be instructed before he can engage or reward a tutor. A course contrary to this would be the destruction of the young, that we might rob them of their rightful inheritance. Carried to its extreme, it would be the act of Herod, seeking in a general massacre the life of one who was supposed to endanger his power. Here, then, the claims of the succeeding generation, not only upon the affection and the care, but upon the property, of the preceding one, attach. God having given to the second generation as full and complete a right to the incomes and profits of the world as he has given to the first, and to the third generation as full and complete a right as he has given to the second, and so on while the world stands, it necessarily follows that children must come into a partial and qualified possession of these rights by the paramount law of nature, as soon as they are born. No human enactment can abolish or countervail this paramount and supreme law; and all those positive and often arbitrary enactments of the civil code, by which, for the encouragement of industry and frugality, the possessor of property is permitted to control it for a limited period after his decease, must be construed and executed in subservience to this sovereign and irrepealable ordinance of nature.