Page images
PDF
EPUB

the end of the Most High in ordaining government, is defeated by those who were entrusted with it; and a people should feel it to be alike their privilege and their duty to resist such oppression, and to obtain redress by such means as may be in their power. And here will arise a question that can always be most safely decided when the occasion arrives that calls for the decision. How far Government must be perverted from its legitimate object before it ceases to have farther claims to allegiance, or at what point of oppression resistance becomes either wise or dutiful, forms an inquiry which must be left to the exercise of a sound wisdom seeking direction, from both the word and the providence of God. There may be circumstances in which wisdom and duty would lead us to endure rather than to resist, long after civil government has become oppressive, and has lost all just claim to obedience. Resistance without the rational prospect of relief would only add to the evil instead of bringing redress. The fathers of our Republic justified their revolt from the authority of the British crown, on the principle that there should be no taxation without representation. To submit to the former, without possessing the latter, they considered as opening the door to every species of unrighteous exaction. But when

they had settled the great point, that resistance was right in the sight of God, they also looked to their means of resisting successfully. The result showed the wisdom of their deliberations. Had they failed to achieve our independence, their recourse to arms would have been accounted treason, and they must have paid the penalty with their lives. They prevailed; and the Revolution they effected has been followed by the formation of a Republic which is now a study for the nations of the earth. 5. From the view we have taken of the Hebrew Government, we cannot fail to perceive its great Superiority over that of other ancient nations, however distinguished for their love of freedom. I would be far from undervaluing the sages whose names brighten the pages of Greek and Roman history. According to the light they enjoyed, they did much that redounds to their praise. They have left behind them sentiments of lofty patriotism which should never be forgotten. But they had not the knowledge that could enable them to adjust the delicate framework of national government, so as to ensure efficiency and stability to the authorities, and yet secure the rights of the people from violation. Perhaps no one ever exceeded Milton in his relish for all that belongs to the wisdom and refinement of Greece and Rome; and yet, when he speaks of their wise men,

as legislators, he describes them as

“Statists indeed;
And lovers of their country, as may seem ;
But herein to our prophets, far beneath,
As men divinely taught, and better teaching
The solid rules of civil government,
In their majestic, unaffected style,
Than all the oratory of Greece and Rome.
In them is plainest taught, and easiest learnt,

What makes a nation happy, and keeps it so.”

As we endeavor to show in another place, there is nothing in which the Greeks and Romans were distinguished from other Pagan nations, be it “in science or in song,” for which they are not more or less indebted to the heaven-taught Hebrews; the best achievements of the one being sometimes but imperfect copies of models found with the other. In nothing is this inferiority more plainly seen than in their legislation and their laws for insuring equal and just freedom to the whole people. At the very time when Rome was boasting loudly of her liberty, the people, who formed the great mass of the Commonwealth, were, as a class, studiously excluded from the high places of power and emolument; such privileges being reserved for those who could boast of Patrician blood and Patrician wealth. Under the Hebrew Constitution, the candidate for office might be rich or poor, descended from an ancestry either

known or unknown; if he was an “able man, loving truth, and hating covetousness, and known among the tribes” to possess these qualifications, he might aspire to the highest office in the State. In the right of suffrage, there was as much difference as we find in the qualifications of the candidates. Among the Hebrews, those who shared in the public burdens had a voice in the election of the public officer. In Rome, those who bore the heaviest part of the burdens of the State had generally the least influence in deciding who should administer the Government. The tribunals for the administration of justice gave farther evidence of the superiority of the Hebrew Constitution. It provided every reasonable security that “the small as well as the great might be heard,” and equal justice awarded them. Under the Roman Judiciary a wide door for corruption was left open, rendering the poor and the weak easy victims to the rich and the strong.

6. In this connection, I observe that a careful examination of all Republics, whether ancient or modern, will serve to show that none of them embrace so fully the great principles of Civil Freedom revealed in the Bible as the United States of America. The Fathers of our Republic may not them. selves have been aware of the close resemblance between the cardinal features of the Constitution

which they framed for us, as a nation, and those

which we have seen revealed through the Hebrew lawgiver. If so, it is only another proof that the destinies of our land have always been under auspices better and safer than could have sprung from human wisdom and human power.

But as points like these which I have briefly mentioned have been ably discussed by men who have made the science of Government their special study, I pass on to notice another feature in the laws of the Hebrew Commonwealth which seems not to be so well understood.

In our day, we hear much concerning the empire of public opinion. It is the best and safest of all human empires. It is the empire of mind instead of brute force, and will always prevail when intelligence is generally diffused, and thought is free and untrammelled. Mere statute law is comparatively powerless, if public opinion is against it. Civil liberty, too, even if achieved to-day, may be lost tomorrow, unless there is accompanying it a sound public opinion growing out of general intelligence, and an elevated tone of moral sentiment among the mass of a people. Hence the great importance of those regulations in a community which tend to improve the standard of public sentiment. Perhaps at the time when they are working out their effect

on the character of a nation, their influence may be

« PreviousContinue »