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Dymond, Jonathan, 1796-1828. 

XV, 601 p. 22"". 

S^^ ed. London » Gilpin, 185 J>, 

XV, 603 p. port. 

1. Ethics. 

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The Author of this Work died in the Spring of 1828, leaving 
in manuscript the three Essays of which it consists. We learn 
from himself that the undertaking originated in a belief (in 
which he probably is far from being alone) that the existing 
treatises on Moral Philosophy did not exhibit the principles nor 
enforce the obligations of morality in all their perfection and 
purity ; that a work was yet wanted which should present a true 
and authoritative standard of rectitude — one by an appeal to 
which the moral character of human actions might be rightly 
estimated. This he here endeavours to supply. 

Rejecting what he considered the false grounds of duty, and 
erroneous principles of action which are proposed in the most 
prominent and most generally received of our extant theories 
of moral obligation, he proceeds to erect a system of morality 
upon what he regards as the only true and legitimate basis, — the 
Will of God. He makes, therefore, the authority of the Deity 
the sole gromid of duty, and His communicated will the only 
ultimate standard of right and wrong; and assumes, "that 
wheresoever this will is made known, human duty is determined; 
— and that neither the conclusions of philosophers, nor advan- 
tages, nor dangers, nor pleasures, nor sufferings, ought to have 
any opposing influence in regulating our conduct." 

The attempt to establish a system of such uncompromising 
morality, must necessarily bring the writer into direct collision 
with the advocates of the utilitarian scheme, particularly with 
Dr. Paley ; and accordingly it will be found that he frequently 
enters the lists with this great champion of Expediency. With 
what success — how well he exposes the fallacies of that specious 
but dangerous doctrine, — how far he succeeds in refuting the 



arguments by which it is sought to be maintained, and in 
establishing another system of obligations and duties and rights 
upon a more stable foundation, must be left to the reader to 

In thus attempting to convert a system of Moral Philosophy, 
dubious, fluctuating, and inconsistent with itself, into a definite 
and harmonious code of Scripture Ethics, the Author undertook 
a task for which, by the original structure of his mind and his 
prevailing habits of reflection, he was, perhaps, peculiarly fitted. 
He had sought for himself, and he endeavours to convey to others, 
clear perceptions of the true and the right ; and in maintaining 
what he regarded as truth and rectitude, he shows every where 
an unshackled independence of mind, and a fearless, unflinching 
spirit. The work will be found, moreover, if we mistake not, to 
be the result of a careful study of the writings of moralists, of 
much thought, of an intimate acquaintance with the genius of the 
christian religion, and an extensive obseiTation of human life in 
those spheres of action which are seldom apt to attract the 
notice of the meditative philosopher. 

In proceeding to illustrate his principles, the Author has 
evidently sought, as far as might be, to simplify the subject, to 
disenciunber it of abstruse and metaphysical appendages, and, 
rejecting subtleties and needless distinctions, to exhibit a standard 
of morals that should be plain, perspicuous, and practicable. 

Premising thus much, the work must be left to its own merits. 
It is the last labour of a man laudably desirous of benefiting his 
fellow men ; and it will fulfil the Author's wish, if its eff*ect be 
to raise the general tone of morals, to give distinctness to our 
perceptions of rectitude, and to add strength to our resolutions 
to virtue. 



General Objects and Plan. 





Foundation of Moral Obligation. 


The Will of God— Notices of Theories— The communication of the 
WiU of God— The supreme authority of the expressed Will of 
God — Causes of its practical rejection — The principles of expe- 
diency fluctuating and inconsistent — Application of the principles 
of expediency — Difficulties — Liability to abuse — Pagans. 

Foundation and limits of the authority of subordinate moral rules. 


Identical authority of moral and religious obligations — The Divine 
attributes— Of deducing rules of himian duty from a consideration 
of the attributes of God— Virtue : *' Virtue is conformity with the 
standard of rectitude" — Motives of action. 





The morality of the Patriarchal, Mosaic, and Christian dispensations 
—Their moral requisitions not always coincident— Supremacy of 
the christian morality— Of variations in the Moral Law— Mode of 
applying the precepts of Scripture to questions of duty— No formal 
moral system in Scripture— Criticism of Biblical morality— Of 
particular precepts and general rules— Matt. vii. 12.-1 Cor. x. 31. 
—Rom. iii. 8.— Benevolence, as it is proposed in the Christian 
% Scriptures. 


OF QOB 49 

Conscience — Its nature — Its authority — Renew of opinions re- 
specting a moral sense — Bishop Butler — Lord Bacon — Lord 
Shaftesbury— Watts— Voltaire — Locke— Southey— Adam Smith 
— Paley— Rousseau — Milton— Judge Hale— Marcus Antoninus— 
Epictetus — Seneca— Paul— That every human being possesses a 
moral law— Pagans— Gradations of light— Prophecy— The imme- 
diate communication of the Divine Will perpetual- Of national 
vices : Infanticide : Duelling— Of savage life. 



.^^=^HAP. 1. THE LAW OF THE LAND 76 

Its authority— Limits to its authority — Morality sometimes prohibits 
what the law permits. 

-r-^"XCflAP. II. THE LAW OF NATURE ..... 

Its authority — Limits to its authority — Obligations resulting from the 
Rights of Nature— Incorrect Ideas attached to the word Nature. 



Obligations resulting from Expediency— liimits to these obligations. 



Obligations and authority of the Law of Nations— Its abuses, and 
the limits of its authority — Treaties. 


Authority of the Law of Honour — Its character. 

. 97 






Factitious semblances of devotion — Religious conversation : Sabbatical 
institutions — Non-sanctity of days — Of temporal employments: 
Travelling: Stage-coaches: "Sunday papers:" Amusements — 
Holydays— Ceremonial Institutions and devotional formularies — 
Utility of forms— Forms of prayer — Extempore prayer— Scepticism 
— Motives to scepticism. 

CHAP. II. PROPERTY . . . . . . .118 

Foimdation of the Right to Property — Insolvency : Perpetual obli- 
gation to pay debts : Reform of public opinion : Examples of 
integrity — Wills, Legatees, Heirs : Informal Wills : Intestates — 
Charitable Bequests— Minor's Debts— A Wife's Debts — Bills of 
Exchange — Shipments — Disti'aints — Unjust Defendants — Ex- 
tortion — Slaves — Privateers — Confiscations — Public Money — 
Insurance — Improvements on estates — Settlements — Houses of 
infamy — Literary property — Rewards. 


. 145 

Accumidation of Wealth : its proper limits — Provision for children : 
** Keeping up the family." 


. 151 

Practice of early christians — Evils of Litigation — Efficiency of 


Complexity of Law — Professional untruths — Defences of legal 
practice — Effects of legal practice : Seduction : Theft : Peculation 
— Pleading — The duties of the profession — ^Effects of legal practice 
on the profession, and on the public. 


PROMISES ........ 172 

Definition of a Promise — Paiole — Extorted Promises— John Fletcher. 


LIES .......•• J'5 

Milton's Definition— Lies in War : to Robbers : to Lunatics : to the 
Sick — Hyperbole — Lrony — Complimentary Untruths — "Not at 
Home " — Legal Documents. 





A Curse — Immorality of Oaths — Oaths of the ancient Jews — Milton 
— Paley — ^The High Priest's adjuration — Early Christians — Ineffi- 
cacy of oaths — Motives to veracity — Religious sanctions : Public 
opinion : Legal penalties — Oaths in Evidence : Parliamentary Evi- 
dence: Courts Martial— The United States— Effects of Oaths: 
Falsehood — General obligations. 


Oath of Allegiance — Oath in Evidence — ^Perjury — Military oath — 
Oath against Bribery at Elections— Oath against simony — Univer- 
sity oaths — Subscription to articles of religion— Meaning of the 
39 articles literal — ^Refusal to subscribe. 


Publication and circulation of books — Seneca— Circulating Libraries 
— Public-houses — Prosecutions — Political affairs. 



Public notions of morality — Errors of public opinion : their effects — 
Duelling — Scottish Bench — Glory — Military virtues — Military 
talent— Bravery — Courage— Patriotism not the soldier's motive — 
Military fame — Public opinion of unchastity : Li women : In men 
— Power of character — Character in Legal men — Fame — Faults of 
Great Men — ^The Press — Newspapers— History : Its defects: Its 


Ancient Classics — London University — The Classics in Boarding- 
schools — English grammar — Science and Literature — Improved 
system of Education — Orthography : Writing : Reading : Geogra- 
phy : Natujral History : Biography : Natural Philosophy : Political 
Science — Indications of a revolution in the system of Education — 
Female Education— The Society of Friends. 



Union of Moral principle with the affections — Society — Morality of 
the Ancient Classics — The supply of motives to virtue — Conscience 
— Subjugation of the AVill — Knowledge of our own Minds — Offices 
of public worship. 




Advantages of extended Education— Infant Schools — Habits of 


The stage— Religious Amusements— Masquerades— Field Sports — 
The Turf— Boxing— Wrestling— Opinions of Posterity— Popular 
Amusements needless. 

CHAP. XV. DUELLING .....•• 287 

Pitt and Tiemey — Duelling the offspring of intellectual meanness, 
fear, and servility— "A fighting man'*— Hindoo immolations— 
Wilberforce— Seneca. 

CHAP. XVI. SUICIDE ....... 293 

Unmanliness of suicide— Forbidden in the New Testamentr— Its folly 
— Legislation respecting suicide — Verdict of Felo de se. 


These rights not absolute— Their limits— Personal attack— Preserva- 
tion of property— Much resistance lawful— Effects of forbearance— 
Sharpe — Barclay — Ell wood. 





TICAL RECTITUDE ....... 307 

L •• Political Power is rightly exercised only when it is possessed by 
consent of the community "—Governors Officers of the public — 
Transfer of their rights by a whole people — The people hold the 
sovereign power — Bight of Governors— A conciliating system. 

n. " Political Power is rightly exercised only when it subserves the 
welfare of the community"— Interference with other nations- 
Present expedients for present occasions — Proper business of Go- 

in. " Political Power is rightly exercised only when it subserves the 
welfare of the community by means which the Moral Law permits" 
— The Moral Law alike binding on nations and individuals— De- 
viation from rectitude impolitic— " The Holy Alliance "—Durable 


Loss of Liberty — ^War— Useless laws. 


Political Liberty the right of a community — Public satisfaction. 


Civil disabilities— Interference of the Magistrate— Pennsylvania- 
Toleration— America— Creeds— Religious Tests—" The Catholic 


Expediency of obedience— Obligations to obedience — Extent of the 
duty — Resistance to the civil power — Obedience may be withdrawn 
— ^King James — America — Non-compliance — Intcrierence of the 
Magistrate — Oaths of Allegiance. 


Some general principles — ^Monarchy — Balance of interests and pas- 
sions — Changes in a constitution — Popular government — The world 
in a state of improvement — Character of legislators. 

i '1 



UNION ...... 



. 359 

Influence of the crown— Effects of influence — Incongruity of public 
notions— Patronage — American States — Dependency on the mother 
country — Party— Ministerial union — *' A party man" — The coun- 
cil board and the senate — Resignation of offices. 



Influence of the crown — House of Lords — Candidates for a peerage — 
Sudden creation of peers — The bench of bishops — Proxies — House 
of Commons — The wishes of the people — Extension of the elective 
franchise — Universal suffrage — Frequent elections — Modes of elec- 
tion — Annual Parliaments— Qualifications of voters and represen- 
tatives — Of choosing the clergy— Duties of a representative — 
Systematic opposition — Placemen and Pensioners — Posthumous 


394 .=L 


Duties of a Ruler — ^The two objects of moral legislation— Education 
of the people — Bible Society — Lotteries — Public-houses — Abroga- 
tion of bad laws— Primogeniture— Accumulation of property. 

I • 



Substitution of justice for law— Court of Chancery — Of fixed laws — 
Their inadequacy — They increase litigation — Delays — Expenses — 
Informalities— Precedents — Verdicts — Legal proof — Courts of Ar- 
bitration — An extended system of arbitration — Arbitration in 
criminal trials — Constitution of courts of arbitration — ^Their effects 
— Some alterations suggested —Technicalities — LTseless laws. 


Crimes regarded by the Civil and the Moral Law — Created offences — 
Seduction — Duelling — Insolvents — Criminal debtors — Gradations 
of giult in insolvency — Libels : mode of punishing Effects of the 
laws respecting libels — Effects of public censure — Libels on the 
government— Advantages of a free statement of the truth— Freedom 
of the press. 


. 446 

The three objects of punishment : — Reformation of the offender: — 
Example : — Restitution — Punishment may be increased as well as 







Of the three objects of punishment, the punishment of death regards 
but one — Reformation of minor offenders : Greater criminals neg- 
lected — Capital punishments not efficient as examples — Public 
executions— Paul— Grotius— Murder— The pimishment of death 
irrevocable — ^Rousseau — Recapitulation. 




. 544 



The primitive church — ^The established church of Ireland — America 
— Advantages and disadvantages of established churches — Alliance 
of a church with the state— An established church perpetuates its 
own evils — Persecution generally the growth of religious establish- 
ments — State religions injurious to the civil welfare of a people — 
Legal provision for christian teachers— Voluntary payment — Ad- 
vancement in the church— The appointment of religious teachers. 



The English church the offspring of the reformation, the church 
establishment y of papacy — Alliance of church and state — "The 
priesthood averse from reformation" — Noble ecclesiastics — Pur- 
chase of advowsons — Non-residence — Pluralities — Parliamentary 
returns — The clergy fear to preach the truth — Moral preaching — 
Recoil from works of philanthropy — ^Tithes — " The church is in 
danger " — '* The Church establishment is in danger " — Monitory 



Compulsory payment — America — Legal provision for one church 
unjust — ^Payment of tithes by dissenters — Tithes a "property of 
the church" — Volimtary payment — ^The system of remuneration — 
Qualifications of a minister of the gospel — Unpaid ministry — Days 
of greater purity. 


Patriotism as it is viewed by Christianity — A patriotism which is 
opposed to general benignity — Patriotism not the soldier's motive. 


Requisitions of Christianity professedly disregarded— Persian law — 
. The slave system a costly iniquity. 

Want of enquiry : Indifference to human misery : National irrita- 
bility: Interest: Secret motives of cabinets: Ideas of glory- 
Foundation of military glory. 


Destruction of human life : Taxation : Moral depravity : Familiarity 
with plunder: Implicit submission to superiors: Resignation of 
moral agency : Bondage and degradation — Loan of armies — Effects 
on the community. 



Influence of habit— Of appealing to antiquity — The christian scrip- 
tures — Subjects of Christ's benediction — Matt, xxvii. 52. — The 
Apostles and Evangelists — ^The centurion— Cornelius — Silence not 
a proof of approbation — Luke xxii. 36.— John the Baptist — Nega- 
tive e\-idence— Prophecies of the Old Testament— The requisitions 
of Christianity of present obligation — Primitive christians — Ex- 
ample and testimony of early christians — Christian soldiers — Wars 
of the Jews — Duties of individuals and nations — Offensive and 
defensive war — Wars always aggressive — Paley — War toholli/ 


Quakers in America and Ireland — Colonization of Pennsylvania- 
Unconditional reliance on Providence — Recapitulation — General 






Of the two causes of our deviations from Rectitude — want of 
Knowledge and want of Virtue — the latter is undoubtedly the 
more operative. Want of Knowledge is, however, sometimes a 
cause ; nor can this be any subject of wonder when it is recol- 
lected in what manner many of our notions of right and wrong 
are acquired. From infancy, every one is placed in a sort of 
moral school, in which those with whom he associates, or of 
whom he hears, are the teachers. That the learner in such a 
school will often be taught amiss, is plain. — So that we want 
information respecting our duties. To supply this information 
is an object of Moral Philosophy, and is attempted in the 
present work. 

When it is considered by what excellencies the existing 
treatises on Moral Philosophy are recommended, there can 
remain but one reasonable motive for adding yet another — the 
belief that these treatises have not exhibited the Principles and 
enforced the Obhgations of Morality in all their perfection and 
purity. Perhaps the frank expression of this belief is not incon- 
sistent with that deference which it becomes every man to feel 
when he addresses the public ; because, not to have entertained 
such a belief, were to have possessed no reason for writing. 
The desire of supplying the deficiency, if deficiency there be ; 
of exhibiting a true and authoritative Standard of Rectitude, 
and of estimating the moral character of human actions by an 
appeal to that Standard, is the motive which has induced the 
composition of these Essays. 

In the First Essay the writer has attempted to investigate 


the Principles of Morality. In which term is here included, 
first, the Ultimate Standard of Right and Wrong ; and secondly, 
those Subordinate Rules to which we are authorized to apply 
for the direction of our conduct in life. In these investigations, 
he has been solicitous to avoid any approach to curious or 
metaphysical enquiry. He has endeavoured to act upon the 
advice given by Tindal the Reformer to his friend John Frith : 
" Pronounce not or define of hid secrets, or things that neither 
help nor hinder whether it be so or no ; but stick you stiffly and 
stubbornly in earnest and necessary things." 

In the Second Essay these Principles of Morality are applied 
in the determination of various questions of personal and rela- 
tive duty. In making this application it has been far from the 
writer's desire to deliver a system of Morality. Of the unnum- 
bered particulars to which this Essay might have been extended, 
he has therefore made a selection ; and in making it, has chosen 
those subjects which appeared peculiarly to need the enquiry, 
either because the popular or philosophical opinions respecting 
them appeared to be unsound, or because they were commonly 
little adverted to in the practice of life. Form has been sacri- 
ficed to utility. Many great duties have been passed over, since 
no one questions their obligation ; nor has the author so little 
consulted the pleasure of the reader as to expatiate upon duties 
simply because they are great. The reader will also regard the 
subjects that have been chosen, as selected, not only for the pur- 
pose of elucidating the subjects themselves, but as furnishing 
illustration of the General Principles :— as the compiler of a 
book of mathematics proposes a variety of examples, not merely 
to discover the solution of the particular problem, but to fami- 
liarize the application of his general rule. 

Of the Third Essay, in which some of the great questions of 
Political Rectitude have been examined, the subjects are in 
themselves sufficiently important. The application of sound 
and pure Moral Principles to questions of Government, of 
Legislation, of the administration of Justice, or of Religious 
Establishments, is manifestly of great interest ; and the interest 
is so much the greater because these subjects have usually been 
examined, as the writer conceives, by other and very different 



The reader will probably find, in each of these Essays, some 
principles or some conclusions respecting human duties to 
which he has not been accustomed — some opinions called in 
question which he has habitually regarded as being indisputably 
true, and some actions exhibited as forbidden by morality which 
he has supposed to be lawful and right. In such cases I must 
hope for his candid investigation of the truth, and that he will 
not reject conclusions but by the detection of inaccuracy in the 
reasonings from which they are deduced. I hope he will not 
find himself invited to alter his opinions or his conduct without 
being shown why ; and if he is conclusively shown this, that he 
will not reject truth because it is new or unwelcome. 

With respect to the present influence of the Principles which 
these Essays illustrate, the author will feel no disappointment 
if it is not great. It is not upon the expectation of such influ- 
ence that his motive is founded or his hope rests. His motive 
is, to advocate truth without reference to its popularity ; and 
his hope is, to promote, by these feeble exertions, an approxi- 
mation to that state of purity, which he believes it is the design 
of God shall eventually beautify and dignify the condition of 



"i i 






There is little hope of proposing a definition of Moral 
Obligation which shall be satisfactory to every reader ; partly 
because the phrase is the representative of different notions in 
individual minds. No single definition can, it is e^ddent, repre- 
sent various notions; and there are probably no means by 
which the notions of individuals respecting Moral Obligation, 
can be adjusted to one standard. Accordingly, whilst attempts 
to define it have been very numerous, aU probably have been 
unsatisfactory to the majority of mankind. 

Happily this question, like many others upon which the 
world is unable to agree, is of little practical importance. Many 
who dispute about the definition, coincide in their judgments 
of what we are obliged to do and to forbear : and so long as the 
individual knows that he is actually the subject of Moral Obli- 
gation, and actually responsible to a superior power, it is not 
of much consequence whether he can critically explain in what 
Moral Obligation consists. 

The writer of these pages, therefore, makes no attempts at 
strictness of definition. It is sufficient for his purpose that man 
is under an obligation to obey his Creator ; and if any one 

L, . ^ ^ 


rmr * "W 


Essai^ 1. 

curiously asks " Why ?"— lie answers, that one reason at least 
is, that the Deity possesses the power, and evinces the inten- 
tion, to cjjl thd human species to account for their actions, and 
to punish or reward them. 

There may be, knd I believe there are, higher grounds upon 
which a sense of Moral Obligation may be founded ; such as 
the love of goodness for its own sake, or love and gratitude to 
God for his beneficence : nor is it unreasonable to suppose that 
such grounds of obligation are especially approved by the uni- 
versal Parent of mankind. 


) I 

I I 


It is obvious that to him who seeks the knowledge of his 
duty, the first inquiry is. What is the Rule of Duty ? What is 
the Standard of Right and Wrong? Most men, or most of 
those with whom we are concerned, agree that this Standard 
consists in the Will of God. But here the coincidence of 
opinion stops. Various and very dissimilar answers are given 
to the question — How is the Will of God to be discovered ? These 
differences lead to differing conclusions respecting human duty. 
All the proposed modes of discovering his Will cannot be the 
best nor the right ; and those which are not right, are likely to 
lead to erroneous conclusions respecting what his Will is. 

It becomes therefore a question of very great interest, — How 
is the Will of God to be discovered ? and, if there should appear 
to be more sources than one from which it may be deduced,—^ 
What is that source which, in our investigations, we are to 
regard as paramount to every other ? 


When we say that most men agree in referring to the Will of 
God as the Standard of Rectitude, we do not mean that all those 
who have framed systems of moral philosophy have set out with 
this proposition as their fundamental rule ; but we mean that the 
majority of mankind do really believe, (with whatever indistinct- 
ness,) that they ought to obey the Will of God ; and that, as it 
respects the systems of philosophical men, they will commonly 
be found to involve, directly or indirectly, the same belief. He 
who says that the " Understanding '' ^ is to be our moral guide, 

» Dr. Price : Reriew of Principal Questions in Morals. 

I V 




Essay 1. 

is not far from saying that we are to be guided by tbe Divine 
Will ; because the understanding, however we define it, is the 
oflFspring of ilie Divine counsels and power. When Adam Smith 
resolves moral obliffation into propriety arising from feelings of 
" Sympathy/' 'i the ' conclusion is not very different; for these 
feelings are manifestly the result of that constitution which God 
gave to man. When Bishop Butler says that we ought to live 
according to nature^ and make conscience the judge whether we 
do so live or not, a kindred observation arises ; for the existence 
and nature of conscience must be referred ultimately to the 
Divine Will. Dr. Samuel Clarke's philosophy is, that moral 
obligation is to be referred to the eternal and necessary differ- 
ences of things. This might appear less obviously to have respect 
to the Divine Will, yet Dr. Clarke himself subsequently says, 
that the duties which these eternal difi*erences of things impose, 
" are also the express and unalterable will, command, and law of 
God to his creatures, which he cannot but expect should be 
observed by them in obedience to his supreme authority." ^ 
Very similai* is the practical doctrine ofWollaston. His theory 
is, that moral good and evil consist in a conformity or disagree- 
ment with truth — " in treating every thing as being what it is." 
But then he says that to act by this rule ''must be agreeable to 
the Will of God, and if so, the contrary must be disagreeable to 
it, and, since there must be perfect rectitude in his will, certainly 
wrong." ^ It is the same with Dr. Paley in his far-famed doc- 
trine of Expediency. " It is the utility of any action alone which 
constitutes the obligation of it/' but this very obligation is 
deduced from the Divine Benevolence ; from which it is attempted 
to show, that a regard to utility is enforced by the Will of God. 
Nay, he says expressly, " Every duty is a duty towards God, 
since it is his will which makes it a duty." * 

Now there is much value in these testimonies, direct or indi- 
rect, to the truth — that the Will of God is the Standard of Right 
and Wrong. The indirect testimonies are perhaps the more 
valuable of the two. He who gives undesigned evidence in favour 
of a proposition, is less liable to suspicion in his motives. 

But, whilst we regard these testimonies, and such as these, as 
containing satisfactory evidence that the Will of God is oiur 

1 Theory of Moral Sentiments. ' E\-idence of Natural and Revealed Religion. 
' Religion of Nature Delineated. * Moral and Political Philosophy. 

Chap. 2. 



Moral Law, the intelligent enquirer will perceive that many of 
the proposed Theories are likely to lead to uncertain and unsatis- 
factory conclusions respecting what that Will requires. They 
prove that His Will is the Standard, but they do not clearly in- 
form us how we shall bring our actions into juxta-position with it. 
One proposes the Understanding as the means; but every 
observer perceives that the understandings of men are often con- 
tradictory in their decisions. Indeed many of those who now 
think their understandings dictate the rectitude of a given action, 
will find that the understandings of the intelligent pagans of 
antiquity came to very different conclusions. 

A second proposes Sympathy, regulated indeed and restrained, 
but still Sympathy. However ingenious a philosophical system 
may be, I believe that good men find, in the practice of life, that 
these emotions are frequently unsafe and sometimes erroneous 
guides of their conduct. Besides, the emotions are to be regu- 
lated and restrained : which of itself intimates the necessity of a 
regulating and restraining, that is, of a superior power. 

To say we should act according to the " eternal and necessary 
differences of things," is to advance a proposition which nine 
persons out of ten do not understand, and of course cannot adopt 
in practice ; and of those who do understand it, perhaps an equal 
majority cannot apply it, with even tolerable facility, to the con- 
cerns of life. Why indeed should a writer propose these eternal 
differences, if he acknowledges that the rules of conduct which 
result from them are "the express will and command of God?'' 
To the system of a fourth, which says that virtue consists in a 
« conformity of our actions with truth,'' the objection presents 
itself— What is truth ? or how, in the complicated affairs of life, 
and in the moment perhaps of sudden temptation, shall the indi- 
vidual discover what truth is ? 

Similar difficulties arise in applying the doctrine of Utility, in 
" adjusting our actions so as to promote, in the greatest degree, 
the happiness of mankind." It is obviously difficult to apply 
this doctrine in practice. The welfare of mankind depends upon 
circumstances which, if it were possible, it is not easy to foresee. 
Indeed in many of those conjunctures in which important deci- 
sions must instantly be made, the computation of tendencies to 
general happiness is wholly impracticable. 

Besides these objections which apply to the systems separately. 




Essay 1 . 

there is one which applies to them all — That they do not refer 
ns directly to the Will of God. They interpose a medium ; and 
it is the inevitable tendency of all such mediums to render the 
truth uncertain. They depend not indeed upon hearsay evidence, 
but upon something of which the tendency is the same. They 
seek the Will of God not from positive evidence but by implica- 
tion ; and we repeat the truth, that every medium that is inter- ' 
posed between the Divine Will and our estimates of it, diminishes 
the probability that we shall estimate it rightly. 

These are considerations which, antecedently to all others, 
would prompt us to seek the Will of God directly and imme- 
diately ; and it is evident that this direct and immediate know- 
ledge of the Divine Will, can in no other manner be possessed 
than bv his own Communication of it. 


That a direct communication of the Will of the Deity respect- 
ing the conduct which mankind shall pursue, must be very 
useful to them, can need little proof. It is sufficiently obvious 
that they who have had no access to the written revelations, 
have commonly entertained very imperfect views of right and 
wrong. What Dr. Johnson says of the ancient epic poets, will 
apply generally to pagan philosophers : They '' were very un- 
skilftd teachers of virtue,'^ because " they wanted the light of 
revelation.*' Yet these men were inquisitive and acute, and it 
may be supposed they would have discovered moral truth if 
sagacity and inquisitiveness had been sufficient for the task. 
But it is unquestionable, that there are many ploughmen in 
this country, who possess more accurate knowledge of morality 
than all the sages of antiquity. We do not indeed sufficiently 
consider for how much knowledge respecting the Divine Will we 
are indebted to his own communication of it. " Many arguments, 
many truths, both moral and religious, which appear to us the 
products of our understandings and the fruits of ratiocination, 
are in reality nothing more than emanations from Scripture ; 
rays of the Gospel imperceptibly transmitted, and as it were 
conveyed to our minds in a side light .'^ ^ Of Lord Herbert's 

* Balguy : Tracts Moral and Theological : — Second Letter to a Deist. 

Chap. 2. 



book, De Veritate, which was designed to disprove the validity 
of Revelation, it is observed by the editor of his " Life,^' that 
it is " a book so strongly embued with the light of revelation 
relative to the moral virtues and a future life, that no man igno- 
rant of the Scriptures or of the knowledge derived from them, 
could have written it.^^ ^ A modern system of moral philo- 
sophy is founded upon the duty of doing good to man, because it 
appears, from the benevolence of God himself, that such is his 
Will. Did those philosophers then, who had no access to the 
written expression of his will, discover with any distinctness 
this seemingly obvious benevolence of God ? No. " The heathens 
failed of drawing that deduction relating to morality to which, 
as we should now judge, the most obvious parts of natural know- 
ledge, and such as certainly obtained among them, were suffi- 
cient to lead them, namely, the goodness of God J' ^ — We are, I 
say, much more indebted to revelation for moral light than we 
commonly acknowledge or indeed commonly perceive. 

But if in fact we obtain from the communication of the Will of 
God, knowledge of wider extent and of a higher order than was 
otherwise attainable, is it not an argument that that communi- 
cated Will should be our supreme law, and that if any of the 
inferior means of acquiring moral knowledge lead to conclusions 
in opposition to that Will, they ought to give way to its higher 
authority ? 

Indeed the single cu'cumstance that an Omniscient Being, and 
who also is the Judge of mankind, has expressed his Will re- 
specting their conduct, appears a sufficient evidence that they 
should regard that expression as their paramount rule. They 
cannot elsewhere refer to so high an authority. If the expres- 
sion of his Will is not the ultimate standard of right and wrong, 
it can only be on the supposition that his Will itself is not the 
ultimate standard; for no other means of ascertaining that 
WiQ can be equally perfect and authoritative. 

Another consideration is this, that if we examine those sacred 
volumes in which the written expression of the Divine Will is 
contained, we find that they habitually proceed upon the sup- 
position that the Will of God, being expressed, is /or that reason 
our final law. They do not set about formal proofs that we 
ought to sacrifice inferior rules to it, but conclude, as of course. 

* 4th Ed. p. 336. 

2 Pearson : Remarks on the Theory of Morals. 



Essay 1. 

that if the Will of God is made known, human duty is ascer- 
tained. " It is not to be imagined that the Scriptures would 
refer to any other foundation of virtue than the true one, and 
certain it is that the foundation to which they constantly do 
refer is the Will of God."^ Nor is this all : they refer to the 
eopjyression of the WlQ of God. We hear nothing of any other 
ultimate authority — ^nothing of " Sympathy " — nothing of the 
" eternal fitness of things " — nothing of the " production of the 
greatest sum of enjoyment /' — but we hear repeatedly, con- 
stantly, of the Will of God ; of the voice of God ; of the com- 
mands of God. To " be obedient unto his voice/^^ is the condition 
of favour. To hear the *' sayings of Christ and do them,^^^ is 
the means of obtaining his approbation. To '^ fear God and keep 
his commandments, is the whole duty of man."^ Even superior in- 
telligences are described as ''doing his commandments, \iQ?ir\emn^ 
unto the voice of his word!^^ In short, the whole system of 
moral legislation, as it is exhibited in Scripture, is a system 
founded upon authority. The propriety, the utility of the requisi- 
tions are not made of importance. That which is made of im- 
portance is, the authority of the Being who legislates. " Thus 
saith the Lord,'^ is regarded as constituting a sufficient and a 
final law. So also it is with the moral instructions of Christ. 
'' He put the truth of what he taught upon authority.^ In 
the sermon on the mount, / say unto you, is proposed as the 
sole, and sufficient, and ultimate ground of obligation. He does 
not say, " My precepts will promote human happiness, therefore 
you are to obey them -." but he says, " They are my precepts, 
therefore you are to obey them.^' So habitually is this prin- 
ciple borne in mind, if we may so speak, by those who were 
commissioned to communicate the Divine Will, that the reason 
of a precept is not often assigned. The assumption evidently 
was, that the Divine Will was aU that it was necessary for us 
to know. This is not the mode of enforcing duties which one 
man usually adopts in addressing another. He discusses the 
reasonableness of his advices and the advantages of following 
them, as well as, perhaps, the authority from which he derives 
them. The difierence that exists between such a mode and 
that which is actually adopted in Scripture, is analogous to that 

1 Pearson: Theory of Mor. c. 1. 
4 Eccl. xii. 13. 5 Ps. ciii. 20. 

2 Deut. iv. 30. 3 Matt. vii. 24. 
«Palcy: Evid. of Chris, p. 2, c. 2. 


Chap. 2. 



which exists between the mode in which a parent communicates 
his instructions to a young child, and that which is employed 
by a tutor to an intelligent youth. The tutor recommends his 
instructions by their reasonableness and propriety : the father 
founds his upon his own authority. Not that the father's in- 
structions are not also founded in propriety, but that this, in 
respect of young children, is not the ground upon which he 
expects their obedience. It is not the ground upon which God 
expects the obedience of man. We can, undoubtedly, in general 
perceive the wisdom of his laws, and it is doubtless right to seek 
out that wisdom ; but whether we discover it or not, does not 
lessen their authority nor alter our duties. 

In deference to these reasonings, then, we conclude, that the 
communicated Will of God is the Final Standard of Right and 
Wrong — that wheresoever this will is made known, human duty 
is determined — and that neither the conclusions of philosophers, 
nor advantages, nor dangers, nor pleasures, nor sufferings, ought 
to have any opposing influence in regulating our conduct. Let 
it be remembered, that in morals there can be no equilibrium of 
authority. If the expressed will of the Deity is not our supreme 
rule, some other is superior. This fatal consequence is insepa- 
rable from the adoption of any other ultimate rule of conduct. 
The Divine law becomes the decision of a certain tribunal — the 
adopted rule, the decision of a superior tribunal — for that must 
needs be the superior which can reverse the decisions of the 
other. It is a consideration, too, which may reasonably alarm 
the inquirer, that if once we assume this power of dispensing 
with the Divine law, there is no limit to its exercise. If we may 
supersede one precept of the Deity upon one occasion, we may 
supersede every precept upon all occasions. Man becomes the 
greater authority and God the less. 

If a proposition is proved to be true, no contrary reasonings 
can show it to be false; and yet it is necessary to refer to such 
reasonings, not indeed for the sake of the truth, but for the 
sake of those whose conduct it should regulate. Their con- 
fidence in truth may be increased, if they discover that the 
reasonings which assail it are fallacious. To a considerate man 
it will be no subject of wonder that the supremacy of the ex- 
pressed Will of God is often not recognised in the writings of 
moralists or in the practice of life. The speculative inquirer 



Essay 1. 

finds, that of some of the questions which come before him, 
Scripture furnishes no solution, and he seeks for some principle 
by which all may be solved. This indeed is the ordinary course 
of those who erect systems, whether in morals or in physics. 
The moralist acknowledges, perhaps, the authority of revelation; 
but in his investigations he passes away from the precepts of 
revelation, to some of those subordinate means by which human 
duties may be discovered — means which, however authorised by 
the Deity as subservient to his great purpose of human instruc- 
tion, are wholly unauthorised as ultimate standards of right and 
wrong. Having fixed his attention upon these subsidiary means, 
he practically loses sight of the Divine law which he acknow- 
ledges; and thus without any formal, perhaps without any 
conscious, rejection of the expressed Will of God, he really 
makes it subordinate to inferior rules. Another influential 
motive to pass by the Di^ine precepts, operates both upon 
writers and upon the public :— the rein which they hold upon 
the desires and passions of mankind is more tight than they 
are willing to bear. Respecting some of these precepts we feel 
as the rich man of old felt : we hear the injunction and go 
away, if not with sorrow yet without obedience. Here again is 
an obvious motive to the writer to endeavour to substitute some 
less rigid rule of conduct, and an obvious motive to the reader 
to acquiesce in it as true without a very rigid scrutiny into its 
foundation. To adhere with fidelity to the expressed Will of 
Heaven, requires greater confidence in God than most men 
are willing to repose, or than most moralists are willing to 


But whatever have been the causes, the fact is indisputable, 
that few or none of the systems of morality which have been 
offered to the world, have uniformly and consistently applied 
the communicated Will of God in determination of those ques- 
tions to which it is applicable. Some insist upon its supreme 
authority in general terms ; others apply it in determining some 
questions of rectitude : but where is the work that applies it 
always ? Where is the moralist who holds every thing. Ease, 
Interest, Reputation, Expediency, " Honour,''— personal and 
national, — in subordination to this Moral Law ? 

One source of ambiguity and of error in moral philosophy, 
has consisted in the indeterminate use of the term, " the Will 

Chap. 2. 



of God." It is used without reference to the mode by which 
that wiU is to be discovered — and it is in this mode that the 
essence of the controversy lies. We are agreed that the Will 
of God is to be our rule : the question at issue is. What mode 
of discovering it should be primarily adopted? Now the term, 
the " Will of God,'' has been applied, interchangeably, to the 
precepts of Scripture, and to the deductions which have been 
made from other principles. The consequence has been that 
the imposing sanction, " the WiU of God," has been applied to 
propositions of very different authority. 

To inquire into the validity of all those principles which have 
been proposed as the standard of rectitude, would be foreign to 
the purpose of this essay. That principle which appears to be 
most recommended by its own excellence and beauty, and which 
obtains the greatest share of approbation in the world, is the 
principle of directing ^' every action so as to produce the greatest 
happiness and the least misery in our power." The particular 
forms of defining the doctrine are various, but they may be con- 
veniently included in the one general term — ^Expediency. 

We say that the apparent beauty and excellence of this rule 
of action are so captivating, its actual acceptance in the world 
is so great, and the reasonings by which it is supported are so 
acute, that if it can be shown that this rule is not the ultimate 
standard of right and wrong, we may safely conclude that none 
other which philosophy has proposed can make pretensions to 
such authority. The truth indeed is, that the objections to the 
doctrine of expediency will generally be found to apply to every 
doctrine which lays claim to moral supremacy — ^which appli- 
cation the reader is requested to make for himself as he passes 

Respecting the principle of Expediency — the doctrine that we 
should, in every action, endeavour to produce the greatest sum 
of human happiness — ^let it always be remembered that the only 
question is, whether it ought to be the paramount rule of human 
conduct. No one doubts whether it ought to influence us, or 
whether it is of great importance in estimating the duties of 
morality. The sole question is this : — ^When an expression of 
the Will of God, and our calculations respecting human happi- 
ness, lead to different conclusions respecting the rectitude of an 
action — whether of the two shall we prefer and obey ? 



Essay 1. 

We are concerned only with christian writers. Now when 
we come to analyze the principles of the christian advocates 
of Expediency, we find precisely the result which we should 
expect — a perpetual vacillation between two irreconcileable doc- 
trines. As Christians, they necessarily acknowledge the authority, 
and, in words at least, the supreme authority of the Divine Law : 
as advocates of the universal application of the law of Expediency, 
they necessarily sometimes set aside the Divine Law, because 
they sometimes cannot deduce, from both laws, the same rule of 
action. Thus there is induced a continual fluctuation and un- 
certainty both in principles and in practical rules : a continual 
endeavour to " serve two masters.'' 

Of these fluctuations an example is given in the article, " Moral 
Philosophy," in Rees's Encyclopaedia, — an article in which the 
principles of Hartley are in a considerable degree adopted. " The 
Scripture precepts,'' says the writer, " are in themselves the 
rule of life." — "The supposed tendency of actions can never be 
put against the law of God as delivered to us by revelation, and 
should not therefore be made our chief guide." This is very 
explicit. Yet the same article says, that the first great rule is, 
" that we should aim to direct every action so as to produce the 
greatest happiness and the least misery in our power." This 
rule, however, is somewhat difiicult of application, and there- 
fore " instead of this most general rule we must substitute others, 
less general, and subordinate to it :'' of which subordinate rules, 
to " obey the Scripture precepts " is one ! — I do not venture to 
presume that these writers do really mean what their words 
appear to mean, — that the law of God is supreme and yet that 
it is subordinate, — but one thing is perfectly clear, that either 
they make the vain attempt " to serve two masters,'' or that 
they employ language very laxly and very dangerously. 

The high language of Dr. Paley respecting Expediency as a 
paramount law, is well known : " Whatever is expedient is 
right."^ " The obligation of every law depends upon its ultimate 
utility."^ " It is the utility of any moral rule alone which con- 
stitutes the obligation of it."^ Perjury, Robbery, and Murder, 
" are not useful, and for that reason, and that reason only, are 
not right."* It is obvious that this language affirms that utility 
is a higher authority than the expressed Will of God. If the 

1 Mor. and Pol. Phil. B. 2, c. 6. « b. 6, c. 12. 3 b. 2, c. 6. 4 b. 2, c. 6. 

Chap. 2. 




utility of a moral rule alone constitutes the obligation of it, then 
is its obligation not constituted by the divine command. If 
murder is wrong 07ily because it is not useful, it is not wrong 
because God has said, ^^ Thou slialt not kill." 

But Paley was a christian, and therefore could neither /orma% 
displace the Scripture precepts from their station of supremacy, 
nor SLYoid formally acknowledging that they were supreme. Ac- 
cordingly he says, " There are two methods of coming at the 
Will of God on any point : First — By his compress declarations, 
when they are to be had, and which must be sought for in 
Scripture."^ Secondly — By Expediency. And again. When 
Scripture precepts ^^ are clear and positive, there is an end to all 
further deliberation.^ This makes the expressed Will of God the 
final standard of right and wrong. And here is the vacillation, 
the attempt to serve two masters of which we speak : for this 
elevation of the express declarations of God to the supremacy, is 
absolutely incompatible with the doctrines that are quoted in 
the preceding paragraph. 

These incongruities of principle are sometimes brought into 
operation in framing practical rules. In the chapter on Suicide 
it is shown that Scripture disallows the act. Here then we 
might conclude that there was " an end to all further delibera- 
tion ;" and yet in the same chapter, we are told that suicide 
would nevertheless be justifiable if it were expedient. Respect- 
ing Civil Obedience he says, the Scriptures " inculcate the duty" 
and "enforce the obligation;" but notwithstanding this, he 
pronounces that the " only ground of the subjects' obligation" 
consists in Expediency.^ If it consists only in expediency, the 
divine law upon the subject is a dead letter. In one chapter he 
says that murder would be right if it was useful ;* in another, 
that " one word " of prohibition " from Christ is final'' ^ The 
words of Clirist cannot be final, if we are afterwards to enquire 
whether murder is " useful " or not. One other illustration will 
suffice. In laying down the rights of the magistrate, as to 
making laws respecting religion, he makes Utility the ultimate 
standard : so that whatever the magistrate thinks it useful to 
ordain, that he has a right to ordain. But in stating the sub- 
jects' duties as to obeying laws respecting religion, he makes 

1 Mor. and Pol. Phil. B. 2, c. 4. 
^ B. 6, c. 3. * B. 2, c. 6. 

2 B. 2, c. 4 : Note. 
* B. 3, p. 3, c. 2. 



Essay 1. 



the commands of God the ultimate standard.^ The consequence 
is inevitable, that it is right for the magistrate to command an 
act, and right for the subject to refuse to obey it. In a sound 
system of morality such contradictions would be impossible. 
There is a contradiction even in terms. In one place he says, 
" Wherever there is a right in one person there is a corresponding 
obligation upon others.'' ^ In another place, "The right of 
the magistrate to ordain and the obligation of the subject to 
obey, in matters of religion, may be very different.''^ 

Perhaps the reader will say that these inconsistencies, how- 
ever they may impeach the skilfulness of the writer, do not 
prove that his system is unsound, or that Utility is not still the 
ultimate standard of rectitude. We answer, that to a Christian 
writer, such inconsistencies are unavoidable. He is obliged, in 
conformity with the principles of his religion, to acknowledge 
the divine, and therefore the supreme autliority of Scripture ; 
and if, in addition to this, he assumes that any other is supreme, 
inconsistency must ensue. For the same consequence follows 
the adoption of any other ultimate standard— whether sym- 
pathy, or right reason, or eternal fitness, or nature. If the 
writer is a christian he cannot, without falling into inconsisten- 
cies, assert the supremacy of any of these principles : that is to 
say, when the precepts of Scripture dictate one action, and a 
reasoning from his principle dictates another, he must make 
his election : If he prefers his principle, Christianity is aban- 
doned: if he prefers Scripture, his principle is subordinate: 
if he alternately prefers the one and the other, he falls into the 
vacillation and inconsistency of which we speak. 

Bearing still in mind that the rule " to endeavour to produce 
the greatest happiness in our power,'' is objectionable only when 
it is made an ultimate rule, the reader is invited to attend to 
these short considerations. 

I. In computing human happiness, the advocate of Expe- 
diency does not sufficiently take into the account our happiness 
in futurity. Nor indeed does he always take it into account at 
all. One definition says, " The test of the morality of an act 
is its tendency to promote the temporal advantage of the 
greatest number in the society to which we belong." Now 
many things may be very expedient if death were annihilation. 

» Mor. and Pol. Phil. B. 6. p. 3, c. 10. = B. 2, c. 9. 

B. 6. p. 3, c. 10. 


Chap. 2. 



which may be very inexpedient now : and therefore it is not 
unreasonable to expect, nor an unreasonable exercise of 
humility to act upon the expectation, that the divine laws may 
sometimes impose obligations of which we do not perceive the 
expediency or the use. "It may so fall out," says Hooker, 
" that the reason why some laws of God were given, is neither 
opened nor possible to be gathered by the wit of man." ^ And 
Pearson says, " There are many parts of morality, as taught 
by revelation, which are entirely independent of an accurate 
knowledge of nature." ^ And Gisborne, " Our experience of 
God's dispensations by no means permits us to affirm, that he 
always thinks fit to act in such a manner as is productive of 
particular expediency ; much less to conclude that he wills us 
always to act in such a manner as we suppose would be produc- 
tive of it." ^ All this sufficiently indicates that Expediency is 
wholly inadmissible as an ultimate rule. 

II. The doctrine is altogether unconnected with the chris- 
tian revelation, or with any revelation from heaven. It was 
just as true, and the deductions from it just as obligatory, two 
or five thousand years ago as now. The alleged supreme law 
of morality — " Whatever is expedient is right" — might have 
been taught by Epictetus as well as by a modem christian. 
But are we then to be told that the revelations from the Deity 
have conveyed no moral knowledge to man ? that they make 
no act obligatory which was not obligatory before? that he 
who had the fortune to discover that " whatever is expedient is 
right," possessed a moral law just as perfect as that which God 
has ushered into the world, and much more comprehensive ? 

III. If some subordinate rule of conduct were proposed, — 
some principle which served as an auxiliary moral guide, — I 
should not think it a valid objection to its truth, to be told that 
no sanction of the principle was to be found in the written 
revelation : but if some rule of conduct were proposed as being 
of universal obligation, some moral principle which was para- 
mount to every other — and I discovered that this principle was 
unsanctioned by the written revelation, I should think this want 
of sanction was conclusive evidence against it : because it is not 
credible that a revelation from God, of which one great object 

1 Eccles. Polity, B. 3, s. 10 ' Theory of Morals^ c. 3. 

=* Principles of Mor. Phil. 




Essay 1. 

Chap. 2. 



was to teach mankind the moral law of God, would have been 
silent respecting a rule of conduct which was to be an universal 
guide to man. We apply these considerations to the doctrine 
of Expediency ; Scripture contains not a word upon the subject, 

IV. The principles of Expediency necessarily proceed upon 
the supposition that we are to investigate the future, and this 
investigation is, as every one knows, peculiarly without the 
limits of human sagacity : an objection which derives additional 
force from the circumstance that an action, in order to be ex- 
pedient, " must be expedient on the whole, at the long run, in 
all its effects, collateral and remote." ^ I do not know whether, 
if a man should sit down expressly to devise a moral principle 
which shoidd be uncertain and difficult in its application, he 
coidd devise one that would be more difficult and uncertain 
than this. So that, as Dr. Paley himself acknowledges, " It is 
impossible to ascertain every duty by an immediate reference 
to public utility." ^ The reader may therefore conclude with 
Dr. Johnson, that by presuming to determine what is fit and 
what is beneficial, they presuppose more knowledge of the 
universal system than man has attained, and therefore depend 
upon principles too complicated and extensive for our compre- 
hension : and there can be no security in the consequence when 
the premises are not understood." ^ 

V. But whatever may be the propriety of investigating all con- 
sequences " collateral and remote," it is certain that such an 
investigation is possible only in that class of moral questions 
which allows a man time to sit down and deliberately to think 
and compute. As it respects that large class of cases in which 
a person must decide and act in a moment, it is wholly useless. 
There are thousands of conjunctures in life in which a man can 
no more stop to calculate effects collateral and remote, than he 
can stop to cross the Atlantic : and it is difficult to conceive 
that any rule of morality can be absolute and universal, which 
is totally inapplicable to so large a portion of human affairs. 

VI. Lastly, the rule of Expediency is deficient in one of the 
first requisites of a moral law— obviousness and palpability of 
sanction. What is the process by which the sanction is applied ? 
Its advocates say, the Deity is a Benevolent Being : as he is 
benevolent himself, it is reasonable to conclude he wills that his 

I Mor. and Pol. PhU. B. 2, c. 8. ' B. 6. c. 12. ' Western Isles. 


creatures should be benevolent to one another : this benevolence 
is to be exercised by adapting every action to the promotion of 
the " universal interest " of man : " Whatever is expedient is 
right:" or, God wills that we should consult Expediency. — 
Now we say that there are so many considerations placed be- 
tween the rule and the act, that the practical authority of the 
rule is greatly diminished. It is easy to perceive that the autho- 
rity of a rule will not come home to that man's mind, who is 
told, respecting a given action, that its effect upon the universal 
interest is the only thing that makes it right or wrong. All 
the doubts that arise as to this effect are so many diminutions 
of the sanction. It is like putting half a dozen new contin- 
gencies between the act of thieving and the conviction of a jury ; 
and every one knows that the want of certainty of penalty is a 
great encouragement to offences. The principle too is liable to 
the most extravagant abuse — or rather extravagant abuse is, 
in the present condition of mankind, inseparable from its 
general adoption. " Whatever is expedient is right," soliloquizes 
the moonlight adventurer into the poultry-yard : " It will tend 
more to the sum of human happiness that my wife and I should 
dine on a capon, than that the farmer should feel the satisfac- 
tion of possessing it ;" — and so he mounts the hen-roost. I do 
not say that this hungry moralist would reason soundly, but I 
say that he would not listen to the philosophy which replied, 
" Oh, your reasoning is incomplete : you must take into account 
all consequences collateral and remote ; and then you wiU find 
that it is more expedient, upon the whole and at the long 
run, that you and your wife should be hungry, than that hen- 
roosts should be insecure." 

It is happy, however, that this principle never can be gene- 
rally applied to the private duties of man. Its abuses would 
be so enormous that the laws would take, as they do in fact 
take, better measures for regulating men's conduct than this 
doctrine supplies. And happily, too, the Universal Lawgiver 
has not left mankind without more distinct and more influential 
perceptions of his will and his authority, than they could ever 
derive from the principles of Expediency. 

But an objection has probably presented itself to the reader, 
that the greater part of mankind have no access to the written 



Essay 1. 

expression of the Will of God ; and how, it may be asked, can 
that be the final standard of right and wrong for the human 
race, of which the majority of the race have never heard ? The 
question is reasonable and fair. 

We answer then, first, that supposing most men to be desti- 
tute of a communication of the Divine Will, it does not affect 
the obligations of those who do possess it. That communication 
is the final law to me, whether my African brother enjoys it or 
not. Every reason by which the supreme authority of the law is 
proved, is just as applicable to those who do enjoy the commu- 
nication of it, whether that communication is enjoyed by many 
or by few: and this, so far as the argument is concerned, 
appears to be a sufiicient answer. If any man has no direct 
access to his Creator's will, let him have recourse to '' eternal 
fitnesses,^' or to " expediency ;'' but his condition does not affect 
that of another man who does possess this access. 

But our real reply to the objection is, that they who are des- 
titute of Scripture, are not destitute of a direct communication 
of the Will of God. The proof of this position must be deferred 
to a subsequent chapter; and the reader is solicited for the 
present, to allow us to assume its truth. This direct communi- 
cation may be limited, it may be incomplete, but some commu- 
nication exists ; enough to assure them that some things are 
acceptable to the Supreme Power, and that some are not ; enough 
to indicate a distinction between right and wrong ; enough to 
make them moral agents, and reasonably accountable to our 
Common Judge. If these principles ai-e true, and especially if 
the amount of the communication is in many cases considerable, 
it is obvious that it will be of great value in the direction of 
individual conduct. We say of individual conduct, because it 
is easy to perceive that it would not often subserve the purposes 
of him who frames public rules of morality. A person may 
possess a satisfactory assiirance in his own mind, that a given 
action is inconsistent with the Divine Will, but that assurance 
is not conveyed to another, unless he participates in the 
evidence upon which it is founded. That which is wanted in 
order to supply public rules for human conduct, is a publicly 
avouched authority; so that a writer, in deducing those rules, has 
to apply, ultimately, to that Standard which God has pubHcly 






The written expression of the Divine Will does not contain, 
and no writings can contain, directions for our conduct in every 
circumstance of life. If the precepts of Scripture were multi- 
plied a hundred or a thousand fold, there would still arise a 
multiplicity of questions to which none of them would specifi- 
cally apply. Accordingly, there are some subordinate autho- 
rities, to which, as can be satisfactorily shown, it is the Will 
of God that we should refer. He who does refer to them, and 
regulate his conduct by them, conforms to the will of God. 

To a son who is obliged to regulate all his actions by his 
father's will, there are two ways in which he may practise obe- 
dience — one, by receiving, upon each subject, his father's direct 
instructions ; and the other by receiving instructions from those 
whom his father commissions to teach him. The parent may 
appoint a governor, and enjoin, that upon all questions of a cer- 
tain kind the son shall conform to his instructions ; and if the 
son does this, he as truly and really performs his father's will^ 
and as strictly makes that will the guide of his conduct, as if 
he received the instructions immediately from his parent. But 
if the father have laid down certain general rules for his son's 
observance, as that he shall devote ten hours a-day to study, 
and not less — although the governor should recommend or 
even command him to devote fewer hours, he may not comply ; 
for if he does, the governor, and not his father, is his supreme 
guide. The subordination is destroyed. 

This case illustrates, perhaps with sufficient precision, the 
situation of mankind with respect to moral rules. Our Creator 
has given direct laws, some general and some specific. These 
are of final authority. But he has also sanctioned, or permitted 
an application to, other rules ; and in conforming to these, so 





Essay 1. 

long as wc hold them in subordination to his laws, we perform 

his will. 

Of these subordinate rules it were possible to enumerate 

many. Perhaps, indeed, few principles have been proposed as 
" The fundamental Rules of Virtue," which may not rightly be 
brought into use by the christian in regulating his conduct in 
life : for the objection to many of these principles is, not so 
much that they are useless, as that they are unwarranted as 
paramount laws. " Sympathy " may be of use, and " Nature'' 
may be of use, and '' Self-love,'' and " Benevolence ;" and to 
those who know what it means, " Eternal fitnesses" too. 

Some of the subordinate rules of conduct it will be proper 
hereafter to notice, in order to discover, if we can, how far their 
authority extends, and where it ceases. The observations that 
we shall have to offer upon them may conveniently be made 
under these heads : The Law of the Land: The Law of Nature: 
The promotion of Human Happiness or Expediency : The Law of 
Nations : The Law of Honour. 

These observations will, however, necessarily be preceded by 
an inquiry into the great principles of human duty as they are 
delivered in Scripture, and into the reality of that communi- 
cation of the Divine Will to the mind, which the reader has 
been requested to allow us to assume. 



The reader is requested to regard the present chapter as parenthetical. Tlie 
parenthesis is inserted here, because the writer does not know where more 
appropriately to place it. 


This identity is a truth to which we do not sufficiently advert 
either in our habitual sentiments or in our practice. There are 
many persons who speak of religious duties, as if there was 
something sacred or imperative in their obligation that does not 
belong to duties of morality, — many, who would perhaps offer up 
their lives rather than p;rofess a belief in a false religious dogma, 
but who would scarcely sacrifice an hour's gratification rather 
than violate the moral law of love. It is therefore of importance 
to remember, that the authority which imposes moral obligations 
and religious obligations is one and the same — ^the Will of God. 
Fidelity to God is just as truly violated by a neglect of his 
moral laws, as by a compromise of religious principles. Religion 
and Morality are abstract terms, employed to indicate different 
classes of those duties which the Deity has imposed upon man- 
kind : but they are all imposed by Him, and all are enforced by 
equal authority. Not indeed that the violation of every par- 
ticular portion of the Divine Will involves equal guilt, but that 
each violation is equally a disregard of the Divine Authority. 
Whether, therefore, fidelity be required to a point of doctrine or 
of practice, to theology or to morals, the obligation is the same. 
It is the Divine requisition which constitutes this obligation, 
and not the nature of the duty required : so that, whilst I think 
a Protestant does no more than his duty when he prefers death 
to a profession of the Roman Catholic faith, I think also that 



Essay 1. 

every Christian who believes that Christ has prohibited swearing, 
does no more than his duty when he prefers death to taking an 


I would especially solicit the reader to bear in mind this 
principle of the identity of the authority of moral and religious 
obligations, because he may otherwise imagine that, in some of 
the subsequent pages, the obligation of a moral law is too 
strenuously insisted on, and that fidelity to it is to be purchased 
at " too great a sacrifice " of ease and enjoyment. 


The purpose for which a reference is here made to these sacred 
subjects, is to remark upon the unfitness of attempting to deduce 
human duties from the attributes of God. It is not indeed to 
be afl&rmed that no illustration of those duties can be derived 
from them, but that they are too imperfectly cognizable by our 
perceptions to enable us to refer to them for specific moral 
rules. The truth indeed is, that we do not accurately and 
distinctly know what the Divine Attributes are. We say that 
God is merciful ; but if we attempt to define, with strictness, 
what the term merciful means, we shall find it a difficult, 
perhaps an impracticable task ; and especially we shall have a 
difficult task if, after the definition, we attempt to reconcile 
every appearance which presents itself in the world, with our 
notions of the attribute of mercy. I would speak with reverence 
when I say that we cannot always perceive the mercifulness of 
the Deity in his administrations, either towards his rational or 
his irrational creation. So, again, in respect of the attribute of 
Justice, who can determinately define in what this attribute 
consists ? Who, especially, can prove that the Almighty designs 
that we should always be able to trace his justice in his govern- 
ment ? We believe that He is unchangeable : but what is the 
sense in which we understand the term ? Do we mean that the 
attribute involves the necessity of an unchanging system of 
moral government, or that the Deity cannot make alterations 
in, or additions to, his laws for mankind ? We cannot mean 
this, for the evidence of revelation disproves it. 

Now if it be true that the Divine Attributes, and the imiform 

Chap. 4. 



accordancy of the divine dispensations with our notions of those 
attributes, are not sufficiently within our powers of investigation 
to enable us to frame accurate premises for our reasoning, it is 
plain that we cannot always trust with safety to our conclusions. 
We cannot deduce rules for our conduct from the Divine 
Attributes, without being very liable to error ; and the liability 
will increase in proportion as the deduction attempts critical 

Yet this is a rock upon which the judgments of many have 
suffered wreck, a quicksand where many have been involved in 
inextricable difficulties. One, because he cannot reconcile the 
commands to exterminate a people with his notions of the 
attribute of mercy, questions the tmth of the Mosaic writings. 
One, because he finds wars permitted by the Almighty of old, 
concludes that, as he is unchangeable, they cannot be incom- 
patible with his present or his future Will. One, on the sup- 
position of this unchangeableness, perplexes himself because the 
dispensations of God and his laws have been changed; and 
vainly labours, by classifying these laws into those which result 
from his attributes, and those which do not, to vindicate the 
immutability of God. We have no business with these things, 
and I will venture to affirm, that he who will take nothing upon 
trust — who will exercise no faith — who will believe in the 
divine authority of no rule, and in the truth of no record, which 
he is unable to reconcile with the Divine Attributes — must be 
consigned to hopeless Pyrrhonism. 

The lesson which such considerations teach is a simple but an 
important one : That our exclusive business is, to discover the 
actual present Will of God, without inquiring why his will is 
such as it is, or why it has ever been different ; and without 
seeking to deduce, from our notions of the Divine Attributes, 
rules of conduct which are more safely and more certainly 
discovered by other means. 


The definitions which have been proposed of Virtue have 
necessarily been both numerous and various, because many and 
discordant standards of rectitude have been advanced; and 



Essay 1. 

Virtue must, in every man's system, essentially consist in con- 
forming the conduct to the standard which he thinks is the true 
one. This must be true of those systems, at least, which make 
Virtue consist in doing right. — Adam Smith indeed says, that 
" Virtue is excellence ; something uncommonly great and beau- 
tiful, which rises far above what is vulgar and ordinary.''^ By 
which it would appear that Virtue is a relative quality, de- 
pending not upon some perfect or permanent standard, but 
upon the existing practice of mankind. Thus the action which 
possessed no Virtue amongst a good community, might possess 
much in a bad one. The practice which " rose far above'' the 
ordinary practice of one nation, might be quite common in 
another : and if mankind should become much worse than they 
are now, that conduct would be eminently virtuous amongst 
them which now is not virtuous at all. That such a definition 
of Virtue is likely to lead to very imperfect practice is plain ; 
for what is the probability that a man will attain to that 
standard which God proposes, if his utmost estimate of Virtue 
rises no higher than to an indeterminate superiority over other 

Our definition of Virtue necessarily accords with the Prin- 
ciples of Morality which have been advanced in the preceding 
chapter : Virtue is conformity with the Standard of Rectitude ; 
which standard consists, primarily, in the expressed Will of God. 

Virtue, as it respects the meritoriousness of the agent, is 
another consideration. The quality of an action is one thing, 
the desert of the agent is another. The business of him who 
illustrates moral rules, is not with the agent, but with the act. 
He must state what the moral law pronounces to be right and 
wrong : but it is very possible that an individual may do what is 
right without any Virtue, because there may be no rectitude in 
his motives and intentions. He does a virtuous act, but he is 
not a virtuous agent. 

Although the concern of a work like the present is evidently 
with the moral character of actions, without reference to the 
motives of the agent; yet the remark may be allowed, that 
there is frequently a sort of inaccuracy and unreasonableness in 
the judgments which we form of the deserts of other men. We 

Chap, 4. 



regard the act too much, and the intention too little. The foot- 
pad who discharges a pistol at a traveller and fails in his aim, is 
just as wicked as if he had killed him; yet we do not feel the 
same degree of indignation at his crime. So, too, of a person 
who does good. A man who plunges into a river and saves a 
child from drowning, impresses the parents with a stronger sense 
of his deserts, than if, with the same exertions, he had failed. — 
We should endeavour to correct this inequality of judgment, and 
in forming our estimates of human conduct, should refer, much 
more than we commonly do, to what the agent intends. It 
should habitually be borne in mind, and especially with reference 
to our own conduct, that to have been unable to execute an ill 
intention deducts nothing from our guilt; and that at that 
tribunal where intention and action will be both regarded, it will 
avail little if we can only say that we have done no evil. Nor 
let it be less remembered, with respect to those who desire to do 
good but have not the power, that their Virtue is not diminished 
by their want of ability. I ought, perhaps, to be as grateful to 
the man who feelingly commiserates my sufferings but cannot 
relieve them, as to him who sends me money or a physician. 
The mite of the widow of old was estimated even more highly 
than the greater offerings of the rich. 

> Thco. Mor. Sent. 






One of the very interesting considerations which are presented 
to an inquirer in perusing the volume of Scripture, consists in 
the variations in its morality. There are three distinctly defined 
periods, in which the moral government and laws of the Deity 
assume, in some respects, a different character. In the first, 
without any system of external instruction, he communicated 
his Will to some of our race, either immediately or through a 
Superhuman messenger. In the second, he promulgated, through 
Moses, a distinct and extended code of laws, addressed peculiarly 
to a selected people. In the third, Jesus Christ and his com- 
missioned ministers, delivered precepts, of which the general 
character was that of greater purity or perfection, and of which 
the obligation was universal upon mankind. 

That the records of all these dispensations contain declarations 
of the Will of God, is certain : that their moral requisitions are 
not always coincident, is also certain ; and hence the conclusion 
becomes inevitable, that to us, one is of primary authority ; — 
that when all do not coincide, one is paramount to the others. 
That a coincidence does not always exist, may easily be shown. 
It is manifest, not only by a comparison of precepts and of the 
general tenor of the respective records, but from the express 
declarations of Christianity itself. 

One example, referring to the christian and Jewish dispensa- 
tions, may be found in the extension of the law of Love. Chris- 
tianity in extending the application of this law, requires us to 
abstain from that, which the law of Moses permitted us to do. 

Chap. 5. 



Thus it is in the instance of duties to our " neighbour," as they 
are illustrated in the parable of the Samaritan.^ Thus, too, in 
the sermon on the mount : " It hath been said by them of old 
time, Thou shalt love thy neighbour and hate thine enemy : but / 
say unto you. Love your enemies." ^ It is indeed sometimes 
urged that the words " hate thine enemy," were only a gloss of 
the expounders of the law : but Grotius writes thus : '^ What is 
there repeated as said to those of old, are not the words of the 
teachers of the law, but of Moses ; either literally or in their 
meaning. They are cited by our Saviour as his express words, 
not as interpretations of them." ^ if the authority of Grotius 
should not satisfy the reader, let him consider such passages as 
this : '' An Ammonite or a Moabite shall not enter into the con- 
gregation of the Lord. Because they met you not with bread 
and with water in the way, when ye came forth out of Egypt. 
TTiou shalt not seek their peace nor their prosperity all thy days 
for ever."* This is not coincident with, ^' Love your enemies ;" 
or with, " Do good to them that hate you ;" or with that temper 
which is recommended by the words, " to him that smiteth thee 
on one cheek, turn the other also." ^ 

'^ Pour out thy fury upon the heathen that know thee not, and 
upon the families that call not on thy name," ^ — is not coinci- 
dent with the reproof of Christ to those who, upon similar 
grounds, would have called down fire from heaven."^ " The Lord 
look upon it and require it," ^ — is not coincident with, " Lord, 
lay not this sin to their charge." ^ " Let me see thy vengeance 
on them," '^ — " bring upon them the day of evil, and destroy 
them with double destruction," ^^ — is not coincident with, " For- 
give them, for they know not what they do." ^^ 

Similar observations applying to Swearing, to Polygamy, to 
Retaliation, to the motives of murder and adultery. 

And as to the express assertion of the want of coincidence : — 
" The law made nothing perfect, but the bringing in of a better 
hope did." ^^ " There is verily a disannulling of the com- 
mandment going before, for the weakness and unprofitableness 
thereof." '* If the commandment now existing is not weak and 

» Luke X. 30. = Matt. v. 43. s Rights of War and Peace. 

« Deut. xxiii. 3, 4, 6. * Matt. v. 39. « Jer. x. 25. 

^ Luke ix. 54. * 2 Chron. xxiv. 22. » Acts vii. 60. 

"Jer. XX. 12. " Jer. xv4. 18. ''Luke xxiii. 34. 

"Heb. vii. 19. '*Heh. ^-ii. 18. 



Essay 1. 

unprofitable, it must be because it is superior to that which 

existed before. 

But although this appears to be thus clear with respect to the 
Jewish dispensation, there are some who regard the moral pre- 
cepts which were delivered before the period of that dispensation, 
as imposing permanent obligations : they were delivered, it is 
said, not to one peculiar people, but to individuals of many ; 
and, in the persons of the immediate survivors of the deluge, to 
the whole human race. This argument assumes a ground para- 
mount to all questions of subsequent abrogation. Now it would 
appear a sufficient answer to say—If the precepts of the Patri- 
archal and christian dispensations are coincident, no question 
needs to be discussed ; if they are not, we must make an election ; 
and surely the christian cannot doubt what election he should 
make. Could a Jew have justified himself for violating the 
Mosaic law, by urging the precepts delivered to the patriarchs ? 
No. Neither then can we justify ourselves for violating the 
christian law, by urging the precepts delivered to Moses. 

We indeed have, if it be possible, still stronger motives. The 
moral law of Christianity binds us, not merely because it is the 
present expression of the Will of God, but because it is a por- 
tion of his last dispensation to man — of that which is avowedly 
not only the last, but the highest and the best. We do not find 
in the records of Christianity that which we find in the other 
Scriptures, a reference to a greater and purer dispensation yet to 
come. It is as true of the Patriarchal as of the Mosaic institu- 
tion, that " it made nothing perfect,'' and that it referred us 
from the first, to " the bringing in of that better hope which 
did." If then the question of supremacy is between a perfect 
and an imperfect system, who wiU hesitate in his decision ? 

There are motives of gratitude, too, and of affection, as well 
as of reason. The clearer exhibition which Christianity gives of 
the attributes of God ; its distinct disclosure of our immortal 
destinies ; and above all, its wonderful discovery of the love of our 
Universal Father, may well give to the moral law with which they 
are connected, an authority which may supersede every other. 

These considerations are of practical importance ; for it may 
be observed of those who do not advert to them, that they some- 
times refer indiscriminately to the Old Testament or the New, 
without any other guide than the apparent greater applicability 

Chap. 5. 



of a precept in the one or the other, to their present need : and 
thus it happens that a rule is sometimes acted upon, less perfect 
than that by which it is the good pleasure of God we should now 
regulate our conduct. — It is a fact which the reader should espe- 
cially notice, that an appeal to the Hebrew Scriptures is frequently 
made when the precepts of Christianity would be too rigid for our 
purpose. He who insists upon a pure morality, applies to the 
New Testament : he who desires a little more indulgence, defends 
himself by arguments from the Old. 

Of this indiscriminate reference to all the dispensations, there 
is an extraordinary example in the newly discovered work of 
Milton. He appeals, I believe, almost uniformly to the precepts 
of all, as of equal present obligation. The consequence is what 
might be expected — his moral system is not consistent. Nor is 
it to be forgotten, that in defending what may be regarded as 
less pure doctrines, he refers mostly, or exclusively, to the Hebrew 
Scriptures. In all his disquisitions to prove the lawfulness of 
untruths, he does not once refer to the New Testament.' Those 
who have observed the prodigious multiplicity of texts which he 
cites in this work, will peculiarly appreciate the importance of 
the fact. — Again : ^^ Hatred," he says, " is in some cases a reli- 
gious duty." ^ A proposition at which the christian may reason- 
ably wonder. And how does Milton prove its truth ? He cites 
from Scripture ten passages ; of which eight are from the Old 
Testament and two from the New. The reader will be curious 
to know what these two are : — " If any man come to me and hate 
not his father and mother — he cannot be my disciple." ^ And 
the rebuke to Peter ; " Get thee behind me Satan." * The cita- 
tion of such passages shows that no passages to the purpose could 
be found. 

It may be regarded therefore as a general rule, that none of 
the injunctions or permissions which formed a part of the former 
dispensations, can be referred to as of authority to us, except so 
far as they are coincident with the christian law. To our own 
Master we stand or fall; and our Master is Christ. — And in 
estimating this coincidence, it is not requisite to show that a 
given rule or permission of the former dispensations is specifically 
superseded in the New Testament. It is sufficient if it is not 
accordant with the general spirit ; and this consideration assumes 

' Christian Doctrine : p. 680. - P. 641. ' Luke xiv. 26. * Mark viii. 33. 




Essay 1. 

greater weight when it is connected with another which is 
hereafter to be noticed —that it is by the general spirit of the 
christian morality that many of the duties of man are to be 

discovered. . 

Yet it is always to be remembered, that the laws which are 
thus superseded were, nevertheless, the laws of God. Let not 
the reader suppose that we would speak or feel respecting them 
otherwise than with that reverence which their origin demands, 
—or that we would take any thing from their present obbgation 
but that which is taken by the Lawgiver himself. It may indeed 
be observed, that in all his dispensations there is a harmony, a 
one pervading principle, which, without other evidence, indicates 
that they proceeded from the same authority. The variations 
are circumstantial rather than fundamental ; and after all, the 
great principles in which they accord, far outweigh the particular 
applications in which they diflPer. The Mosaic Dispensation was 
" a schoolmaster " to bring us, not merely through the medium 
of types and prophecies, but through its moral law, to Christ. 
Both the one and the other were designed as preparatives ; and 
it was probably as true of these moral laws as of the prophecies, 
that the Jews did not perceive their relationship to Christianity 
as it was actually introduced into the world. 

Respecting the variations of the moral law, some persons 

greatly and very needlessly perplex themselves by indulging in 

such questions as these :-" If." say they, " God be perfect, and 

if all the dispensations are communications of his will, how 

happens it that thev are not uniform in their requisitions ? How 

happens it that that which was required by Infinite Knowledge 

at one time, was not required by Infinite Knowledge at another?" 

I answer,— I cannot tell. And what then ? Does the inquirer 

think this a sufficient reason for rejecting the authority of the 

christian law ? If inability to discover the reasons of the moral 

government of God be a good motive to doubt its authority, we 

may involve ourselves in doubts without end.— Why does a Being 

who is infinitely pure permit moral evil in the world ? Why does 

he who is perfectly benevolent permit physical suffering ? Why 

did he suffer our first parents to fall ? Why, after they had 

fallen, did he not immediately repair the loss ? Why was the 

Chap, 5. 



Messiah's appearance deferred for four thousand years ? Why is 
not the religion of the Messiah universally known and univer- 
sally operative at the present day ? To all these questions, and 
to many others, no answer can be given : and the difficulty arising 
from them is as great, if we choose to make difficulties for our- 
selves, as that which arises from variations in his moral laws. 
Even in infidelity we shall find no rest : the objections lead us 
onward to atheism. He who will not believe in a Deity unless 
he can reconcile all the facts before his eyes with his notions of 
the divine attributes, must deny that a Deity exists. I talked 
of rest .—Alas ! there is no rest in infidelity or in atheism. To 
disbelieve in revelation or in God, is not to escape from a belief 
in things which you do not comprehend, but to transfer your 
belief to a new class of such things. Unbelief is credulity. The 
infidel is more credulous than the christian, and the atheist is 
the most credulous of mankind : that is, he believes important 
propositions upon less evidence than any other man, and in oppo- 
sition to greater. 

It is curious to observe the anxiety of some writers to reconcile 
some of the facts before us with the '' moral perfections '' of the 
Deity ; and it is instructive to observe into what doctrines they 
are led. They tell us that all the evil and all the pain in the 
world, are parts of a great system of Benevolence. ^^ The moral 
and physical e^dl observable in the system, according to men's 
limited views of it, are necessary parts of the great plan ; all 
tending ultimately to produce the greatest sum of happiness upon 
the whole, not only with respect to the system in general, but to 
each individual, according to the station he occupies in it."^ 
They affirm that God is an " all wise Being, who directs all the 
movements of nature, and who is determined, by his own unal- 
terable perfections, to maintain in it at all times, the greatest 
possible quantity of happiness." ^ The Creator found, therefore, 
that to inflict the misery which now exists, was the best means 
of promoting this happiness — that to have abated the evil, the 
suffering, or the misery, would be to have diminished the sum 
of felicity — and that men could not have been better or more at 

1 This is given as the belief of Dr. Priestly. See Memoirs : Ap. No. 5. 

* Adam Smith : Theory of Moral Sentiments. See also T. South wood Smith's 
Illustrations of the Di^'ine Government, in which unbridled license of specula- 
tion has led the writer into some instructive absurdities. 



ease than they are, without making them on the whole more 
vicious or unhappy ! These things are beacons which should 
warn us. The speculations show that not only religion, but 
reason, dictates the propriety of acquiescing in that degree of 
ignorance in which it has pleased God to leave us ; because they 
show, that attempts to acquire knowledge may conduct us to 
folly. These are subjects upon which he acts most rationally, 
who says to his reason — be still. 



It is remarkable that many of these precepts, and especially 
those of the christian Scriptures, are delivered, not systematically 
but occasionally. They are distributed through occasional dis- 
courses and occasional letters. Except in the instance of the 
law of Moses, the speaker or writer rarely set about a formal 
exposition of moral truth. The precepts were delivered as cir- 
cumstances called them forth or made them needful. There is 
nothing like a system of morality ; nor, consequently, does there 
exist that completeness, that distinctness in defining and accu- 
racy in limiting, which, in a system of morality, we expect to 
find. Many rules are advanced in short absolute prohibitions or 
injunctions, without assignmg any of those exceptions to their 
practical application, which the majority of such rules require.— 
The enquiry, in passing, may be permitted— Why are these 
things so ? When it is considered what the christian dispensa- 
tion is, and what it is designed to effect upon the conduct of man, 
it cannot be supposed that the incompleteness of its moral pre- 
cepts happened by inadvertence. The precepts of the former 
dispensation are much more precise ; and it is scarcely to be sup- 
posed that the more perfect dispensation would have had a less 
precise law, unless the deficiency were to be compensated from 
some other authoritative source :— which remark is offered as a 
reason, a priori, for expecting that, in the present dispensation, 
God would contend the operation of his law written in the heart. 

But whatever may be thought of this, it is manifest that 
considerable care is requisite in the application of precepts, so 
dehvered, to the conduct of life. To apply them in all cases 

Chap. 5. 



literally, were to act neither reasonably nor consistently with 
the design of the Lawgiver : to regard them in all cases as mere 
general directions, and to subject them to the unauthorized 
revision of man, were to deprive them of their proper character 
and authority as divine laws. In proposing some grounds for 
estimating the practical obligation of these precepts, I would 
be first allowed to express the conviction, that the simple fact 
that such a disquisition is needed, and that the moral duties are 
to be gathered rather by implication or general tenor than from 
specific and formal rules, is one indication amongst the many, 
that the dispensation of which these precepts form a part, stands 
not in words but in power : and I hope to be forgiven, even in 
a book of morality, if I express the conviction that none can 
fulfil their requisitions, — that none indeed can appreciate them, — 
without some participation in this " power .^^ I say he cannot 
appreciate them. Neither the morals nor the religion of Chris- 
tianity can be adequately estimated by the man who sits down 
to the New Testament, with no other preparation than that 
which is necessary in sitting down to Euclid or Newton. There 
must be some preparation of heart as well as integrity of imder- 
standing, — or, as the appropriate language of the volume itself 
would express it, it is necessary that we should become, in some 
degree, the " sheep'* of Christ before we can accurately " know 
his voice." 

There is one clear and distinct ground upon which we may 
limit the application of a precept that is couched in absolute 
language — the imlawfulness, in any given conjuncture, of 
obeying it. " Submit yourselves to every ordinance of man.''^ 
This, literally, is an unconditional command. But if we were 
to obey it unconditionally, we should sometimes comply with 
human in opposition to divine laws. In such cases then, the 
obligation is clearly suspended; and this distinction, the first 
teachers of Christianity recognized in their own practice. When 
an ^^ ordinance of man" required them to forbear the pro- 
mulgation of the new religion, they refused obedience; and 
.urged the befitting expostulation, — ^^ Whether it be right in the 
sight of God to hearken unto you more than unto God, judge 
ye." ^ So, too, with the filial relationship : ^' Children obey your 
parents in all things."^ But a parent may require his child 

» 1 Pet. ii. 13. 

' Acts iv. 19. 

» CoL iiL 20. 




Essay 1. 

to lie or steal ; and therefore when a pareut requires obedience 
in such things his authority ceases, and the obligation to obe- 
dience is taken away by the moral law itself. The precept, so 
far as the present ground of exception applies, is virtually this : 
Obey your parents in all things, unless disobedience is required 
by the will of God. Or the subject might be illustrated thus : 
The Author of Christianity reprobates those who love father or 
mother more than himself. The paramount love to God is to 
be manifested by obedience.^ So, then, we are to obey the 
commands of God in preference to those of our parents. " All 
human authority ceases at the point where obedience becomes 
criminal.^' ^ 

Of some precepts, it is evident that they were designed to be 
understood conditionally. " When thou prayest, enter into thy 
closet, and when thou hast shut thy door, pray to thy Father 
which is in secret.^ '^ This precept is conditional. I doubt not 
that it is consistent with his will that the greater number of the 
supplications which man offers at his throne shall be offered in 
secret ; yet, that the precept does not exclude the exercise of 
public prayer, is evident from this consideration, if from no 
other, that Christ and his apostles themselves practised it. 

Some precepts are figurative, and describe the spirit and 
temper that should govern us, rather than the particular actions 
that we should perform. Of this there is an example in, '' Who- 
soever shall compel thee to go a mile, go with him twain.'' * In 
promulgating some precepts, a principal object appears to have 
been, to supply sanctions. Thus in the case of Civil Obedience : 
we are to obey because the Deity authorizes the institution of 
Civil Government — because the magistrate is the minister of 
God for good ; and, accordingly, we are to obey not from con- 
siderations of necessity only, but of duty ; '' not only for 
wrath, but for conscience sake."^ One precept, if we accepted 
it literally, would enjoin us to " hate'' our parents ; and 
this acceptation, Milton appears actually to have adopted. 
One would enjoin us to accumulate no property : " Lay not up 
for yourselves treasures upon earth.''^ Such rules are seldom- 
mistaken in practice ; and, it may be observed, that this is an 

* If ye love me, ye will keep my commandments.— John xiv. 15. 

2 Mor. and Pol. Phil. ' Matt. vi. 6. « Matt. v. 41. 

i Rom. xiii. 5. * Matt. vi. 19. 

Chap. 5. 



indication of their practical wisdom, and their practical adap- 
tation to the needs of man. It is not an easy thing to pro- 
nounce, as occasions arise, a large number of moral precepts in 
unconditional language, and yet to secure them from the pro- 
bability of even great misconstructions. Let the reader make 
the experiment. — Occasionally, but it is only occasionally, a 
sincere christian, in his anxiety to conform to the moral law, 
accepts such precepts in a more literal sense than that in which 
they appear to have been designed to be applied. I once saw a 
book that endeavoured to prove the unlawfulness of accumu- 
lating any property ; upon the authority, primarily, of this last 
quoted precept. The principle upon which the writer pro- 
ceeded was just and right, — that it is necessary to conform, un- 
conditionally, to the expressed Will of God. The defect was 
in the criticism j that is to say, in ascertaining what that will 
did actually require. 

Another obviously legitimate ground of limiting the applica- 
tion of absolute precepts, is afforded us in just biblical criticism. 
Not that critical disquisitions are often necessary to the upright 
man who seeks for the knowledge of his duties. God has not 
left the knowledge of his moral law so remote from the sincere 
seekers of his will. But in deducing public rules as authori- 
tative upon mankind, it is needful to take into account those 
considerations which criticism supplies. The construction of the 
original languages and their peculiar phraseology, the habits, 
manners, and prevailing opinions of the times, and the circum- 
stances under which a precept was delivered, are evidently 
amongst these considerations. And literary criticism is so much 
the more needed, because the great majority of mankind have 
access to Scripture only through the medium of translations. 

But in applying all these limitations to the absolute precepts 
of Scriptiu^e, it is to be remembered that we are not subjecting 
their authority to inferior principles. We are not violating the 
principle upon which these essays proceed, that the expression of 
the Divine Will is our ultimate law. We are only ascertaining 
what that expression is. If, after just and authorized examina- 
tion, any precept should still appear to stand imperative in its 
absolute form, we accept it as obligatory in that form. Many 
such precepts there are ; and being such, we allow no considera- 



Essay 1. 

Chap, 5. 

MATT. vii. 12. 


tions of convenience^ nor of expediency, nor considerations of 
any other kind, to dispense with their authority. 

One great use of such enquiries as these, is to vindicate to the 
apprehensions of men the authority of the precepts themselves. 
It is very likely to happen, and to some negligent enquirers it 
does happen, that seeing a precept couched in unconditional lan- 
guage, which yet cannot be unconditionally obeyed, they call in 
question its general obligation. Their minds fix upon the idea 
of some consequences which would result from a literal obe- 
dience, and feeling assured that those consequences ought not to 
be undertaken, they set aside the precept itself. They are at 
little pains to enquire what the proper requisitions of the 
precept are, — glad, perhaps, of a specious excuse for not regard- 
ing it at all. The careless reader, perceiving that a literal com- 
pliance with the precept to give the cloak to him who takes a coat, 
would be neither proper nor right, rejects the whole precept of 
which it forms an illustration ; and in doing this, rejects one of 
the most beautiful, and important, and sacred requisitions of the 
christian law.^ 

There are two modes in which moral obligations are imposed 
in Scripture, — by particular precepts, and by general rules. The 
one prescribes a duty upon one subject, the other upon very 
many. The applicability of general rules is nearly similar to 
that of what is usually called the spirit of the gospel, the spirit 
of the moral law : which spirit is of very wide embrace in its 
application to the purposes of life. " In estimating the value of 
a moral rule, we are to have regard, not only to the particular 
duty, but the general spirit; not only to what it directs us 
to do, but to the character which a compliance with its direc- 
tion is likely to form in us."^ In this manner, some particular 
precepts become, in fact, general rules ; and the duty that results 
from these rules, from this spirit, is as obligatory as that which 
is imposed by a specific injunction, Christianity requires us to 
maintain universal benevolence towards mankind ; and he who, 
in his conduct towards another, disregards this benevolence, is 
as truly and sometimes as flagrantly a violator of the moral law. 


as if he had transgressed the command, " Thou shalt not steal. 
This doctrine is indeed recommended by a degree of utility that 
makes its adoption almost a necessity; because no number of 
specific precepts would be sufiicient for the purposes of moral 
instruction : so that, if we were destitute of this species of 
general rules, we should frequently be destitute, so far as external 
precepts are concerned, of any. It appears by a note to the 
work which has just been cited, that in the Mussulman code, 
which proceeds upon the system of a precise rule for a precise 
question, there have been promulgated seventy-five thousand 
precepts. I regard the wide practical applicability of some of 
the christian precepts as an argimient of great wisdom. They 
impose many duties in few words ; or rather, they convey a great 
mass of moral instruction within a sentence that all may remem- 
ber and that few can mistake. " All things whatsoever ye would 
that men should do to you, do ye even so to them,'' ^ is of greater 
utility in the jpractice of life, and is applicable to more circum- 
stances, than a hundred rules which presented the exact degree 
of kindness or assistance that should be afforded in prescribed 
cases. The Mosaic law, rightly regarded, conveyed many clear 
expositions of human duty; yet the quibbling and captious 
scribes of old found, in the literalities of that law, more plausible 
grounds for evading its duties, than can be found in the precepts 
of the christian Scriptures. 

1 Matt. V. 38. 

- Evidences of Christianity, p. 2, c. 2. 

There are a few precepts of which the application is so 
extensive in human affairs, that I would, in conformity with 
some of the preceding remarks, briefly enquire into their prac- 
tical obligation. Of these, that which has just been quoted for 
another purpose, '' All things whatsoever ye would that men 
should do to you, do ye even so to them,^^ ^ is perhaps cited and 
recommended more frequently than any other. The difiiculty 
of applying this precept has induced some to reject it as con- 
taining a moral maxim which is not sound : but perhaps it will 
be found, that the deficiency is not in the rule but in the non- 
applicability of the cases to which it has often been applied. 
It is not applicable when the act which another would that we 
should do to him, is in itself unlawful or adverse to some other 

* Matt. vii. 12. 



1 COR. X. 31. 

Essay 1. 



ROM. iii. 8. 


portion of the Moral Law. If I seize a thief in the act of 
picking a pocket, he undoubtedly "would'' that I should let 
him go ; and I, if our situations were exchanged, should wish it 
too. But I am not therefore to release him ; because, since it is 
a christian obligation upon the magistrate to punish oflfenders, 
the obligation descends to me to secure them for punishment. 
Besides, in every such case I must do as I would be done unto 
with respect to all parties concerned, — the public as well as the 
thief. The precept, again, is not applicable when the desire of 
the second party is such as a christian cannot lawfully indulge. 
An idle and profligate man asks me to give him money. It 
would be wrong to indulge such a man's desire, and therefore 
the precept does not apply. 

The reader will perhaps say, that a person's duties in such 
cases are sufficiently obvious without the gravity of illustration. 
Well, — but are the principles upon which the duties are ascer- 
tained thus obvious? This is the important point. In the 
affairs of life, many cases arise in which a person has to refer to 
such principles as these, and in which, if he does not apply the 
right principles, he will trinsgress the christian law. The law 
appears to be in effect this. Do as you would be done unto, 
except in those instances in which to act otherwise is per- 
mitted by Christianity. Inferior grounds of limitation are often 
applied; and they are always wrong; because they always 
subject the Moral Law to suspension by inferior authorities. 
To do this, is to reject the authority of the Divine Will, and to 
place this beautiful expression of that Will at the mercy ol 
every man's inclination. 

*' Whether ye eat, or drink, or whatsoever ye do, do all to the 
glory of God."^ I have heard of the members of some^^linner 
club who had been recommended to consider this precept, and 
who, in their discussions over the bottle, thought perhaps that 
they were arguirg soundly when they held language like this; 
" Am I, in lifting this glass to my mouth, to do it for the pur- 
pose of bringing glory to God ? Is that to be my motive in 
buying a horse or shooting a pheasant ?" From such moralists 
much sagacity of discrimination was not to be expected ; and 
these questions delighted and probably convinced the club. 
The mistake of these persons, and perhaps of some others, is, 

» 1 Cor. X. 31. 

that they misunderstand the rule. The promotion of the Divine 
glory is not to be the motive and purpose of all our actions, but 
having actions to perform, we are so to perform them that this 
glory shall be advanced. The precept is in effect. Let your 
actions and the motives of them be such, that others shall have 
reason to honour God:^ — and a precept like this is a very sen- 
sitive test of the purity of our conduct. I know not whether 
there is a single rule of Christianity of which the use is so con- 
stant and the application so universal. To do as we would 
be done by, refers to relative duties ; Not to do evil that good 
may come, refers to particular circumstances : but. To do all 
things so that the Deity may be honoured, refers to almost 
every action of a man's life. Happily the Divine glory is thus 
promoted by some men even in trifling affairs — almost whether 
they eat or drink, or whatsoever thing they do. There is, in 
truth, scarcely a more efficacious means of honouring the Deity, 
than the observing a constant chiistian manner of conducting 
our intercoui'se with men. He who habitually maintains his 
allegiance to religion and to purity, who is moderate and 
chastised in all his pursuits, and who always makes the prospects 
of the future predominate over the temptations of the present, 
is one of the most efficacious recom menders of goodness, — one 
of the most impressive " preachers of righteousness," — and by 
consequence, one of the most efficient promoters of the glory 
of God. 

By a part of Paul's Epistles to the Homans, it appears that 
he and his coadjutors had been reported to hold the doctrine 
that it is lawful " to do evil that good may come." ^ This 
report he declares is slanderous ; and expresses his reprobation 
of those who act upon the doctrine, by the short and emphatic 
declaration, — their condemnation is just. This is not critically a 
prohibition, but it is a prohibition in effect ; and the manner in 
which the doctrine is reprobated, induces the belief that it was 
so flagitious that it needed very little enquiry or thought : in the 
writer's mind the transition is immediate, from the idea of the 
doctrine to the punishment of those who adopt it. 

Now the " evil" which is thus prohibited, is, any thing and 

* ♦' Let your light so shine before men that they may see your good works, 
and glorify your Father which is in heaven." — Matt. v. 16. 

* Rom. iii. 8. 

44 ROM. iii. 8. Essay 1. 

all things discordant with the divine will; so that the unso- 
phisticated meaning of the rule is, that nothing which is con- 
trary to the christian law may be done for the sake of attaining 
a beneficial end. Perhaps the breach of no moral rule is pro- 
ductive of more mischief than of this. That ^' the end justifies 
the means," is a maxim which many, who condemn it as a 
maxim, adopt in their practice : and in political aflxiirs, it is not 
only habitually adopted, but is indirectly, if not openly, defended 
as right. If a senator were to object to some measure of appa- 
rent public expediency, that it was not consistent with the moral 
law, he would probably be laughed at as a fanatic or a fool : yet 
perhaps some who are flippant with this charge of fanaticism 
and folly may be in perplexity for a proof. If the expressed 
Will of God is our paramount law, no proof can be brought ; 
and in truth it is not often that it is candidly attempted. I have 
not been amongst the least diligent enquirers into the moral 
reasonings of men, but honest and manly reasoning against this 
portion of Scripture I have never found. 

Of the rule, " not to do evil that good may come," Dr. Paley 
says, that it "is, for the most part, a salutary caution." A 
person might as well say that the rule " not to commit murder" 
is a salutary caution. There is no caution in the matter, but 
an imperative law. But he proceeds : — Strictly speaking, that 
cannot be evi/ from which good comes." ^ Now let the reader 
consider : — Paul says. You may not do evil that good may come: 
Aye J but J says the philosopher, if good does come, the acts that 
bring it about are not evil. What the apostle would have said 
of such a reasoner, I will not trust my pen to suppose. The 
reader will perceive the foundation of this reasoning. It assumes 
that good and evil ai'e not to be estimated by the expressions of 
the Will of God, but by the effects of actions. The question 
is clearly fundamental. If expediency be the ultimate test of 
rectitude. Dr. Paley is right ; if the expressions of the Divine 
Will are the ultimate test, he is wrong. You must sacrifice the 
one authority or the other. If this Will is the greater, conse- 
quences are not : if consequences are the greater, this Will is 
not. But, this question is not now to be discussed : it may how- 
ever be observed, that the interpretation which the rule has been 
thus made to bear, appears to be contradicted by the terms of the 

• Mor. and Pol. Plnl. 13. 2, c. 8. 




rule itself. The rule of Christianity is, Evil may not be com- 
mitted for the purpose of good : the rule of the philosophy is, Evil 
may not be committed except for the purpose of good. Are these 
precepts identical ? Is there not a fundamental variance, an abso- 
lute contrariety between them ? Christianity does not speak of 
evil and good as contingent, but as fixed qualities. You cannot 
convert the one into the other by disquisitions about expediency. 
In morals, there is no philosopher's stone that can convert evil 
into good with a touch. Our labours, so long as the authority 
of the Moral Law is acknowledged, will end like those of the 
physical alchymist : after all our eflPorts at transmutation, lead 
will not become gold, — evil will not become good. However, 
there is one subject of satisfaction in considering such reason- 
ings as these. They prove, negatively, the truth which they 
assail ; for that against which nothing but sophistry can be urged, 
is undoubtedly true. The simple truth is, that if evil may be 
done for the sake of good, all the precepts of Scripture which 
define or prohibit evil are laws no longer ; for that cannot in 
any rational use of language be called a law in respect of those 
to whom it is directed, if they are at liberty to neglect it when 
they think fit. These precepts may be advice^ recommenda- 
tions, *' salutary cautions," but they are not laws. They may 
suggest hints, but they do not impose duties. 

With respect to the legitimate grounds of exception or limi- 
tation in the application of this rule, there appear to be few or 
none. The only question is. What actions are evil? Which 
question is to be determined, ultimately, by the will of God. 


In enquiring into the great principles of that moral system 
which the christian revelation institutes, we discover one remark- 
able characteristic, one pervading peculiarity by which it is dis- 
tinguished from every other, — the paramount emphasis which it 
lays upon the exercise of pure Benevolence. It will be found 
that this preference of "Love'' is wise as it is unexampled, and 
that no other general principle would efi'ect, with any approach 
to the same completeness, the best and highest purposes of 
morality. How easy soever it be for us, to whom the character 



Essay 1. 

Chap. 5. 



and obligations of this benevolence are comparatively familiar, to 
perceive the wisdom of placing it at the foundation of the Moral 
Law, we are indebted for the capacity, not to our own saga- 
ciousness, but to light which had been communicated from 
heaven. That schoolmaster the law of Moses never taught, and 
the speculations of philosophy never discovered, that Love was 
the fulfilment of the Moral Law. Eighteen hundred years ago 
this doctrine was a new commandment. 

Love is made the test of the validity of our claims to the 
christian character — " By this shall all men know that ye are 
my disciples.^ 1 Again, — ''Love one another. He that loveth 
another hath fidfilled the law. For this. Thou shalt not commit 
adultery. Thou shalt not kill. Thou shalt not bear false wit- 
ness. Thou shalt not covet ; and if there be any other command- 
ment, it is briefly comprehended in this saying, namely. Thou 
shalt love thy neighbour as thyself. Love worketh no ill to his 
neighbour: therefore Love is the fulfilling of the law.'^- It is 
not therefore surprising that after an enumeration, in another 
place, of various duties, the same dignified apostle says, '' Above 
all these things i^wi on charity, which is the bond oi perfectness/^^ 
The inculcatioiFof this Benevolence is as frequent in the christian 
Scriptures as its practical utility is great. He who vnW look 
through the volume will find that no topic is so frequently intro- 
duced, no obligation so emphatically enforced, no virtue to which 
the approbation of God is so specially promised. It is the theme 
of all the " apostolic exhortations, that with which their mora- 
lity begins and ends, from which all their details and enumera- 
tions set out and into which they retura.'' * " He that dwelleth 
in love dwelleth in God, and God in him.^'' More emphatical 
language cannot be employed. It exalts to the utmost the 
character of the virtue, and in effect, promises its possessor the 
utmost favour and felicity. If then, of Faith, Hope, and Love, 
Love be the greatest ; if it be by the test of love that our pre- 
tensions to Christianity are to be tried ; if all the relative duties 
of morality are embraced in one word, and that word is Love ; 
it is obviously needful that, in a book like this, the requisitions 
of Benevolence should be habitually regarded in the prosecution 

1 John xiii. 35. 
' Col. iii. U. 
* 1 John iv. 16. 

' Rom. xiii. 9. 

* E%'id. Christianity, p. 2, c. 2. 

of its enquines. And accordingly the reader will sometimes be 
invited to sacrifice inferior considerations to these requisitions^ 
and to give to the law of Love that paramount station in which 
it has been placed by the authority of God. 

It is certain that almost every offence against the relative 
duties, has its origin, if not in the malevolent propensities, at 
least in those propensities which are incongruous with love. I 
know not whether it is possible to disregard any one obligation 
that respects the intercourse of man with man. without violating 
this great christian law. This universal applicability may easily 
be illustrated by referring to the obligations of Justice, obliga- 
tions which, in civilized communities, are called into operation 
more frequently than almost any other. He who estimates the 
obligations of justice by a reference to that Benevolence which 
Christianity prescribes, will form to himself a much more pure 
and perfect standard than he who refers to the law of the land, 
to the apprehension of exposure, or to the desire of reputation. 
There are many ways in which a man can be unjust without cen- 
sure from the public, and without violating the laws ; but there 
is no way in which he can be unjust without disregarding 
Christian Benevolence. It is an universal and very sensitive 
test. He who does regard it, who uniformly considers whether 
his conduct towards another is consonant with pure good-will, 
cannot be voluntarily unjust ; nor can he who commits injustice 
do it without the consciousness, if he will reflect, that he is vio- 
lating the law of Love. That integrity which is founded upon 
Love, when compared with that which has any other basis, is 
recommended by its honour and dignity as well as hj its recti- 
tude. It is more worthy the man as well as the christian, more 
beautiful in the eye of infidelity as well as of religion. 

It were easy, if it were necessary, to show in what manner 
the law of Benevolence applies to other relative duties, and in 
what manner, when applied, it purifies and exalts the fulfilment 
of them. But our present business is with principles rather than 
with their specific application. 

It is obvious that the obligations of this Benevolence are not 
merely prohibitory^ — directing us to avoid '' working ilP^ to an- 
other, but mandatory, — requiring us to do him good. That bene- 
volence which is manifested only by doing no evil, is indeed of 
a very questionable kind. To abstain from injustice, to abstain 



from violence, to abstain from slander, is compatible with an 
extreme deficiency of love. There are many who are neither 
slanderous, nor ferocious, nor unjust, who have yet very little 
regard for the benevolence of the gospel. In the illustrations 
therefore of the obligations of morality, whether private or poli- 
tical, it will sometimes become our business to state, what this 
Benevolence requires as well as what it forbids. The legislator 
whose laws are contrived only for the detection and punishment 
of offenders, fulfils but half his duty : if he would conform to 
the christian standard, he must provide also for their refor- 



The reader is solicited to approach this subject with that 
mental seriousness which its nature requires. Whatever be his 
opinions upon the subject, whether he believes in the reality of 
such communication or not, he ought not even to think respect- 
ing it but with feelings of seriousness. 

In endeavouring to investigate this reality, it becomes espe- 
cially needful to distinguish the communication of the Will of 
God from those mental phenomena with which it has very com- 
monly been intermingled and confounded. The want of this 
distinction has occasioned a confusion which has been greatly 
injurious to the cause of truth. It has occasioned great obscu- 
rity of opinion respecting divine instruction ; and by associating 
error with truth, has frequently induced scepticism respecting 
the truth itself. — ^When an intelligent person perceives that 
infallible truth or divine authority is described as belonging to 
the dictates of " Conscience," and when he perceives, as he must 
perceive, that these dictates are various and sometimes contra- 
dictory ; he is in danger of concluding that no unerring and no 
Divine guidance is accorded to man. 

Upon this serious subject it is therefore peculiarly necessary 
to endeavour to attain distinct ideas, and to employ those words 
only which convey distinct ideas to other men. The first 
section of the present chapter will accordingly be devoted to some 
brief observations respecting the Conscience, its nature, and its 
authority; by which it is hoped the reader will see sufficient reason 
to distinguish its dictates from that higher guidance respecting 
which it is the object of the present chapter to enquire. 

For a kindred purpose, it appears requisite to offer a short 
review of popular and philosophical opinions respecting a Moral 
Sense. These opinions will be found to have been frequently 
expressed in great indistinctness and ambiguity of language. 



Essay 1. 

Chap. 6. 



The purpose of the writer in referring to these opinions, is to 
enquire whether they do not generally involve a recognition — 
obscurely perhaps, but still a recognition— of the principle, that 
God communicates his will to the mind. If they do this, and if 
they do it without design or consciousness, no trifling testimony 
is afforded to the truth of the principle : for how should this 
principle thus secretly recommend itself to the minds of men, 
except by the influence of its own evidence ? 



In the attempt to attach distinct notions to the term 
" Conscience," we have to request the reader not to estimate 
the accuracy of our observations by the notions which he may 
have habitually connected with the word. Our disquisition is 
not about terms but truths. If the observations are in them- 
selves just, our principal object is attained. The secondary 
object, that of connecting truth with appropriate terms, is only 
so far attainable by a writer, as shall be attained by an uniform 
employment of words in determinate senses in his own practice. 

Men possess notions of right and wrong ; they possess a belief 
that, under given circumstances, they ought to do one thing or 
to forbear another. This belief I would call a conscientious belief. 
And when such a belief exists in a man's mind in reference to 
a number of actions, I would call the sum or aggregate of his 
notions respecting what is right and wrong, his Conscience, 

To possess notions of right and wrong in human conduct, — ^to 
be convinced that we ought to do or to forbear an action, — im- 
plies and supposes a sense of obligation existent in the mind. A 
man who feels that it is wrong for him to do a thing, possesses 
a sense of obligation to refrain. Into the origin of this sense of 
obligation, or how it is induced into the mind we do not enquire : 
it is suflicient for our purpose that it exists ; and there is no 
reason to doubt that its existence is consequent of the will of God. 

In most men — perhaps in all — the sense of obligation refers, 
with greater or less distinctness, to the will of a superior being. 

The impression, however obscure, is in general, fundamentally 
this : I must do so or so, because God requires it. 

It is found that this sense of obligation is sometimes con- 
nected, in the minds of separate individuals, with different 
actions. One man thinks he ought to do a thing from which 
another thinks he ought to forbear. Upon the great questions 
of morality there is indeed in general a congruity of human 
judgment ; yet subjects do arise respecting which one man's 
conscience dictates an act different from that which is dictated 
by another's. It is not therefore essential to a conscientious 
judgment of right and wrong, that that judgment should be in 
strict accordance ynih. the Moral Law. Some men's consciences 
dictate that which the Moral Law does not enjoin; and this 
law enjoins some points which are not enforced by every man's 
conscience. This is precisely the result which, from the nature 
of the case, it is reasonable to expect. Of these judgments 
respecting what is right, with which the sense of obligation 
becomes from time to time connected, some are induced by the 
instructions or example of others; some by our own reflection 
or enquiry ; some perhaps from the written law of revelation ; 
and some, as we have cause to conclude, from the direct inti- 
mations of the Divine Will. 

It is manifest that if the sense of obligation is sometimes 
connected with subjects that are proposed to us merely by the 
instruction of others, or if the connexion results from the power 
of association and habit, or from the fallible investigations of 
our own minds— that sense of obligation will be connected, in 
different individuals, with different subjects. So that it may 
sometimes happen that a man can say, I conscientiously think 
I ought to do a certain action, and yet that his neighbour can 
say, I conscientiously think the contrary. ''With respect to 
particular actions, opinion determines whether they are good 
or ill; and Conscience approves or disapproves, in consequence 
of this determination, whether it be in favour of truth or 

Such considerations enable us to account for the diversity of 
the dictates of the conscience in indi\dduals respectively. A 
person is brought up amongst catholics, and is taught from his 
childhood that flesh ought not to be eaten in Lent. The argu- 
ments of those around him, or perhaps their authority, satisfy 

' Adventurer ; No. 9 

E 2 



Essay 1. 

Chap. 6. 



him that what he is taught is truth. The sense of obligation thus 
becomes connected with a refusal to eat flesh in Lent ; and 
thenceforth he says that the abstinence is dictated by his con- 
science. A protestant youth is taught the contrary. Argu- 
ment or authority satisfies him that flesh may lawfully be eaten 
every day in the year. His sense of obligation therefore is not 
connected mth the abstinence ; and thenceforth he says that 
eating flesh in Lent does not violate his conscience. And so of 
a multitude of other questions. 

When therefore a person says, my conscience dictates to me 
that I ought to perform such an action, he means — or in the 
use of such language he ought to mean — that the sense of obli- 
gation which subsists in his mind, is connected with that action ; 
that, so far as his judgment is enlightened, it is a requisition of 
the law of God. 

But not all our opinions respecting morality and religion are 
derived from education or reasoning. He who finds in Scripture 
the precept, " Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself," derives 
an opinion respecting the duty of loving others from the dis- 
covery of this expression of the Will of God. His sense of obli- 
gation is connected with benevolence towards others in conse- 
quence of this discovery — or in other words, his understanding 
has been informed by the Moral Law, and a new duty is added 
to those which are dictated by his conscience. Thus it is that 
Scripture, by informing the judgment, extends the jurisdiction 
of conscience ; and it is hence, in part, that in those who seriously 
study the Scriptures, the conscience appears so much more 
vigilant and operative than in many who do not possess, or do not 
regard them. Many of the mistakes which education intro- 
duces, many of the fallacies to which our own speculations lead 
us, are corrected by this law. In the case of our catholic, if a 
reference to Scripture should comdnce him that the judgment 
he has formed respecting abstinence from flesh is not founded 
on the Law of God, the sense of obligation becomes detached 
from its subject; and thenceforth his conscience ceases to dictate 
that he should abstain from flesh in Lent. — Yet Scripture does 
not decide every question respecting human duty, and in some 
instances individuals judge difl'erently of the decisions whichScrip- 
true gives. This, again, occasions some diversity in the dictates 
of the Conscience ; it occasions the sense of obligation to become 
connected with dissimilar, and possibly incompatible, actions. 

But another portion of men's judgments respecting moral 
affairs, is derived from immediate intimations of the Divine Will. 
(This we must be allowed for the present to assume.) These 
intimations inform sometimes the judgment ; correct its mistakes ; 
and increase and give distinctness to our knowledge : — ^thus oper- 
ating, as the Scriptures operate, to connect the sense of obliga- 
tion more accurately with those actions which are conformable 
with the Will of God. It does not however follow, by any sort 
of necessity, that this higher instruction must correct all the 
mistakes of the judgment ; that because it imparts some light, 
that light must be perfect day ; that because it communicates 
some moral or religious truth, it must communicate all the 
truths of religion and morality. Nor, again, does it follow that 
individuals must each receive the same access of knowledge. It 
is evidently as possible that it should be communicated in different 
degrees to different individuals, as that it should be communi- 
cated at all. For which plain reasons we are still to expect, what 
in fact we find, that although the judgment receives light from 
a superhuman intelligence, the degi^ee of that light varies in 
individuals ; and that the sense of obligation is connected with 
fewer subjects, and attended with less accuracy, in the minds of 
some men than of others. 

With respect to the authority which properly belongs to 
Conscience as a director of individual conduct, it appears manifest 
alike from reason and from Scripture, that it is great. ^Tien 
a man believes, upon due deliberation, that a certain action is 
right, that action is right to him. And this is true, whether the 
action be or be not required of mankind by the Moral Law.i 
The fact that in his mind the sense of obligation attaches to the 
act, and that he has duly deliberated upon the accuracy of his 
judgment, makes the dictate of his Conscience upon that subject 
an authoritative dictate. The individual is to be held guilty if 
he violates his Conscience — if he does one thing, whilst his sense 
of obligation is directed to its contrary. Nor, if his judgment 
should not be accurately informed, if his sense of obligation 
should not be connected with a proper subject, is the guilt of 
violating his Conscience takeij. away. Were it otherwise, a person 
might be held vii*tuous for acting in opposition to his apprehen- 

1 " By Conscience all men are restrained from intentional ill— it infallibly 
directs us to avoid guilt, but is not intended to secure us from error." — Advent. 
No. 91. 



Essay 1. 

sions of duty ; or guilty, for doing what he believed to be right. 
" It is happy for us that our title to the character of virtuous 
beings, depends not upon the justness of our opinions or tlie 
constant objective rectitude of all we do, but upon the confor- 
mity of our actions to the sincere couvictions of our minds.^^^ 
Dr. Furneaux says, " To secure the favour of God and the rewards 
of true religion, we must follow our own consciences and judg- 
ments according to the best light we can attain.'^^ a^j j am 
especially disposed to add the testimony of Sir William Temple, 
because he recognizes the doctrine which has just been advanced, 
that our judgments are enlightened by superhuman agency. 
^^ The way to our future happiness must be left, at last, to the 
impressions made upon every man^s belief and conscience, either 
by natural or supernatural arguments and means. ^^^ Accordingly 
there appears no reason to doubt that some will stand convicted 
in the sight of the Omniscient Judge, for actions which his Moral 
Law has not forbidden ; and that some may be uncondemned 
for actions which that law does not allow. The distinction here 
is the same as that to which we have before had occasion to 
allude, between the desert of the agent and the quality of the 
act. Of this distinction an illustration is contained in Isaiah x. 
It was the divine will that a certain specific course of action 
should be pursued in punishing the Israelites. For the per- 
formance of this, the king of Assyria was employed : — '^ I will give 
him a charge to take the spoil, and to take the prey, and to tread 
them down like the mire of the street s.^^ This charge the Assyrian 
monarch fulfilled ; he did the will of God ; but then his intention 
was criminal j he " meant not so :'^ and therefore, when the 
" whole work " is performed, " I will punish/^ says the Almighty, 
'^tlie fruit of the stout heart of the king of Assyria, and the 
glory of his high looks. ^^ 

But it was said that these principles respecting the authority 
of Conscience were recognized in Scripture. " One belie veth that 
he may eat all things : another who is weak eateth herbs. One 
man esteemeth one day above another : another esteemeth every 
day alike.^' Here, then, are difterences, nay, contrarieties of con- 
scientious judgments. And what are the parties directed severally 
to do ? — " Let every man be fully persuaded in his own mind -" 
that is, let the full persuasion of his own mind be every man's 

1 Dr. Price. 2 Essay on Toleration, p. 8. 3 Works : v. 1. p. 55^ f. 1740. 

Chap. 6. 



rule of action. The situation of these parties was, that one 
perceived the truth upon the subject, and the other did not ; that 
in one the sense of obligation was connected with an accurate, 
in the other with an inaccurate, opinion. Thus, again : — " / know, 
and am persuaded by the Lord Jesus, that there is nothing un- 
clean of itself/' therefore, absolutely speaking, it is lawful to 
eat all things : " but to him that esteemeth anything to be unclean, 
to him it is imclean.'' The question is not, whether his judg- 
ment was correct, but what that judgment actually was. To 
the doubter, the uncleanness, that is, the sin of eating, was 
certain, though the act was right. Again : " All things indeed 
are pure ; but it is evil for that man who eateth with offence.'' 
And again, as a general rule : *' He that doubteth is condemned 
if he eat, because he eateth not of faith ; for whatsoever is not of 
faith, is sin.'" 

And here we possess a sufficient answer to those who affect to 
make light of the authority of Conscience, and exclaim, ^^ Every 
man pleads his conscientious opinions, and that he is bound in 
conscience to do this or that ; and yet his neighbour makes the 
same plea and urges the same obligation to do just the contrary. 
But what then ? These persons' judgments differed : that we 
might expect, for they are fallible ; but their sense of obligation 
was, in each case, really attached to its subject, and was in each 
case authoritative. 

One observation remains ; that although a man ought to make 
his conduct conform to his conscience, yet he may sometimes 
justly be held criminal for the errors of his opinion. Men often 
judge amiss respecting their duties in consequence of their own 
faults : some take little pains to ascertain the truth ; some volun- 
tarily exclude knowledge ; and most men would possess more 
accurate perceptions of the Moral Law if they sufficiently endea- 
voured to obtain them. And therefore, although a man may not 
be punished for a given act which he ignorantly supposes to be 
lawful, he may be punished for that ignorance in which his 
supposition originates. Which consideration may perhaps account 
for the expression, that he who ignorantly failed to do his master's 
will ^^ shall be beaten with few stripes." There is a degree of 
wickedness, to the agents of which God at length " sends strong 
delusion " that they may " believe a lie." In this state of strong 

1 Rom. xiv. 




delusion they perhaps may, without violating any sense of obli- 
gation_, do many wicked actions. The principles which have 
been here delivered would lead us to suppose that the punishment 
which awaits such men will have respect rather to that intensity 
of wickedness of which delusion was the consequence, than to 
those particular acts which they might ignorantly commit under 
the influence of the delusion itself. This observation is offered 
to the reader because some writers have obscured the present 
subject by speculating upon the moral deserts of those despe- 
rately bad men, who occasionally have committed atrocious acts 
under the notion that they were doing right. 

Let us then, when we direct our serious enquiry to the 
Immediate Communication of the Divine Will, cai-efuUy dis- 
tinguish that Communication from the dictates of the con- 
science. They are separate and distinct considerations. It is 
obvious that those positions which some persons advance ; — 
" Conscience is our infalHble guide,^^ — " Conscience is the voice 
of Deity,^^ &c., are wholly improper and inadmissible. The 
term may indeed have been employed synonymously for the voice 
of God : but this ought never to be done. It is to induce con- 
fusion of language respecting a subject which ought always to be 
distinctly exhibited ; and the necessity for avoiding ambiguity 
is so much the greater, as the consequences of that ambiguity 
are more serious : it is obvious that, on these subjects, inaccuracy 
of language gives rise to serious error of opinion. 


The purpose for which this brief review is offered to the reader, 
IS explained in very few words. It is to enquire, by a refe- 
rence to the written opinions of many persons, whether they do 
not agree in asserting that our Creator communicates some 
portions of his Moral Law immediately to the human mind. 
These opinions are frequently delivered, as the reader will pre- 
sently discover, in great ambiguity of language; but in the 
midst of this ambiguity there appears to exist one pervading 
truth — a truth in testimony to which these opinions aie not 

Chap. 6. 



the less satisfactory because, in some instances, the testimony is 
undesigned. The reader is requested to observe, as he passes 
on, whether many of the difficulties which enquirers have found 
or made, are not solved by the supposition of a divine communi- 
cation, and whether they can be solved by any other. 

'^ The Author of nature has much better furnished us for a 
virtuous conduct than our morahsts seem to imagine, by almost 
as quick and powerful instructions as we have for the preserva- 
-tion of our bodies.^^ i 

" It is manifest, great part of common language and of com- 
mon behaviour over the world, is formed upon the supposition 
of a moral faculty, whether called conscience, moral reason, 
moral sense, or divine reason ; whether considered as a senti- 
ment of the understanding, or as a perception of the heart, or, 
which seems the truth, as including both." - Is it not remarkable 
that for a '^ faculty" so well known "over the world," even 
a name has not been found, and that a Christian bishop accumu- 
lates a multiplicity of ambiguous epithets to explain his mean- 
ing ? Bishop Butler says again of Conscience, " To preside and 
govern, from the very economy and constitution of man, belongs 
to it. This facidty was placed within to be our proper governor, 
to direct and regulate all undue principles, passions, and motives 
of action.— It carries its own authority with it, that it is our 
natural guide, the guide assigned us by the Author of our 
nature." Would it have been unreasonable to conclude, that 
there was at least some connexion between this reprover of " all 
undue principles, passions, and motives," and that law of which 
the New Testament speaks, " All things that are reproved are 
made manifest by the light ? " ^ 

Blair says, " Conscience is felt to act as the delegate of an 
invisible Ruler ;" — " Conscience is the guide, or the enlightening 
or directing principle of our conduct." * In this instance, as in 
many others. Conscience appears to be used in an indeter- 
minate sense. Conscience is not an enlightening principle, but 
a principle which is enlightened. It is not a legislator, but a 
repository of statutes. Yet the reader will perceive the funda- 
mental truth, that man is in fact illuminated, and illuminated 
by an invisible Ruler. In the thirteenth sermon there is an 

* Dr. Hutchesou : Enquii-y conceniiiig Moral Good and Evil. 

^ Bishop Butler : Enquiry on Virtue. ' Epli. v. 13. * Sermons. 



expression more distinct : '* God has invested Conscience with 
authority to promulgate his laws.'^ It is obvious that the 
Divine Being must have communicated his laws, before they 
could have been promulgated by Conscience. In accordance 
with which the author says in another place, '^ Under the tuition 
of God let us put ourselves.'' — "A heavenly Conductor vouch- 
safes his aid.'' — " Divine light descends to guide our steps." ^ It 
were to be wished that such sentiments were not obscured by 
propositions like these : " A sense of right and wrong in con- 
duct, or of moral good and evil, belongs to human nature.'' — 
"Such sentiments are coeval with human nature ; for they are 
the remains of a law which was originally written in our 

I do not know whether the reader will be able to perceive 
with distinctness the ideas of Lord Bacon and of Dr. Rush in 
the following quotations, but I think he will perceive that they 
involve a recognition — obscure and indeterminate, but still a 
recognition— of the doctrine, that the Deity communicates his 
laws to the minds of men. Dr. Rush says, '' It would seem as if 
the Supreme Being had preserved the Moral Faculty in man 
from the ruins of his fall, on purpose to guide him back again to 
paradise ; and at the same time had constituted the Conscience, 
both in man and fallen spirits, a kind of royalty in his moral 
empire, on purpose to show his property in all intelligent crea- 
tures, and their original resemblance to himself." And Lord 
Bacon says, " The light of nature not only shines upon the 
human mind through the medium of a rational faculty, but by an 
internal instinct according to the law of conscience, which is a 
sparkle of the purity of man's first estate." 

" The faculties of our minds are so formed by nature, that as 
soon as we begin to reason, we may also begin, in some measure, 
to distinguish good from evil." — "We prefer virtue to vice on 
account of the seeds planted in us." ^ 

The following is not the less worthy notice because it is from 
the pen of Lord Shaftesbury : " Sense of right and wrong, 
being as natural to us as natural aflfection itself, and being a first 
principle in our constitution and make, there is no speculation, 
opinion, persuasion, or belief, which is capable, immediately 
or directly, to exclude or destroy it." * Sentiments such as 

* Sermon 7. " Sermon 13. ' John Le Clerc. * Characteristics. 

Chap. 6. 



these are very commonly expressed ; and what do they imply ? 
If sense of right and wrong is natural to us, it is because He who 
created us has placed it in our minds. The conclusion too is 
inevitable, that this sense must indicate the Divine Law by 
which right and wrong are discriminated. Now we do not say 
that these sentiments are absolutely just, or that a sense of 
right and wrong is strictly " natural" to man, but we say that 
the sentiments involve the supposition of some mode of Divine 
Guidance — some mode in which the Moral Law of God, or a part 
of it, is communicated by Him to mankind. And if this be indeed 
true, it may surely, with all reason, be asked why we should 
not assent to the reality of that mode of communication, of which, 
as we shall hereafter see, Christianity asserts the existence ? 

" The first principles of morals are the immediate dictates of the 
moral faculty." — ^' By the moral faculty, or conscience, solely, 
we have the original conception of right and wrong." — " It is 
evident that this principle has, from its nature, authority to 
direct and determine with regard to our conduct; to judge, to 
acquit or condemn, and even to punish; an authority which 
belongs to no other principle of the human mind." — "The 
Supreme Being has given us this light within to direct our moral 
conduct. — '^ It is the candle of the Lord, set up within us to 
guide our steps." ^ This is almost the language of Christianity, 
" That was the true Light, which Hghteth every man that 
Cometh into the world." ^ I do not mean to affirm that the 
author of the essays speaks exclusively of the same Divine 
Guidance as the apostle; but surely, if Conscience operates as 
such a " light within," as " the candle of the Lord," it can require 
no reasoning to convince us that it is illuminated from heaven. 
The indistinctness of notions which such language exhibits, ap- 
pears to arise from inaccurate views of the nature of Conscience. 
The writer does not distinguish between the recipient and the 
source ; between the enlightened principle and the enlightening 
beam. The apostle speaks only of the last ; the uninspired 
enquirer speaks, without discrimination, of both ; — and hence 
the ambiguity. 

Dr. Beattie appears to maintain the same general principle, 
the same essential truth, under other phraseology. Common 

' Dr. Reid : Essays on the Powers of the Human Mind, Essay 3. c. 8. &c. 

2 John i. 9. 



Essay 1. 

sense, he says, is " that power of the mind which perceives truth 
or commands belief by an instantaneous, instinctive, and irresis- 
tible impulse, neither derived from education nor from habit, 
hut from nature" — " Every man may find the evidence of moral 
science in his own breast/^ An '^ instinctive" perception of 
truth derived from nature, must necessarily be tantamount to a 
power of perception imparted by the Deity. '^ Whatsoever nature 
does, God does," says Seneca : and Dr. Beattie himself explains 
his own meaning — " The dictates of nature, that is the voice of 
God."i We have no concern with the justness of Beattie's 
philosophy, intellectual or moral, but the reader will perceive 
the recognition of the truth, or of something hke the truth, to 
which we have so often referred. 

" "VVTiat is the power within us that perceives the distinctions 
of right and wrong ? my answer is. The Understanding." — 
" Of every thought, sentiment, and subject, the Understanding 
is the natural and ultimate judge." This is the language of 
Dr. Price, but he does not seem wholly satisfied with his own 
definition. He says, " The truth seems to be, that in contem- 
plating the actions of moral agents, we have both a perception 
of the understanding, and a feeling of the heart," and again, " It 
is to intuition that we owe our moral ideas." He speaks too of 
"the virtuous principle," — ^the inward spring of virtue; and 
says, " Goodness is the power of reflection, raised to its due 
seat of direction and sovereignty in the mind." These various 
expressions do not appear to represent very distinct notions, but 
after the " Understanding'^ has been stated to be the ultimate 
judge, we are presented with the idea of Conscience, and then 
we perceive' in Dr. Price^s language, that which we find in the 
language of so many others, " Whatever our Consciences dic- 
tate to us, that He (the Deity,) commands more evidently and 
undeniably, than if by a voice from heaven we had been called 
upon to do it." ^ 

Dr. Watts says that the mind " contains in it the plain and 
general principles of morality, not explicitly as propositions, but 
only as native principles, by which it judges, and cannot but 
judge, virtue to be fit and vice unfit." ^ 

And Dr. Cudworth : " The anticipations of morality do not 

* Essay on Truth. "^ Review of rriiicipal Questions in Morals. 

3 Philosophical Essays. 



spring merely from notional ideas, or from certain rules or pro- 
positions arbitrarily printed upon the soul as upon a book, but 
from some other more inward and vital principle in intellectual 
beings as such, whereby they have a natural determination in 
them to do some things and to avoid others." ^ 

Voltaire in his Commentary on Beccaria^ says, "I call 
natural laws those which nature dictates, in all ages, to all men, 
for the maintenance of that Justice which she (say what they 
will of her,) hath implanted in our hearts." 

^' And this law is that innate sense of right and wrong, of 
virtue and vice, which every man carries in his own bosom." — 
"These impressions, operating on the mind of man, bespeak a 
law written on his heart." — "This secret sense of right and 
wrong, for wise purposes so deeply implanted by our Creator on 
the human mind, has the nature, force, and effect of a law." ^ 

Locke : " The Divine law, that law which God has set to the 
actions of men, whether promulgated to them by the light of 
nature or the voice of revelation, is the measure of sin and 
duty. That God has given a rule whereby men should govern 
themselves, I think there is nobody so brutish as to deny."* 
The reader should remark, that revelation and ^^the light of 
nature" are here represented as being jointly and equally the 
law of God. 

" Actions, then, instead of being tried by the eternal standard 
of right and wrong, on which the unsophisticated heart unerringly 
pronounces, were judged by the rules of a pernicious casuistry." ^ 
This may not be absolutely true ; but there must be some truth 
which it is like, or such a proposition would not be advanced. 
Who ever thought of attributing to the unsophisticated heart the 
power of unerringly pronouncing on questions of prudence ? 
Yet questions of right and wrong are not, in their own nature, 
more easily solved than those of prudence. 

" Boys do not listen to sermons. They need not be told what 
is right ; like men, they all know their duty sufficiently ; the grand 
difficulty is to practise it." ^ Neither may this be true ; and it 
is not tnie. But upon what species of knowledge would any 
writer think of affirming that boys need not be instructed, 
except upon the single species, the knowledge of duty ? And 

1 Eternal and Immutable Morality. ^ Crimes and Punishments, Com. c. 14. 

* Dr. Shepherd's Discourse on Future Existence. * Essay, b. 2, c. 10. 

* Dr. Southey : Book of the Church, c. 10. « West. Rev. No. I. 



Essay 1. 

how should they know this without instruction, unless their 
Creator has taught them ? 

Dr. Rush exhibits the same views in a more determinate form : 
''Happily for the human race, the intimations of duty and 
the road to happiness are not left to the slow operations or doubt- 
ful inductions of reason. It is worthy of notice, that while 
second thoughts are best in matters of judgment, first thoughts 
are always to be preferred in matters that relate to morality''^ 

Adam Smith : " It is altogether absurd and unintelligible, to 
suppose that the first perceptions of right and wrong can be 
derived from reason. These first perceptions cannot be the 
object of reason, but of immediate sense and feeling.'' — " Though 
man has been rendered the immediate judge of mankind, an 
appeal lies from his sentence to a much higher tribunal, to the 
tribunal of their own Consciences, to that of the man \rithin the 
breast, the great judge and arbiter of their conduct.'' In some 
cases in which censure is violently poured upon us, the judg- 
ments of the man within, are, however, much shaken in the 
steadiness and firmness of their decision. " In such cases, this 
demigod within the breast appears, like the demigods of the 
poets, though partly of immortal, yet partly, too, of mortal 
extraction." Our moral faculties '' were set up within us to be 
the supreme arbiters of all our actions." "The rules which they 


prescribe are to be regarded as the commands and laws of the 
Deity, promulgated by those vicegerents which he has thus set 
up within us." " Some questions must be left altogether to the 
decision of the man within the breast." And let the reader mark 
what follows : If we " listen with diligent and reverential atten- 
tion to what he suggests to us, his voice will never deceive us. 
We shall stand in no need of casuistic rules to direct our con- 
duct." How wonderful that such a man, who uses almost the 
language of Scripture, appears not even to have thought of the 
truth— "The Anointing which ye have received of him abideth 
in you, and ye need not that any man teach you ! " for he does 
not appear to have thought of it. He intimates that this vice- 
gerent of God, this undeceiving Teacher to whom we are to listen 
with reverential attention, is some " contrivance or mechanism 
within;" and says that to examine what contrivance or mechanism 
it is, " is a mere matter of philosophical curiosity." ^ 

A matter of philosophical curiosity. Dr. Paley seems to have 

* Influence of Physical Causes on the Moral Faculty. ' Theory of Moral Sent. 

Chap. 6. 



thought a kindred enquiry to be. He discusses the question, 
whether there is such a thing as a Moral Sense or not ; and thus 
sums up the argument : " Upon the whole it seems to me, either 
that there exist no such instincts as compose what is called the 
moral sense,^ or that they are not now to be distinguished from 
prejudices and habits."— " This celebrated question therefore 
becomes, in our system, a question of pure curiosity ; and as such, 
we dismiss it to the determination of those who are more inqui- 
sitive than we are concerned to be, about the natural history and 
constitution of the human species." ^ But in another work, a work 
in which he did not bind himself to the support of a philosophical 
system, he holds other language: "Conscience, our own Con- 
science, is to be our guide in all things." " It is through the whis- 
perings of Conscience that the Spirit speaks. If men are wilfully 
deaf to their Consciences they cannot hear the Spirit. If, hear- 
ing, if being compelled to hear the remonstrances of Conscience, 
they nevertheless decide and resolve and determine to go against 
them, then they grieve, then they defy, then they do despite to, 
the Spirit of God." " Is it superstition ? Is it not on the contrary 
a just and reasonable piety to implore of God the guidance of 
his Holy Spirit, when we have anything of great importance 
to decide upon or undertake?" — "It being confessed that we 
cannot ordinarily distinguish, at the time, the suggestions of the 
Spirit from the operations of our minds, it may be asked. How 
are we to listen to them ? The answer is, by attending, univer- 
sally, to the admonitions within us."^ The tendency of these 
quotations to enforce our general argument, is plain and 
powerful. But the reader should notice here another and a very 
interesting consideration. Paley says, " Our own Conscience is 
to be our guide in all things.'^ — We are to attend universally to 
the admonitions within us. Now he writes a book of moral 
philosophy, that is, a book that shall " teach men their duty and 
the reasons of it," and from this book he absolutely excludes this 
law which men should universally obey, this law which should 
be their " guide in all things." 

" Conscience, Conscience," exclaims Rousseau in his Pensees, 
" Divine Instinct, Immortal and Heavenly Voice, sure Guide of 
a being ignorant and limited but intelligent and free, infallible 
Judge of good and evil, by which man is made like unto God ! '' 

> Mor. and Pol. Phil. b. 1, c. 5. * Sermons. 





Chap. 6. 



Here are attributes which, if they be justly assigned, certainly 
cannot belong to humanity ; or if they do belong to humanity, 
an apostle certainly could not be accurate when he said that 
in us, that is in our flesh, " dwelleth no good thing." Another 
observation of Eousseau's is worth transcribing T '^ Our own 
conscience is the most enlightened philosopher. There is no 
need to be acquainted with Tully^s Offices to make a man of 
probity ; and perhaps the most \irtuous woman in the world is 
the least acquainted with the definition of virtue/' 

" And I will place within them as a guide, 

My Umpire, Conscience ; whom if they ^ill near, 

Light after light, well used, they shall attain."* 

This is the language of Milton ; and we have thus his testimony 
added to the many, that God has placed ^vithin us an Umpire 
which shall pronounce His own laws in our hearts. Thus in his 
" Christian Doctrine" more clearly : *' They can lay claim to 
nothing more than human powers, assisted by that spiritual 
illumination which is common to all." ^ 

Judge Hale: "Any man that sincerely and truly fears 
Almighty God, and calls and relies upon him for his direction, 
has it as really as a son has the counsel and direction of his 
father ; and though the voice be not audible nor discernible by 
sense, yet it is equally as real as if a man heard a voice saying, 
This is the way, walk in it." 

The sentiments of the ancient philosophers, &e., should not be 
forgotten, and the rather because their language is frequently 
much more distinct and satisfactory than that of the refined 
enquirers of the present day. 

Marcus Antoninus : " He who is well disposed will do every 
thing dictated by the divinity — a particle or portion of Himself, 
which God has given to each as a guide and a leader." ^ — Aris- 
totle : " The mind of man hath a near affinity to God : there is 
a divine ruler in him." — Plutarch : '^The light of truth is a law, 
not written in tables or books but dwelling in the mind, always 
as a living rule which never permits the soul to be destitute of 
an interior guide. — Hieron says that the universal light, shining 
in the Conscience, is " a domestic God, a God within the hearts 
and souls of men." — Epictectus : " God has assigned to each 

man a director, his own good genius, a guardian whose vigilance 
no slumbers interrupt, and whom no false reasonings can deceive. 
So that when you have shut your door, say not that you are 
alone, for your God is within.— What need have you of outward 
light to discover what is done, or to light to good actions, who 
have God or that genius or divine principle for your light ?"i 
Such citations might be greatly multiplied; but one more must 
suffice. Seneca says, "We find felicity — ^in a pure and un- 
tainted mind, which if it were not holy were not fit to entertain 
the Deity." How like the words of an apostle ! — " If any man 
defile the temple of God, him shall God destroy ; for the temple 
of God is holy, which temple ye are."^ The philosopher again : 
" There is a holy spirit in us -"^ and again the apostle : " Know 
ye not that" " the Spirit of God dwelleth in you ? " * 

Now respecting the various opinions which have been laid 
before the reader, there is one observation that will generally 
^PP^— tliat they unite in assigning certain important attributes 
or operations to some principle or power existent in the human 
mind. They affirm that this principle or power possesses wisdom 
to direct us anght — that its directions are given instantaneously 
as the individual needs them — that it is inseparably attended 
with unquestionable authority to command. That such a prin- 
ciple or power does, therefore, actually exist, can need little 
further proof; for a concurrent judgment upon a question of 
personal experience cannot surely be incorrect. To say that 
individuals express theii' notions of this principle or power by 
various phraseology, that they attribute to it difi'erent degrees 
of superhuman intelligence, or that they refer for its origin to 
contradictory causes, does not afl^ect the general argument. The 
great point for our attention is, not the designation or the sup- 
posed origin of tliis guide, but its attributes ; and these attri- 
butes appear to be divine. 

> Pax. Lost, iii. 194. 

Page 81. 

* Lib. 5, Sect. 27. 


I. That every reasonable human being is a moral agent — that 
is, that every such human being is responsible to God, no one 
perhaps denies. There can be no responsibility where there is no 

» Lib. 1. c. 14. 2 1 Cor. iii. 17. ^ De Benef. c. 1»7, &c. * 1 Cor. iii. 16. 





Essay 1. 

knowledge : '^ Where there is no law there is no transgression." 
So then every human being possesses, or is furnished with, moral 
knowledge and a moral law. " If we admit that mankind, with- 
out an outward revelation, are nevertheless sinners, we must also 
admit that mankind, without such a revelation, are nevertheless 
in possession of the law of God." ^ 

Whence then do they obtain it ? — a question to which but 
one answer can be given; — From the Creator himself. It 
appears therefore to be almost demonstratively shown, that God 
does communicate his wiU immediately to the minds of those 
who have no access to the external expression of it. It is 
always to be remembered that, as the majority of mankind do 
not possess the written communication of the will of God, the 
question, as it respects them, is between an Immediate Commu- 
nication and none; between such a communication, and the 
denial of their responsibility in a future state ; between such a 
communication, and the reducing them to the condition of the 
beasts that perish. 

II. No one perhaps will imagine that this argument is confined 
to countries which the external light of Christianity has not 
reached. " Whoever expects to find in the Scriptures a specific 
direction for every moral doubt that arises, looks for more than 
he will meet with : " 2 go that even in christian countries there 
exists some portion of that necessity for other guidance, which 
has been seen to exist in respect of pagans. Thus Adam Smith 
says that there are some questions which it '' is perhaps alto- 
gether impossible to determine by any precise rules," and that 
they " must be left altogether to the decision of the man within 
the breast." — But, indeed, when we speak of living in christian 
countries, and of having access to the external revelation, we are 
likely to mislead ourselves with respect to the actual condition 
of " christian " people. Persons talk of possessing the Bible, 
as if every one who lived in a protestant country had a Bible in 
his pocket and could read it. But there are thousands, perhaps 
millions, in christian and in protestant countries, who know very 
little of what Christianity enjoins. They probably do not possess 
the Scriptures, or if they do, probably cannot read them. What 
they do know they learn from others— from others who may be 
little solicitous to teach them, or to teach them aright. Such 

' Gumey : Essays on Christianity, p. 616. *Mor. and Pol. PhO. b. 1. c. 4. 

Chap. 6. 



persons therefore are, to a considerable extent, practically in the 
same situation as those who have not heard of Christianity, and 
there is therefore to them a corresponding need of a direct com- 
munication of knowledge from heaven. But if we see the need 
of such knowledge extending itself thus far, who will call in 
question the doctrine, that it is imparted to the whole human 

These are offered as considerations involving an antecedent 
probability of the truth of our argument. The reader is not 
required to give his assent to it as to a dogma of which he can 
discover neither the reason nor the object. Here is probability 
very strong ; here is usefulness very manifest, and very great ; 
— so that the mind may reasonably be open to the reception of 
evidence, whatever truth that evidence shall establish. 

If the written revelation were silent respecting the immediate 
communication of the Divine Will, that silence might perhaps 
rightly be regarded as conclusive evidence that it is not conveyed ; 
because it is so intimately connected with the purposes to which 
that revelation is directed, that scarcely any other explanation 
could be given of its silence than that the communication did not 
exist. That the Scriptures declare that God has communicated 
light and knowledge to some men by the immediate exertion of 
his own agency, admits not of dispute : but this it is obvious is 
not sufficient for our purpose ; and it is in the belief that they 
declare that God imparts some knowledge to all men, that we 
thus appeal to their testimony. 

Now here the reader should especially observe, that where the 
christian Scriptures speak of the existence and influence of the 
Divine Spirit on the mind, they commonly speak of its higher 
operations ; not of its office as a moral guide, but as a purifier, 
and sanctifier, and comforter of the soul. They speak of it in 
reference to its sacred and awful operations in connexion with 
human salvation : and thus it happens that very many citations 
which, if we were writing an essay on religion, would be per- 
fectly appropriate, do not possess that distinct and palpable 
application to an argument, which goes no further than to affirm 
that it is a moral guide. And yet it may most reasonably be 
remarked, that if it has pleased the Universal Parent thus, and 
for these awful purposes, to visit the minds of those who are 
obedient to his power, — he will not suffer them to be destitute 




Essay 1. 

of a moral guidance. The less must be supposed to be involved 

in the greater. 

Our argument does not respect the degrees of illummation 
which may be possessed, respectively, by individuals,^ or in dif- 
ferent ages of the world. There were motives, easily conceived, 
for imparting a greater degree of light and of power at the intro- 
duction of Christianity than in the present day : accordingly 
there are many expressions in the New Testament which speak 
of high degrees of light and power, and which, however they 
may affirm the general existence of a Divine Guidance, are not 
descriptive of the general nor of the present condition of man- 
kind. Nevertheless, if the records of Christianity, in describing 
these greater " gifts," inform us that a gift, similar in its nature 
but without specification of its amount, is imparted to all men, 
it is sufficient. Although it is one thing for the Creator to im- 
part a general capacity to distinguish right from wrong, and 
another to impart miraculous power ; one thing to inform his 
accountable creature that lying is evil, and another to enable 
him to cure the leprosy ; yet this affords no reason to deny that 
the nature of the gift is not the same, or that both are not 
divine. " The degree of light may vary according as one man 
has a greater measure than another. But the light of an apostle 
is not one thing and the light of the heathen another thing, 
distinct in principle. They differ only in degree of power, dia- 
tinctness, and splendour of manifestation." * 

So early as Gen. vi. there is a distinct declaration of the moral 
operation of the Deity on the human mind ; not upon the pious 
and the good, but upon those who were desperately wicked, so 
that even " every imagination of the thoughts of their heart was 
only evil continually."—" My spirit shall not always strive with 
man." Upon this passage a good and intelligent man writes thus : 
" Surely, if His spirit had striven with them until that time, 

» I am disposed to offer a simple testimony to what I believe to be a truth ; 
that even in the present day, the divine illimiination and power is sometimes 
imparted to individuals m a degree much greater than is necessary for the 
purposes of mere moral direction ; that on subjects connected with their ovm 
personal condition or that of others, light is sometimes imparted in greater 
brightness and splendour than is ordinarUy enjoyed by mankind, or than is 
necessary for our ordinary direction in life. 

2 Hancock: Essay on Instinct, &c., p. 2, c. 7, s. 1. I take this opportunity 

of acknowledging the obligation I am under to this work, for many of the 

•• Opinions" which are cited m the last section. 

Chap. 6. 



until they were so desperately wicked, and wholly corrupted, 
that not only some, but every imagination of their hearts was 
evil, yes, only evil, and that continually, we may well believe 
the express Scripture assertion, that ' a manifestation of the 
Spirit is given 'to every man to profit withal.' " * 

Respecting some of the prophetical passages in the Hebrew 
Scriptures," it may be observed that there appears a want of 
complete adaptation to the immediate purpose of our argument, 
because they speak of that, prospectively, which our argument 
assumes to be true respectively also. ^' After those days, saith 
the Lord, I will put my law in their inward parts and write it 
in their hearts ; '' ^ from which the reader may possibly conclude 
that before those days no such internal law was imparted. Yet 
the preceding paragraph might assure him of the contrary, and 
that the prophet indicated an increase rather than a commence- 
ment of internal guidance. Under any supposition it does not 
aflect the argument as it respects the present condition of the 
human race ; for the prophecy is twice quoted in the christian 
Scriptures, and is expressly stated to be fulfilled. Once the 
prophecy is quoted almost at length, and in the other instance 
the important clause is retained, " I will put my laws into their 
hearts, and in their minds will I write them." 3 

" And all thy children," says Isaiah, " shall be taught of the 
Lord." Christ himself quotes this passage in illustrating the 
nature of his own religion : " It is written in the prophets. And 
they shall be all taught of God.'' * 

" Thine eyes shall see thy teachers : and thine ears shall hear 
a word behind thee, sajdng. This is the way, walk ye in it; 
when ye turn to the right hand, and when ye turn to the left."** 

The christian Scriptures, if they be not more explicit, are 
more abundant in their testimony. Paul addresses the "foolish 
Galatians." The reader should observe their character; for 
some christians who acknowledge the Divine influence on the 
minds of eminently good men, are disposed to question it in 
reference to others. These foolish Galatians had turned again 
to " weak and beggarly elements," and their dignified instructor 
was afraid of them, lest he had bestowed upon them labour in 
vain. Nevertheless, to them he makes the solemn declaration, 
" God hath sent forth the Spirit of his Son into your hearts." ® 

> Job Scott's Journal, c. 1. 
* John vi. 45. 

^ Jer. xxxi. 33. ' Heb. viii. 10 ; and x. 16. 
* Isa. XXX. 20, 21. * Gal. iv. 6. 




Essay 1. 

Chap. 6. 



John writes a General Epistle, an epistle which was addressed, 
of course, to a great variety of characters, of whom some, it is 
probable, possessed little more of the new religion than the 
name. The apostle writes — " Hereby we know that he abideth 
in us by the Spirit which he hath given us.'' * 

The solemn declarations which follow are addressed to large 
numbers of recent converts, of converts whom the writer had 
been severely reproving for improprieties of conduct for un- 
christian contentions, and even for greater faults : " Ye are the 
temple of the living God, as God hath said, I will dwell in them 
and walk in them."—" What, know ye not that your body is 
the temple of the Holy Ghost, which is in you ? " 2 " Know 
ye not that ye are the temple of God, and that the Spirit of 
God dwelleth in you ? If any man defile the temple of God, 
him shall God destroy ; for the temple of God is holy, which 
temple ye are.'' ^ 

And with respect to the moral operations of this sacred 
power : — " As touching brotherly love, ye need not that I write 
unto you : for ye yourselves are taught of God to love one an- 
other;" * that is, taught a duty of morality. 

Thus also :— " The grace of God that bringeth salvation hath 
appeared to all men, teaching us that, denying ungodliness and 
worldly lusts, we should live soberly, righteously, and godly, in 
this present world ;" ^ or in other words, teaching all men moral 
laws— laws both mandatory and prohibitory, teaching both what 
to do, and what to avoid. 

And very distinctly :— " The manifestation of the Spirit is 
given to every man to profit withal." ^ " A light to lighten 
the Gentiles/' 7 " I am the Light of the world." « " The true 
light which lighteth every man that cometh into the world." * 

" When the Gentiles, which have not the law, do by nature 
the things contained in the law, these having not the law are a 
law imto themselves, which show the work of the law written in 
their hearts." lo— written, it may be asked by whom but by that 
Being who said, '' I will put my law in their inward parts, and 
write it in their hearts? " ^^ 

To such evidence from the written revelation, I know of no- 
other objection which can be urged than the supposition thati 

' 1 John iii. 24. 
» Tit. ii. 11, 12, 
» John i. 9. 

3 1 Cor. vi. 19. 
• 1 Cor. xii. 7. 
'" Horn. ii. 14. 

' 1 Cor. iii. 16. 
' Luke ii. 32. 
" Jer. xxxi. 33. 

* 1 Thess. iv. 9. 
" John viii. 12. 


this Divine instruction, though existing eighteen hundred years 
ago, does not exist now. To which it appears sufficient to reply, 
that it existed not only eighteen hundred years ago, but before 
the period of the Deluge; and that the terms in which the 
Scriptures speak of it are incompatible mth the supposition of 
a temporary duration : " all taught of God :" " in you all : " 
*' hath appeared unto all men :" " given to every man :" " every 
man that cometh into the worldJ^ Besides, there is not the most 
remote indication in the christian Scriptures that this instruction 
would not be perpetual; and their silence on such a subject, a 
subject involving the most sacred privileges of our race, must 
surely be regarded as positive evidence that this instruction 
would be accorded to us for ever. 

How clear soever appears to be the evidence of reason, that 
man, being universally a moral and accountable agent, must be 
possessed, universally, of a moral law ; and how distinct soever 
the testimony of revelation, that he does universally possess it 
— objections are still urged against its existence. 

Of these, perhaps the most popular are those which are founded 
upon the varying dictates of the ^^ Conscience." If the view 
which we have taken of the nature and operations of the con- 
science be just, those objections will have little weight. That 
the dictates of the conscience should vary in individuals respec- 
tively, is precisely what, from the circumstances of the case, 
is to be expected ; but this variation does not impeach the exist- 
ence of that purer ray which, whether in less or greater bright- 
ness, irradiates the heart of man. 

I am, however, disposed here to notice the objections^ that 
may be founded upon national derelictions of portions of the 
Moral Law. " There is,'' says Locke, " scarce that principle of 
morality to be named, or rule of virtue to be thought on, which 
is not somewhere or other slighted and condemned by the 
general fashion of whole societies of men, governed by practical 
opinions and rules of living quite opposite to others.'' — ^And 
Paley : " There is scarcely a single vice which, in some age or 
country of the world, has not been countenanced by public 

* Not urged specifically, perhaps, against the Divine Guidance; but they 
will equally afford an illustration of the truth. 



Essay 1. 

Chap. 6. 



opinion : in one country it is esteemed an office of piety in chil- 
dren to sustain their aged parents, in another to dispatch them 
out of the way : suicide in one age of the world has been heroism, 
in another felony; theft which is punished by most laws, by 
the laws of Sparta was not unfrequently rewarded: you shall 
hear duelling alternately reprobated and applauded according to 
the sex, age, or station of the person you converse with : the 
forgiveness of injuries and insults is accounted by one sort of 
people magnanimity, by another, meanness/' i 

Upon all which I observe, that to whatever purpose these 
reasonings are directed, they are defective in an essential point. 
They show us indeed what the external actions of men have 
been, but give no proof that these actions were conformable 
with the secret internal judgment : and this last is the only 
important point. That a rule of virtue is " slighted and con- 
demned by the general fashion," is no sort of evidence that those 
who joined in this general fashion did not still know that it was a 
rule of virtue. There are many duties which, in the present day, 
are slighted by the general fashion, and yet no man will stand 
up and say that they are not duties. " There is scarcely a single 
vice which has not been countenanced by public opinion;" but 
where is the proof that it has been approved by private and 
secret judgment ? There is a great deal of difference between 
those sentiments which men seem to entertain respecting their 
duties when they give expression to " public opmion,'' and when 
they rest their heads on their pillows in calm reflection. " Sui- 
cide in one age of the world has been heroism, in another 
felony ;" but it is not every action which a man says is heroic, 
that he believes is right. " Forgiveness of injuries and insults 
is accounted by one sort of people magnanimity, by another, 
meanness ;'' and yet they who thus vulgarly employ the word 
meanness, do not imagine that forbearance and placability are 
really wrong. 

I have met with an example which serves to confirm me in 
the judgment, that public notions or rather public actions are 
a very equivocal evidence of the real sentiments of mankind. 
" Can there be greater barbarity than to hurt an infant ? Its 
helplessness, its innocence, its amiableness, call forth the com- 
passion even of an enemy. What then should we imagine must 

' Mor. and Pol. Phil. b. 1, c. 6. 

be the heart of a parent who would injure that weakness which a 
furious enemy is afraid to violate ? Yet the exposition, that is, 
the murder of new-born infants, was a practice allowed of in 
almost all the States of Greece, even among the polite and civi- 
lized Athenians." This seems a strong case against us. But 
what were the grounds upon which this atrocity was defended ? 
"Philosophers, instead of censuring, supported the horrible 
abuse, by far-fetched considerations of public utility."^ 

By far-fetched considerations of public utility ! Why had they 
recourse to such arguments as these ? Because they found that 
the custom could not be reconciled with direct and acknowledged 
rules of virtue : because they felt and knew that it was wrong. 
The very circumstance that they had recourse to " far-fetched 
arguments," is evidence that they were conscious that clearer 
and more immediate arguments were against them. They knew 
that infanticide was an immoral act. 

I attach some importance to the indications which this class 
of reasoning affords of the comparative uniformity of human 
opinion, even when it is nominally discordant. One other illus- 
tration may be offered from more private life. Boswell in his 
Life of Johnson, says that he proposed the question to the 
moralist, " Whether duelling was contrary to the laws of Chris- 
tianity ?" Let the reader notice the essence of the reply: " Sir, 
as men become in a high degree refined, various causes of offence 
arise which are considered to be of such importance that life 
must be staked to atone for them, though in reality they are 
not so. In a state of highly-polished society, an affront is held 
to be a serious injury. It must therefore be resented, or rather 
a duel must be fought upon it, as men have agreed to banish 
from their society one who puts up with an affront without 
fighting a duel. Now, Sir, it is never unlawful to fight in self- 
defence. He then who fights a duel, does not fight from passion 
against his antagonist, but out of self-defence to avert the stigma 
of the world, and to prevent himself from being driven from 
society. — While such notions prevail, no doubt a man may law- 
ftQly fight a duel." The question was, the consistency of duel- 
ling with the laws of Christianity ; and there is not a word 
about Christianity in the reply. Why? because its laws can 
never be shown to allow duelling ; and Johnson doubtless knew 

* Theory Mor. Sent. p. 5, c. 2. 





Essay 1. 

this. Accordingly^ like the philosophers who tried to justify 
the kindred crime of infanticide, he had recourse to " far-fetched 
considerations, — to the high polish of society — to the stigma of 
the world— to the notions that prevail. Now, whilst the readers 
of Bos well commonly think they have Johnson's authority in 
favour of duelling, I think they have his authority against it. I 
think that the mode in which he justified dueUing, evinced his 
consciousness that it was not compatible with the Moral Law. 

And thus it is, that with respect to Public Opinions, and 
general fashions, and thence descending to private life, we shall 
find that men very usually know the requisitions of the Moral 
Law better than they seem to know them ; and that he who 
estimates the moral knowledge of societies or individuals by 
their common language, refers to an uncertain and fallacious 


After all, the uniformity of human opinion respecting the great 
laws of morality is very remarkable. Sir James Mackintosh 
speaks of Grotius, who had cited poets, orators, historians, &c., 
and says, " He quotes them as witnesses, whose conspiring 
testimony, mightily strengthened and confirmed by their dis- 
cordance on almost every other subject, is a conclusive proof of 
the unanimity of the whole human race, on the great rules of 
duty and fundamental principle of morals.'^ ^ 

From poets and orators we may turn to savage life. In 1 683, 
that is, soon after the colonization of Pennsylvania, the founder 
of the colony held a " council and consultation" with some of 
the Indians, In the course of the interview it appeared that 
these savages believed in a state of future retribution ; and they 
described their simple ideas of the respective states of the good 
and bad. The vices that they enumerated as those which would 
consign them to punishment, are remarkable, inasmuch as they 
so nearly correspond to similar enumerations in the christian 
Scriptures. They were " theft, swearing, lying, whoring, murder, 
and the like;"=* and the New Testament affirms that those 
who are guilty of adultery, fornication, lying, theft, murder, &c., 
shall not inherit the kingdom of God. The same writer having 
on his travels met with some Indians, stopped and gave them 
some good and serious advices. " They wept," says he, " and 
tears ran down their naked bodies. They smote their hands 

' Disc, on Study of Law of Nature and Nations. * John Kichardson's Life. 


Chap. 6. SAVAGE LIFE. 75 

upon their breasts and said, ' The Good Man here told them 
what I said was all good.^ " ' 

But reasonings such as these are in reality not necessary to 
the support of the truth of the Immediate Communication of 
the Will of God ; because, if the variations in men's notions of 
right and wrong were greater than they are, they would impeach 
the existence of that communication. In the first place, we 
never affirm that the Deity communicates all his law to every 
man : and in the second place, it is sufficiently certain that mul- 
titudes know his laws, and yet neglect to fulfil them. 

If, in conclusion, it should be asked, what assistance can be 
yielded, in the investigation of publicly authorized rules of 
virtue, by the discussions of the present chapter ? we answer. 
Very little. But when it is asked. Of what importance are they 
as illustrating the Principles of Morality ? we answer. Very 
much. If there be two sources from which it has pleased God 
to enable mankind to know his Will, — a law written externally, 
and a law communicated to the heart, — it is evident that both 
must be regarded as Principles of Morality, and that, in a work 
like the present, both should be illustrated as such. It is inci- 
dental to the latter mode of moral guidance, that it is little 
adapted to the formation of external rules ; but it is of high 
and solemn importance to our species for the secret direction of 
the individual man. 

I John Richardson's Life. 









The authority of civil government as a director of individual 
conduct, is explicitly asserted in the christian Scriptures : — " Be 
subject to principalities and powers, — Obey magistrates," * — 
" Submit yourselves to every ordinance of man for the Lord's 
sake : whether it be to the king, as supreme ; or imto governors, 
as unto them that are sent by him for the punishment of evil 
doers, and for the praise of them that do well." * 

By this general sanction of civil government, a multitude of 
questions respecting human duty are at once decided. In ordi- 
nary cases, he upon whom the magistrate imposes a law, needs 
not to seek for knowledge of his duty upon the subject from a 
higher source. The divine will is sufficiently indicated by the 
fact that the magistrate commands. Obedience to the Law is 
obedience to the expressed will of God. He who, in the pay- 
ment of a tax to support the just exercise of government, con- 
forms to the Law of the Land, as truly obeys the divine will, as 
if the Deity had regulated questions of taxation, by express rules. 

In thus founding the authority of civil government upon the 
precepts of revelation, we refer to the ultimate, and for that 
reason to the most proper sanction. Not, indeed, that if revela- 

* Tit, iii. 1. 

' 1 Pet. ii. 13. 

tion had been silent, the obligation of obedience might not have 
been deduced from other considerations. The utility of govern- 
ment — its tendency to promote the order and happiness of 
society — powerfully recommend its authority; so powerfully, 
indeed, that it is probable that the worst government which ever 
existed, was incomparably better than none ; and we shall here- 
after have occasion to see that considerations of Utility involve 
actual moral obligation. 

The purity and practical excellence of the motives to civil 
obedience which are proposed in the christian Scriptures, are 
especially worthy of regard. " Submit for the Lord^s sake." 
'^Be subject, not only for wrath, but /or conscience' sake." Sub- 
mission for wrath's sake, that is, from fear of penalty, implies a 
very inferior motive to submission upon grounds of principle 
and duty ; and as to practical excellence, who cannot perceive 
that he who regulates his obedience by the motives of Chris- 
tianity, acts more worthily, and honourably, and consistently, 
than he who is influenced only by fear of penalties ? The man 
who obeys the laws for conscience' sake, will obey always ; alike 
when disobedience would be unpunished and unknown, as when 
it would be detected the next hour. The magistrate has a 
security for such a man's fidelity, which no other motive can 
supply. A smuggler will import his kegs if there is no danger 
of a seizure— a christian will not buy the brandy though no one 
knows it but himself. 

It is to be observed, that the obligation of civil obedience is 
to be enforced, whether the particular command of the law is in 
itself sanctioned by morality or not. Antecedently to the exist- 
ence of the law of the magistrate respecting the importation of 
brandy, it was of no consequence in the view of morality whether 
brandy was imported or not ; but the prohibition of the magis- 
trate involves a moral obligation to refrain. Other doctrine has 
been held ; and it has been asserted, that unless the particular 
law is enforced by morality, it does not become obligatory by 
the command of the state. ' But if this were true — if no law 
was obligatory that was not previously enjoined by morality, no 
moral obligation would result from the law of the land. Such 
a question is surely set at rest by, '^ Submit yourselves to every 
ordinance of man.'' 

* See Godwin's Political Justice. 




Essay 1. 

But the authority of civil government is a subordinate autho- 
rity. If, from any cause, the magistrate enjoins that which is 
prohibited by the Moral Law, the duty of obedience is with- 
drawn. '' All human authority ceases at the point where obe- 
dience becomes criminal." The reason is simple ; that when 
the magistrate enjoins what is criminal, he has exceeded his 
power: "the minister of God'' has gone beyond his com- 
mission. There is, in our day, no such thing as a moral pleni- 

Upon these principles the first teachers of Christianity acted, 
when the rulers " called them, and commanded them not to speak 
at aU, nor teach in the name of Jesus.— "Whether,'' they re- 
plied, " it be right in the sight of God, to hearken unto you 
more than unto God, judge ye." ^ They accordingly " entered 
into the temple early in the morning and taught :" and when, 
subsequently they were again brought before the coimcil and 
interrogated, they replied, " we ought to obey God rather than 
men;" and notwithstanding the renewed command of the 
council, "daily in the temple and in every house they ceased not 
to teach and preach Jesus Christ." ^— Nor let any one suppose 
that there is any thing religious in the motives of the apostles, 
which involved a peculiar obligation upon them to refuse obe- 
dience : we have already seen that the obligation to conform 
to religious duty and to moral duty, is one. 

To disobey the civil magistrate is however not a light thing. 
When the christian conceives that the requisition of government 
and of a higher law are conflicting, it is needful that he exercise 
a strict scrutiny into the principles of his conduct. But if, upon 
such scrutiny, the contrariety of requisitions appears real, no 
room is left for doubt respecting his duty, or for hesitation in 
performing it. With the consideration of consequences he has 
then no concern : whatever they may be, his path is plain 
before him. 

It is sufficiently evident that these doctrines respect non- 
compliance only. It is one thing not to comply with laws, and 
another to resist those who make or enforce them. He who 
thinks the payment of tithes unchristian, ought to decline to 
pay them ; but he would act upon strange principles of morality. 



« Acts iv. 18. 

2 Acts V. 29, 42. 

if, when an officer came to distrain upon his property, he 
forcibly resisted his authority. 

If there are cases in which the positive injunctions of the law 
may be disobeyed, it is manifest that the mere permission of the 
law to do a given action, conveys no sufficient authority to per- 
form it. There are, perhaps, no disquisitions connected with the 
present subject, which are of greater practical utility than 
those which show, that not every thing which is legally right is 
morally right ; that a man may be entitled by law to privileges 
which morality forbids him to exercise, or to possessions which 
morality forbids him to enjoy. 

As to the possession, for example, of property : the -general 
foundation of the right to property is the Law of the Land. 
But as the Law of the Land is itself subordinate, it is manifest 
that the right to property must be subordinate also, and must 
be held in subjection to the Moral Law. A man who has a wife 
and two sons, and who is worth fifteen hundred pounds, dies 
without a will. The widow possesses no separate property, but 
the sons have received from another quarter ten thousand 
pounds apiece. Now, of the fifteen hundred pounds which the 
intestate left, the law assigns five hundred to the mother, and 
five hundred to each son. Are these sons morally permitted to 
take each his five hundred pounds, and to leave their parent 
with only five hundred for her support ? Every man I hope 
will answer, No : and the reason is this ; that the Moral Law, 
which is superior to the Law of the Land, forbids them to avail 
themselves of their legal rights. The Moral Law requires 
justice and benevolence, and a due consideration for the 
wants and necessities of others ; and if justice and benevolence 
would be violated by availing ourselves of legal permissions, 
those permissions are not sufficient authorities to direct our 


It has been laid down, that so long as we keep within the design 
and intention of a law, that law will justify us inforo conscientue 
as inforo humano, whatever be the equity or expediency of the law 
itself." "" From the example which has been offered, I think it 

» We speak here of private obligations only. Respecting the political obliga- 
tions which result from the authority of civil government, some observations- 
vnYL be found in the chapter on Civil Obedience. Ess. iii . c. v. 

2 Mor. and Pol. Phil. b. 3, p. 1, c. 4. 






Pi. 2, C. 1. 



sufficiently appears that this maxim is utterly unsound: at any 
rate its unsoundness will appear from a brief historical fact. Dur- 
ing the Eevolutionary war in America, the Virginian Legislature 
passed a law, by which "it was enacted, that all merchants and 
planters in Virginia who owed money to British merchants, should 
be exonerated from their debts, if they paid the money due into 
the public treasury instead of sending it to Great Britain ; and 
all such as stood indebted were invited to come forward and give 
their money, in this manner, towards the support of the contest 
in which America was then engaged.'' Now, according to the 
principles of Paley, these Virginian planters would have been 
justified, inforo conscientioi, in defrauding the British merchants 
of the money which was their due. It is quite clear that the 
" design and intentions of the law'' was to allow the fraud — the 
planters were even invited to commit it ; and yet the heart of 
every reader will tell him, that to have availed themselves of the 
legal permission, would have been an act of flagitious dishonesty. 
The conclusion is therefore distinct— that legal decisions respect- 
ing property, are not always a sufficient warrant for individual 
conduct. To the extreme disgrace of these planters it should be 
told, that although at first, when they would have gained little 
by the fraud, few of them paid their debts into the treasury, yet 
afterwards many large sums were paid. The Legislature offered 
to take the American paper money ; and as this paper money, 
in consequence of its depreciation, was not worth a hundredth 
part of its value in specie, the planters in thus paying their debts 
to their own government, paid but one pound instead of a hun- 
dred, and kept the remaining ninety-nine in their own pockets ! 
Profligate as these planters and as this Legislature were, it is 
pleasant for the sake of America to add, that in 1796, after the 
Supreme Court of the United States had been erected, the 
British merchants brought the affair before it ; and the judges 
directed that every one of these debts should again be paid to 
the rightful creditors. 

It might be almost imagined that the moral philosopher de- 
signed to justify such conduct as that of the planters. He says, 
when a man " refuses to pay a debt of the reality of which he is 
conscious, he cannot plead the intention ol the statute, unless he 
could show that the law intended to interpose its supreme 
authority to acquit men of debts of the existence and justice of 

which they were themselves sensible."^ Now the planters could 
show that this was the intention of the law, and yet they were 
not justified in availing themselves of it. The error of the 
moralist is founded in the assumption, that there is " supreme 
authority '' in the law. Make that authority, as it really is, 
subordi'iate, and the error and the fallacious rule which is 
founded upon it, will be alike corrected. 

In applying to the Law of the Land as a moral guide, it is of 
importance to distinguish its intention from its letter. The in- 
tention is not, indeed, as we have seen, a final consideration, but 
the design of a legislature is evidently of greater import, and 
consequent obligation, than the literal interpretation of the 
words in which that design is proposed to be expressed. The 
want of a sufficient attention to this simple rule, occasions many 
snares to private virtue, and the commission of much practical 
inj us t ice. In consequence, partly of the inadequacy of all language, 
and partly of the inability of those who frame laws, accurately to 
provide for cases which subsequently arise, it happens that the 
literal application of a law, sometimes frustrates the intention of 
the legislature, and violates the obligations of justice. Whatever 
be the cause, it is found in practice, that courts of law usually 
regard the letter of a statute rather than its general intention ; 
and hence it happens that many duties devolve upon individuals 
in the application of the laws in their own affairs. If legal courts 
usually decide by the letter, and if decision by the letter often 
defeats the objects of the legislator and the claims of justice, 
how shall these claims be satisfied except by the conscientious 
and forbearing integrity of private men ? Of the cases in which 
tliis integrity should be brought into exercise, several examples 
will be offered in the early part of the next Essay. 

I Mor. and Pol. Phil. b. 3, p. 1, c. 4. 






We here use the term, the Law of Nature, as a convenient title 
under which to advert to the authority, in moral affairs, of what 
are called Natural Instincts and Natural Rights. 

"They who rank pity among the original impulses of our 
nature, rightly contend that when this principle prompts us to 
the relief of human misery, it indicates the divine intention and 
our duty. Indeed, the same conclusion is deducible from the 
existence of the passion, whatever account be given of its ongm. 
Whether it be an instinct or a habit, it is in fact a property ot 
our nature which God appointed."^ 

I should reason similarly respecting Natural Rights— the right 
to life-to personal Hberty-to a share of the productions of the 
earth. T!hefact that life is given us by our Creator; that our 
personal powers and mental dispositions are adapted by Him to 
personal liberty ; and that He has constituted our bodies so as 
to need the productions of the earth, are satisfactory mdications 
of the Divine Will, and of human duty. 

So that we conclude the general proposition is true,— that a 
regard to the Law of Nature, in estimating human duty, is ac- 
cordant with the Will of God. There is little necessity for 
formally insisting on the authority of the Law of Nature, because 
few are disposed to dispute that authority, at least when their 
own interests are served by appealing to it. If this authority 
were questioned, perhaps it might be said that the expression 
of the Divine Will tacitly sanctions it, because that expression 
is addressed to us under the supposition that our constitution is 
such as it is ; and because some of the Divine precepts appear 
to specify a point at which the authority of the Law of Nature 
stops. To say that a rule is only in some cases wrong, is to say, 

I Mor. and Pol. Phil. b. 3, p. 2, c. 5. 

that in many it is right : to which may be added the consider- 
ation, that the tendency of the Law of Nature is manifestly 
beneficial. No man questions that the "original impulses of 
our nature " tend powerfully to the well-being of the species. 

In speaking of the Instincts of Nature, we enter into no curious 
definitions of what constitutes an instinct. Whether any of our 
passions or emotions be properly instinctive, or the effect of asso- 
ciation, is of little consequence to the purpose, so long as they 
actually subsist in the human economy, and so long as we have 
reason to believe that their subsistence there is in accordance 
with the Divine Will. 

But the authority of the Law of Nature, like every other 
authoiity, is subordinate to that of the Moral Law. This indeed 
is sufl&ciently indicated by those reasonings which show the 
universal supremacy of that law. Yet it may be of advantage to 
remember such expressions as these : " Be not afraid of them 
that kill the body, and after that have no more that they can do. 
But fear him which, after he hath killed, hath power to cast into 
hell.^' This appears distinctly to place an instinct of nature in 
subordination to the Moral Law. The ''fear of them that kill 
the body,^' results from the instinct of self-preservation; and by 
this instinct we are not to be guided when the Divine Will 
requires us to repress its voice. 

Parental affection has been classed amongst the instincts.^ 
The declaration, " He that loveth son or daughter more than 
Me, is not worthy of me,''^ clearly subjects this instinct to the 
higher authority of the Divine Will ; for the " love " of God is 
to be manifested by obedience to his law. Another declaration 
to the same import subjects also the instinct of self-preservation : 
" If a man hate not (that is by comparison) his own life also, he 
cannot be my disciple.^^* And here it is remarkable, that these 
affections or instincts are adduced /or the purpose of inculcating 
their subordination to the Moral Law. 

Upon one of the most powerful instincts of nature, the 
restraints of revelation are emphatically laid. Its operation is 
restricted, not to a few of its possible objects, but exclusively to 
one ; and to that one upon an express and specified condition.^ 

The propriety of holding the natural impulses in subjection to 

' Luke xii. 4. ^T>r. Price. ^Matt. x. 37. *Luke xiv. 26. 

» See Matt. iv. 9. 1 Cor. vi. 9. vii. 1, 2. Gal. v. 19, &c. 

G 2 







Essay 1. 

a higher law, appears to be asserted in this language of Dugald 
Stewart : " The dictates of reason and conscience inform us, in 
lan^'uage which it is impossible to mistake, that it is sometimes 
a duty to check the most amiable and pleasing emotions of the 
heart; to withdraw, for example, Irom the sight of those dis- 
tresses which stronger claims forbid us to relieve, and to deny 
ourselves that exquisite luxury which arises from the exercise of 
humanity/' Even that morality which is not founded upon 
religion, recommends the same truth. Godwin says, that if 
Fenelon were in his palace, and it took fire, and it so happened 
that the life either of himself or of his chambermaid must be 
sacrificed, it would be the duty of the woman to repress the 
instinct of self-preservation, and sacrifice hers, because Fenelon 
would do more good in the world.^ If the morality of scepticism 
inculcates this subjugation of our instincts to indeterminate 
views of advantage, much more does the morality of the New 
Testament teach us to subject them to the determinate will 

of God. 

It is upon these principles that some of the most noble examples 
of human excellence have been exhibited, those of men who have 
died for the testimony of a good conscience. If the strongest of 
our instincts, if that instinct, excited to its utmost vigour by 
the apprehension of a dreadful death, might be of weight to 
suspend the obligation of the Moral Law, it surely might have 
been suspended in the case of those who thus proved their 


Yet, obvious as is the propriety and the duty of thus preferring 
the Divine Law before all, the dictates or the rights of nature 
are continually urged as of paramoimt obligation. Many persons 
appear to tliink that if a given action is dictated by the law of 
nature, it is quite sufficient. Respecting the instinct of self- 
preservation, especially, they appear to conclude that to what- 
ever that instinct prompts, it is lawful to conform to its voice. 
They do not surely reflect upon the monstrousness of their 
opinions : they do not surely consider that they are absolutely 
superseding the Moral Law of God, and superseding it upon 
considerations resulting merely from the animal part of our 
constitution. The Divine Laws respect the whole human 
economy— our prospects in another world as well as our existence 
in the present. 

' Political Justioo. 

Ft. 2, a, 2. 



Some men, again, speak of our riglits in a state of nature, as 
if to be in a state of nature was to be without the jurisdiction of 
the Moral Law. But if man be a moral and responsible agent, 
that law applies everywhere ; to a state of nature as truly as to 
every other state. If some other human being had been left 
with Selkirk on Juan Fernandez, and if that other seized an 
animal which Selkirk had ensnared, would Selkirk have been 
justified in asserting his natural right to the animal by whatever 
means ? It is very possible that no means would have availed 
to procure the restoration of the rabbit or the bird short of 
killing the offender. Might Selkirk kill the man in assertion of 
his natural rights ? Every one answers. No — because the unso- 
phisticated dictates in every man^s mind assure us that the rights 
of nature are subordinate to higher laws. 

Situations similar to those of a state of nature sometimes arise 
in society -^ as where money is demanded, or violence is com- 
mitted by one person on another, where no third person can be 
called in to assistance. The injiired party in such a case, cannot 
go to every length in his own cause by virtue of the law of 
nature : he can go only so far as the Moral Law allows. These 
considerations will be found peculiarly applicable to the rights 
of self-defence ; and it is pleasant to find these doctrines sup- 
ported by that sceptical morality to which we just now referred. 
The author of Political Justice maintains that man possesses no 
rights; that is, no absolute rights — none, of which the just 
exercise is not conditional upon the pennission of a higher rule. 
That rule, with liim, is " Justice " — with us it is the law of God ; 
but the reasoning is the same in kind. 

Nevertheless, the natural rights of man ought to possess ex- 
tensive application both in private and political affairs. If it 
were sufficiently remembered, that these rights are abstractedly 
possessed in equality by all men, we should find many imperative 
claims upon us with which we do not now comply. The artificial 
distinctions of society induce forgetftdness of the circumstance 
that we are all brethren : not that I would countenance the 
speculations of those who think that all men should be now 
practically equal ; i)ut that these distinctions are such, that the 
general rights of nature are invaded in a degree which nothing 
can justify. There are natural claims of the poor upon the 

* See Locke oa Gov. b. 2, c. 7. 




Essay 1. 

PL 2, a 2. 



rich, of dependants upon their superiors, which are very com- 
monly forgotten : there are endless acts of superciUousness, and 
unkindness, and oppression, in private life, which the Law of 
Nature emphatically condemns. When, sometimes, I see a 
man of fortune speaking in terms of supercdious command to 
his servant, I feel that he needs to go and learn some lessons of 
the Law of Nature. I feel that he has forgotten what he is, and 
what he is not, and what his brother is : he has forgotten that 
by nature he and his servant are in strictness equal, and that 
although, by the permission of Providence, a various allotment 
is assigned to them now, he should regard every one with that 
consideration and respect which is due to a man and a brother. 
And when to these considerations are added those which result 
from the contemplation of our relationship to God— that we are 
the common objects of his bounty and his goodness, and that 
we are heirs to a common salvation, we are presented with such 
motives to pay attention to the rights of nature, as constitute an 
imperative obligation. 

The political duties which result from the Law of Nature, it 
is not our present business to investigate ; but it may be ob- 
served here, that a very limited appeal to facts is sufficient to 
evince, that by many political institutions the rights of Nature 
have been grievously sacrificed ; and that if those rights had 
been sufficiently regarded, many of these vicious institutions 
would never have been exhibited in the world. 

It appears worth while at the conclusion of this chapter to 

remark, that a person when he speaks of "Nature," should 

know distinctly what he means. The word can-ies with it a sort 

of indeterminate authority ; and he who uses it amiss, may 

connect that authority with rules or actions which are little 

entitled to it. There are few senses in which the word is used, 

that do not refer, however obscurely, to God ; and it is for that 

reason that the notion of authority is connected with the word. 

" The very name of nature implies, that it must owe its birth 

to some prior agent, or, to speak properij^ signifies in itself 

nothing.'' * Yet, unmeaning as the term is, it is one of which 

many persons are very fond ;— whether it be that their notions 

• Milton : Christian Doct. p. 14. 

are really indistinct, or that some purposes are answered by 
referring to the obscurity of nature rather than to God. " Nature 
has decorated the earth with beauty and magnificence,'' — 
" Nature has furnished us with joints and limbs,'' — are phrases 
sufficiently unmeaning ; and yet I know not that they are likely 
to do any other harm than to give currency to the common fiction. 
But when it is said, that '^Nature teaches us to adliere to 
truth," — Nature condemns us for dishonesty or deceit," — " Men 
are taught by nature that they are responsible beings," — there 
is considerable danger that we have both fallacious and injurious 
notions of the authority which thus teaches or condemns us. 
Upon this subject it were well to take the advice of Boyle: 
" Nature," he says, " is sometimes, indeed commonly, taken 
for a kind of semi-deity. In this sense it is best not to use it 
at all." ^ It is dangerous to induce confusion into our ideas 
respecting our relationship with God. 

A law of nature is a very imposing phrase ; and it might be 
supposed, from the language of some persons, that nature was 
an independent legislatress, who had sat and framed laws for 
the government of mankind. Nature is nothing : yet it would 
seem that men do sometimes practically imagine, that a " law of 
nature'' possesses proper and independent authority; and it 
may be suspected that with some the notion is so palpable and 
strong, that they set up the authority of " the laAV of nature'' 
without reference to the will of God, or perhaps in opposition 
to it. Even if notions like these float in the mind only with 
vapoury indistinctness, a correspondent indistinctness of moral 
notions is likely to ensue. Every man should make to himself 
the rule, never to employ the w ord Nature when he speaks of 
ultimate moral authority. A law possesses no authority; the 
authority rests only in the legislator : and as nature makes no 
laws, a law of nature nvolves no obligation but that which is 
imposed by the Divine Will. 

' Free Inquiry into the vulgarly received Notions of Nature. 

) . 



That in estimating our duties in life we ought to pay regard 
to what is useful and beneficial— to what is likely to promote 
the welfare of ourselves and of others-can need little argument 
to prove. Yet, if it were required, it may be easily shown that 
this regard to Utility is recommended or enforced in the expres- 
sion of the Divine WUl. That Will requires the exercise of 
pure and universal benevolence ;— which benevolence is exer- 
cised in consulting the interests, the welfare, and the happiness 
of mankind. The dictates of UtUity, therefore, are frequently 
no other than the dictates of benevolence. 

Or, if we derive the obligations of Utility from considerations 
connected with our reason, they do not appear much less dis- 
tinct. To say that to consult Utility is right, is almost the 
same as to say, it is right to exercise our understandings. The 
dailv and hourly use of renson is to discover what is fit to be 
done ; that is, what is usefid and expedient : and smce it is 
manifest that the Creator, in endowing us with the faculty, 
designed that we should exercise it, it is obvious that in this view 
also a reference to expediency is consistent mth the Divine W lU. 
When (higher laws being silent) a man judges that of two 
alternatives one is dictated by greater utility, that dictate con- 
stitutes an obligation upon him to prefer it. I should not hold 
a landowner innocmt, who knowingly persisted in adoptmg a 
bad mode of raising com ; nor should I hold the person mnocent 
who opposed an improvement in ship-building, or who obstructed 
the formation of a turnpike road that would benefit the pubhc. 
These are questions, not of prudence merely, but of morals also^ 
Obligations resulting from Utility possess great extent ot 
application to poUtical affairs. There are, indeed, some pubhc 
concerns in which the Moral Law, antecedently, decides nothing. 
Whether a duty shall be imposed, or a charter granted, or a 

M t. fwj O. o. 



treaty signed, are questions which are perhaps to be determined 
by expediency alone : but when a public man is of the judg- 
ment that any given measure will tend to the general good, he 
is immoral if he opposes that measure. The immorality may 
indeed be made out by a somewhat different process : — such a 
man violates those duties of benevolence which religion imposes : 
he probably disregards, too, his sense of obligation ; for if he 
be of the judgment that a given measure will tend to the general 
good, conscience will scarcely be silent in whispering that he 
ought not to oppose it. 

It is sufficiently evident, upon the principles which have 
hitherto been advanced, that considerations of Utility are only 
so far obhgatory as they are in accordance with the Moral Law. 
Pursuing, however, the method which has been adopted in the 
last two chapters, it may be observed, that this subserviency of 
Utility to the Divine Will, appears to be required by the written 
revelation. That habitual preference of futurity to the present 
time, which Scripture exhibits, indicates that our interests here 
should be held in subordination to our interests hereafter : and 
as these higher interests are to be consulted by the means which 
revelation prescribes, it is manifest that those means are to be 
pursued, whatever we may suppose to be their eflPects upon 
the present welfare of ourselves or of other men. '' If in this 
life only we have hope in God, then are we of all men most 
miserable.'' It certainly is not, in the usual sense of the word, 
expedient to be most miserable. And why did they thus sacrifice 
expediency ? Because the communicated WiU of God required 
that course of life by which human interests were apparently 
sacrificed. It will be perceived that these considerations result 
from the truth, (too little regarded in talking of " Expediency" 
and '' General Benevolence,'') that Utility, as it respects man- 
kind, cannot be properly consulted without taking into account 
our interests in futurity. " Let us eat and drink, for to-morrow 
we die," is a maxim of which all w ould approve, if we had no 
concerns with another hie. That which might be very expedient 
if death were annihilation, may be very inexpedient now. 

" If ye say. We will not dwell in this land, neither obey the 
voice of the' Lord your God, saying. No ; but we will go into 
the land of Egypt, where we shall see no war;'' ''nor have 
hunger of bread ; and there will we dwell ; it shall come to 
pass, that the sword, which ye feared, shall overtake you there 






Essay 1 . 

in the land of Egypt ; and the famine whereof ye were afraid, 
shall follow close after you in Egypt ; and there ye shall die/'i— 
" We will bum incense unto the queen of heaven, and pom- 
out drink-offerings unto her ; for then had we plenty of victuals, 
and were well, and saw no evil. But since we left off, we have 
wanted all things, and have been consumed by the sword, and 
by the famine/'— Therefore, " I will watch over them for evU, 
and not for good/' 2 These reasoners argued upon the principle 
of making expediency the paramount law ; and it may be 
greatly doubted whether those who argue upon that principle 
now, have better foundation for their reasoning than those of 
old. Here was the prospect of advantage founded, as they 
thought, upon experience. One course of action had led (so 
they reasoned) to war and famine, and another to plenty, and 
health, and general well-beuig : yet still our Universal Law- 
giver required them to disregard all these conclusions of expe- 
diency, and simply to conform to His will. 

After all, the general experience is, that what is most expe- 
dient with respect to another world, is most expedient with 
respect to the present. There may be cases, and there have 
been, in which the Divine Will may requii-e an absolute renun- 
ciation of our present interests ; as the martyr who maintains 
his fidelity, sacrifices all possibdity of advantage now. But 
these are unusual cases ; and the experience of the contrary is 
so general, that the truth has been reduced to a proverb. Per- 
haps, in nineteen cases out of twenty, he best consults his 
present weKare, who endeavours to secure it in another world. 
"By the wise contrivance of the Author of nature, virtue is upon 
all ordinary occasions, even with regard to this life, real wisdom, 
and the surest and readiest means of obtaining both safety and 
advantage.''^ Were it however otherwise, the truth of our prin- 
ciples would not be shaken. Men's happiness, and especially 
the happiness of good men, does not consist merely in external 
things. The promise of a hundred fold in this present life may 
still be fiilfiUed in mental felicity ; and if it could not be, who 
is the man that would exclude from his computations the pros- 
pect, in the world to come, of life everlasting ? 

In the endeavour to produce the greatest sum of happiness, 
or which is the same thing, in applying the dictates of Utility 
to our conduct in life, there is one species of utility that is 

* Jer. xlii. 

'' Jer. xliv. 

Dr. Smith: Theo. Mor. Sent. 

Pt. 2, C\ 3. 



deplorably disregarded both in private and public affairs — that 
which respects the religious and moral welfare of mankind. If 
you hear a politician expatiating upon the good tendency of a 
measure, he tells you how greatly it will promote the interests of 
commerce, or how it will enrich a colony, or how it will propitiate 
a powerful party, or how it will injure a nation whom he dreads ; 
but you hear probably not one word of enquiry whether it will 
corrupt the character of those who execute the measiu'e,or whether 
it will introduce vices into the colony, or whether it will present 
new temptations to the virtue of the public. And yet these con- 
siderations are perhaps by far the most important in the view even 
of enlightened expediency; for it is a desperate game to endeavour 
to benefit a people by means which may diminish their vii^tue. 
Even such a politician would probably assent to the unapplied 
proposition, " the virtue of a people is the best security for their 
welfare." It is the same in private life. You hear a parent 
who proposes to change his place of residence, or to engage in 
a new profession or pursuit, discussing the comparative con- 
veniences of the proposed situation, the prospect of profit in the 
new profession, the pleasures which will result from the new 
pursuit ; but you hear probably not one word of enquiry whether 
the change of residence will deprive his family of virtuous and 
beneficial society which mil not be replaced — ^whether the con- 
templated profession will not tempt his own virtue or diminish 
his usefulness — or whether his children will not be exposed to 
circumstances that will probably taint the purity of their minds. 
And yet this parent will acknowledge, in general terms, that 
" nothing can compensate for the loss of religious and moral 
character.'' Such persons surely make very inaccurate com- 
putations of Expediency. 

As to the actual conduct of political affairs, men frequently 
legislate as if there was no such thing as religion or morality in 
the world ; or as if, at any rate, religion and morality had no 
concern with affairs of state. I believe that a sort of shame (a 
false and vulgar shame no doubt) would be felt by many mem- 
bers of senates, in directly opposing religious or moral con- 
siderations to prospects of advantage. In our own country, 
those who are most willing to do this receive, from vulgar 
persons, a name of contempt for their absurdity ! How inve- 
terate must be the impurity of a system, which teaches men to 
regard as ridiculous that system which only is sound ! 



Although the subjects of this chapter can scarcely be regarded as constituting 
rules of life, yet we are induced briefly to notice them in the Essay, partly, on 
account of the importance of the affairs which they regulate, and partly, because 
they ynll afford satisfactory illustration of the principles of Morality. 



The Law of Nations, so far as it is founded upon the prin- 
ciples of morality, partakes of that authority which those 
principles possess ; so far as it is founded merely upon the 
mutual conventions of states, it possesses that authority over 
the contracting parties which results from the rule, that men 
ought to abide by their engagements. The principal considera- 
tions which present themselves upon the subject appear to be 
these : 

1. — That the Law of Nations is binding upon those states who 
knowingly allow themselves to be regarded as parties to it : 

2. — That it is wholly nugatory with respect to those states 
which are not parties to it : 

3 — ^That it is of no force in opposition lo the Moral Law : 

I. The obligation of the Law of Nations upon those who join 
in the convention, is plain — that is, it rests, generally, upon all 
civilized communities which have intercourse with one another. 
A tacit engagement only is, from the circumstances of the case, 
to be expected ; and if any state did not clioose to conform to 
the Law of Nations, it should publicly express its dissent The 


Law of Nations is not wont to tighten the bonds of morality; so 
that probably most of its positive requisitions are enforced by 
the Moral Law: and this consideration should operate as an in- 
ducement to a conscientious fulfilment of these reqiiisitions. In 
time of war, the Law of Nations prohibits poisoning and assassina- 
tion, and it is manifestly imperative upon every state to forbear 
them ; but whilst morahty thus enforces many of the requisitions 
of the Law of Nations, that law frequently stops short, instead of 
following on to whither morality would conduct it. This distinc- 
tion between assassination and some other modes of destruction 
that are practised in war, is not perhaps very accurately founded 
in considerations of morality: nevertheless, since the distinction 
is made, let it be made, and let it by all means be regarded. 
Men need not add arsenic and the private dagger to those modes 
of human destruction which war allows. The obHgation to avoid 
private murder is clear, even though it were shown that the ob- 
ligation extends much further. Whatever be the reasonableness 
of the distinction, and of the rule that is founded upon it, it is 
perfidious to violate that rule. 

So it is with those maxims of the Law of Nations which re- 
quire that prisoners should not be enslaved, and that the persons 
of ambassadors should be respected. Not that I think the man 
who sat down, with only the principles of morality before him, 
would easily be able to show, from those principles, that the 
slavery was wrong whilst other things which the Law of Nations 
allows are right— but that, as these principles actually enforce 
the maxims, as the observance of them is agreed on by civilized 
states, and as they tend to diminish the evils of war, it is imperative 
on states to observe them. Incoherent and inconsistent as the 
Law of Nations is, when it is examined by the Moral Law, it is 
pleasant to contemplate the good tendency of some of its requi- 
sitions. In 1702, previous to the declaration of war by this 
country, a number of the anticipated ^^enemy^s" ships had been 
seized and detained. When the declaration was made, these 
vessels were released, '^ in pursuance,^' as the proclamation stated, 
''of the Law of Nations.'^ Some of these vessels were perhaps 
shortly after captured, and irrecoverably lost to their owners: 
yet though it might perplex the christian moralist to show that 
the release was right and that the capture was right too, still he 
may rejoice that men conform, even in part, to the purity of virtue. 




Essay 1. 

Attempts to deduce the maxima of international law as they 
now obtain, from principles of morality, will always be vain. 
Grotins seems as if he would countenance the attempt when he 
says, " Some writers have advanced a doctrine which can never 
be admitted, maintaining that the Law of Nations authorizes one 
power to commence hostilities against another, whose increasmg 
greatness awakens her alarms. As a matter of expediency," says 
Grothis, " such a measure may be adopted ; but the principles 
of justice can never be advanced in its favour."^ Alas ! if prin- 
ciples of justice are to decide what the Law of Nations shall 
authorize, it will be needful to establish a new code to-morrow. 
A great part of the code arises out of the conduct of war ; and 
the^ usual practices of war are so foreign to principles of justice 
and morality, that it is to no purpose to attempt to found the 
code upon them. Nevertheless, let those who refer to the Law 
of Nations, introduce morality by all possible means; and if they 
think they cannot appeal to it always, let them appeal to it where 
they can. If they cannot persuade themselves to avoid hosti- 
lities when some injury is committed by another nation, let them 
avoid them when " another nation's greatness merely awakens 

their alarms." 

II. That the Law of Nations is wholly nugatory with respect 
to those states which are not parties to it, is a truth which, how- 
ever sound, has been too little regarded in the conduct of civilized 
nations. The state, whose subjects discover and take possession 
of an uninhabited island, is entitled by the Law of Nations quietly 
to possess it. And it ought quietly to possess it : not that in the 
view of reason or of morality, the circumstance of an Enghsh- 
man's first visiting the shores of a country, gives any very intel- 
ligible right to the King of England to possess it rather than any 
other prince, but that, such a rule having been agreed upon it, 
it ought to be observed; but by whom? By those who are parties 
to the agreement. For which reason, the discoverer possesses 
no sufficient claim to oppose his right to that of a people who 
were not parties to it. So that he who, upon pretence of dis- 
covery, should forcibly exclude from a large extent of territory 
a people who knew nothing of European poUtics, and who m the 
view of reason possessed an equal or a greater right, undoubtedly 
violates the obligations of morality. It may serve to dispel the 

> Rights of War and Peace. 


( I 


obscurity in which habit and self-interest wrap our perceptions, 
to consider, that amongst the states which were nearest to the 
newly-discovered land, a law of nations might exist which re- 
quired that such land should be equally divided amongst them. 
Whose law of nations ought to prevail ? That of European states, 
or that of states in the Pacific or South Sea ? How happens it 
that the Englishman possesses a sounder right to exclude all other 
nations, than surrounding nations possess to partition it amongst 
them ? 

Unhappily, our law of nations goes much fui-ther ; and by a 
monstrous abuse of power, has acted upon the same doctrine with 
respect to inhabited countries; for when these have been dis- 
covered, the law of nations has talked, with perfect coolness, of 
setting up a standard, and thenceforth assigning the territory to 
the nation whose subjects set it up; as if the previous inhabi- 
tants possessed no other claim or right than the bears and wolves. 
It has been asked (and asked with great reason,) what we should 
say to a canoe-full of Indians who should discover England, and 
take possession of it in the name of their chief? 

Civilized states appear to have acted upon the maxim, that no 
people possess political rights but those who are parties to the 
law of nations ; and accordingly the history of European settle- 
ments has been, so far as the aborigines were concerned, too 
much a history of outrage, and treachery, and blood. Penn acted 
upon sounder principles : he perfectly well knew that neither an 
established practice, nor the Law of Nations, could impart a right 
to a country wliich was justly possessed by former inhabitants ; 
and therefore, although Charles 11. '' granted " him Pennsyl- 
vania, he did not imagine that the gift of a man in London, could 
justify him in taking possession of a distant country without the 
occupiers' consent. What was ''granted'' therefore by his sove- 
reign, he purchased of the owners; and the sellers were satisfied 
with their bargain and with him. The experience of Pennsyl- 
vania has shown that integrity is pohtic as well as right. When 
nations shall possess greater expansion of knowledge, and exercise 
greater purity of virtue, it will be found that many of the prin- 
ciples which regulate international intercourse, are foolish as 
well as vicious; that whilst they disregard the interests of 
morality they sacrifice their own. 

III. Respecting the third consideration, that the Law of 
Nations is of no force in opposition to the Moral Law, little 




Essay 1. 

needs to be said here. It is evident that, upon whatever foun- 
dation the Law of Nations rests, its authority is subordinate to 
that of the Will of God. When, therefore, we say that amongst 
civilized states, when an island is discovered by one state, other 
states are bound to refrain, it is not identical with saying that 
the discoverer is at liberty to keep possession by whatever means. 
The mode of asserting all rights is to be regulated in subordina- 
tion to the Moral Law. DupUcity, and fraud, and violence, and 
bloodshed, may perhaps sometimes be the only means of availing 
ourselves of the rights which the Law of Nations grants : but 
it were a confused species of morality which should allow the 
commission of all this, because it is consistent with the Law of 


Akindred remark appUes to the obUgation of treaties . Treaties 
do not oblige us to do what is morally wrong. A treaty is a 
string of engagements ; but those engagements are no more 
exempt from the jurisdiction of the Moral Law, than the promise 
of a man to assassinate another. Does such a promise morally 
bind the ruffian ? No : and for this reason, and for no other, 
that the performance is unlawful. And so it is with treaties. 
Two nations enter into a treaty of offensive and defensive 
alliance. Subsequently one of them engages in an unjust and 
profligate war. Does the treaty morally bind the other nation 
to abet the profligacy and injustice ? No : if it did, any man 
might make any action lawful to himself by previously engaging 
to do it. No doubt such a nation and such a ruffian have done 
wrong ; but their offence consisted in making the engagement, 
not in breaking it. Even if ordinary wars were defensible, 
treaties of offensive alliance that are unconditional with respect 
to time or objects, can never be justified. The state, however, 
which, in the pursuit of a temporary policy, has been weak 
enough, or vicious enough to make them, should not hesitate 
to refuse fulfilment, when the act of fulfilment is incompatible 
with the Moral Law. Such a state should decline to perform 
the treaty, and retire with shame — with shame, not that it has 
violated its engagements, but that it was ever so vicious as to 
make them. 



The Law of Honour consists of a set of maxims, written or 
understood, by which persons of a certain class agree to regulate, 
or are expected to regulate, their conduct. It is evident that 
the obhgation of the Law of Honour, as such, results exclusively 
from the agreement, tacit or expressed, of the parties concerned. 
It binds them because they have agreed to be bound, and for no 
other reason. He who does not choose to be ranked amongst 
the subjects of the Law of Honour, is under no obligation to 
obey its rules. These rules are precisely upon the same footing 
as the laws of free-masonry, or the regulations of a reading-room. 
He who does not choose to subscribe to the room, or to promise 
conformity to masonic laws, is under no obligation to regard the 
rules of either. 

For which reason, it is very remarkable that at the commence- 
ment of his Moral Philosophy, Dr. Paley says. The rules of life 
" are, the Law of Honour, the Law of the Land, and the Scrip- 
tures.'' It were strange indeed, if that were a rule of life which 
every man is at liberty to disregard if he pleases ; and which, in 
point of fact, nine persons out of ten do disregard without blame. 
Who would think of taxing the writer of these pages with vio- 
lating a '' rule of life,'' because he pays no attention to the Law 
of Honour ? " The Scriptures" communicate the Will of God; 
" the Law of the Land" is enforced by that Will ; but where is 
the sanction of the Law of Honour ?— It is so much the more 
remarkable that this law should have been thus formally pro- 
posed as a rule of life, because, in the same work, it is described 
as " unauthorized." How can a set of unauthorized maxims 
compose a rule of life ? But further : the author says that the 
Law of Honour is a " capricious rule, which abhors deceit, yet 
applauds the address of a successful intrigue."— And further 

still : " it allows of fornication, adultery, drunkenness, prodi- 





gality, duelling, and of revenge in the extreme." Surely then 
it cannot, with any propriety of language, be called a rule of life. 

Placing, then, the obligation of the Law of Honour, as such, 
upon that which appears to be its proper basis — the duty to per- 
form our lawful engagements — it may be concluded, that when 
a man goes to a gaming-house or a race-course, and loses his 
money by betting or playing, he is morally bound to pay : not 
because morality adjusts the rules of the billiard room or the turf, 
not because the Law of the Land sanctions the stake, but because 
the party previously promised to pay it. Nor would it affect this 
obligation to allege, that the stake was itself both illegal and 
immoral. So it was ; but the payment is not. The payment of 
such a debt involves no breach of the Moral Law. The guilt 
consists not in paying the money, but in staking it. Neverthe- 
less, there may be prior claims upon a man's property which he 
ought first to pay. Such are those of lawful creditors. The 
practice of paying debts of honour with promptitude, and of de- 
laying the payment of other debts, argues confusion or depravity 
of principle. It is not honour, in any virtuous and rational sense 
of the word, which induces men to pay debts of honour instantly. 
Real honour would induce them to pay their lawful debts first : 
and indeed it may be suspected that the motive to the prompt 
payment of gaming debts, is usually no other than the desire to 
preserve a fair name with the world. Integrity of principle has 
often so little to do with it, that this principle is sacrificed in 
order to pay them. 

With respect to those maxims of the Law of Honour which 
require conduct that the Moral Law forbids, it is quite manifest 
that they are utterly indefensible. '^ If unauthorized laws of 
honour be allowed to create exceptions to divine prohibitions, 
there is an end of all moraHty as founded in the Will of the 
Deity, and the obligation of every duty may at one time or other 
be discharged."! These observations apply to those foolish 
maxims of honour which relate to duelling. These maxims can 
never justify the individual in disregarding the obligations of 
morality. He who acts upon them acts wicked ; unless indeed 
he be so little informed of the requisitions of morality, that he 
does not, upon this subject, perceive the distinction between 
right and wrong. The man of honour therefore should pay a 

* Mor. and Pol. Phil. b. 3, c. 9. 



gambling debt, but he should not send a challenge or accept it. 
The one is permitted by the Moral Law, the other is forbidden. 

Whatever advantages may result from the Law of Honour, it 
is, as a system, both contemptible and bad. Even its advantages 
are of an ambiguous kind ; for although it may prompt to recti- 
tude of conduct, that conduct is not founded upon rectitude of 
principle. The motive is not so good as the act. And as to 
many of its particular rules, both positive and negative, they 
are the proper subject of reprobation and abhorrence. We 
ought to reprobate and abhor a system wliich enjoins the fero- 
cious practice of challenges and duels, and which allows many 
of the most flagitious and degrading vices that infest the world. 

The practical effects of the Law of Honour are probably 
greater and worse than we are accustomed to suppose. Men 
learn, by the power of association, to imagine that that is lawful 
which their maxims of conduct do not condemn. A set of 
rules which inculcates some actions that are right, and permits 
others that are wrong, practically operates as a sanction to the 
wrong. The code which attaches disgrace to falsehood, but 
none to drunkenness or adultery, operates as a sanction to 
drunkenness and adultery. Does not experience verify these 
conclusions of reason ? Is it not true that men and women of 
honour indulge, with the less hesitation, in some vices, in conse- 
quence of the tacit permission of the Law of Honour ? What 
then is to be done but to reprobate the system as a whole ? In 
this reprobation the man of sense may unite with the man of 
virtue ; for assuredly the system is contemptible in the view of 
intellect, as well as hateful in the view of purity. 








The division which has commonly been made of the private 
obligations of man, into those which respect himself, his neigh- 
bour, and his Creator, does not appear to be attended with any 
considerable advantages. These several obligations are, indeed, 
so involved the one with the other, that there are few personal 
duties which are not also in some degree relative, and there are 
no duties, either relative or personal, which may not be regarded 
as duties to God. The suicide's or the drunkard's vice injures 
his family or his friends : for every offence against morality is 
an injury to ourselves, and a violation of the duties which we 
owe to Him whose law is the foundation of morality. Neglect- 
ing, therefore, these minuter distinctions, we observe those only 
which separate the Private from the Political Obligations of 
• Mankind. 

Of the two classes of Religious Obligations — that which re- 
spects the exercise of piety towards God, and that which 
respects visible testimonials of our reverence and devotion, the 
business of a work like this is principally with the latter. Yet 
at the risk of being charged with deviating from this proper 
business, I would adventure a few paragraphs respecting devotion 
of mind. 

That the worship of our Father who is in heaven consists, not 
in assembling with others at an appointed place and hour ; not 
in joining in the rituals of a Christian church, or in performing 
ceremonies, or in participating of sacraments,^ all men will 
agree; because all men know that these things may be done 
whilst the mind is whoUy intent upon other affairs, and even 
without any belief in the existence of God. " Two attendances 
upon public worship is a form, complied with by thousands who 
never kept a Sabbath in their lives." ^ Devotion, it is evident, 
is an operation of the mind ; the sincere aspiration of a depen- 
dent and grateful being to him who has all power both in 
heaven and in earth; and as the exercise of devotion is not 
necessarily dependent upon external circumstances, it may be 
maintained in solitude or in society, in the place appropriated to 
worship, or in the field, in the hour of business, or of quietude 
and rest. Even under a less spiritual dispensation of old, a 
good man " worshipped, leaning upon the top of his staff.'' 

Now, it is to be feared that some persons, who acknowledge 
that devotion is a mental exercise, impose upon themselves some 
feelings as devotional which are wholly foreign to the worship 
of God. There is a sort of spurious devotion — feelings, having 

* It is to be regretted that this word, of which the origin is so exceptionable, 
should be used to designate what are regarded as solemn acts of religion. 

* Cowper's Letters. 



the resemblance of worship^ but not possessing its nature, and 
not producing its effects. " Devotion," says Blair, " is a 
powerful principle, which penetrates the soul, which purifies the 
affections from debasing attachments, and by a fixed and steady 
regard to God, subdues every sinful passion, and forms the in- 
clinations to piety and virtue.^' ^ To purify the affections and 
subdue the passions, is a serious operation : it implies a sacrifice 
of inclination ; a subjugation of the will. This mental opera- 
tion many persons are not willing to undergo : and it is not 
therefore wonderful that some persons are willing to satisfy 
themselves with the exercise of a species of devotion that shall 
be attained at less cost. 

A person goes to an oratorio of sacred music. The majestic 
flow of harmony, the exalted subjects of the hymns or anthems, 
the faU and rapt assembly, excite, and warm, and agitate his 
mind : sympathy becomes powerful ; he feels the stirring of un- 
wonted emotions ; weeps, perhaps, or exults; and when he leaves 
the assembly, persuades himself that he has been worshipping 
and glorifying God. 

There are some preachers with whom it appears to be an 
object of much solicitude, to excite the hearer to a warm and 
impassioned state of feeling. By ardent declamation or pas- 
sionate displays of the hopes and terrors of religion, they arouse 
and alarm his imagination. The hearer, who desires perhaps 
to experience the ardours of religion, cultivates the glowing 
sensations, abandons his mind to the impulse of feeling, and at 
length goes home in complacency with his religious sensibility, 
and glads himself with having felt the fervours of devotion. 

Kindred illusion may be the result of calmer causes. The 
lofty and silent aisle of an ancient cathedral, the venerable 
ruins of some once honoured abbey, the boundless expanse of 
the heaven of stars, the calm immensity of the still ocean, or 
the majesty and terror of a tempest, sometimes suffuses the 
mind with a sort of reverence and awe ; a sort of " philosophic 
transport," which a person would willingly hope is devotion of 
the heart. 

It might be sufficient to assure us of the spuriousness of these 
semblances of religious feeling, to consider, that emotions very 
similar in their nature are often excited by subjects which have 

» Sermons, No. 10. 



no connexion with religion. I know not whether the affecting 
scenes of the drama and of fictitious story want much but asso- 
ciation with ideas of religion to make them as devotional as those 
which have been noticed : and if, on the other hand, the feelings 
of him who attends an oratorio were excited by a military band, 
he would think not of the Deity or of heaven, but of armies and 
conquests. Nor should it be forgotten, that persons who have 
habitually little pretension to religion, are perhaps as capable of 
this factitious devotion as those in whom religion is constantly 
influential ; and surely it is not to be imagined, that those who 
rarely direct reverent thoughts to their Creator, can suddenly 
adore him for an hour and then forget him again, until some new 
excitement again arouses their raptures, to be again forgotten. 

To religious feelings as to other things, the truth applies — 
" By their fruits ye shall know them.^^ If these feelings do not 
tend to " purify the affections from debasing attachments ;" if 
they do not tend to " form the inclinations to piety and virtue,'^ 
they certainly are not devotional. Upon him whose mind is 
really prostrated in the presence of his God, the legitimate 
effect is, that he should be impressed with a more sensible con- 
sciousness of the Divine presence : that he should deviate with 
less facility from the path of duty j that his desires and thoughts 
should be reduced to christian subjugation ; that he should feel 
an influential addition to his dispositions to goodness ; and that 
his affections should be expanded towards his fellow men. He 
who rises from the sensibilities of seeming devotion, and finds, 
that effects such as these are not produced in his mind, may 
rest assured that, in whatever he has been employed, it has not 
been in the pure worship of that God who is a spirit. To the 
real prostration of the soul in the Divine presence, it is neces- 
sary that the mind should be still : — " Be still and know that I 
am God.'' Such devotion .is sufficient for the whole mind : it 
needs not — perhaps in its purest state it admits not — the intru- 
sion of external things. And when the soul is thus permitted 
to enter as it were into the sanctuary of God; when it is 
humble in his presence ; when aU its desires are involved in the 
one desire of devotedness to him ; then is the hour of acceptable 
worship — then the petition of the soul is prayer — then is its 
gratitude thanksgiving — then is its oblation praise. 

That such devotion, when such is attainable, will have a 



Essay 2. 

powerful tendency to produce obedience to the Moral Law, 
may justly be expected : and here indeed is the true connexion 
of the subject of these remarks with the general object of the 
present essays. Without real and efficient piety of mind, we 
are not to expect a consistent observance of the Moral Law. 
That law requires, sometimes, sacrifices of inclination and of 
interest, and a general subjugation of the passions, which re- 
ligion, and religion only, can capacitate and induce us to make. 
I recommend not enthusiasm or fanaticism, but that sincere and 
reverent application of the soul to its Creator, which alone is 
likely to give either distinctness to our perceptions of his will, 
or efficiency to our motives to fulfil it. 

A few sentences will be indulged to me here respecting 
Religious Conversation. I believe both that the proposition is 
true, and that it is expedient to set it down — that religious con- 
versation is one of the banes of the religious world. There are 
many who are really attached to religion, and who sometimes 
feel its power, but who allow their better feelings to evaporate 
in an ebullition of words. They forget how much religion is 
an affair of the mind and how little of the tongue : they forget 
how possible it is to live under its power without talking of it 
to their friends ; and some, it is to be feared, may forget how 
possible it is to talk without feeling its influence. Not that the 
good man's piety is to live in his breast like an anchorite in his 
cell. The evil does not consist in speaking of religion, but in 
speaking too much ; not in manifesting our allegiance to God ; 
not in encouraging by exhortation, and amending by our advice; 
not in placing the light upon a candlestick — but in making 
religion a common topic of discourse. Of all species of well- 
intended religious conversation, that perhaps is the most excep- 
tionable which consists in narrating our own religious feelings. 
Many thus intrude upon that religious quietude which is pecu- 
liarly favourable to the christian character. The habit of com- 
municating '^ experiences'' I believe to be very prejudicial to 
the mind. It may sometimes be right to do this : in the great 
majority of instances I believe it is not beneficial, and not right. 
Men thus dissipate religious impressions, and therefore diminish 
theii" effects. Such observation as I have been enabled to make. 

Chap, 1. 



has sufficed to convince me that, where the religious character 
is solid, there is but little religious talk ; and that, where there 
is much talk, the religious character is superficial, and, like 
other superficial things, is easily destroyed. And if these be 
the attendants, and in part the consequences of general religious 
conversation, how peculiarly dangerous must that conversation 
be, which exposes those impressions that perhaps were designed 
exclusively for ourselves, and the use of which may be frus- 
trated by communicating them to others. Our solicitude should 
be directed to the invigoration of the religious character in our 
own minds ; and we should be anxious that the plant of piety, 
if it had fewer branches, might have a deeper root. 


" Not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as the 
manner of some is.'^i The divinely authorized institution of 
Moses respecting a weekly Sabbath, and the practice of the 
first teachers of Christianity, constitute a sufficient recommen- 
dation to set apart certain times for the exercise of public worship, 
even were there no injunctions such as that which is placed at 
the head of this paragraph. It is, besides, manifestly proper, 
that beings who are dependent upon God for all things, and 
especially for their hopes of immortality, should devote a portion 
of their time to the expression of their gratitude, and submis- 
sion, and reverence. Community of dependence and of hope 
dictates the propriety of united worship ; and worship to be 
united, must be performed at times previously fixed. 

From the duty of observing the Hebrew Sabbath, we are 
sufficiently exempted by the fact, that it was actually not obser^^ed 
by the apostles of Christ. The early christians met, not on the 
last day of the week, but on the first. Whatever reason may be 
assigned as a motive for this rejection of the ancient Sabbath, I 
think it will tend to discountenance the observance of any day, 
as such : for if that day did not possess perpetual sanctity, what 
day does possess it ? 

And with respect to the general tenor of the christian Scrip- 
tures as to the sanctity of particular days, it is I think mani- 

* Heb. X. 5. 



Essay 2. 

festly adverse to the opinion that one day is obligatory rather 
than another. " Let no man therefore judge you in meat, or in 
drink, or in respect of an holy day, or of the new moon or of the 
Sabbath days ; which are a shadow of things to come ; but the 
body is of Christ." ^ Although this " Sabbath day" was that of 
the Jews, yet the passage indicates the writer's sentiments, gene- 
rally, respecting the sanctity of specific days : he classes them 
with matters which all agree to be unimportant ; — ^with meats, 
and drinks, and new moons ; and pronounces them to be alike 
" shadows" That strong passage addressed to the christians of 
Galatia is of the same import : " How turn ye again to the weak 
and beggarly elements whereimto ye desire again to be in bond- 
age ? Ye observe days, and months, and times, and years. I am 
afraid of you, lest I have bestowed upon you labour in vain." * 
That which, in writing to the christians of Colosse, the apostle 
called " shadows," he now, in writing to those of Galatia, calls 
" beggarly elements." The obvious tendency is to discredit the 
observance of particular times ; and if he designed to except the 
first day of the week, it is not probable that he would have 
failed to except it. 

Nevertheless, the question whether we are obliged to observe 
the first day of the week because it is the first, is one point — 
whether we ought to devote it to religious exercises, seeing that 
it is actually set apart for the purpose, is another. The early 
christians met on that day, and their example has been followed 
in succeeding times ; but if for any sufficient reason, (and such 
reasons, however unlikely to arise, are yet conceivable,) the 
christian world should fix upon another day of the week instead 
of the first, I perceive no grounds upon which the arrangement 
could be objected to. As there is no sanctity in any day, and 
no obligation to appropriate one day rather than another, that 
which is actually fixed upon is the best and the right one. Bear- 
ing in mind, then, that it is right to devote some portion of our 
time to religious exercises, and that no objection exists to the 
day which is actually appropriated, the duty seems very obvious 
— so to employ it. 

Cessation from labour on the first day of the week, is nowhere 
enjoined in the christian Scriptures. Upon this subject, the 

* Col. ii. 16, 17. In Rom. xiv. 5, 6, there is a parallel passage. 

* Gal. iv. 10, 11. 


principles on which a person should regulate his conduct appear 
to be these : He should reflect that the whole of the day is not 
too large a portion of our time to devote to public worship, to 
religious recoUectedness, and sedateness of mind ; and therefore 
that occupations which would interfere with this sedateness and 
recoUectedness, or with public worship, ought to be forborne. 
Even if he supposed that the devoting of the whole of the day 
was not necessary for himself, he should reflect, that since 
a considerable part of mankind are obliged, from various 
causes, to attend to matters unconnected with religion during a 
part of the day, and that one set attends to them during one 
part and another during another — the whole of the day is neces- 
sary for the community, even though it were not for each indi- 
vidual : and if every individual should attend to his ordinary 
affairs during that portion of the day which he deemed super- 
abundant, the consequence might soon be that the day would 
not be devoted to religion at all. 

These views will enable the reader to judge in what manner 
we should decide questions respecting attention to temporal 
affairs on particular occasions. The day is not sacred, therefore 
business is not necessarily sinful : the day ought to be devoted 
to religion, therefore other concerns which are not necessary 
are, generally, wrong. The remonstrance, "Which of you shall 
have an ass or an ox fallen into a pit, and will not straightway 
pull him out on the Sabbath-day ? " sufficiently indicates that, 
when reasonable calls are made upon us, we are at liberty to 
attend to them. Of the reasonableness of these calls every man 
must endeavour to judge for himself. A tradesman ought, as a 
general rule, to refuse to buy or sell goods. If I sold clothing, I 
would fiimish a surtout to a man who was suddenly summoned 
on a journey, but not to a man who could call the next morning. 
Were I a builder, I would prop a falling wall, but not proceed 
in the erection of a house. Were I a lawyer, I would deliver 
an opinion to an applicant to whom the delay of a day would be 
a serious injury, but not to save him the expense of an extra 
night's lodging by waiting. I once saw with pleasure on the 
sign-board of a public-house a notice, that " none but travellers 
could be furnished with liquor on a Sunday." The medical 
profession, and those who sell medicine, are differently situated ; 
yet it is not to be doubted that both, and especially the latter. 


might devote a smaller portion of the day to their secular em- 
ployments, if earnestness in religious concerns were as great as 
the opportunities to attend to them. Some physicians in exten- 
sive practice, attend almost as regularly on public worship as 
any of their neighbours. Excursions of pleasure on this day 
are rarely defensible : they do not comport with the purposes to 
which the day is appropriated. To attempt specific rules upon 
such a subject were, however, vain. Not every thing which 
partakes of relaxation is unallowable. A walk in the country 
may be proper and right, when a party to a watering place 
would be improper and wrong.^ There will be little difficulty 
in determining what it is allowable to do and what it is not, if 
the enquiry be not, how much secularity does religion allow ? 
but, how much can I, without a neglect of duty, avoid ? 

The habit which obtains with many persons of travelling on 
this day, is peculiarly indefensible ; because it not only keeps the 
traveller from his church or meeting, but keeps away his ser- 
vants, or the postmen on the road, and ostlers, and cooks, and 
waiters. All these may be detained from public worship by one 
man's journey of fifty miles. Such a man incurs some respon- 
sibility. The plea of " saving time" is not remote from irre- 
verence ; for if it has any meaning it is this, that our time is 
of more value when employed in business, than when employed 
in the worship of God. It is discreditable to this country that 
the number of carriages which traverse it on this day is so great. 
The evil may rightly and perhaps easily be regulated by the 
Legislature. You talk of difficulties :— you would have talked 
of many more, if it were now, for the first time, proposed to 
shut up the General Post-Office one day in seven. We should 
have heard of parents dying before their children could hear of 
their danger ; of bills dishonoured and merchants discredited 
for want of a post ; and of a multitude of other inconveniences 
which busy anticipation would have discovered. Yet the General 
Post-Office is shut; and where is the evil? The journeys 

I The scrupulousness of the '♦ Puritans" in the reign of Charles I., and the 
laxity of Laud, whose ordmances enjoined sports after the hours of public wor- 
ship were both really, though perhaps not equaUy, improper. The Puritans 
attached sanctity to the day : and Laud did not consider, or did not regard the 
consideration, that his sports would not only discredit the notion of sanctity, but 
preclude that recoUectedness of mind which ought to be maintamed throughout 
the whole day. 

Chap. 1. 



of stage coaches may be greatly diminished in number; and 
though twenty difficulties may be predicted, none would happen 
but such as were easily borne. An increase of the duty per 
mile on those coaches which travelled every day, might perhaps 
effect the object. Probably not less than forty persons are 
employed on temporal affairs, in consequence of an ordinary 
stage coach journey of a hundred miles. i 

A similar regulation would be desirable with respect to 
'' Sunday Papers." The ordinary contents of a newspaper are 
little accordant with religious sobriety and abstraction from the 
world. News of armies, and of funds and markets, of political 
contests and party animosities, of robberies and trials, of sporting, 
and boxing, and the stage ; with merriment, and scandal, and 
advertisements — are sufficiently ill adapted to the cultivation of 
religiousness of mind. An additional two-pence on the stamp- 
duty would perhaps remedy the evil. 

Private, and especially public amusements on this day, are 
clearly wrong. It is remarkable that they appear least willing 
to dispense with their amusements on this day, who pursue them 
on every other : and the observation affords one illustration 
amongst the many of the pitiable effects of what is called — 
though it is only called — a life of pleasure. 

Upon every kind and mode of negligence respecting these 
religious obligations, the question is not simply, whether the 
individual himself sustains moral injury, but also whether he 
occasions injury to those around him. The example is mis- 
chievous. Even supposing that a man may feel devotion in his 
counting house or at the tavern, or over a pack of cards, his 
neighbours who know where he is, or his family who see what 
he is doing, are encouraged to follow his example, without any 
idea of carrying their religion with them. "My neighbour 
amuses himself — my father attends to his ledgers — and why 
may not I ? " — So that, if such things were not intrinsically 
unlawful, they would be wrong because they are inexpedient. 
Some things might be done without blame by the lone tenant 
of a wild, which involve positive guilt in a man in society. 

Holy days, such as those which are distinguished by the names 

^ There is reason to believe that, to the numerous class of coachmen, waiters, 
&c., the alteration would be most acceptable. I have been told by an intelligent 
coachman, that they would gladly unite in a request to their employers if it 
were likely to avail. 



Essay 2. 

Chap. 1. 

OF FORMS, &c. 


of Cliristinas-day and Good-Friday, possess no sanction from 
Scripture : they are of human institution. If any religious com- 
munity thinks it is desirable to devote more than fifty-two days 
in the year to the purposes of religion, it is unquestionably 
right that they should devote them ; and it is amongst the 
good institutions of several christian communities, that they do 
weekly appropriate some additional hours to these purposes. 
The observance of the days in question is however of another 
kind: here, the observance refers to the day as such; and I 
know not how the censure can be avoided which was directed to 
those Galatians who "observed days, and months, and times, 
and years.'' Whatever may be the sentiments of enlightened 
men, those who are not enlightened are likely to regard such 
days as sacred in themselves. This is turning to beggarly ele- 
ments: this partakes of the character of superstition; and 
superstition of every kind and in every degree, is incongruous 
with that " glorious liberty,'' which Christianity describes, and 
to which it would conduct us. 


If God have made known his will that any given ceremony 
shall be performed in his church, that expression is sufficient : 
we do not then inquire into the unreasonableness of the cere- 
mony, nor into its utility. There is nothing in the act of sprink- 
ling water in an infant's face, or of immersing the person of an 
adult, which recommends it to the view of reason, any more 
than twenty other acts which might be performed : yet, if it be 
clear that such an act is required by the Divine Will, all further 
controversy is at end. It is not the business, any more than it 
is the desire, of the writer here to enquire whether the Deity 
h€ts thus expressed his will respecting any of the rites which are 
adopted in some christian churches, yet the reader should care- 
fully bear in mind what it is that constitutes the obligation of a 
rite or ceremony, and what does not. Setting utility aside, the 
obligation must be constituted by an ewpression of the Divine 
WiU : and he who enquires into the obligation of these things, 
should reflect that they acquire a sort of adventitious sanctity 
from the power of association. Being connected from early life 
with his ideas of religion, he learns to attach to them the autho- 

rity which he attaches to religion itself; and thus perhaps he 
scarcely knows, because he does not enquire, whether a given 
institution is founded upon the law of God, or introduced by 
the authoritv of men. 

Of some ceremonies or rights, and of almost all formularies 
and other appendages of public worship, it is acknowledged that 
they possess no proper sanction from the Will of God. Sup- 
posing the written expression of that wiU to contain nothing by 
which we can judge either of their propriety or impropriety, the 
standard to which they are to be referred is that of Utility alone. 
Now, it is highly probable that benefits result from these 
adjuncts of religion, because, in the present state of mankind, it 
may be expected that some persons are impressed with useful 
sentiments respecting religion through the intervention of these 
adjimcts, who might otherwise scarcely regard religion at all : 
it is probable that many are induced to attend upon public wor- 
ship by the attraction of its appendages, who would otherwise 
stay away. Simply to be present at the font or the communion 
table, may be a means of inducing many religious considerations 
into the mind. And as to those who are attracted to public 
worship by its accompaniments, they may at least be ifi the way 
of religious benefit. One goes to hear the singing, and one the 
organ, and one to see the paintings or the architecture ; a still 
larger number go because they are sure to find some occu- 
pation for their thoughts : some prayers or other offices of devo- 
tion, something to hear, to see, and do. " The transitions from 
one office of devotion to another, from confession to prayer, from 
prayer to thanksgiving, from thanksgiving to ' hearing of the 
word,' are contrived, like scenes in the drama, to supply the mind 
with a succession of diversified engagements."^ These diversified 
engagements, I say attract some who would not otherwise attend: 
and it is better that they should go from imperfect motives than 
that they should not go at all. It must, however, be confessed, 
that the groundwork of this species of utility is similar to that 
which has been urged in favour of the use of images by the Romish 
Church. "Idols," say they, "are laymen's books : and d. great 
means to stir up pious thoughts and devotion in the leamedest."^ 
Indeed, if it is once admitted that the prospect of advantage is a 
sufficient reason for introducing objects addressed to the senses 

» Mor. and Pol. Phil. b. 6, c. 5. « Milton's Prose Works, v. 4, p. 266. 





Essay 2. 

Chap. 1. 



into the public offices of worship, it is not easy to define where 
we shall stop. If we may have magnificent architecture, and 
music, and chanting and paintings ; why may we not have the 
yet more imposing pomp of the Catholic worship ? I do not 
say that this pomp is useful and right, but that the principle on 
which such things are introduced into the worship of God fur- 
nishes no satisfactory means of deciding what amount of external 
observances should be introduced, and what should not. If 
figures on canvass are lawful because they are useful, why is not 
a figure in marble or in wood. Why may we not have images by 
way of laymen's books, and of stirring up pious thoughts and 

devotion ? 

But it is to be apprehended of such things, or of '' con- 
trivances like scenes in a drama,'' that they have much less 
tendency to promote devotion than some men may suppose. No 
doubt they may possess an imposing effect, they may powerfully 
interest and affect the imagination ; but does not this partake too 
much of that factitious devotion of which we speak ? Is it certain 
that such things have much tendency to purifj^ the mind, and 
raise up within it a power that shall efficiently resist temptation ? 
Even if some benefits do result from the employment of these 
appendages of worship, they are not without their dangers and 
their evils. With respect to those which are addressed to the 
senses, whether to the eye or ear, there is obviously a danger 
that, like other sensible objects, they will withdraw the mind 
from its proper business— the cultivation of pure religious affec- 
tions towards God. And respecting the formularies of devotion, 
it has been said by a writer, whom none will suspect of over- 
stating their evils, '' The arrogant man, as if like the dervise in 
the Persian fable, he had shot his soul into the character he 
assumes, repeats, with complete self-application. Lord, I am not 
high-minded: the trifler says, / hate vain thoughts: the irre- 
ligious. Lord, how I love thy law : he who seldom prays at all, 
confidently repeats. All the day long I am occupied in thy sta- 
tutes," ^ These are not light considerations : here is insincerity 
and untruths; and insincerity and untruths, it should be re- 
membered, in the place and at the time when we profess to be 
humbled in the presence of God. The evils, too, are inseparable 
from the system. Wherever preconcerted fonnularies are in- 

» More's Moral Sketches, 3d Ed. p. 429. 

troduced, there will always be some persons who join in the use 
of them without propriety, or sincerity, or decorum. Nor are 
the evils much extenuated by the hope which has been sug- 
gested, that " the holy vehicle of their hypocrisy may be made 
that of their conversion." It is very Christian-like to indulge 
this hope, though I fear it is not very reasonable. Hypocrisy, 
is itself an offence against God ; and it can scarcely be expected 
that anything so immediately connected with the offence will 
often effect such an end. 

It is not, however, in the case of those who use these forms 
in a manner positively hypocritical, that the greatest evil and 
danger consists : '< There is a kind of mechanical memory in 
the tongue, which runs over the form without any aid of the 
understanding, without any concurrence of the will, without any 
consent of the affections ; for do we not sometimes implore God 
to hear a prayer to which we are ourselves not attending ?" i 
We have sufficient reason for knowing that to draw nigh to\jod 
with our lips whilst our hearts are far from him, is a serious 
offence in his sight ; and when it is considered how powerful is 
the tendency of oft-repeated words to lose their practical con- 
nection with feelings and ideas, it is to be feared that this class 
of evils resulting from the use of forms, is of very wide extent. 
Nor is it to be forgotten, that as even religious persons some- 
times employ " the form without any aid of the understanding," 
so others are in danger of substituting the form for the reahty, 
and of imagining that, if they are exemplary in the observance 
of the externals of devotion, the work of rehgion is done. 

Such circumstances may reasonably make us hesitate in de- 
ciding the question of the propriety of these external things, as 
a question of expediency. They may reasonably make us do 
more than this ; for does Christianity allow us to invent a system, 
of which some of the consequences are so bad, for the sake of a 
beneficial end ? 

Forms of prayer have been supposed to rest on an authority 
somewhat more definite than that of other religious forms. 
" The Lord's Prayer is a- precedent, as well as a pattern, for 
forms of prayer. Our Lord appears, if not to have prescribed, 
at least to have authorized the use of fixed forms, when he com- 
plied with the request of the disciple who said unto him. Lord, 
teach us to pray, as John also taught his disciples." 2 If we 

» More's Moral Sketches, 3d Ed. p. 327. ^ Mor. and Pol. Phil. p. 3. b. 5. c. 5. 




Essay 2. 

turn to Matt. vi. where the fullest account is given of the sub- 
ject, we are, I think, presented with a diiferent view. Our 
Saviour who had been instituting his more perfect laws in place 
of the doctrines which had been taught of old time, proceeded 
to the prevalent mode of giving alms, of fasting, and of laying 
up wealth. He first describes these modes, and then directs in 
what manner christians ought to give alms, and pray, and fast. 
Now, if it be contended that he requires us to employ that par- 
ticular form of prayer which he then dictated, it must also be 
contended that he requires us to adopt that particular mode of 
giving money which he described, and those particular actions, 
when fasting, which he mentions. If we are obliged to use the 
form of prayer, we are obliged to give money in secret ; and 
when we fast, to put oil upon mr heads. If these particular 
modes were not enjoined, neither is the form of prayer ; and 
the Scriptures contain no indication that this form was ever 
used at all, either by the apostles or their converts. But if the 
argument only asserts that fixed forms are " authorized '' by 
the language of Christ, the question becomes a question merely 
of expediency. Supposing that they are authorized, they are to 
be employed only if they are useful. Even in this view, it may 
be remarked that there is no reason to suppose, from the chris- 
tian Scriptures, that either Christ himself or his apostles ever 
used a fixed form. If he had designed to authorize, and there- 
fore to recommend, their adoption, is it not probable that some 
indications of their having been employed would be presented ? 
But instead of this we find that every prayer which is recorded 
in the volume was delivered extempore, upon the then occasion, 
and arising out of the then existing circumstances. 

Yet after all, the important question is not between precon- 
certed and extempore prayer as such, but whether any prayer 
is proper and right but that which is elicited by the influence of 
the Divine power. The enquiry into this solemn subject would 
lead us too wide from our general business. The truth, how- 
ever, that " we know not what to pray for as we ought,'' is as 
truly applicable to extempore as to formal prayer. Words 
merely do not constitute prayer, whether they be prepared be- 
forehand, or conceived at the moment they are addressed. 
There is reason to believe that he only ofl'ers perfectly acceptable 
supplications, who offers them " according to the will of God,'' 
and " of the ability which God giveth ; " and if such be indeed 

/ i 

Chap. 1. 



the truth, it is scarcely compatible either with a prescribed form 
of words, or with extempore prayer at prescribed times. Yet, 
if any christian, in the piety of his heart, believes it to be most 
conducive to his religious interests, to pray at stated times or in 
fixed forms, far be it from me to censure this the mode of his 
devotion, or to assume that his petition will not obtain access to 
the Universal Lord. 

Finally, respecting imcommanded ceremonials and rituals of 
all kinds, and respecting all the appendages of public worship 
which have been adopted as helps to devotion, there is one 
truth to which, perhaps, every good man will assent— that if 
religion possessed its sufficient and rightful influence, if devotion 
of the heart were duly maintained without these things, they 
would no longer be needed. He who enjoys the vigorous exer- 
cise of his limbs, is encumbered by the employment of a crutch. 
Whether the christian world is yet prepared for the relinquish- 
ment of these appendages and '' helps "—whether an equal 
degree of efficacious religion would be maintained without them 
—are questions which I presume not to determine : but it may, 
nevertheless, be decided, that this is the state of the christian 
church to which we should direct our hopes and endeavours— 
and that Christianity will never possess its proper influence, and 
will not effect its destined objects, until the internal dedication 
of the heart is universally attained. 

To those who may sometimes be brought into contact with 
persons who profess scepticism respecting Christianity, and espe- 
cially to those who are conscious of any tendency in their own 
minds to listen to the objections of these persons, it may be iiseful 
to observe that the grounds upon which sceptics build their dis- 
belief of Christianity, are commonly very slight. The number 
is comparatively few whose opinions are the result of any toler- 
able degree of investigation. They embrace sceptical notions 
through the means which they now take of diffusing them 
amongst others— not by arguments but jests ; not by objections 
to the historical evidence of Christianity, but by conceits and 
witticisms ; not by examining the nature of religion as it was 
delivered by its Founder, but by exposing the conduct of those 
who profess it. Perhaps the seeming paradox is true, that no 




Essay 2 

men are so credulous, that no men accept important proposi- 
tions upon such slender evidence, as the majority of those who 
reject Christianity. To believe that the religious opinions of 
almost all the civilized world are founr'ed upon imposture, is to 
believe an important proposition ; a proposition which no man, 
who properly employs his faculties, would believe without con- 
siderable weight of evidence. But what is the evidence upon 
which the " unfledged witlings who essay their wanton efforts " 
against religion, usually found their notions ? Alas ! they are 
so far from having rejected Christianity upon the examination 
of its evidences, that they do not know what Christianity is. To 
disbelieve the religion of Christianity upon grounds which shall 
be creditable to the understanding, involves no light task. A 
man must investigate and scrutinize ; he must examine the 
credibility of testimony ; he must weigh and compare evidence ; 
he must inquire into the reality of historical facts. If, after 
rationally doing all this, he disbelieves in Christianity — be it so. 
I think him, doubtless, mistaken, but I do not think him puerile 
and credulous. But he who professes scepticism without any of 
this species of inquiry, is credulous and puerile indeed; and 
such most sceptics actually are. " Concerning unbelievers and 
doubters of every class, one observation may almost universally 
be made with truth, that they are little acquainted with the 
nature of the Christian religion, and still less, with the evidence 
by which it is supported.'^ ^ In France, scepticism has extended 
itself as widely, perhaps, as in any country in the world, and its 
philosophers, forty or fifty years ago, were ranked amongst the 
most intelligent and sagacious of mankind. And upon what 
grounds did these men reject Christianity ? Dr. Priestly went 
with .Lord Shelbume to France, and he says, " I had an 
opportunity, of seeing and conversing with every person of emi- 
nence wherever we came : I found all the philosophical persons 
to whom I was introduced at Paris, unbehevers in Christianity, 
and even professed atheists. As I choose on all occasions to 
appear as a christian, I was told by some of them that I was 
the only person they had ever met with, of whose imderstanding 
they had any opinion, who professed to believe in Christianity. 
But on interrogating them on the subject, I soon found that 
they had given no jrroper attention to it, and did not really know 

• Gisbonic's Duties of Man. 

Chap, 1. 



what Christianity was. This was also the case with a great part 
of the company that I saw at Lord Shelburne's.'' » If these 
philosophical men rejected Christianity in such contemptible and 
shameful ignorance of its nature and evidences, upon what grounds 
are we to suppose the ordinary striplings of infideUty reject it ? 

How then does it happen that those who affect scepticism are 
so ambitious to make their scepticism known ? Because it is a 
short and easy road to distinction ; because it affords a cheap 
means of gratifying vanity. To " rise above vulgar prejudices 
and superstitions,'' — ''to entertain enlarged and liberal opinions,'^ 
are phrases of great attraction, especially to young men; and 
how shall they show that they rise above vulgar prejudices, how 
shall they so easily manifest the enlargement of their views, as 
by rejecting a system which all their neighbours agree to be 
true ? They feel importaut to themselves, and that they are 
objects of curiosity to others : and they are objects of curiosity, 
not on account of their own qualities, but on account of the 
greatness of that which they contemn. The peasant who reviles 
a peasant, may revile him without an auditor, but a province 
will listen to him who vilifies a king. I know not that an 
intelligent person shall be advised to reason with these puny 
assailants : their notions and their conduct are not the result of 
reasoning. What they need is the humiliation of vanity and 
the exposure of folly. A few simple interrogations would expose 
their folly ; and for the purposes of humiliation, simply pass them 
by. The sun that shines upon them, makes them look bright 
and large. Let reason and truth withdraw their rays, and these 
seeming stars will quickly set in silence and in darkness. 

More contemptible motives to the profession of infidelity can- 
not perhaps exist, but there are some which are more detestable. 
Hartley says that " the strictness and purity of the christian 
religion in respect to sexual licentiousness, is probably the chief 
thing which makes vicious men first fear and hate, and then 
vilify and oppose it.*' ^ 

Whether, therefore, we regard the motives which lead to 
scepticism, or the reasonableness of the grounds upon which it is 
commonly founded, there is siu'ely much reason for an ingenious 
young person to hold in contempt the jests, and pleasantries, and 
sophistries respecting revelation with which he may be assailed. 
' Memoirs of Dr. Priestly. ' Observations on Man. 



Disquisitions respecting the Origin of Property appear to be 
of little use ; partly because the origin can scarcely be deter- 
mined, and partly because, if it could be determined, the dis- 
covery would be little applicable to the present condition of 
human affairs. In whatever manner an estate was acquired two 
thousand years ago, it is of no consequence in enquiring who 
ought to possess it now. 

The foundation of the Right of Property is a more important 
point. Ordinarily, the foundation is the law of the land. Of 
Civil Government— which institution is sanctioned by the Divine 
Will — one of the great offices is, to regulate the distribution of 
property; to give it, if it has the power of giving ; or to decide, 
between opposing claimants, to whom it shall be assigned. 

The proposition therefore, as a general rule, is sound ;— -He 
possesses a right to property to whom the law of the land assigns it. 
This however is only a general rule. It has been sufficiently 
seen that some legal possessions are not permitted by the Moral 
Law. The occasional opposition between the moral and the 
legal right to property, is inseparable from the principle on 
which law is founded,— that of acting upon general rules. It 
is impossible to frame any rule, the application of which shall, in 
every variety of circumstances, effect the requisitions of christian 
morality. A rule which in nine cases proves equitable, may 
prove utterly unjust in the tenth. A rule which in nine cases 
promotes the welfare of the citizen, may in the tenth outrage 
reason and humanity. 

It is evident that in the present state of legal institutions, the 
evils which result from laws respecting property must be pre- 
vented, if they are prevented at all, by the exercise of virtue in 
individuals. If the law assigns a hundred pounds to me, which 


every upright man perceives ought in equity to have been 
assigned to another, that other has no means of enforcing his 
claim. Either therefore the claim of equity must be disre- 
garded, or / must voluntarily satisfy it. 

There are many cases connected with the acquisition or 
retention of property, with which the decisions of law are not 
immediately connected, but respecting which it is needful to 
exercise a careful discrimination, in order to conform to the 
requisitions of christian rectitude. The whole subject is of great 
interest, and of extensive practical application in the intercourse 
of life. The reader will therefore be presented with several 
miscellaneous examples, in which the Moral Law appears to 
require greater purity of rectitude than is requii'ed by statutes, 
or than is ordinarily practised by mankind. 

Insolvency. — Why is a man obliged to pay his debts ? It is 
to be hoped that the morality of few persons is lax enough to 
reply — Because the law compels him. But why, then, is he 
obliged to pay them? Because the Moral Law requires it. 
That this is the primary ground of the obligation is evident ; 
otherwise the payment of any debt which a vicious or corrupt 
legislature resolved to cancel, would cease to be obligatory upon 
the debtor. The Virginian statute, which we noticed in the last 
Essay, would have been a sufficient justification to the planters 
to defraud their creditors. 

A man becomes insolvent and is made a bankrupt : he pays 
his creditors ten shillings instead of twenty, and obtains his 
certificate. The law, therefore, discharges him from the obliga- 
tion to pay more. The bankrupt receives a large legacy, or he 
engages in business and acquires property. Being then able to 
pay the remainder of his debts, does the legal discharge exempt 
him from the obligation to pay them ? No : and for this reason, 
that the legal discharge is not a moral discharge ; that as the 
duty to pay at all was not founded primarily on the law, the 
law cannot warrant him in withholding a part. 

It is however said, that the creditors have relinquished their 
right to the remainder by signing the certificate. But why did 
they accept half their demands instead of the whole ? Because 
they were obliged to do it; they could get no more. As to 
granting the certificate, they do it because to withhold it would 




be only an act of gratuitous unkindness. It would be prepos- 
terous to say that creditors relinquish their claims voluntarily ; 
for no one would give up his claim to twenty shillings on the 
receipt of ten, if he could get the other ten by refusing. It 
might as reasonably be said that a man parts with a limb volun- 
tarily, because, having incurably lacerated it, he submits to an 
amputation. It is to be remembered, too, that the necessary 
relinquishment of half the demand is occasioned by the debtor 
himself : and it seems very manifest that when a man, by his 
own act, deprives another of his property, he cannot allege the 
consequences of that act as a justification of withholding it after 
restoration is in his power. 

The mode in which an insolvent man obtains a discharge, does 
not appear to affect his subsequent duties. Compositions, and 
bankruptcies, and discharges by an insolvent act are in this 
respect alike. The acceptance of a part instead of the whole is 
not voluntary in either case ; and neither case exempts the 
debtor from the obligation to pay in full if he can. 

If it should be urged that when a person intrusts property to 
another, he knowingly undertakes the risk of that other's insol- 
vency, and that, if the contingent loss happens, he has no claims 
to justice on the other, the answer is this ; that whatever may 
be thought of these claims, they are not the grounds upon which 
the debtor is obliged to pay. The debtor always engages to pay, 
and the engagement is enforced by morality : the engagement 
therefore is binding, whatever risk another man may incur by 
relying upon it. The causes which have occasioned a person's 
insolvency, although they greatly affect his character, do not 
affect his obligations : the duty to repay when he has the power, 
is the same whether the insolvency were occasioned by his fault 
or his misfortune. In all cases, the reasoning that applies to 
the debt, applies also to the interest that accrues upon it; 
although, with respect to the acceptance of both, and especially 
of interest, a creditor should exercise a considerate discretion. — 
A man who has failed of paying his debts ought always to live 
with frugality, and carefully to economize such money as he 
gains. He should reflect that he is a trustee for his creditors, 
and that all the needless money which he expends is not his, 
but theirs. 

The amount of property which the trading part of a com- 

Chap. 2. 



mercial nation loses by insolvency, is great enough to con- 
stitute a considerable national evil. The fraud, too, that is 
practised under cover of insolvency, is doubtless the most exten- 
sive of all species of private robbery. The profligacy of some of 
these cases is well known to be extreme. He who is a bankrupt 
to-day, riots in the luxuries of affluence to-morrow ; bows to the 
creditors whose money he is spending, and exults in the success 
and the impunity of his wickedness. Of such conduct we should 
not speak or think but with detestation. We should no more 
sit at the table, or take the hand, of such a man, than if we 
knew he had got his money last night on the highway. There 
is a wickedness in some bankruptcies to which the guilt of 
ordinary robbers approaches but at a distance. Happy, if such 
wickedness could not be practised with legal impunity !^ Happy, 
if Public Opinion supplied the deficiency of the law, and held 
the iniquity in rightful abhorrence I^ 

Perhaps nothing would tend so efficaciously to diminish the 
general evils of insolvency, as a sound state of public opinion 
respecting the obligation to pay our debts. The insolvent who, 
with the means of paying, retains the money in his own pocket, 
is, and he should be regarded as being, a dishonest man. If 
Public Opinion held such conduct to be of the same character 
as theft, probably a more powerful motive to avoid insolvency 
would be established than any which now exists. Who would 
not anxiously (and therefore, in almost all cases, successfully) 
struggle against insolvency, when he knew that it would be 
followed, if not by permanent poverty, by permanent disgrace ? 
If it should be said that to act upon such a system would over- 
whelm an insolvent's energies, keep him in perpetual inactivity, 
and deprive his family of the benefit of his exertions — I answer, 
that the evil, supposing it to impend, would be much less exten- 
sive than may be imagined. The calamity being foreseen, would 
prevent men from becoming insolvent; and it is certain that 
the majority might have avoided insolvency by sufficient care. 
Besides, if a man's principles are such that he would rather 
sink into inactivity than exert himself in order to be just, it is 
not necessary to mould public opinion to his character. The 
question too is, not whether some men would not prefer indo- 
lence to the calls of justice, but whether the public should judge 

■ See the 3rd Essay. 




Essay 2. 

accurately respecting what those calls are. The state, and espe- 
cially a family, might lose occasionally by this reform of opinion 
— and so they do by sending a man to New South Wales ; but 
who would think this a good reason for setting criminals at 
large? And after all, much more would be gained by pre- 
venting insolvency, than lost by the ill consequences upon the 
few who failed to pay their debts. 

It is cause of satisfaction that, respecting this rectified state 
of opinion, and respecting integrity of private virtue, some 
examples are oflFered. There is one community of christians 
which holds its members obliged to pay their debts whenever 
they possess the ability, without regard to the legal discharge.^ 
By this means, there is thrown over the character of every bank- 
rupt who possesses property, a shade which nothing but payment 
can dispel. The eflPect (in conjunction we may hope with private 
integrity of principle) is good — good, both in instituting a new 
motive to avoid insolvency, and in inducing some of those who 
do become insolvent, subsequently to pay all their debts. 

Of this latter effect many honourable instances might be 
given: two of which have fallen under my observation, I would 
briefly mention. A man had become insolvent, I believe in early 
life ; his creditors divided his property amongst them, and gave 
him a legal discharge. — He appears to have formed the resolu- 
tion to pay the remainder, if his own exertions should enable 
him to do it. He procured employment, by which however, he 
never gained more than twenty shillings a week ; and worked 
industriously and lived frugally for eighteen years. At the 
expiration of this time, he found he had accumulated enough to 
pay the remainder, and he sent the money to his creditors. Such 
a man, I think, might hope to derive, during the remainder of 

' *' Where any have injxired others in their property, the greatest frugality 
should be observed by themselves and their families ; and although they may 
have a legal discharge from their creditors, both equity and our christian pro- 
fession demand, that none, when they have it in their power, should rest 
satisfied until a just restitution be made to those who have suffered by them." 

** And it is the judgment of this meeting, that monthly and other meetings 
ought not to receive collections or bequests for the use of the poor, or any other 
services of the Society, of persons whahave fallen short in the payment of their 
just debts, though legally discharged by their creditors : for until such persons 
have paid the deficiency, their possessions cannot in equity be considered as 
their own." 

Official Documents of the Yearly Meeting of the Society of Friends. 

Chap, 2. 



his life, greater satisfaction from the consciousness of integrity, 
than he would have derived from expending the money on him- 
self. It should be told that many of his creditors, when they 
heard the circumstances, declined to receive the money, or 
voluntarily presented it to him again. One of these was my 
neighbour : he had been little accustomed to exemplary virtue, 
and the proffered money astonished him: he talked in loud 
commendation of what to him was unheard-of integrity ; signed 
a receipt for the amount, and sent it back as a present to the 
debtor. The other instance may furnish hints of a useful kind. 
It was the case of a female who had endeavoured to support 
herself by the profits of a shop. She however became insolvent, 
paid some dividend, and received a discharge. She again entered 
into business, and in the course of years had accumulated enough 
to pay the remainder of her debts. But the infirmities of age 
were now coming on, and the annual income from her savings 
was just sufficient for the wants of declining years. Being thus 
at present unable to discharge her obligations without subjecting 
herself to the necessity of obtaining relief from others ; she exe- 
cuted a will, directing that at her death the creditors should be 
paid the remainder of their demands : and when she died they 
were paid accordingly. 

Wills, Legatees, and Heirs. — The right of a person to order 
the distribution of his property after death is recommended by 
its utility ; and were this less manifest than it is, it would be 
sufficient for us that the right is established by civil government. 

It however happens in practice, that persons sometimes distri- 
bute their property in a manner that is both unreasonable and 
unjust. This evil the law cannot easily remedy; and consequently 
the duty of remedying it, devolves upon those to whom the 
property is bequeathed. If they do not prevent the injustice, it 
cannot be prevented. This indicates the propriety, on the part of 
a legatee or an heir, of considering, when property devolves to 
him in a manner or in a proportion that appears improper, how 
he may exercise upright integrity, lest he should be the practical 
agent of injustice or oppression. Another cause for the exercise 
of this integrity consists in this circumstance : — When the right 
of a person to bequeath his property is admitted, it is evident 
that his intention ought in general to be the standard of his suc- 
cessor's conduct : and accordingly the law, in making enactments 



Essay 3. 

upon the subject, directs much of its solicitude to the means of 
ascertaining and of fulfilling the testator's intentions. These 
intentions must, according to the existing systems of Jurispru- 
dence, be ascertained by some general rules — by a written decla- 
ration perhaps, or a declaration of a specified kind, or made in 
a prescribed form, or attested in a particular manner. But in 
consequence of tliis it happens, that as through accident or inad- 
vertency a testator does not always comply with these forms, 
the law, which adheres to its rules, frustrates his intentions, 
and therefore, in eiFect, defeats its own object in prescribing the 
forms. Here again the intentions of the deceased and the 
demands of equity cannot be fulfilled, except by the virtuous 
integrity of heirs and legatees. 

I. If my father, who had one son besides myself, left nine- 
tenths of his property to me, and only the remaining tenth to 
my brother, I should not think the will, however authentic, 
justified me in taking so large a proportion, unless I could 
discover some reasonable motive which influenced my father's 
mind. If my brother already possessed a fortune and I had 
none ; if I were married and had a nimierous family, and he 
were single and unlikely to marry : if he was incurably extrava- 
gant, and would probably in a few weeks or months squander 
his patrimony; in these or in such circumstances, I should 
think myself at liberty to appropriate my father's bequest; 
otherwise I should not. Thus, if the disproportionate division 
was the effect of some unreasonable prejudice against my 
brother, or fondness for me ; or if it was made at the unfair 
instigation of another person, or in a temporary fit of passion 
or disgust ; I could not, virtuously, enforce the will. The reason 
is plain. The will being unjust or extremely unreasonable, I 
should be guilty of injustice or extreme unreasonableness in 
enforcing it. 

By the English law, the real estates of deceased persons are 
not available for the payment of debts of simple contract, unless 
they are made so by the will. The rule is, to be sure, suffi- 
ciently barbarous ; and he who intentionally forbears to make 
the estates available, dies, as has been properly observed, with a 
deliberate fraud in his heart. But this fraud cannot be com- 
pleted without the concurrence of a second person, the heir. 
He therefore is under a moral obligation to pay such debts out 

Chap. 2. 



of the real estate, notwithstanding the deficiency of the will : 
for if the father was fraudulent in making such a will, the son 
is fraudulent in taking advantage of his parent's wickedness. He 
may act with strict legality in keeping the property, but he is 
condemned as dishonest by the Moral Law. 

II. A person bequeathes five hundred pounds to some charity 
— for example, to the Foundling— and directs that the money 
shall be laid out in land. His intention is indisputably plain : 
but the law, with certain motives, says, that the direction to lay 
out the money in land makes the bequest void ; and it will not 
enforce the bequest. But, because the testator forgot this, can 
the residuary legatee honestly put the five himdred pounds into 
his own pocket ? Assuredly he cannot. The money is as truly 
the property of the Foundling as if the will had been accurately 
framed. The circumstance that the law will not compel him to 
give it up, although it may exempt him from an action, cannot 
exempt him from guilt. 

The law, either with reason or without it, prefers that an 
estate should descend to a brother's son rather than a sister's. 
Still it permits a man to leave it to his sister's son if he pleases ; 
and only requires that, when he wishes to do this, he shall have 
three witnesses to his will instead of two. The reader will 
remark that the object of tliis legal provision is, that the intention 
of the party shall be indisputably known. The legislature does 
not wish to control him in the disposition of his property, but 
only to ascertain distinctly what his intention is. A will then is 
made, leaving an estate to a sister's son, and is attested by two 
witnesses only. The omission of the third is a matter of mere 
inadvertence : no doubt exists as to the person's intention or its 
reasonableness. Is it then consistent with integrity for the 
brother's son to take advantage of the omission, and to withhold 
the estate from his cousin ? I think the conscience of every 
man will answer no : and if this be the fact, we need enquire no 
further. Upon such a subject, the concurrent dictates in the 
minds of men can scarcely be otherwise than true and just. 
But even critically, the same conclusion appears to follow. The 
law required three witnesses in order that the person's intention 
should be known. Now it is known : and therefore the very 
object of the law is attained. To take advantage of the omis- 
sion, is, in reality, to misapply the law. It is insisting upon its 




letter in opposition to its motives and design. Dr. Paley has 
decided this question otherwise, by a process of reasoning of 
which the basis does not appear very sound. He says that such 
a person has no " right" to dispose of the property, because the 
law conferred the right upon condition that he should have three 
witnesses, with which condition he has not complied. But 
surely the " right" of disposing property is recognized generally 
by the law : the requisition of three witnesses is not designed to 
confer a right, but to adjust the mode of exercising it. Indeed, 
Paley himself virtually gives up his own doctrine ; for he says 
he should hesitate in applying it, if " considerations of pity to 
distress, or duty to a parent, or of gratitude to a benefactor,"^ 
would be disregarded by the application. Why should these con- 
siderations suspend the applicability of his doctrine? Because 
Christianity requires us to attend to them — which is the very 
truth we are urging : — we say, the permission of the law is not a 
sufficient warrant to disregard the obligations of Christianity. 

A man who possesses five thousand pounds, has two sons, of 
whom John is well provided for, and Thomas is not. With the 
privity of his sons he makes a will, leaving four thousand pounds 
to Thomas and one to John, explaining to both the reason of 
this division. A fire happens in the house and the will is burnt ; 
and the father, before he has the opportunity of making another, 
is carried off by a fever. Now the English law would assign a 
half of the money to each brother. If John demands his half, 
is he a just man ? Every one I think will perceive that he is 
not, and that, if he demanded it, he would violate the duties of 
benevolence. The law is not his sufficient rule. 

A person whose near relations do not stand in need of his 
money, adopts the children of distant relatives, with the declared 
intention or manifest design of providing for them at his death. 
If, under such circumstances, he dies without a will, the heir at 
law could not morally avail himself of his legal privilege, to the 
injury of these expectant parties. They need the money, and 
he does not ; which is one good reason for not seizing it ; but 
the intention of the deceased invested them with a right ; and 
so that the intention is known, it matters little to the moral 
obligation, whether it is expressed on paper or not. 

Possibly somcTcader may say, that if an heir or legatee must 

1 Mor. and Pol. Phil. b. 3, p. 1, c. 23. 

Chap. 2. 



always institute enquiries into the uncertain claims of others be- 
fore he accepts the property of the deceased, and if he is obliged 
to give up his own claims whenever their' s seem to preponderate, 
he will be involved in endless doubts and scruples, and testators 
will never know whether their wills will be executed or not : the 
answer is, that no such scrupulousness is demanded. Hard- 
heartedness, and extreme unreasonableness, and injustice, are one 
class of considerations : critical scruples, and uncertain claims, 
are another. 

It may be worth a paragraph to remark, that it is to be feared 
some persons think too complacently of their charitable bequests, 
or, what is worse, hope that it is a species of good works which 
will counterbalance the offence of some present irregularities of 
conduct. Such bequests ought not to be discouraged ; and yet 
it should be remembered, that he who gives money after his 
death, parts with notliing of his own. He gives it only when 
he cannot retain it. The man who leaves his money for the 
single purpose of doing good, does right : but he who hopes 
that it is a work of merit, should remember that the money is 
given, that the privation is endured, not by himself but by his 
heirs. A man who has more than he needs, should dispense it 
whilst it is his own. 

Minors' Debts. — A 3^oung man under twenty-one years of 
age purchases articles of a tradesman, of which some are neces- 
sary and some are not. Payment for unnecessary articles can- 
not be enforced by the English law — the reason with the Legis- 
lature being this, that thoughtless youths might be practised 
upon by designing persons, and induced to make needless and 
extravagant purchases. But is the youth who purchases unne- 
cessary articles with the promise to pay when he becomes of age, 
exempted from the obligation ? Now it is to be remembered 
generally, that this obligation is not founded upon the Law of 
the Land, and therefore that the law cannot dispense with it. 
But if the tradesman has actually taken advantage of the inex- 
perience of a youth, to cajole him into debts of which he was 
not conscious of the amount or the impropriety ; it does not 
appear that he is obliged to pay them ; and for this reason, that 
he did not, in any proper sense of the term, come under an obli- 
gation to pay them. In other cases, the obligation remains. 
The circumstance that the law will not assist the creditor to 


• <- 



recover the money, does not dispense with it. It is fit, no 
doubt, that these dishonourable tradesmen should be punished, 
though the mode of punishing them is exceptionable indeed. It 
operates as a powerful temptation to fraud in young men, and 
it is a bad system to discourage dishonesty in one person by 
tempting the probity of another. The youth, too, is of all per- 
sons the last who should profit by the punishment of the trader. 
He is reprehensible himself: young men who contract such 
debts are seldom so young or so ignorant as not to know that 
they are doing wrong. 

A man's wife " runs him into debt'' by extravagant purchases 
which he is alike unable to prevent or to aflbrd. Many persons 
sell goods to such a woman, who are conscious of her habits and 
of the husband's situation, yet continue to supply her extrava- 
gance, because they know the law will enable them to enforce 
payment from the husband. These persons act legally, but they 
are legally wicked. Do they act as they would desii*e others to 
act towards them ? would one of these men wish another trades- 
man so to supply his own wife if she was notoriously a spend- 
thrift ? If not, morahty, condemns his conduct : and the laws, 
in efifect, condemn it too ; for the Legislature would not have 
made husbands responsible for their wives* debts any more than 
for their children's, but for the presumption that the wife gene- 
rally buys what the husband approves. Debts of unprincipled 
extravagance, are not debts which the law intended to provide 
that the husband should pay. If all women contracted such 
debts, the Legislature would instantly alter the law. If the 
Legislature could have made the distinction, perhaps it would 
have made it ; since it did not or could not, the deficiency must 
be supphedby private integrity. 

Bills of Exchange. — The law of England provides, that if 
the possessor of a Bill of Exchange fails to demand payment on 
the day on which it becomes due, he takes the responsibility, in 
case of its eventual non-payment, from the previous endorsers^ 
and incurs it himself. This as a general rule may be just. A 
party may be able to pay to-day and unable a week hence : and 
if in such a case a loss arises by one man's negligence, it were 
manifestly unreasonable that it should be sustained by others. 
But if the acceptor becomes unable to pay a week or a month 

Chap. 2. 



before the bill is due, the previous endorsers cannot in justice 
throw the loss upon the last possessor, even though he fails to 
present it on the appointed day. For why did the law make its 
provision ? In order to secure persons from the loss of their 
property by the negligence of others over whom they had no 
control. But, in the supposed case, the loss is not occasioned 
by any such cause, and therefore the spirit of the law does not 
apply to it. You are insisting upon its literal, in opposition to 
its just, interpretation. Whether the bill was presented on the 
right day or the wrong, makes no dificrence to the previous 
endorsers, and for' such a case the law was not made. 

A similar rule of virtue applies to the case of giving notice of 
refusal to accept or to pay. K, in consequence of the want of 
this notice, the party is subjected to loss, he may avail himself 
of the legal exemption from the last possessor's claim. If the 
want of notice made no diflference in his situation, he may not. 

Shipments. — The same principles apply to a circumstance 
which not unfrequently occurs amongst men of business, and in 
which integrity is, I think, \erj commonly sacrificed to interest. 
A tradesman in Falmouth is in the habit of purchasing goods of 
merchants in London, by whom the goods are forwarded in vessels 
to Falmouth. Now it is a rule of law founded upon established 
custom, that goods when shipped are at the risk of the buyer. The 
law, however, requires that an account of the shipment shall be 
sent to the buyer by post, in order that if he thinks proper, he 
may insure his goods: and in order to effect this object, the law 
directs, that if the account be not sent, and the vessel is wrecked, 
it will not enforce payment from the buyer. All this as a 
general rule is just. But in the actual transactions of business, 
goods are very frequently sent by sea by an expressed or tacit 
agreement between the parties without notice by the post. The 
Falmouth tradesman then is in the habit of thus conducting the 
matter for a series of years. He habitually orders his goods to 
be sent by ship, and the merchant, as habitually, with the buyer's 
knowledge, sends the invoice with them. Of course the buyer 
is not in the habit of insuring. At length a vessel is wrecked 
and a package is lost. When the merchant applies for payment, 
the tradesman says — " No ; you sent no invoice by post ; I shall 
not pay you, and I know you cannot compel me by law." Now 
this conduct I think is condemned by morality. The man in 





Essay 2. 

Falmoutli does not suffer any loss in consequence of the want of 
notice. He would not have insured if he had received it ; and 
therefore the intention of the legislature in withholding its 
assistance from the merchant, was not to provide for such a 
case. Thus to take advantage of the law without regard to its 
intention is unjust. Besides, the custom of sending the invoice 
with the goods rather than by post, is for the advantage of the 
buyer only : — it saves him a shilling in postage. The under- 
standing amongst men of business that the risk of loss at sea 
impends on buyers is so complete, that they habitually take that 
risk into account in the profits which they demand on their goods : 
sellers do not ; and this again indicates the injustice of throw- 
ing the loss upon the seller when an accident happens at sea. — 
Yet tradesmen, I beheve, rarely practice any other justice than 
that which the law will enforce ; as if not to be compelled by law 
were to be exempt from all moral obligation. It is hardly neces- 
sary to observe, that if the man in Falmouth was actually pre- 
vented from insuring by the want of an invoice by post, he has a 
claim of justice as well as of law upon the merchant in London. 

Distraints. — It is well known that in distraints for rent, the 
law allows the landlord to seize whatever goods he finds upon 
the premises, without enquiring to whom they belong. And 
this rule, like many others, is as good as a general rule can be ; 
since an imprincipled tenant might easily contrive to make it 
appear that none of the property was his own, and thus the 
landlord might be irremediably defrauded. Yet the landlord 
cannot always virtuously act upon the rule of law. A tenant who 
expects a distraint to-morrow, and of whose profligacy a lodger in 
the house has no suspicion, secretly removes his own goods in 
the night, and leaves the lodger's to be seized by the bailiff. 
The landlord ought not, as a matter of course, to take these goods, 
and to leave a family perhaps without a table or a bed. The 
law indeed allows it ; but benevolence, but probity, does not. 

A man came to a friend of mine and proposed to take a 
number of his sheep to graze. My friend agreed with him, and 
sent the sheep. The next day these sheep were seized by the 
man's landlord for rent. It was an artifice, preconcerted between 
the landlord and the tenant in order that the rent might be 
paid out of my friend's pocket ! Did this landlord act justly ? 
The reader says "No, he deserved a prison." And yet the 


w ^ 



Chap. 2. 



seizure was permitted by the law ; and if morality did not 
possess an authority superior to law, the seizure would have been 
just. Now, in less flagitious instances, the same regard to the 
dictates of morality is to be maintained notwithstanding the 
permissions of law.— The contrivers of this abandoned iniquity 
possessed the effrontery to come afterwards to the gentleman 
whom they had defrauded, to offer to compound the matter ; to 
send back the sheep which were of the value perhaps of fifty 
pounds, if he would give them thirty pounds in money. He 
refused to countenance such wickedness by the remotest impli- 
cation, and sent them away to enjoy all their plunder. 

Theoretically, perhaps no seizures are unjust when no fraud 
is practised by the landlord, because persons who entrust their 
property on the premises of another, are supposed to know the 
risk, and voluntarily to undertake it. But, in practice, this risk 
is often not thought of and not known. Besides, mere justice 
is not the only thing which a landlord has to take into account. 
The authority which requires us to be just, requires us to be 
compassionate and kind. And here, as in many other cases, 
it may be remarked, that the object of the law in allowing land- 
lords to seize whatever they find, was to protect them from fraud, 
and not to facilitate the oppression of imder-tenants and others. 
If the first tenant has practised no fraud, it seems a violation of 
the intention of the law, to enforce it against those who happen 
to have entrusted their property in his hands. 

Unjust Defendants.— It does not present a very favourable 
view of the state of private principle, that there are so many who 
refuse justice to plaintiffs unless they are compelled to be just 
by the law. It is indisputable, that a multitude of suits are 
undertaken in order to obtain property or rights which the 
defendant knows he ought voluntarily to give up. Such a person 
is certainly a dishonest man. When the verdict is given against 
him, I regard him in the light of a convicted robber,— differing 
from other robbers in the circumstance that he is tried at Nisi 
prius instead of the Crown bar. For what is the difference 
between him who takes what is another's and him who withholds 
it ? This severity of censure applies to some who are sued for 
damages. A man who, whether by design or inadvertency, has 
injured another, and will not compensate him unless he is legally 
compelled to do it, is surely unjust. Yet many of these persons 

K 2 



Essay 2. 

seem to think that injury to property, or person, or character, 
entails no duty to make reparation except it be enforced. Why, 
the law does not create this duty, it only compels us to fulfil it. 
If the minds of such persons were under the influence of integ- 
rity, they would pay such debts without compulsion. This sub- 
ject is one amongst the many upon which Public Opinion needs 
to be aroused and to be rectified. When our estimates of moral 
character are adjusted to individual probity of principle, some of 
those who now pass in society as creditable persons, will be 
placed at the same point on the scale of morality, as many of 
those who are consigned to a jail. 

Extortion. — It is a very common thing for a creditor who 
cannot obtain payment from the person who owes him money, 
to practise a species of extortion upon his relations or friends. 
The man perhaps is insolvent and unable to pay, and the creditor 
threatens to imprison him in order to induce his friends to pay 
the money rather than allow him to be immured in a jail. This 
is not honest. Why should a person be deprived of his pro- 
perty because he has a regard for the reputation and comfort of 
another man? It will be said that the debtor's friends pay 
voluntarily ; but it is only with that sort of willingness with 
which a traveller gives his purse to a footpad, rather than be 
violently assaulted or perhaps kiUed. Both the footpad and the 
creditor are extortioners — one obtains money by threatening 
mischief to the person, and the other by threatening pain to the 
mind. We do not say that their actions are equal in flagitious- 
ness, but we say that both are criminal. — It is said that after 
the death of Sheridan, and when a number of men of rank were 
assembled to attend his funeral, a person elegantly di-essed and 
stating himself to be a relation of the deceased, entered the 
chamber of death. He urgently entreated to be allowed to view 
the face of his departed friend, and the coffin lid was imscrewed. 
The stranger pulled a warrant out of his pocket and arrested the 
body. It was probably a concerted scheme to obtain a sum (which 
it is supposed was five hundred pounds) that had been owing by 
the deceased. The creditor doubtless expected that a number of 
men of fortune would be present, who would prefer losing five- 
hundred pounds to suflPering the remains of their friend to be con- 
signed to the police. The extortioner was successful : it is said 
that Lord Sidmouth and another gentleman paid the money. Was 



Chap, 2. 



this creditor an honest man ? If courts of equity had existed 
adapted to such cases, and the man were prosecuted, the con- 
sciences of a jury would surely have impelled them to send him 
to Newgate. 

Slaves.-— If a person left me an estate in Virginia or the West 
Indies, with a hundred slaves, the law of the land allows me to 
keep possession of both ; the Moral Law does not. I should 
therefore hold myself imperatively obliged to give these persons 
their liberty. I do not say that I would manumit them all the 
next day ; but if I deferred their liberation, it ought to be for 
their sakes, not my own : just as if I had a thousand pounds for 
a minor, my motive in withholding it from him would be ex- 
clusively his own advantage. Some persons who perceive the 
flagitiousness of slavery, retain slaves. Much forbearance of 
thought and language should be observed towards the man, in 
whose mind perhaps there is a strong conflict between conscience 
and the difficulty or loss which might attend a regard to its dic- 
tates. I have met with a feeling and benevolent person who 
owned several hundred slaves, and who, I believe, secretly 
lamented his own situation. I would be slow in censuring such 
a man, and yet it ought not to be concealed, that if he complied 
with the requisitions of the Moral Law, he would at least hasten 
to prepare them for emancipation. To endeavour to extricate 
oneself from the difficulty by selling the slaves, were self-impo- 
sition. A man may as well keep them in bondage himself as 
sell them to another who would keep them in it. A narrative 
has appeared in print of the conduct of a gentleman to whom a 
number of slaves had been bequeathed, and who acted towards 
them upon the principles which rectitude requires. He conveyed 
them to some other country, educated some, procured employ- 
ment for others, and acted as a christian towards all. 

Upon similar grounds, an upright man should not accept a 
present of a hundred pounds from a person who had not paid 
his iebts, nor become his legatee. If the money were not right- 
fully his, he cannot give it ; if it be rightfully his creditors, it 
cannot be mine. 

Privateers. — Although familiarity with war occasions many 
obliquities in the moral notions of a people, yet the silent verdict 
of public opinion is, I think, agaimt the rectitude of privateering. 
It is not regarded as creditable and virtuous ; and this public 





Essay 2. 

disapprobation appears to be on the increase. Considerable 
exertion at least has been made^ on the part of the American, 
government, to abolish it.— To this private plunderer himself I 
do not talk of the obligations of morality ; he has many lessons 
of virtue to learn before he will be likely to listen to such virtue 
as it is the object of these pages to recommend : but to him who 
perceives the flagitiousness of the practice, I would urge the con- 
sideration that he ought not to receive the plunder of a privateer 
even at second hand. If a man ought not to be the legatee of a 
bankrupt, he ought not to be the legatee of him who gained his 
money by privateering. Yet it is to be feared that many who 
would not fit out a privateer, would accept the money which the 
owners had stolen. If it be stolen, it is not their's to give ; and 
what one has no right to give, another has no right to accept. 

During one of our wars with France, a gentleman who enter- 
tained such views of integrity as these was partner in a merchant 
vessel, and, in spite of his representations, the other owners 
resolved to fit her out as a privateer. They did so, and she 
happened to capture several vessels. This gentleman received 
from time to time his share of the prizes, and laid it by ; till at 
the conclusion of the war, it amounted to a considerable sum. 
What was to be done with the money? He felt that, as an 
upright man, he could not retain the money; and he accordingly 
went to France, advertised for the owners of the captured vessels, 
and returned to them the amount. Such conduct, instead of 
being a matter for good men to admire, and for men of loose 
morality to regard as needless scrupulosity, ought, when such 
circumstances arise, to be an ordinary occurrence. I do not 
relate the fact because I think it entitles the party to any extra- 
ordinary praise. He was honest; and honesty was his duty. 
The praise, if praise be due, consists in this— that he was upright 
where most men would have been unjust. Similar integrity upon 
parallel subjects may often be exhibited a^ain—wpon privateering 
it cannot often be repeated ; for when the virtue of the pubMc is 
great enough to make such integrity frequent, it will be great 
enough to frown privateering from the world. 

At the time of war with the Dutch, about forty years ago, an 
English merchant vessel captured a Dutch Indiaman. It hap- 
pened that one of the owners of the merchantman was one of 
the Society of Friends or Quakers. This society, as it objects 

Chap. 2. 




to war, does not permit its members to share in such a manner 
in the profits of war. However, this person, when he heard of 
the capture, insured his share of the prize. The vessel could 
not be brought into port, and he received of the underwriters 
eighteen hundred pounds. To have retained this money would 
have been equivalent to quitting the Society, so he gave it to his 
friends to dispose of it as justice might appear to prescribe. The 
state of public affairs on the Continent did not allow the trustees 
immediately to take any active measures to discover the owners 
of the captured vessel. The money, therefore, was allowed to 
accumulate. At the termination of the war with France, the 
circumstances of the case were repeatedly published in the Dutch 
journals, and the full amount of every claim that has been clearly 
made out has been paid by the trustees. 

Confiscations. — I do not know whether the history of con- 
fiscations affords any examples of persons who refused to accept 
the confiscated property. Yet, when it is considered under what 
circumstances these seizures are frequently made — of revolution 
and civil war, and the like, when the vindictive passions over- 
power the claims of justice and humanity, it cannot be doubted 
that the acceptance of confiscated property has sometimes been 
an act irreconcilable with integrity. Look, for example, at the 
confiscations of the French Revolution. The Government which 
at the moment held the reins, doubtless sanctioned the appro- 
priation of the property which they seized ; and in so far the 
acceptance was legal. But that surely is not sufficient. Let an 
upright man suppose himself to be the neighbour of another who, 
with his family, enjoys the comforts of a paternal estate. In the 
distractions of political turbulence this neighbour is carried off 
and banished, and the estate is seized by order of the government. 
Would such a man accept this estate when the government offered 
it, without enquiry and consideration ? Would he sit down in 
the warm comforts of plenty, whilst his neighbour was wandering, 
destitute perhaps, in another land, and whilst his family were in 
sorrow and in want. Would he not consider whether the confis- 
cation was consistent with justice and rectitude — and whether, 
if it were right with respect to the man, it was right with respect 
to his children and his wife, who perhaps did not participate in 
his offences? It may serve to give clearness to our perception 
to consider, that if Louis XVII. had been restored to the throne 


I :l- 







Essay 2. 

soon after his father's death, it is probable that many of the 
emigrants would have been reinstated in their possessions. 
Louis's restoration might have been the result of some intrigue, 
or of a battle. Do, then, the obligations of mankind as to en- 
joying the property of another, depend on such circumstances as 
battles and intrigues? If the returning emigrant would have 
Hghtfully repossessed his estate if the battle was successful, can 
the present occupier rightfully possess it if the battle is not suc- 
cessful ? Is the result of a political manoeuvre a proper rule to 
guide a man's conscience in retaining or giving up the houses and 
lands of his neighbours ? Politicians and those who profit by 
confiscations, may be little influenced by considerations like these; 
but there are other men, who, I think, will perceive that they are 
important, and who, though confiscated property may never be 
offered to them, will be able to apply the principles which these 
considerations illustrate, to their own conduct in other affairs. 

It is worthy of observation that in our own coimtry, " of all 
the persons who were emiched by the spoils of the religious 
houses, there was not one who suffered for his opinions during 
the persecution." ^ How can this be accounted for, except upon 
the presumption that those who were so willing to accept these 
spoils, were not remarkable for their fidelity to religion ? 

Public Money. — Some writers on pohtical aft'airs declaim 
much against sinecures and " places ; " not always remembering 
that these things may be only modes of paying, and of justly 
paying, the servants of the public. It would, no doubt, be pre- 
ferable that he who is rewarded for serving the public should be 
rewarded avowedly as such, and not by the salary of a nominal 
office, which is always filled whether the receiver deserves the 
money or not. Such a mode of remuneration would be more 
reasonable in itself, and more satisfactory to the people. How- 
ever, if public men deserve the money they receive, the name by 
which the salary is designated is not of much concern. The 
great point is the desert. That this ought to be a great point 
with a government there can be no doubt ; and it is indeed 
upon governments that writers are wont to urge the obligation. 

But our business is with the receivers. May a person, 
morally, appropriate to his own use any amount of money which 
a government chooses to give him ? No. Then, when the public 

' Southey's Book of the Church : vol. 2. 


Chap. 2. 



money is offered to any man, he is bound in conscience to con- 
sider whether he is in equity entitled to it or not. If, not being 
entitled, he accepts it, he is not an upright man. For who 
gives it to him ? The government : that is, the trustee for the 
public. A government is in a situation not dissimilar to that of 
a trustee for a minor. It has no right to dispose of the public 
property according to its own will. Whatever it expends, ex- 
cept with a view to the public advantage, is to be regarded as so 
much fraud ; and it is quite manifest that if the government 
has no right to give, the private person can have no right to 
receive. I know of no exception to the apphcation of these 
remarks, except where the pubHc have expressly delivered up a 
certain amount of revenue to be appHed according to the incli- 
nation of the governing power. 

Now, the equity of an individual's claims upon the public 
property must be founded upon his services to the public : not 
upon his services to a minister, not upon the partiality of a 
prince ; but upon semces actually performed or performing for 
the public. ^ The degree in which familiarity with an ill custom 
diminishes our estimate of its viciousness is wonderful. If you 
propose to a man to come to some understanding with a guar- 
dian, by which he shall get a hundred pounds out of a ward's 
estate, he starts from you with abhorrence. Yet that same 
man, if a minister should offer him ten times as much of the 
public property, puts it complacently and thankfully into his 
pocket. Is this consistency ? Is it uprightness ? 

In estimating the recompence to wliich public men are en- 
titled, let the principles by all means be liberal. Let them be 
well paid : but let the money be paid, not given ; let it be the 
discharge of a debt, not the making of a present. And were I 
a servant of the public, I should not assume, as of course, that 
whatever remuneration the government was disposed to give, it 
would be right for me to receive. I should think myself obliged 
to consider for myself: and without affecting a trifling scrupu- 
lousness, I could not Avith integrity receive two thousand a year, 
if I knew that I was handsomely remunerated by one. These 
principles of conduct do not appear to lose their application in 
respect of fixed salaries or perquisites that are attached to offices. 

' It is not necessary that these services should have been personal. The 
widow or son of a man who had been inadequately remunerated during his life, 
may very properly accept a competent pension from the State. 







Essay 2. 


If a man cannot uprightly take two thousand pounds when he 
knows he is entitled to but one, it cannot be made right by the 
circumstance that others have taken it before him, or that all 
take it who accept office. The income may be exorbitantly dis- 
proportioned, not merely to the labour of the office, but to the 
total services of the individual. Nor, I think, do these princi- 
ples lose their application, even when, as in this country, a sum 
is voted by the Legislature for the Civil List, and when it is out 
of this voted sum that the salaries are paid. You say— the re- 
presentatives of the people gave the individual the money. 
Very well— yet even this may be true in theory rather than in 
fact. But who pretends that, when the votes for the Civil List 
are made in the House of Commons, its members actuaQy 
consider whether the individuals to whom the money will be dis- 
tributed are in equity entitled to it or not ?— The question is 
very simple at last— whether a person may virtuously accept the 
money of the public, without having rendered proportionate 
services to the public ? There have been examples of persons 
who have voluntarily declined to receive the whole of the sums 
allotted to them by the government ; and when these sums were 
manifestly disproportionate to the claims of the parties, or un- 
reasonable when compared with the privations of the people, 
such sacrifices approve themselves to the feelings and consciences 
of the pubhc. We feel that they are just and right , and this 
feeling outweighs in authority a hundred arguments by which 
men may attempt to defend themselves in the contrary practice. 
Those large salaries which are given by way of " supporting 
the dignity of public functionaries,'' are not, I think, reconcil- 
able with propriety nor dictated by necessity. At any rate, there 
must be some sorrowful want of purity in political affairs, if 
an ambassador or a prime minister is indebted for any part of 
his efficiency to these dignities and splendours. If the neces- 
sity for them is not imagmary, it ought to be ; and it may be 
doubted whether, even now, a minister of integrity who could 
not afford the customary splendours of his office, would not 
possess as much weight in his own country and amongst other 
nations, as if he were surrounded with magnificence. Who feels 
disrespect towards the great officers of the American government ? 
And yet their salaries are incomparably smaller than those of 
some of the inferior ministers in Europe. 

Insurance.— It is very possible for a man to act dishonestly 

Chap, 2. 



every day, and yet never to defraud another of a shilling. A 
merchant who conducts liis business partly or wholly with 
borrowed capital, is not honest if he endangers the loss of an 
amount of property which, if lost, would disable him from paying 
his debts. He who possesses a thousand pounds of his own and 
borrows a thousand of some one else, cannot virtuously speculate 
so extensively as that, if his prospects should be disappointed, 
he would lose twelve hundred. The speculation is dishonest 
whether it succeeds or not : it is risking other men's property 
without their consent. Under similar circumstances it is unjust 
not to insure. Perhaps the majority of uninsured traders, if 
their houses and goods were burnt, would be unable to pay their 
creditors. The injustice consists not in the actual loss which 
may be inflicted, (for whether a fire happens or not, the injustice 
is the same,) but in endangering the infliction of the loss. There 
are but two ways in which, under such circumstances, the claims 
of rectitude can be satisfied — one is by not endangering the pro- 
perty, and the other by telling its actual owner that it will be 
endangered, and leaving him to incur the risk or not as he pleases. 
" Those who hold the property of others are not warranted, 
on the principles of justice, in neglecting to inform themselves 
from time to time, of the real situation of theii- aft'airs.'' ^ This 
enforces the doctrines which we have dehvered. It asserts that 
injustice attaches to not investigating ; and this injustice is often 
real whether creditors are injured or not. 

During the seventeenth century, when rehgious persecution 
was very active, some beautiful examples of integrity were 
offered by its victims. It was common for officers to seize the 
property of conscientious and good men, and sometimes to 
plimder them with such relentless barbarity as scarcely to leave 
them the conmion utensils of a kitchen. These persons some- 
times had the property of others on their premises ; and when 
they heard that the officers were likely to make a seizure, indus- 
triously removed from their premises all property but their own. 
At one period, a number of traders in the country who had 
made purchases in the London markets, found that their plun- 
derers were likely to disable them from paying for their pur- 
chases, and they requested the merchants to take back, and the 
merchants did take back, their goods. 

* Official Documents of the Yearly Meeting of the Society of Friends : 1826. 



Essay 2. 

In passing, I would remark, that the readers of mere general 
history only, are very imperfectly acquainted with the extent to 
which persecution on account of religion has been practised in 
these kingdoms, ages since protestantism became the religion of 
the state. A competent acquaintance with this species of history, 
is of incomparably greater value than much of the matter with 
which historians are wont to fill their pages. 

Improvements on Estates. — There are some circumstances 
in which the occupier of lands or houses, who has increased their 
value by erections or other improvements, cannot in justice be 
compelled to pay for the increased value if he purchases the 
property. A man purchases the lease of an estate, and has reason 
to expect from the youth and health of the " lives" that he may 
retain possession of it for thirty or forty years. In consequence 
of this expectation, he makes many additions to the buildings ; 
and by other modes of improvement considerably increases the 
value of the estate. It however happens that in the course of 
two or three years all the lives drop. The landowner, when the 
person applies to him for a new lease, demands payment for all 
the improvements. This I say is not just. It will be replied, 
that all parties knew and voluntarily undertook the risk : so they 
did, and if the event had approached to the ordinary average of 
such risks, the owner would act rightly in demanding the in- 
creased value. But it does not ; and this is the circumstance 
which would make an upright man decline to avail himself of 
his advantages. Yet, if any one critically disputes the "justice" 
of the demand, I give up the word, and say that it is not con- 
siderate, and kind, and benevolent ; in a word, it is not christian. 
It is no light calamity upon such a tenant to be obliged so un- 
expectedly to repurchase a lease ; and to add to this calamity a 
demand which the common feelings of mankind would condemn, 
cannot be the act of a good man. Who doubts whether, within 
the last fourteen years, it has not been the duty of many land- 
owners to return a portion of their rents ? The duty is the same 
in one case as in the other ; and it is founded on the same prin- 
ciples in both. To say that other persons would be willing to 
pay the present value of the property, would not aflFect the ques- 
tion of morality : because to sell it to another for that value 
when the former tenant was desirous of repurchasing, would not 
diminish the unkindness to him. 



Chap. 2. 



Settlements. — It is not an unfrequent occurrence, when a 
merchant or other person becomes insolvent, that the creditors 
unexpectedly find the estate is chargeable with a large settle- 
ment on the wife. There is a consideration connected with this 
which in a greater degree involves integrity of character than 
perhaps is often supposed. Men in business obtain credit from 
others in consequence of the opinions which others form of 
their character and property. The latter, if it be not the greater 
foundation of credit, is a great one. A person lives then at the 
rate of a thousand a-year ; he maintains a respectable establish- 
ment, and diflPuses over all its parts indications of property. These 
appearances are relied upon by other men : they think they may 
safely entrust him, and they do entrust him, with goods or money; 
imtil, when his insolvency is suddenly announced, they are sur- 
prised and alarmed to find that five hundred a-year is settled on 
his wife. Now this person has induced others to confide their 
property to him bj holding out fallacious appearances. He has 
in reality deceived them ; and the deception is as real, though it 
may not be as palpable, as if he had deluded them with verbal 
falsehoods. He has been acting a continued imtruth. Perhaps 
such a man will say that he never denied that the greater part 
of his apparent property was settled on his wife. This may be 
true ; but, when his neighbour came to 4iim to lodge five or six 
hundred pounds in his hands ; when he was conscious that this 
neighbour's confidence was founded upon the belief that his 
apparent property was really his own; when there was reason to 
apprehend, that if his neighbour had known his actual circum- 
stances he would have hesitated in entrusting him with the 
money, then he does really and practically deceive his neighbour, 
and it is not a sufficient justification to say that he has uttered 
no untruth. The reader will observe that the case is very dif- 
ferent from that of a person who conducts his business with 
borrowed money. This person must annually pay the income 
of the money to the lender. He does not expend it on his own 
establishment, and consequently does not hold out the same 
fallacious appearances. Some profligate spendthrifts take a house, 
buy elegant furniture, and keep a handsome equipage, in order 
by these appearances to deceive and defraud traders. No man 
doubts whether these persons act criminally. How then can he 
be innocent who knowingly practises a deception similar in kind 
though varying in degree ? 



Essay 2. 

Houses op Infamy. — If it were not that a want of virtue is 
so common amongst men, we should wonder at the coolness with 
which some persons of decent reputation are content to let their 
houses to persons of abandoned character, and to put periodically 
into their pockets the profits of infamy. Sophisms may easily 
be invented to palliate the conduct ; but nothing can make it 
right. Such a landlord knows perfectly to what purpose his 
house will be devoted, and knows that he shall receive the wages, 
not perhaps of his own iniquity, but still the wages of iniquity. 
He is almost a partaker with them in their sins. If I were to 
sell a man arsenic or a pistol, knowing that the buyer wanted it 
to commit murder, should I not be a bad man ? If I let a man 
a house, knowing that the renter wants it for purposes of 
wickedness, am I an innocent man ? Not that it is to be affirmed 
that no one may receive ill-gotten money. A grocer may sell a 
pound of sugar to a woman though he knows she is upon the 
town. But, if we cannot specify the point at which a lawful 
degree of participation terminates, we can determine, respecting 
some degrees of participation, that they are imlawful. To the 
majority of such offenders against the Moral Law, these argu- 
ments may be urged in vain ; there are some of whom we may 
indulge greater hope. Respectable public brewers are in the habit 
of purchasing beer-houses in order that they may supply the 
publicans with their porter. Some of these houses are notoriously 
the resort of the most abandoned of mankind ; the daily scenes 
of riot, and drunkenness, and of the most filthy debauchery. 
Yet these houses are purchased by brewers — perhaps there is a 
competition amongst them for the premises ; they put in a tenant 
of their own, supply him with beer, and regularly receive the 
profits of this excess of wickedness. Is there no such obligation 
as that of abstaining even from the appearance of evil ? Is there 
no such thing as guilt without a personal participation in it ? 
All pleas such as that, if one man did not supply such a house 
another would, are vain subterfuges. Upon such reasoning, 
you might rob a traveller on the road, if you knew that at the 
next turning a footpad was waiting to plunder him if you did 
not. Selling such houses to be occupied as before, would be like 
selling slaves because you thought it criminal to keep them in 
bondage. The obligation to discountenance wickedness rests 
upon him who possesses the power. " To him who knoweth to 
do good and doeth it not, to him it is sin." To retain our virtue 


may in such cases cost us something ; but he who values virtue 
at its worth will not think that he retains it at a dear rate. 

Literary Property.— Upon similar grounds there are some 
of the profits of the press which a good man cannot accept. There 
are some periodical works and some newspapers, from which, if 
he were offered an annual income, he would feel himself bound to 
reject it. Suppose there is a newspaper which is lucrative because 
it gratifies a vicious taste for slander or indecency — or suppose 
there is a magazine of which the profits result from the attraction 
of irreligious or licentious articles, I would not put into my 
pocket, every quarter of a year, the money which was gained by 
vitiating mankind. In all such cases, there is one sort of obliga- 
tion which applies with great force— the obligation not to dis- 
courage rectitude by our example. Upon this ground, a man of 
virtue would hesitate even to contribute an article to such a pub- 
lication, lest they who knew he was a contributor should think 
they had his example to justify improprieties of their own. 

Rewards. — ^A person loses his pocket-book containing fifty 
pounds, and offers ten pounds to the finder if he will restore it. 
The finder ought not to demand the reward. It implies surely 
some imputation upon a man's integrity, when he accepts pay- 
ment for being honest. For, for what else is he paid ? If he 
retains the property he is manifestly fraudulent. To be paid for 
giving it up, is to be paid for not committing fraud. The loser 
offers the reward in order to overpower the temptation to dis- 
honesty. To accept the reward is therefore tacitly to acknow- 
ledge that you would have been dishonest if it had not been 
offered. This certainly is not maintaining an integrity that is 
" above suspicion." It will be said that the reward is offered 
voluntarily. This, in proper language, is not true. Two evils 
are presented to the loser, of which he is compelled to choose 
one. If men were honest, he would not offer the reward : he 
would make it known that he had lost his pocket-book, and the 
finder, if a finder there were, would restore it. The offered ten 
pounds is a tax which is imposed upon him by the want of up- 
rightness in mankind, and he who demands the money actively 
promotes the imposition. The very word reward carries with it 
its own reprobation. As a reward, the man of integrity would 
receive nothing. If the loser requested it, he might if he needed 
it accept a donation; but he would let it be understood that he 
accepted a present not that he received a debt. 




Essay 2. 


Perhaps examples enough or more than enough, have been 
accumulated to illustrate this class of obligations. Many ap- 
peared needful, because it is a class which is deplorably neglected 
in practice. So strong is the temptation to think that we may 
rightfully possess whatever the law assigns to us, — so insinuating 
is the notion, upon subjects of property, that whatever the law 
does not punish we may rightfully do, that there is little danger 
of supplying too many motives to habitual discrimination of our 
duties and to habitual purity of conduct. Let the reader espe- 
cially remember, that the examples which are offered are not all 
of them selected on accoimt of their individual importance, but 
rather as illustrations of the general principle. A man may meet 
with a hundred circumstances in life to which none of these ex- 
amples are relevant, but I think he will not have much difficulty 
in estimating the principles which they illustrate. And this in- 
duces the observation, that although several of these examples 
are taken from British law or British customs, they do not, on 
that account, lose their applicability where these laws and cus- 
toms do not obtain. If this book should ever be read in a foreign 
land, or if it should be read in this land when public institutions 
or the tenor of men's conduct shall be changed, the principles of 
its morality will, nevertheless, be applicable to the affairs of life. 




That many and great evils result from that inequality of pro- 
perty which exists in civilized countries, is indicated by the many 
propositions which have been made to diminish or destroy it. 
We want not, indeed, such evidence ; for it is sufficiently mani- 
fest to every man who will look round upon his neighbours. We 
join not with those who declaim against all inequality of pro- 
perty : the real evil is not that it is unequal, but that it is greatly 
unequal ; not that one man is richer than another ; but that one 
man is so rich as to be luxurious, or imperious, or profligate, 
and that another is so poor as to be abject and depraved, as well 
as to be destitute of the proper comforts of life. 

There are two means by which the pernicious inequality of pro- 
perty may be diminished ; by political institutions, and by the 
exertions of private men. Our present business is with the latter. 
To a person who possesses and expends more than he needs, 

there are two reasonable inducements to diminish its amount 

first, to benefit others, and next to benefit his family and him- 
self. The claims of benevolence towards others are often and 
earnestly urged upon the public, and for that reason they will 
not be repeated here. Not that there is no occasion to repeat 
the lesson, for it is very inadequately learnt j but that it is of 
more consequence to exhibit obligations which are less frequentlv 
enforced. To insist upon diminishing the amount of a man's 
property /or the sake of his family and himself may present to 
some men new ideas, and to some men the doctrine may be 

Large possessions are in a great majority of instances injurious 
to the possessor — that is to say, those who hold them are gene- 
rally less excellent, both as citizens and as men, than those who 
do not. The truth appears to be established by the concurrent 





Essay 2. 



judgment of mankind. Lord Bacon says—" Certainly great 
riches have sold more men than they have bought out. As bag- 
gage is to an army, so are riches to virtue. It hindereth the 
march, yea and the care of it sometimes loseth or disturbeth the 
victory.'' — " It is to be feared that the general tendency of rank, 
and especially of riches, is to withdraw the heart from spiritual 
exercises.'' ^ "A much looser system of morals commonly prevails 
in the higher than in the middling and lower orders of society." - 
" The middle rank contains most virtue and abilities." ^ 

" Wealth heap'd on wealth nor truth nor safety buys, 
The dangers gather as the treasures rise." * 

" There is no greater calamity than that of leaving children an 
affluent independence. — The worst examples in the Society of 
Friends are generally amongst the children of the rich." ^ 

It was an observation of Voltaire's that the English people 
were, like their butts of beer, froth at top, dregs at bottom— in 
the middle, excellent. The most rational, the wisest, the best 
portion of mankind, belong to that class who possess " neither 
poverty nor riches." Let the reader look around him. Let 
him observ^e who are the persons that contribute most to the 
moral and physical amelioration of mankind ; who they are that 
practically and personally support our unnumbered institutions 
of benevolence ; who they are that exhibit the worthiest examples 
of intellectual exertion ; who they are to whom he would himself 
apply, if he needed to avail himself of a manly and discrimi- 
nating judgment. That they are the poor is not to be expected : 
we appeal to himself whether they are the rich. Who then 
would make his son a rich man ? Who would remove his child 
out of that station in society which is thus peculiarly favourable 
to intellectual and moral excellence ? 

If a man knows that wealth will in all probability be injurious 
to himself and to his children, injiuious too in the most im- 
portant points, the religious and moral character, it is mani- 
festly a point of the soundest wisdom and the truest kindness 
to decline to accumulate it. Upon this subject, it is admi- 
rable to observe with what exactness the precepts of Christianity 
are adapted to that conduct which the experience of life recom- 
mends. '^The care of this world and the deceitfulness of 

* More's Moral Sketches, 3rd. Edit. p. 446. 
' AVollestoncroft : Rights of Women, c. 4. 
Wishes. * Clarkson : Portraiture. 

^ Wilberforce : Pract. View. 
* Johnson : Vanity of Human 

riches choke the word :" — " choked with cares, and riches, and 
pleasures of this life, and bring no fruit to perfection :" — " How 
hardly shall they that have riches enter into the kingdom of 
God ! " — " They that will be rich fall into temptation and a 
snare, and into many foolish and hurtful lusts which drown men 
in destruction and perdition." Not that riches necessarily lead 
to these consequences, but that such is their tendency ; a ten- 
dency so uniform and powerfid that it is to be feared these are 
their very frequent results. Now this language of the christian 
Scriptures does not contain merely statements of fact — it imposes 
duties ; and whatever may be the precise mode of regarding 
those duties, one point is perfectly clear ; — that he who sets no 
other limit to his possessions or accumulations than inability or in- 
disposition to obtain more, does not conform to the will of God. 
Assuredly, if any specified thing is declared by Christianity to 
be highly likely to obstruct our advancement in goodness, and 
to endanger our final felicity, against that thing, whatever it be, 
it is imperative upon us to guard with wakeful solicitude. 

And therefore, without affirming that no circumstance can 
justify a great accumidation of property, it may safely be con- 
cluded, that far the greater number of those who do accumulate 
it, do wrong : nor do I see any reason to be deterred from 
ranking the distribution of a portion of great wealth, or a refusal 
to accumulate it, amongst the imperative duties which are 
imposed by the Moral Law. In truth, a man may almost dis- 
cover whether such conduct is obligatoiy, by referring to the 
motives which induce him to acquire great property or to retain 
it. The motives are generally impure ; the desire of splendour, 
or the ambition of eminence, or the love of personal indulgence. 
Are these motives fit to be brought into competition with the 
probable welfare, the virtue, the usefulness, and the happiness of 
his family and himself ? Yet such is the competition, and to such 
unworthy objects, duty, and reason, and afibction are sacrificed. 

It will be said, a man should provide for his family, and make 
them, if he can, independent. That he should proride for his 
family is true ; that he should make them independent, at any 
rate that he should give them an affluent independence, forms 
no part of his duty and is frequently a violation of it. As it 
respects almost all men, he will best approve himself a wise and 
kind parent, who leaves to his sons so much only as may enable 




them by moderate engagements, to enjoy the conveniences and 
comforts of life : and to his daughters a sufficiency to possess 
similar comforts, but not a sufficiency to shine amongst the 
great, or to mingle with the votaries of expensive dissipation. If 
any father prefers other objects to the welfare and happiness of 
his children — if wisdom and kindness towards them are with 
him subordinate considerations, it is not probable that he will 
listen to reasonings like these. But where is the parent who 
dares to acknowledge this preference to his own mind ? 

It were idle to affect to specify any amount of property which 
a person ought not to exceed. The circumstances of one man 
may make it reasonable that he should acquire or retain much 
more than another who has fewer claims. Yet somewhat of a 
general rule may be suggested. He who is accumulating should 
consider why he desires more. If it really is, that he believes 
an addition will increase the welfare and usefulness and virtue of 
his family, it is probable that further accumulation may be right. 
If no such belief is sincerely entertained, it is more than probable 
that it is wrong. He who already possesses affluence should 
consider its actual existing effects. If he employs a competent 
portion of it in increasing the happiness of others, if it does not 
produce any injurious effect upon his own mind, if it does not 
diminish or impair the virtues of his children, if they are grateful 
for their privileges rather than vain of their superiority, if they 
second his own endeavours to diffuse happiness around them, 
he may remain as he is. If such effects are not produced, but 
instead of them others of an opposite tendency, he certainly 
has too much. — Upon this serious subject let the christian 
parent be serious. If, as is proved by the experience of every 
day, great property usually inflicts great injuries upon those 
who possess it, what motive can induce a good man to lay it up 
for his children ? What motive will be his justification, if it 
tempts them from virtue? 

When children are similarly situated with respect to their 
probable wants, there seems no reason for preferring the elder 
to the younger, or sons to daughters. Since the proper object of 
a parent in making a division of his property, is the comfort and 
welfare of his children — if this object is likely to be better 
secured by an equal than by any other division, an equal divi- 
sion ought to be made. It is a common, though not a very 

Chap, 3. 



reasonable opinion, that a son needs a larger portion than a 
daughter. To be sure, if he is to live in greater affluence than 
she, he does. But why should he ? There appears no motive 
in reason, and certainly there is none in affection, for diminish- 
ing one child's comforts to increase another's. A son too has 
greater opportunities of gain. A woman almost never grows 
rich except by legacies or marriage : so that, if her father do 
not provide for her, it is probable that she will not be provided 
for at all. As to marriage, the opportunity is frequently not 
offered to a woman ; and a father, if he can, should so provide 
for his daughter as to enable her, in single life, to live in a state 
of comfort not greatly inferior to her brother's. The remark 
that the custom of preferring sons is general, and therefore that 
when a couple marry the inequality is adjusted, applies only to 
the case of those who do marrv. The number of women who do 
not is great ; and a parent cannot foresee his daughter's lot. 
Besides, since marriage is (and is reasonably) a great object to a 
woman, and is desirable both for women and for men, there 
appears a propriety in increasing the probability of marriage by 
giving to women such property as shall constitute an additional 
inducement to marriage in the men. I shall hardly be suspected 
of recommending persons to " marry for money.'^ My meaning 
is this : A young man possesses five hundred a-year, and lives on 
a corresponding scale. He is attached to a woman who has but 
one hundred a-year. This young man sees that if he marries, 
he must reduce his scale of living; and the consideration 
operates (I do not say it ought to operate) to deter him from 
marriage. But if the young man possessed three hundred a-year 
and lived accordingly, and if the object of his attachment pos- 
sessed three hundred a-year also, he would not be prevented from 
marrying her by the fear of being obliged to diminish his system 
of expenditure. Just complaints are made of those half-concealed 
blandishments by which some women who need '^ a settlement'' 
endeavour to procure it by marriage. Those blandishments 
would become more tempered with propriety, if one great motive 
was taken away by the possession of a competence of their own. 
An equal division of a father's property will be said to be 
incompatible with the system of primogeniture, and almost in- 
compatible with hereditary rank. These are not subjects for the 
present Essay. Whatever the reader may think of the practical 



Essay 2. 

value of these institutions, it is manifest that far the greater 
number of those who have property to bequeath, need not con- 
cern themselves with either : they may, in their own practice, 
contribute to diminish the general and the particular e\ils of 
unequal property. With respect to their own families, the result 
can hardly fail to be good. It is probable that as men advance 
in intellectual, and especially in moral excellence, the desire of 
'* keeping up the family" will become less and less an object of 
solicitude. That desire is not, in its ordinary character, recom- 
mended by any considerations which are obviously deducible 
from virtue or from reason. It is an aflPair of vanity ; and vanity, 
like other weaknesses and evils, may be expected to diminish 
as sound habits of judgment prevail in the world. 

Perhaps it is remarkable, that the obligation not to accumulate 
great property for ourselves or our children, is so little enforced 
by the writers on morality. None will dispute that such accu- 
mulation is both unwise and unkind. Every one acknowledges 
too that the general evils of the existing inequality of property 
are enormously great : yet how few insist upon those means by 
which, more tlian by any other private means, these evils may 
be diminished ! If all men declined to retain, or refrained from 
acquiring, more than is likely to be beneficial to their families 
and themselves, the pernicious inequality of property would 
quickly be diminished or destroyed. There is a motive upon the 
individual to do this, which some public reformations do not 
offer. He who contributes almost nothing to diminish the 
general mischiefs of extreme poverty and extreme wealth, may 
yet do so much benefit to his own connexions as shall greatly 
overpay liim for the sacrifice of vanity or inclination. Perhaps 
it may be said that there is a claim too of justice. The wealth 
of a nation is a sort of common stock, of which the accumula- 
tions of one man are usually made at the expense of others. A 
man who has acquired a reasonable sufficiency, and who never- 
theless retains his business to acquire more than a sufficiency, 
practices a sort of injustice towards another who needs his means 
of gain. There are always many who cannot enjoy the com- 
forts of life, because others are improperly occupying the means 
by which those comforts are to be obtained. Is it the part of a 
christian to do this ? — even abating the consideration that he is 
injuring himself by withholding comforts from another. 



In the third Essay,i some enquiry will be attempted, as to 
whether Justice may not often be administered between contend- 
ing parties, or to public offenders, by some species of arbitration 
rather than by law ; — whether a gradual substitution of Equity 
for fixed rules of decision, is not congruous alike with philosophy 
and morals. — The present chapter, however, and that which suc- 
ceeds it, proceed upon the supposition that the administration of 
Justice continues in its present state. 

The question for an individual, when he has some cause of 
dispute with another respecting property or rights is. By what 
means ought I to endeavour to adjust it ? Three modes of 
adjustment maybe supposed to be offered : Private arrangement 
with the other party — Ileference to impartial men — and Law. 
Private adjustment is the best mode ; arbitration is good ; law is 
good only when it is the sole alternative. 

The litigiousness of some of the early christians at Corinth 
gave occasion to the energetic expostulation, "Dare any of you, 
having a matter against another, go to law before the imjust and 
not before the saints? Do ye not know that the saints shall 
judge the world? And if the world shall be judged by you, are 
ye unworthy to judge the smallest matters ? Know ye not that 
we shall judge angels ? How much more things that pertain to 
this life ? If then, ye have judgments of things pertaining to 
this life, set them to judge who are least esteemed in the 
church. I speak to your shame. Is it so that there is not 
a wise man among you? No, not one that shall be able 
to judge between his brethren? But brother goeth to law 
with brother, and that before the unbelievers. Now therefore 
there is utterly a fault among you, because ye go to law one 

» Chap. X. 



Essay 2. 

Chap. 4. 



with another. Why do ye not rather take wrong ? Why do 
ye not rather suffer yourselves to be defrauded ? '' ^ Upon this^ 
one observation is especially to be remembered : that a great 
part of its pointedness of reprehension is directed, not so much 
to litigation, as to litigation before pagans. " Brother goeth to 
law with brother, and that before the unbelievers." The im- 
propriety of exposing the disagreements of christians in pagan 
courts, was manifest and great. They who had rejected the 
dominant religion, for a religion of which one peculiar character- 
istic was good will and unanimity, were especially called upon to 
exhibit in their conduct an illustration of its purer principles. 
Few things, not grossly vicious, would bring upon christians and 
upon Christianity itself so much reproach as a litigiousness 
which could not or would not find arbitration amongst them- 
selves. The advice of the apostle appears to have been acted 
upon: "The primitive church, which was always zealous to 
reconcile the brethren and to procure pardon for the offender 
from the person offended, did ordain, according to the Epistle 
of St. Paul to the Corinthians, that the saints or christians 
should not maintain a process of law one against the other at 
the bar or tribunals of infidels." ^ The christian of the present 
day is differently circumstanced, because, though he appeals 
to the law, he does not appeal to Pagan judges ; and therefore 
so much of the apostle's censure as was occasioned by the 
paganism of the courts, does not apply to us. 

To this indeed there is an exception founded upon analogy. 
If at the commencement of the Reformation, two of the reformers 
had carried a dispute respecting property before Romish courts, 
they would have come under some portion of that reprobation 
which was addressed to the Corinthians. Certainly, when per- 
sons profess such a love for religious purity and excellence that 
they publicly withdraw from the general religion of a people, 
there ought to be so much purity and excellence amongst them, 
that it would be needless to have recourse to those from whon 
they had separated, to adjust their disputes. The catholic of 
those days might reasonably have turned upon such reformers 
and said, " Is it so that there is not a wise man among you, no 
not one that shall be able to judge between his brethren ? " 
And if indeed, no such wise man was to be found, it might safely 

* 1 Cor. vi. * Rycaut's Lives of the Popes, fol. 2d. ed. 1688, Introd. p. 2. 


be concluded that their reformation was an empty name. — For 
the same reasons, those who, in the present times, think it 
right to withdraw from other protestant churches in order to 
maintain sounder doctrines or purer practice, cast reproach 
upon their own community if they cannot settle their disputes 
amongst themselves. Pretensions to soundness and purity are 
of little avail if they do not enable those who make them to 
repose in one another such confidence as this. Were I a 
Wesleyan or a Baptist, I should think it discreditable to go to 
law with one of my own brotherhood. 

But, though the apostle's prohibition of going to law appears to 
have been founded upon the paganism of the courts, his language 
evidently conveys disapprobation, generally, of appeals to the 
law. He insists upon the propriety of adjusting disputes by arbi- 
tration. Christians, he says, ought n'ot to be unworthy to judge 
the smallest matters : and so emphatically does he insist upon 
the truth, that their religion ought to capacitate them to act as 
arbitrators, that he intimates that even a small advance in chris- 
tian excellence is sufficient for such a purpose as this : — *^ Set 
them to judge who are least esteemed in the church." It will 
perhaps be acknowledged that when Christianity shall possess 
its proper influence over us, there will be little reason to recur, 
for adjustment of our disagreements, to fixed rules of law. And 
though this influence is so far short of universal prevalence, who 
cannot find amongst those to whom he may have access, some 
who are capable of deciding rightly and justly ? The state of 
that christian country must indeed be bad, if it contains not, 
even in every little district, one that is able to judge between 
his brethren. 

Nevertheless, there are cases in which the christian may pro- 
perly appeal to the law. He may have an antagonist who can in 
no other manner be induced to be just or to act aright. Under 
some such circumstances Paul himself pursued a similar course : 
" I appeal unto Caesar .'' — " Is it lawful for you to scourge a man 
that is a Roman, and uncondemned ? '' And when he had been 
illegally taken into custody he availed himself of his legal privi- 
leges, and made the magistrates ^' come themselves and fetch 
him out." There are, besides, in the present condition of juris- 
prudence, some cases in which the rule of justice depends upon 
the rule of law — so that a thing is just or not just according as 




Essay 2. 

the law determines. In such cases neither party, however well 
disposed, may be able distinctly to tell what justice requires 
until the law informs them. Even then, however, there are 
better means of procedure than by prosecuting suits. The 
parties may obtain '^ Opinions.^^ 

Beside these considerations there are others which powerfully 
recommend arbitration in preference to law. The evils of Htiga- 
tion, from which arbitration is in a great degree exempt, are great. 

Expense is an important item. A reasonable man desu^es of 
course to obtain justice as inexpensively as he can; and the great 
cost of obtaining it in coui'ts of law, is a powerful reason for 
preferring arbitration. 

Legal Injustice. — He who desires that justice should be dis- 
pensed between him and another, should sufficiently bear in mind 
how much injustice is inflicted by the law. We have seen in some 
of the preceding chapters that law is often very wide of equity ; 
and he who desii'es to secure himself from an inequitable decision, 
possesses a powerful motive to prefer arbitration. The techni- 
calities of the law and the artifices of lawyers are almost in- 
numerable. Sometimes, when a party thinks he is on the eve of 
obtaining a just verdict, he is suddenly disappointed and his cause 
is lost by some technical defect — the omission of a word or the 
mis-spelling of a name ; matters which in no degree affect the 
validity of his claims. If the only advantage which arbitration 
offers to disagreeing parties, was exemption from these deplorable 
evils, it would be a substantial and sufficient argument in its 
favour. There is no reason to doubt, that justice would generally 
be administered by a reference to two or three upright and dis- 
interested men. When facts are laid before such persons, they 
are seldom at a loss to decide what justice requires. Its principles 
are not so critical or remote as usually to require much labour of 
research to discover what they dictate. It might be concluded, 
therefore, even if experience did not confirm it, that an arbitration, 
if it did not decide absolutely aright, would at least come to as 
just a decision as can be attained by human means. But expe- 
rience does confirm the conclusion. It is known that the Society 
of Friends never permits its members to carry disagreements with 
one another before courts of law. All, if they continue in the 
society, must submit to arbitration. And what is the consequence? 
They find, practically, that arbitration is the best mode; that 



Chap. 4. 



justice is in fact administered by it, administered more satisfac- 
torily and with fewer exceptions than in legal courts. No one 
pretends to dispute tliis. Indeed if it were disputable, it may 
be presumed that this community would abandon the practice. 
They adhere to it because it is the most christian practice and 
the best. 

Inquietude. — The expense, the injustice, the delays and vex- 
ations which are attendant upon lawsuits, bring altogether a 
degree of inquietude upon the mind which greatly deducts from 
the enjoyment of life, and from the capacity to attend with com- 
posure to other and perhaps more important concerns. If to this 
we add the heart-burnings and ill-will which suits frequently 
occasion, a considerable sum of evil is in tliis respect presented 
to us : a sum of evil, be it remembered, from which arbitration 
is in a great degree exempt. 

Upon the whole, arbitration is recommended by such various 
and powerful arguments, that when it is proposed by one of two 
contending parties and objected to by the other, there is reason 
to presume that, with that other, justice is not the paramount 
object of desire. 




If it should be asked why, in a book of general morality, the 
writer selects for observation the practice of a particular profes- 
sion, the answer is simply this, that the practice of this particular 
profession peculiarly needs it. It peculiarly needs to be brought 
into juxtaposition with sound principles of morality. Besides 
this, an honest comparison of the practice with the principles 
will afford useful illustration of the requisitions of virtue. 

That pubHc opinion pronounces that there is, in the ordinary 
character of legal practice, much that is not reconcilable with 
rectitude, can need no proof. The pubhc opinion could scarcely 
become general unless it were founded upon truth, and that it is 
general is evinced by the language of all ranks of men ; from 
that of him who writes a treatise of morality, to that ot him who 
famiharly uses a censorious proverb. It may reasonably be con- 
eluded that when the professional conduct of a particular set of 
men is characterized peculiarly with sacrifices of rectitude, there 
must be some general and peculiar cause. There appears nothing 
in the profession, as such, to produce this effect— nothing in 
taking a part in the administration of justice which necessarily 
leads men away from the regard to justice. How then are we 
to account for the fact as it exists, or where shall we primarily 
lay the censure ? Is it the fault of the men or of the institutions ; 
of the lawyers or of the law ? Doubtless the original fault is m 

the law. 

This fault, as it respects our own country, and I suppose every 
other, is of two kinds ; one is necessary, and one accidental. 
First : ^Tierever fixed rules of deciding controversies between 
man and man, or fixed rules of administering pumshment to 
public offenders are estabbshed— there it is inevitable that equity 
will sometimes be sacrificed to rules. These rules are laws, that 


' ^/ 


is, they must be uniformly, and for the most part literally, applied; 
and this literal application, (as we have already had manifold 
occasion to show,) is sometimes productive of practical injustice. 
Since, then, the legal profession employ themselves in enforcing 
this literal application — since they habitually exert themselves to 
do this with little regard to the equity of the result, they cannot 
fail to deserve and to obtain the character of a profession that 
sacrifices rectitude. I know not that this is evitable so long as nu- 
merous 2cadi fixed rules are adopted in the administration of justice. 

The second cause of the evil, as it results from the law itself, 
is in its extreme complication, in the needless multiplicity of its 
forms, in the inextricable intricacy of its whole structure. This, 
which is probably bv far the most efficient cause of the want of 
morality in legal practice, I call gratuitous. It is not necessary 
to law that it should be so extremely complicated. This, the 
public are beginning more and more to see and to assert. Sim- 
plification has indeed been in some small degree effected by recent 
acts of the legislature ; and this is a sufiicient evidence that it 
was needed. But whether needed or not, the temptation which 
it casts in the way of professional virtue is excessively great. A 
man takes a cause — a morally bad cause we will suppose — to a 
barrister. The barrister searches his memory or his books for 
some one or more amongst the multiplicity of legal technicalities 
by which success may be obtained for his client. He finds them, 
urges them in court, shows that the opposing client cannot legally 
substantiate his claim, and thus inflicts upon him practical in- 
justice. This is primarily the fault of the law. Take away or 
diminish this encumbering load of technicalities, and you take 
away, in the same proportion, the opportunity for the profession 
to sacrifice equity to forms, and by consequence diminish the 
immorality of its practice. There can be no efficient reform 
amongst lawyers without a reform of the law. 

But whilst thus the original cause of the sacrifice of virtue 
amongst legal men is to be sought in legal institutions, it cannot 
be doubted that they are themselves chargeable with greatly 
adding to the evils which these institutions occasion. This is 
just what, in the present state of human virtue, we might expect. 
Lawyers familiarize to their minds the notion, that whatever is 
legally right is right; and when they have once habituated 
themselves to sacrifice the manifest dictates of equity to law. 



where shall they stop ? If a material informality in an instru- 
ment is to them a sufficient justification of a sacrifice of these 
dictates, they will soon sacrifice them because a word has been 
mis-spelt by an attorney's clerk. When they have gone thus far, 
they will go further. The practice of disregarding rectitude in 
courts of justice will become habitual. They will go onward, 
from insisting upon legal technicalities to an endeavour to pervert 
the law, then to the giving a false colouring to facts, and then 
onward and still onward until witnesses are abashed and con- 
founded, imtil jui'ies are misled by impassioned appeals to their 
feelings, until deliberate untruths are solemnly averred, until, in 
a word, all the pitiable and degrading spectacles are exhibited 
which are now exhibited in legal practice. 

But when we say that the original cause of this unhappy 
system is to be found in the law itself, is it tantamount to a 
justification of the system ? No : if it were, it would be sufficient 
to justify any departure from rectitude ; it would be sufficient 
to justify any crime, to be able to show that the perpetrator 
possessed strong temptation. Strong temptation is undoubtedly 
placed before the legal practitioner. This should abate our 
censure, but it should not cause us to be silent. 

We affirm that a lawyer cannot morally enforce the application 
of legal rules, without regard to the claims of equity in the par- 
ticular case. 

If it has been seen, in the preceding chapters, that morality is 

paramount to law; if it has been seen that there are many 

instances in which private persons are morally obliged to forego 

their legal pretensions, then it is equally clear that a lawyer is 

obliged to hold morality as paramount to law in his own practice. 

If one man may not urge an unjust legal pretension, another may 

not assist him in urging it. No man it may be hoped will say 

it is the lawyer's only business to apply the law. Men cannot 

so cheaply exempt themselves from the obligations of morality. 

Yet here the question is really suspended ; for if the business of 

the profession does not justify a disregard of moraUty, it is not 

capable of justification. Suspended ! It is lamentable that such 

a question can exist. For to what does the alternative lead us ? 

Is a man, when he undertakes a client's business, at liberty to 

advance his interests by every method, good or bad, which the 

law wiU not punish ? If he is, there is an end of morality. If 


Chap. 5. 



! 11 

he is not, something must limit and restrict him ; and that some- 
thing is the Moral Law. 

Of every custom, however indefensible, some advocates ofier 
themselves ; and some accordingly have attempted to justify the 
practice of the bar.^ Of that particular item in the practice, 
which consists in uttering untruths in order to serve a client, 
Dr. Paley has been the defender. " There are falsehoods," says 
he, '^ which are not criminal ; as where no one is deceived, which 
is the case with an advocate in asserting the justice, or his belief 
of the justice, of his client's cause." It is plain that in support 
of this position one argument and only one can be urged, and 
that one has been selected. "No confidence is destroyed, because 
none was reposed; no promise to speak the truth is violated, 
because none was given or understood to be given."^ The defence 
is not very creditable even if it were valid : it defends men from 
the imputation of falsehood because their falsehoods are so 
habitual that no one gives them credit ! 

But the defence is not valid. Of this the reader may satisfy 
himself by considering why, if no one ever believes what advocates 
say, they continue to speak. They would not, year after year, 
persist in uttering untruths in our courts, without attaining an 
object, and knowing that they would not attain it. If no one 
ever in fact beheved them, they would cease to asseverate. They 
do not love falsehood for its own sake, and utter it gratuitously 
and for nothing. The custom itself, therefore, disproves the 
argument that is brought to defend it. Whenever that defence 
becomes vahd — whenever it is really true that " no confidence is 
reposed " in advocates, they will cease to use falsehood, for it will 
have lost its motive. But the real practice is to mingle falsehood 
and truth together, and so to involve the one with the other that 
the jury cannot easily separate them. The jury know that some 
of the pleader's statements are true, and these they believe. 
Now he makes other statements with the same deliberate em- 
phasis ; and how shall the jury know whether these are false or 
true? How shall they discover the point at which they shall 
begin to " repose no confidence ?" Knowing that a part is true, 

* I speak of the har^ because that branch of the profession offers the most con- 
venient illustration of the subject. The reasonings will generally apply to other 

- Mor. and Pol. Phil. b. 3, p. 1, c. 15. 



Essay 2. 

Chap. 5. 



they cannot always know that another part is not true. That it 
is the pleader's design to persuade them of the truth of all he 
affirms, is manifest. Suppose an advocate when he rose should 
say, " Gentlemen, I am now going to speak the truth;" and after 
narrating the facts of the case, should say, '' Gentlemen, I am 
now going to address you with fictions.'^ Why would not an 
advocate do this ? Because then no confidence would be reposed, 
which is the same thing as to say that he pursues his present 
plan because some confidence is reposed ; and this decides the 
question. The decision should not be concealed — that the advo- 
cate who employs untruths in his pleadings, does really and most 
strictly lie. 

And even if no one ever did believe an advocate, his false 
declarations would still be lies, because he always professes to 
speak the truth. This indeed is true upon the Archdeacon's 
own showing; for he says, "Whoever seriously addresses his 
discourse to another, tacitly promises to speak the truth." The 
case is very different from others which he proposes as parallel — 
"parables, fables, jests." In these, the speaker does not profess 
to state facts. But the pleader does profess to state facts. He 
intends and endeavours to mislead. His untruths therefore are 
lies to him whether they are believed or not ; just as, in vulgar 
life, a man whose falsehoods are so notorious that no one gives 
him credit, is not the less a liar than if he were believed. 

From one sort of legal falsehoods results one peculiar mischief, 
a mischief arising primarily out of an unhappy rule of law, but 
which is not on that account morally justifiable. " Decision is 
commanded by pleadings as by evidence, and that also to a vast 
extent and with a degree of certainty refused to evidence. Decision 
is produced by pleadings as if they were true, when they are 
known and acknowledged to be false ; because they act as evi- 
dence and as true evidence in all cases where the opposed party 
cannot follow them by counter declarations — a consequence 
which may and does result from poverty and other causes."^ This 
is deplorable indeed. To employ false pleadings is sufficiently 
unjustifiable ; but to employ them in order that a poor man or 
that any man may be debarred of his rights, is abominable. But 
why do we say that this peculiarly is abominable ? For to what 
purpose is any falsehood urged at the bar but to impede or pre- 

1 West. Rev. No. 9. 

) L 

vent the administration of justice between man and man ? I 
make no pretensions to legal knowledge. Some false pleadings 
are legally " necessary" in order to give formality to a proceeding. 
In these cases the evil is attributable in a great degree to the law 
itself, though I presume the law is founded upon custom, which 
custom was introduced by lawyers. The evil therefore and the 
guilt lies at the door of the system of legal practice, although it 
may not all lie at the doors of existing practitioners. ^ 

Gisbome is another defender of legal practice, and assumes 
a wider ground of justification. " The standard," says he, "to 
which the advocate refers the cause of his client, is not the law 
of reason nor the law of God, but the law of the land. His peculiar 
and proper object is not to prove the side of the question which 
he maintains morally right, but legally right. The law offers its 
protection only on certain preliminary conditions ; it refuses to 
take cognizance of injuries or to enforce redress, unless the 
one be proved in the specific manner and the other claimed in 
the precise form which it prescribes ; and consequently, what- 
ever be the pleader's opinion of his cause, he is guilty of no 
breach of truth and justice in defeating the pretensions of the 
persons whom he opposes, by evincing that they have not made 
good the terms on which alone they could be legally entitled, on 
which alone they could suppose themselves entitled, to success. "^ 
There is something specious in this reasoning, but what is its 
amount ? — that if the laws of a country proceed upon such and 
such maxims, they exempt us from the authority of the laws of 
God. We arrive at this often refuted doctrine at last. Either 
the acts of a legislature may suspend the obligations of morality 
or they may not. If they may, there is an end of that morality 
which is founded upon the Divine Will : if they may not, the argu- 
ment of Gisborne is a fallacy. But in truth he himself shows 
its fallaciousness : he says, " If a cause should present itself of 

» Some of these legal falsehoods are ridiculous to the last degree. A horse is 
sent to a farrier to be shod. Unhappily, and to the great regret of the farrier, 
his man accidentally lames the horse. What then says the legal form ? That 
the farrier faithfully promised to shoe the horse properly: but that "he, not 
regarding his said promise and undertaking, but contriving and fraudulently 
intending, craftily, and subtilely to deceive and defraud the said plaintiff, did 
not nor would shoe the said horse, in a skilful, careful and proper manner, &c. !** 
—See the form, 2 Chitty on Pleading, p. 154. 

* Duties of Men. The Legal Profession. ^ 





Essay 2. 

Chap, 5. 



an aspect so dark as to leave the advocate no reasonable doubt of 
its being founded in iniquity or baseness^ or to justify extremely 
strong suspicions of its evil nature and tendency^ he is bound in 
the sight of God to refuse all connexion with the business." 
Why is he thus bound to refuse ? Because he tvill otherwise 
violate the Moral Law ; and this is the very reason why he is 
bound in other cases. Observe too the inconsistency : first we 
are told that whatever be the pleader's opinion of a cause, " he 
is guilty of no breach of truth and justice '' in advocating it ; 
and afterwards, that if the cause is of an " evil nature and 
tendency " he may not advocate it ! That such reasoning does 
not prove what it designed to prove is oident ; but it proves 
something else — that the practice cannot be defended. Such 
reasoning would not be advanced if better could be foimd. Let 
us not, however, seem to avail ourselves of a wiiter's words 
without reference to his meaning. The meaning in the present 
instance is clearly this— that a pleader, generally, may undertake 
a vicious cause ; but that if it be very vicious, he must refrain. 
You may abet an act of a certain shade of iniquity, but not if it 
be of a certain shade deeper : you may \iolate the Moral Law to 
a certain extent, but not to every extent. To him who would 
recommend rectitude in its purity, few reasonings are more satis- 
factory than such as these. They prove the truth w hich they assail 
by evincing that it cannot be disproved. 

Dr. Johnson tried a shorter course : " You do not know a cause 
to be good or bad till the judge determines it. An argument 
that does not convince you may convince the judge to whom you 
urge it, and if it does convince him, why then he is right and 
you are wrong." This is satisfactory. It is always satisfactory 
to perceive that a powerful intellect can find nothing but idle 
sophistry to urge against the obligations of virtue. One other 
argument is this : Eminent barristers, it is said, should not be 
too scrupulous, because clients might fear their causes would be 
rejected by virtuous pleaders, and might therefore go to " needy 
and unprincipled chicaners.'' Why, if their causes were good, 
virtuous pleaders would imdertake them ; and if they w ere bad, 
it matters not how soon they were discountenanced. In a right 
state of things, the very circumstance that only an " unprin- 
cipled chicaner" would undertake a particular cause, would go 
far towards procuring a verdict against it. Besides, it is a very 


loose morality that recommends good men to do improper things 
lest they should be done by the bad. 

Seeing therefore that no tolerable defence can be adduced of 
the ordinary legal practice, let us consider for a moment what 
are its practical results. 

A civil action is brought into court, and evidence has beenheard 
which satisfies every man that the plaintiff is entitled in justice 
to a verdict. It is, on the part of the defendant, a clear case of 
dishonesty. Suddenly, the pleader discovers that there is some 
verbal flaw in a document, some technical irregularity in the pro- 
ceedings—and the plaintiff loses his cause. The public are dis- 
appointed in their expectations of justice ; the jury and the court 
are grieved; and the unhappy sufferer retires, injured and 
wronged— without redress or hope of redress. Can this be right ? 
Can it be sufficient to justify a man in this conduct, to urge that 
such things are his business — the means by which he obtains 
his living ? The same excuse would justify a corsair, or a troop 
of Arabian banditti which plunders the caravan. Yet indefen- 
sible, immoral, as this conduct is, it is the every day practice of 
the profession ; and the amount of injustice which is inflicted by 
this practice is enormous. The plea that such are the rules of 
the law is not admissible. Whatever utility we may be disposed 
to allow to the uniform application of the law, it will not justify 
such conduct as this. The integrity of the law would not have 
been violated, though the pleader had not pointed out the mis- 
spelling, for example, of a word. For a judge to refuse to allow 
the law to take its course after the mistake has been urged, is 
one thing ; for a pleader to detect and urge it is another. The 
judge may not be able to regard the equity of the case without 
sacrificing the uniform operation of the law. But if the inad- 
vertency is not pointed out, that uniform portion is perfect though 
equity be awarded. There is no excuse for thus inflicting injus- 
tice. It is an act of pure gratuitous mischief : an act not required 
by law, an act condemned by morality, an act possessing no apo- 
logy but that the agent is tempted by the gains of his profession. 
An unhappy father seeks, in a court of justice, some redress 
for the misery which a seducer has inflicted upon his family ; a 
redress which, if he were successful, is deplorably inadequate, 
both as a recompense to the sufferers and as punishment to the 
criminal. The case is established, and it is manifest that equity 

M 2 



Essay 2. 

and the public good require exemplary damages. What then 
does the pleader do ? He stands up and employs every contri- 
vance to prevent the jury from awarding these damages. He 
eloquently endeavours to persuade them that the act involved 
little guilt ; casts undeserved imputations upon the immediate 
sufferer and upon her family; jests, and banters, and sneers, 
about all the evidence of the case ; imputes bad motives (without 
truth or with it) to the prosecutor ; expatiates upon the little 
property (whether it be little or much) which the seducer pos- 
sesses ; by these and by such means he labours to prevent this 
injured father from obtaining any redress, to secure the criminal 
from all punishment, and to encourage in other men the crime 
itself. Compassion, justice, morality, the public good, every 
thing is sacrificed— to what ? To that which, upon such a sub- 
ject, it were a shame to mention. 

In the criminal courts, the same conduct is practised, and with 
the same indefensibility. Can it be necessary, or ought it to be 
necessary, to insist upon the proposition — " If it be right that 
offenders should be punished, it is not right to make them pass 
with impunity.'^ If a police officer has seized a thief and carried 
him to prison, every one knows that it would be vicious in me to 
effect his escape. Yet this is the every day practice of the pro- 
fession. It is their regular and constant endeavour to prevent 
justice from being administered to offenders. Is it a sufficient 
justification of preventing the execution of justice, of preventing 
that which every good citizen is desirous of promoting — to say 
that a man is an advocate by profession ? Is the circumstance 
of belonging to the legal profession a good reason for disre- 
garding those duties which are obligatory upon every other man ? 
He who wards off punishment from swindlers and robbers, and 
sends them amongst the public upon the work of fraud and 
plunder again, surely deserves worse of his country than many 
a himgry man who filches a loaf or a trinket from a stall. As to 
employing legal artifices or the tactics of declamation in order to 
obtain the conviction of a prisoner whom there is reason to believe 
to be innocent ; or as to endeavouring to inflict upon him a 
punishment greater than his deserts, the wickedness is so palpable 
that it is wonderful that even the power of custom protects it 
from the reprobation of the world. 

In Scotland, where the criminal process is in some respects 

Chap, 5. 



superior to ours, the proportion of those prisoners who escape 
punishment on account of " technical niceties,^^ is very great. 
" Of the persons acquitted in our courts, at least 07ie half escape 
from technical niceties, or rules of evidence which give advantage 
to the prisoner, with which, in the other part of the island, they 
are wholly unacquainted.^'^ Is not this a great public eril ? And 
if we charge that evil originally upon the law, is it warrantable, 
is it moral, in the advocate actively to increase and extend it. 

The plea that it is of consequence that the law should be unU 
formly administered, does not suffice to justify the pleader in 
criminal any more than in civil courts. " A thief was caught 
coming out of a house in Highbury Terrace, with a watch he had 
stolen therein upon him. He was found guilty by the jury upon 
the clearest evidence of the theft ; but his counsel having dis- 
covered that he was charged in the indictment with having stolen 
a watch, the property of the owner of the house, whereas the 
watch really belonged to his daughter, the prisoner got clear off.'^^ 
The pretext of the value of an uniform operation of the law will 
not avail here. Suppose the counsel, though he did discover the 
watch was the daughter's, had not insisted upon the inaccuracy, 
no evil would have ensued. The integrity of the law would not 
have been violated. The act of a counsel therefore in such a 
case is simply and only a defeat of public justice, an injury to the 
State, an encouragement to thieves ; and siu*ely there is no reason, 
either in morals or in common sense, why any particular class of 
men should be privileged thus to injure the community. 

The wife of a respectable tradesman in the town in which I 
live was left a widow with eight or ten children. She employed 
a confidential person to assist in conducting the business. The 
business was flourishing ; and yet at the end of every year she 
was surprised and afflicted to find that her profits were unac- 
coimtably small. At length this confidential person was sus- 
pected of peculation. Money was marked and placed as usual 
under his care. It was soon missed and found upon his person ; 
and when the police searched his house, they found in his pos- 
session, methodically stowed away, five or six thousand pounds, 
the accumulated plunder of years \ This cruel and atrocious 
robber found no difficulty in obtaining advocates, who employed 
every artifice of defence, who had recourse to every technicahty 

* Remarks on the Administration of Criminal Justice in Scotland, &c. 
2 West. Rev. No. 8, Art. 4. 



Essay 2. 

of law, to screen him from punishment and to secure for him the 
quiet possession of his plunder. They found in the indictment 
some word, of which the ordinary and the legal acceptation were 
different ; and the indictment was quashed ! Happily, another 
was proof against the casuistry, and the criminal was found guilty. 

Will it be said that pleaders are not supposed to know, tiU the 
verdict is pronoimced, whether a prisoner is guilty or not ? If 
this were true, it would not avail as a justification ; but, in reality, 
it is only a subterfuge. In this very case, after the verdict had 
been pronounced, after the prisoner's guilt had been ascertained, 
a new trial was obtained ; not on account of any doubt in the 
evidence — that was unequivocal — ^but on account of some irregu- 
larity in passing sentence. And now the same conduct was 
repeated. Knowing that the prisoner was guilty, advocates still 
exerted their talents and eloquence to procure impunity for him, 
nay to reward him at the expense of public duty and of pri^'ute 
justice. They did not succeed : the plunderer was transported ; 
but their want of success does not diminish the impropriety, the 
immorality, of their endeavours. If, by the trickery of law, this 
man had obtained an acquittal, what would have been the conse- 
quence ? Not merely that he would have possessed, undisturbed, 
his plundered thousands ; not merely that he might have laughed 
at the family whose money he was spending ; but that a hundred 
or a thousand other shopmen, taking confidence from his success 
and his impunity, might enter upon a similar course of treachery 
and fraud. They might think that if the hour of detection should 
arrive, nothing was wanting but a sagacious advocate to protect 
them from punishment, and to secure their spoil. WiU any 
man then say, as an excuse for the legal practice, that it is 
'^usual,^^ "customary,'^ the "business of the profession ?'' It is 

It really is a dreadful consideration, that a body of men, re- 
spectable in the various relationships of life, should make, in 
consequence of the vicious maxims of a profession, these deplor- 

' Some obstacles in the way of this mode of defeating the ends of justice hare 
been happily interposed by the admirable exertions of the late Secretary of 
State for the Home Department. Still such cases are applicable as Ulustratious 
of what the duties of the profession are ; and, unfortunately, opportunities in 
abundance remain for sacrificing the duties of the profession to its '* business." 
Here, without any advertence to political opinion, it may be remarked, that one 
such statesman as Robert Peel is of more value to his country than a multi- 
tude of those who take office and leave it without any endeavour to ameliorate 
the national institutions. 




able sacrifices of rectitude. To a writer upon such a subject, it 
is difficult to speak with that plainness which morahty requires, 
without seeming to speak illiberally of men. But it is not a 
question of liberality but of morals. When a barrister arrives 
at an assize town on the circuit, and tacitly publishes that 
(abating a few, and only a few cases) he is willing to take the 
brief of any client ; that he is ready to employ his abilities, his 
ingenuity, in proving that any given cause is good or that it is 
bad ; and when, ha^dng gone before a jury, he urges the side on 
which he happens to have been employed, with all the earnest- 
ness of seeming integrity and truth, and bends all the faculties 
which God has given him in promotion of its success ; when we 
see all this, and remember that it was the toss of a die whether 
he should have done exactly the contrary, I think that no ex- 
pression characterizes the procedure but that of intellectual and 
moral prostitution. In any other place than a court of justice, 
every one would say that it was prostitution ; a court of justice 
cannot make it less. 

Perhaps the reader has heard of the pleader who, by some 
accident, mistook the side on which he was to argue, and ear- 
nestly contended for the opponent's cause. His distressed client 
at length conveyed an intimation of his mistake and he, with 
forensic dexterity, told the jury that hitherto he had only been 
anticipating the arguments of the opposing counsel, and that now 
he would proceed to show they were fallacious. If the reader 
should imagine there is peculiar indecency in this, his sentiment 
would be founded upon habit rather than upon reason. There 
is, really, very little diffbrence between contending for both sides 
of the same cause, and contending for either side, as the earliest 
retainer may decide. I lately read the report of a trial in which 
retainers from both parties had been sent to a counsel, and when 
the cause was brought into court it was still undecided for whom 
he should appear. The scale was turned by the judgment of 
another counsel, and the pleader instantly appeared on behalf 
of the chent to whom his brother had allotted him. From the 
mistake which is mentioned at the head of this paragraph, let 
clients take a beneficial hint. I suggest to them, if their oppo- 
nent has engaged the ablest counsel, to engage him also them- 
selves. The arrangement might easily be managed, and would 
be attended with manifest advantages : chents would be sure of 

i» \ 



Essay 2. 

arraying against eacli other equal abilities; justice would be 
promoted by preventing the triumph of the more skilful pleader 
over the less; and the minds of juries might more quietly 
weigh the conflicting arguments,, when they were all proved and 
all refuted by one man. 

Probably it will be asked. What is a legal man to do ? How 
shall he discriminate his duties, or know, in the present state of 
legal institutions, what extent of advocation morality allows ? 
These are fair questions, and he who asks them is entitled to an 
answer. I confess that an answer is difficult : and why is it 
difficult ? Because the whole system is unsound ? He who 
would rectify the ordinary legal practice, is in the situation of a 
physician who can scarcely prescribe with effect for a particular 
symptom in a patient's case, unless he will submit to an entirely 
new regimen and mode of life. The conscientious lawyer is sur- 
rounded with temptations and with difficulties resulting from 
the general system of the law ; difficulties and temptations so 
great that it may almost appear to be the part of a wise man to 
fly rather than to encounter them. There is however, nothing 
necessarily incidental to the legal profession which makes it 
incompatible with morality. He who has the firmness to main- 
tain his allegiance to virtue may doubtless maintain it. Such a 
man would consider, that law being in general the practical 
standard of equity, the pleader may properly illustrate and en- 
force it. He may assiduously examine statutes and precedents, 
and honourably adduce them on behalf of his client. He may 
distinctly and luminously exhibit his client's claims. In examin- 
ing his witnesses he may educe the whole truth : in examining 
the other party's, he may endeavour to detect collusion, and to 
elicit facts which they may attempt to conceal ; in a word, he 
may lay before the court a just and lucid view of the whole 
question. But he may not quote statutes and adjudged cases 
which he really does not think apply to the subject, or if they 
do appear to apply, he may not urge them as possessing greater 
force or applicability than he really thinks they possess. He 
may not endeavour to mislead the jury by appealing to their 
feelings, by employing ridicule, and especially by unfounded in- 
sinuations or misrepresentation of facts. He may not endeavour 
to make his own witnesses affirm more than he thinks they 
know, or induce them, by artful questions, to give a colouring 

Chap. 5. 



to facts different from the colouring of truth. He may not 
endeavour to conceal or discredit the truth by attempting to 
confuse the other witnesses, or by entrapping them into contra- 
dictions. Such as these appear to be the rules which rectitude 
imposes in ordinary cases. There are some cases which a pro- 
fessional man ought not to undertake at all. This is indeed 
acknowledged by numbers of the profession. The obligation to 
reject them is of course founded upon their contrariety to virtue. 
How then shall a legal man know whether he ought to under- 
take a cause at all, but by some previous consideration of its 
merits ? This must really be done if he would conform to the 
requisitions of morality. There is not an alternative : and 
" absurd " or " impracticable " as it may be pronounced to be, 
we do not shrink from explicitly maintaining the truth. Im- 
practicable ! it is at any rate not impracticable to withdraw 
from the profession or to decline to enter it. A man is not com- 
pelled to be a lawyer ; and if there are so many difficulties in 
the practice of professional virtue, what is to be said ? Are we 
to say Virtue must be sacrificed to a profession — or. The pro- 
fession must be sacrificed to virtue ? The pleader will, perhaps, 
say that he cannot tell what the merits of a case are until they 
are elicited in court : but this surely would not avail to justify 
a disregard of morality in any other case. To defend one's self 
for an habitual disregard of the claims of rectitude, because we 
cannot tell, when we begin a course of action, whether it will 
involve a sacrifice of rectitude or not, is an ill defence indeed. 
At any rate, if he connects himself with a cause of questionable 
rectitude, he needs not, and he ought not, to advocate it, whilst 
ignorant of its merits, as if he knew that it was good. He ought 
not to advocate it further than he thinks it is good. But if any 
apologist for legal practice should say, that a pleader knows 
nothing or almost nothing of a brief till he is instructed in court 
by a junior counsel, or that he has too many briefs to be capable 
of any previous inquiry about them, the answer is at hand — 
Refuse them. It would only add one example to the many — 
that virtue cannot always be maintained without cost. It is 
necessary that a man should adhere to virtue ; it is not necessary 
that he should be overwhelmed with briefs. 

There is one consideration under which a pleader may assist a 
client even with a bad cause, which is, that it is proper to prevent 




Essay 2. 

the client from suffering too far. I would acknowledge, gene- 
rally, the justice of the opposite party's claims, or if it were a 
criminal case, I would acquiesce in the evidence which carried 
conviction to my mind ; but still, in both, something may re- 
main for the pleader to do. The plaintiff may demand a thousand 
pounds when only eight hundred are due, and a pleader, though 
he could not with integrity resist the whole demand, could resist 
the excess of the demand above the just amount. Or if the pro- 
secutor urges the guilt of a prisoner and attempts to procure the 
infliction of an undue punishment, a pleader, though he knows 
the prisoner's guilt, may rightly prevent a sentence too severe. 
Murray the grammarian had been a barrister in America : " I 
do not recollect,'' says he, " that I ever encouraged a client to 
proceed at law when I thought his cause was unjust or iudefen- 
sible ; but in such cases, I believe it was my invariable practice 
to discourage litigation and to recommend a peaceable settle- 
ment of differences. In the retrospect of this mode of practice, 
I have always had great satisfaction, and I am persuaded that a 
different procedure would have been the source of many painful 

recollections." ^ 

One serious consideration remains— the effect of the immo- 
rality of legal practice upon the personal character of the pro- 
fession. " The law7er who is frequently engaged in resisting 
what he strongly suspects to be just, in maintaining what he 
deems to be in strictness untenable, in advancing inconclu- 
sive reasoning, and seeking after flaws in the sound replies 
of his antagonists, can be preserved by nothing short of serious 
and invariable solicitude, from the risk of having the dis- 
tinction between moral right and wrong almost erased from his 
mind." ^ Is it indeed so ? Tremendous is the risk. Is it in- 
deed so? Then the custom which entails tliis fearful risk must 
infallibly be bad. Assuredly no virtuous conduct tends to erase 
the distinctions between right and wrong from the mind. 

It is by no means certain, that if a lawyer were to enter upon 

life with a steady determination to act upon the principles of 

strict integrity, his experience would occasion any exception to 

the general nde, that the path of virtue is the path of interest. 

> Memoirs of Lindley Murray, p. 43. ' Gisbome. 


Chap. 5. 



The client who was conscious of the goodness of his cause, would 
prefer the advocate whose known maxims of conduct gave weight 
to every cause that he undertook. When such a man appeared 
before a jury, they would attend to his statements and his rea- 
sonings with that confidence which integrity alone can inspire. 
They would not make, as they now do, perpetual deductions 
from his averred facts ; they would not be upon the watch, as 
they now are, to protect themselves from illusion, and casuistry, 
and misrepresentation. Such a man, I say, would have a weight 
of advocacy which no other qualification can supply ; and upright 
clients, knowing this, would find it their interest to employ him. 
The majority of clients, it is to be hoped, are upright. Profes- 
sional success, therefore, would probably follow. And if a few 
such pleaders, nay if one such pleader was established, the con- 
sequence might be beneficial and extensive to a degree which it 
is not easy to compute. It might soon become necessary for 
other pleaders to act upon the same principles, because clients 
would not entrust their interests to any but those whose cha- 
racters would give weight to their advocacy. Thus even the 
profligate part of the profession might be reformed by motives 
of interest if not from choice. Want of credit might be want of 
practice ; for it might eventually be almost equivalent to the loss 
of a cause to entrust it to a bad man. The effects would extend 
to the public. If none but upright men could be eflScient advo- 
cates, and if upright men would not advocate vicious causes, 
vicious causes would not be prosecuted. But if such be the 
probable or even the possible results of sterling integrity, if it 
might be the means of reforming the practice of a large and 
influential profession, and of almost exterminating wicked litiga- 
tion from a people — the obligation to practise this integrity is 
proportionately great : the amount of depending good involves a 
corresponding amount of responsibility upon him who contributes 
to perpetuate the evil. 


Chap. 6. 





A PROMISE is a contract, differing from such contracts as a 

lawyer would draw up, in the circumstance that ordinarily it is 

not written. The motive for signing a contract is to give assu- 

ranee or security to the receiver that its terms ^nll be fulfilled 

The same motive is the inducement to a promise. The general 

obligation of promises needs little iUustration, because it is not 

disputed. Men are not left without the consciousness that what 

they promise, they ought to perform; and thus thousands, who 

can give no philosophical account of the matter, know, with 

certain assurance, that if they violate their engagements they 

violate the law of God. 

Some philosophers deduce the obUgation of promises from the 
expediency of fulfilling them. Doubtless fulfilment is expedient; 
but there is a shorter and a safer road to truth. To promise and 
not to perform, is to deceive ; and deceit is peculiarly and espe- 
cially condemned by Christianity. A he has been defined to be 
" a breach of promise;" and, since the Scriptures condemn lying, 
they condemn breaches of promise. 

Persons sometimes deceive others by making a promise in a 
sense different from that in which they know it wiU be understood. 
They hope this species of deceit is less criminal than breaking 
their word, and wish to gain the advantage of deceiving without 
its guilt. They dislike the shame but perform the act. A son 
has abandoned his father^s house, and the father promises that if 
he returns, he shall be received with open arms. The son returns, 
the father " opens his arms " to receive him, and then proceeds 
to treat him with rigour. This father falsifies his promise as 
truly as if he had specially engaged to treat him with kindness. 
The sense in which a promise binds a person, is the sense in which 
he knows it is accepted by the other party. 



It is very possible to promise without speaking. Those who 
purchase at auctions frequently advance on the price by a sign or 
a nod. An auctioneer, in selling an estate says, '' Nine hundred 
and ninety pounds are offered." He who makes the customary 
sign to indicate an advance often pounds, promises to give a thou- 
sand. — A person who brings up his children or others in the 
known and encouraged expectation that he will provide for them, 
promises to provide for them. A shipmaster promises to deHver 
a pipe of wine at the accustomed port, although he may have 
made no written and no verbal engagement respecting it. 

Parole, such as is taken of military men, is of imperative obli- 
gation. The prisoner who escapes by breach of parole, ought to be 
regarded as the perpetrator of an aggravated crime : aggravated 
since his word was accepted, as he knows, because pecw/iar reliance 
was placed upon it, and since he adds to the ordinary gailt of 
breach of promise, that of casting suspicion and entailing suffer- 
ing upon other men. If breach of parole were general, parole 
would not be taken. It is one of the anomahes which are pre- 
sented by the adherents to the law of honour, that they do not 
reject from their society the man who impeaches their respect- 
ability and his own, whilst they reject the man who really 
impeaches neither the one or the other. — To say I am a man of 
honour and therefore you may rely upon my word ; and then 
as soon as it is accepted, to violate that word, is no ordinary 
deceit. An upright man never broke parole. 

Promises are not binding if performance is unlawful. Some- 
times men promise to commit a wicked act — even to assassina- 
tion ; but a man is not required to commit murder because he 
has promised to commit it. Thus, in the christian Scriptures, 
the son who had said, " I will not " work in the vineyard, and 
" afterwards repented and went,'' is spoken of with approbation : 
his promise was not binding, because fulfilment would have 
been wrong. Cranmer, whose religious firmness was overcome 
in the prospect of the stake, recanted ; that is, he promised to 
abandon the protestant faith. Neither was his promise binding. 
To have regarded it would have been a crime. The offence 
both of Cranmer and of the son in the parable, consisted not 
in violating their promises but in making them. 

Some scrupulous persons appear to attach a needless obHga- 
tion to expressions which they employ in the form of promises. 





Essay 2. 

You ask a lady if she will join a party in a walk; she decHnes, 
but presently recollecting some inducement to go, she is in doubt 
whether her refusal does not oblige her to stay at home. Such a 
person should recollect, that her refusal does not partake of the 
character of a promise : there is no other party to it : she comes 
tinder no other engagement to another. She only expresses her 
present intention, which intention she is at liberty to alter. 

Many promises are conditional though the conditions are not 
expressed. A man says to some friends, I wHl dine with you at 
two o^clock ; but as he is preparing to go, his child meets with 
an accident which requires his attention. This man does not 
violate a promise by absenting himself, because such promises 
are in fact made and accepted with the tacit understandmg that 
they are subject to such conditions. No one would ej^pect, when 
his friend engaged to dine with him, that he intended to bmd 
himself to come, though he left a child unassisted with a fractured 
arm. Accordingly, when a person means to exclude such con- 
ditions he says, " I wiU certainly do so and so if I am living 

and able.'^ ^ 

Yet, even to seem to disregard an engagement is an evil, lo 
an ingenuous and christian mind there is always something 
painful in not performing it. Of this evil the principal source is 
gratuitously brought upon us by the habit of using unconditional 
terms for conditional engagements. That which is only mtention 
should be expressed as intention. It is better, and more becoming 
the condition of humanity, to say, I intend to do a thing, than, 
I will do a thing. The recollection of our dependency upon 
uncontrollable circumstances should be present with us even in 
little affairs-- Go to now, ye that say. To-day or to-morrow we 
will go into such a city and buy and sell and get gam : whereas 
ye know not what shall be on the morrow.— Ye ought to say, If 
the Lord wm, we shall Hve, and do this or that.^' Not mdeed 
that the sacred name of God is to be introduced to express the 
conditions of our little engagements : but the principle should 
never be forgotten, that we know not what shall be on the 

morrow. , 

Respecting the often discussed question, ■(whether extorted 
promises are binding, there has been, I suspect, a general want 
of advertence to one important point. What is an extorted 
promise? If by an extorted promise, is meant a promise that 

Chap. 6. 




is made involuntarily, without the concurrence of the will ; if it 
is the effect of any ungovernable impulse, and made without the 
consciousness of the party — then it is not a promise. This may 
happen. Fear or agitation may be so great that a person really 
does not know what he says or does ; and in such a case a man^s 
promises do not bind him any more than the promises of a man 
in a fit of insanity. But if by an " extorted^' promise it is only 
meant that very powerful inducements were held out to making 
it, inducements however which did not take away the power of 
choice — then these promises are in strictness voluntary, and like 
all other voluntary engagements, they ought to be fulfilled. 
But perhaps fulfilment is itself unlawful. Then you may not 
fulfil it. The offence consists in making such engagements. It 
will be said, a robber threatened to take my life unless I would 
promise to reveal the place where my neighbour's money was 
deposited. Ought I not to make the promise in order to save 
my life ? No. Here, in reality, is the origin of the difficulties 
and the doubts. To rob your neighbour is criminal ; to enable 
another man to rob him is criminal too. Instead therefore of 
discussing the obligation of ''extorted'' promises, we should 
consider whether such promises may lawfully be made. The 
prospect of saving life is one of the utmost inducements to make 
them, and yet, amongst those things which we are to hold sub- 
servient to our christian fidelity, is our ''own life also." If, 
however, giving way to the weakness of nature, a person makes 
the promise, he should regulate his performance by the ordinary 
principles. Fulfil the promise unless fulfilment be wrong : and 
if, in estimating the propriety of fulfilling it, any difficulty arises, 
it must be charged not to the imperfection of moral principles, 
but to the entanglement in which we involve ourselves by having 
begun to deviate from rectitude. If we had not unlawfully made 
the promise we should have had no difficulty in ascertaining our 
subsequent duty. The traveller who does not desert the proper 
road, easily finds his way ; he who once loses sight of it, has 
many difficulties in returning. 

The history of that good man John Fletcher (La Flechere) 
affords an example to our purpose. Fletcher had a brother, De 
Gons, and a nephe\v, a profligate youth. This youth came one 
day to his uncle De Gons, and holding up a pistol, declared he 
would instantly shoot him if he did not give him an order for 




Essay 2. 

five hundred crowBS. De Gons in terror gave it; and the nephew 
then under the same threat, required him solemnly to promise 
that he would not prosecute him ; and De Gons made the promise 
accordingly. That is what is called an extorted promise, and an 
extorted gift. How, in similar circumstances, did Fletcher act .^ 
This youth afterwards went to him, told him of the " present 
which De Gons had made, and showed him the order. Fletcher 
suspected some fraud, and thinking it right to prevent its success, 
he put the order in his pocket. It was at the risk of his hfe. 
The young man instantly presented his pistol, declaring that he 
would fire if he did not deliver it up. Fletcher did not submit 
to the extortion : he told him that his life was secure under the 
nrotection of God, refused to deliver up the order, and severely 
Lonstrated with his nephew on his profligacy. The young man 
was restrained and softened; and before he left l>;--le, gav 
Mm many assurances that he would amend his life^-De Gons 
nnght have been perplexed with doubts as to the obligation of 
his « extorted" promise : Fletcher could have no doubts to solve. 




The euilt of lying, like that of many other offences, has been 
needlessly founded upon its ill effects. These effects constitute 
a good reason for adhering to truth, but they are not the greatest 
nor the best. "Putting away lying, speak ^^7 "^f J™* with 
his neighbour.'^ « Ye shall not steal, neither deal falsely, neither 
He one to another."' " The law is made for unholy and profane, 
for murderers-for liars."' It may afford the reader some 
instruction, to observe with what crimes lying /'l/^^'^r^.'* /J 
Scripti^e-with perpry, -^ m^^-^^^^^^^^^^ ""^'.^ 

it is necessary to suppose that the measure oi gu. 
crimes is equal, but that the guilt of all is great. With respect 
to lying, there is no trace in these passages that its gmlt is con- 
ditUiupon its effects, or that it is not always, and for whatever 
purpose, prohibited by the Divine Will. * 

7ue is uttering what is not true when the speaker professes 
tott?; Suth, or when he knows it is expected by the he.e. 
I do not perceive that any looser definition is allowable, because 
every looser definition would permit deceit. 

• Eph. iT. 25. ' Lev. xix. 11. ' 1 Tim. i. 9. 10. 

Milton's definition, considering the general tenor of his cha- 
racter, was very lax. He says, '^ Falsehood is incurred when any 
one, from a dishonest motivej either perverts the truth or utters 
what is false to one to whom it is his duty to speak the truthJ'^ 
To whom is it not our duty to speak the truth ? What constitutes 
duty but the will of God f and where is it found that it is his 
will that we should sometimes lie? — But another condition is 
proposed : In order to constitute a lie, the motive to it must be 
dishonest. Is not all deceit dishonesty ; and can any one utter 
a lie without deceit ? A man who travels in the Arctic regions 
comes home and writes a narrative, professedly faithful, of his 
adventures, and decorates it with marvellous incidents wliich 
never happened, and stories of wonders which he never saw. 
You tell this man he has been passing lies upon the public. Oh 
no, he says, I had not " a dishonest motive.^' I only meant to 
make readers wonder. — Milton's mode of substantiating his doc- 
trine, is worthy of remark. He makes many references for 
authority to the Hebrew Scriptures, but not one to the christian. 
The reason is plain, though perhaps he was not aware of it, that 
the purer moral system which the christian Lawgiver introduced, 
did not countenance the doctrine. Another argument is so feeble 
that it may well be concluded no valid argument can be found. 
If it had been discoverable would not Milton have found it ? 
He says, '^ It is universally admitted that feints and stratagems 
in war, when unaccompanied by perjury or breach of faith, do 
not fall under the description of falsehood. — It is scarcely possible 
to execute any of the artifices of war, without openly uttering the 
greatest untruths with the indisputable intention of deceiving."^ 
And so, because the " greatest untruths '' are uttered in con- 
ducting one of the most flagitious departments of the most 
unchristian system in the world, we are told, in a system of 
christian doctrine, that untruths are lawful ! 

Paley's philosophy is yet more lax : he says that we may 
tell a falsehood to a person who " has no right to know the 
truth." ^ What constitutes a right to know the truth, it were 
not easy to determine. But if a man has no right to know the 
truth — withhold it ; but do not utter a lie. A man has no right 
to know how much property I possess. If, however, he imperti- 
nently chooses to ask, what am I to do ? Refuse to tell him, says 

» Christian Doctrine, p. 658. ^ la. 659. ' Mor. and Pol. Phil. b. 3, p. I, c. 15. 




Essay 2. 

christian morality. What am I to do? Tell him it is ten times 
as great as it is, says the morality of Paley- 

To say that when a man is tempted to employ a falsehood, he 
is to consider the degree of " inconveniency which results from 
the 'want of confidence in such cases," i and to employ the 
falsehood or not as this degree shall prescribe, is surely to 
trifle with morality. What is the hope that a man will decide 
aright, who sets about such a calculation at such a time f 
Another kind of falsehood which it is said is lawful, is that " to a 
robber, to conceal your property." A man gets into my house, 
and desires to know where he shall find my plate. I tell him 
it is in a chest in such a room, knowing that it is m a closet 
in another. By such a falsehood I might save my property or 
possibly my life ; but if the prospect of doing this be a sufficient 
reason for violating the Moral Law, there is no action which we 
may not lawfully commit. May a person, in order so to save 
his property or life, commit parricide ? Every reader says. No. 
But where is the ground of the distinction ? If you may he for the 
sake of such advantages, why may you not Mil? What makes 
murder unlawful but that which makes lying unlawful too ? I^o 
man surely will say that we must make distinctions in the atrocity 
of such actions, and that, though it is not lawful for the sake 
of advantage to commit an act of a certain intensity of guilt yet 
it is lawful to commit one of a certain gradation less buch 
doctrine would be purely gratuitous and unfounded: i would 
be equivalent to saying that we arc at liberty to disobey the 
Divine Laws when we think fit. The case is very simple : If 
I may tell a falsehood to a robber in order to save my property 
I may commit parricide for the same purpose ; for lying and 
parricide are placed together and jointly condemned- in the 

revelation from God. 

Then we are told that we may " tell a falsehood to a madman, 
for his own advantage," and this because it is beneficial. Ur. 
Carter may furnish an answer : he speaks of the Female Lunatic 
Asylum, Saltpetriere, in Paris, and says, " The great object to 
which the views of the officers of La Saltpetriere are directed, is 
to gain the confidence of the patients ; and this object is gene- 
rally attained by gentleness, by appearing to take an interest in 
their affairs, by a decision of character equally remote from the 

• Mor. and Pol. Phil. b. 8, p. 1, c. 15. "- 1 Tim. i. 9, 10. 




Chap. 6. 



extremes of indulgence and severity, and by the most scrupulous 
observance of good faith. Upon this latter, particular stress seems 
to be laid by M. Pinel, who remarks ' that insane persons, like 
children, loose all confidence and all respect if you fail in your 
word towards them ; and they immediately set their ingenuity 
to work to deceive and circumvent you.^ "^ What then becomes 
of the doctrine of " telling falsehoods to madmen for their own 
advantage ?'' It is pleasant thus to find the evidence of expe- 
rience enforcing the dictates of principle, and that what morality 
declares to be right, facts declare to be expedient. 

Persons frequently employ falsehoods to a sick man who 
cannot recover, lest it should discompose liis mind. This is 
called kindness, although an earnest preparation for death may 
be at stake upon their speaking the truth. There is a peculiar 
inconsistency sometimes exhibited on such occasions : the persons 
who will not discompose a sick man for the sake of his interests 
in futurity, will discompose him without scruple if he has not 
made his will. Is a bequest of more consequence to the survivor, 
than a hope full of immortality to the dying man ? 

It is curious to remark how zealously persons reprobate " pious 
frauds ;'' that is, lies for the religious benefit of the deceived 
party. Surely if any reason for employing falsehood be a good 
one, it is the prospect of efi^ecting religious benefit. How is it 
then that we so freely condemn these falsehoods, whilst we 
contend for others which are used for less important purposes ? 

StiU, not every expression that is at variance with facts is a 
lie, because there are some expressions in which the speaker does 
not pretend, and the hearer does not expect, literal truth. Of 
this class are hyperboles and jests, fables and tales of professed 
fiction : of this class too, are parables, such as are employed in 
the New Testament. In such cases affirmative language is used 
in the same terms as if the allegations were true, yet as it is 
known that it does not profess to narrate facts, no lie is uttered. 
It is the same with some kinds of irony : " Cry aloud,'' said 
Elijah to the priests of the idol, ''for he is a god, peradventure 
he sleepeth.'' — And yet, because a given untruth is not a lie, it 
does not therefore follow that it is innocent : for it is very pos- 
sible to employ such expressions without any sufficient justifica- 
tion. A man who thinks he can best inculcate virtue through 

* Account of the Principal Hospitals in France, &c. 

N 2 



Essay 2. 


a fable, may write one : lie who desires to discoimtenance an 
absurdity, may employ irony. Yet every one should use as httle 
of such language as he can, because it is frequently dangerous 
lancniage. The man who famiHarizes himself to a departure from 
literal truth, is in danger of departing from it without reason 
and without excuse. Some of these departures are like lies ; so 
much like them that both speaker and hearer may reasonably 
question whether they are lies or not. The lapse from untruths 
which can deceive no one, to those which are intended to deceive, 
proceeds by almost imperceptible gradations on the scale of evil ; 
and it is not the part of wisdom to approach the verge of gmlt. 
Nor is it to be forgotten, that language, professedly fictitioiis, is 
not always understood to be such by those who hear it. This 
applies especially to the case of children-that is, of mankind 
during that period of life in which they are acquirmg some ot 
their first notions of morality. The boy who hears his father 
using hyperboles and irony with a grave countenance, probably 
thinks he has his father's example for telling lies amongst his 

schoolfellows. . , ^ ^ r^. 

Amongst the indefensible untruths which often are not lies, 
are those which factitious politeness enjoins. Such are compli- 
ments and complimentary subscriptions, and many other untruths 
of expression and of action which pass currently m the world. 
These are, no doubt, often estimated at their value : the receiver 
knows that they are base coin though they shine like the good. 
Now, although it is not to be pretended that such expressions, 
so estimated, are lies, yet I wiU venture to affirm that the reader 
cannot set up for them any tolerable defence ; and if he cannot 
show that they are right he may be quite sure that they are 
wrong. A defence has however been attempted : " How much is 
happiness increased by the general adoption of a system of con- 
certed and Hmited deceit I He from whose doctrine it flows that 
we are to be in no case hypocrites, would, in mere manners 
reduce us to a degree of barbarism beyond that of the rudest 
sava-e." We do not enter here into such questions as whether 
a man may smile when his friend calls upon him, though he 
would rather just then that he had staid away. Whatever the 
reader may think of these questions, the " system of deceit 
which passes in the world cannot be justified by t]ie decisi^^. 
There is no fear that - a degree of barbarism beyond that of the 



rudest savage " would ensue, if this system were amended. The 
first teachers of Christianity, who will not be charged with being 
in ^^any case hypocrites,^' both recommended and practised 
gentleness and courtesy .i And as to the increase of happiness 
which is assumed to result from this system of deceit, the fact is 
of a very questionable kind. No society I believe sufficiently 
discourages it ; but that society which discourages it probably as 
much as any other, certainly enjoys its full average of happiness. 
But the apology proceeds, and more seriously errs: " The employ- 
ment of falsehood for the production of good, cannot be more 
unworthy of the Divine Being than the acknowledged employ- 
ment of rapine and murder for the same purpose.''^ Is it then 
not perceived that to employ the wickedness of man is a very 
diffisrent thing from holding its agents innocent ? Some of those 
whose wickedness has been thus employed, have been punished 
for that wickedness. Even to show that the Deity has employed 
falsehood for the production of good, would in no degree esta- 
blish the doctrine that falsehood is right. 

The childish and senseless practice of requiring servants to 
" deny'' their masters, has had many apologists — I suppose be- 
cause many perceive that it is wrong. It is not always true 
that such a servant does not in strictness lie ; for, how well soever 
the folly may be understood by the gay world, some who knock 
at their doors have no other idea than that they may depend upon 
the servant's word. Of this the servant is sometimes conscious, 
and to these persons therefore he who denies his master, lies. 
An iminitiated servant suffers a shock to his moral principles 
when he is first required to tell these falsehoods. It diminishes 
his previous abhorrence of lying, and otherwise deteriorates his 
moral character. Even if no such ill consequences resulted 
from this foolish custom, there is objection to it which is short, 
but sufficient — nothing can be said in its defence. 

Amongst the prodigious multiplicity of falsehoods which are 
practised in legal processes, the system of pleading not guilty is 
one that appears perfectly useless. By the rule, that all who 
refuse to plead were presumed to be guilty, prisoners were in 
some sort compelled to utter this falsehood before they could 
have the privilege of a trial. The law is lately relaxed ; so that 

» 1 Peter ii. 1 . Tit. iii. 2. 1 Peter iii. 8. 

■^ Edin. Rev. vol. 1, Art. Belsham's Philosophy of the 3>lind. 


a prisoner, if he chooses, may refuse to plead at aU. Still, only 
a part of the evil is removed, for even now, to keep silent may 
be construed into a tacit acknovrledgment of guilt, so that the 
temptation to falsehood is still exhibited. There is no other use 
in the custom of pleading guilty or not guilty, but that, if a man 
desires to acknowledge his guilt, he may have the opportumty ; 
and this he may have without any custom of the sort.-It can- 
not be doubted that the multitude of falsehoods which obtam 
in legal documents during the progress of a suit at law, have a 
powerful tendency to propagate habits of mendacity A man sells 
goods to the value of twenty pounds to another, and is obhged to 
enforce payment by law. The lawyer draws up for the creditor a 
Declaration in Assumpsit, stating that the debtor owes him /or<j, 
pounds for goods sold,/or<y pounds for work Aono, forty pounds 

for money lent, forty pounds for ."^^^^J f^^P^'^Jf °^ .\'^ 
account, /or^y pounds for money received by the debtor for the 

creditor, and so on-and that, two or three hundred pounds 
being thus due to the creditor, he h^ a just demand of twmty 
pounds upon the debtor ! These falsehoods are not one half ot 
what an every day Declaration in Assumpsit contains. If a 
person refuses to give up a hundred head of cattle which a farmer 
Ls placed in his custody, the farmer declares that he casually 
lost" them, and that the other party "casually found them 
and then, instead of saying he casually lost a hundred head of 
cattle, he declares that it was a thousand bulls, a thousand cows 
a thousand o.Ken, and a thousand heifers ! i I do not think that 
the habits ot mendacity which such falsehoods are likely to 
encourage are the worst consequences of this unhappy system, 
but they are seriously bad. No man who considers the influence 
of habit upon the mind, can doubt that an ingenuous abhorrence 
of lying IS likely to be diminished by famikanty with these 
extravagant falsehoods. 

» See the Form, 2, Chitty on Pleading, p. 370. 






" An oath is that whereby we call God to witness the truth of 
what we say, with a curse upon ourselves, either implied or ex- 
pressed, should it prove false. ^^ ^ 

A CURSE.— Now supposing the christian Scriptures to contain 
no information respecting the moral character of oaths, how far 
is it reasonable, or prudent, or reverent, for a man to stake his 
salvation upon the truth of what he says ? To bring forward 
so tremendous an event as ''everlasting destruction from the 
presence of the Lord," in attestation of the offence perhaps of a 
poacher or of the claim to a fields is siu-ely to make unwarrant- 
ably light of most awful things. This consideration applies, 
even if a man is sure that he speaks the truth ; but who is, 
beforehand, sure of this ? Oaths in cAddence, for example, are 
taken before the testimony is given. A person swears that he 
will speak the truth. Who, I ask, is sure that he will do this ? 
Who is sure that the embarrassment of a public examination, that 
the ensnaring questions of counsel, that the secret influence of 
inclination or interest, will not occasion him to utter one inac- 
curate expression ? Who at any rate, is so sure of this that it is 
rational, or justifiable, specifically to stake his salvation upon 
his accuracy ? Thousands of honest men have been mistaken ; 
their allegations have been sincere, but untrue. And if this 
should be thought not a legitimate objection, let it be remem- 
bered, that few men's minds are so sternly upright, that they 

* Milton : Christian DocUine, p. 579. 




can answer a variety of questions upon subjects on which their 
feelings, and wishes, and interest are involved, without some 
little deduction from the truth, in speaking of matters that are 
against their cause, or some little overcolouring of facts in their 
own favour. It is a circumstance of constant occurrence, that • 
even a well-intentioned witness adds to or deducts a Httle from 
the truth. Who then, amidst such temptation, would make, 
who ought to make, his hope of heaven dependent on his strict 
adherence to accurate veracity ? And if such considerations 
indicate the impropriety of swearing upon subjects which affect 
the lives, and liberties, and property of others, how shall we 
estimate the impropriety of using these dreadful imprecations to 
attest the delivery of a summons for a debt of half-a-crown ! 

These are moral objections to the use of oaths independently 
of any reference to the direct Moral Law. Another objection 
of the same kind is this : To take an oath is to assume that the 
Deity wiU become a party in the case— that we can caU upon 
Him, when we please, to follow up by the exercise of His 
almighty power, the contracts (often the very insignificant con- 
tracts) which men make with men. Is it not irreverent, and for 
that reason immoral, to call upon him to exercise this power in 
reference to subjects which are so insignificant that other men 
will scarcely listen with patience to their details ? The objection 
croes even further. A robber exacts an oath of the man whom 
he has plundered, that he will nj^t attempt to pursue or prose- 
cute him. Pursuit and prosecution are duties ; so then the oath 
assumes that the Deity will punish the swearer in futurity if he 
fulfils a duty. Confederates in a dangerous and wicked enterprise 
bind one another to secrecy and to mutual assistance, by oaths 
—assuming that God will become a party to their wickedness, 
and if they do not perpetrate it will punish them for their virtue. 
Upon every subject of questionable rectitude that is sanc- 
tioned by habit and the usages of society, a person should place 
himself in the independent situation of an enquirer. He should 
not seek for arguments to defend an existing practice, but should 
simply enquire what our practice ought to be. One of the most 
powerful causes of the slow amendment of public institutions, 
consists in this circumstance, that most men endeavour rather 
to justify what exists than to consider whether it ought to exist 
or not. This cause operates upon the question of oaths. We 

Chap, 7. 



therefore invite the reader, in considering the citation which 
follows, to suppose himself to be one of the listeners at the 
Mount — to know nothing of the customs of the present day, 
and to have no desire to justify them. 

" Ye have heard that it hath been said by them of old 
time. Thou shalt not forswear thyself but shall perform unto 
the Lord thine oaths. But I say unto you. Swear not at all : 
neither by heaven for it is God^s throne, nor by the earth for it 
is his footstool, neither by Jerusalem, for it is the city of the 
Great King. Neither shalt thou swear by thy head, because 
thou canst not make one hair white or black. But let your 
communication be yea, yea, nay, nay ; for whatsoever is more 
than these cometh of evil." ^ 

If a person should take a New Testament, and read these 
words to ten intelligent Asiatics who had never heard of them 
before, does any man believe that a single individual of them 
would think that the words did not prohibit all oaths ? I lay stress 
upon this consideration : if ten unbiassed persons would, at the 
first hearing, say the prohibition was universal, we have no con- 
temptible argument that that is the real meaning of the words. 
For to whom were the words addressed ? Not to schoolmen, of 
whom it was known that they would make nice distinctions and 
curious investigations ; not to men of learning, who were in the 
habit of cautiously weighing the import of words — ^but to a 
multitude — a mixed and unschooled multitude. It was to such 
persons that the prohibition was addressed; it was to such 
apprehensions that its form was adapted. 

^' It hath been said of old time. Thou shalt not forswear thy- 
self." Why refer to what was said of old time? For this 
reason assuredly ; to point out that the present requisitions were 
different from the former ; that what was prohibited now was 
different from what was prohibited before. And what was pro- 
hibited before ? S wearing falsely — Swearing and not performing. 
What then could be prohibited now ? Swearing truly — Swear- 
ing, even, and performing : that is, swearing at all ; for it is 
manifest, that if truth may not be attested by an oath, no oath 
may be taken. Of old time it was said, '' Ye shall not swear by 
my name falsely. ^^ ^ " If a man swear an oath to bind his soul 
with a bond, he shall not break his word." ^ There could be no 

' Matt. V. 33—37. ^ Lev. xix. 12. ' Numb. xxx. 2. 





Essay 2. 

intelligible purpose in contradistinguishing the new precept 
from these, but to point out a characteristic difference; and 
there is no intelligible characteristic difference but that which 
denounces all oaths. Such were the views of the early chris- 
tians. " The old law/' says one of them, " is satisfied with the 
honest keeping of the oath, but Christ cuts off the opportunity of 
penury." ^ In acknowledging that this prefatory reference to 
the former law is in my view absolutely conclusive of our chris- 
tian duty, I would remark as an extraordinary circumstance that 
Dr. Paley, in citing the passage, omits this introduction, and 
takes no notice of it in his argument. 

« I say unto you, Swear not at alV The words are absolute 

and exclusive. 

" Neither by heaven, nor by the earth, nor by Jerusalem, nor 
by thy own head.'' Respecting this enumeration, it is said that 
it prohibits swearing by certain objects, but not by all objects. 
To which a sufficient answer is found in the parallel passage in 
James : " Swear not," he says ; " neither by heaven, neither by 
the earth, neither by any other oath." 2 This mode of prohi- 
bition, by which an absolute and universal rule is first proposed 
and then followed by certain examples of the prohibited things, 
is elsewhere employed in Scripture. " Thou shalt have no 
other gods before me. Thou shalt not make unto thee any 
graven image, or any likeness of anything that is in heaven 
above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water 
under the earth." ' No man supposes that this after-enumera- 
tion was designed to restrict the obligation of the law— Thou 
shalt have no other gods before me. Yet it were as reasonable 
to say that it was lawful to make idols in the form of imaginary 
monsters because they were not mentioned in the enumeration, 
as that it is lawful to swear any given kind of oath because it is not 
mentioned in the enumeration. Upon this part of the prohibi- 
tion, it is curious that two contradictory opinions are advanced 
by the defenders of oaths. The first class of reasoners says. 
The prohibition allows us to swear by the Deity, but disallows 
swearing by inferior things. The second class says. The prohi- 
bition allows swearing by inferior things, but disallows swearing 
by the Deity. Of the first class is Milton. The injunction, he 
says, " does not prohibit us from swearing by the name of God, 
» Basil. * James v. 12. ' Exod. xx. 3. See also xx. 4. 

Chap, 7. 



— We are only commanded not to swear by heaven, &c." ^ But 
here again the Scripture itself furnishes a conclusive answer. It 
asserts that to swear by heaven is to swear by the Deity : '^ He 
that shall swear by heaven, sweareth by the throne of God, and 
• by Him that sitteth thereon." ^ To prohibit swearing by heaven, 
is therefore to prohibit swearing by God. Amongst the second 
class is Dr. Paley. He says, " On account of the rela- 
tion which these things, [the heavens, the earth, &c.] bore to 
the Supreme Being, to swear by any of them was in effect and 
substance to swear by Him ; for which reason our Saviour says. 
Swear not at aU ; that is, neither directly by God, nor indirectly 
by anything related to him." ^ But if we are thus prohibited 
from swearing by anything related to Him, how happens it that 
Paley proceeds to justify judicial oaths ? Does not the judicial 
deponent swear by something related to God ? Does not he 
swear by something much more nearly related than the earth 
or our own heads ? Is not our hope of salvation more nearly 
related than a member of our bodies ? But after he has thus 
taken pains to show that swearing by the Almighty was espe- 
cially forbidden, he enforces his general argument by saying 
that Christ did swear by the Almighty ? He says that the 
high priest examined our Saviour upon oath, " by the living 
God ; " which oath he took. This is wonderful j and the more 
wonderful because of these two arguments the one immediately 
follows the other. It is contended, within half a dozen lines, 
first that Christ forbade swearing by God, and next that he vio- 
lated his own command. « 

" But let your commimication be yea, yea, nay, nay." This 
is remarkable : it is positive superadded to negative commands. 
We are told not only what we ought not, but what we ought to 
do. It has indeed been said that the expression " your com- 
munication," fixes the meaning to apply to the ordinary inter- 
course of life. But to this there is a fatal objection : the whole 
prohibition sets out with a reference not to conversational lan- 
guage, but to solemn declarations on solemn occasions. Oaths, 
Oaths " to the Lord," are placed at the head of the passage ; and 
it is too manifest to be insisted upon that solemn declarations, 
and not every-day talk, were the subject of the prohibition. , 

' Christ. Doc. p. 582. '^ Matt, xxiii. 22. 

' Mor. and Pol. PhU. b. 3, p. i. c. 16. 





Essay 2. 

" Whatsoever is more than these, cometh of evil." This is 
indeed most accurately true. Evil is the foundation of oaths : 
it is because men are bad that it is supposed oaths are needed : 
take away the wickedness of mankind, and we shaU still have 
occasion for No and Yes, but we shall need nothing " more 
than these." And this consideration furnishes a distinct motive 
to a good man to decline to swear. To take an oath is tacitly to 
acknowledge that this " evil " exists in his own mind— that 
with him Christianity has not effected its destined objects. 

From this investigation of the passage, it appears manifest 
that all swearing upon all occasions is prohibited. Yet the ordi- 
nary opinion, or rather perhaps the ordinary defence is, that the 
passage has no reference to judicial oaths. "We explain our 
Saviour's words to relate not to judicial oaths but to the practice 
of vain, wanton, and unauthorised swearing in common discourse." 
To this we have just seen that there is one conclusive answer : 
our Saviour distinctly and specifically mentions as the subject of 
his instructions solemn oaths. But there is another conclusive 
answer even upon our opponents' own showing. They say 
first, that Christ described particular forms of oaths which might 
be employed, and next, that his precepts referred to wanton 
swearing ; that is to say, that Christ described what particular 
forms of wanton swearing he allowed and what he disallowed ! 
You cannot avoid this monstrous conclusion. If Christ spoke 
only of vain and wanton swearing, and if he described the modes 
that were lawful, he sanctioned wanton swearing provided we 
swear in the prescribed form. 

With such distinctness of evidence as to the universality of 

the prohibition of oaths by Jesus Christ, it is not in strictuess 

necessary to refer to those passages in the christian Scriptm^es 

which some persons adduce in favour of their employment. If 

Christ have prohibited them, nothing else can prove them to be 

right. Our reference to these passages will accordingly be short. 

"I adjure thee by the Hving God that thou tell us whether 

thou be the Christ, the Son of God." To those who aUege that 

Christ, in answering to this " Thou hast said," took an oath, a 

sufficient answer has already been intimated. If Christ then took 

an oath, he swore by the Deity, and this is precisely the very 

kind of oath which it is acknowledged he himself forbade. But 

what imaginable reason could there be for examining him upon 

Chap, 7. 



oath ? Who ever heard of calling upon a prisoner to sweai' that 
he was guilty ? Nothing was wanted but a simple declaration 
that he was the Son of God. With this view the proceeding was 
extremely natural. Finding that to the less urgent solicitation 
he made no reply, the high priest proceeded to the more urgent. 
Schleusner expressly remarks upon the passage that the words, 

1 adjure, do not here mean, " I make to swear or put upon oath," 
but " I solemnly and in the name of God exhort and enjoin." 
This is evidently the natural and the only natural meaning ; just 
as it was the natural meaning when the evil spirit said, " I adjure 
thee by the living God that thou torment me not." The evil 
spirit surely did not administer an oath. 

" God is my witness that without ceasing I make mention of 
you always in may prayers."^ That the Almighty was witness 
to the subject of his prayers is most true ; but to state this truth 
is not to swear. Neither this language nor that which is indi- 
cated below, contains the characteristics of an oath according to 
the definitions even of those who urge the expressions. None 
of them contain, according to Milton's definition, " a curse upon 
ourselves;" nor according to Paley's, " an invocation of God's 
vengeance." Similar language, but in a more emphatic form, is 
employed in writing to the Corinthian converts. It appears from 

2 Cor. ii. that Paul had resolved not again to go to Corinth in 
heaWness, lest he should make them sorry. And to assUre them 
why he had made this resolution he says, " I call God for a 
record upon my soul that to spare you 1 came not as yet unto 
Corinth.'^ In order to show this to be an oath, it will be neces- 
sary to show that the apostle imprecated the vengeance of God 
if he did not speak the truth. Who can show this ? — The ex- 
pression appears to me to be only an emphatical mode of saying, 
God is witness ; or as the expression is sometimes employed in the 
present day, God knows that such was my endeavour or desire. 

The next and the last argument is of a very exceptionable class : 
it is founded upon silence. " For men verily swear by the greater, 
and an oath for confirmation is to them an end of aU strife."^ 
Respecting this it is said that it "speaks of the custom of swearing 
judicially without any mark of censure or disapprobation." Will 
it then be contended that whatever an apostle mentions without 
reprobating, he approves ? The same apostle speaks just in the 

* Rom. i. 9. See also 1 Thess. ii. 5. and Gal. i. 20. ^ Heb. vi. 16. 






Essay 2. 

same manner of the pagan games ; of running a race for prizes 
and of " striving for the mastery." Yet who would admit tlie 
argument, that because Paul did not then censure the games, he 
thought them right ! The existing customs both of swearing 
and of the games, are adduced merely by way of illustration of 
the writer's subject. 

Respecting the lawfulness of oaths, then, as determined by the 
christian Scriptures, how does the balance of evidence stand ? 
On the one side, we have plain emphatical prohibitions— prohi- 
bitions, of which the distinctness is more fully proved the more 
they are investigated ; on the other we have-counter precepts ? 
No ; it is not even pretended ; but we have examples of the use 
of language, of which it is saying much to say, that it is doubtful 
whether they are oaths or not. How, then, would the man of 
reason and of philosophy decide ?—" Many of the christian 
fathers,'^ says Grotius, " condemned all oaths without excep- 
tion.^'^ Grotius was himself an advocate of oaths. "I say 
nothing of perjury,'^ says Tertullian, '' since swearing itself is 
unlawful to christians. '^^ Chiysostom says, " Do not say to me, 
I swear for a just purpose; it is no longer lawful for thee to swear 
either justly or unjustly ."^ « He who,'' says Gregory of Nysse, 
"has precluded murder by taking away anger, and who has 
driven away the pollution of adultery by subduing desire, has 
expeUedfrom our life the curse of perjury by forbidding us to 
swear ; for where there is no oath, there can be no infringement 
of it."* Such is the conviction which the language of Chnst 
conveyed to the early converts to his pure religion ; and such is 
the conviction which I think it would convey to us if custom had 
not familiarized us with the evil, and if we did not read the New 
Testament rather to find justifications of our practice than to 
discover the truth and to apply it to our conduct. 


Men naturally speak the truth unless they have some induce- 
ments to falsehood. When they have such inducements, what is 
it that overcomes them and still prompts them to speak the truth? 

Consideration of duty, founded upon religion : 

Chap. 7. 



^ Rights of War and Peace. * Be Idol. cap. 11 . 

* In Cant. Horn. 13. 

3 In Gen. ii. Horn. xv. 

The apprehension of the ill opinion of other men : 
The fear of legal penalties. 

I. It is obvious that the intervention of an oath is designed to 
strengthen only the first of these motives— that is, the religious 
sanction. I say to strengthen the religious sanction. No one 
supposes it creates that sanction ; because people know that the 
sanction is felt to apply to falsehood as well as to perjury. The 
advantage of an oath, then, if advantage there be, is in the 
increased poiver which it gives to sentiments of duty founded 
upon religion. Now, it will be our endeavour to show that this 
increased power is small ; that, in fact, the oath, as such, adds 
very little to the motives to veracity. What class of men will 
the reader select in order to illustrate its greatest power ? 

Good men ? They Avill speak the truth whether without an 
oath or with it. They know that God has appended to falsehood 
as to perjury the threat of his displeasure, and of punishment in 
futurity. Upon them religion possesses its rightful influence 
without the intervention of an oath. 

Bad men ? Men who care nothing for religion ? They will 
care nothing for it thougli they take an oath. 

Men of ambiguous character ? Men on whom the sanctions 
of religion are sometimes operative and sometimes not ? Perhaps 
it will be said that to these the solemnity of an oath is necessary 
to rouse their latent apprehensions, and to bind them to veracity. 
But tliese persons do not go before a legal officer or into a court 
of justice as they go into a parlour or meet an acquaintance in 
the street. Recollection of mind is forced upon them by the 
circumstances of their situation. The court, and the forms of 
law, and the audience, and the after publicity of the evidence, 
fix the attention even of the careless. The man of only occa- 
sional seriousness is serious then ; and if in their hours of seri- 
ousness, such persons regard the sanctions of religion, they will 
regard them in a court of justice though without an oath. 

Yet it may be supposed by the reader that the solemnity of a 
specific imprecation of the Divine vengeance would, nevertheless, 
frequently add stronger motives to adhere to truth. But what 
is the evidence of experience ? After testimony has been given 
on affirmation, the parties are sometimes examined on the same 
subject upon oath. Now Pothier says, '' In forty years of prac- 
tice I have only met two instances where the parties, in the case 

-■ ■JJ*^» 1 |j| ^| t ;i.« N ,,.^,- 

TJ- • .1 ' Jt3 



Essay 2. 

of an oatli offered after evidence, have been prevented by a sense 
of religion from persisting in their testimonies." Two instances 
in forty years ; and even with respect to these it is to be remem- 
bered^ that one great reason why simple affirmations do not bind 
men is, that their obligation is artificially diminished (as we shall 
presently see) by the employment of oaths. To the e\idence re- 
sulting from these truths I know of but one limitary considera- 
tion ; and to this the reader must attach such weight as he thinks 
it deserves, — that a man on whom an oath had been originally 
imposed might then have been bound to veracity, who would not 
incur the shame of having lied by refusing afterwards to confirm 
his falsehoods with an oath. 

II. The next inducement to adhere to truth is the apprehen- 
sion of the ill opinion of others. And this inducement, either in 
its direct or indirect operation, will be found to be incomparably 
more powerful than that religious inducement which is applied 
by an oath as such. Not so much because religious sanctions 
are less operative than public opinion, as because public opinion 
applies or detaches the religious sanction. Upon this subject a 
serious mistake has been made ; for it has been contended that 
the influence of religious motives is comparatively nothing — that 
unless men are impelled to speak the truth by fear of disgrace 
or of legal penalties, they care very little for the sanctions of 
religion. But the truth is, that the sanctions of religion are, in 
a great degree, either brought into operation, or prevented from 
operating, by these secondary motives. Religious sanctions 
necessarily follow the judgments of the mind ; if a man by any 
means becomes convinced that a given action is wrong, the reli- 
gious obligation to refrain from it follows. Now, the judgments 
of men respecting right and wrong are very powerfully affected 
by public opinion. It commonly happens that that which a man 
has been habitually taught to think wrong, he does think wrong. 
Men are thus taught by public opinion. So that if the public 
attach disgrace to any species of mendacity or perjury, the reli- 
gious sanction will commonly apply to that species. If there are 
instances of mendacity or perjury to which public disapprobation 
does not attach — ^to those instances the religious sanction will 
commonly not apply, or apply but weakly. The power of public 
opinion in binding to veracity is therefore twofold. It has its 
direct influence arising from the fear which all men feel of the 

Chap, 7. 



disapprobation of others, and the indirect influence arising from 
the fact that pubHc opinion applies the sanctions of religion. 

III. Of the influence of legal penalties in binding to veracity, 
little needs to be said. It is obvious that if they induce men to 
refrain from theft and violence, they will induce men to refrain 
from perjury. But it may be remarked, that the legal penalty 
tends to give vigour and efficiency to public opinion. He whom 
the law punishes as a criminal, is generally regarded as a criminal 
by the world. 

Now that which Ave affirm is this—that unless public opinion 
or legal penalties enforce veracity, very little will be added by 
an oath to the motives to veracity more than would subsist in 
the case of simple affirmation. The observance of the Oxford 
statutes 1 is promised by the members on oath— yet no one 
observes them. They swear to observe them, they imprecate the 
Divme vengeance if they do not observe them, and yet they dis- 
regard them every day. The oath then is of no avail. An oath, 
as such, does not here bind men's consciences. And why ? Be- 
cause those sanctions by which men's consciences are bound, are 
not applied. The law applies none : public opinion applies none : 
and therefore the rehgious sanction is weak ; too weak with most 
men to avail. Not that no motives founded upon religion pre- 
sent themselves to the mind ; for I doubt not there are good 
men who would refuse to take these oaths simply in consequence 
of religious motives : but constant experience shows that these 
men are comparatively few ; and if any one should say that vpon 
them an oath is influential, we answer, that they are precisely 
the very persons who would be bound by their simple promises 
without an oath. 

The oaths of jurymen afford another instance. Jurymen 
swear that they will give a verdict according to the evidence, 
and yet it is perfectly well known that they often assent to a 
verdict which they believe to be contrary to that evidence. They 
do not all coincide in the verdict which the foreman pronounces, 
It is indeed often impossible that they should coincide. This 
perjury is committed by multitudes ; yet what juryman cares 
for it, or refuses, in consequence of his oath, to deliver a verdict 
which he believes to be improper ? The reason that they do not 
care is, that the oath, as such, does not bind their consciences. It 

1 See page 330. 






Essay 2. 

stands alone. The public do not often reprobate the violation of 
such oaths ; the law does not punish it ; jurymen learn to think 
that it is no harm to violate them ; and the resulting conclusion 
is, that the form of an oath cannot and does not supply the de- 
ficiency ;— It cannot and does not apply the reUgious sanction. 

Step a few vards from the jury-box to the witness-box, and 
you see the difference. There public opinion interposes its power 
—there the punishment of perjiu^^ impends— there the religious 
sanction is applied— and there, consequently, men regard the 
truth. If the simple intervention of an oath was that which 
bound men to veracity, they would be bound in the jury-box as 
much as at ten feet off ; but it is not. 

A custom-house oath is nugatory even to a proverb. Yet 
it is an oath • vet the swearer does stake his salvation upon his 
veracitv; and still his veracity is uot secured. Why? Because 
an oath, as such, applies to the minds of most men little or no 
motive to veracity. They do not in fact think that their salva- 
tion is staked, necessarily, by oaths. They think it is either 
staked or not, according to certain other circumstances quite 
independent of the oath itself. These circumstances are not 
associated with custom-house oaths, and therefore they do not 
avail. Churchwardens^ oaths are of the same knid. Upon these, 
Gisbome remarks-- In the successive execution of the olhce 
of churchwarden, almost every man above the rank of a day 
labourer, in every parish in the kingdom, learns to consider the 
strongest sanction of truth as a nugatory form." This is not 
quite accurate. They do not learn to consider the strongest 
sanction of truth as a nugatory form, but they learn to consider 
oaths as a nugatory form. The reality is, that the sanctions of 
truth are not brought into operation, and that oaths, as such, do 

not bring them into operation. 

We return then to our proposition-Unless public opinion or 
legal penalties enforce veracity, very little is added by an oath to 
the motives to veracity, more than would subsist m the case of 

simple affirmation. , 

It is obvious that the legislature might, if it pleased, attach 
the same penalties to falsehood as it now attaches to pejiiy^ 
and therefore all the motives to veracity which are ^-^f^^^J 
the law in the case of oaths, might be ^^^f 2^^"^^^^^^^^^ 
case of affirmation. This is in fact done by the legislature in 
the case of the Society of Fiiends. 

Chap. 7. 



It is also obvious that public opinion might be applied to 
affirmation much more powerfully than it is now. The simple 
circumstance of disusing oaths would effect this. Even now, 
when the public disapprobation is excited against a man who has 
given false evidence in a court of justice, by what is it excited ? 
by his having broken his oath, or by his having given false tes- 
timony ? It is the falsehood which excites the disapprobation, 
much more than the circumstance that the falsehood was in spite 
of an oath. This public disapprobation is founded upon the 
general perception of the guilt of false testimony and of its per- 
niciousness. Now if affirmation only was employed, this public 
disapprobation woulJ follow the lying witness, as it now follows, 
or nearly as it now follows, the perjured witness. Every thing 
but the mere oath would be the same— the fear of penalties, the 
fear of disgrace, the motives of religion would remain ; and we 
have just shown how little a mere oath avails. But we have 
artificially diminished the public reprobation of lying by esta- 
blishing oaths. The tendency of instituting oaths is manifestly 
to diffuse the sentiment that there is a difference in the degree of 
obligation not to lie, and not to swear falsely. This difference 
is made, not so Qiuch by adding stronger motives to veracity 
by an oath, as by deducting from the motives to veracity in 
simple affirmations. Let the public opinion take its own health- 
ful and unobstructed course, and falsehood in evidence will 
quickly be regarded as a flagrant offence. Take away oaths, and 
the public reprobation of falsehood will immediately increase in 
power, and wiU bring with its increase an increasing efficiency in 
the religious sanction. The present relative estimate of lying 
and perjuiy is a very inaccurate standard by which to judge of 
the efficiency of oaths. We have artificially reduced the abhor- 
rence of lying, and then say that that abhorrence is not great 
enough to bind men to the truth. 

Our reasoning then proceeds by these steps. Oaths are 
designed to apply a strong religious sanction : they however do 
not apply it unless they are seconded by the apprehension of 
penalties or disgrace. The apprehension of penalties and dis- 
grace may be attached to falsehood, and with this apprehension 
the religious sanction will also be attached to it. Therefore, all 
those motives which bind men to veracity may be applied to false- 
hood as well as to oaths.— In other words, oaths are needless. 





Essay 2. 

But in reality we have evidence of this needlessness from 
every day experience. In some of the most important of tem- 
poral affairs, an oath is never used. The Houses of Parliament 
in their examination of witnesses employ no oaths. They are 
convinced {and therefore they have proved) that the truth can 
be discovered without them. But if affirmation is thus a suffi- 
cient security for veracity in the great questions of a legislature, 
how can it be insufficient in the little questions of private 
life ? There is a strange inconsistency here. That same Parlia- 
ment which declares, by its every-day practice, that oaths are 
needless, continues by its every-day practice to impose them ! 
Even more : those very men who themselves take oaths as a 
necessary qualification for their duties as legislators, proceed to 
the exercise of these duties upon the mere testimony of other 
men ! — Peers are never required to take oaths in delivering 
their testimony, yet no one thinks that a peer's evidence in a 
court of justice may not be as much depended upon as that of 
him who swears. Why are peers in fact bound to veracity 
though without an oath ? Will you say that the reli-ious sanc- 
tion is more powerful upon lords than upon other men ? The 
supposition were ridiculous. How then docs it happen ? You 
reply. Their honour binds them : Very well ; that is the same 
as to say that public opinion binds them. But then, he who 
says that honour, or any thing else besides pure religious sanc- 
tions, binds men to veracity, impugns the very grounds upon 
which oaths are defended. 

Oath evidence again is not requii-ed by courts-martial. But 
can any man assign a reason why a person who wovdd speak the 
truth on affirmation before military officers, would not speak it on 
affirmation before a judge ? Arbitrations too proceed often, per- 
haps generally, upon evidence of parole. Yet do not arbitrators 
discover the truth as well as courts of justice ? and if they did 
not, it would be little in favour of oaths, because a part of the 
sanction of veracity is, in the case of arbitrations, withdrawn. 

But we have even tried the experiment of affirmations in our 
own courts of justice, and tried it for some ages past. The 
Society of Friends uniformly give their evidence in courts of law 
on their words alone. No man imagines that their words do 
not bind them. No legal court would listen with more suspicion 
to a witness because he was a Quaker. Here all the motives to 


veracity are applied : there is the religious motive, which in such 
cases all but desperately bad men feel : there is the motive 
of public opinion : and there is the motive arising from the 
penalties of the law. If the same motives were applied to other 
men, why should they not be as effectual in securing veracity as 
they are upon the Quakers ? 

We have an example even yet more extensive. In all the 
courts of the United States of America, no one is obliged to take 
an oath. What are we to conclude ? Are the Americans so 
foolish a people that they persist in accepting affirmations knovring 
that they do not bind witnesses to truth ? Or, do the Americans 
really find that affirmations are sufficient ? But one answer can 
be given: — They find that affirmations are sufficient: they prove 
undeniably that oaths are needless. No one will imagine that 
virtue on the other side the Atlantic is so much greater than on 
this, that while an affirmation is sufficient for an American an 
oath is necessary here. 

So that whether we enquire into the moral lawfulness of oaths, 
they are not lawful ; or into their practical utility, they are of 
little use or of none. 


There is a power and efficacy in our religion which elevates 
those who heartily accept it above that low moral state in which 
alone an oath can even be supposed to be of advantage. The 
man who takes an oath, virtually declares that his word would 
not bind him; and this is an admission which no good man 
should make — for the sake both of his own moral character and 
of the credit of religion itself. It is the testimony even of infi- 
delity, that '^ wherever men of uncommon energy and dignity 
of mind have existed they have felt the degradation of binding 
their assertions with an oath.^'^ This degradation, this descent 
from the proper ground on which a man of integrity should stand, 
illustrates the proposition that whatever exceeds affirmatioL 
" Cometh of evil.'' The evil origin is so palpable that you can- 
not comply with the custom without feeling that you sacrifice 
the dignity of virtue. It is related of Solon that he said, " A 
good man ought to be in that estimation that he needs not an 

' Godwin : Political Justice, vol. 2, p. 633. 





oath ; because it is to be reputed a lessening of his honour if he 
be forced to swear/'^ If to take an oath, lessened a pagan^s 
honour, what must be its effect upon a christian's purity. 

Oaths, at least the system of oaths which obtains in this 
country, tends powerfully to deprave the moral character. We 
have seen that they are continually violated — that men are con- 
tinually referring to the most tremendous sanctions of religion 
with the habitual belief that those sanctions impose no practical 
obligation. Can this have any other tendency than to diminish 
the influence of religious sanctions upon other things ? If a man 
sets light by the di\ine vengeance in the jury box to-day, is he 
likely to give fiiU weight to that vengeance before a magistrate 
to-morrow? We cannot prevent the effects of habit. Such 
things will infallibly deteriorate the moral character, because 
they infallibly diminish the power of those principles upon which 
the moral character is founded. 

Oaths encourage falsehood. We have already seen that the 
effect of instituting oaths is to diminish the practical obligation 
of simple affirmation. The law says. You must speak the truth 
when you are upon your oath ; which is the same thing as to say 
that it is less harm to violate truth when you are not on your 
oath. The court sometimes reminds a witness that he is upon 
oath, which is equivalent to saying. If you were not, we should 
think less of your mendacity. The same lesson is inculcated by 
the assignation of penalties to perjury and not to falsehood. 
What is a man to conclude, but that the law thinks light of the 
crime which it does not punish ; and that since he may lie with 
impunity, it is not much harm to lie ? Common language bears 
testimony to the effect. The vulgar phrase I will take my oath 
to it, clearly evinces the prevalent notion that a man may lie with 
less guilt when he does not take his oath. No answer can be 
made to this remark, unless any one can show that the extra 
sanction of an oath is so much added to the obligation which 
would otherwise attach to simple affirmation. And who can show 
this ? Experience proves the contrary : " Experience bears ample 
testimony to the fact, that the prevalence of oaths among men 
(christians not excepted) has produced a very material and very 
general effect in reducing their estimate of the obligation of 
plain truth, in its natural and simple forms."^ — "There is no 

* Stoboeus : Serm. 3. ' Gurney : Observations, &c. c. x. 

Chap, 7. 



cause of insincerity, prevarication, and falsehood, more powerful 
than the practice of administering oaths in a court of justice."^ 

Upon this subject the legislator plays a desperate game agauist 
the morality of a people. He wishes to make them speak the 
truth when they undertake an office or deliver evidence. Even 
supposing him to succeed, what is the cost ? That of diminishing 
the motives to veracity in all the affairs of life. A man may not 
be called upon to take an oath above two or three times in his 
life, but he is called upon to speak the truth every day. 

A few, but a few serious, words remain. The investigations 
of this chapter are not matters to employ speculation but to in- 
fluence our practice. If it be indeed true that Jesus Christ has 
imperatively forbidden us to employ an oath, a duty, an impera- 
tive duty is imposed upon us. It is worse than merely vain to 
hear his laws unless we obey them. Of him therefore who is 
assured of the prohibition, it is indispensably required that he 
should refuse an oath. There is no other means of maintaining 
our allegiance to God. Our pretensions to Christianity are at 
stake : for he who, knowing the christian law, will not conform 
to it, is certainly not a christian. How then does it happen, that 
although persons frequently acknowledge they think oaths are 
forbidden, so few, when they are called upon to swear, decline to 
do it ? Alas, this offers one evidence amongst the many, of the 
want of uncompromising moral principles in the world — of such 
principles as it has been the endeavour of these pages to en- 
force — of such principles as would prompt us and enable us to 
sacrifice every thing to christian fidelity. By what means do the 
persons of whom we speak suppose that the will of God respecting 
oaths is to be effected ? To whose practice do they look for an 
exemplification of the christian standard ? Do they await some 
miracle by which the whole world shall be convinced and oaths 
shall be abolished without the agency of man ? Such are not 
the means by which it is the pleasure of the Universal Lord to 
act. He effects his moral purposes by the instrumentality of 
faithful men. Where are these faithful men ? — But let it be : if 
those who are called to this fidelity refuse, theirs will be the dis- 
honour and the offence. But the work will eventually be done. 
Other and better men will assuredly arise to acquire the christian 
honour and to receive the christian reward. 

* Godwin: v. 2, p. 634. 


^*"^-— *■ 







In reading the paragraphs which follow respecting several of 
the specific oaths which are imposed in this country, the reader 
should remember, that the evils with which they are attended 
would almost equally attend affirmations in similar circumstances. 
Our object therefore is less to illustrate their nature as oaths, 
than as improper and vicious engagements. With respect to the 
interpretation of a particular oath, it is obviously to be deter- 
mined by the same rule as that of promises. A man must fulfil 
his oath in that sense in which he knows the imposer designs and 
expects him to fulfil it. And he must endeavour to ascertain 
what the imposer^s expectation is. To take an oath in voluntary 
ignorance of the obligations which it is intended to impose, and 
to excuse om'selves for disregarding them because we do not 
know what they are, cannot surely be right. Yet it is often 
difficult, sometimes impossible, to discover wljat an oath requires. 
The absence of precision in the meaning of terms, the alteration 
of general usages whilst the forms of oaths remain the same, and 
the original want of explicitness of the forms themselves, throw 
sometimes insuperable obstacles in the way of discovering, when 
a man takes an oath, what it is that he binds himself to do. 
This is manifestly a great evil : and it is chargeable primarily 
upon the custom of exacting oaths at all. It is in general a very 
difficult thing to frame an unobjectionable oath — an oath which 
shall neither be so lax as to become nugatory by easiness of eva- 
sion and uncertainty of meaning, nor so rigid as to demand in 
words more than the imposer wishes to exact, and thus to ensnare 
the consciences of those who take it. The same objections would 
apply to forms of affinnation. The only effectual remedy is to 



diminish, or, if it were possible, to abolish the custom of re- 
quiring men to promise beforehand to pursue a certain course of 
action. How is non-fulfilment of these engagements punished ? 
By fine, or imprisonment, or some other mode of penalty ? Let 
the penalty, let the sanction remain, without the promise or the 
oath. A man swears allegiance to a prince : if he becomes a 
traitor he is punished, not for the breach of his oath but for his 
treason. Can you not punish his treason without the oath ? A 
man swears he has not received a bribe at an election. If he 
does not receive one, you send him to prison. You could as 
easily send him thither if he had not sworn. You reply — But, 
by imposing the oath we bind the swearer's conscience. Alas ! 
we have seen and we shall presently again see, that this plan of 
binding men is of little eflPect. There is one kind of affirmation 
that appears to involve absurdity. I mean that by which a man 
affirms that he will speak the truth. Of what use is the affir- 
mation .- The affirmant is not bound to veracity more than he 
was before he made it. It is no greater lie to speak falsely after 
an affirmation than before. 

Oath of Allegiance. — " I do sincerely promise and swear 
that I will be faithful, and bear true allegiance, to his Majesty 
king George.'^ — On the propriety of exacting these political 
oaths, we shall offer some observations in the next Essay. ^ At 
present we ask. What does the oath of allegiance mean ? Set 
a hundred men each to write an exact account of what the 
party here promises to do, and I will undertake to affirm that 
not one in the hundred will agree with any other individual. 
'' I will be faithful -r What is meant by being faithful ? What 
is the extent of the obligation, and what are its limits ? "I 
will bear true allegiance :" What does allegiance mean ? Is 
it synonymous with fidelity ? Or does it embrace a wider extent 
of obligation or a narrower : And if either, how is the extent 
ascertained ? — ^The oath was, I believe, made purposely indefinite: 
the old oath of allegiance was more discriminative. But no 
form can discriminate theduty of a citizen to his rulers, — ^unless 
you make it consist of a political treatise ; and no man can write 
a treatise with definitions to which all would subscribe. The 
truth is that no one knows what the oath of allegiance requires. 
Paley attempts, in six separate articles, to define its meaning : 

^ Essay III., ch. o. 





Essay 2. 

one of which definitions is, that " the oath excludes all design, 
at the time, of attempting to depose the reigning Prince." ^ At 
the time ! Why the oath is couched in the future tense. Its 
express purpose is to obtain a security for future conduct. The 
swearer declares, not what he then designs, but what, in time to 
come, he will do. —Another definition is '^ it permits resistance 
to the king when his ill-behaviour or imbecility is such as to 
make resistance beneficial to the community " ^ But how or in 
what manner " fidelity and ti^iie allegiance " means " resist- 
ance,'^ casuistry only can tell. We may rest assured, that after 
all attempts at explanation, the meaning of the oath will be, at 
the least, as doubtful as before. Nor is there any remedy. 
The fault is not in the form, for no form can be good ; but in 
the imposition of any oath of allegiance. The only means of 
avoiding the evil is by abolishing the oath. Besides, what do 
oaths of allegiance avail in those periods of disturbance in which 
princes are commonly displaced? What revolution has been 
prevented by oaths of allegiance ? 

Yet if the oath does no good, it does harm. It is always doing 
harm to exact promises from men, who cannot know beforehand 
whether they will fulfil them. And as to the ambiguity, it is 
always doing harm to require men to stake their salvation upon 
doing — they know not what. 

Oath in Evidence. — " The truth, the whole truth, and 
nothing but the truth, touching the matter in question.'' Is the 
witness to understand by this that if he truly answers all ques- 
tions that are put to him, he conforms to the requisitions of the 
oath ? If he is, the terms of the oath are very exceptionable ; 
for many a witness may give tnie answers to a counsel and yet 
not tell " the whole truth." Or does the oath bind him to 
give an exact narrative of every particular connected with the 
matter in question whether asked or not ? If it does multitudes 
commit perjury. How then shall a witness act? Shall he 
commit perjury by withholding all information but that which 
is asked ? Or shall he be ridiculed, and perhaps silenced in 
court for attempting to narrate all that he has sworn to dis- 
close ? Here again the morality of the people is injuriously 
affected. To take an oath to do a certain prescribed act, and 
then to do only just that which custom happens to prescribe, is 



» Mor. and Pol. Phil. b. 3, p. 1, c. 18. 


to ensnare the conscience, and practically to diminish the sanc- 
tions of veracity. The evil may be avoided either by disusing 
all previous promises to speak the truth, or to adapt the terms of 
the promise (if that can be done) to the duties which the law or 
which custom expects. " You shall true answer make to all such 
questions as shall be asked of you," is the form when a person 
is sworn upon a voir dire ; and if this is all that the law expects 
when he is giving evidence, why not use the same form ? If, 
however, in deference to the reasonings against the use of any 
oaths, the oath in evidence were abolished, no difficulty could 
remain : for to promise in any form to speak the truth, is, as we 
have seen, absurd. 

Wliilst the oath in evidence continues to be imposed, it is not 
an easy task to determine in what sense the witness should under- 
stand it. If you decide by the meaning of the legislature which 
imposed the oath, it appears manifest that he should tell all he 
knows, whether asked or not. But what, it may be asked, is the 
meaning of a law, but that which the authorized expounders of 
the law determine ? And if they habitually admit an interpre- 
tation at variance with the terms of the oath, is not their sanction 
an authoritative explanation of the legislature's meaning ? These 
are questions which I pretend not with confidence to determine. 
The mischiefs which result from the uncertainty, are to be 
charged upon the legislatures which do not remove the evil. I 
would, however, suggest that the meaning of a form in such cases 
is to be sought, not so much in the meaning of the original 
imposers, as in that of those who now sanction the form by 
permitting it to exist. This doubtless opens wide the door to 
extreme licentiousness of interpretation. Nor can that door be 
closed. There is no other remedial measure than an alteration 
of the forms or an abolition of the oath. 

Military Oath. — " I swear to obey the orders of the officers 
who are set over me : So help me God." And suppose an officer 
orders him to do something which morality forbids — his oath 
then stands thus : " I swear to obey man rather than God." 
The profaneness is shocking. Will any extenuation be offered, 
and will it be said that the military man only swears to obey the 
virtuous orders of his superior ? We deny tlie fact : the oath 
neither means nor is intended to mean, any such thing. It may 
indeed by possibility happen that an officer may order his inferior 




to do a thing which a court-martial would not punish him 
for refusing to do. But if the law intends to allow such excep- 
tions, what excuse is ^here for making the terms of the oath 
absolute ? Is it not teaching military men to swear they care 
not what, thus to make the terms of the oath one thing and its 
meaning another ? But the real truth is, that neither the law 
nor courts-martial allow any such limitations in the meaning of 
the oath as will bring it within the limits of morality, or of even 
a decent reverence to Him who commands morality to man. 
They do not intend to allow the Moral Law to be the primary 
rule to the soldier. They intend the contrary ; and the soldier 
does actually swear that, if he is ordered so to do, he will violate 
the law of God. Of this impiety what is the use ? Does any 
one imagine that a soldier obeys his supeiiors because he has 
sworn to obey them ? It were ridiculous. When courts-martial 
inflict a punishment, they inflict it not for perjury but for 

I would devote two or three sentences to the observation that 
the military oath is sui generis. So far at least as my informa- 
tion extends, no other oath is imposed which promises uncon- 
ditional obedience to other men ; no other oath exists by which 
a man binds himself to violate the laws of God. Why does the 
military oath thus stand alone, the explicit contemner of the 
obligations of morality ? — Because it belongs to a custom which 
itself contemns morality. Because it belongs to a custom which 
"repeals all the principles of virtue.^' Because it belongs to 
War. — ^There is a lesson couched in this, which he who has ears 
to hear wiU find to be pregnant with instruction. 

Oath against Bribery at Elections. — " I do swear I have 
not received, or had, by myself, or any person whatsoever in trust 
for me, or for my use and benefit, directly or indirectly, any sum 
or sums of money ; office, place, or employment ; gift or reward ; 
or any promise or security for any money, office, employment, or 
gift, in order to give my vote at this election.'^ This is an 
attempt to secure incorruptness by extreme accuracy in framing 
the oath. With what success public experience tells. No bribery 
oath will prevent bribery. It wants efficient sanctions— punish- 
ment by the law or reprobation by the public. A man who 
possesses a vote in a close borough, and whose neighbours and 
their fathers have habitually pocketed a bribe at every election, 

Chap. 8. 



is very little under the influence of public opinion. That public 
with which he is connected, does not reprobate the act, and he 
learns to imagine it is of little moral turpitude. As to legal 
penalities, they are too unfrequently inflicted or too difficult of 
infliction to be of much avail. Why then is this nursery of perjury 
continued ? Which action should we most deprecate, that of 
the voter who perjures himself for a ten-pound note, or that of 
the legislator who so tempts him to perjury by imposing an oath 
which he knows will be violated ? If bribery be wrong, punish 
it ; but it is utterly indefensible to exact oaths which everybody 
knows will be broken. Not indeed that anything in the present 
state of the representation will prevent bribery. We may mul- 
tiply oaths and denounce penalties without end, yet bribery wiU 
still prevail. But though bribery be inseparable from the system 
perjury is not. We should abolish one of the evils if we do not 
or cannot abolish both. 

As to those endless contrivances by which electors avoid the 
arm of the law, and hope to avoid the guilt of perjury ; they are, 
as it respects guilt, all and always vain. The intention of the 
Legislature was to prevent bribery^ and he who is bribed, violates 
his oath whether he violates its literal terms or not. The shop- 
keeper who sells a yard of cloth to a candidate for twenty pounds, 
is just as truly bribed, and he just as truly commits perjury, as 
if the candidate had said, I give you this twenty- pound note 
to tempt you to vote for me. These men may evade legal 
penalties ; there is a power which they cannot evade. 

Oath against Simony. — The substance of the oath is, " I do 
swear that I have made no simoniacal payment for obtaining this 
ecclesiastical place : So help me God through Jesus Christ !" 
The patronage of livings, that is, the legal right to give a man 
the ecclesiastical income of a parish, may, like other property, be 
bought and sold. But though a person may legally sell the 
power of giving the income, he may not sell the income itself; 
the reason it may be presumed being, that a person who can only 
give the income, will be more likely to bestow it upon such a 
clergyman as deserves it, than if he sold it to the highest bidder. 
It may however be observed in passing, that the security for the 
judicious presentation of church preferment is extremely imper- 
fect ; for the law, whilst it tries to take care that preferment 
shall be properly bestowed, takes no care that the power of 




bestowing it shall be entrusted to proper hands. The least vir- 
tuous man or woman in a district may possess this power ; and it 
were vain to expect that they will be very solicitous to assign 
careful shepherds to the christian flocks. 

To prevent the income from being bought and sold, the law 
requires the acceptor of a living to swear that he has made no 
simoniacal payment for it. What then is simony ? To answer 
this question the clergyman must have recourse to the definitions 
of the law. Simony is of various kinds^ and the clergyman who 
is under strong temptation to make some contract with, or pay- 
ment to the patron, is manifestly in danger of making them in 
the fearing, doubting, hope, that they are not simoniacal. And 
so he makes the arrangement, hardly knowing whether he has 
committed simony and perjury or not. This evil is seen and 
acknowledged : " The oath," says a dignitary of the church, " lays 
a snare for the integrity of the clergy ; and I do not perceive 
that the requiring of it, in cases of private patronage, produces 
any good efl^ect sufficient to compensate for this danger." 

University Oaths. — The various statutes of colleges, of 
which every member is obliged to promise the observance on 
oath, are become wliolly or partly obsolete ; some are needless 
and absurd, some illegal, and to some, perhaps, it is impossible 
to conform. Yet the oath to perform them is constantly taken. 
A man swears that he will speak, within the college, no language 
but Latin ; and he speaks English in it everj^ day. He swears 
he will employ so many hours out of every twenty-four in dispu- 
tations; and does not dispute for days or weeks together. What 
remains, then, for those who take these oaths to do ? To show 
that this is not perjury. Here is the field for casuistry ; here is 
the field in which ingenuity may exhibit its adroitness ! in >vhich 
sophistry may delight to range ! in which Duns Scotus, if he 
were again in the world, might rejoice to be a combatant ! — 
And what do ingenuity, and casuistry, and sophistry do ? Oh ! 
they discover consolatory truths ; they discover that if the act 
which you promise to perform is unlawful, you may swear to per- 
form it with an easy conscience ; they discover that there is no 
harm in swearing to jump from Dover to Calais, because it is 
" impracticable ;" they discover that it is quite proper to swear 
to do a foolish thing because it would be " manifestly incon- 
venient " and " prejudicial " to do it. — In a word, they discover 

Chap. 8. 



80 many agreeable things that if the book of Cervantes were 
appended to the oath, they might swear to imitate all the deeds 
of his hero, and yet remain quietly and innocently in a college 
all their lives. 

That nothing can be said in extenuation of those who take 
these oaths, cannot be affirmed ; yet that the taking them is 
wrong, every man who simply consults his own heart will know. 
Even if they were wrong upon no other ground they would be 
so upon this, that if men were conscientious enough to refuse to 
take them, the '' necessity" for taking them would soon be with- 
drawn. No man' questions that these oaths are a scandal to 
religion and to religious men ; no man questions that their ten- 
dency is to make the public think lightly of the obligation of an 
oath. They ought therefore to be abolished. It is imperative 
upon the legislature to abolish them, and it is imperative upon 
the individual, by refusing to take them, to evince to the legis- 
lature the necessity for its interference. Nothing is wanted but 
that private christians should maintain christian fidelity. If they 
did do this, and refused to take these oaths, the legislature would 
presently do its duty. It needs not to be feared that it would 
suffer the doors of the colleges to be locked up, because students 
were too conscientious to swear falsely. Thus, although the 
obligation upon the legislature is manifest, it possesses some 
semblance of an excuse for refraining from reform, since those 
who are immediately aggrieved, and who are the immediate agents 
of the offence, are so little concerned that they do not address 
even a petition for interference. That some good men feel 
aggrieved is scarcely to be doubted : let these remember their 
obligations : let them remember, that compliance entails upon 
posterity the evil and the offence, and sets, for the integrity of 
successors, a perpetual snare. 

It is an unhappy reflection that men endeavour rather to 
pacify the misgiving voice of conscience under a continuance of 
the evil, than exert themselves to remove it. Unschooled per- 
sons w411 always think that the usage is wrong. In truth, even 
after the licentious interpretations of the oaths have been 
resorted to — after it has been shown what he who takes them 
does not promise, what imaginable security is there that he will 
perform that which he does promise — that he will even know 
what he promises ? None. Being himself the interpreter of the 



Essay 2. 

oath, and having resolved that the oath does not mean what it 
says,' he is at hberty to think that it means anything ; or, which 
I suppose is the practical opinion, that it means nothing. If we 
would remove the evil we must abolish the oath. 


Bishop Clayton said, " I do not only doubt whether the 
compilers of the Articles, but even whether any two thinking 
men, ever agreed exactly in their opinion, not only with regard 
to all the Articles, but even with regard to any one of them." ^ 
Such is the character of that series of propositions in which a 
man is required to declare his belief before he can become a 
minister in a christian community. The event may easily be 
foreseen : some will refuse to subscribe ; some will subscribe 
though it violates their consciences ; some will subscribe regard- 
less whether it be right or wi^ong ; and some of course will be 
found to justify subscription. 

Of those who on moral grounds refuse to subscribe to that 
which they do not believe, it may be presumed that they are 
conscientious men, — men who prefer sacrificing their interests to 
their duties. These are the men whom every christian church 
should especially desire to retain in its communion ; and these 
are precisely the men whom the Articles exclude from the 
English church. 

As it respects those who perceive the impropriety of subscrip- 
tion and yet subscribe, whose consciences are wronged by the 
very act which introduces them into the church— the evil is 
manifest and great. Chilhngworth declared to Shelden that " if 
he subscribed, he subscribed his own damnation," yet not long 
afterwards Chillingworth was induced to subscribe. Unhappy, 
that they who are about to preach virtue to others, should be 
initiated by a violation of the Moral Law ! 

With respect to those who subscribe heedlessly, and without 
regard to their belief or disbelief of the Articles— of what use 
is subscription ? It is designed to operate as a test ; but what 
test is it to him who would set his name to the Articles if they 
were exactly the contrary to what they are ? If conscientiousness 
keeps some men out of the church, the want of conscientiousness 

* Confessional, 3rd Edit. p. 246. 

Chap. 8. 



lets others in. The contrivance is admirably adapted to an end ; 
but to what end ? To the separation of the more virtuous from 
the less, and to the admission of the latter. 

A reader who was a novice in these affairs would ask, in wonder, 
Fof what purpose is subscription exacted ? If the Articles are 
so objectionable, and if subscription is productive of so much evil, 
why are not the Articles revised, or why is subscription required 
at all ? These are reasonable questions. They involve, however, 
political considerations ; and in the Political Essay we hope to 
give such an enquirer satisfaction respecting them. 

And with respect to the justifications that are offered of sub- 
scribing to doctrines which are not believed, it is manifest, that 
they must set out with the assumption that the words of the 
Articles mean nothing — that we are not to seek for their meanine 
in their terms, but in some other quarter. It is hardly necessary 
to remark, that when this assumption is made, the enquirer is 
launched upon a boundless ocean, and though he has to make 
his way to a port, possesses neither compass nor helm, and can 
see neither sun nor star. Who can assign any limit to license 
of interpretation, when it is once agreed that the words them- 
selves mean nothing ? The world is all before us, and we have 
to seek a place of rest from pyrrhonism wherever we can find it. 
We are told to go back to Queen Elizabeth's days, and to find 
out, if we can, what the legislature who framed the Articles 
meant : always premising that we are not to judge of what they 
meant by what they said. How is it discovered that they did 
not mean what they said ? By a process of most convincing 
argumentation; which argumentation consists in this, ''It is 
difficult to conceive how'' they could have meant it ! ^ These 
are agreeable and convenient solutions ; but they are not true. 

"They who contend that nothing less can justify subscription 
to the Thirty-nine Articles, than the actual belief of each and 
every separate proposition contained in them^ must suppose that 
the legislature expected the consent of ten thousand men and 
that in perpetual succession, not to one controverted proposition 
but to many hundreds. // is difficult to conceive how this could 
be expected by any who observed the incurable diversity of 
human opinion upon all subjects short of demonstration." ^ 
Now it appears that the legislature of Elizabeth actually did 

» Mor. and Pol. Phil. b. 3, p. 1, c. 22. 




Essay 2. 

Chap. 8. 



require uniformity of opinion upon these controverted points. 
Such has been the decision of the judges. " One Smyth sub- 
scribed to the said Thirty-nine Articles of religion with this 
addition — so far forth as the same were agreeable to the word of 
God ; — and it was resolved by Wray, Chief- Justice in the King's 
Bench, and all the judges of England, that this subscription was 
not according to the statute of 13th EHz. Because the statute 
required an absolute subscription, and this subscription made it 
conditional : and that this act was made for avoiding diversity of 
opinions, ^c. ; and by this addition, the party might, by his own 
private opinion, take some of them to be against the Word of 
God, and by this means, diversity of opinions should not be 
avoided, which was the scope of the statute ; and the very act 
made, touching subscription, of none effect.'' ^ 

This overthrows the convenient explanations of modem times. 
It is agreed by those who offer these explanations, that the 
meaning of Elizabeth's legislature is that by which they are 
boimd. That meaning then is declared by all the judges of 
England to be, that subscribers should believe the propositions 
of the Articles. The modem explanations allow private opinion 
the liberty of thinking some of them to be " against the Word 
of God." This was precisely the liberty which the legislature 
intended to preclude. The modern explanations affirm the Articles 
to be conditional, and in fact, that they impose only a few general 
obligations ; but unconditional subscription was the very thing 
which the legislature required. If a person should now express 
the condition which Smyth, as reported by Coke, expressed, and 
should say, I believe the Articles so far as they are accordant 
with christian truth — it appears that his subscription would not 
be accepted ; and yet this is what is done by perhaps every clergy- 
man in England — with this difference only, that the reservation 
is secretly made and not frankly expressed. So that in reality, 
and according to the principles laid down by the apologists of 
subscription,^ almost every subscriber subscribes falsely. 

* Coke : Instit. 4 cap. 74. p. 324. 

« These principles are, that the meaning of a promise or an oath is to be deter- 
mined by the meaning of those who impose it. This as a general rule is true ; 
but I repeat the doubt whether, in the case of antiquated forms, a proper 
standard of their meaning is not to be sought in the intention of tlie legislatures 
which now perpetuate those forms. This doubt, however, in whatever way it 
preponderates, will not aiford a justification of subscribing to forms of which 
the terms are notoriously disregarded. 

But what, it will be asked, is to be done ? Refuse to subscribe. 
There is no other means of maintaining your purity, and per- 
haps no other means of procuring an abolition of the Articles. 
At least this means would be effectual. We may be sure that 
the legislature would revise or abolish them if it was found that 
no one would subscribe. They would not leave the pulpits empty 
in compliment to a barbarous relic of the days of EHzabeth. 
Perhaps it will be said, that although men of virtue refused to 
subscribe, the pulpits would still be filled with imprincipled 
men. The effect would speedily be the same : the legislature 
would not continue to impose subscription for the sake of ex- 
cluding from the ministry aU but bad men. Those who subscribe, 
therefore, bind the burthen upon their own shoulders and upon 
the shoulders of posterity. The offence is great : the scandal 
to religion is great : and even if refusal to subscribe would not 
remove the evil, the question for the individual is not what may 
be the consequences of doing his duty, but what his duty is. 
We want a little more christian fidelity, a little more of that 
spirit which made our forefathers prefer the stake to tampering 
with their consciences. 

p 2 



A GREAT portion of the moral evil in the world, is the result 
not so much of the intensity of individual wickedness, as of a 
general incompleteness in the practical virtue of all classes of 
men. If it were possible to take away misconduct from one 
half of the community and to add its amount to the remainder, 
it is probable that the moral character of our species would be 
soon benefited by the change. Now, the ill dispositions of the 
bad are powerfully encouraged by the want of upright examples 
in those who are better. A man may deviate considerably from 
rectitude, and still be as good as his neighbours. From such a 
man the motive to excellence which the constant presence of 
virtuous example supplies, is taken away. So that there is 
reason to believe, that if the bad were to become worse, and the 
reputable to become proportionably better, the average virtue 
of the world would speedily be increased. 

One of the modes by which the efficacy of example in 
reputable persons is miserably diminished, is by what we have 
called Immoral Agency — ^by their being willing to encourage, at 
second h&nd, evils which they would not commit as principals. 
Linked together as men are in society, it is frequently difficult to 
perform an unwarrantable action without some sort of co-opera- 
tion from creditable men. This co- operation is not often, except 
in flagrant cases, refused ; and thus not only is the commission of 
such actions facilitated, but a general relaxation is induced in the 
practical estimates which men form of the standard of rectitude. 
Since, then, so much evil attends this agency in unwarrantable 
conduct, it manifestly becomes a good man to look around upon 
the nature of his intercourse with others, and to consider whether 
he is not virtually promoting evils which his judgment depre- 
cates, or reducing the standard of moral judgment in the world. 


Chap, 9. 



The reader would have no difficulty in perceiving that if a 
strenuous opponent of the slave trade should establish a manu- 
factory of manacles, and thumbscrews, and iron collars for the 
slave merchants, he would be grossly inconsistent with himself. 
The reader would perceive too, that his labours in the cause 
of the abolition would be almost nullified by the viciousness 
of his example, and that he would generally discredit preten- 
sions to philanthropy. Now that which we desire the reader 
to do is, to apply the principles which this illustration exhibits 
to other and less flagrant cases. Other cases of co-operation 
with evil may be less flagrant than this ; but they are not, on 
that account, innocent. I have read, in the life of a man of 
great purity of character, that he refused to draw up a will or 
some such document because it contained a transfer of some 
slaves. He thought that slavery was absolutely wrong; and 
therefore would not even by the remotest implication, sanction 
the system by his example.^ I think he exercised a sound 
christian judgment ; and if all who prepare such documents 
acted upon the same principles, I know not whether they would 
not so influence public opinion as greatly to hasten the aboli- 
tion of slavery itself. Yet where is the man who would refuse 
to do this, or to do things even less defensible than this ? 

Publication and Circulation of Books. — It is a very 
common thing to hear of the evils of pernicious reading, of how 
it enervates the mind, or how it depraves the principles. The 
complaints are doubtless just. These books could not be read, 
and these evils would be spared the world, if one did not write, 
and another did not print, and another did not sell, and another 
did not circulate them. Are those then, without whose agency 
the mischief could not ensue, to be held innocent in affording 
this agency ? Yet, loudly as we complain of the evil, and care- 
fully as we warn our children to avoid it, how seldom do we 
hear public reprobation of the writers ! As to printers, and book- 
sellers, and library keepers, we scarcely hear their ofifences men- 
tioned at all. We speak not of those abandoned pubHcations 

» One of the publications of this excellent man contains a paragraph much to 
our present purpose : "In all our concerns, it is necessary that nothing we do 
may carry the appearance of approbation of the works of wickedness, make the 
unrighteous more at ease in unrighteousness, or occasion the injuries committed 
against the oppressed to be more slightly looked over." — Considerations on the 
Title Harmony of Mankind^ c. 3, by John Woolman. 



Essay 2. 

Chap. 9. 





which all respectable men condemn, but of those which, perni- 
cious as they are confessed to be, furnish reading-rooms and 
libraries, and are habitually sold in almost every bookseller's 
shop. Seneca, says, " He that lends a man money to carry him. 
to a bawdy-house, or a weapon for his revenge, makes himself a 
partner of his crime." He, too, who writes or sells a book which 
wiU, in all probability, injure the reader, is accessory to the mis- 
chief which may be done ; with this aggravation, when compared 
with the examples of Seneca, that whilst the money would pro- 
bably do mischief but to one or two persons, the book may injure 
a hundred or a thousand. Of the writers of injurious books, we 
need say no more. If the inferior agents are censurable, the 
primary agent must be more censurable. A printer or a book- 
seller should, however, reflect, that to be not so bad as another, 
is a very different thing from being innocent. When we see 
that the owner of a press will print any work that is off^ered 
to him, with no other concern about its tendency than whether 
it will subject him to penalties from the law, we surely must 
perceive that he exercises but a very imperfect virtue. Is it 
obligatory upon us not to promote ill principles in other men ? He 
does not ftdfil the obligation. Is it obligatory upon us to pro- 
mote rectitude by unimpeachable example ? He does not ex- 
hibit that example. If it were right for my neighbour to furnish 
me with the means of moral injury, it would not be wrong for 
me to accept and to employ them. 

I stand in a bookseller's shop, and observe his customers suc- 
cessively coming in. One orders a lexicon, and one a' work of 
scurrilous infidelity; one Captain Cook's Voyages, and one a 
new licentious romance. If the bookseller takes and executes 
all these orders with the same willingness, I cannot but perceive 
that there is an inconsistency, an incompleteness, in his moral 
principles of action. Perhaps this person is so conscious of the 
mischievous efiects of such books, that he would not allow them 
in the hands of his children, nor suflPer them to be seen on his 
parlour table. But if he thus knows the evils which they inflict, 
can it be right for him to be the agent in diffusing them ? Such 
a person does not exhibit that consistency, that completeness of 
virtuous conduct, without which the christian character cannot 
be fully exhibited. Step into the shop of this bookseller's 
neighbour, a druggist, and there, if a person asks for some 

arsenic, the tradesman begins to be anxious. He considers 
whether it is probable the buyer wants it for a proper purpose. 
If he does sell it, he cautions the buyer to keep it where others 
cannot have access to it ; and, before he delivers the packet, 
legibly inscribes upon it Poison. One of these men sells poison 
to the body, and the other poison to the mind. If the anxiety 
and caution of the druggist is right, the indifference of the book- 
seller must be wrong. Add to which, that the druggist would 
not sell arsenic at all if it were not sometimes useful ; but to 
what readers can a vicious book be useful ? 

Suppose for a moment that no printer would commit such a 
book to his press, and that no bookseller would sell it, the con- 
sequence would be, that nine-tenths of these manuscripts would 
be thrown into the fire, or rather, that they would never have 
been written. The inference is obvious ; and surely it is not 
needful again to enforce the consideration, that although your 
refusal might not prevent vicious books from being published, 
you are not therefore exempted from the obligation to refuse. A 
man must do his duty whether the eff*ects of his fidelity be such 
as he would desire or not. Such purity of conduct might, no 
doubt, circumscribe a man's business, and so does purity of con- 
duct in some other professions ; but if this be a sufficient excuse 
for contributing to demoralize the world, if profit be a justifica- 
tion of a departure from rectitude, it will be easy to defend the 
business of a pickpocket. 

I know that the principles of conduct which these paragraphs 
recommend, lead to grave practical consequences ; I know that 
they lead to the conclusion that the business of a printer or book- 
seller, as it is ordinarily conducted, is not consistent with christian 
uprightness. A man may carry on a business in select works ; 
and this, by some conscientious persons, is really done. In the 
present state of the press, the difficulty of obtaining a considerable 
business as a bookseller without circulating injurious works may 
frequently be great, and it is in consequence of this difficulty that 
we see so few booksellers amongst the Quakers. The few who do 
conduct the business generally reside in large towns, where the 
demand for all books is so great that a person can procure a 
competent income though he excludes the bad. 

He who is more studious to justify his conduct than to act 
aright may say, that if a person may sell no book that can injure 
another, he can scarcely sell any book. The answer is, that 




although there must be some difficulty in discrimination, though 
a bookseller cannot always inform himself what the precise ten- 
dency of a book is — yet there can be no difficulty in judging, 
respecting numberless books, that their tendency is bad. If we 
cannot define the precise distinction between the good and the 
evil, we can, nevertheless, perceive the evil when it has attained 
to a certain extent. He who cannot distinguish day from even- 
ing can distinguish it from night. 

The case of the proprietors of common circulating libraries is 
yet more palpable ; because the majority of the books which they 
contain inflict injury upon their readers. How it happens that 
persons of respectable character, and who join with others in 
lamenting the frivolity, and worse than frivolity, of the age, never- 
theless daily and hourly contribute to the mischief, without any 
apparent consciousness of inconsistency, it is difficult to explain. 
A person establishes, perhaps, one of these libraries for the first 
time in a country town. He supplies the younger and less busy 
part of its inhabitants with a source of moral injury from which 
hitherto they had been exempt. The girl who, till now, possessed 
sober views of Hfe, he teaches to dream of the extravagances of 
love ; he familiarizes her ideas with intrigue and licentiousness ; 
destroys her disposition for rational pursuits : and prepares her, 
it may be, for a victim of debauchery. These evils, or such as 
these, he inflicts, not upon one or two, but upon as many as he 
can ; and yet this person lays his head upon his pillow, as if, in 
all this, he was not offending against virtue or against man ! 

Inns. — When in passing the door of an inn I hear or see a 
company of intoxicated men in the '' excess of riot,'' I cannot 
persuade myself that he who supplies the wine, and profits by the 
viciousness, is a moral man. In the private house of a person of 
respectabihty such a scene would be regarded as a scandal. It 
would lower his neighbour's estimate of the excellence of his 
character. But does it then constitute a sufficient justification of 
allowing vice in our houses, that we get by it ? Does morality 
grant to a man an exemption from its obligations at the same 
time as he procures his license ? Drunkenness is immoral. If 
therefore, when a person is on the eve of intoxication, the inn- 
keeper supplies his demand for another bottle, he is accessory to 
the immorality. A man was lately found drowned in a stream. 
He had just left a public-house wliere he had been intoxicated 
during sixty hours ; and within this time the publican had sup- 




pUed him (besides some spirits) with forty quarts of ale. Does 
any reader need to be convinced that this publican had aoted 
enmmaUy ? His crime, however, was neither the greater nor the 
less because it had been the means of loss of Ufe: no such accident 
might have happened; but his guilt would have been the same. 
Probity IS not the only virtue which it is good policy to practise. 
The innkeeper, of whom it was known that he would not supply 
the means of excess, would probably gain by the resort of those 
who approved his integrity more than he would lose by the ab 
sence of those whose excesses that integrity kept away. An inn has 
been conducted upon such maxims. He who is disposed to make 
proof of the result, might fix upon an established quantity of the 
different liquors which he would not exceed. If that quantity 
were detennmately fixed, the lover of excess would have no ground 
of complaint when he had been supplied to its amount. Such 
honourable and manly conduct might have an extensive effect 
vmtil ,t influenced the practice even of the lower resorts of in- 
temperance. A sort of ill fame might attach to the house in 
which a man could become drunk; and the maxim might be 
estabhshed by experience, that it was necessary to the respecta- 
bility, and therefore generally to the success, of a puMic-house 
that none should be seen to reel out of its doors. ' 

PRosEcuTioNs.-It is upou principles of conduct similar to 
those which are here recommended, that many persons are re- 
luctant, and some refuse, to prosecute offenders when they think 
the penalty of the law is unwarrantably severe. This motive 
operates m our own country to a great extent : and it ought to 
operate. I should not think it right to give evidence against 
a man who had robbed my house, if I knew that my evidence 
would occasion him to be hanged. Whether the reader may 
think similarly, is of no consequence to the principle. The prin- 
ciple IS, that if you think the end vicious and wrong, you are 
guilty of "Immoral Agency" in contributing to effect that end 
Unhappily, we are much less wiUing to act upon this principle 
when our agency produces only moral evil, than when it pro- 
duces phy.sical suffering. He that would not give evidence which 
would take a man's Ufe, or even occasion him loss or pain would 
with little hesitation, be an agent of injuring his moral princi- 
ples ; and yet, perhaps the evil of the latter case is incomparably 
greater than that of the former. 

PotiTiCAL Affairs.— The amount of Immoral Agency which 





is practised in these affairs, is very great. Look to any of the 
continental governments, or to any that have subsisted there, how 
few acts of misrule, of oppression, of injustice, and of crime, have 
been prevented by the want of agents of the iniquity ! I speak 
not of notoriously bad men : of these, bad governors can usually 
find enough : but I speak of men who pretend to respectability 
and virtue of character, and who are actually called respectable 
by the world. There is, perhaps, no class of affairs in which the 
agency of others is more indispensable to the accompUshment of 
a vicious act, than in the poHtical. Very Httle— comparatively 
very little— of oppression and of the political vices of rulers should 
we see, if reputable men did not lend their agency. These evils 
could not be committed through the agency of merely bad men ; 
because the very fact that bad men only would abet them, would 
frequently preclude the possibility of their commission. It is not 
to be pretended that no pubHc men possess or have possessed 
sufficient virtue to refuse to be the agents of a vicious govem- 
ment—but they are few. If they were numerous, especiaUy if 
they were as numerous as they ought to be, history, even very 
modem history, would have had a far other record to frame than 
that which now devolves to her. Can it be needful to argue upon 
such things ? Can it be needful to prove that, neither the com- 
mands of ministers, nor "systems of policy," nor any other 
circumstance, exempts a public man from the obHgations of the 
Moral Law ? Public men often act as if they thought that to be 
a public man was to be brought under the jurisdiction of a new 
and a relaxed morality. They often act as if they thought that 
not to be the prime mover in political misdeeds, was to be ex- 
empt from all the moral responsibility for those deeds. A dagger, 
if it could think, would think it was not responsible for the as- 
sassination of which it was the agent. A public man may be a 
political dagger, but he cannot, like the dagger, be irresponsible. 
These niustrations of Immoral Agency and of the obhgation 
to avoid it might be multiplied, if enough had not been offered 
to make our sentiments, and the reasons upon which they are 
founded, obvious to the reader. Undoubtedly, in the present 
state of society, it is no easy task, upon these subjects, to wash 
our hands in innocency. But if we cannot avoid all agency, direct 
or indirect, in evil things, we can avoid much : and it will be suffi- 
ciently early to complain of the difficulty of complete punty, when 
we have dismissed from our conduct as much impurity as wc can. 




That the influence of Public Opinion upon the practice of 
vu^ue is very great, needs no proof. Of this influence the reader 
has seen some remarkable illustrations in the discussion of the 
Efficacy of Oaths in binding to veracity .1 There is, indeed 
almost no action and no institution which Public Opinion does 
not affect. In moral affairs it makes men call one mode of 
human destruction murderous and one honourable ; it makes the 
same action abominable in one individual and venial in another • 
m pubhc institutions, from a village workhouse to the constitu- 
tion of a state, it is powerful alike for evil or for good. If it be 
misdirected, it will strengthen and perpetuate corruption and 
abuse: if it be directed aright, it will eventually remove corrup- 
tions and correct abuses with a power which no power can 

In proportion to the greatness of its power is the necessity of 
rectifying PubUc Opinion itself. To contribute to its rectitude is 
to exercise exalted philanthropy— to contribute to its incorrect- 
ness IS to spread wickedness and misery in the world. The purpose 
of the present chapter is to remark upon some of those subjects 
on which the Public Opinion appears to be inaccurate, and upon 
the consequent obligation upon individuals not to perpetuate that 
inaccuracy and its attendant evils by their conduct or their 
language. Of the positive part of the obligation— that which 
respects the active correction of common opinions, little will be 
said. He who does not promote the evil can scarcely faU of 
promoting the good. A man often must deliver his sentiments 
respecting the principles and actions of others, and if he delivers 

' E«say 2, cb^c. 7. 




them, so as not to encourage what is wrong, he will practically 
encourage what is right. 

It might have been presumed of a people who assent to the 
authority of the Moral Law, that their notions of the merit or 
turpitude of actions would have been conformable with the 
doctrines which that law deUvers. Far other is the fact. The 
estimates of the Moral Law and of public opinion are discordant 
to excess. Men have practised a sort of transposition with the 
moralprecepts,and have assigned to them arbitrary and capricious, 
and therefore new and mischievous stations on the moral scale. 
The order both of the \dces and the \^rtues is greatly deranged. 

Suppose, with respect to vices, the highest degree of repro- 
bation in the Moral Law to be indicated by 20, and to descend 
by units, as the reprobation became less severe, and suppose, in 
the same manner, we put 20 for the highest offence according 
to popular opinion, and diminish the number as it accounts less 
of the offence, we should probably be presented with some such 
finraduation as this : 

^ Moral PuUic 

Law, Opinion. 

Murder 20 20 

Human destruction under other names 18 

Unchastity, if of Woman • • • 18 18 

Unchastity, if of Men 18 2 

Theft ^"^ ^'^ 

Fraud and other modes of dishonesty 17 6—4 or 1 

Lying •. 17 17 

Lying for particular purposes or to particular | ^^ 2— or 

classes of persons ) r and every inferior 

Resentment 1" \ gradation. 

- , o ( and every inferior 

Profaneness ^^ ^^ \ gradation. 

We might make a similar statement of the virtues. This 
indeed is inevitable in the case of those virtues which are the 
opposites of some of these vices. Respecting others we may say— 

Moral Public 

Law. Opinion. 

Forbearance 16 3-and lapsing into a ^ice. 

Fortitude 16 1^ 

Courage 1^ 1* 

Bravery 1 20 

Patriotism 2 20 

Placability 18 * 

How, it may reasonably be asked, do these strange incon- 
gruities arise ? First, men practise assort of voluntary deception 

Chap, 10. 



on themselves : they persuade themselves to think that an offence 
which they desire to commit, is not so vicious as the Moral Law 
indicates, or as others to which they have Httle temptation. 
They persuade themselves again, that a virtue which is easily 
practised, is of great worth, because they thus flatter themselves 
with complacent notions of their excellencies at a cheap rate. 
Virtues which are difficult they for the same reason depreciate! 
This IS the dictate of interest. It is manifestly good policy to 
think lightly of the value of a quality which we do not choose to 
be at the cost of possessing ; and who would willingly think 
there was much evH in a vice which he practised every day ? 
--That which a man thus persuades himself to think a trivial 
vice, or an unimportant virtue, he of course speaks of as such 
amongst his neighbours. They perhaps are as much interested 
m propagating the delusion as he : they Hsten with willing ears, 
and cherish and proclaim the grateful falsehood. By these and 
by other means the public notions become influenced ; a long 
continuance of the general chicanery at length actually con- 
founds the PubHc Opinion; and when once an opinion has 
become a public opinion, there is no difficulty in accounting for 
the perpetuation of the fallacy. 

If sometimes the mind of an individual recurs to the purer 
standard, a multitude of obstacles present themselves to its prac- 
tical adoption. He hopes that under the present circumstances 
of society an exact obedience to the Moral Law is not required ; 
he tries to think that the notions of a kingdom or a continent 
cannot be so erroneous ; and at.any rate trusts that as he deviates 
with millions, millions will hardly be held guilty at the bar of 
God. The misdirection of Public Opinion is an obstacle to the 
vh-tue even of good men. He who looks beyond the notions of 
others, and founds his moral principles upon the Moral Law, yet 
feels that it is more difficult to conform to that law when he is 
discountenanced by the general notions than if those notions 
supported and encouraged him. What then must the effect of 
such misdirection be upon those to whom acceptance in the world 
is the principal concern, and who, if others applaud or smile, seem 
to be indifferent whether their own hearts condemn them. 

Now, with a participation in the evils which the misdirection 
of public opinion occasions, every one is chargeable who speaks 
of moral actions according to a standard that varies from that 
which Christianity has exhibited. Here is the cause of the evil. 




Essay 2. 

Chap. 10. 



and liere must be its remedy. " It is an important maxim in 
morals as well as in education to call things by their right 
names.''^ "To bestow good names on bad things, is to give 
them a passport in the world under a delusive disguise."2 " The 
soft names and plausible colours under which deceit, sensuality, 
and revenge are presented to us in common discourse, weaken 
by degrees our natural sense of the distinction between good and 
evil."^ Public notions of morality constitute a sort of line of 
demarcation, which is regarded by most men in their practice as 
a boundary between right and wrong. He who contributes to 
fix this boimdary in the wrong place, who places evil on the side 
of virtue, or goodness on the side of vice, offends more deeply 
against the morality and the welfare of the world, than multi- 
tudes who are punished by the arm of law. If moral offences 
are to be estimated by their consequences, few will be found so 
deep as that of habitually giving good names to bad things. It 
is well indeed for the responsibility of individuals that their 
contribution to the aggregate mischief is commonly small. Yet 
every man should remember that it is by the contribution of 
individuals that the aggregate is formed ; and that it can only be 
by the deductions of individuals that it will be done away. 

Duelling.— If two boys who disagreed about a game of mar- 
bles or a penny tart, should therefore walk oat by the river side, 
quietly take off their clothes, and when they had got into the 
water, each try to keep the other's head down until one of them 
was drowned, we should doubtless think that these two boys were 
mad. If, when the survivor returned to his schoolfellows, they 
patted him on the shoulder, told him he was a spirited fellow, 
and that, if he had not tried the feat in the water, they would 
never have played at marbles or any other game with him a^in, 
we should doubtless think that these boys were infected with a 
most revolting and disgusting depravity and ferociousness. We 

iRees'sEncyclop. Art. Philos. Moral. 'Knox's Essays, No. 34. 3Blair,Senn.9. 

Dr. Carpenter insists upon similar truths upon somewhat different subjects. 
" If children hear us express as much approbation, and in the same terms, of the 
skill of a genUeman coach-driver, of the abilities of a philosophical lecturer, and 
of an individual who has just performed an elevated act of disinterested virtue, 
is it possible that they should not feel great confusion of ideas ? If each is 
termed a noble fellow, and with the same emphasis and animation, how can the 
youthful understanding calculate with sufficient accuracy so as to appreciate the 
import of the expression in the same way that we should do ?" Principles of 
Education. — Conscience. 

should instantly exert ourselves to correct their principles, and 
should feel assured that nothing could ever induce us to tolerate, 
much less to encourage, such abandoned depravity. And yet 
we do both tolerate and encourage such depra^dty every day. 
Change the penny tart for some other trifle ; instead of boys put 
men, and instead of a river, a pistol,— and we encourage it aU. 
We virtually pat the survivor's shoulder, tell him he is a man of 
honour, and that, if he had not shot at his acquaintance, we 
would never have dined with him again. '' Revolting and'dis- 
gusting depravity" are at once excluded from our vocabulary. 
We substitute such phrases as '' the course which a gentleman is* 
obliged to pursue "^'' it was necessary to his honour "— ^^ one 
could not have associated with him if he had not fought." We 
are the schoolboys, grown up ; and by the absurdity, aud more 
than absurdity of our phrases and actions, shooting or drowning 
(it matters not which) becomes the practice of the national 

It is not a trifling question that a man puts to himself when 
he asks. What is the amount of my contribution to this detestable 
practice ? It is by individual contributions to the public notions 
respecting it that the practice is kept up. Men do not fire at 
one another because they are fond of risking their own lives or 
other men's, but because public notions are such as they are. 
Nor do I think any deduction can be more manifestly just, than 
that he who contributes to the misdirection of these notions is 
responsible for a share of the evil aad the guilt. When some 
offence has given probability to a duel, every man acts immoraQy 
who evinces any disposition to coohiess with either party until 
he has resolved to fight ; and if eventually one of them faHs, he 
is a party to his destruction. Every word of unfriendhness, 
every look of indifference, is positive guHt ; for it is such words 
and such looks that drive men to their pistols. It is the same 
after a victim ha^ fallen. " I pity his family, but they have the 
consolation of knowing that he vindicated his honour,'^ is equi- 
valent to urging another and another to fight. Every heedless 
gossip who asks, '' Have you heard of this affair of honour V 
and every reporter of news who relates it as a proper and neces- 
sary procedure, participates in the general crime. 

If they who hear of an intended meeting amongst their friends 
hasten to manifest that they will continue their intercourse with 




Essay 2. 

the parties though they do not fight— if none talks of vindicating 
honour by demanding satisfaction— if he who speaks and he who 
writes of this atrocity, speaks and writes as reason and morals 
dictate, duelling will soon disappear from the world. To con- 
tribute to the suppression of the custom is therefore easy, and let 
no man, and let no woman, who does not, as occasion offers, 
express reprobation of the custom, think that their hands are 
clear of blood. They especially are responsible for its continuance 
whose station or general character gives peculiar influence to 
their opinions in its favour. What then are we to think of the 
conduct of a British judge who encourages it from the bench ? 
A short time ago a person was tried on the Perth circuit for 
murder, having kiUed another in a duel. The evidence of the 
fact was undisputed. Before the verdict was pronounced, the 
judge is said to have used these words in his address to the jury : 
" The character you have heard testified by so many respectable 
and intelligent gentlemen this day, is as Ugh as is possible for 
man to receive, and I consider that throughout this affair the panel 
has acted up to it.'' So that it is laid down from the bench that 
the man who shoots another through the heart for striking him 
with an umbreUa, acts up to the highest possible character of 
man ! The prisoner, although every one knew he had killed the 
deceased, was acquitted, and the judge is reported to have ad- 
dressed him thus : " You must be aware that the only duty I 
have to perform is to dismiss you from that bar with a character 
unmlliedr^ If the iudge^s language be true, Christianity is an 
idle fiction. Who wiU wonder at the continuance of duellmg, 
who mU wonder that upon this subject the Moral Law is disre- 
garded, if we are to be told that "unsullied character"— nay, 
that " the highest possible character of man," is compatible with 
trampling Christianity imder our feet ? 

How happy would it be for our country and for the world, 
how truly glorious for himself, if the king would act towards 
the duellist as his mother acted towards women who had lost 
their reputation. She rigidly excluded them from her presence. 
If the British monarch refused to allow the man who had fought 
a duel to approach him, it is probable that ere long duelling 
would be aboUshed, not merely in this comitry but in the chris- 
tian world. Nor will true christian respect be violated by the 

» The Trial is reported in the Caledonian Mercur>' of September 25, 1826. 


Chap. 10. 



addition, that in proportion to the power of doing good is the 
responsibility for omitting it. 

Glory : Military Virtues. — To prove that war is an evil 
were much the same as to prove that the light of the sun is a 
good. And yet, though no one will dispute the truth, there are 
few who consider, and few who know how great the evil is. The 
practice is encircled with so many glittering fictions, that most 
men are content with but a vague and inadequate idea of the 
calamities, moral, physical and political, which it inflicts upon our 
species. But if few men consider how prodigious its mischiefs 
are, they see enough to agree in the conclusion, that the less 
frequently it happens the better for the common interests of man. 
Supposing then that some wars are lawful and unavoidable, it is 
nevertheless manifest, that whatever tends to make them more 
frequent than necessity requires, must be very pernicious to man- 
kind. Now, in consequence of a misdirection of public notions, 
this needless frequency exists. Public opinion is favourable, not 
so much to war in the abstract or in practice, as to the profes- 
sion of arms ; and the inevitable consequence is this, that war 
itself is greatly promoted, without reference to the causes for 
which it may be undertaken. By attaching notions of honour 
to the military profession, and of glory to military achievements, 
three wars probably have been occasioned where there otherwise 
would have been but one. To talk of the ^' splendours of con- 
quest,^' and the " glories of victory,^' to extol those who " fall 
covered with honour in their country's cause," is to occasion 
the recurrence of wars, not because they are necessary, but be- 
cause they are desired. It is, in fact, contributing, according to 
the speaker's power, to desolate provinces and set villages in 
flames, to ruin thousands and destroy thousands — to inflict, in 
brief, all the evils and the miseries which war inflicts. " Splen- 
dours,'' — '' Glories," — ^^ Honours ! " — the listening soldier wants 
to signalise himself like the heroes who are departed ; he wants 
to thrust his sickle into the fields of fame and reap undying 
laurels : — How shall he signalize himself without a war, and on 
what field can he reap glory but in the field of battle ? The 
consequence is inevitable : Multitudes desire war — they are fond 
of war — and it requires no sagacity to discover, that to desire 
and to love it is to make it likely to happen. Thus a perpetual 
motive to human destruction is created, of which the tendency 
is as inevitable as the tendency of a stone to fall to the earth. 




Essay 2. 

The present state of public opinion manifestly promotes the 
recurrence of wars of all kinds, necessary, (if such there are) and 
imnecessary. It promotes wars of pure aggression, of the most 
unmingled wickedness ; it promoted the wars of the departed 
Louises and Napoleons. It awards " glory^' to the soldier 
wherever be his achievements and in whatever cause. 

Now, wai\ing the after consideration as to the nature of Glory 
itself, the individual may judge of his duties with respect to 
public opinion by its effects. To minister to the popular notions 
of glory is to encourage needless wars : it is, therefore, his duty 
not to minister to those notions. Common talk by a man's fire- 
side contributes its httle to the universal evil, and shares in the 
universal offence. Of the writers of some books it is not too 
much to suppose, that they have occasioned more murders than 
all the clubs and pistols of assassins for ages have effected. Is 
there no responsibility for this ? 

But, perhaps, it will afford to some men new ideas if we 
enquire what the real nature of the military \irtues is. They 
receive more of applause than virtues of any other kind. How 
does this happen ? We must seek a solution in the seeming 
paradox, that their pretensions to the characters of Virtues are 
few and small. They receive much applause because they merit 
little. They could not subsist without it ; and if men resolve to 
practise war, and consequently to require the conduct which 
gives success to war, they must decorate that conduct with glit- 
tering fictions, and extol the military \irtues though they be 
neither good nor great. Of every species of real excellence it is 
the general characteristic that it is not anxious for applause. 
The more elevated the virtue the less the desire, and the less is 
the puhlic voice a motive to action. What should we say of 
that man's benevolence who woidd not relieve a neighbour in 
distress unless the donation would be praised in a newspaper ? 
What should we say of that man's piety who prayed only when 
he was '' seen of men ? " But the military virtues live upon 
applause ; it is their vital element and their food, their great 
pervading motive and reward. Are there, then, amongst the 
respective virtues such discordances of character — such total 
contrariety of nature and essence ? No, no. But how, then, 
do you accoimt for the fact, that whilst all other great virtues 
are independent of public praise and stand aloof from it, the 
military virtues can scarcely exist without it ? 


It is again a characteristic of exalted Virtue, that it tends to 
produce exalted virtues of other kinds. He that is distinguished 
by diffusive benevolence, is rarely chargeable with profaneness 
or debauchery. The man of piety is not seen drunk. The man 
of candour and humility is not vindictive or unchaste. Can the 
same thing be predicated of the tendency of military virtues ? 
Do they tend powerfully to the production of all other virtues ? 
Is the brave man pecuHarly pious? Is the military patriot 
peculiarly chaste ? Is he who pants for glory and acquires it, 
distinguished by unusual placability and temperance ? No, no. 
How then do you account for the fact, that whilst other virtues 
thus strongly tend to produce and to foster one another, i the 
military virtues have little of such tendency, or none ? 

The simple truth, however veiled and however unwelcome, is 
this, that the military virtues will not endure examination. 
They are called what they are not, or what they are in a very 
inferior degree to that which popular notions imply. It would 
not serve the purposes of war to represent these qualities as being 
what they are ; we therefore dress them with factitious and 
alluring ornaments ; and they have been dressed so long that 
we admire the show, and forget to enquire what is underneath. 
Our applauses of military virtues do not adorn them like the 
natural bloom of loveliness ; it is the paint of that which, if 
seen, would not attract, if it did not repel us. They are not like 
the verdure which adorns the meadow, but the greenness that 
conceals a bog. If the reader says that we indulge in declama- 
tion, we invite, we solicit him to investigate the truth. And 
yet, without enquiring further, there is conclusive evidence in 
the fact, that glory, that praise, is the vital principle of military 
virtue. Let us take sound rules for our guides of judgment, and 
it is not possible that we should regard any quality as possessing 
much virtue which lives only or chiefly upon praise. And who 
will pretend that the ranks of armies would be filled if no 
tongue talked of bravery and glory, and no newspaper published 
the achievements of a regiment ? ^ 

* " The virtues are nearly related, and live in the greatest harmony with each 
other." — Opib. 

* It is pleasant to hear an intelligent woman say, " 1 cannot tell how or why the 
love of glory is a less selfish principle than the love of riches :*'* and it is plea- 
sant to hear one of our then principal Reviews say, " Glory is the most selfish 
of all passions except love." + That which is selfish can hardly be very virtuous. 

• Memoirs of the late Jane Taylor. f West. Rev. No. 13. 

Q 2 




Essay 2. 

" Truth is a naked and open daylight, that doth not show the 
masques and mummeries and triumphs of the world half so 
stately and daintUy as candlelight." i Let us dismiss, then, 
that candlelight examination which men are wont to adopt when 
they contemplate military virtues, and see what appearance they 
exhibit in the daylight of truth. Military talent, and active 
courage, and patriotism, or some other motive, appear to be 
the foundations and the subjects of our applause. 

With respect to talent little needs to be said, since few have 
an opportunity of displaying it. An able general may exhibit 
Ms capacity for military affairs ; but of the mass of those who 
join in battles and participate in their " glories," little more is 
expected than that they should be obedient and brave. And a^ 
to the few who have the opportunity of displaying talent and 
who do display it, it is manifest that their claims to merit, inde- 
pendently of the purpose to which their talent is devoted, is 
Uttle or none. A man deserves no applause for the possession or 
for the exercise of talent as such. One man may possess and exer- 
cise as much ability in corrupting the principles of his readers as 
another who corrects and purifies them. One man may exhibit 
as much abiUty in swindling, as another in effectually legislating 
against swindlers. To applaud the possession of talent is absurd, 
and like many other absurd actions, is greatly permcious. Our 
approbation should depend on the objects upon which the talent 
is employed. Military talents, like all others, are only so far 
proper subjects of approbation as they are employed aright. Yet 
the popular notion appears to be, that the display of talent m a 
military leader is, per se, entitled to praise. You might as weU 
applaud the dexterity of a corrupt minister of state. The truth 
is, that talent, as such, is not a proper subject of moral appro- 
bation any more than strength or beauty. But if we thus 
take away from the " glories" of military leaders all but that 
which is founded upon the causes in which their talents were 
engaged, what will remain to the Alexanders, and the Caesars, 
and the Jenghizes, and the Louises, and the Charieses, and the 
Napoleons, with whose " glories" the idle voice of fame is filled ? 
" Tout ce qui pent etre commun aux bons at aux me'chans, ne le 
rend point veritablement estimable." Cannot military talents 
he exhibited indifferently by the good and the bad ? Are they 
not in fact as often exhibited by vicious men as by vurtuous ( 

* Lord Bacon: Essays. 

Chap. 10. 



They are^ and therefore they are not really deserving of praise. 
But if any man should say that the circumstances of a leader's 
exerting his talents ^^for his king and country" is of itself a 
good cause, and therefore entitles him to praise, I answer that 
such a man is deluding himself with idle fictions. I hope pre- 
sently to show this. Meanwhile it is to be remarked, that if 
this be a valid claim to approbation, *^ king and country^' must 
always be in the right. Who will affirm this ? And yet, if it is 
not shown, you may as well applaud the brigand chief with his 
thirty followers as the greater marauder with his thirty thousand. 
Valour and bravery, however, may be exhibited by the many 
— not by generals and admirals alone, but by ensigns and mid- 
shipmen, by seamen and by privates. What then is valour, and 
what is bravery ! ^^ There is nothing great but what is virtuous, 
nor indeed truly great but what is composed and quiet.'' ^ There 
is much truth in this. Yet where then is the greatness of 
bravery, for where is the composure and quietude of the quality ? 
" Valour or active courage is for the most part constitutional, and 
therefore can have no more claim to moral merit than wit, beauty, 
or health." ^ Accordingly, the question which we have just 
asked respecting military talent, may be especially asked respect- 
ing bravery. Cannot bravery be exhibited in common by the 
good and the bad ? — Yet further, '^ It is a great weakness for a 
man to value himself upon any thing wherein he shall be out- 
done by fools and brutes." Is not the bravery of the bravest 
outdone even by brutes ? When the soldier has vigorously 
assaulted the enemy, when though repulsed he returns to the 
conflict, when being wounded he still brandishes his sword, till 
it drops from his grasp by faintness or death, — he surely is 
brave. What then is the moral rank to which he has attained ? 
He has attained to the rank of a bull-dog. The dog, too, vigor- 
ously assails his enemy ; when tossed into the air he returns to 
the conflict ; when gored he still continues to bite, and yields 
not his hold until he is stunned or killed. Contemplating 
bravery as such, there is not a man in Britain or in Europe whose 
bravery entitles him to praise which he must not share with the 
combatants of a cockpit. Of the moral qualities that are com- 
ponents of bravery, the reader may form some conception from 
this language of a man who is said to be a large landed pro- 

1 Seneca. * Soame Jenyns : Internal Ev-id. of Christianity, Prop. 3. 



Essay 2, 


prietor^ a magistrate, and a member of parliament. '^ I am one 
of those who think that evil alone does not result from poaching. 
The risk poachers run from the dangers that beset them, added 
to their occupation being carried on in cold dark nights, begets 
a hardihood of frame and contempt of danger that is not without 
its value. I never heard or knew of a poacher being a coward. 
They all make good soldiers ; and military men are well aware 
that two or three men in each troop or company, of bold and 
enterprising spirits, are not without their effect on their com- 
rades.^^ The same may of course be said of smugglers and 
highwaymen. If these are the characters in whom we are 
peculiarly to seek for bravery, what are the moral qualities of 
bravery itself ! All just, all rational, and I will venture to affirm 
all permanent reputation refers to the mind or to virtue : and 
what connexion has animal power or animal hardihood with 
intellect or goodness ? I do not decry courage : he who was 
better acquainted than we are with the nature and worth of 
human action, attached much value to courage, but he attached 
none to bravery.^ Courage he recommended by his precepts 
and enforced by his example : bravery he never recommended 
at all. — The wisdom of this distinction and its accordancy with 
the principles of his religion are plain. Bravery requires the 
existence of many of those dispositions which he disallowed. 
Animosity, the desire of retaliation, the disposition to injure and 
destroy, all this is necessary to the existence of bravery, but 
all this is incompatible with Christianity. The courage which 
Christianity requires is to bravery what fortitude is to daring — 
an effort of the mental principles rather than of the spirits. It 
is a calm steady determinateness of purpose, that will not be 
diverted by solicitation or awed by fear. " Behold, I go bound 
in the spirit unto Jerusalem, not knowing the things that shall 
befall me there ; save that the Holy Ghost witnesseth in every 
city, saying that bonds and afflictions abide me. But none of 
these things move me, neither count I my life dear unto myself" ^ 
What resemblance has bravery to courage like this? This 
courage is a virtue, and a virtue which it is difficult to acquire or 
to practise ; and we have heedlessly or ingeniously transferred 
its praise to another quality which is inferior in its nature and 

> " "Whatever merit valour may have assimied among pagans, with Christiana 
it can pretend to none." Soame Jenyns : Internal Evid. of Christianity, Prop. 3. 
* Acts XX. 22. 

Chap, 10. 



easier to acquire, in order that we may obtain the reputation of 
virtue at a cheap rate. 

Of those who thus extol the lower qualities of our nature, few 
perhaps are conscious to what a degree they are deluded. In 
exhibiting this delusion let us not forget the purpose for which 
it is done. The popular notion respecting bravery does not 
terminate in an innoxious mistake. The consequences are prac- 
tically and greatly evil. He that has placed his hopes upon the 
praises of valour, desires of course an opportunity of acquiring 
them, and this opportunity he cannot find but in the destruction 
of men. That such powerful motives will lead to this destruction 
when even ambition can scarcely find a pretext, we need not the 
testimony of experience to assure us. It is enough that we con- 
sider the principles which actuate mankind. 

And if we turn from actions to motives, from bravery to 
patriotism, we are presented with similar delusions, and with 
similar mischiefs as their consequence. To ''fight nobly for our 
country,'' to " fall covered with glory in our country's cause," 
to '' sacrifice our lives for the liberties and laws and religion of 
our country," are phrases in the mouth of multitudes. What 
do they mean, and to whom do they apply ? We contend, that 
to say generally of those who perish in war that ''they have died 
for their country," is simply untrue : and for this simple reason, 
that they did not fight for it. It is not true that patriotism is 
their motive. Why is a boy destined from school for the army ? 
Is it that his father is more patriotic than his neighbour, who 
destines his son for the bar ? Or if the boy himself begs his 
father to buy an ensigncy, is it because he loves his country, or 
is it because he dreams of glory, and admires scarlet and plumes 
and swords ? The officer enters the service in order that he may 
obtain an income, not in order to benefit his fellow citizens. 
The private enters it because he prefers a soldier's life to another 
or because he has no wish but the wish for change. And having 
entered the army, what is the motive that induces the private or 
his superiors to fight ? It is that fighting is part of their busi- 
ness ; that it is one of the conditions upon which they were 
hired. Patriotism is not the motive. Of those who fall in battle, 
is there one in a hundred who even thinks of his country's good? 
He thinks perhaps of glory and of the fame of his regiment—he 
hopes perhaps that " Salamanca " or " Austerlitz " will hence- 




forth be inscribed on its colours; but rational views of his 
country's welfare are foreign to his mind. He has scarcely a 
thought about the matter. He fights in battle as a horse draws 
in a carnage, because he is compelled to do it, or because he has 
done it before ; but he probably thinks no more of his country's 
good than the same horse, if he were carrying com to a granary, 
would think he was providing for the comforts of his master. 
The truth therefore is, that we give to the soldier that of which 
we are wont to be sufficiently sparing— a gratuitous concession 
of merit. If he but " fights bravely,'' he is a patriot and secure 

of his praise. 

To sacrifice our lives for the liberties and laws and religion of 
our native land, are undoubtedly high-sounding words ; but who 
are they that will do it ? Who is it that will sacrifice his life for 
his country ? Will the senator who supports a war ? Will the 
writer who declaims upon patriotism? Will the minister of 
religion who recommends the sacrifice ? Take away war and its 
fictions, and there is not a man of them who will do it. Will 
he sacrifice his Hfe at home 7 If the loss of his life in London or 
at York would procure just so much benefit to his country as 
the loss of one soldier's in the field, would he be willing to lay 
his head upon the block ? Is he willing, for such a contribution 
to his country's good, to resign himself without notice and with- 
out remembrance to the executioner ? Alas for the fictions of 
war ! where is such a man ? Men will not sacrifice their lives 
at all unless it be in war ; and they do not sacrifice them in war 
from motives of patriotism. In no rational use of language, 
therefore, can it be said that the soldier '' dies for his country." 

Not that there may not be or that there have not been persons 
who fight from motives of patriotism. But the occurrence is com- 
paratively rare. There may be physicians who qualify themselves 
for practice from motives of benevolence to the sick ; or lawyers 
who assume the gown in order to plead for the injured and 
oppressed ; but it is an unusual motive, and so is patriotism to 
the soldier. 

And after all, even if all soldiers fought out of zeal for their 
country, what is the merit of Patriotism itself? I do not say 
that it possesses no virtue, but I affirm and hope hereafter to 
show, that its virtue is extravagantly overrated,^ and that if every 

» Essay 3, c. 17. 

Chap. 10. 



one who fought did fight for his country, he would often be 
actuated only by a mode of selfishness — of selfishness which 
sacrifices the general interests of the species to the interests 
of a part. 

Such and so low are the qualities which have obtained from 
deluded and deluding millions, fame, honours, glories. A pro- 
digious structure, and almost without a base: — a structure so 
vast, so brilliant, so attractive, that the greater portion of man- 
kind are content to gaze in admiration, without any enquiry into 
its basis or any solicitude for its durability. If, however, it should 
be that the gorgeous temple will be able to stand only till chris- 
tian truth and light become predominant, it surely will be wise 
of those who seek a niche in its apartments as their paramount 
and final good, to pause ere they proceed. If they desire a 
reputation that shall outlive guilt and fiction, let them look to 
the basis of military fame. If this fame should one day sink 
into oblivion and contempt, it will not be the first instance in 
which wide-spread glory has been found to be a glittering bubble 
that has burst and been forgotten. Look at the days of chivalry. 
Of the ten thousand Quixotes of the middle ages, where is now 
the honour or the name ? Yet poets once sang their praises, and 
the chronicler of their achievements believed he was recording 
an everlasting fame. Where are now the glories of the tourna- 
ment ? Glories 

♦• Of which all Europe rang from side to side.'* 

Where is the champion whom princesses caressed and nobles 
envied ? Where are the triumphs of Scotus and Aquinas, and 
where are the folios that perpetuated their fame ? The glories 
of war have indeed outlived these; human passions are less 
mutable than human folies ; but I am willing to avow the con- 
viction, that these glories are alike destined to sink into forget- 
fulness, and that the time is approaching when the applauses of 
heroism and the splendours of conquest will be remembered only 
as follies and iniquities that are past. Let him who seeks for 
fame other than that which an era of christian purity will allow, 
make haste ; for every hour that he delays its acquisition will 
shorten its duration. This is certain if there be certainty in the 
promises of Heaven. 

But we must not forget the purpose for which these illustra- 
tions of the Military Virtues are offered to the reader ; — to remind 




Essay 2. 

Chap. 10. 


lum not merely that they are fictions, but fictions which are the 
occasion of excess of misery to mankind — to remind him that it 
is his business, from considerations of humanity and of religion, 
to refuse to give currency to the popular delusions — and to 
remind him that, if he does promote them, he promotes, by the 
act, misery in all its forms and guilt in all its excesses. Upon 
such subjects, men are not left to exercise their own inclinations. 
Morality interposes its commands; and they are commands 
which, if we would be moral, we must obey. 

UNCHASTITY. — No portiou of these pages is devoted to the 
enforcement of moral obligations upon this subject, partly 
because these obligations are commonly acknowledged how little 
soever they may be regarded, and partly because, as the reader 
will have seen, the object of these Essays is to recommend 
those applications of the Moral Law which are frequently 
neglected m the practice even of respectable men. — But in 
reference to the influence of public opinion on ofl*ences con- 
nected with the sexual constitution, it will readily be perceived 
that something should be said, when it is considered that some 
of the popular notions respecting them are extravagantly incon- 
sistent with the Moral Law. The want of chastity in a woman 
is visited by public opinion with the severest reprobation — in 
men, with very little or with none. Now, morality makes no 
such distinction. The ofi'ence is frequently adverted to in the 
christian Scriptures ; but I believe there is no one precept which 
intimates that, in the estimation of its writer, there was any 
difference in the turpitude of the offence respectively in men 
and women. If it be in this volume that we are to seek for the 
principles of the Moral Law, how shall we defend the state of 
popular opinion ? " If imchastity in a woman, whom St. Paul 
terms the glory of man, be such a scandal and dishonour, then 
certainly in a man, who is both the image and glory of God, 
it must, though commonly not so thought, be much more 
deflowering and dishonourable.'' ^ But this departure from the 
Moral Law, like all other departures, produces its legitimate, 
that is, pernicious effects. The sex in whom popular opinion 
reprobates the offences, comparatively seldom commits them : 
the sex in whom it tolerates the offences, commits them to an 
enormous extent. It is obvious, therefore, that to promote the 

* MilUm : Chrktian Doctxine, p. 624. 


present state of popular opinion, is to promote and to encourage 
the want of chastity in men. 

That some very beneficial consequences result from the strong 
direction of its current against the offence in a woman, is certain. 
The consciousness that upon the retention of her reputation 
depends so tremendous a stake, is probably a more efficacious 
motive to its preservation than any other. The abandonment to 
which the loss of personal integrity generally consigns a woman, 
is a perpetual and fearful warning to the sex. Almost every 
human being deprecates and dreads the general disfavour of 
mankiud ; and thus, notwithstanding temptations of all kinds, 
the number of women who do incur it is comparatively small. 

But the fact that public opinion is thus powerful in restraining 
one sex, is a sufficient evidence that it would also be powerful in 
restraining the other. Waiving for the present the question 
whether the popular disapprobation of the crime in a woman is 
not too severe — ^if the man who was guilty was forthwith and 
immediately consigned to infamy; if he was expelled from 
virtuous society, and condemned for the remainder of life to 
the lowest degradation, how quickly would the frequency of the 
crime be diminished ! The reformation amongst men would 
effect a reformation amongst women too; and the reciprocal 
temptations which each addresses to the other, would iu a great 
degree be withdrawn. If there were few seducers few would be 
seduced ; and few therefore would in turn become the seducera 
of men. 

But instead of this direction of public opinion, what is the 
ordinary language respecting the man who thus violates the 
Moral Law? We are told that "he is rather unsteady;" that 
there is " a Httle of the young man about him ; " that " he is not 
free from indiscretions." And what is he likely to think of all 
this ? Why, that for a young man to have a httle of the young 
man about him is perfectly natural ; that to be rather unsteady 
and a little indiscreet is not, to be sure, what one would wish, 
but that is no great harm and will soon wear off. To employ 
such language is, we say, to encourage and promote the crime — 
a crime which brings more wretchedness and vice into the world 
than almost any other ; and for which, if Christianity is to be 
beheved, the Universal Judge will call to a severe account. K 
the immediate agent be obnoxious to punishment, can he who 

I )• 





Essay 2. 

encouraged him expect to escape ? I am persuaded that the 
frequency of this gross offence is attributable much more to the 
levity of public notions as founded upon levity of language, than 
to passion ; and perhaps, therefore, some of those who promote 
this levity may be in every respect as criminal as if they com- 
mitted the crime itself. 

Women themselves contribute greatly to the common levity 
and to its attendant mischiefs. Many a female who talks in the 
language of abhorrence of an offending sister, and averts her eye 
in contumely if she meets her in the street, is perfectly willing 
to be the friend and intimate of the equally offending man. That 
such women are themselves duped by the vulgar distinction is 
not to be doubted— but then we are not to imagine that she who 
practises this inconsistency abhors the crime so much as the 
criminal. Her abhorrence is directed, not so much to the viola- 
tion of the Moral Law as to the party by whom it is violated. 
"To little respect has that woman a claim on the score of 
modesty, though her reputation may be white as the driven snow, 
which smiles on the libertine whilst she spurns the victims of 
his lawless appetites.'' No, no.— If such women would con- 
vince us that it is the impurity which they reprobate, let them 
reprobate it wherever it is found : if they would convince us that 
morals or philanthropy is their motive when they spurn the 
sinning sister, let them give proof by spuming him who has 
occasioned her to sin. 

The common style of narrating occurrences and trials of seduc- 
tion, &c.,in the public prints, is very mischievous. These flagitious 
actions are, it seems, a legitimate subject of merriment ; one of the 
many droll things whicli a newspaper contains. It is humiliating 
to see respectable men sacrifice the interests of society to such 
small temptation. They pander to the appetite of the gross and 
idle of the public : — they want to sell their newspapers. — Much 
of this ill-timed merriment is found in the addresses of counsel, 
and this is one mode amongst the many in which the legal pro- 
fession appears to think itself licensed to sacrifice virtue to the 
usages which it has, for its own advantage, adopted. There is 
cruelty as well as other vices in these things. When we take 
into account the intense suffering which prostitution produces 
upon its victims and upon their friends, he who contributes, even 
thus indirectly, to its extension, does not exhibit even a tolerable 



sensibility to human misery. Even infidelity acknowledges the 
claims of humanity; and therefore, if religion and religious morals 
were rejected, this heartless levity of language would still be 
indefensible. We call the man benevolent who relieves or 
diminishes wretchedness : what should we call him who extends 
and increases it ? 

In connexion with this subject, an observation suggests itself 
respecting the power of Character in affecting the whole moral 
principles of the mind. If loss of character does not follow a 
breach of morality, that breach may be single and alone. The 
agent's virtue is so far deteriorated, but the breach does not open 
wide the door to other modes of crime. If loss of character 
does follow one offence, one of the great barriers which exclude 
the flood of evil is thrown down ; and though the offence which 
produced loss of character be really no greater than the offence 
with which it is retained, yet its consequences upon the moral 
condition are incomparably greater. The reason is, that if you 
take away a person's reputation you take away one of the prin- 
cipal motives to propriety of conduct. The labourer who, being 
tempted to steal a piece of bacon from the farmer, finds that no 
one will take him into his house or give him employment, and 
that wherever he goes he is pointed at as a thief, is almost as 
much driven as tempted to repeat the crime. His fellow labourer, 
who has much more heinously violated the Moral Law by a flagi- 
tious intrigue with a servant girl, receives from the farmer a few 
reproaches and a few jests, retains his place, never perhaps re- 
peats the offence, and subsequently maintains a decent moraUty. 

It has been said, "As a woman collects all her virtue into this 
point, the loss of her chastity is generally the destruction of her 
moral principle." What is to be understood by collecting virtue 
into one point, it is not easy to discover. The truth is, that as 
popular notions have agreed that she who loses her chastity shall 
retain no reputation, a principal motive to the practice of other 
virtues is taken away : — she therefore disregards them ; and thus 
by degrees her moral principle is utterly depraved. If public 
opinion was so modified that the world did not abandon a woman 
who has been robbed of chastity, it is probable that a much larger 
number of these unhappy persons would return to virtue. The 
case of men offers illustration and proof. The unchaste man 
retains his character, or at any rate he retains so much that it is 





of great importance to him to preserve the remainder. Public 
Opinion accordingly holds its strong rein upon other parts of his 
conduct, and by this rein he is restrained from deviating into 
other walks of vice. If the direction of Public Opinion were ex- 
changed, if the woman's offence were held venial and the man's 
infamous, the world might stand in wonder at the altered scene. 
We should have worthy and respectable prostitutes, while the 
men whom we now invite to our tables and marry to our daugh- 
ters, would be repulsed as the most abandoned of mankind. Of 
this I have met with a curious illustration. — Amongst the North 
American Indians " seduction is regarded as a despicable crime, 
and more blame is attached to the man than to the woman : 
hence the offence on the part of the female is more readily for- 
gotten and forgiven^ and she finds little or no difficulty in forming 
a subsequent matrimonial alliance when deserted by her betrayer, 
who is generally regarded with distrust, and avoided in social 

vniercourser ^ 

It becomes a serious question how we shall fix upon the degree 
in which diminution of character ought to be consequent upon 
offences against morahty. It is not I think too much to say, 
that no single crime, once committed, imder the influence per- 
haps of strong temptation, ought to occasion s\ich a loss of 
character as to make the individual regard himself as abandoned. 
I make no exceptions — not even for murder. I am persuaded 
that some murders are committed with less of personal guilt than 
is sometimes involved in much smaller crimes: but however 
that may be, there is no reason why, even to the murderer, the 
motives and the avenues to amendment should be closed. Still 
less ought they to be closed against the female who is perhaps 
the victim — strictly the victim — of seduction. Yet if the public 
do not express, and strongly express, their disapprobation, we 
have seen that they practically encourage offences. In this 
difficulty I know of no better and no other guide than that 
system which the tenor of Christianity prescribes — Abhorrence of 
the evil and commiseration of him who commits it. The union 
of these dispositions wiU be likely to produce, with respect to 
offences of all kinds, that conduct which most effectually tends 
to discountenance them, while it as effectually tends to reform 
the offenders. These, however, are not the dispositions which 

1 Hunter's Memoirs. 


actuate the public in measuring their reprobation of unchastity 
in women. Something probably might rightly be deducted from 
the severity with which their offence is visited : much may be 
rightly altered in the motives which induce this severity. And 
as to men, much should be added to the quantum of reproba- 
tion, and much correction should be applied to the principles by 
which it is regulated. 

Another illustration of the power of character, as such, to 
corrupt the principles or to preserve them, is furnished in the 
general respectability of the legal profession. We have seen that 
this profession, habitually and as a matter of course, violates 
many and great points of morahty, and yet I know not that 
their character as men is considerably inferior to that of others in 
similar walks of life. Abating the privileges under which the 
profession is presumed to act, many of their legal procedures are 
as flagitious as some of those which send unprivileged professions 
to the bar of justice. How then does it happen that the moral 
offenders whom we imprison, and try, and punish, are commonly 
in their general conduct depraved, whilst the equal offenders 
whom we do not punish are not thus depraved ? The prisoner 
has usually lost much of his reputation before he becomes a thief, 
and at any rate he loses it with the act. But a man may enter 
the customary legal course with a fair name : Public Opinion 
has not so reprobated that course as to make it necessary to 
its pursuit that a man should already have become depraved. 
Whilst engaged in the ordinary legal practice he may be unjust 
at his desk or at the bar, he may there commit actions essentially 
and greatly wicked, and yet when he steps into his parlour his 
character is not reproached. A jest or two upon his adroitness, 
is probably all the intimation that he receives that other men do 
not regard it with perfect complacency. Such a man will not 
pick your pocket the more readily because he has picked a hun- 
dred pockets at the bar. This were to sacrifice his character : 
the other does not ; and accordingly all those motives to recti- 
tude which the desire of preserving reputation supphes, operate 
to restrain him from other offences. If public opinion were 
rectified, if character were lost by actual violations of the Moral 
Law, some of the ordinary processes of legal men would be prac- 
tised only by those who had little character to lose. Not indeed 
that Public Opinion is silent respecting the habitual conduct of 






Essay 2. 

tlie profession. A secret disapprobation manifestly exists, of 
whicli sufficient evidence may be found even in the lampoons, 
and satires, and proverbs, which pass currently m the world. 
Unhappily the disapprobation is too slight, and especially it is too 
slightly expressed. When it is thus expressed, the lawyer some- 
times unites, with at least apparent good-humour, m the jest- 
feeling perhaps, that conduct which cannot be shown to be vir- 
tnous, it is politic to keep without the pale of the .^ces by a joke. 
Fame —The observations which were offered respecting con- 
tributing to the passion for glory, involve kindred doctrines 
respecting contributions generally to individual fame. If the 
pretensions of those with whose applauses the popular voice is 
filled were examined by the only proper test, the test which 
Christianity allows, it would be found that multitudes whom the 
world thus honours must be shorn of their beams. Before 
Bacon's daylight of truth, poets and statesmen and philo- 
sophers without number would hide their diminished heads. 
The mighty indeed would be fallen. Yet it is for the acqmsition 
of this fame that multitudes toil. It is their motive to action ; 
and they pursue that conduct which will procure fame whether 
it ought to procure it or not. The inference as to the duties 
of individuals in contributing to fame is obvious. 

" The profligacv of a man of fashion is looked upon with 
much less contempt and aversion than that of a man of meaner 
condition.'' 1 It ought to be looked upon with much more. 
But men of fashion are not our concern. Our busmess is with 
men of talent and genius, with the eminent and the great 
The profligacy of these, too, is regarded with much less of 
aversion than that of less gifted men. To be great, whether inteU 
lectually or otherwise, is often like a passport to impumty ; and 
men talk as if we ought to speak leniently of the faults of a 
man who delights us by his genius or his talent. This precisely 
is the man whose faults we should be most prompt to mark, 
because he is the man whose faults are most seducing to the 
world. Intellectual superiority brings, no doubt, its congenial 
temptations. Let these affect our judgments of the man, but 
let them not diminish our reprobation of his offences. So to 
extenuate the individual as to apologise for his faults, is to injure 
the cause of wtue in one of its most vulnerable parts. " Oh I 

» Ad. Smith: Theo. Mor. Sent. 

Chap, 10. 



that I could see in men who oppose tyranny in the state, a dis- 
dain of the tyranny of low passions in themselves. I cannot 
reconcile myself to the idea of an immoral patriot, or to that 
separation of private from public virtue which some men think 
to be possible.'^ ^ Probably it is possible : probably there may 
be such a thing as an immoral patriot ; for public opinion ap- 
plauds the patriotism without condemning thie immorality. If 
men constantly made a fit deduction from their praises of public 
virtue on account of its association with private vice, the union 
would frequently be severed ; and he who hoped for celebrity 
from the public would find it needful to be good as well as great. 
He who applauds human excellence and really admires it, should 
endeavour to make its examples as pure and perfect as he can. 
He should hold out a motive to consistency of excellence, by 
evincing that nothing else can obtain praise unmingled with 
censure. This endeavour should be constant and uniform. 
The hearer should never be allowed to suppose that in appre- 
ciating a person's merits, we are indifferent to his faults. It has 
been complained of one of our principal works of Periodical 
Literature, that amongst its many and ardent praises of Shaks- 
peare, it has almost never alluded to his indecencies. The silence 
is reprehensible : for what is a reader to conclude but that inde- 
cency is a very venial offence ? Under such circumstances, not 
to be with morality is to be against it. Silence is positive mis- 
chief. People talk to us of liberality, and of allowances for the 
aberrations of genius, and for the temptations of greatness. It 
is well. Let the allowances be made. — But this is frequently 
only affectation of candour. It is not that we are lenient to 
failings, but that we are indifferent to vice. It is not even en- 
lightened benevolence to genius or greatness itself. The faults 
and vices with which talented men are chargeable deduct greatly 
from their own happiness : and it cannot be doubted that their 
misdeeds have been the more willingly committed from the con- 
sciousness that apologists would be found amongst the admiring 
world. It is sufficient to make that world knit its brow in anger, 
to insist upon the moral demerits of a Robert Burns. Pathetic 
and voluble extenuations are instantly urged. There are extenua- 
tions of such a man's vices, and they ought to be regarded : but 
no extenuations can remove the charge of vohintary and inten- 

* Dr. Price : Revolution Serm. 




Essay 2, 

tional violations of morality. Let us not bear of the enthusiasm 
of poetry. Men do not write poetry as they chatter with their 
neighbours ; they sit down to a deliberate act ; and he who in 
his verses ofTends against morals, intentionally and deliberately 


After all, posterity exercises some justice in its award. When 
the first glitter and the first applauses are past — when death and 
a few years of sobriety have given opportunity to the public 
mind to attend to truth, it makes a deduction, though not a due 
deduction, for the shaded portions of the great man's character. 
It is not forgotten that Marlborough was avaricious, that Bacon 
was mean ; and there are great names of the present day, of 
whom it will not be forgotten that they had deep and dark 
shades in their reputation. It is perhaps wonderful that those 
who seek for fame are so indifferent to these deductions from 
its amount. Supposing the intellectual pretensions of Newton 
and Voltaire were equal, how different is their fame ? How 
many and how great qualifications are employed in praising the 
one ! How few and how small in praising the other ! Editions 
of the works of some of our first writers are advertised, " in 
which the exceptionable passages are expunged.'' How foolish, 
how uncalculating even as to celebrity, to have inserted these 
passages ! To write in the hope of fame, works which posterity 
will mutilate before they place them in their libraries '.—Charles 
James Fox said, that if, during his administration, they could 
effect the abolition of the slave trade, it " would entail more 
true glory upon them, and more honour upon their country, than 
any other transaction in which they could be engaged." i If 
this be true, (and who will dispute it ?) ministers usually provide 
very ill for their reputation with posterity ! How anxiously 
devoted to measures comparatively insignificant ! How phleg- 
matic respecting those calls of humanity and public principle, a 
regard of which will alone secure the permanent honours of the 
world ! It may safely be relied upon, that " much more un- 
perishable is the greatness of goodness than the greatness of 
power." 2 or the greatness of talent. And the difference will 
progressively increase. If, as there is reason to believe, the 
moral condition of mankind will improve, their estimate of the 
good portion of a great man's character will be enhanced, and 

1 FeU's Memoirs. * Sir R. K. Porter. 


their reprobation of the bad will become more intense — until 
at length it will, perhaps, be found, respecting some of those who 
now receive the applauses of the world, that the balance of public 
opinion is against them, and that, in the universal estimate of 
merit and demerit, they will be ranked on the side of the latter. 
These motives to virtue in great men are not addressed to the 
Christian : he has higher motives and better : but since it is 
more desirable that a man should act well from imperfect motives 
than that he should act ill, we urge him to regard the integrity 
of his fame. 

The Press. — It is manifest that if the obligations which have 
been urged apply to those who speak, they apply with tenfold 
responsibility to those who write. The man who, in talking 
to half a dozen of his acquaintance, contributes to confuse or 
pervert their moral notions, is accountable for the mischief which 
he may do to six persons. He who writes a book containing 
similar language, is answerable for a so much greater amount of 
mischief as the number of his readers may exceed six, and as the 
influence of books exceeds that of conversation, by the evidence 
of greater deliberation in their contents and by the greater 
attention which is paid by the reader. It is not a light matter, 
even in this view, to write a book for the public. We very insuffi- 
ciently consider the amount of the obligations and the extent of 
the responsibility which we entail upon ourselves. Every one 
knows the power of the press in influencing the public mind. 
He that publishes five hundred copies of a book, of which any 
part is likely to derange the moral judgment of a reader, contri- 
butes materially to the propagation of evil. If each of his books 
is read by four persons, he endangers the infliction of this evil, 
whatever be its amount, upon two thousand minds. Who shall 
tell the sum of the mischief? In this country the periodical 
press is a powerful engine for evil or for good. The influence of 
the contents of one number of a newspaper may be small, but it 
is perpetually recurring. The editor of a journal, of which no 
more than a thousand copies are circulated in a week, and each of 
which is read by half a dozen persons, undertakes in a year a 
part of the moral guidance of thirty thousand individuals. Of 
some daily papers the number of readers is so great, that in the 
course of twelve months they may influence the opinions and 
the conduct of six or eight millions of men. To say nothing 

R 2 



Essay 2. 

therefore of editors who intentionally mislead and vitiate the 
public, and remembering with what carelessness respecting the 
moral tendency of articles a newspaper is filled, it may safely be 
concluded that some creditable editors do harm in the world 
to an extent, in comparison with which robberies and treasons 

are as nothing. 

It is not easy to imagine the sum of advantages which would 
result if the periodical press not only excluded that which does 
harm, but preferred that which does good. Not that grave 
moraUties, not, especially, that religious disquisitions, are to be 
desired; but that every reader should see and feel that the 
editor maintained an allegiance to virtue and to truth. There 
is hardly any class of topics in which this allegiance may not 
be manifested, and manifested without any incongruous associa- 
tions. You may relate the common occurrences of the day in 
such a manner as to do either good or evil. The trial of a thief, 
the particulars of a conflagration, the death of a statesman, 
the criticism of a debate, and a hundred other matters, may be 
recorded so as to exercise a moral influence over the reader 
for the better or the worse. That the influence is frequently 
for the worse needs no proof; and it is so much the less defen- 
sible because it may be changed to the contrary without a word, 
directly, respecting morals or rehgion. 

However, newspapers do much more good than harm, espe- 
cially in politics. They are in this country one of the most 
vigorous and beneficial instruments of political advantage. They 
effect incalculable benefit both in checking the statesman who 
would abuse power, and in so influencing the public opinion as 
to prepare it for, and therefore to render necessary, an amelio- 
ration of political and civil institutions. The great desideratum 
is enlargement of views and purity of principle. We want in 
editorial labours less of partizanship, less of petty squabbles 
about the worthless discussions of the day : we want more of the 
philosophy of politics, more of that grasping intelligence which 
can send a reader's reflections from facts to principles. Our 
Journals are, to what they ought to be, what a chronicle of the 
middle ages is to a philosophical history. The disjointed frag- 
ments of political intelligence ought to be connected by a sort of 
enlightened running commentary. There is talent enough em- 
barked in some of these ; but the talent too commonly expends 

Chap, 10. 



itself upon subjects and in speculations which are of little interest 
beyond the present week. 

And here we are reminded of that miserable direction to 
public opinion which is given in Historical Works. ^ I do not 
speak of party bias, though that is sufficiently mischievous ; but 
of the irrational selection by historians of comparatively unim- 
portant things to fill the greater portion of their pages. People 
exclaim that the history of Europe is little more than a history 
of human violence and wickedness. But they confound History 
with that portion of history which historians record. That portion 
is doubtless written almost in blood — but it is a very small, and 
in truth a very subordinate portion. The intrigues of cabinets ; 
the rise and fall of ministers ; wars and battles, and victories 
and defeats ; the plunder of pro^dnces ; the dismemberment of 
empires ; these are the things which fill the pages of the historian, 
but these are not the things which compose the history of man. 
He that would acquaint himself with the history of his species, 
must apply to other and to calmer scenes. ^' It is a cruel mortifi- 
cation, in searching for what is instructive in the history of past 
times, to find that the exploits of conquerors who have desolated 
the earth, and the freaks of tyrants who have rendered nations 
unhappy, are recorded with minute and often disgusting accu- 
racy, while the discovery of useful arts and the progress of the 
most beneficial branches of commerce, are passed over in silence, 
and suffered to sink into oblivion.''^ Even a more cruel mortifi- 
cation than this is to find recorded almost nothing respecting the 
intellectual and moral history of man. You are presented with 
five or six weighty volumes which profess to be a History of 
England ; and after reading them to the end you have hardly 
found anything to satisfy that interesting question — How has my 
country been enabled to advance from barbarism to civiUzation ; 
to come forth from darkness into light ? Yes, by applying philo- 
sophy to facts yourself, you may attain some, though it be but 
an imperfect, reply. But the historian himself should have done 
this. The facts of history, simply as such, are of comparatively 
little concern. He is the true historian of man who regards mere 
facts rather as the illustrations of history than as its subject 

* •* Next to the guilt of those who commit wicked actions, is that of the 
historian who glosses them over and excuses them." — Southey : Book of the 
Church, c. 8. 
^ * Robertson ; Disq. on Anct. Comm. of India. 



Essay 2. 

matter. As to the history of cabinets and courts, of intrigue 
and oppression, of campaigns and generals, we can almost spare 
it all. It is of wonderfully little consequence whether they are 
remembered or not, except as lessons of instruction— except as 
proofs of the evils of bad principles and bad institutions. For 
any other purpose, Blenheim ! we can spare thee. And Louis, 
even Louis " le grand !" we can spare thee. And thy successor 
and his Pompadour! we can spare ye all. 

Much power is in the hands of the historian if he will exert 
it : if he wiU make the occurrences of the past subservient to the 
elucidations of the principles of human nature— of the prin- 
ciples of political truth— of the rules of political rectitude ; if 
he will refuse to make men ambitious of power by filling his 
pages with the feats or freaks of men in power ; if he will give 
no currency to the vulgar delusions about glory :— if he will do 
these things, and such as these, he will deserve weU of his country 
and of man ; for he will contribute to that rectification of PubUc 
Opinion which, when it is complete and determinate, will be 
the most powerful of aU earthly agents in ameliorating the social 
condition of the world. 



" It is no less true than lamentable, that hitherto the educa- 
tion proper for civil and active life has been neglected ; that 
nothing has been done to enable those who are actually to con- 
duct the affairs of the world, to carry them on in a manner 
worthy of the age and country in which they live, by communi- 
cating to them the knowledge and the spirit of their age and 
country.'' ^ — " Knowledge does not consist in being able to read 
books, but in understanding one's business and duty in life." — 
" Most writers have considered the subject of Education as 
relative to that portion of it only which applies to learning ; but 
the first object of all, in every nation, is to make a man a good 
member of society.'' — *^ Education consists in learning what 
makes a man useful, respectable, and happy, in the line for 
which he is destined." ^ 

If these propositions are true it is evident that the systems of 
Education which obtain, need great and almost total reforma- 
tion. What does a boy in the middle class of society, learn at 
school of the knowledge and the spirit of his age and country ? 
When he has left school how much does he understand of the 
business and duty of Hfe ? 

Education is one of those things which Lord Baco^i would 
describe as having lain almost imaltered " upon the dregs of 
time." We still fancy that we educate our children when we 
give them, as its principal constituent, that same instruction 
which was given before England had a literature of its own, and 
when Greek and Latin contained almost the sum of human 
knowledge. Then the knowledge of Greek and Latin was called, 
and not unjustly called, learning. It was the learning which 

' Art. 4 ; Education. West. Rev. No. 1. 

2 piayfair : Causes of Decline of Nations, p. 97, 98, 227. 



Essay 2. 

Chap. 11. 



procured distinction and celebrity. A sort of dignity and charm 
was thrown around the attainments and the word which desig- 
nated them. That charm has continued to operate to the present 
hour, and we still call him a learned man who is skilful in Latin 
and Greek. Yet Latin and Greek contain an extremely small 
portion of that knowledge which the world now possesses ; an 
extremely small portion of that which it is of most consequence 
to acquire. It would be well for society if this word learning 
could be forgotten, or if we could make it the representative of 
other and very different ideas. But the delusion is continually 
propagated. The higher ranks of society give the tone to the 
notions of the rest; and the higher classes are educated at 
Westminster and Eton, and Cambridge and Oxford. At all 
these the languages which have ceased to be the languages of a 
liviu"" people —the authors which communicate, relatively, little 
knowledge that is adapted to the present affairs of man— are 
made the first and foremost articles of education. To be familiar 
with these, is still to be a " learned '' man. Inferior institu- 
tions imitate the example ; and the parent who knows his son 
will be, like liimself, a merchant or manufacturer, thinks it 
almost indispensable that he should " learn Latin.'' 

It may reasonably be doubted whether, to even the higher 
ranks of society, this preference of ancient learning is wise. It 
may reasonably be doubted whether, even at Oxford, a literary 
revolution would not be an useful revolution. Indeed the very 
circumstance that the system of education there, is not essentially 
different from what it was centuries ago, is almost a sufficient 
evidence that an alteration is needed. If the circumstances and 
the contexture of human society are altered— if the boundaries 
of knowledge are very greatly extended, and if that knowledge 
which is now applicable to the affairs of life is extremely different 
from that which was applicable long ages ago— it surely is plain 
that a system which has not, or has only slightly, accommodated 
itself to the new condition and new exigencies of human affairs, 
cannot be a good system, cannot be a reasonable and judicious 
system. How stands the fact ? When young men leave college 
to take part in the concerns of active life, how much assistance 
do they derive from classical literature ? Look at the House 
of Commons. How much does this literature contribute to a 
member's legislating wisely upon questions of Political Economy, 





of Jurisprudence, of Taxation, of Reform ? Or how much does 
it contribute to the capability of any other class of men to serve 
their families, their country, or mankind ? I speak not of those 
professions to which a dead language may be necessary. A 
physician learns Latin as he attends the dissecting room : it is 
a part of his system of preparation for his pursuits in life. Even 
with the professions, indeed, the need of a dead language is 
factitious. It is necessary only because usage has made it so. 
But I speak of that portion of mankind who, being exempt from 
the necessity for toil, fill the various gradations of society from 
that of the prince to the private gentleman. Select what rank 
or what class you please, and ask how much its members are 
indebted to ancient learning for their capability to discharge 
their duties as parents, as men, or as citizens of the state — the 
answer is literally, '^ Almost nothing." Now this is a serious 
answer, and involves serious consequences. A young man, when 
he enters upon the concerns of active life, has to set about 
acquiring new kinds of knowledge, knowledge totally dissimilar 
to the greater part of that which liis ^^ education " gave him ; and 
the knowledge which education did give him he is obliged prac- 
tically to forget — to lay it aside : it is something that is not 
adapted to the condition and the wants of society. But for 
what purpose are people educated unless it be to prepare them 
for this condition and these wants? Or how can that be a 
judicious system which does not effect these purposes ? 

That no advantages result from the study of ancient classics 
it would be idle to maintain. But this is not the question. The 
question is. Whether so many advantages result from this study 
as from others that might be substituted ; and I am persuaded 
that we shall become more and more willing to answer. No. 
With respect to the sum of knowledge which the works of 
antiquity convey, as compared with that which is conveyed by 
modern literature, the disproportion is great in the extreme. To 
say that the modern is a hundred times greater than the ancient, 
is to keep far from the language of exaggeration. And, to say 
the truth, the majority of those who are educated at college 
leave it with but an imperfect acquaintance with those languages 
which they have spent years in professing to acquire. There 
are some men skilled in the languages; there are some 'learned" 
men; but the very circumstance that great skill procures cele- 



brity, is an evidence that great skill is rare. Amongst educated 
laymen, the number is very small of those whose knowledge of 
Latin bears any respectable proportion to their knowledge of 
their own language — of that language which they have hardly 
professed to learn at all. If the London University should be 
successfully established, it is probable that at least one collateral 
benefit will result from it. The wide range of subjects which it 
proposes to embrace in its system of education, will possess an 
influence upon other institutions ; and the time may arrive when 
the impulse of public opinion shall reduce the mathematics of 
one of our Universities and the classics of both, to such a 
relative station amongst the objects of human study, as shall be 
better adapted to the purposes of human life. 

If considerations like these apply to the preference of classical 
learning by those classes of society who can devote many years 
to the general purposes of education, much more do they apply 
to those who fill the middle ranks. Yet amongst these ranks 
the charm of the fiction has immense power. It has descended 
from Universities to Boarding-schools of thirty-pounds a-year; 
and the parent complacently pays the extra " three-guineas,'^ in 
order that his boy may " learn Latin.'' We affirm that the 
knowledge of Latin and Greek is all but useless to these boys, 
and that if the knowledge were useful they do not acquire it. 
"What ai'e the stations which they ai-e about to fill ? One is to 
be a manufacturer, and one a banker, and one a merchant, and 
one a ship-owner, and one will underwrite at Lloyd's, and one 
will be a consul at Toulon. Nay, we might go lower and say, one 
will be a tanner, and one a draper, and one a corn-factor. Yet 
these boys must learn Latin, and perhaps Greek too. And they 
do actually spend day after day, and perhaps year after year, 
upon " Hie hsec hoc," — " Propria quae maribus," — " As in 
praesenti," — " Et, and ; cum, when ;" and the like. What con- 
ceivable relationship do these things bear to making steam- 
engines, or discounting bills, or shipping cargoes, or making 
leather, or selling cloth? None. But it will be said. What 
relationship does any merely literary pursuit bear ? Or why 
should a merchant's son read Paradise Lost ? Such questions 
conduct us to the just view of the case ; and accordingly we 
answer. Let these young persons attend to literature, but let it 
be literature of the most expedient kind. Let them read Paradise 



Lost. Why ? Because it is delightful, and because they can do 
it without learning a language in order to acquire the power : if 
Paradise Lost existed only in Arabic, I should think it prepos- 
terous to teach young persons Arabic in order that they might 
read it. To those who are to fill the active stations of life, 
literature must always be a subordinate concern ; and it would 
be vain to deny that our own language possesses a sufficient 
store for them without learning others to increase it. 

But indeed the children of the middle classes do not learn the 
languages. They do not learn them so as to be able to appre- 
ciate the merits and the beauties of ancient literature. Ask the 
boys themselves. Ask them whether they could hold an hour's 
conversation with Cicero if he should stand before them. The 
very supposition is absurd. Or can they read and enjoy Cicero 
as they read and enjoy Addison? No. They do not learn the 
ancient languages. They pore over rules and exercises, and 
syntax and quantities ; but as to learning the language, in the 
same sense as that in which it may be said they learn English, 
there is not one in a hundred, nor probably in ten thousand, 
who does it. Yet unless a person does learn a language so as to 
read it at least with perfect facility, what becomes of the use of 
the study as a means of elevating the taste ? This is one of the 
advantages which are attributed to the study of the classics. 
But without enquiring whether the taste might not be as well 
cultivated by other means, one short consideration is sufficient : 
that the taste is not cultivated by studying the classics but by 
mastering them — by acquiring such a familiarity with these works 
as enables us to appreciate their excellencies. This familiarity, 
or any thing that approaches to this familiarity, schoolboys do 
not acquire. Playfair makes a computation from which he con- 
cludes that in ordinary boarding schools, " not above one in a 
hundred learns to read even Latin decently well ; that is, one 
good reader for every ten thousand pounds expended." " As to 
speaking Latin," he adds, *' perhaps one out of a thousand may 
learn that : so that there is a speaker for each sum of one 
hundred thousand pounds spent on the language." ^ 

Then it is said that the act of studying the ancient languages 
exercises the memory, cultivates the habit of attention, and 
teaches, too, the art of reas jning. Grant all this. Cannot, then, 

* Enq. Causes cf Decline of Nations, p. 224. 



Essay 2, 

the memory be exercised as well by acquiring valuable know- 
ledge as by acquiring a mere knowledge of words ? Would the 
memory lose any thing by affixing ideas to the words it learnt ? 
The same questions apply to those who urge the habit of atten- 
tion, and to all those advocates of the study who insist upon the 
exercise which it gives to the mind. We do not question the 
utility of this exercise ; we only say, that while the mind is 
exercised it should also be fed. That such topics of advocacy 
are resorted to, is itself an indication of the questionable utility 
of the study. No one thinks it necessary to adduce such topics 
as reasons for learning Addition and Subtraction. 

The intelligent reader will perceive that the ground upon 
which these objections to classical studies are urged, is that they 
occupy time which might be more beneficially employed. If the 
period of education were long enough to learn the ancient lan- 
guages, in addition to the more beneficial branches of knowledge, 
our enquiry would be of another kind. But tlie period is not 
long enough : a selection must be made ; and that which it has 
been our endeavour to show is, that, in selecting the classics, we 
make an unwise selection. 

The remarks which follow will be understood as applying to 
the middle ranks of society.; that is, to the ranks in which the 
greatest sum of talent and virtue resides, and by which the busi- 
ness of the world is principally canied on. If we take up a card 
of terms of an ordinary Boarding-school, we probably meet with 
an enumeration something like this : — " Reading, Writing, 
Arithmetic, English Grammar, Composition, History, Geogra- 
phy, Use of the Globes,^' &c. ; besides the " accomplishments,^^ 
and French, Greek, and Latin. " Education consists in learning 
what makes a man useful, respectable, and happy in the line for 
which he is destined. ^^ Useful, respectable, and happy, not 
merely in his coimting-house, but in his parlom* ; not merely in 
his own house, but amongst his neighbours, and as a member of 
civilized society. Now, surely the list of subjects which are set 
down above is, to say the least, very imperfect. Besides, reading, 
writing, and arithmetic, what is the amount of knowledge which 
it conveys ? English Grammar : — This is, in fact, not learnt by 
committing to memory lessons in the '^ grammar book.^' Com- 
position : — This is of consequence ; although, as school economy 
is now managed, it makes a better appearance on the master'^s 


card than on the boy's paper. History, Geography, and the 
Globe problems, are of great interest and value ; and the great 
unhappiness is, that such studies are postponed to others of 
comparatively little worth. 

Since human knowledge is so much more extensive than the 
opportunity of individuals for acquiring it, it becomes of the 
greatest importance so to economize the opportunity as to make 
it subservient to the acquisition of as large and as valuable a 
portion as we can. It is not enough to show that a given branch 
of education is useful ; you must show that it is the most useful 
that can be selected. Remembering this, I think it would be 
expedient to dispense with the formal study of English Grammar 
— a proposition which, I doubt not, many a teacher will hear 
with wonder and disapprobation. We learn the grammar in 
order that we may learn English ; and we learn English whether 
we study grammars or not. Especially we shall acquire a com- 
petent knowledge of our own language, if other departments of 
our education were improved. A boy learns more English Gram- 
mar by joining in an hour^s conversation with educated people, 
than in poring for an hour over Murray or Home Tooke. If he 
is accustomed to such society, and to the perusal of well- written 
books, he will learn English Grammar though he never sees a 
w^ord about syntax ; and if he is not accustomed to such society 
and such reading, the ^' grammar books '' at a boarding-school 
will not teach it. Men learn their own language by habit and 
not by rules ; and this is just what we might expect; for the gram- 
mar of a language is itself formed from the prevalent habits of 
speech and writing. A compiler of grammar first observes these 
habits, and then makes his rules ; but if a person is himself 
familiar with the habits, why study the rules ? I say nothing of 
grammar as a general science, because, although the philosophy 
of language be a valuable branch of human knowledge, it were 
idle to expect that schoolboys should understand it. The objec- 
tion is to the system of attempting to teach children formally that 
which they will learn practically without teaching. A grammar 
of Murray's lies before me, of which the leaves are worn into 
rags by being " learnt.^' I find the child is to learn that " words 
are articulate sounds, used by common consent as signs of our 
ideas.'^ Now, I am persuaded that to nine out of every ten who 
'^ get this lesson bv heart,^' it conveys little more information 




Essay 2. 

than if the sentence were in Esquimaux. They do not know, 
with any distinctness, what "articulate sounds" means— nor 
what the phrase " common consent " means — nor what " signs 
of ideas '' means ; and yet they know, without learning, all that 
this formidable sentence proposes to teach. They know per- 
fectly well that they speak to their brothers and sisters in order 
to convey their ideas. Again : " An improper dipthong has but 
one of the vowels sounded, as ea in eagle, oa in boat.'' Does not 
every child who can spell the words eagle and boat know this 
without hearing a word about improper dipthongs ? This species 
of instruction is like that of a man who, seeing a boy running 
after a hoop, should stop him to make him learn by heart, that 
in order to run he must use, in a certain order, flexors and ex- 
tensors and the tendon Achilles. A little girl runs to her mother 
and says, " Mary has given me Cowper*s Task : This is what I 
wanted. *' But still the little girl must learn from her " grammar 
book'' how to use the word what. And this is the process : — 
" What is a kind of compound relative, including both the ante- 
cedent and the relative, and is equivalent to that which, as. This 
is what I wanted ! " It really is wonderful that such a system 
of instruction should be continued — a system which most labo- 
riously attempts to teach that which a child will learn without 
teaching, and which is almost utterly abortive in itself. Children 
do not learn to speak and write correctly by learning lessons like 
these. A gentleman told me the other day, that he learnt one 
of Murray's grammars until he could actually repeat it from 
beginning to end ; and he does not recollect that one particle of 
knowledge was conveyed to his mind by it. 

Whilst the attempt thus to teach grammar is so needless and 
so futile, it occupies a great deal of a boy's time ; and by doing 
this, it does great mischief, since his time is precious indeed. 
He might learn a great deal more of grammar by reading useful 
and interesting books, and by conversation respecting science 
and literature with an educated master, than by acquiring gram- 
matical rules by rote. Grammar would be a collateral acquisition ; 
he would learn it whilst he was learning other important things. 

In general. Science is preferable to Literature— the knowledge 
of things to the knowledge of words. It is not by literature, nor 
by merely literary men, that the business of human society is 
now carried on. " Directly and immediately we have risen to 


the station which we occupy, not by literature, not by the know- 
ledge of extinct languages, J)ut by the sciences of politics, of law, 
of public economy, of commerce, of mathematics; by astronomy, 
by chemistry, by mechanics, by natural history. It is by these 
that we are destined to rise yet higher. These constitute the 
business of society, and in these ought we to seek for the objects 
of education."! 

Yet at school how little do our children learn of these ! The 
reader will ask, what system of education we would recommend ; 
and although the writer of these pages can make no pretensions 
to accuracy of knowledge upon the subject, he thinks that an im- 
proved system would embrace, even in ordinary boarding-schools, 
such topics of instruction as these : 

Reading — Writing — Common Arithmetic— Book-keeping. 

Geography— Natural History, embracing Zoology, Botany, Mineralogy, &c. 

History of Mankind, especially the History of recent times. 

Biography, particularly of modems. 

Natural Philosophy, embracmg Mechanics, Pneumatics, Optics, &c. ; and 
illustrated by experiments : and embracing also Chemistry with experi- 
ments — Galvanism, &c. 

Geology — Land Measuring— Familiar Geometry. 

Elements of Political Science ; embracing Principles of Religious and Civil 
Liberty ; of Civil Obedience ; of Penal Law and the general Administra- 
tion of Justice ; of Political Economy, &c. 

If the reader should think that boys under sixteen can acquire 
little or no knowledge of these multifarious subjects, he is to 
remember what the enumeration excludes, and how vast a pro- 
portion of a boy's time the excluded subjects now occupy. 
The whole, perhaps, of all his forenoons is now devoted to 
Latin — Latin is excluded. An hour before breakfast is probably 
spent in learning sentences in a book of Grammar : — this mode 
of learning Grammar is excluded. The amount of knowledge 
which a boy might acquire during these hours is very great. 
The formal learning of spelling does not appear in our enimiera- 
tion. In many schools, this occupies a considerable portion of 
every week, if not of every day. Spelling may be learnt, and in 
fact is learnt, like grammar, by habit. A person reads a book, 
and, without thinking of it, insensibly learns to spell : that is, 
he perceives, when he writes a word incorrectly, that it does 
not bear the same appearance as he has been accustomed 
to observe. Some persons, when they are in doubt as to 

* Art. 9. Outlines of Philosophic Education, &c. West. Rev. No. 7. 


the orthography of a word, tvrite it in two or three ways, and 
their eye tells them which is correct. Here again is a consider- 
able saving of time. Nor is this all. I would not formally 
teach boys to write I would not give them a Copy Book to 
write, hour after hour. Reward sweetens Labour and Industry 
is praised; but, since they would have occasion to write many 
things in the pursuit of their other studies, I would require 
them to write those things fairly : — that is, once more, they 
should learn to write whilst they are learning to think. Nor 
would I formally teach them to read ; but since they would have 
many books to peruse, they should frequently read them audibly : 
and by degrees would learn to read them well. And they would 
be much more likely to read them well, when the books were 
themselves delightful than when they went up to the master's 
desk, to " read their lessons." Learning ">vords and meanings," 
as the schoolboy calls it, is another of the modes in which much 
time is wasted. The conversation to which a young person listens, 
the books which he reads, are the best teachers of words and 
meanings. He cannot help learning the meaning of words if 
they frequently and familiarly occur ; and if they rarely occur, 
he will gain very little by learning columns of Entick. 

With this exclusion of some subjects of study, and alteration 
of the mode of pursuing others, a schoolboy's time would really 
be much more than doubled. Every year would practically be 
expanded into two or three. Let us refer then to some of the 
subjects of Education which have been proposed. 

in teaching Geography, too little use is made of maps and too 
much of books. A boy will learn more by examining a good map 
and by listening to a few intelligible explanations, than by weary- 
ing himself with pages of geographical lessons. Lesson-learning 
is the bane of education. It disgusts and wearies young persons ; 
and, except with extreme watchfulness on the part of the teacher, 
is almost sure to degenerate into learning words without ideas. It 
is not an easy thing for a child to learn half a dozen paragraphs 
full of proper names, describing by what mountains and seas 
half a dozen countries are bounded. Yet with much less labour, 
he might learn the facts more perfectly by his eye, and with less 
probability of their passing from his memory. The lessons will 
not be remembered except as they convey ideas. 

To most if not to all young persons. Natural History is a 


dehghtful study. Zoology, if accompanied by good plates, conveys 
permanent and useful knowledge. Such a book as Wood's 
Zoography is a more valuable medium of education than three- 
fourths of the professed school-books in existence. 

History and Biography are, if it be not the fault of the teacher 
or his books, delightful also. Modern times should always 
be preferred ; partly because the knowledge they communicate 
is more certain and more agreeable, and partly because it bears 
an incomparably greater relation to the present condition of 
men ; and for that reason it is better adapted to prepare the 
young person for the part which he is to take in active life. If 
historical books even for the young possessed less of the cha- 
racter of mere chronicles of facts, and contained a few of those 
connecting and illustrating paragraphs which a man of philo- 
sophical mind knows how to introduce. History might become a 
powerful instrument in imparting sound principles to the mind, 
and thus in meliorating the general condition of society. Both 
Biography and History should be illustrated with good plates. 
The more we can teach through the eye the better. It is hardly 
necessary to add that a boy should not " learn lessons" in either. 
He should read these books, and means should afterwards be 
taken to ascertain whether he has read them to good purpose. 

There is, according to my views, no study that is more adapted 
to please and improve young persons than that of Natural Philo- 
sophy. When I was a schoolboy I attended a few lectui-es on 
the Air Pump, Galvanism, &c., and I value the knowledge which 
I gained in three evenings, more highly than any other that I 
gained at school in as many months. Whilst oui' children are 
poring over lessons which disgust them, we allow that magazine 
of wonders which heaven has stored up to lie unexplored and 
unnoticed. There are multitudes of young men and women who 
are considered respectably educated, who are yet wonderfully 
ignorant of the first principles of natural science. Many a boy 
who has spent years upon Latin, cannot tell how it comes to pass 
that water rises in a pump ; and would stare if he were told that 
the decanters on the table were not colder than the baize they 
stand on. I would rather that my son were famihar with the 
subjects of Paley's Theology, than that he should surpass 
Ehzabeth Carter in a translation of Epictetus. 

Respecting the propriety of attempting to convey any know- 



Chap. 11. 



ledge of Political Science, many readers will probably doubt. 
Yet why ? Is it not upon the goodness or badness of political 
institutions that much of the happiness or misery of mankind 
depends ? And what means are so likely to amend the bad, or 
to secure the continuance of the good, as the intelligent opinion 
of a people ? We know that in all free states like our own, 
Public Opinion is powerful. What then can be more obviously 
true than that it should be made as just as we can ? Nor would 
it be to much purpose to reply, that every master will teach his 
own political creed, and only nurse up ignorant and angry 
squabbles. The same reason would imply against inculcating 
Eeligious Principles : yet who thinks these principles should be 
neglected because there are many creeds ? Besides, one of the 
best means of educing political truth is by enquiry and discussion, 
and these are likely to be rationally promoted by making the 
Elements of Political knowledge a subject of education. To say 
the truth, these elements are not really very abstruse or remote. 
Having once established the maxim — which no reasonable man 
disputes — that the proper purpose of government is to secure the 
happiness of the community, very little is wanted in applying 
the principle to particular questions but honest conscientious 
thought. The difficulties are occasioned not so much by the 
nature of the case, as by the interests and prejudices which 
habit and existing institutions introduce ; and how shall these 
interests and prejudices be so effectually prevented from influ- 
encing the mind, as by the inculcation of simple truths before 
young persons mix in the business of the world ? 

These are general suggestions : details are foreign to our 
purpose; but from these general suggestions the intelligent 
parent will perceive the kind of education that is proposed. If 
such an education would convey to young persons some tolerable 
portion of "the knowledge and the spirit of their age and 
country," if it would tend to make them " useful, respectable, 
and happy " in the various relationships of life, the objects of 
Intellectual Education are, in the same degree, attained. So 
limited is the opportunity of the young for acquiring knowledge 
in comparison with the extent of knowledge itself, that, upon 
some subjects, little more is to be effected during the years that 
are professedly devoted to education, than to induce the desire 
of information, and the habit of seeking it. A boy cannot be 

expected to acquire very extensive information respecting the 
application of the mechanical powers ; but if he sees the value 
and the pleasure of studying it, he may hereafter benefit his 
country and the world by his ingenuity. Or a boy cannot be 
expected to know more than the elements of chemistry ; yet this 
knowledge may in future enable him to add greatly to the com- 
forts and conveniences of human life. 

There are indications of a revolution in the system of educa- 
tion which will probably lead both to great and beneficial results. 
Science is evidently gaining ground upon the judgments and 
affections of the pubHc. Elementary books of Science are indeed 
the familiar companions of young persons after they have left 
school. They lay aside tenses and parsing for " Conversations 
on Chemistry." This is, so far, as it should be ; and it would 
be better still if similar books had taken the place at school, 
of accents and quantities, and cases and genders, and lesson- 
learning by rote. This revolution is also indicated by the topics 
which are introduced into Mechanics' Institutes. These Asso- 
ciations seem almost instinctively to prefer science to literature, 
simply as such. Perhaps it will be said that science is the branch 
of knowledge which is more peculiarly adapted to their employ- 
ments in life. But the scientific information which an individual 
acquii-es, usually produces little immediate effect upon his mode 
of working. The carpenter cannot put up a staircase the better 
for attending a lecture on Chemistry. No : they prefer science 
because it is preferable : preferable, not for mechanics merely, 
but for man. It is of less consequence to man to know what 
Horace wrote, or to be able to criticise the Greek Anthology, 
than to know by what laws the Deity regulates the operations 
of nature, and by what means those operations are made sub- 
servient to the purposes of life. 

A consideration of the kind of knowledge which education 
should impart, is however but one division of the general subject. 
The consideration of the best mode of imparting it, is another. 
Various reasons induce the writer to say httle respecting the 
last — of which reasons one is, that he does not possess informa- 
tion that satisfies his own mind ; and another, that it is not so 
immediately connected with the general purpose of the work. 
That great improvements have recently been made in the mode 
of conveying knowledge to large numbers, is beyond dispute. 

s 2 


Whether, or to what extent, these improvements are applicable 
to schools of twenty children or to families of three or four, 
experience will be likely to decide. With the prodigious power 
of giving publicity and exciting discussion which men now 
possess, the best systems are likely ultimately to prevail. 

One observation may, however, safely be made— that if two 
systems ai-e proposed, each with apparently nearly equal claims, 
and one of which will be more pleasurable to the learner, that 
one is undoubtedly the best. That which a boy delights in he 
will learn ; and if the subjects of instruction were as dehghtful 
as they ought to be, and the mode of conveying were pleasurable 
too, there would be an immense addition to the stock of know- 
ledge which a schoolboy acquires. We complain of the aversion 
of the young to learning, and the young complain of their 
weariness and disgust. It is in a great degree our own faults. 
Knowledge is delightful to the human mind ; but we may, if we 
please, select such kinds of knowledge, and adopt such modes of 
imparting it, as shall make the whole system not dehghtful, but 
repulsive. This, to a great extent, we actually do. We may do 
the contrary if we will. 

There does not appear any reason why the education of 
women should differ, in its essentials, from that of men. The 
education which is good for human nature is good for them. 
They are a part- and they ought to be in a much greater degree 
than they are, a part— of the effective contributors to the welfare 
and inteUigence of the human family. In intellectual as well 
as in other affairs, they ought to be fit helps to man. The pre- 
posterous absurdities of chivalrous times still exert a wretched 
influence over the character and allotment of women. Men are 
not polite but gallant : they do not act towards women as to 
beings of kindred habits and character, as to beings who, Uke 
the other portion of mankind, reason, and reflect, and judge, 
but as to beings who please, and whom men are bound to please. 
Essentially there is no kindness, no pohteness in this; but 
selfishness and insolence. He is the man of politeness who 
evinces his respect for the female mind. He is the man of 
insolence who tacitly says, when he enters into the society of 
women, that he needs not to bring his intellects with him. I 



do not mean to affirm that these persons intend insolence, or are 
conscious always of the real character of their habits: they 
think they are attentive and polite ; and habit has become so 
inveterate, that they really are not pleased if a woman, by the 
vigour of her conversation, interrupts the pleasant trifling to 
which they are accustomed. Unhappily, a great number of 
women themselves prefer this varnished and gilded contempt to 
solid respect. They would rather think themselves fascinating 
than respectable. They will not see, and very often they do not 
see, the practical insolence with which they are treated : yet 
what insolence is so great as that of half a dozen men who, 
having been engaged in an intelligent conversation, suddenly 
exchange it for frivolity if ladies enter. 

For this unhappy state of intellectual intercourse, female edu- 
cation is in too great a degree adapted. A large class are taught 
less to think than to shine. If they glitter, it matters little 
whether it be the glitter of gilding or of gold. To be accom- 
phshed is of greater interest than to be sensible. It is of more 
consequence to this class to charm by the tones of a piano, than 
to delight and invigorate by intellectual conversation. The 
effect is reciprocally bad. An absurd education disqualifies them 
for intellectual exertion, and that very disqualification perpe- 
tuates the degradation. I say the degradation, for the word is 
descriptive of the fact. A captive is not the less truly bound 
because his chains are made of silver and studded with rubies. 
If any community exhibits, in the collective character of its 
females, an exception to these remarks, it is I think exhibited 
amongst the Society of Friends. Within the last twenty-five 
years the public have had many opportunities of observing the 
intellectual condition of quaker women. The public have not 
been dazzled : — who would wish it ? but they have seen intelli- 
gence, sound sense, considerateness, discretion. They have seen 
these qualities in a degree, and with an approach to universality 
of diffusion, that is not found in any other class of women as 
a class. There are, indeed, few or no authors amongst them. 
The quakers are not a writing people. If they were, there is 
no reason to doubt that the intelligence and discretion which 
are manifested by their women's actions and conversation, would 
be exhibited in their books. 

Unhappily some of the causes which have produced these 



Essay 2, 

qualities, are not easily brought into operation by the public. 
One of the most efficient of these causes consists in that 
economy of the Society, by which its women have an extensive 
and a separate share in the internal administration of its affairs. 
In the exercise of this administration they are almost inevitably 
taught to think and to judge. The instrument is powerful ; but 
how shall that instrument be applied — where shall it be procured 
— ^by the rest of the public ? 

Not, however, that the intellectual education of these females 
is what it ought to be, or what it might be. They, too, waste 
their hours over " grammar books," and " geography books," 
and lesson books — over Latin sometimes, and Greek ; and, if 
the remark can be adventured on, over stitching and hemming 
too. Something must be amiss when a girl is kept two or three 
hours every day in acquiring the art of sewing. What that 
something is — whether it is practised like parsing because it is 
common, or whether more accurate proficiency is expected than 
reason would prescribe, I presume not to determine : but it may 
safely be concluded, that if a portion equal to a fourth or a third 
part of those years which are afforded to that mighty subject, 
the education of the human mind, is devoted to the acquisition 
of one manual art like this — more is devoted than any one who 
reasons upon the subject can justify. 

If then we were wise enough to regard women, and if women 
were wise enough to regard themselves, with that real practical 
respect to which they are entitled, and if the education they 
received was such as that respect would dictate, we might here- 
after have occasion to say, not as it is now said, that "in 
England women are queens," but something higher and greater ; 
we might say that in every thing social, intellectual, and reli- 
gious, they were fit to co-operate with man, and to cheer and 
assist him in his endeavours to promote his own happiness, and 
the happiness of his family, his country, and the world. 



To a good Moral Education, two things are necessary : That 
the young should receive information respecting what is right 
and what is wrong ; and. That they should be furnished with 
motives to adhere to what is right. We should communicate 
moral Knowledge and moral Dispositions. 

I. In the endeavour to attain these ends, there is one great 
pervading difficulty, consisting in the imperfection and impurity 
of the actual moral condition of mankind. Without referring 
at present to that moral guidance with which all men, however 
circumstanced, are furnished,^ it is evident that much of the 
practical moral education which an individual receives, is ac- 
quired by habit, and from the actions, opinions, and general 
example of those around him. It is thus that, to a great extent, 
he acquires his moral education. He adopts the notions of 
others, acquires insensibly a similar set of principles, and forms 
to himself a similar scale of right and wrong. It is manifest 
that the learner in such a school will often be taught amiss. 
Yet how can we prevent him from being so taught ? or what 
system of Moral Education is likely to avail in opposition to the 
contagion of example and the influence of notions insensibly, 
yet constantly instilled ? It is to little purpose to take a boy 
every morning into a closet, and there teach him moral and reli- 
gious truths for an hour, if so soon as the hour is expired, he is 
left for the remainder of the day in circumstances in which these 
truths are not recommended by any living examples. 

One of the first and greatest requisites, therefore, in Moral 
Education, is a situation in which the knowledge and the practice 
of morality is inculcated by the habitually virtuous conduct 
of others. The boy who is placed in such a situation is in an 

1 See Essay 1, c. vi. 



Essay 2. 

efficient moral school, though he may never hear delivered formal 
rules of conduct : so that, if parents should ask how they may 
best give their child a moral education, I answer. Be virtuous 

The young, however, are unavoidably subjected to bad ex- 
ample as to good : many who may see consistent practical les- 
sons of virtue in their parents' parlour must see much that is 
contrary elsewhere ; and we must, if we can, so rectify the moral 
perceptions and invigorate the moral dispositions, that the mind 
shall effectually resist the insinuation of evils. 

Religion is the basis of Morahty. He that would impart moral 
knowledge must begin by imparting a knowledge of God. We 
are not advocates of formal instruction— of lesson learning — in 
moral any more than in intellectual education. Not that we 
affirm it is undesirable to make a young person commit to 
memory maxims of religious truth and moral duty. These things 
may be right, but they are not the really efficient means of 
forming the moral character of the young. These maxims should 
recommend themselves to the judgment and affections, and this 
can hardly be hoped whilst they are presented only in a didactic 
and insulated form to the mind. It is one of the characteristics 
of the times, that there is a prodigious increase of books that are 
calculated to benefit whilst they delight the yoimg. These are 
effective instruments in teaching morality. A simple narrative, 
[of facts if it be possible,) in which integrity of principle and 
purity of conduct are recommended to the affections as well as to 
the judgment — without affectation, or improbabilities or factitious 
sentiment, is likely to effect substantial good. And if these 
associations are judiciously renewed, the good is likely to be 
permanent as well as substantial. It is not a light task to write 
such books, nor to select them. Authors colour their pictures too 
highly. They must indeed interest the young, or they will not be 
read with pleasure ; but the anxiety to give interest is too great, 
and the effects may be expected to diminish as the narrative 
recedes from congeniality to the actual condition of mankind. 

A judicious parent will often find that the moral culture of his 
child may be promoted without seeming to have the object in 
view. There are many opportunities which present themselves 
for associating virtue with his affections — for throwing in amongst 
the accumulating mass of mental habits, principles of rectitude 
which shall pervade and meliorate the whole. 


As the mind acquires an increased capacity of judging, I would 
offer to the young person a sound exhibition, if such can be 
found, of the Principles of Morality. He should know, with as 
great distinctness as possible, not only his duty but the reasons 
of it. It has very unfortunately happened that those who have 
professed to deliver the principles of morality, have commonly 
intermingled error with truth, or have set out with propositions 
fundamentally unsound. These books effect, it is probable, more 
injury than benefit. Their truths, for they contain truths, are 
frequently deduced from fallacious premises — from premises 
from which it is equally easy to deduce errors. The fallacies of 
the Moral Philosophy of Paley are now in part detected by the 
public : there was a time when his opinions were regarded as 
more nearly oracular than now , and at that time and up to the 
present time, the book has effectually confused the moral notions 
of multitudes of readers. If the reader thinks that the prin- 
ciples which have been proposed in the present Essays are just, 
he might derive some assistance from them in conducting the 
moral education of his elder children. 

There is negative as well as positive Education — some things 
to avoid, as well as some to do. Of the things which are to be 
avoided, the most obvious is unfit society for the young. If a 
boy mixes without restraint in whatever society he pleases, his 
education will in general be practically bad ; because the world 
in general is bad : its moral condition is below the medium 
between perfect purity and utter depravation. Nevertheless, he 
must at some period mix in society with almost all sorts of men, 
and therefore he must be prepared for it. Very young children 
should be excluded if possible from all unfit association, because 
they acquire habits before they possess a sufficiency of counter- 
acting principle. But if a parent has, within his own house, 
sufficiently endeavoured to confirm and invigorate the moral 
character of his child, it were worse than fruitless to endeavour 
to retain him in the seclusion of a monk. He should feel the 
necessity and acquire the power of resisting temptation, by being 
subjected, gradually subjected, to that temptation which must 
one day be presented to him. In the endlessly diversified circum- 
stances of families, no suggestion of prudence will be applicable 
to all ; but if a parent is conscious that the moral tendency of 
his domestic associations is good, it will probably be wise to send 




his children to day-schools rather than to send them wholly from 
his family. Schools, as moral instruments, contain much both 
of good and evil : perhaps no means will be more effectual in 
securing much of the good and avoiding much of the evil, than 
that of allowing his children to spend their evenings and early 
mornings at home. In ruminating upon Moral Education, we 
cannot, at least in this age of reading, disregard the influence 
of books. That a young person should not read every book is 
plain. No discrimination can be attempted here ; but it may 
be observed that the best species of discrimination is that which 
is supplied by a rectified condition of the mind itself. The best 
species of prohibition is not that which a parent pronounces, but 
that which is pronounced by purified tastes and inclinations in 
the mind of the young. Not that the parent or tutor can expect 
that all or many of his children will adequately make this judicious 
discrimination ; but if he cannot do every thing he can do much. 
There are many persons whom a contemptible or vicious book 
disgusts, notwithstanding the fascinations which it may contain. 
This disgust is the result of education in a large sense ; and some 
portion of this disgust and of the discrimination which results 
from it, may be induced into the mind of a boy by having made 
him familiar with superior productions. He who is accustomed 
to good society, feels little temptation to join in the vociferations 
of an alehouse. 

And here it appears necessary to advert to the moral tendency 
of studying, without selection, the ancient classics. If there are 
objections to the study resulting from this tendency, they are to 
be superadded to those which were stated in the last chapter on 
intellectual grounds ; and both united will present motives to 
hesitation on the part of a parent which he cannot, with any 
propriety, disregard. The mode in which the writings of the 
Greek and Latin authors operate, is not an ordinary mode. We 
do not approach them as we approach ordinary books, but with 
a sort of habitual admiration, which makes their influence, what- 
ever be its nature, peculiarly strong. That admiration would be 
powerful alike for good or for evil. Whether the tendency be 
good or evil, the admiration will make it great. 

Now, previous to enquiring what the positive ill tendency of 
these writings is — ^what is not their tendency ? They are pagan 
books for christian children. They neither inculcate Chris- 

Chap. 12. 



tianity, nor christian dispositions, nor the love of Christianitv. 
But their tendency is not negative merely. They do inculcate 
that which is adverse to Christianity and to christian dispositions. 
They set up, as exalted virtues, that which our own religion 
never countenanced, if it has not specifically condemned. They 
censure as faults dispositions which our own religion enjoins, 
or dispositions so similar that the young will not discriminate 
between them. If we enthusiastically admire these works, who 
will pretend that we shall not admire the moral qualities which 
they applaud ? Who will pretend that the mind of a young person 
accurately adjusts his admiration to those subjects only which 
Christianity approves ? No : we admire them as a whole ; not 
perhaps every sentence or every sentiment, but we admire their 
general spirit and character. In a word, we admire that which 
our own religion teaches us not to imitate. And what makes the 
effect the more intense is, that we do this at the period of life 
when we are every day acquiring our moral notions. We mingle 
them up with our early associations respecting right and wrong 
— with associations which commordy extend their influence over 
the remainder of life.^ 

A very able Essay, which obtained the Norrisian Medal at 
Cambridge for 1825, forcibly illustrates these propositions ; and 
the illustration is so much the more valuable, because it appears 
to have been undesigned. The title is, " No valid argument 
can be drawn from the incredulity of the Heathen Philosophers 
against the truth of the christian religion.'' 2 The object of the 
work is to show, by a reference to their writings, that the general 
system of their opinions, feelings, prejudices, principles, and con- 
duct, was utterly incongruous with Christianity ; and that, in 
consequence of these principles, &c., they actually did reject the 
religion. This is shown with great clearness of evidence ; it is 
shown that a class of men, who thought and wrote as these phi- 
losophers thought and wrote, would be extremely indisposed to 
adopt the religion and morality which Christ had introduced. 
Now, this appears to me to be conclusive of the question as to 
the present tendency of their writings. If the principles and 
prejudices of these persons indisposed them to the acceptance of 

' "All education which inculcates christian opinions with pagan tastes, 
awakens conscience but to tamper with it." Schimmelpenninck : Biblical^ 

^ By James Amiraux Jeremie. 



Christianity, those prejudices and principles will indispose the 
man who admires and imbibes them in the present day. Not 
that they will now produce the effect in the same decree. We 
are now surrounded with many other media by which opinions 
and principles are induced, and these are frequently influenced 
by the spirit of Christianity. The study and the admiration of 
these writings may not, therefore, be expected to make men 
absolutely reject Christianity, but to indispose them, in a greater 
or less degree, for the hearty acceptance of christian principles 
as their rules of conduct. 

Propositions have been made to supply young persons with 
selected ancient authors, or perhaps with editions in which excep- 
tionable passages are expunged. I do not think that this will 
greatly avail. It is not, I think, the broad indecencies of Ovid, 
nor any other insulated class of sentiments or descriptions, that 
effects the great mischief; it is the pervading spirit and tenor of 
the whole — a spirit and tenor from which Christianity is not 
only excluded, but which is actually and greatly adverse to Chris- 
tianity. There is, indeed, one considerable benefit that is likely 
to result from such a selection, and from expunging particular 
passages. Boys in ordinary schools do not learn enough of the 
classics to acquire much of their general moral spirit, but they 
acquire enough to be influenced, and injuriously influenced, by 
being familiar with licentious language ; and, at any rate, he 
essentially subserves the interests of morality, who diminishes 
the power of opposing influences though he cannot wholly 
destroy it. 

Finally, the mode in which Intellectual Education, generally, 
is acquired, may be made either an auxiliary of Moral Education 
or the contrary. A young person may store his mind with litera- 
ture and science, and together, with the acquisition, either cor- 
rupt his principles, or amend and invigorate them. The world 
is so abundantly supplied with the means of knowledge- there 
are so many paths to the desired temple, that we may choose 
our own and yet arrive at it. He that thinks he cannot possess 
sufiicient knowledge without plucking fruit of unhallowed trees, 
surely does not know how boundless is the variety and number 
of those which bear wholesome fruit. lie cannot, indeed, know 
everything without studying the bad; which, however, is no 
more to be recommended in literature than in life. A man can- 

Chap. 12. 



not know all the varieties of human society without taking up 
his abode with felons and cannibals. 

II. But, in reality, the second di\ision of Moral Education is 
the more important of the two— the supply of motives to adhere 
to what is right. Our great deficiency is not in knowledge but 
in obedience. Of the offences which an individual commits 
against the moral law, the great majority are committed in the 
consciousness that he is domg wrong. Moral education, there- 
fore, should be directed, not so much to informing the yoimg 
what they ought to do, as to inducing those moral dispositions 
and principles which will make them adhere to what they know 
to be right. 

The human mind, of itself, is in a state something like that 
of men in a state of nature, where separate and conflicting 
desires and motives are not restrained by any acknowledged 
head. Government, as it is necessary to society, is necessary in 
the individual mind. To the internal community of the heart 
the great question is. Who shall be the legislator ? Who shall 
regulate and restrain the passions and affections ? Who shall 
command and direct the conduct?— To these questions the 
breast of every man supplies him with an answer. He knows, 
because he feels, that there is a rightful legislator in his own 
heart : he knows, because he feels, that he ought to obey it. 

By whatever designation the reader may think it fit to indi- 
cate this legislator, whether he calls it the law written in the 
heart, or moral sense, or moral instinct, or conscience, we arrive 
at one practical truth at last ; that to the moral legislation which 
does actually subsist in the human mind, it is right that the 
individual should conform his conduct. 

The great point then is, to induce him to do this — to induce 
him, when inclination and this law are at variance, to sacrifice 
the inclination to the law : and for this purpose it appears proper 
first, to impress him with a high, that is, with an accurate esti- 
mate of the authority of the law itself. We have seen that this 
law embraces an actual expression of the Will of God ; and we 
have seen that, even although the conscience may not always be 
adequately enlightened, it nevertheless constitutes to the indi- 
vidual an authoritative law. It is to the conscientious internal 
apprehension of rectitude that we should conform our conduct. 
Such appears to be the Will of God. 



Essay 2. 

It should therefore be especially inculcated, that the dictate 
of conscience is never to be sacrificed ; that whatever may be 
the consequences of conforming to it, they are to be ventured. 
Obedience is to be unconditional — no questions about the utility 
of the law — no computations of the consequences of obedience 
— no presuming upon the lenity of the divine government. " It 
is important so to regulate the understanding and imagination of 
the young, that they may be prepared to obey, even where they 
do not see the reasons of the commands of God.'' " We should 
certainly endeavour, where we can, to show them the reasons of 
the divine commands, and this more and more as their under- 
standings gain strength ; but let it be obvious to them that we 
do ourselves consider it as quite sufficient if God has commanded 
us to do or to avoid anything/^ i 

Obedience to this internal legislator is not, like obedience to 
civil government, enforced. The law is promulgated, but the 
passions and inclinations can refuse obedience if they will. 
Penalties and rewards are indeed annexed ; but he who braves 
the penalty, and disregards the reward, may continue to violate 
the law. Obedience therefore must be voluntary, and hence the 
paramount importance, in moral education, of habitually sub- 
jecting the will. " Parents,'' says Hartley, " should labour, from 
the earliest dawnings of understanding and desire, to check the 
growing obstinacy of the will, curb all sallies of passion, impress 
the deepest, most amiable, reverential, and awfid impressions of 
God, a future state, and all sacred things.'* — " Religious persons 
in all periods, who have possessed the light of revelation, have in 
a particular manner been sensible that the habit of self-control 
lies at the foundation of moral worth.''^ There is nothing mean 
or mean-spirited in this. It is magnanimous in philosophy as it 
is right in morals. It is the subjugation of the lower qualities 
of our nature to wisdom and to goodness. 

The subjugation of the will to the dictates of a higher law, 
must be endeavoured, if we would succeed, almost in infancy and 
in very little things ; from the earliest dawnings, as Hartley says, 
of understanding and desire. Children must first obey their 
parents, and those who have the care of them. The habit of 
sacrificing the will to another judgment being thus acquired, the 
mind is prepared to sacrifice the will to the judgment pronounced 
* Carpenter : Principles of Education. " Ibid. 



within itself. Show, in every practicable case, why you cross the 
inclinations of a child. Let obedience be as little blind as it 
may be. It is a great failing of some parents that they will not 
descend from the imperative mood, and that they seem to think 
it a derogation from their authority to place their orders upon 

any other foundation than their wills. But if the child sees 

and children are wonderftQly quick- sighted in such things — if 
the child sees that the will is that which governs his parent, how 
shall he efficiently learn that the will should not govern himself? 

The internal law carries with it the voucher of its own reason- 
ableness. A person does not need to be told that it is proper 
and right to obey that law. The perception of this rectitude and 
propriety is coincident with the dictates themselves. Let the 
parent, then, very frequently refer his son and his daughter to 
their own minds ; let him teach them to seek for instruction 
there. There are dangers on every hand, and dangers even here. 
The parent must refer them, if it be possible, not merely to con- 
science, but to enHghtened conscience. He must unite the two 
branches of Moral Education, and communicate the knowledge 
whilst he endeavours to induce the practice of morality. Without 
this, his children may obey their consciences, and yet be in error, 
and perhaps in fanaticism. With it, he may hope that their 
conduct will be both conscientious, and pm-e, and right. Never- 
theless, an habitual reference to the internal law is the great, the 
primary concern ; for the great majority of a man's moral per- 
ceptions are accordant with Truth. 

There is one consequence attendant upon this habitual refe- 
rence to the internal law, which is highly beneficial to the moral 
character. It leads us to ftdfil the wise instruction of antiquity. 
Know thyself. It makes us look within ourselves ; it brings us 
acquainted with the little and busy world that is within us, with 
its many inhabitants and their dispositions, and with their 
tendencies to evil or to good. This is valuable knowledge; 
and knowledge for want of which, it may be feared, the virtue 
of many has been wrecked in the hour of tempest. A man's 
enemies are those of his own household ; and if he does not know 
their insidiousness and their strength, if he does not know upon 
what to depend for assistance, nor where is the probable point of 
attack, it is not likely that he will efficiently resist. Such a man 
is in the situation of the governor of an unprepared and surprised 




Essay 2. 

city. He knows not to whom to apply for effectual help, and 
finds perhaps that those whom he has loved and trusted are the 
first to desert or betray him. He feebly resists, soon capitulates, 
and at last scarcely knows why he did not make a successful 

It is to be regretted that, in the moral education which com- 
monly obtains, whether formal or incidental, there is little that 
is calculated to produce this acquaintance with our own minds : 
little that refers us to ourselves, and much, very much, that calls 
and sends us away. Of many it is not too much to say, that 
they receive almost no moral culture. ' The plant of virtue is 
suffered to grow as a tree grows in a forest, and takes its chance 
of storm or sunshine. Tliis, which is good for oaks and pines, 
is not good for man. The general atmosphere around him is 
infected, and the juices of the moral plant are often themselves 

In the nursery, formularies and creeds are taught ; but this 
does not refer the child to its own mind. Indeed, unless a 
wakeful solicitude is maintained by those who teach, the tendency 
is the reverse. The mind is kept from habits of introversion, 
even in the offices of religion, by practically directing its atten- 
tion to the tongue. " Many, it is to be feared, imagine that they 
are giving their children religious principles, when they are only 
teaching them religious truths." You cannot impart moral 
education as you teach a child to spell. 

From the nursery a boy is sent to school. He spends six or 
eight hours of the day in the school-room, and the remainder is 
employed in the sports of boyhood. Once, or it may be twice, 
in the day he repeats a form of prayer, and on one day in the 
week he goes to church. There is very little in all this to make 
liim acquainted with the internal community; and habit, if 
nothing else, calls his reflections away. 

From school or from college the business of life is begun. It 
can require no argument to show, that the ordinary pursuits of 
life have little tendency to direct a man's meditations to the 
moral condition of his own mind, or that they have mvich ten- 
dency to employ them upon other and very different things. 

Nay, even the offices of public devotion have almost a tendency 
to keep the mind without itself. What if we say that the self- 
contemplation which even natural religion is likely to produce, 



is obstructed by the forms of christian worship ? " The transi- 
tions from one office of devotion to another, are contrived, like 
scenes in the drama, to supply the mind with a succession of 
diversified engagements.''^ This supply of diversified engage- 
ments, whatever may be its value in other respects, has evidently 
the tendency of which we speak. It is not designed to supply, 
and it does not supply, the opportunity for calmness of recollec- 
tion. A man must abstract himself from the external service if 
he would investigate the character and dispositions of the inmates 
of his own breast. Even the architecture and decoration of 
churches come in aid of the general tendency. They make the 
eye an auxiliary of the ear, and both keep the mind at a distance 
from those concerns which are peculiarly its own ; from contem- 
plating its own weaknesses and wants ; and from applying to God 
for that peculiar help, which perhaps itself only needs, and which 
God only can impart. So little are the course of education and 
the subsequent engagements of life calculated to foster this great 
auxiliary of moral character. It is difficult, in the wide world, 
to foster it as much as is needful. Nothing but wakeful solicitude 
on the part of the parent can be expected sufficiently to direct 
the mind within ; whilst the general tendency of our associations 
and habits is to keep it without. Let him, however, do what he 
can. The habitual reference to the dictates of conscience may 
be promoted in the veiy young mind. This habit, like others, 
becomes strong by exercise. He that is faithful in little things 
is intrusted with more ; and this is true in respect of knowledge 
as in respect of other departments of the christian life. Fidelity 
of obedience is commonly succeeded by increase of light ; and 
every act of obedience and every addition to knowledge furnishes 
new and still stronger inducements to persevere in the same 
course. Acquaintance with ourselves is the inseparable attendant 
of this course. We know the character and dispositions of our 
own inmates by frequent association with them: and if this 
fidelity to the internal law and consequent knowledge of the 
internal world, be acquired in early life, the parent may reason- 
ably hope that it will never whoUy lose its efficiency amidst the 
bustle and anxieties of the world. 

Undoubtedly, this most efficient security of moral character is 
not likely ftdly to operate during the continuance of the present 

* Paley, p. 3, b. 5, c. 5. 

■; ■■- 





state of society and of its institutions. It is I believe true, 
that the practice of morality is most complete amongst those 
persons who peculiarly recommend a reference to the internal 
law, and whose institutions, religious and social, are congruous 
with the habit of this reference. Their history exhibits a more 
unshaken adherence to that which they conceived to be right — 
fewer sacrifices of conscience to interest or the dread of suffering 
— less of trimming between conflicting motives — more, in a 
word, of adherence to rectitude without regard to consequences. 
We have seen that such persons are likely to form accurate 
views of rectitude ; but whether they be accurate or not, does 
not affect the value of their moral education as securing fidelity 
to the degree of knowledge which they possess. It is of more 
consequence to adhere steadily to conscience though it may 
not be perfectly enlightened, than to possess perfect knowledge 
without consistency of obedience. But in reality they who 
obey most, know most ; and we say that the general testimony 
of experience is, that those persons exhibit the most unyielding 
fidelity to the Moral Law whose Moral Education has peculiarly 
directed them to the law written in the heart. 



Whether the Education of those who are not able to pay for 
educating themselves ought to be a private or a national charge, 
it is not our present business to discuss. It is in this country' 
at least, left to the voluntary benevolence of individuals, and 
this consideration may apologize for a brief reference to it here. 
It is not long since it was a question whether the poor should 
be educated or not. That time is past, and it may be hoped 
the time will soon be passed when it shall be a question. To 
what extent ? that the time will soon arrive when it will be 
agreed that no limit needs to be assigned to the education of the 
poor, but that which is assigned by their own necessities, or 
which ought to be assigned to the education of aU men. There 
appears no more reason for excluding a poor man from the fields 
of knowledge, than for preventing him from using his eyes. The 
mental and the visual powers were alike given to be employed. 
A man should, indeed, '' shut his eyes from seeing evil/' but 
whatever reason there is for letting him see all that is beautiful, 
and excellent, and innocent in nature and in art, there is the 
same for enabling his mind to expatiate in the fields of knowledge. 
The objections which are urged against this extended educa- 
tion, are of the same kind as those which were urged against 
any education. They insist upon the probability of abuse. It 
was said. They who can write may forge; they who can read 
may read what is pernicious. The answer was, or it might 
have been— They who can hear, may hear profaneness and 
learn it ; they who can see, may see bad examples and follow 
them :— but are we therefore to stop our ears and put out our 
eyes ?— It is now said, that if you give extended education to the 
poor, you will elevate them above their stations : that a critic 
would not drive a wheelbarrow, and that a philosopher would 

T 2 



Essay 2. 

not shoe horses or weave cloth. But these consequences are 
without the limits of possibility : because the question for a poor 
man is, whether he shall perform such offices or starve : and 
surely it will not be pretended that hungry men would rather 
criticise than eat. Science and literature would not solicit a poor 
man from his labour more irresistibly than ease and pleasure do 
now ; yet in spite of these solicitations what is the fact ? That 
the poor man works for his bread. This is the inevitable result. 
It is not the positive but the relative amount of knowledge 
that elevates a man above his station in society. It is not 
because he knows much, but because he knows more than his 
fellows. Educate all, and none will fancy that he is superior to 
his neighbours. Besides, we assign to the possession of know- 
ledge, effects which are produced rather by habits of life. Ease 
and comparative leisure are commonly attendant upon extensive 
knowledge, and leisure and ease disqualify men for the laborious 
occupations much more than the knowledge itself. 

There are some collateral advantages of an extended education 
of the people, which are of much importance. It has been ob- 
served that if the French had been an educated people, many of 
the atrocities of their Revolution would never have happened, 
and I believe it. Furious mobs are composed, not of enlightened 
but of unenlightened men— of men in whom the passions are 
dominant over the judgment, because the judgment has not been 
exercised, and informed, and habituated to direct the conduct. 
A factious declaimer can much less easily influence a number of 
men who acquired at school the rudiments of knowledge, and 
who have subsequently devoted their leisure to a Mechanics' 
Institute, than a multitude who cannot write or read, and who 
have never practised reasoning and considerate thought. And 
as the Education of a People prevents pohtical evil, it effects 
political good. Despotic rulers well know that knowledge is 
inimical to their power. This simple fact is a sufficient reason, 
to a good and wise man, to approve knowledge and extend it. 
The attention to public institutions and public measures which 
is inseparable from an educated population, is a great good. We 
all know that the human heart is such, that the possession of 
power is commonly attended with a desire to increase it, even in 
opposition to the general weal. It is acknowledged that a check 
is needed, and no check is either so efficient or so safe as that of 

Chap. 13. 



a watchful and intelligent public mind : so watchful, that it is 
prompt to discover and to expose what is amiss ; so inteUigent, 
that it is able to form rational judgments respecting the nature 
and the means of amendment. In all pubhc institutions there 
exists, and it is hap])y that there does exist, a sort of vis inertuB 
which habitually resists change. This, which is beneficial as a 
general tendency, is often injurious from its excess : the state of 
public institutions almost throughout the world, bears sufficient 
testimony to the truth, that they need alteration and amendment 
faster than they receive it— that the internal resistance of change 
is greater than is good for man. Unhappily, the ordinary way 
in which a people have endeavoured to amend their institutions, 
has been by some mode of violence. If you ask when a nation 
acquired a greater degree of freedom^ you are referred to some 
era of revolution and probably of blood. These are not proper, 
certainly they are not christian, remedies for the disease. It is 
becoming an undisputed proposition, that no bad institution can 
permanently stand against the distinct opinion of a people. 
This opinion is likely to be universal, and to be intelligent only 
amongst an enlightened community. Now that reformation of 
public institutions which result^ from public opinion, is the very 
best in kind, and is likely to be the best in its mode :— in its 
kind, because public opinion is the proper measure of the needed 
alteration; and in its mode, because alterations which result 
from such a cause, are likely to be temperately made. 

It may be feared that some persons object to an extended 
education of the people on these very grounds which we propose 
as recommendations ; that they regard the tendency of education 
to produce examination, and, if need be, alteration of established 
institutions, as a reason for withholding it from the poor. To 
these, it is a sufficient answer, that if increase of knowledge and 
habits of investigation tend to alter any estabHshed institution, 
it is fit that it should be altered. There appears no means of 
avoiding this conclusion, unless it can be shown that increase of 
knowledge is usually attended with depravation of principle, and 
that in proportion as the judgment is exercised it decides amiss. 
Generally, that intellectual education is good for a poor man 
which is good for his richer neighbours : in other words, that is 
good for the poor which is good for man. There may be excep- 
tions to the general rule j but he who is disposed to doubt the 



fitness of a rich man's education for the poor, will do well to 
consider first whether the rich man's education is fit for himself. 
The children of persons of property can undoubtedly learn much 
more than those of a labourer, and the labourer must select from 
the rich man's system a part only for his own child. But this 
does not affect the general conclusion. The parts which he 
ought to select are precisely those parts which are most necessary 
and beneficial to the rich. 

Great as have been the improvements in the methods of con- 
veying knowledge to the poor, there is reason to think that they 
will be yet greater. Some useful suggestions for the instruction 
of older children may I think be obtained from the systems in 
Infant Schools. In a well conducted infant school, children 
acquire much knowledge, and they acquire it with delight. This 
delight is of extreme importance : perhaps it may safely be con- 
cluded, respecting all innocent knowledge, that if a child acquired 
it with pleasure he is well taught. It is worthy observation, that 
in the infant system, lesson-learning is nearly or wholly excluded. 
It is not to be expected that in the time which is devoted pro- 
fessedly to education by the children of the poor, much extent 
of knowledge can be acquired ; J^ut something may be acquired 
which is of much more consequence than mere school-learning, — 
the love and the habits of enquiry. If education be so conducted 
that it is a positive pleasure to a boy to learn, there is little doubt 
that this love and habit will be induced. Here is the great 
advantage of early intellectual culture. The busiest have some 
leisure, leisure which they may employ ill or well ; and that they 
will employ it well may reasonably be expected when knowledge 
is thus attractive for its own sake. That this efi'ect is in a con- 
siderable degree actually produced, is indicated by the improved 
character of the books which poor men read, and in the pro- 
digious increase in the number of those books. The supply and 
demand are correspondent. Almost every year produces books 
for the labouring classes of a higher intellectual order than the 
last. A journeyman in our days can understand and relish a 
work which would have been like Arabic to his grandfather. 

Of moral education we say nothing here, except that the 
principles which are applicable to other classes of mankind are 
obviously applicable to the poor. With respect to the inculcation 
of peculiar religious opinions on the children who attend schools 

Chap, 13. 



voluntarily supported, there is manifestly the same reason for 
inculcating them in this case as for teaching them at all. This 
supposes that the supporters of the school are not themselves 
divided in their religious opinions. If they are, and if the 
adherents to no one creed are able to support a school of their 
own, there appears no ground upon which they can rightly 
refuse to support a school in which no religious peculiarities are 
taught. It is better that intellectual knowledge, together with 
imperfect religious principle should be communicated, than that 
children should remain in darkness. There is indeed some 
reason to suspect the genuineness of that man's philanthropy, 
who refuses to impart any knowledge to his neighbours because 
he cannot, at the same time, teach them his own creed. 




It is a remarkable circumstance, that in almost all christian 
countries many of the public and popular amusements have 
been regarded as objectionable by the more sober and conscien- 
tious part of the community. This opinion could scarcely have 
been general unless it had been just : yet why should a people 
prefer amusements of which good men feel themselves com- 
pelled to disapprove ? Is it because no pubUc recreation can be 
devised of which the evU is not greater than the good ? or be- 
cause the inclinations of most men are such, that if it were 
devised, they would not enjoy it ? It may be feared that the 
desires which are seeking for gratification are not themselves 
pure ; and pure pleasures are not congenial to impure mmds. 
The real cause of the objectionable nature of many popular 
diversions is to be sought in the want of virtue in the people. 

Amusement is confessedly a subordmate concern in life. It 
is neither the principal nor amongst the principal objects of 
proper solicitude. No reasonable man sacrifices the more im- 
portant thing to the less, and that a man's religious and moral 
condition is of incomparably greater importance than his diver- 
sion is sufficiently plain. In estimating the propriety or rather 
the lawfulness of a given amusement, it may safely be laid down, 
That none is lawful of which the aggregate consequences are 
injurious to morals .—nor, if its effects upon the immediate 
agents are, in general, morally bad :-nor if it occasions need- 
less pain and misery to men or to animals ;— nor lastly, it it 
occupies much time or is attended with much expense.*-K,e- 
specting all amusements, the question is not whether, in theur 
simple or theoretical character, they are defensible, but whether 
they are defensible in their actually existing state. 

The Drama.— So that if a person, by way of showing the 





Chap. 14. 




propriety of theatrical exhibitions, should ask whether there was 
any harm in a man's repeating a composition before others and 
repeating it with appropriate gestures — he would ask a very foolish 
question : because he would ask a question that possesses little 
or no relevancy to the subject. What are the ordinary effects 
of the stage upon those who act on it ? One and one only 
answer can be given — that whatever happy exceptions there may 
be, the effect is bad ; — that the moral and religious character of 
actors is lower than that of persons in other professions. '^ It 
is an undeniable fact, for the truth of which we may safely 
appeal to every age and nation, that the situation of the per- 
former, particularly of those of the female sex, is remarkably 
unfavourable to the maintenance and growth of the rehgious 
and moral principle, and of course highly dangerous to their 
eternal interests.'^ ^ 

Therefore, if I take my seat in the theatre, I have paid three 
or five shillings as an inducement to a number of persons to 
subject their principles to extreme danger; and the defence 
which I make is, that I am amused by it. Now, we aflirm that 
this defence is invalid ; that it is a defence which reason pro- 
nounces to be absurd, and morality to be vicious. Yet I have 
no other to make : it is the sum total of my justification. 

But this, which is sufficient to decide the morahty of the 
question, is not the only nor the chief part of the evil. The 
evil which is suffered by the performers may be more intense, 
but upon spectators and others it is more extended. The night 
of a play is the harvest time of iniquity, where the profligate 
and the sensual put in their sickles and reap. It is to no pur- 
pose to say that a man may go to a theatre or parade a saloon 
without taking part in the surrounding licentiousness. All who 
are there promote the licentiousness, for if none were there, 
there would be no hcentiousness ; that is to say, if none pur- 
chased tickets there would be neither actors to be depraved, nor 
dramas to vitiate, nor saloons to degrade, and corrupt, and shock 
us. The whole question of the lawftdness of the dramatic 
amusements, as they are ordinarily conducted, is resolved into a 
very simple thing : — After the doors on any given night are 
closed, have the virtuous or the vicious dispositions of the atten- 
ders been in the greater degree promoted ? Every one knows 

> Wilberforce : Practical View, c. 4, s. 5. 






that the balance is on the side of vice, and this conclusively 
decides the question—" Is it lawful to attend ? '' 

The same question is to be asked, and the same answer, I 
believe will be returned, respecting various other assemblies for 
purposes of amusement. They do more harm than good. They 
please but they injure us ; and what makes the case still stronger 
is, that the pleasure is frequently such as ought not to be enjoyed. 
A tippler enjoys pleasure in becoming drunk, but he is not to 
allege the gratification as a set-off against the immorality. And 
so it is with no small portion of the pleasures of an assembly. 
Dispositions are gratified which it were wiser to thwart ; and, to 
speak the truth, if the dispositions of the mind were such as 
they ought to be, many of these modes of diversion would be 
neither relished nor resorted to. Some persons try to persuade 
themselves that charity forms apart of their motive in attending 
such places ; as when the profits of the night are given to a 
benevolent institution. They hope, I suppose, that though it 
would not be quite right to go if benevolence were not a gainer, 
yet that the end warrants the means. But if these persons are 
charitable, let them give their guinea without deducting half for 
purposes of questionable propriety. Religious amusements, such 
as Oratorios and the like, form one of those artifices of chicanery 
by which people cheat, or try to cheat, themselves. The music, 
say they, is sacred, is devotional ; and we go to hear it as we go 
to church : it excites and animates our religious sensibilities. 
This, in spite of the solemnity of the association, is really ludi- 
crous. The scenes subserve religion no more than they subserve 
chemistry. They do not increase its power any more than the 
power of the steam-engine = As it respects Christianity, it is all 
imposition and fiction ; and it is unfortunate that some of the 
most solemn topics of our religion are brought into such un- 
worthy and debasing alliance. ^ 

Masquerades are of a more decided character. If the pleasure 
which people derive from meeting in disguises, consisted merely 
in the " fun and drollery '^ of the thing, we might wonder to see 
so many children of five and six feet high, and leave them perhaps 
to their childishness : — but the truth is, that to many the zest of 
the concealment consists in the opportimity which it gives of 
covert licentiousness ; of doing that in secret, of which, openly, 

* See also Essay 2, c. 1. 




Chap. 14. 



they would profess to be ashamed. Some men and some women 
who affect propriety when the face is shown, are glad of a few 
hours of concealed libertinism. It is a time in which principles 
are left to guard the citadel of virtue without the auxiliary of 
public opinion. And ill do they guard it ! It is no equivocal 
indication of the slender power of a person^s principles, when they 
do not restrain him any longer than his misdeeds will produce 
exposure. She who is immodest at a masquerade, is modest 
nowhere. She may affect the language of delicacy and maintain 
external decorum, but she has no purity of mind. 

The Field. — If we proceed with the calculation of the benefits 
and mischiefs of Field Sports, in the merchant-like manner of 
debtor and creditor, the balance is presently found to be greatly 
against them. The advantages to him who rides after hounds and 
shoots pheasants, are — that he is amused, and possibly that his 
health is improved ; some of the disadvantages are — that it is 
unpropitious to the influence of religion and the dispositions 
which religion induces ; that it expends money and time which 
a man ought to be able to employ better ; and that it inflicts 
gratuitous misery upon the inferior animals. The value of the 
pleasure cannot easily be computed, and as to health it may pass 
for notliing ; for if a man is so little concerned for his health 
that he will not take exercise without dogs and guns, he has 
no reason to expect other men to concern themselves for it in 
remarking upon his actions. And then for the other side of the 
calculation. That field sports have any tendency to make a man 
better, no one will pretend ; and no one who looks around him 
will doubt that their tendency is in the opposite direction. It 
is not necessary to show that every one who rides after the dogs 
is a worse man in the evening than he was in the morning ; the 
influence of such things is to be sought in those with whom they 
are habitual. Is the character of the sportsman, then, distin- 
guished by reHgious sensibility ? No. By activity of benevo- 
lence? No. By intellectual exertion? No. By purity of 
manners ? No. Sportsmen are not the persons who diffuse the 
light of Christianity, or endeavour to rectify the pubHc morals, 
or to extend the empire of knowledge. Look again at the clerical 
sportsman. Is he usually as exemplary in the discharge of his 
functions as those who decline such diversions ? His parishioners 
know that he is not. So, then, the religious and moral 

» ' ,'- 




Essay 2. 


tendency of Field Sports is bad. It is not necessary to show 
how the ill ejffect is produced. It is sufficient that it actually is 


As to the expenditure of time and money, I dare say we shall 
be told that a man has a right to employ both as he chooses. 
We have heretofore seen that he has no such right. Obligations 
apply just as truly to the mode of employing leisure and property, 
as to the use which a man may make of a pound of arsenic. The 
obligations are not indeed alike enforced in a court of justice : 
the misuser of arsenic is carried to prison, the misuser of time 
and money awaits as sure an inquiry at another tribunal. But 
no folly is more absurd than that of supposing we have a right 
to do whatever the law does not punish. Such is the state of 
mankind, so great is the amount of misery and degradation, and 
so great are the effects of money and active philanthropy in 
meliorating this condition of our species, that it is no light thing 
for a man to employ his time and property upon vain and need- 
less gratifications. It is no light thing to keep a pack of hounds, 
and to spend days and weeks in riding after them. As to the 
torture which field sports inflict upon animals, it is wonderful to 
observe our inconsistencies. He who has, in the day, inflicted 
upon half a dozen animals almost as much torture as they are 
capable of sustaining, and who has woimded perhaps half a 
dozen more, and left them to die of pain or starvation, gives in 
the evening a grave reproof to his child, whom he sees amusing 
himself with picking off the wings of flies ! The infliction of 
pain is not that which gives pleasure to the sportsman, (this 
were ferocious depravity,) but he voluntarily inflicts the pain in 
order to please himself. Yet this man sighs and moralizes over 
the cruelty of children ! An appropriate device for a sports- 
man's dress would be a pair of balances, of which one scale was 
laden with " Virtue and humanity,^' and the other with '^ Sport;'' 
the latter should be preponderating and lifting the other into 

the air. 

The Turf is still worse, partly because it is a stronghold of 
gambling, and therefore an efficient cause of misery and wicked- 
ness. It is an amusement of almost unmingled evil. But upon 
whom is the evil chargeable ? Upon the fifty or one hundred 
persons only who bring horses and make bets ? No ; every man 
participates who attends the course. The great attraction of 


' y 




many public spectacles, and of this amongst others, consists more 
in the company than in the ostensible object of amusement. 
Many go to a race-ground who cannot tell when they return 
what horse has been the victor. Every one therefore who is 
present must take his share of the mischief and the responsibility. 

It is the same with respect to the gross and vulgar diversions 
of boxing, wrestling, and feats of running and riding. There is 
the same almost pure and unmingled evil — the same popularity 
resulting from the concourses who attend, and, by consequence, 
the paiiicipation and responsibility in those who do attend. The 
drunkenness, and the profaneness, and the debauchery, lie in part 
at the doors of those who are merely lookers-on ; and if these 
lookers-on make pretensions to purity of character, their example 
is so much the more influential and their responsibility tenfold 
increased. Defences of these gross amusements are ridiculous. 
One tells us of keeping up the national spirit, which is the same 
thing as to say, that a human community is benefited by inducing 
into it the qualities of the bull-dog. Another expatiates upon 
invigorating the muscular strength of the poor, as if the English 
poor were under so little necessity to labour, and to strengthen 
themselves by labour, that artificial means must be devised to 
increase their toil. 

The \icissitudes of folly are endless ; the vulgar games of the 
present day may soon be displaced by others, the same in genus, 
but differing in species. At the present moment. Wrestling has 
become the point of interest. A man is conveyed across the 
kingdom to try whether he can throw down another ; and when 
he has done it, grave narratives of the feat are detailed in half 
the newspapers of the country ! There is a grossness, a vul- 
garity, a want of mental elevation in these things, which might 
induce the man of intelligence to reprobate them even if the 
voice of morality were silent. They are remains of barbarism — 
evidences that barbarism still maintains itself amongst us — 
proofs that the higher qualities of our nature are not sufficiently 
dominant over the lower. 

These grossnesses will pass away, as the deadly conflicts of 
men with beasts are passed already. Our posterity will wonder 
at the barbarism of us, their fathers, as we wonder at the bar- 
barism of Rome. Let him, then, who loves intellectual elevation 
advance beyond the present times^ and anticipate, in the recrea- 



i. ' ^'T"" 


tions which he encourages, that period when these diversions 
shaU be regarded as indicating one of the intermediate stages 
between the ferociousness of mental darkness and the purity of 
mental light. 

These criticisms might he extended to many other species of 
amusement ; and it is humiliating to discover that the conclusion 
will very frequently be the same — that the evil outbalances the 
good, and that there are no grounds upon which a good man can 
justify a participation in them. In thus concluding, it is possible 
that the reader may imagine that we would exclude enjoyment 
from the world, and substitute a system of irreproachable aus- 
terity. He who thinks this is unacquainted with the nature and 
sources of our better enjoyments. It is an ordinary mistake to 
imagine that pleasure is great only when it is vivid or intem- 
perate, as a child fancies it were more delightful to devour a 
pound of sugar at once, than to eat an ounce daily in his food. 
It is happily and kindly provided that the greatest sum of 
enjoyment is that which is quietly and constantly induced. No 
men understand the nature of pleasure so well, or possess it so 
much, as those who find it within their own doors. If it were 
not that Moral Education is so bad, multitudes would seek 
enjoyment and find it here, who now fancy that they never partake 
of pleasure except in scenes of diversion. It is unquestionably 
true that no community enjoys life more than that which excludes 
all these amusements from its sources of enjoyment. We use 
therefore the language, not of speculation, but of experience, 
when we say, that none of them is, in any degree, necessary to 
the happiness of life. 



It is not to much purpose to show that this strange practice i» 
in itself wrong, because no one denies it. Other grounds of 
defence are taken, although, to be sure, there is a plain absurdity 
in conceding that a thing is wrong in morals, and then trying to 
show that it is proper to practise it. 

Public notions exempt a clergyman from the " necessity '^ of 
fighting duels, and they exempt other men from the ^^necessity " 
of demanding satisfaction for a clergyman's insult. Now, we ask 
the man of honour whether he would rather receive an insult 
from a military ofiicer or from a clergyman ? Which would give 
him the greater pain, and cause him the more concern and un- 
easiness ? That from the military officer, certainly. But why ? 
Because the officer's afiront leads to a duel, and the clergyman's 
does not. So, then, it is preferable to receive an insult to which 
the '^necessity" of fighting is not attached than one to which it 
is attached. Why then attach the necessity to any man's affront ? 
You say, that demanding satisfaction is a remedy for the evil of 
an insult. But we see that the evil, together with the remedy, is 
worse than the evil alone. Why then institute the remedy at 
all ? It is not indeed to be questioned that some insults may be 
forborne, because it is known to what consequences they lead. 
But, on the other hand, for what purpose does one man insult 
another? To give him pain; now, we have just seen that the 
pain is so much the greater in comequence of the " necessity" oi 
fighting, and therefore the motives to insult another are increased. 
A man who wishes to inflict pain upon another, can inflict it 
more intensely in consequence of the system of duelling. 

The truth is, that men fancy the system is useful, because they 
do not perceive how public opinion has been violently turned 
out of its natural and its usual course. When a military man is 
guilty of an insult, pubUc disapprobation falls but lightly upon 



' i 





"Essay 2. 

him. It reserves its force to direct against the insulted party 
if he does not demand satisfaction. But when a clergyman is 
guilty of an insult, public disapprobation faUs upon him with 
imdivided force. The insulted party receives no censure. Now, 
if you take away the custom of demanding satisfaction, what will 
be the result? Why, that public opinion wiU revert to its 
natural course ; it will direct all its penalties to the offending 
party, and by consequence restrain him from offending. It will 
act towards all men as it now acts towards the clergy ; and if a 
clergyman were frequently to be guilty of insults, his character 
would be destroyed. The reader will perhaps more distinctly 
perceive that the fancied utility of duelling in preventing insults, 
results from this misdirection of public opinion by this brief 


An individual either fears public opinion, or he does not. 

If he does not fear it, the custom of duelhng cannot prevent 
him from insulting whomsoever he pleases; because public 
opinion is the only thing which makes men fight, and he does 

not regard it. 

If he does fear public opinion, then the most effectual way ot 
restraining him from insulting others, is by directing that opinion 
against the act of insulting— j^^st as it is now directed in the 

case of the clergy. ^ o - c 

Thus it is that we find— what he knows the perfection ot 

christian morality would expect— that duelling, as it is immoral, 

so it is absurd. 

It appears to be forgotten that a duel is not more aUowable to 
secure ourselves from censure or neglect than any other violation 
of the Moral Law. If these motives constitute a justification of 
a duel, they constitute a justification of robbery or poisoning. 
To advocate duelhng is not to defend one species of offence, but 
to assert the general right to violate the laws of God. If as Dr. 
Johnson reasoned, the '' notions wliich prevail " make fighting 
right, they can make anything right. Nothing is wanted but 
to alter the " notions which prevail,^' and there is not a crime 
mentioned in the statute-book that will not be lawful and 
honourable to-morrow. 

It is usual with those who do foolish and vicious things, or 
who do things from foohsh or vicious motives, to invent some 

> See West. Rev. No. 7, Art. 2. 



»4 ^<«- 


Chap, 15. 



fiction by which to veil the evil or folly, and to give it, if possible, 
a creditable appearance. This has been done in the case of 
duelhng. We hear a great deal about honour, and spirit, and 
courage, and other quaUties equally pleasant, and, as it respects 
the duellist, equally fictitious. The want of sufficient honour, 
and spirit, and courage, is precisely the very reason why men 
fight. Pitt fought with Tiemey ; upon which Pittas biographer 
writes—-'' A mind hke his, cast in no common mould, should 
have risen superior to a low and unworthy prejudice, the folly of 
which it must have perceived, and the wickedness of which it 
must have acknowledged. Could Mr, Pitt be led away by that 
false shame which subjects the decisions of reason to the control 
of fear, and renders the admonitions of conscience subservient 
to the powers of ridicule." i Low prejudice, folly, wickedness, 
false shame, and fear, are the motives which the complacent 
duellist dignifies with the titles of honour, spirit, courage. 
This, to be sure, is very politic : he would not be so silly as to 
call his motives by their right names. Others, of course, join 
in the chicanery. They reflect that they themselves may one 
day have '' a meeting,' ' and they wish to keep up the credit of 
a system which they are conscious they have not principle to 

Put Christianity out of the question— Would not even the 
philosophy of paganism have despised that littleness of principle 
which would not bear a man up in adhering to conduct which 
he knew to be right- that Uttleness of principle which sacrifices 
the dictates of the understanding to an unworthy fear ? When 
a good man, rather than conform to some vicious institution of 
the papacy, stood firmly against the frowns and persecutions of 
the world, against obloquy and infamy, we say that his mental 
principles were great as well as good. If they were, the prin- 
ciples of the duellist are mean as well as vicious. He is afraid to 
be good and great. He knows the course which dignity and 
virtue prescribe, but he will not rise above those lower motives 
which prompt him to deviate from that course. It does not 
affect these conclusions to concede, that he who is afraid to re- 
fuse a challenge may generally be a man of elevated mind. He 
may be such ; but his refusal is an exception to his general 
character. It is an instance in which he impeaches his consis- 

' Gifford's Life, vol. i. p. 263. 





Essay 2. 


tency in excellence. If it were consistent, if the whole mind 
had attained to the rightful stature of a christian man, he would 
assuredly contemn in his practice the conduct which he disap- 
proved in his heart. If you would show us a man of courage, 
bring forward him who will say, I will not fight. Suppose a 
gentleman who, upon the principles which Gifford says should 
have actuated Pitt and all great minds, had thus refused to fight 
and suppose him saying to his withdrawing friends-" I have acted 
with perfect deliberation : 1 knew all the consequences of the 
course I have pursued : but I was persuaded that I should act 
most like a man of intellect, as weU as like a christian, by de- 
chning the meeting ; and therefore I declined it. I feel and 
deplore the consequences, though I do not deprecate them. I 
am not fearful as I have not been fearful ; for I appeal to your- 
selves whether I have not encountered the more appalling alter- 
native—whether it does not require a greater effort to do what 
I have done, and what I am at this moment doing, than to have 
met my opponent.^' Such a man^s magnanimity might not pro- 
cure for him the companionship of his acquaintance, but it would 
do much more ; it woiUd obtain the suffrages of their judgments 
and their hearts. Whilst they continued perhaps externally to 
neglect him, they would internally honour and admire. They 
would feel that his excellence was of an order to which they 
could make no pretensions ; and they would feel, as they were 
practising this strange hypocrisy of vice, that they were the 
proper objects of contempt and pity. 

The species of slaverv to which a man is sometimes reduced 
by being, as he calls it, " obliged to fight," is really pitiable. A 
British officer writes of a petulant and profligate class of men, 
one of whom is sometimes found in a regiment, and says, 
'' Sensible that an officer must accept a challenge, he does not 
hesitate to deal them in abundance, and shortly acquires the 
name of a fighting man ; but as every one is not wUling to 
throw away his life when called upon by one who is indifferent 
to his own, many become condescending, which this man imme- 
diately construes into fear ; and, presuming upon this, he acts 
as if he imagined no one dare contradict him but all must yield 
obedience to his will.'' Here the servile bondage of which we 
speak is brought prominently out. Here is the crouchmg and 
unmanly fear. Here is the abject submission of sense and 



reason to the grossest vulgarity of insolence, folly, and guilt. 
The officer presently gives an account of an instance in which 
the whole mess were domineered over by one of these fighting 
men; — and a pitiably ludicrous account it is. The man had 
invited them to dinner at some distance. " On the day appointed^ 
there came on a most violent snow storm, and in the morning 
we dispatched a servant with an apology." But alas ! these 
poor men could not use their own judgments as to whether they 
should ride in a " most violent snow storm " or not. The man 
sent back some rude message that he " expected them." They 
were afraid of what the fighting man would do next morning ; 
and so the whole mess, against their wills, actually rode " near 
four miles in a heavy snow storm, and passed a day," says the 
officer, " that was, without exception, the most unpleasant I ever 
passed in my life !" ^ In the instance of these men, the motives 
to duelling as founded upon Fear, operated so powerfully that 
the officers were absolutely enslaved — driven against their wills 
by Fear, as negroes are by a cart- whip. 

We are shocked and disgusted at the immolation of women 
amongst the Hindoos, and think that, if such a sacrifice were 
attempted in England, it would excite feelings of the utmost 
repulsion and abhorrence. Of the custom of immolation, duelHng 
is the sister. Their parents are the same, and, like other sisters, 
their lineaments are similar. Why does a Hindoo mount the 
funeral pile ? To vindicate and maintain her honour. Why 
does an Englishman go to the heath with his pistols? To 
vindicate and maintain his honour. What is the nature and 
character of the Hindoo^s honour ? Quite factitious. Of the 
duellist^s ? Quite factitious. How is the motive applied to the 
Hindoo ? To her fears of reproach. To the duellist ? To his 
fears of reproach. What then is the difference between the two 
customs ? This — That one is practised in the midst of pagan 
darkness, and the other in the midst of christian light. And 
yet these very men give their guineas to the Missionary Society, 
lament the degradation of the Hindoos, and expatiate upon the 
sacred duty of enlightening them with Christianity ! "Physician ! 
heal thyself.'' 

One consideration connected with duelling is of unusual 
interest. " In the judgment of that rehgion which requires 

» Lieut. Auburey : Travels in North America. 







Essay 2. 

purity of heart, and of that Being to whom thought is action, 
he cannot be esteemed innocent of this crime, who lives in a 
settled, habitual, determination to commit it, when circumstances 
shall call upon him so to do. This is a consideration which 
places the crime of duelling on a different footing from almost 
any other ; indeed there is perhaps no other which mankind 
habitually and deliberately resolve to practice whenever the 
temptation shall occur. It shows also that the crime of duelling 
is far more general in the higher classes than is commonly 
supposed, and that the whole sum of the guilt which the 
practice produces, is great beyond what has perhaps been ever 
conceived." ^ 

" It is the intention,'^ says Seneca, "and not the effect which 
makes the wickedness : '' and that Greater than Seneca who laid 
the axe to the root of our vices, who laid upon the mental dis- 
position that guilt which had been laid upon the act, may be 
expected to regard this habitual willingness and intention to 
violate his laws, as an actual and great offence. The felon who 
plans and resolves to break into a house, is not the less a felon 
because a watchman happens to prevent him ; nor is the offence 
of him who happens never to be challenged, necessarily at all 
less than that of him who takes the life of his friend. 

* Wilberforce : Practical View, c. 4, s. 3. 





There are few subjects upon which it is more difficult either 
to write or to legislate with effect, than that of Suicide. It is 
difficult to a writer, because a man does not resolve upon the 
act until he has first become steeled to some of the most powerful 
motives that can be urged upon the human mind ; and to the 
legislator, because he can inflict no penalty upon the offending 

It is to be feared that there is little probability of diminishing 
the frequency of this miserable offence by urging the considera- 
tions which philosophy suggests. (The voice of nature is louder 
and stronger than the voice of philosophy^ and as nature speaks 
to the suicide in vain, what is the hope that philosophy will be 
regarded^— There appears to be but one efficient means byj 
which the mind can be armed against the temptations to suicide, 
because there is but one that can support it against every evil 
of life — practical religion — belief in the providence of God — 
confidence in his wisdom — hope in liis goodness. The only \ 
anchor that can hold us in safety, is that which is fixed " within j 
the vail.'' He upon whom religion possesses its proper influence, / 
finds that it enables him to endure, with resigned patience, 
every calamity of life. When patience thus fulfils its perfect 
work, suicide, which is the result of impatience j cannot be com- 
mitted. He who is surrounded, by whatever means, with pain 
or misery, should remember that the present existence is strictly 
probationary -\-a scene upon which we are to be exercised, and 
tried, and tempted ; and in which we are to manifest whether 
we are willing firmly to endure. The good or evil of the pre- 
sent life is of importance chiefly as it influences our allotment in 
futurity : sufferings are permitted for our advantage : they are 
designed to purify and rectify the heart. The imiversal Father 





Essay 2. 

l"scourgeth every son whom he receiveth;" and the suffering, 
the scourging is of little account in comparison with the pros- 
pects of another world. It is not worthy to be compared with 
the glory which shall follow — that glory of which an exceeding 
and eternal weight is the reward of a ^^ patient continuance in 
well doing.'^ To liim who thus regards misery, not as an evil 
but as a good ; not as the unrestrained assault of chance or 
maHce, but as the beneficent discipline of a Father; to him 
who remembers that the time is approaching in which he will be 
able most feelingly to say, " For all I bless Thee— most for the 
severe,'' — every affliction is accompanied with its proper allevia- 
tion : the present hour may distress but it does not overwhelm 
him 'y he may be perplexed but is not in despair : he sees the 
darkness and feels the storm, but he knows that light will again 
arise, and that the storm will eventually be hushed with an effi- 
cacious. Peace be still ; so that there shall be a great calm. 

Compared with these motives to avoid the first promptings 
to suicide, others are likely to be of little effect : and yet they 
are neither inconsiderable nor few. It is more dignified, more 
worthy an enlightened and manly understanding, to meet and 
endure an inevitable evil than to sink beneath it. The case of 
him who feels prompted to suicide, is something like that of the 
duellist as it was illustrated in the preceding chapter. Each 
sacrifices his life to his fears. The suicide balances between 
opposing objects of dread, (for dreadful self-destruction must 
be supposed to be,) and chooses the alternative which he 
fears least. If his courage, his firmness, his manliness, were 
greater, he who chooses the alternative of suicide, like him 
who chooses the duel, would endure the evil rather than 
avoid it in a manner which dignity and religion forbid. The 
lesson too which the self- destroyer teaches to his connexions, of 
sinking in despair under the evils of life, is one of the most 
pernicious which a man can bequeath. The power of the example 
is also great. (Every act of suicide tacitly conveys the sanction 
of one more judgment in its favour : frequency of repetition 
diminishes the sensation of abhorrence, and makes succeeding 
sufferers resort to it with less reluctance. Besides which general 
reasons, each case will be aggravated by its own proper and par- 
ticular consequences ; by the duties that are deserted ; by the 
claims that are defrauded ; by the loss, affliction, or disgrace 



which our death, or the manner of it, causes our family, kindred, 
or friends ; by the occasion we give to many to suspect the sin- 
cerity of our moral religious professions, and, together with ours, 
those of all others f ^ and lastly, by the scandal which we bring 
upon religion itself by declaring, practically, that it is not able 
to support man under the calamities of life. 

Some men say that the New Testament contains no prohibi- 
tion of suicide. If this were true, it would avail nothing, because 
there are many things which it does not forbid, but which every 
one knows to be wicked. But in reahty it does forbid it. Every 
exhortation which it gives to be patient, every encouragement 
to trust in God, every consideration which it urges as a support 
under affliction and distress, is a virtual prohibition of suicide ; 
— because, if a man commits suicide, he rejects every such advice 
and encouragement, and disregards every such motive. 

To him who believes either in revealed or natural religion, 
there is a certain folly in the commission of suicide ; for from 
what does he fly ? From his present sufferings ; whilst death, 
for aught that he had reason to expect, or at any rate for aught 
that he knows, may only be the portal to sufferings more intense. 
Natural religion, I think, gives no countenance to the suppo- 
sition that suicide can be approved by the Deity, because it 
proceeds upon the belief that, in another state of existence, he 
will compensate good men for the sufferings of the present. At 
the best, and under either religion, it is a desperate stake. He 
that commits murder may repent, and we hope, be forgiven ; 
but that he destroys himself, whilst he incurs a load of guilt, 
cuts off, by the act, the power of repentance. 

Not every act of suicide is to be attributed to excess of misery. 
Some shoot themselves or throw themselves into a river in rage 
or revenge, in order to inflict pain and remorse upon those who 
have ill used them. Such, it is to be suspected, is sometimes a 
motive to self-destruction in disappointed love. The unhappy 
person leaves behind some message or letter, in the hope of 
exciting that affection and commiseration by the catastrophe, 
which he could not excite when alive. Perhaps such persons 
hope, too, that the world wiU sigh over their early fate, teU of 
the fidelity of their loves, and throw a romantic melancholy over 
their story. This needs not to be a subject of wonder : unnum- 

iMor. and Pol. PhU. b. 4, c. 3. 



Essay 2. 

bered multitudes have embraced death in other forms from 
kindred motives. We hear continually of those who die for the 
sake of glory. This is but another phantom, and the less amiable 
phantom of the two. It is just as reasonable to die in order that 
the world may admire our true love, as in order that it may 
admire our bravery. And the lover's hope is the better founded. 
There are too many aspirants for glory for each to get even his 
" peppercorn of praise.' ' But the lover may hope for higher 
honours : a paragraph may record his fate through the existence 
of a weekly paper ; he may be talked of through half a county ; 
and some kindred spirit may inscribe a tributary sonnet in a 
lady's album. 

To legislate efficiently upon the crime of suicide is difficult, if 
it is not impossible. As the legislator cannot inflict a penalty 
upon the off'ender, the act must pass with impunity unless the 
penalty is made to fall upon the innocent. I say the penalty ; for 
such it would actually be, whatever were the provision of the 
law — whether, for instance, confiscation of property, or indignity 
to the remains of the dead. One would make a family poor, 
and the other perhaps unhappy. It does not appear just or 
reasonable that these should sufler for an ofi'ence which they 
could not prevent, and by which they, above all others, are 
already injured and distressed. 

One thing appears to be clear, that it is vain for a Legislature 
to attempt any interference of which the people do not approve. 
This is evident from the experience in our own country, where 
coroner's juries prefer perjuring themselves to pronouncing a 
verdict of felo de se, by which the remains would be subjected 
to barbarous indignities. Coroners' inquests seem to proceed 
rather upon the pre-supposition that he who destroys himself is 
insane, than upon the evidence which is brought before them ; 
and thus, whilst the law is evaded, perjury it is to be feared is 
very frequent. That the public mind disapproves the existing 
law is a good reason for altering it ; but it is not a good reason 
why coroners' juries should violate their oaths, and give encou- 
ragement to the suicide by telling him, that disgrace will be 
warded off from his memory and from his family by a generous 
verdict of insanitv It has been said that it is a common thing 





for a suicide's friends to fee the coroner in order to induce him 
to prevent a verdict of felo de se. If this be true, it is indeed 
time that the arm of the law should be vigorously extended. 
What punishment is due to the man who accepts a purse as a 
reward for inducing twelve persons to commit perjury ? It is 
probable too, that half-a-dozen just verdicts, by which the law 
was allowed to take its course, would occasion the abolition of 
the disgusting statute;^ for the public would not bear that it 
should be acted upon. 

The great object is to associate with the act of suicide ideas of 
guilt and horror in the public mind. This association would be 
likely to preclude, in individuals, that first complacent contem- 
plation of the act which probably precedes, by a long interval, 
the act itself. The anxiety which the surviving friends manifest 
for a verdict of " insanity," is a proof how great is the power of 
imagination, and how much they are in dread of public opinion. 
They are anxious that the disgrace and reproach of conscious 
self-murder should not cling to their family. This is precisely 
that anxiety of which the legislator should avail himself, by 
enactments that would require satisfactory j^roo/ of insanity, and 
which, in default of such proof, would leave to its full force the 
stigma and the pain, and excite a sense of horror of the act, and 
a perception of its wickedness in the public mind. The point 
for the exercise of legislative wisdom is, to devise such an ulti- 
mate procedure as shall call forth these feelings, but as shall not 
become nugatory by being more dreadful than the public will 
endure. What that procedure should be, I pretend not to 
describe; but it may be observed that the simple circumstance 
of pronouncing a public verdict of conscious self-murder, would, 
amongst a people of good feelings, go far towards the production 
of the desired eflPect. — As the law now exists, and a^ it is now 
violated, the tendency is exactly the contrary of what it ought to 
be. By the almost universal custom which it generates, of de- 
claring suicides to have been insane, it efi*ectually diminishes 
that pain to individuals, and that horror in the public, which the 
crime itself would naturally occasion. 

' Tliis statute has been repealed ; and the law now simply requires, when a 
verdict of felo de se is returned, that the body shall be interred privately, at 
night, and without the funeral service. Ed. 



The right of defending ourselves against violence is easily 
deducible from the Law of Nature. There is, however little 
need to deduce it, because mankind are at least su^ciently per- 
suaded of its lawfulness. The-great question, which the opinions 
and principles that now influence the world makes it needful to 
discuss is, Whether the right of self-defence is absolute and un- 
conditional^Whether every action whatever is lawful, provided 
it is necessary to the preservation of life ? They who maintam 
the affirmative, maintain a great deal; for they maintam that 
whenever life is endangered, all rules of morality are, as it re- 
spects the individual, suspended, annihilated : every moral obh- 
/ation is taken away by the single fact that life is threatened. 

Yet the language that is ordinarily held upon the subject im- 
plies the supposition of all this. " If our lives are threatened 
^th assassination or open violence from the hands of robbers or 
enemies, any means of defence would be allowed, and laudable^ 
Affain " There is one case in which all extremities are justifiable, 
namely when our life is assaulted, and^it becomes necessary for 
our preservation to kill the assailant." ' 

The reader may the more willingly enquire whether these pro- 

positions are true, because most of those who lay them down are 

at Httle pains to prm^e their truth. Men are extremely wilhng 

to acquiesce in it without proof, and writers and speakers think 

it unnecessary to adduce it. Thus perhaps it happens that fallacy 

is not detected because it is not sought.-If the reader should 

think that some of the instances which foUow are remote from 

the ordinary affairs of life, he is requested to remember that we 

are discussing the soundness of an alleged absolute rule If it 

be found that there are or have been cases m which it is not 

absolute-cases in which all extremities are not lawful m defence 

» Grotius : Rights of War and Peace. 
'^Paley: Mor. and Pol. Phil. p. 3, b. 4, c. 1. 

Chap. 17. 



of life — then the rule is not sound : then there are some limits 
to the right of Self-Defence. 

If " any means of defence are laudable," if " all extremities 
are justifiable,^^ then they are not confined to acts of resistance 
to the assailing party. There may be other conditions upon 
which life may be preserved than that of violence towards Mm, 
Some ruffians seize a man in the highway, and will kill him unless 
he will conduct them to his neighbour's property and assist 
them in carrying it oflP. May this man unite with them in the 
robbery in order to save his life, or may he not ? If he may, 
what becomes of the law. Thou shalt not steal ? If he may 
not, then not every means by which a man may preserve his life 
is " laudable '' or " allowed." We have found an exception 
to the rule. There are twenty other wicked things which vio- 
lent men may make the sole condition of not taking our lives. 
Do all Avicked things become lawful because life is at stake ? If 
they do, morality is surely at an end : if they do not, such pro- 
positions as those of Grotius and Paley are untrue. 

A pagan has unalterably resolved to offer me up in sacrifice on 
the morrow, unless I will acknowledge the deity of his gods 
and worship them. I shall presume that the christian will 
regard these acts as being, under every possible circumstance, 
unlawful. The night off'ers me an opportunity of assassinating 
him. Now I am placed, so far as the argument is concerned, in 
precisely the same situation with respect to this man, as a traveller 
is with respect to a ruffian with a pistol. Life in both cases 
depends on killing the offender. Both are acts of self-defence. 
Am I at liberty to assassinate this man ? The heart of the 
christian surely answers. No. Here then is a case in which I 
may not take a violent man's life in order to save my own. — ^We 
have said that the heart of the christian answers. No : and this 
we think is a just species of appeal. But if any one doubts 
whether the assassination would be unlawful, let him consider 
whether one of the christian apostles would have committed it in 
such a case. Here, at any rate, the heart of every man answers. 
No. And mark the reason — because every man perceives that the 
act would have been palpably inconsistent with apostolic character 
and conduct; or, which is the same thing, with a christian 
character and conduct. 

Or put such a case in a somewhat different form. A furious 
Turk holds a scimitar over my head, and declares he will 


instantly dispatch me unless I abjure Christianity and acknow- 
ledge the divine legation of " the prophet." Now there are two 
supposable ways in which I may save my life ; one by contriving 
to stab the Turk, and one "by denying Christ before men. 
You say I am not at liberty to deny Christ, but I am at liberty 
to stab the man. Why am I not at liberty to deny Him ? 
Because Christianity forbids it. Then we require you to show 
that Christianity does not forbid you to take his life. Our reli- 
don pronounces both actions to be wrong. You say that, under 
these circumstances, the killing is right. Where is your proof ? 
What is the ground of your distinction ?~But whether it can 
be adduced or not, our immediate argument is estabhshed-1 hat 
there are some things which it is not lawful to do in order to pre- 
serve our lives. This conclusion has indeed been practically 
acted upon. A company of inquisitors and their agents are 
about to conduct a good man to the stake. If he could by any 
means destroy these men, he might save his life. It is a ques- 
tion therefore of self-defence. Supposing these means to be 
within his power-supposing he coidd contrive a mme, and by 
suddenly firing it, blow his persecutors into the air-would it be 
lawful and christian thus to act ? No. The common Judgments of 
mankind respecting the right temper and conduct of the martyr, 
pronounce it to be wrong. It is pronounced to be wrong by the 
language and example of the first teachers of Christianity 
The conclusion therefore again is, that all extremities are not 
allowable in order to preserve life —that thei^e is a limit to the 

right of self-defence, ^ , • ^ 

It would be to no purpose to say that in some of the mstances 
which have been proposed, religious duties interfere with and 
limit the rights of self-defence. This is a common fallacy. Re- 
liffious duties and moral duties are identical in point of obhga- 
tion for they are imposed by one authority. Religious duties 
are not obligatory for any other reason than that which attaches 
to moral duties also ; namely, the Will of God. He who violates 
the Moral Law is as truly unfaithful in his allegiance to God as 
he who denies Christ before men. 

So that we come at last to one single and simple question, 
whether taking the life of a person who threatens oiu-s, is or is 
not compatible with the Moral Law. We refer for an answer 
to the broad principles of christian piety and christian benevo- 
lence; that piety which reposes habitual confidence m the 


Divine Providence, and an habitual preference of futurity to 
the present time ; and that benevolence which not only loves our 
neighbours as ourselves, but feels that the Samaritan or the 
enemy is a neighbour. There is no conjecture in life in which the 
exercise of his benevolence may be suspended ; none in which 
we are not required to maintain and to practise it. Whether 
Want implores our compassion, or Ingratitude returns ills for 
our kindness; whether a fellow-creature is drowning in a river 
or assailing us on the highway ; every where and under all 
circumstances, the duty remains. 

Is killing an assailant, then, within or without the limits of 
this Benevolence ? — As to the man, it is evident that no good- 
will is exercised towards him by shooting him through the head. 
Wlio indeed will dispute that, before we can thus destroy him, 
benevolence towards him must be excluded from our minds ? 
We not only exercise no benevolence ourselves, but preclude him 
from receiving it from any human heart ; and, which is a serious 
item in the account, we cut him off from all possibility of refor- 
mation. To call sinners to repentance, was one of the great 
characteristics of the mission of Christ. Does it appear consistent 
with this characteristic for one of His followers to take away 
from a sinner the power of repentance? Is it an act that 
accords, and is congruous, with christian love ? 

But an argument has been attempted here. That we may 
^' kill the assailant is evident in a state of nature, unless it can 
be shown that we are bound to prefer the aggressor's life to our 
own ; that is to say, to love our enemy better than ourselves, 
which can never be a debt of justice, nor any where appears to 
be a duty of charity.'^i The answer is this : That although we 
may not be required to love our enemy better thaif ourselves, we 
are required to love him as ourselves ; and therefore, in the sup- 
posed case, it would still be a question equally balanced which 
life ought to be sacrificed ; for it is quite clear that, if we kill 
the assailant, we love him less than ourselves, which does seem 
to militate against a duty of charity. But the truth is that he 
who, from motives of obedience to the will of God, spares the 
aggressor's life even to the endangering his own, does exercise 
love both to the aggressor and to himself, perfectly : to the 
aggressor, because by sparing his life we give him the opportu- 
nity of repentance and amendment : to himself, because every 

* Paley : Mor. and Pol. Phil. p. 3, b. 4, c. 1. 



Essay 2. 

act of obedience to God is perfect benevolence towards ourselves ; 
it is consulting and promoting our most valuable mterests; rt is 
propitiating the favour of him who is emphatically a nch 
rIwarder."-So that the question remains as before not whe her 
we should love our enemy better than ourselves, but whether 
christian principles are acted upon in destroying him ; and it 
they are not. whether we should prefer Christianity to ourselves; 
whether we should be willing to lose our life for Christ's sake 

and the gospel's. _ i „ *.„ 

Perhaps it will be said that we should exercise benevolence to 
the public as well as to the offender, and that we may exercise 
more benevolence to them by killing than by spanng him. But 
very few persons, when they kill a man who attacks them, kill 
him out of benevolence to the public. That is not the motive 
which influences their conduct, or which they at all take into 
the account. Besides, it is by no means certain that the pubUc 
would lose anything by the forbearance. To be sure a man can 
do no more mischief after he is killed; but then it is to be re- 
membered, that robbers are more desperate and more murderous 
from the apprehension of swords and pistols than they would be 
without it. Men are desperate in proportion to their apprehen- 
sions of danger. The plunderer who feels a confidence that his 
own life will not be taken, may conduct his plunder with com- 
parative gentleness; whilst he who knows that his Me is m 
•Mediate jeopardy, stuns or murders his victim lest he should 
be killed himself. The ffveat evil which a family sustains by a 
robbery is often not the loss, but the terror and the danger ; and 
these are the evils which, by the exercise of forbearance, would 
be diminished. So that, if some bad men are prevented from 
committing robberies by the fear of death, the public gams in 
other ways by the forbearance : nor is it by any means certain 
that the balance of advantages is in favour of the more violent 
course.-The argument which we are opposing proceeds on the 
supposition that our own lives are endangered. Now it is a tact 
that this very danger results, in part, from the want of hab>ts of 
forbearance. We publicly profess that we would kill an assadan ; 
and the assailant, knowing this, prepares to kill us when other- 
wise he would forbear. . 

And after all, if it were granted that a person is at liberty to 
take an assailant's life in order to preserve his own, how ,s he to 
know in the majority of instances, whether his own would be 

Chap. 17. 



taken ? When a man breaks into a person's house, and this 
person, as soon as he comes np with the robber, takes out a 
pistol and shoots him, we are not to be told that this man was 
killed ^' in defence of life.'' Or go a step further, and a step 
further still, by which the intention of the robber to commit 
personal violence or inflict death is more and more probable : — 
you must at last shoot him in uncertainty whether your life was 
endangered or not* Besides, you can withdraw — you can fly. 
None but the predetermined murderer wishes to commit murder. 
But perhaps you exclaim — " Fly ! Fly, and leave your property 
unprotected ! " Yes — unless you mean to say that preservation 
of property, as well as preservation of life, makes it lawful to 
kill an .offender. This were to adopt a new and a very different 
proposition ; but a proposition which I suspect cannot be sepa- 
rated in practice from the former. He who afiirms that he may kill 
another in order to preserve his life, and that he may endanger his 
life in order to protect his property, does in reality affirm that he 
may kill another in order to preserve his property. But such a 
proposition, in an unconditional form, no one surely will tolerate. 
The laws of the land do not admit it, nor do they even admit the 
right of taking another's life simply because he is attempting to 
take ours. They require that we should be tender even of the 
murderer's life, and that we should fly rather than destroy it.^ 

We say that the proposition that we may take life in order to 
preserve our property is intolerable. To preserve how much ? 
five hundred pounds, or fifty, or ten, or a shilling, or a sixpence ? 
It has actually been declared that the rights of self-defence 
^^ justify a man in taking all forcible methods which are necessary, 
in order to procure the restitution of the freedom or the property 
of which he had been unjustly deprived." ^ AH forcible methods 
to obtain restitution of property ! No limit to the nature or 
effects of the force ! No limit to the insignificance of the 
amount of the property ! Apply, then, the rule. A boy snatches a 
bunch of grapes from a fruiterer's stall. The fruiterer runs after 
the thief, but finds that he is too light of foot to be overtaken. 
Moreover, the boy eats as he runs. "All forcible methods,'^ 
reasons the fruiterer, " are justifiable to obtain restitution of the 
property. I may fire after the plunderer, and when he falls regain 
my grapes." All this is just and right, if Gisbome's proposition is 
true. It is a dangerous thing to lay down maxims in morality. 
» Blackstone : Com. v. 4, c. 4. 2 Gisborne : Moral Philosophy. 


Essay 2. 


The conclusion, then, to which we are led by these enquiries 
is that he who kills another, even upon the plea of self-defence, 
does not do it in the predominance nor in the exercise of christian 
dispositions; and if this is true, is it not also true, that his life 
cannot be thus taken in conformity with the christian law ? 

But this is very far from concluding that no resistance may 
be made to aggression. We may make, and we ought to make, 
a great deal. It is the duty of the civil magistrate to repress 
the violence of one man towards another, and by consequence 
it is the duty of the individual, when the civil power cannot 
operate, to endeavour to repress it himself. I perceive no reason- 
able exception to the rule-that whatever Christianity permits 
the magistrate to do in order to restrain violence, it permits the 
individual, under such circumstances, to do also. I know the 
consequences to which this rule leads in the case of the punish^ 
meat of death, and of other questions. These questions will 
hereafter be discussed. In the mean time, it may be an act of 
candour to the reader to acknowledge, that our chief motive for 
the discussions of the present chapter, has been to pioneer the 
way for a satisfactory investigation of the Punishment of Death, 
and of other modes by which human life is taken away. 

Many kinds of resistance to aggression come strictly within 

the fulfilment of the law of benevolence. He who, by securing, 

or temporaiily disabling a man, prevents him from committing 

an act of great turpitude, is certainly his beneftictor ; and it he 

be thus reserved for justice, the benevolence is great both to him 

• and to the public. It is an act of much kindness to a bad man 

to secure him for the penalties of the law : or it would be such, 

if penal law were in the state in which it ought to be, and to 

which it appears to be making some approaches. It would then 

be very probable that the man would be reformed : and this is 

the greatest benefit which can be conferred upon him and upon 

the community. , • , . 

Tlie exercise of christian forbearance towards violent men is 
not tantamount to an invitation of outrage. Cowardice is one 
thing • this forbearance is another. The man of true forbearance 
is of all men the least cowardly. It requires courage in a greater 
degree and of a higher order to practise it when life is threatened, 
than to draw a sword or fire a pistol.-No: It is the peculiar 
privilege of christian virtue to approve itself even to the bad. 
There is something in the nature of that calmness, and self- 



possession, and forbearance, that religion effects, which obtains, 
nay which almost commands regard and respect. How different 
the effect upon the violent tenants of Newgate, the hardihood 
of a turnkey and the mild courage of an Elizabeth Fry ! Expe- 
rience, incontestable experience, has proved, that the minds of few 
men are so depraved or desperate as to prevent them from being 
influenced by real christian conduct. Let him therefore who 
advocates the taking the life of an aggressor, first show that all 
other means of safety are vain; let him show that bad men, 
notwithstanding the exercise of true christian forbearance, 
persist in their purposes of death : — when he has done this he 
will have adduced an argument in favour of taking their lives 
which wiU not, indeed, be conclusive, but which will approach 
nearer to conclusiveness than any that has yet been adduced. 

Of the consequences of forbearance, even in the case of 
personal attack, there are some examples : Archbishop Sharpe 
was assaulted by a footpad on the highway, who presented a 
pistol and demanded his money. The Archbishop spoke to the 
robber in the language of a fellow man and of a christian. The 
man was really in distress, and the prelate gave him such money 
as he had, and promised that, if he would call at the palace, he 
would make up the amount to fifty poimds. This was the sum 
of which the robber had said he stood in the utmost need. The 
man called and received the money. About a year and a half 
afterwards, this man again came to the palace and brought back 
the same sum. He said that his circumstances had become 
improved, and that, through the '^ astonishing goodness '^ of the 
Archbishop, he had become "the most penitent, the most 
grateful, and happiest of his species." — Let the reader consider 
how different the Archbishop^s feelings were, from what they 
would have been if, by his hand, this man had been cut off.^ 

Barclay, the Apologist, was attacked by a highwayman. He 
substituted for the ordinary modes of resistance, a calm expos- 
tulation. The felon dropped his presented pistol, and offered no 
further violence. A Leonard Fell was similarly attacked, and 
from him the robber took both his money and his horse, and 
then threatened to blow out his brains. Fell solemnly spoke to 
the man on the wickedness of his life. The robber was asto- 
nished : he had expected, perhaps, curses, or perhaps a dagger. 

» See Lond. Chron. Aug. 12, 1785. See also life of Granville Sharpe, Esq., p. 13. 



Essay 2. 

He declared he would not keep either the horse or the money, 
and returned both. " If thine enemy hunger, feed him ; for in 
so doing thou shalt heap coals of fire upon his head." i— The 
tenor of the short narrative that follows is somewhat dilFerent. 
EUwood, who is known to the literary world as the suggestor to 
Milton of Paradise Regained, was attending his father in his 
coach. Two men waylaid them in the dark and stopped the 
carriage. Young Ellwood got out, and on going up to the 
nearest, the ruffian raised a heavy club, " when," says Ellwood, 
« I whipt out my rapier and made a pass upon him, I could 
not have failed running him through up to the hilt," but the 
sudden appearance of the bright blade terrified the man so, that 
he stepped aside, avoided the thrust, and both he and the other 
fled. " At that time," proceeds Ellwood, '' and for a good while 
after, I had no regret upon my mind for what I had done." 
This was whilst he was young, and when the forbearing prm- 
ciples of Christianity had little influence upon him. But after- 
wards, when this influence became powerful, '' a sort of horror," 
he says, " seized on me when I considered how near I had been 
to the staining of my hands with human blood. And whenso- 
ever afterwards I went that way, and indeed as often since 
as the matter has come into my remembrance, my soul has 
blessed Him who preserved and withheld me from shedding man's 

blood." 2 

That those over whom, as over Ellwood, the mfluence of 
Christianity is imperfect and weak, should think themselves at 
Hberty upon such occasions to take the lives of their fellow-men, 
needs to be no subject of wonder. Christianity, if we would 
rightly estimate its obligations, must be felt in the heart. They 
in whose hearts it is not felt, or felt but Uttle, cannot be expected 
perfectly to know what its obligations are. I know not, there- 
fore, that more appropriate advice can be given to him who con- 
tends for the lawfulness of taking another man's life in order to 
save his own, than that he would first enquire whether the in- 
fluence of religion is dominant in his mind. If it is not, let him 
suspend his decision until he has attained to the fulness of the 
stature of a christian man. Then, as he wiU be of that number 
who do the will of Heaven, he may hope to " know of this 
doctrine whether it be of God." 

> " Select Anecdotes, &c." by John Barclay. ' Ellwood's Life. 






The fundamental principles which are deducible from the 
law of nature and from Christianity, respecting political affairs, 
appear to be these : — 

1. Political power is rightly possessed only when it is possessed 
by consent of the community ; — 

2. It is rightly exercised only when it subserves the welfare 
of the community ; — 

3. And only when it subserves this purpose, by means which 
the moral law permits. 

[» This Essay the author did not live to revise, a circumstance which will 
account for a want of complete connexion of the diflferent parts of a subject 
which the reader will sometimes meet with. There occur also in this part of 
the manuscript numerous memoranda, which the author intended to make use 
of in a future revision. These are to be distinguished from the Notes, as the 
former refer, not to any particular passage, but only to the subject of the chapter 
or section. They were hastily, as the thought occurred, written in the margin 
or on a blank leaf of the manuscript, and they are here introduced at the bottom 
of the page, in those parts to which they appear to have the nearest reference. — 

X 2 



Essay 3. 





Perfect liberty is desirable if it were consistent with the 
greatest degree of happiness. But it is not. Men find that, 
by giving up a part of their liberty, they are more happy than 
by retaining, or attempting to retain, the whole. Government, 
whatever be its form, is the agent by which the inexpedient por- 
tion of individual liberty is taken away. Men institute govern- 
ment for their own advantage, and because they find they are 
more happy with it than without it. This is the sole reason, in 
principle, how little soever it be adverted to in practice. Go- 
vernors, therefore, are the officers of the pubUc, in the proper 
sense of the word ; not the slaves of the public : for if they do 
not incline to conform to the pubUc will, they are at hberty, 
like other officers, to give up their office. They are servants, in 
the same manner, and for the same purpose, as a solicitor is the 
servant of his client, and the physician of his patient. These 
are employed by the patient or the client voluntarily for his own 
advantage, and for nothing else. A nation, (not an individual, 
but a nation,) is under no other obligation to obedience, than 
that which arises from the conviction that obedience is good for 
itself: or rather, in more proper language, a nation is under no 
obligation to obedience at all. Obedience is voluntary. If they do 
not think it proper to obey— that is, if they are not satisfied with 
their officers— they are at liberty to discontinue their obedience, 
and to appoint other officers instead. 

That which is thus true as an universal proposition, is asserted 
with respect to this country by the present king -}—'' The powers 
and prerogatives of the crown are vested there as a trust for the 
benefit of the people ; and they are sacred only as they are neces- 
sary to the preservation of that poise and balance of the consti- 
tution which experience has proved to be the best security of 
the liberty of the subject.'' 2 

It is incidental to the office of the First public servants, that 
they should exercise authority over those by whom they are 
selected ; and hence, probably, it has happened that the terms 
" public officer," '' public servant," have excited such strange 

• George IV. 

2 letter when Prince of Wales, to Wm. Pitt. GifFord's Life of Pitt, vol. 2. 

Chap. 1. 



controversies in the world. Men have not maintained sufficient 
discrimination of ideas. Seeing that governors are great and 
authoritative, a man imagines it cannot be proper to say they 
are servants. Seeing that it is necessary and right that indivi- 
duals should obey, he cannot entertain the notion that they are 
the servants of those whom they govern. The truth is, that 
governors are not the servants of individuals but of the com- 
munity. They are the masters of individuals, the servants of the 
public j and if this simple distinction had been sufficiently borne 
in mind, much perhaps of the vehement contention upon these 
matters had been avoided. 

But the idea of being a servant of the public, is quite con- 
sistent with the idea of exercising authority over them. The 
common language of a patient is founded upon similar grounds. 
He sends for a physician : — the physician comes at his desire — 
is paid for his services — and then the patient says, I am ordered 
to adopt a regimen, I am ordered to Italy ; — and he obeys, not 
because he may not refuse to obey if he chooses, but because he 
confides in the judgment of the physician, and thinks that it is 
more to his benefit to be guided by the physician's judgment 
than by his own. But it will be said the physician cannot 
enforce his orders upon the patient against his will : neither I 
answer can the governor enforce his upon the public against 
theirs. No doubt Governors do sometimes so enforce them. 
What they do, however, and what they rightfully do, are sepa- 
rate considerations, and our business is only with the latter. 

Grotius argues that sovereign power may be possessed by 
governors, so that it shall not rightfully belong to the com- 
munity. He says, " From the Jewish as well as the Roman law it 
appears, that any one might engage himself in private servitude 
to whom he pleased. Now if an individual may do so, why may 
not a whole people, for the benefit of better government and 
more certain protection, completely transfer their sovereign rights 
to one or more persons without reserving any portion to them- 
selves ?"^ I answer. No individual may do this: and. If he might, 
it would not serve the doctrine in the case of nations. — It never 
can be right for a man to resign the absolute direction of his 
conduct to another, because he must then do actions good or bad 
as that other might command — he must lie, or rob, or assassinate; 
and of this common sense would pronounce the impropriety, if 

' Rights of War and Peace, b. 1, c. 3, s. 8. 



Essay 3. 

Chap. 1. 




\ •> 

tlie Moral Law did not. And if you say a man ought not so to 
resign himself to another, then I answer, he does not transfer 
sovereign power, but retains it himself— which, in truth, ends 

the argument. 

But if the doctrine were sound for the individual, it is unsound 
for a community. What is meant by the " transfer of their sove- 
reign rights by a whole people r Is every man, woman, and 
child, in the country formally to sign the transfer ? If not, how 
shall a whole people transfer it ? At any rate, if they did, their 
resignation could not bind their children or successors. Besides, 
there is the same objection to this transfer of the sovereign power 
on the part of a nation as on the part of an individual. The 
thing is absurd in reason, and criminal in morals. 

Grotius illustrates his argument by " that authority to which 
a woman submits when she gives herself to her husband.'' But 
she does not submit to sovereign authority. He says again, 
" some powers are conferred for the sake of the governor, as the 
right of a master over a slave." But such powers are never 
jttstly conferred. 

After all, these arguments do but establish, in reality, the 
fundamental position. They assume that a people can resign the 
sovereign power; which is the same thing as to acknowledge 
that they rightfully possess it. Grotius himself says, " A state 
is a perfect body of free men, united together in order to enjoy 
common rights and advantages.''^ 

It gives some anxiety to the mind of the writer, lest the reader 
should identify his principles with those of many who have asserted 
the " sovereignty of the people." This doctrine has been insisted 
upon by persons who have mingled with it, or deduced from it, 
principles which the writer not merely rejects, but abhors. A 
doctrine is not unsound because it has been advocated or per- 
verted by bad men ; and it is neither rational nor honest to 
reprobate a truth because it has been viciously associated. 
Gifford, in his life of Pitt, complains of Fox, who by '' a strange 
perversion of terms, and a confusion of intellect that would have 
disgraced even a school-boy, called his sovereign the servant of 
the people." '' This," says Gifford, '' was a servile imitation of 
the French regicides, and a direct encouragement to all the 
theoretical reveries of all the disaffected in England." This 
is the species of association which I would deprecate : French 

» Rights of War and Peace. 

regicides taught the doctrine, and disaffected theorists taught it. 
I am sorry that a truth should be so connected ; but it is not the 
less a truth. The " confusion of intellect " of which Gifford 
speaks, probably subsisted more in the writer than in Fox — for 
reasons which the reader has just seen, and because the bio- 
grapher had probably confounded the doctrine with the conduct 
of some who supported it. The reader should practice a little of 
the power of abstraction, and detach accidental associations from 
truth itself. 

In reahty, it cannot be asserted that the people do not right- 
fully possess the supreme power, without asserting that governors 
may do what they will, and be as tyrannical as they will. Who 
may prevent them ? The people ? Then the people hold the 
sovereign power. 

Many political constitutions have existed in which the governor 
was held to be absolutely the supreme power. The antiquity of 
such constitutions, or the regular succession of the existing 
governor, does not make his pretensions to this power just, 
because the principles on which it is ascertained that the people 
are supreme, are antecedent to all questions of usage, and supe- 
rior to them. No injustice, therefore, is done — nothing wrong 
is done — in diminishing or taking away the power of an absolute 
monarch, notwithstanding the regularity of his pretensions to it. 
Yet other principles have been held : and it was said of Louis 
the Sixteenth, that as he " was the sole maker and executor of 
the laws," and as this power '' had been exercised by him and by 
his ancestors for centuries without question or control, it was not 
in the power of the states to deprive him of any portion of it 
without his own consent." So that we are told that many mil- 
lions of persons ought to be subject for ever to the vices or 
caprices of one man, in compliment to the fact that their pre- 
decessors had been subject before them.^ He who maintains 
such doctrine, sui^ely forgets for what purpose government is 
instituted at all. 

1 We do not here defend the conduct of the states, or censure that of Louis : 
we speak merely of the political truth. That atrocious course of wickedness, 
the French Revolution, was occasiotied by the abuses of the old government and 
its ramifications. The French people, unhappily, had neither virtue enough 
nor political knowledge enough, to reform these abuses by proper means. A 
revolution of some kind, and at some period, awaits, I doubt not, every despotic 
government in Europe and in the world. Happy will it be for those rulers who 
timely and wisely regard the irresistible progress of public opinion ! And happy 
for those communities which endeavour reformation only by virtuous means ! 

ij i mti 



Essay 3. 


The rule that " Political Power is rightly possessed only when 
it is possessed by consent of the community/' necessarily applies 
to the choice of the person who is to exercise it. No man, and 
no set of men, rightly govern unless they are preferred by the 
public to others. It is of no consequence that a people should 
formally select a president or a king. They continually act upon 
the principle without this. A people who are satisfied with their 
gOTcrnor make, day by day, the choice of which we speak. They 
prefer him to all others ; they choose to be served by him rather 
than by any other ; and he, therefore, is \irtually, though not 
formally, selected by the public. But, when we speak of the 
right of a particular person or family to govern a people, we 
speak, as of all other rights, in conditional language. The right 
consists in the preference which is given to him ; and exists no 
longer than that preference exists. If any governor were fully 
conscious that the community preferred another man or another 
kind of government, he ought to regard himself in the light of 
an usurper if he nevertheless continues to retain his power. Not 
that every government ought to dissolve itself, or any governor 
to abdicate his office, because there is a general but temporary 
clamour against it. This is one thing— the steady deliberate 
judgment of the people is another. Is it too much to hope 
that the time may come when governments will so habitually 
refer to the purposes of government, and be regulated by them, 
that they will not even unsh to hold the reins longer than the 
people desire it ; and that nothing more will be needed for a 
quiet alteration than that the public judgment should be quietly 

expressed ? 

Political revolutions are not often favourable to the accurate 
illustration of political truth ; because, such is the moral con- 
dition of mankind, that they have seldom acted in conformity 
with it. Revolutions have commonly been the effect of the 
triumph of a party, or of the successes of physical power. Yet, 
if the illustration of these principles has not been accurate, the 
general position of the right of the people to select their own 
rulers has often been illustrated. In our own country, when 
James II. left the throne, the people filled it with another 
person, whose real title consisted in the choice of the people. 
James continued to talk of his rights to the crown ; but if 
William was preferred by the public, James was, what his son 
was afterwards called, a Pretender. The nonjurors appear to 

Chap, 1. 



have acted upon erroneous principles, (except indeed on the 
score of former oaths to James ; which, however, ought never 
to have been taken.) If we acquit them of motives of party, 
they will appear to have entertained some notions of the rights 
of governors independently of the wishes of the people. At 
William's death, the nation preferred James's daughter to his 
son j thus again elevating their judgments above all considera- 
tions of what the Pretender called his rights. Anne had then 
a right to the throne, and her brother had not. At the death of 
Anne, or rather in contemplation of her death, the public had 
again to select their governor; and they chose, not the im- 
mediate representative of the old family, but the Elector of 
Hanover ; and it is in virtue of the same choice, tacitly expressed 
at the present hour, that the heir of the Elector now fills the 


[The habitual consciousness on the part of a legislature, that 
its authority is possessed in order to make it an efficient guardian 
and promoter of the general welfare and the general satisfaction, 
would induce a more mild and conciliating system of internal 
policy than that which frequently obtains. Whether it has arisen 
from habit resulting from the violent and imperious character 
of international policy, or from that tendency to imkindness and 
overbearing which the consciousness of power induces, it cannot 
be doubted that measures of government are frequently adopted 
and conducted with such a high hand as impairs the satisfaction 
of the governed, and diminishes, by example, that considerate 
attention to the claims of others, upon which much of the 
harmony, and therefore the happiness, of society consists. 
Governments are too much afraid of conciliation. They too 
habitually suppose that mildness or concession indicates want of 
courage or want of power— that it invites unreasonable demands, 
and encourages encroachment and violence on the part of the 
governed. Man is not so intractable a being, or so insensible of 
the influence of candour and justice. In private life, he does 
not the most easily guide the conduct of his neighbours, who 
assumes an imperious, but he who assumes a temperate and mild 
demeanour. The best mode of governing, and the most power- 
ful mode too, is to recommend state measures to the judgment 
and the affections of a people. If this had been sufficiently done 
in periods of tranquillity, some of those conflicts which have arisen 


between governments and the people had doubtless been pre- 
vented j and governments had been spared the mortification of 
conceding that to violence which they refused to concede in 
periods of quiet. We should not wait for times of agitation to 
do that which Fox ad\dsed even at such a time, because at other 
periods it may be done with greater advantage, and with a better 
grace. " It may be asked/' says Fox, '' what I would propose 
to do in times of agitation like the present ? I will answer openly : 

If there is a tendency in the Dissenters to discontent, what 

should I do ? I would instantly repeal the corporation and test 
acts, and take from them thereby all cause of complaint. If 
there were any persons tinctured with a republican spirit, I would 
endeavour to amend the representation of the Commons, and to 
prove that the House of Commons, though not chosen by all, 
should have no other interest than to prove itself the represen- 
tative of all. If men were dissatisfied on account of disabilities 
or exemptions, &c., I would repeal the penal statutes, which are 
a disgrace to our law-books. If there were other complaints of 
grievance, I would redress them where they were really proved ; 
but, above all, I would constantly, cheerfully, patiently listen ; I 
would make it knowTi, that if any man felt, or thought he felt, a 
grievance, he might come freely to the bar of this House and 
bring his proofs. And it should be made manifest to all the 
world that where they did exist they should be redressed ; where 
not, it should be made manifest."^ 

We need not consider the particular examples and measuies 
which the statesman instanced. The temper and spirit is the 
thing. A government should do that of which every person 
would see the propriety in a private man ; if misconduct was 
charged upon him, show that the charge was unfounded ; or, 
being substantiated, amend his conduct.] 




"political power is rightly exercised only when it 
subserves the welfare of the community.^' 

This proposition is consequent of the truth of the last. The 
community which has the right to withhold power, delegates it, 
• FeU's Memoirs of the Public Life of C. J. Fox. 

of course, for its own advantage. If in any case its advantage 
is not consulted, then the object for which it was delegated is 
frustrated ; or, in simple words, the measure which does not pro- 
mote the public welfare is not right. It matters nothing whether 
the community have delegated specifically so much power for 
such and such purposes ; the power, being possessed, entails the 
obligation. Whether a sovereign derives absolute authority by 
inheritance, or whether a president is intrusted with limited 
authority for a year, the principles of their duty are the same. 
.The obligation to employ it only for the public good, is just as 
real and just as great in one case as in the other. The Russian 
and the Turk have the same right to require that the power of 
their rulers shall be so employed as the Englishman or American. 
They may not be able to assert this right, but that does not 
afi'ect its existence nor the ruler's duty, nor his responsibility to 
that Almighty Being before whom he must give an account of 
his stewardship. These reasonings, if they needed confirmation, 
derive it from the fact that the Deity imperatively requires us, 
according to our opportunities, to do good to man. 

But, how ready soever men are to admit the truth of this pro- 
position, as a proposition, it is very commonly disregarded in 
practice : and a vast variety of motives and objects direct the 
conduct of governments which have no connection with the 
public weal. Some pretensions of consulting the public weal 
are, indeed, usual. It is not to be supposed that when public 
officers are pursuing their own schemes and interests, they wiU 
tell the people that they disregard theirs. When we look over 
the history of a christian nation, it is found that a large propor- 
tion of these measures which are most prominent in it, had little 
tendency to subserve, and did not subserve the public good. In 
practice it is very often forgotten for what purpose governments 
are instituted. If a man were to look over twenty treaties, he 
would probably find that a half of them had very little to do 
with the welfare of the respective communities. He might find 
a great deal about Charles's rights, and Frederick's honour, and 
Louis's possessions, and Francis's interests, as if the proper sub- 
jects of international arrangements were those which respected 
rulers rather than communities. If a man looks over the state 
papers which inform him of the origin of a war, he wiU probably 
find that they agitate questions about Most Christian and Most 


CatlioHc Kings, and High Mightinesses, and Imperial Majesties 
— questions, however, in which Frenchmen, and Spaniards, and 
Dutch, and Austrians, are very little interested or concerned, or 
at any rate much less interested than they are in avoiding the 


Governments commonly trouble themselves unnecessarily and 
too much with the politics of other nations. A prince should 
turn his back towards other countries and his face * towards his 
o^ni— just as the proper place of a landholder is upon his own 
estates and not upon his neighbour's. If governments were wise, 
it would ere long be found that a great portion of the endless 
and wearisome succession of treaties, and remonstrances, and 
embassies, and alliances, and memorials, and subsidies, might be 
dispensed with, with so little inconvenience and so much benefit, 
that the world would wonder to think to what futile ends they 
had been busying, and how needlessly they had been injuring 


No doubt, the immoral and irrational system of international 
politics, which generally obtains, makes the path of one govern- 
ment more difficult than it would otherwise be ; and yet it is 
probable that the most efficacious way of inducing another 
government to attend to its proper business, would be to attend to 
our own. It is not sufficiently considered, nor indeed is it suffi- 
ciently known, how powerful is the influence of uprightness and 
candour in conciliating the good opinion and the good offices of 
other men. Overreaching and chicanery in one person, induce 
overreaching and chicanery in another. Men distrust those 
whom they perceive to be unworthy of confidence. Real inte- 
grity is not without its voucher in the hearts of others ; and they 
who maintain it are treated with confidence, because it is seen 
that confidence can be safely reposed. Besides, he who busies 
himself with the politics of foreign countries, like the busy bodies 
in a petty community, does not fail to off'end. In the last cen- 
tury, our own country was so much of a busy body, and had 
involved itself in such a multitude of treaties and alliances, that 
it was found, I believe, quite impossible to fulfil one, without 
by that very act violating another. This, of course, would off'end. 
In private life, that man passes through the world with the least 
annoyance and the greatest satisfaction, who confines his atten- 
tion to its proper business, that is, generally, to his own : and who 

Chap. 1. 



can tell why the experience of nations should in this case be dif- 
ferent from that of private men ? In a rectified state of inter- 
national aff'airs, half a dozen princes on a continent would have 
little more occasion to meddle with one another than half a 
dozen neighbours in a street. 

But indeed. Communities frequently contribute to their own 
injury. If governors are ambitious, or resentful, or proud, so, 
often, are the people ; — and the public good has often been 
sacrificed by the public, with astonishing preposterousness, to 
jealousy or vexation. Some merchants are angry at the loss of 
a branch of trade ; they urge the government to interfere ; 
memorials and remonstrances follow to the state of whom they 
complain ; and so by that process of exasperation which is quite 
natural when people think that high language and a high atti- 
tude is politic, the nations soon begin to fight. The merchants 
applaud the spirit of their rulers, while in one year they lose 
more by the war than they would have lost by the want of the 
trade for twenty ; and before peace returns, the nation has lost 
more than it would have lost by the continuance of the evil for 
twenty centuries. Peace at length arrives, and the government 
begins to devise means of repairing the mischiefs of the war. 
Both government and people reflect very complacently on the 
wisdom of their measures — forgetting that their conduct is only 
that of a man who wantonly fractures his own leg vrith a club, 
and then boasts to his neighbours how dexterously he limps to 
a surgeon. 

Present expedients for present occasions, rather than a wide- 
embracing and far-seeing policy, is the great characteristic of 
European politics. We are hucksters who cannot resist the 
temptation of a present sixpence, rather than merchants who 
wait for their profits for the return of a fleet. Si quseris 
monumentum, circumspice ! Look at the condition of either 
of the continental nations, and consider what it might have 
been if even a short line of princes had attended to their proper 
business — had directed their solicitude to the improvement of 
the moral, and social, and political condition of the people. Who 
has been more successful in this huckster policy than France ? 
and what is France, and what are the French people at the 
present hour ? — Why, as it respects real welfare, they are not 
merely surpassed, they are left at an immeasurable distance by 


a people who sprung up but as yesterday— by a people whose 
land, within the memory of our grandfathers, was almost a 
wilderness— and which actually was a wilderness long since 
France boasted of her greatness. Such results have a cause. 
It is not possible that systems of policy can be good, of which 
the effects are so bad. I speak not of particular measures, or of 
individual acts of ill policy— these are not likely to be the 
result of the condition of man— but of the whole international 
system'; a system of irritability, and haughtiness, and temporary 
expedients ; a system of most unphilosophical principles, and 
from which Christianity is practically almost excluded. Here 
is the evidence of fact before us. We know what a sickening 
detail the history of Europe is ; and it is obvious to remark, 
that the system which has given rise to such a history must 
be vicious and mistaken in its fundamental principles. The 
same class of history will continue to after generations unless 
these principles are changed— unless philosophy and Chris- 
tianity obtain a greater influence in the practice of government ; 
unless, in a word, governments are content to do their proper 
business, and so leave that which is not their business undone. 

When such principles are acted upon, we may reasonably 
expect a rapid advancement in the whole condition of the world. 
Domestic measures which are now postponed to the more 
stirring occupations of legislators, will be found to be of 
incomparably greater importance than they. A wise code of 
criminal law, will be found to be of more consequence and 
interest than the acquisition of a million square miles of terri- 
tory : — a judicious encouragement of general education, will be 
of more value than all the " glorj^'' that has been acquired from 
the days of Alfred till now. Of moral legislation, however, it 
will be our after business to speak ; meanwhile the lover of 
mankind has some reason for gratulation, in perceiving indica- 
tions that governments will hereafter direct their attention more 
to the objects for which they are invested with power. The 
statesman who promotes this improvement will be what many 
statesmen have been called — a great man. That government 
only is great which promotes the prosperity of its own people ; 
and that people only are prosperous, who are wise and happy. 

Chap. 1. 



"political power is rightly exercised only when it 




It has been said by a christian writer, that " the science of 
politics is but a particular application of that of morals ;" and 
it has been said by a writer who rejected Christianity, that "the 
morality that ought to govern the conduct of individuals and of 
nations, is in all cases the same.'' If there be truth in the 
principles which are advanced in the first of these Essays, these 
propositions are indisputably true. It is the chief purpose of 
the present work to enforce the supremacy of the Moral Law ; 
and to this supremacy there is no exception in the case of nations. 
In the conduct of nations this supremacy is practically denied, 
although, perhaps, few of those who make it subservient to other 
purposes would deny it in terms. With their lips they honour 
the doctrine, but in their works they deny it. Such procedures 
must be expected to produce much self-contradiction, much 
vacillation between the truth and the wish to disregard it, much 
vagueness of notions respecting political rectitude, and much 
casuistry to educe something like a justification of what cannot 
be justified. Let the reader observe ah illustration :— A moral 
philosopher says, " The christian principles'of love, and forbear- 
ance, and kindness, strictly as they are to be obser^^ed between 
man and man, are to be observed with precisely the same strict- 
ness between nation and nation:' This is an unqualified assertion 
of the truth. But the writer thinks it would carry him too far, 
and so he makes exceptions. "In reducing to practice the 
christian principles of forbearance, &c., it will not be always 
feasible, nor always safe, to proceed to the same extent as in 
acting towards an individual.'' Let the reader exercise his skHl 
in casuistry, by showing the difference between conforming to 
laws with " precise strictness," and conforming to them in their 
"full extent."— Thus far Christianity and Expediency are pro- 
posed as om joint governors.— We must observe the Moral Law, 
but still we must regulate our observance of it by considerations 
of what is feasible and safe. Presently afterwards, however, 
Christianity is quite dethroned, and we are to observe its laws 
only ''so far as national abUity and national security will permit." i 

» Gisbome's Moral PhUosophy. 




So that our rule of political conduct stands at length thus: obey 

Christianity with precise strictness— when it suits your interests. 
The reasoning by which such doctrines are supported, is such 
as it might be expected to be. We are told of the "caution 
requisite in affairs of such magnitude— the great uncertainty of 
the future conduct of the other nation/'— and of " patriotism."— 
So that, because the affairs are of great magnitude, the laws of 
the Deity are not to be observed ! It is aU very well, it seems, 
to observe them in little matters, but for our more important 
concerns we want rules commensurate with their dignity— we 
cannot then be bound by the laws of God ! The next reason is, 
that we cannot foresee "the future conduct" of a nation.— 
Neither can we that of an indi\^dual. Besides this, inability to 
foresee inculcates the very lesson that we ought to observe the 
laws of Him who can foresee. It is a strange thing to urge the 
limitation of our powers of judgment, as a reason for substituting 
it for the judgment of Him whose powers are perfect. Then 
" patriotism " is a reason : and we are to be patriotic to our 
country at the expense of treason to our religion ! 

The principles upon which these reasonings are founded, lead 
to their legitimate results : " In war and negotiation,'' says Adam 
Smith, "the laws of justice are very seldom observed. Truth 
and fair dealing are almost totally disregarded. Treaties are 
violated, and the violation, if some advantage is gained by it, 
sheds scarce any dishonour upon the violator. The ambassador 
who dupes the minister of a foreign nation, is admired and 
applauded. The just man, the man who in all private trans- 
actions would be the most beloved and the most esteemed, in 
those public transactions is regarded as a fool and an idiot, who 
does not understand his business; and he incurs always the 
contempt, and sometimes even the detestation, of his fellow 

citizens." ' 

Now, against all such principles— against all endeavours to 
defend the rejection of the Moral Law in political affairs, we 
would with all emphasis protest. The reader sees that it is 

absurd : can he need to be convinced that it is unchristian ? 

Christianity is of paramount authority, or another authority is 
superior. He who holds another authority as superior, rejects 
Christianity ; and the fair and candid step would be avowedly to 
reject it. He should say, in distinct terms— Christianity throws 

» Theory of Moral Sentiments. 


some light on political principles ; but its laws are to be held 
subservient to our interests. This were far more satisfactory 
than the trimming system, the perpetual vacillation of obedience 
to two masters, and the perpetual endeavour to do that which 
never can be done— serve both. 

Jesus Christ legislated for man— not for individuals only, not 
for families only, not for christian churches only, but for man in 
all his relationships and in all his circumstances. He legislated 
for states. In his moral law we discover no indications that states 
were exempted from its application, or that any rule which bound 
social did not bind political communities. If any exemption 
were designed, the onus probandi rests upon those who assert 
it : unless they can show that the christian precepts are not 
intended to apply to nations, the conclusion must be admitted 
that they are. But in reality, to except nations from the obliga- 
tions is impossible ; for nations are composed of individuals, and 
if no individual may reject the christian morality, a nation may 
not. Unless, indeed, it can be shown that when you are an 
agent for others you may do what neither yourself nor any of 
them might do separately— a proposition of which certainly the 
proof must be required to be very clear and strong. 

But the truth is that those who justify a suspension of chris- 
tian morality in political affairs, are often unwilling to reason 
distinctly and candidly upon the subject. They satisfy them- 
selves with a jest, or a sneer, or a shrug ; being unwilling either 
to contemn morality in politics, or to practise it : and it is to little 
purpose to offer arguments to him who does not need conviction, 

but virtue. 

Expediency is the rock upon which we split — upon which, 
strange as it appears, not only our principles but our interests 
suffer continual shipwreck. It has been upon Expediency that 
European politics have so long been founded, with such lament- 
ably inexpedient effects. We consult our interests so anxiously 
that we ruin them. But we consult them blindly : we do not 
know our interests, nor shall we ever know them whilst we con- 
tinue to imagine that we know them better than He who legis- 
lated for the world. Here is the perpetual folly as well as the 
perpetual crime. Esteeming ourselves wise, we have, emphati- 
cally, been fools— of which no other evidence is necessary than 
the present political condition of the christian world. If eter it 



Essay 3. 

was true of any human being, that by his deviations from rectitude 
he had provided scourges for lumself, it is true at this hour of 

every nation in Europe. 

Let us attend to this declaration of a man who, whatever may 
have been the value of his general politics, was certainly a great 
statesman here : " I am one of those who firmly believe, as much 
indeed as a man can believe any thing, that the greatest resource 
a nation can possess, the surest principle of power, is strict atten- 
tion to the principles of justice. I firmly believe that the com- 
mon proverb of honesty being the best policy, is as applicable to 
nations as to individuals." -" In all interference with foreign 
nations justice is the best foundation of policy, and moderation 
is the surest pledge of peace."-" If therefore we have been 
deficient in justice towards other states, we have been deficient 

in wisdom/'^ , ^ x j 

Here, then, is the great truth for which we would contend- 
to be unjust is to be unwise. And ^\nce justice is not imposed 
upon nations more really than other branches of the Moral Law 
the universal maxim is equally true-/o devxate from jmnty of 
rectitude is impolitic as well as wrong. When will this truth be 
learnt and be acted upon ? When shall we cast away the con- 
trivances of a low and unworthy policy, and dare the venture of 
the consequences of virtue ? When shall we, in political affairs, 
exercise a little of that confidence in the knowledge and protec- 
tion of God, which we are ready to admire m ^dividual hfe .- 
Not that it is to be assumed as certain that such fidehty would 
cost nothing. Christianity makes no such promise. But what- 
ever it might cost it would be worth the purchase. And neither 
reason nor experience allows the doubt that a faithful adherence 
to the Moral Law would more efiectually serve national interests, 
than they have ever yet been served by the utmost sagacity 

whilst violating that law. 

The contrivances of expediency have become so habitual to 
measures of state, that it may probably be thought the dreamings 
of a visionary to suppose it possible that they should be substi- 
tuted by purity of rectitude. And yet I believe it will eventually 
be done— not perhaps by the resolution of a few cabinets— it is 
not from them that reformation is to be expected— but by the 
gradual advance of sound principles upon the minds of men ;— 

' Fell's Memoirs of the Public Life of C. J. Fox. 





principles which will assume more and more their rightful influ- 
ence in the world, until at length the low contrivances of a 
fluctuating and immoral policy will be substituted by firm, and 
consistent, and invariable integrity. 

The convention of what is called the Holy Alliance, was an 
extraordinary event ; and little as the contracting parties may 
have acted in conformity with it, and little as they or their people 
were prepared for such a change of principles, it is a subject of 
satisfaction that such a state paper exists. It contains a testi- 
mony at least to virtue and to rectitude ; and even if we should 
suppose it to be utterly hypocritical, the testimony is just as real. 
Hypocrisy commonly aflPects a character which it ought to main- 
tain : and the act of hypocrisy is homage to the character. In 
this view, I say, it is subject of some satisfaction that a document 
exists which declares that these powerful princes have come to a 
" fixed resolution, both in the administration of their respective 
states, and in their political relations with every other govern- 
ment, to take for their sole guide the precepts of the christian 
religion — the precepts of Justice, christian Charity, and Peace:'' 
and which declares that these principles, " far from being appli- 
cable only to private concerns, must have an immediate influence 
on the councils of princes, as being the only means of consoli- 
dating human institutions, and remedying their imperfections." 

The time, it may be hoped, will arrive when such a declaration 
will be the congenial and natural result of principles that are 
actually governing the christian world. Meantime, let the 
philosopher and the statesman keep that period in their view, 
and endeavour to accelerate its reproach. He who does this, 
will secure a fame for himself that will increase and still increase 
as the virtue of man holds its onward course, while multitudes 
of the great y both of past ages and of the present, will become 
beacons to warn, rather than examples to stimulate us. 

Y 2 



Of personal liberty we say nothing, because its full possession 
is incompatible with the existence of society. All government 
supposes the relinquishment of a portion of personal liberty. 

Civil Liberty may, however, be fully enjoyed. It is enjoyed 
where the principles of political truth and rectitude are applied 
in practice, because there the people are deprived of that portion 
only of libertv which it would be pernicious to themselves to 
possess. If political power is possessed by consent of the com- 
munity; if it is exercised only for their good ; and if this welfare 
is con;nlted by christian means, the people are free. No man 
can define the particular enjoyments or exemptions which con- 
stitute civil liberty, because they are contingent upon the 
circumstances of the respective nations. A degree of restraint 
may be necessary for the general welfare of one community 
which would be wholly unnecessary in another, /et *e hjst 
would have no reason to complain of their want of civil iberty 
The complaint, if any be made, should be of the evils which make 
the restraint necessary. The single question is wliether any 
given degree of restraint is necessary or not. If it is, thou li 

° ^ ". , , „;„f„i tlip civil hbertv of the community 

the restraint may be paintul, tlie civii iiuen^ ^ 

may be said to be complete. It is useless to ^^ t^^\f !^ ^^^^ 
complete than that of another nation ; for <=o^Pl«te civil liberty 
is aLative and not a positive enjoyment. We^e >t o h rw,se, 
no people enjoy, or are likely for ages to enjoy, full cml hberty 
because none enjoy so much that they could not, in a more vi - 
tuous state of mankind, enjoy more. " It s not *!»« "go«r, bu 
the inexpediency of laws and acts of authority, which makes 
them tyrannical."^ 

1 Palcy : Mor. and Tol. Phil. p. 3, b. 6, c. n. 



Chap, 2. 



Civil liberty (so far as its present enjoyment goes) does not 
necessarily depend upon forms of government. All communities 
enjoy it who are properly governed. It may be enjoyed under an 
absolute monarch ; as we know it may not be enjoyed under a 
republic. Actual, existing liberty, depends upon the actual, 
existing administration. 

One great cause of diminutions of civil liberty is War; and 
if no other motive induced a people jealously to scrutinize the 
grounds of a war, this might be sufficient. The increased loss of 
personal freedom to a military man is manifest ; — and it is con- 
siderable to other men. The man who now pays twenty pounds 
a-year in taxes, would probably have paid but two if there had 
been no war during the past century. If he now gets a hundred 
and fifty pounds a-year by his exertions, he is obliged to labour 
six weeks out of the fifty -two, to pay the taxes which war has 
entailed. That is to say, he is compelled to work two hours every 
day longer than he himself wishes, or than is needful for his sup- 
port. This is a material deduction from personal liberty, and a 
man would feel it as such, if the coercion were directly applied — 
if an officer came to his house every afternoon at four o'clock, 
when he had finished his business, and obliged him, under 
penalty of a distraint, to work till six. It is some loss of liberty, 
again, to a man to be unable to open as many windows in his 
house as he pleases — or to be forbidden to acknowledge the 
receipt of a debt without going to the next town for a stamp — 
or to be obliged to ride in an uneasy carriage unless he will pay 
for springs. It were to no purpose to say he may pay for win- 
dows and springs if he will, and if he can. — A slave may, by the 
same reasoning, be shown to be free ; because, if he will and if 
he can, he may purchase his freedom. There is a loss of liberty 
in being obliged to submit to the alternative ; and we should feel 
it as a loss if such things were not habitual, and if we had not 
receded so considerably from the liberty of nature. A housewife 
on the Ohio would think it a strange invasion of her liberty, if 
she were told that henceforth the police would be sent to her 
house to seize her goods if she made any more soap to wash 
her clothes. 

NoWj indeed, that war has created a large public debt, it is 
necessary to the general good that its interest should be paid : 
and in this view a man's civil liberty is not encroached upon, 


though his personal liberty is diminished. The public welfare is 
consulted by the diminution. I may deplore the cause without 
complaining of the law. It may, upon emergency, be for the 
public good to suspend the Habeas Corpus Act. I should lament 
that such a state of things existed, bat I should not complain 
that civil liberty was invaded. The lesson which such con- 
siderations teach, is, jealous watchfulness against wars for the 

future. , . .| 

There are many other acts of governments by which civil 

liberty is needlessly curtailed- among whicli may be reckoned 
the number of laws. Every law implies restriction. To be des- 
titute of laws is to be absolutely free : to multiply laws is to 
multiply restrictions, or, which is the same thing, to dimmish 
liberty. A great number of penal statutes lately existed m this 
country, by which the reasonable proceedings of a prosecutor 
were cramped, and impeded, and thwarted. A statesman to 
whom England is much indebted, has supplied their place by one 
which is more rational and more simple ; and prosecutors now 
find that they are so much more able to consult their own under- 
standings in their proceedings, that it may, without extravagance, 
be said that our civil liberty is increased. 

" A law being found to produce no sensible good effects, is a 
sufiacient reason for repealing it.''^ It is not, therefore, sufficient 
to ask in reply, what harm does the law occasion ? for you must 
prove that it does good : because all laws which do no good, do 
harm. They encroach upon or restrain the liberty of the com- 
munity, without that reason which only can make the deduction 
of any portion of liberty right— the public good. If this rule 
were sufficiently attended to, perhaps more than a few of the 
laws of England would quickly be repealed. 

1 Paley ; Mor. and Pol. Phil. p. 3, b. 6, c. 5. 



This is, in strictness, a branch of civil liberty. Political 
liberty implies the existence of such political institutions as 
secure, with the greatest practicable certainty, the future posses- 
sion of freedom — the existence of which institutions is one of the 
requisites, in a general sense, of civil liberty ; because it is as 
necessary to proper government that securities for freedom 
should be framed, as that present freedom should be permitted. 

The possession of political liberty is of great importance. A 
Russian may enjoy as great a share of personal freedom as an 
Englishman ; that is, he may find as few restrictions upon the 
exercise of his own will ; but he has 9io security for the continu- 
ance of this. For aught that he knows, he may be arbitrarily 
thrown into prison to-morrow ; and therefore, though he may live 
and die without molestation, he is politically enslaved. When 
it is considered how much human happiness depends upon the 
security of enjoy inff happiness in future, such institutions as those 
of Russia are great grievances : and Englishmen, though they 
may regret the curtailment of some items of civil liberty, have 
much comparative reason to think themselves politically free. 

The possession of political liberty is unquestionably a right of 
a community. They may, with perfect reason, require it even 
of governments which actually govern well. It is not enough 
for a government to say, none but beneficial laws and acts of 
authority are adopted. It must, if it would fulfil the duties of 
a government, accumulate, to the utmost, securities for beneficial 
measures hereafter. In this view, it may be feared that no 
government in Europe fulfils all its duty to the people. 

And here considerations are suggested respecting the repre- 
sentation of a people— a point which, if some political writers 
were to be listened to, was a sine qua non of political liberty. 
*'To talk of an abstract right of equal representation is absurd. 
It is to arrogate a right, to one form of government, whereas 

' ■ ■■ »«!!" « 


Providence lias accommodated the different states of society in 
which they subsist/' ^ If an inhabitant of Birmingham should 
come and tell me that he and his neighbours were debarred of 
political liberty because they sent no representatives to parlia- 
ment, I should say that the justness of his complaint was proble- 
matical. It does not follow because a man is not represented, 
that he is not politically free. The question is, whether as good 
securities for liberty exist, without permitting him to vote, as 
with it. If it can be shown that the present legislative government 
affords as good a security for the future freedom of the people as 
any other that might be devised, the inhabitant of Birmingham 
enjoys, at present, political liberty. It is a very common mistake 
amongst writers to assume some paii:icular privilege or institution 
as a test of this liberty— as something without which it cannot 
be enjoyed — and yet I suppose there is no one of their institutions 
or privileges under which it would not be possible to enslave a 
people. Simple republicanism, universal suffrage, and frequent 
elections, might afford no better security for civil liberty than 
absolute monarchy. In fine, political liberty is not a matter 
that admits of certain conclusions from theoretical reasoning j it 
is a question of facts ; a question to be decided, like questions of 
philosophy, by reasoning founded upon experience. If the inha- 
bitant of Birmingham can show from relevant experience, good 
ground to conclude that greater security for liberty would be de- 
rived from extending the representation, he has reason to com- 
plain of an undue privation of political liberty if it is not extended. 
But, then, it is always incumbent upon the legislature to prove 
the probable superiority of the existing institutions when any 
considerable portion of the people desire an alteration. That 
desire constitutes a claim to investigation ; and to an alteration, 
too, unless the existing institutions appear to be superior to 
those which are desired. It is not enough to show that they are 
as good; for though in other respects the two plans were equally 
balanced, the present are not so good as the others if they give 
less satisfaction to the community. To be satisfied is one great 
ingredient in the welfare of a people ; and in whatever degree 
a people are not satisfied, in the same degree civil government 
does not perfectly effect its proper ends. To deny satisfaction 
to a people without showing a reason, is to withhold from them 
the due portion of civil liberty. 

' William Pitt : Gifford's lafe, vol. 3. 



The magistrate may advert to subjects connected with religion 
SO far as the public good requires and as Christianity permits ; or, 
upon these, as upon other subjects, he may endeavour to promote 
the welfare of the people by christian means. What the public 
welfare does require, and what means for promoting it are chris- 
tian, are separate considerations. 

Upon which grounds, those advocates of religious liberty ap- 
pear to assert too much, who assert, as a fundamental principle, 
that a government never has, nor can have, any just concern, 
with religious opinions. Unless these persons can show that no 
advertence to them is allowed by Christianity, and that none 
can contribute to the public good, circumstances may arise in 
which an advertence would be right. No one, perhaps, will 
deny that a government may lawfully provide for the education 
of the people, and endeavour to diffuse just notions and principles, 
luoral and religious, into the public mind. A government, there- 
fore, may endeavour to discountenance unsound notions and 
principles. It may as reasonably discourage what is wrong, as 
cherish what is right. 

But by what means ? By influencing opinions, not by punish- 
ing persons who hold them. When a man publishes a book or 
delivers a lecture for the purpose of enlightening the public 
mind, he does well. A government may take kindred measures 
for the same purpose, and it does well. But this is all. If our 
author or lecturer, finding his opinions were not accepted, should 
proceed to injure those who rejected them, he would act, not only 
irrationally but immorally. If a government, finding its mea- 
sures do not influence or alter the views of the people, injures 
those who reject its sentiments, it acts immorally too. A man's 
opinions are not alterable at his own will ; and it is not right to 
injure a man for doing that which he cannot avoid. Besides, in 



Essay 3. 

religious matters especially, it is tlie christian duty of a man, 
first, to seek truth ; and next, to adhere to those opinions which 
truth, as he believes, teaches.— And so again it is not right to 
injure a man for doing that which it is his duty to do. When, 
therefore, it is affirmed at the head of this chapter, that the 
magistrate may advert to subjects connected with religion, 
nothin"" more is to be understood than that he may endeavour to 
diffuse just sentiments, and to expose the contrary. To do more 
than this, although he may think his measures may promote the 
public welfare, would be to endeavour to promote it " by means 
which the Moral Law forbids." 

To inflict civil disabilities is " to do more than this ''—it is '' to 
injure a man for doing that which he cannot avoid,'' and " that 
which it is his duty to do.'^ Here, indeed, a sophism has been 
resorted to, in order to show that disabilities are not injuries. It 
is said of the dissenters of this country, that no penalty is in- 
flicted upon them by excluding them from offices —that the state 
confers certain offices upon certain conditions, with which con- 
ditions a dissenter does not comply. And it is said that this is 
no more a penalty or a hardship than, when the law defines what 
pecuniary qualifications capacitate a man for a seat in Parlia- 
ment, it inflicts a penalty upon those who do not possess them. 
I answer. Both are penalties and hardships — and tliat the argu- 
ment only attempts to justify one ill practice by the existence 
of another. It will be said that such regulations are necessary 
to the public good.— Bring the proof. Here is a certain restraint : 
The proof of the advantage of a restraint," says Dr. Paley, 
lies upon the legislature." Unless, therefore, you can show — 
what to me is extremely problematical — that the public is bene- 
fited by a law that excludes a poor man from the legislature — 
the argument wholly fails. Consider for what purpose men unite 
in society — "in order," says Grotius, " to enjoy common rights 
and advantages" — of which rights and advantages, eligibility to a 
representative body is one. Those principles of political rectitude 
which determine that a law which needlessly restrains natural 
liberty is wrong, determine that a law which needlessly restrains 
the enjoyment of the privileges of society, is wrong also. It is 
therefore not true that a dissenter suffers no hardship or penalty 
on account of his opinions. The only difference between dis- 
abilities and ordinary penalities is this, that one inflicts evil, and 





the other withholds good; and both are, to all intents and 
purposes, penalties. 

But even if the legislator thought he could show that the 
public were benefited by this penalty, upon conscientious dis- 
sidents, it would not be sufficient — for the penalty itself is wrong 
— it is not christian ; and it is vain to argue that an unchristian 
act can be made lawful by prospects of advantage. Here, as 
every where else, we must maintain the supremacy of the 
Moral Law. 

All these reasonings proceed upon the supposition that a man 
does not, in consequence of his opinions, disturb the peace of 
society by any species of violence. If he does, he is doubtless to 
be restrained. It may not be more necessary for the magistrate 
to enquire what are a man's opinions of religion, than for a rider 
to enquire what are the cogitations of his horse. So long as my 
horse carries me well, it matters nothing to me whether he be 
thinking of safe paces, or of meadows and corn chests. So long 
as the welfare of the public is secured, it matters nothing to the 
ma^-istrate what notion of Christianity a citizen accepts. But if 
my horse, in his anxiety to get into a meadow, leaps over a hedge, 
and impedes me in my journey, it is needful that I employ the 
whip and bridle : and if the citizen, in his zeal for opinions, 
violates the general good, it is needful that he should be punished 
or restrained. And even then, he is not restrained for his 
opinions but for his conduct ; just as I do not apply the whip to 
my horse because he loves a meadow, but because he goes out of 

the road. 

And even in the case of conduct, it is needful to discriminate, 
accurately, what is a proper subject of animadversion, and what 
is not. I perceive no truth in the ingenious argument, " that a 
man may entertain opinions however pernicious, but he may not 
be allowed to disseminate them ; as a man may keep poison in 
his house, but may not be allowed to give it to others as whole- 
some medicine." To support this argument you must have 
recourse to Vipetitio principii. How do you know that an opinion 
is pernicious ? By reasoning and examination, if at all ; and that 
is the very end which the dissemination of an opinion attains. 
If the truth or falsehood of an opinion were demonstrable to the 
senses, as the mischief of poison is, there would be some justness 
in the argument ; but it is not : except, indeed, that there may 






be opinions so monstrous, that tliey immediately manifest their 
unsoundness by their effects on tlie conduct ; and, if they do 
this, these effects and not the dissemination of the opinion, are 
the proper subject of animadversion. The doctrine, that a man 
ought not to be punished for disseminating whatever opinions he 
pleases, upon whatever subject, will receive some illustration in 
a future chapter. Meantime, the reader will, I hope, be prepared 
to admit, at least, that the religious opinions which obtain 
amongst christian churches, are not such as to warrant the 
magistrate in visiting those who disseminate them with any kind 
of penalty. — ^What the magistrate may punish, and what an in- 
dividual ought to do, are very different considerations : and 
though there is reason to think that no man should be punished 
by human laws for disseminating vicious notions, it is to be 
believed that those who consciously do it will be held far other 
than innocent at the bar of God. 

All reference to creeds in framing laws for a general society is 
wrong. And it is somewhat humiliating that, in the present age, 
and in our country, it is necessary to establish this proposition 
by formal proof. It is humiliating, because it shows us how slow 
is the progress of sound principles upon the human mind, even 
when they are not only recommended by reason, but enforced by 
experience. It is now nearly a century and a half since one of 
our own colonics adopted a system of religious liberty, which far 
surpassed that of the parent state at the present hour. And this 
system was successful, not negatively, in that it produced no evil, 
but positively, in that it produced much good. One hundred 
and fifty years is a long time for a nation to be learning a short 
and plain lesson. In Pennsylvania, in addition to a complete 
toleration of '^ Jews, Turks, Catholics, and people of all persua- 
sions in religion,'^^ there was no disability or test exacted of any 
professor of the christian faith. " All persons,'' says Burke, 
" who profess to believe in one God, are freely tolerated. Those 
who believe in Jesus Christ, of whatever denomination, are not 
excluded from employments and posts.'*- The wisdom or justice 
of excluding those who were not christians from employments 
and posts may be doubted. Penn, however, did much ; and far 
outstripped in enlightened institutions the general example of 
the world. If he had lived in the present day, it is not impro- 

* Claikson's life of Peiin. - Account of the European Settlements in Anieiica. 

bable that a mind like his would have seen no better reason for 
excluding those who disbelieved Christianity, than those who 
believed it imperfectly or by parts. The consequences, we say, 
were happy. Burke says again of Penn, " He made the most 
perfect freedom, both religious and civil, the basis of his esta- 
blishment ; and this has done more towards the settling of the 
province, and towards the settling of it in a strong and perma- 
nent manner, than the wisest regulations could have done on any 
other plan.''^— '' By the favourable terms,'' says Morse, '' which 
Mr. Penn offered to settlers, and an unlimited toleration of all 
religious denominations, the population of the province was 
extremely rapid.'" And yet England is, at this present hour, 
doubting and disputing whether tests are right ! 

Nor is example wanted at the present day—" In America the 
question is not. What is his creed ? but. What is his conduct ? 
Jews have all the privileges of christians — No religious test is 
required to qualify for public office ; except, in some cases, a 
mere verbal assent to the truth of the christian religion. While 
I was in New York," adds Duncan, " the sheriff of the city was 
a Jew." ^— It is in vain to make any objection to the argument 
which these facts urge, unless we can show^ that the effect is not 
good. And where is the man who will even affect to do this ? 
But if it should be said that what is wise and expedient with 
such national institutions as those of America, would be unwise 
and inexpedient with such institutions as those of England or 
Spain, it will become a most grave enquiry, whether the fault 
does not lie with the institutions that are not adapted to religious 
liberty : — for religious liberty is assuredly adapted to man. 

Observe what absurdities this sacrifice of universal rectitude 
to particular institutions occasions. There may be ten nations 
on a continent, each of which selects a different creed for its 
preference, and excludes all others. The first excludes all but 
Catholics— the second all but Episcopalians — the third all but 
Unitarians— the fourth all but the Greek Church ; and so on 
with the rest. If it be right that Unitarians should be intrusted 
with power on one side of a river, can it be right that they shall 
not be intrusted with it on the other ? Or, if such au absurdity 

1 Account of the European Settlements in America. 

'^American Geography. See also Anderson's Deduction of the Origm of 


' Duncan's Travels in America. 



be really conducive to the support of the incongruous institutions 
of the several states, is it not an evidence that those institutions 
need to be amended ? And are not the principles of perfect 
religious liberty, nevertheless, sound and true ? 

Englishmen have not to complain of a want of Toleration. 
But toleration is a word which ought scarcely to be heard out of 
a christian's mouth. I tolerate the religion of my brother ! I 
mi^^ht as well say I tolerate the continuance of his head upon 
his shoulders. I have no more right to hold his creed at my 
disposal, or his person in consequence of his creed, than his head. 
The idea of toleration is a relic of the effects of the papal usurpa- 
tion. That usurpation did not tolerate : and Protestants thought 
it was a great thing for them to do what the papacy had thus 
refused. And so it was. It was a great thing /or thein. Very 
imperfectly, however, they did it ; and it was a great thing for 
Penn, who was brought up in a land of intolerant Protestants, 
to declare universal toleration for all within its borders. But — 
(and we may reverently say. Thanks be to God! )— we live in 
happier times. We have advanced from intolerance to toleration; 
and noAV it is time to advance from toleration to Religious Liberty ; 
to that religious liberty which excludes all reference to creeds 
from the civil institutions of a people. 

The reader will perhaps have observed, that Religious Liberty 
and Religious Establishments are incompatible things. An esta- 
blishment presupposes incomplete religious liberty. If an Esta- 
blishment be right. Religious Liberty is not ; and if Religious 
Liberty be right, an Establishment is not. Differently constituted 
religious establishments may, no doubt, impose greater or less 
restraint upon liberty ; but every idea of an establishment— of 
a church preferred by the state -imposes some restraint. It is 
the same with Tests. A test, of some kind, is necessary to a 
church thus preferred by the state ; for how else shall it be 
known who is a member of that church and who is not ? Religious 
Liberty is incompatible with Religious Tests ; for which reason 
again, all arguments by which this liberty is shown to be right, 
are so many proofs that religious tests are wrong. These con- 
siderations the reader will be pleased to bear in mind, when he 
considers the question of Religious Establishments. 

Chap 4. 



Tests" are snares for the conscience. If their terms are so 
loose that any man can take them with a safe conscience, they 
are not tests. If their terms are definite, they make many 
hypocrites. Men are induced to assent, or subscribe, or perform 
(whatever the requisitions of the test may be) against their con- 
sciences, in order to obtain the advantages which are contingent 
upon it. An attempt was once made in England to introduce 
an unexceptionable test, by which the party was to declare " that 
the books of the Old and New Testament contained, in his 
opinion, a revelation from God.^^ But whom did this exclude ? 
Perhaps Deists, Mahometans, Pagans, Jews. But, as a snare, 
the operation was serious ; for, simple as the test appears, it was 
liable to great uncertainty of meaning. Did it mean that all 
the books contained a revelation ? Then some think that all 
the books are not authentic. Did it mean that there was a 
revelation in some of the books of the Bible ? Then Jews, 
Mahometans, Pagans, and some Deists might, for aught that I 
know, conscientiously take it. No unexceptionable test is pos- 
sible. There are, to be sure, gradations of impropriety ; and in 
England we have not always resorted to the least objectionable. 
It was well observed by Charles James Fox, that " the idea of 
making a religious rite the qualification for holding a civil em- 
ployment is more than absurd, and deserves to be considered as 
a profanation of a sacred institution.'* 

A few, and only a few, sentences, will be allowed to the writer 
upon the great, the very great question, of extending religious 
liberty to the Catholics of these kingdoms. I call it a very great 
question, not because of the difficulty of deciding it, if sound 
principles are applied, but because of the magnitude of the 
interests that are involved, and of the consequences which may 
follow if those principles are not applied. The reader will easily 
perceive, from the preceding contents of this chapter, the 
writer's conviction, that full Religious Liberty ought to be 
extended to the Catholics, because it ought to be extended to all 
men. If a Catholic acts in opposition to the public welfare — 
diminish or take away his freedom ; if he only thinks amiss — let 
him enjoy his freedom undiminished. 

To this I know of but one objection that is worth noticing 



Essay 3. 

Chap. 4. 

here — that they are harmless only because they have not the 
power of doing mischief, and they wait only for the power to 
begin to do it. But they say, " This is not the case — we have 
no such intentions/' Now, in all reason, you must believe them, 
or show that they are unworthy of belief. If you believe them. 
Religious Liberty follows of course. Can you then show that 
they are unworthy of belief? Where is yovir evidence ? 

You say, their allegiance is divided between the king and a 
foreign power. They reply, " It is not :" " We hold ourselves 
bound in conscience, to obey the cinl government in all things 
of a temporal and civil nature, notwithstanding any dispensation 
to the contrary from the Pope or Church of Rome." 

You say, their declarations and oaths do not bind them, 
because they hold that they can be dispensed from the obligation 
of all oaths by the Pope. — ^They reply, " fVe do not :" " We 
hold that the obligation of an oath is most sacred ; that no power 
whatsoever can dispense with any oath, by which a Catholic has 
confirmed his duty of allegiance to his sovereign, or any obliga- 
tion of duty to a third person." 

You say, they hold that faith is not to be kept with heretics. — 
They reply, " We do not.'' " British Catliolics," say they, '^ have 
solemnly sworn that they reject and detest that unchristian and 
impious principle, that faith is not to be kept with heretics or 
infidels." These declarations are taken from a " Declaration of 
the Catholic Bishops, the Vicars Apostolic, their coadjutors in 
Great Britain," 1825. They are signed by the Catholic Bishops 
of Great Britain, and are approved in an " address " signed by 
eight Catholic Peers and a large number of other persons of rank 
and character. 

Now I ask of those who contend for the Catholic disabilities, 
What proof do you bring that tliese men are trying to deceive 
you ? I can anticipate no answer, because I have heard none. 
Will you, then, content yourselves by saying. We will not believe 
them ? This would be at least the candid coiu^se, and the world 
might then perceive that our conduct was regulated not by 
reason, but by prejudice or the consciousness of power. ^^ It is 
unwarrantable to infer, a prtori, and contrary to the professions 
and declarations of the persons holding such opinions, that tlieir 
opinions would induce acts injurious to the common weal."^ 

» C. J. Fox : Gifford's Life of Pitt, yol. 2. 





But if nothing can be said to show that the Catholic declara- 
tions do not bind them, something can be said to show that they 
do. If declarations be indeed so little binding upon their con- 
sciences, how comes it to pass that they do not make those 
declarations which would remove their disabUities, get a dispen- 
aation from the Pope, and so enjoy both the privileges and an 
easy conscience ? Why, if their oaths and declarations did not 
bmd them, they would get rid of their disabiUties to-morrow > 
Nothing IS wanting but a few hypocritical declarations, and 
CathoLc Emancipation is effected. Why do they not make 
these declarations ? Became their words bind them. And vet 
(so ^oss IS the absurdity,) although it is their conscientiousness 
which keeps them out of office, we say they are to be kept out 
because they are not conscientious ! 

I forbear further enquiry : but I could not, with satisfaction, 
avoid applying what I conceive to be the sound principles of PoU- 
tical Rectitude to this great question; and let no man aUow his 
prejudices or his fears to prevent him from applying them to this 
as to every other political subject. Justice and Truth are not 
to be sacnficed to our weaknesses and apprehensions; and I 
beheve, that if the people and legislature of this country will 
adhere to justice and truth with regard to our Catholic brethren 
they will find, erelong, that they have only been delaying the 
welfare of the Empire. n y <= 

[> f 





Submission to Government is involved in the very idea of the 
institution. None can govern, if none submit : and hence is 
derived the duty of submission, so far as it is independent of 
Christianity. Government being necessary to the good of society, 
submission is necessary also, and therefore it is right. 

This duty is enforced with great distinctness by Christianity — 
" Be subject to principalities and powers. ^^ — '^Obey magistrates." 
— " Submit to every ordinance of man." — The great question, 
therefore, is, whether the duty be absolute and unconditional ; 
and if not, what are its limits, and how are they to be ascertained? 

The law of nature proposes few motives to obedience except 
those which are dictated by expediency. The object of insti- 
tuting government being the good of the governed, any means 
of attaining that object is, in the view of natiu*al reason, right. 
So that, if in any case a government does not effect its proper 
objects, it may not only be exchanged, but exchanged by any 
means which will tend on the whole to the public good. Resist- 
ance — arms — civil war — every act is, in the view of natural 
reason, lawful if it is useful. But although good government 
is the right of the people, it is, nevertheless, not sufficient to 
release a subject from the obligation of obedience, that a govern- 
ment adopts some measures which he thinks are not conducive 
to the general good. A wise pagan would not limit his obedience 
to those measures in which a government acted expediently; 
because it is often better for the community that some acts of 
misgovemment should be borne, than that the general system of 
obedience should be violated. It is, as a general rule, more 
necessary to the welfare of a people that governments should be 
regularly obeyed, than that each of their measures should be 
good and right. In practice, therefore, even considerations of 



UtiUtjr are sufficient, generaUy, to oblige us to submit to the 
Oivu power. 

When we turn from the law of nature to Christianity, we find 
as we are wont, that the moral cord is tightened, and that not 
every means of opposing governments for the public good is per 
nutted to us. The consideration of what modes of opposition 
Chnstiamty aJlows, and what it forbids, is of great interest and 

" Let every soul be subject unto the higher powers. For there 
^ no power but of God : the powers that be are ordained of God 
Whosoever, therefore, resisteth the power, resisteth the ordi- 
nance of God. For rulers are not a terror to good works, but 
to the evil. He is the minister of God to thee for good-a 
revenger, to execute wrath upon him that doeth evil. Wherefore 
ye must needs be subject, not only for wrath, but also for con- 
science' sake." i-Upon this often cited and often canvassed 
passage, three things are to be observed :— 

1. That it asserts the general duty of CivU obedience, because 
government IS an institution sanctioned by the Deity. 

2. That it asserts this duty under the supposition that the 
governor is a minister of God for good. 

3. That it gives but little other information respecting the 
extent of the duty of obedience. 

■ I. The obligation to obedience is not founded, therefore, simply 
upon expediency, but upon the more satisfactory and certain 
ground-the expressed will of God. And here the superiority 
of this motive over that of fear of the magistrate's power is 
manifest. We are to be subject, not only for wrath, but for 
conscience' sake— not only out of fear of man, but out of fidelity 
to God. This motive, where it operates, is likely, as was observed 
m the first Essay, to produce much more consistent and con- 
scientious obedience than that of expediency or fear. 

II. The duty is inculcated under the supposition that the 
governor is a minister for good. It is upon this supposition that 
the apostle proceeds : "/or rulers are not a terror to good works 
but to the evil ; " which is tantamount to saying, that if they be 
not a terror to evil works but to good, the duty of obedience is 
altered. " The power that is of God," says an inteUigent and 
chnstian writer, " leaves neither ruler nor subject to the liberty 

1 Kom. xiii. 1 to 5. 




of his own will, but limits both to the will of God ; so that the 
magistrate hath no power to command e\il to be done because 
he is a magistrate, and that the subject hath no liberty to do evil 
because a magistrate doth command W * When, therefore, 
the christian teacher says, " Let every soul be subject to the 
higher powers," he proposes not an absolute but a conditional 
rule — conditional upon the nature of the actions which the higher 
powers require. The expression, " there is no power but of God," 
does not invalidate this conclusion, because the Apostles them- 
selves did not yield unconditional obedience to the powers that 
were. Similar observations apply to the parallel passage in Ist 
Peter : " Submit yourselves to every ordinance of man for the 
Lord^s sake ; whether it be to the king as supreme, or unto 
governors as unto them that are sent by him, for the punishment 
of evil doers and for the praise of them that do well." The sup- 
position of the just exercise of power is still kept in view. 

III. The precepts give little other information than this re- 
specting the extent of the duty of obedience. " Whosoever 
resisteth the power, resisteth the ordinance of God," is, like the 
direction, ''to be subject," a conditional proposition. What 
precise meaning was here attached to the word "resisteth," 
cannot perhaps be known ; but there is reason to think that the 
meaning was not designed to be precise — that the proposition 
was general. " Magistrates are not to be resisted," without de- 
fining, or attempting to define, the limits of civil obedience. 

Upon the whole, this often agitated portion of the christian 
Scriptures does not appear to me to convey much information 
respecting the duties of civil obedience ; and although it expli- 
citly asserts the general duty of obedience to the magistrate, it 
does not inform us how far that duty extends, nor what are its 
limits. To say this, however, is a very different thing from 
saying, with Dr. Paley, that " As to the extent of our civil rights 
and obhgations, Christianity hath left us where she found us ; 
that she hath neither altered nor ascertained it ; that the New 
Testament contains not one passage, which, fairly interpreted, 
affords either argument or objection applicable to any conclusions 
upon the subject that are deduced from the law and religion of 
nature." 2 Although the 13th chapter to the Romans may con- 

» Crisp : "To the Rulers and Inhabitants in Holland, «cc." Abt. Ann. 1670. 
*Mor. and Pol. Phil. b. 6, c. 4. 





tain no such passage, yet I think it can be shown that the New 
Testament does. Indeed, it would be a strange thing if the 
christian Scriptures, containing as they do manifold precepts 
for the regulation of human conduct, manifold precepts, of which 
the application is very wide, not to say universal— it would, I 
say, be a strange thing if none of these precepts threw any light 
upon duties of such wide embrace as those of citizens in relation 
to governors. 

The error (assuming that there is an error) in the statement 
of Dr. Paley, results, probably, from the supposition, that 
because no passage specifically directed to civil obedience, con- 
tamed the rules in question, therefore no rules were to be found 
in the volume. This is an error of every day. There are num- 
berless questions of duty which Christianity decides, yet respect- 
ing which, specifically, not a word is to be found in the New 
Testament. These questions are decided by general principles 
which principles are distinctly laid down. These three words' 
" Love your enemies,^' are of greater practical application in the 
affairs of life, than twenty propositions which define exact duties 
m specific cases. It is for these exact definitions that men 
accustom themselves to seek ; and when they are not to be found, 
conclude that Christianity gives no directions upon the subject. ' 
Thus it has happened with the question of Civil Obedience. 
Now, in considering the general principles of Christianity, I 
think very satisfactory knowledge may be deduced respecting 
resistance to the civil power. Those precepts to forbearance, to 
gentleness, to love, to mildness, which are iterated as the essence 
of the christian morality, apply, surely, to the question of resist- 
ance. Surely there may be some degrees and kinds of resistance 
which, being incompatible with the observance of these prin- 
ciples Christianity distinctly forbids. If indeed the reader has 
given assent to our reasonings respecting self-defence, (especially 
if he shall give his assent to the reasonings on war,) he wiU 
readily admit that Christianity forbids an armed resistance to 
the civil power.. Let me be distinctly understood. It forbid 
this armed resistance, not in as much as it is directed to the civil 
power, but in as much as such violence to any power, is incom- 
patible with the purity of the christian character. 

Concluding, then, that specific rules respecting the extent of 
Cml Obedience are not to be found in Scripture, we are brought 


to the position, that we must ascertain this extent by the 
general duties which Christianity imposes upon mankind, and by 
the general principles of political Truth. In attempting, upon 
these grounds, to illustrate our civil duties, I am soHcitous to 
remark, that the individual christian who regarding himself as a 
joumeyer to a better country, thinks it best for him not to 
intermeddle in poHtical affairs, may rightly pursue a path of 
simpler submission and acquiescence than that which I believe 
Christianity aUows. Whatever may be the peculiar business 
of indi^dduals, the business of man is to act as the christian 
citizen— not merely to prepare himself for another world, but to 
do such good as he may, political as well as social, in the present. 
And yet so fundamentally, so utterly incongruous with christian 
rectitude, is the state of many branches of political affairs in the 
present day, that I know not whether he who is solicitous to 
adhere to this rectitude is not both wise and right in standing 
aloof. This consideration applies, especially, to circumstances in 
which the limits of Civil Obedience are brought into practical 
illustrations. The tumult and violence which ordinarily attend 
any approach to political revolutions are such, that the best and 
proper office of a good man may be rather that of a moderator 
of both parties than of a partisan with either.— Nevertheless, it 
is fit that the Obligations of Civil Obedience should be distinctly 

Referring, then, to political truth, it is to be remembered that 
governors are established, not for their own advantage, but for 
the people's. If they so far disregard this object of their esta- 
blishment, as greatly to sacrifice the public welfare, the people 
(and consequently individuals) may rightly consider whether a 
change of governors is not dictated by utility ; and if it is, they 
may rightly endeavour to effect such a change by recommending 
it to the public, and by transferring their obedience to those who, 
there is reason to believe, will better execute the offices for which 
government is instituted. I perceive nothing unchristian in this. 
A man who lived in 1688, and was convinced that it was for the 
general good that William should be placed on the throne instead 
of James, was at liberty to promote, by all christian means, the 
accession of William, and consequently to withdraw his own, and 
to recommend others to withdraw their obedience, from James. 
The support of the Bill of Exclusion in Charles the Second's 



reign, was nearly alHed to a withdrawing of civil obedience. 
The christian of that day who was persuaded that the biU would 
tend to the public welfare, was right in supporting it, and he 
would have been equally right in continuing his support if Charles 
had suddenly died, and his brother had suddenly stepped into the 
throne. If I had lived in America fifty years ago, and had thought 
the disobedience of the colonies wrong, and that the whole empire 
would be injured by their separation from England, I should have 
thought myself at liberty to urge these considerations upon other 
men, and otherwise to exert myself (always within the limits of 
christian conduct) to support the British cause. I might, indeed, 
have thought that there was so much violence and wickedness on 
both sides, that the christian could take part with neither ; but 
this IS an accidental connexion, and in no degree affects the prin- 
ciple Itself. But, when the colonies were actually separated from 
Britain, and it was manifestly the general will to be independent, 
I should have readily transferred my obedience to the United 
States, convinced that the new government was preferred by the 
people; that, therefore, it was the rightful government; and, 
being such, that it was my christian duty to obey it. 

Now the lawful means of discouraging or promoting an altera- 
tion of a government, must be determined by the general duties 
of christian morality. There is, as we have seen, nothing in 
pohtical affairs which conveys a privilege to throw off the chris- 
tian character; and whatever species of opposition or support 
mvolves a sacrifice or suspension of this character, is, for that 
reason, wrong. Clamorous and vehement debatings and harangues 
—vituperation and calumny— acts of bloodshed and violence, or 
mstigations to such acts, are, I think, measures in which the first 
teachers of Christianity would not have participated ; measures 
which would have violated their own precepts; and measures, 
therefore, which a christian is not at Hberty to pursue. Objec- 
tions to these sentiments wiU no doubt be at hand : we shall be 
told that such opposition would be ineffectual against the en- 
croachments of power and the armies of tyranny— that it would 
be to no purpose to reason with a general who had orders to 
enforce obedience ; and that the nature of the power to be over- 
come, dictated the necessity of corresponding power to overcome 
it. To all which it is, in the first place, a sufficient answer, that 
the question is not what evils may ensue from an adherence to 



Essay 3. 

Christianity, but what Christianity requires. We renew the oft- 
repeated truth, that christian rectitude is paramount. When the 
first christians refused obedience to some of the existing authorities 
—they did not resist. They exemplified their own precepts— to 
prefer the wiU of God before all ; and if this preference subjected 
them to evils— to bear them without violating other portions of 
His WiU in order to ward them off. But if resistance to the 
civil power was thus unlawful when the magistrate commanded 
actions that were morally wrong, much more clearly is it unlawful, 
when the wrongness consists only in political grievances. The 
inconveniences of bad governments cannot constitute a superior 
reason for violence, to that which is constituted by the imposi- 
tion of laws that are contrary to the laws of God. And if any 
one should insist upon the magnitude of political grievances, the 
answer is at hand— these evils cannot cost more to the commu- 
nity as a state, than the other class of evils costs to the individual 
as a man. If fidelity is required in private life, through whatever 
consequences, it is required also in public. The national suffering 
can never be so great as the individual may be. The individual 
may lose his life for his fidelity, but there is no such thing as a 
national martyrdom. Besides, it is by no means certain that 
christian opposition to mis-government would be so ineffectual 
as is supposed. Nothing is so invincible as determinate non- 
compliance. He that resists by force, may be overcome by 
greater force ; but nothing can overcome a calm and fixed deter- 
mination not to obey. Violence might, no doubt, slaughter those 
who practised it, but it were an unusual ferocity to destroy sucb 
persons in cool malignity. In such enquiries we forget how 
much difficulty we entail upon ourselves. A regiment which, 
after endeavouring to tlie uttermost to destroy its enemies, 
refuses to yield, is in circumstances totally dissimilar to that 
which our reasonings suppose. Such a regiment might be cut 
to pieces ; but it would be, I believe, a " new thing under the 
sun," to go on slaughtering a people, of whom it was known not 
only that they had committed no violence, but that they would 
commit none. 

Refer again to America : The Americans thought that it was 
best for the general welfare that they should be independent, but 
England persisted in imposing a tax. Imagine, then, America 
to have acted upon christian principles, and to have refused to 



pay it, but without those acts of exasperation and violence which 
they committed. England might have sent a fleet and an army 
To what purpose ? Still no one paid the tax. The soldiery 
perhaps sometimes committed outrages, and they seized goods 
instead of the impost : still the tax could not be collected, except 
by a system of universal distraint.— Does any man who employs 
his reason, believe that England would have overcome such a 
people ? does he believe that any government, or any army, would 
have gone on destroying them ? especiaUy does he believe this, 
if the Americans continually reasoned coolly and honourably with 
the other party, and manifested, by the unequivocal language of 
conduct, that they were actuated by reason and by christian 
rectitude ? No nation exists which would go on slaughtering 
such a people. It is not in human nature to do such things ; 
and I am persuaded not only that American independence would 
have been secured, but that very far fewer of the Americans 
would have been destroyed : that very much less of devastation 
and misery would have been occasioned, if they had acted upon 
these principles instead of upon the vulgar system of exasperation 
and violence. In a word, they would have attained the same 
advantage with more virtue, and at less cost.— With respect to 
those voluble reasoners who tell us of m,eanness of spirit, oipusiU 
lanimous submission, of base crouching before tyranny, and the 
hke, it may be observed that they do not know what mental 
greatness is. Courage is not indicated most unequivocally by 
wearmg swords or by wielding them. Many who have courage 
enough to take up arms against a bad government, have not 
courage enough to resist it by the unbending firmness of the 
mind— to maintain a tranquil fidelity to virtue in opposition to 
power; or to endure with serenity the consequences which 
may follow. 

The Reformation prospered more by the resolute non-com- 
pliance of its supporters, than if all of them had provided them- 
selves with swords and pistols. The most severely persecuted 
body of christians which this countiy has in later ages seen, 
was a body who never raised the arm of resistance. They wore 
out that iron rod of oppression which the attrition of violence 
might have whetted into a weapon that would have cut them off 
from the earth— and they now reap the fair fruit of their prin-^ 



ciples in the enjoyment of privileges from which others are stiU 

There is one class of cases in which obedience is to be refused 
to the civil power without any view to an alteration of existing 
institutions— that is when the magistrate commands that which 
it would be immoral to obey. What is wrong for the christian 
is wrong for the subject. "All human authority ceases at the 
point where obedience becomes criminal.^' Of this point of 
criminality every man must judge ultimately for himself; for 
the opinion of another ought not to make him obey when he 
thinks it is criminal, nor to refuse obedience when he thinks it 
is lawful. Some even appear to think that the nature of actions 
is altered by the command of the state ; that what would be un- 
lawful without its command is lawful with it. This notion is 
founded upon indistinct views of the extent of civil authority ; 
for this authority can never be so great as that of the Deity, and 
it is the Deity who requires us not to do evil. The protestant 
would not think himself obUged to obey if the state should re- 
quire him to acknowledge the authority of the Pope ; and why ? 
Because he thinks it would be inconsistent ivith the Divine Will • 
and this precisely is the reason why he shoidd refuse obedience 
in other cases. He cannot rationaUy make distinctions, and say, 
'' I ought to refuse obedience in acknowledging the Pope, but I 
ought to obey in becoming the agent of injustice or oppression. '^ 
If I had been a Frenchman, and had been ordered, probably at 
the instigation of some courtezan, to immure a man, whom I 
knew to be innocent, in the Ba^tile, I should have reftised ; for 
it never can be right to be the active agent of such iniquity. 

Under an enlightened and lenient government like our own, 
the cases are not numerous in which the christian is exempted 
from the obligation to obedience. When, a century or two ago, 
persecuting acts were passed against some christian communities,' 
the members of those communities were not merely at liberty' 
they were required to disobey them. One act imposed a fine of 
twenty pounds a-month for absenting one's self from a prescribed 
form of worship. He who thought that form less acceptable to 
the Supreme Being than another, ought to absent himself not- 
withstanding the law. So, when in the present day a christian 
thmks the profession of arms, or the payment of preachers whom 



he disapproves, is wrong, he ought, notwithstanding any laws 
to declme to pay the money or to bear the arms. 

niegal commands do not appear to carry any obHgation to 
obedience. Thus, when the apostles had been - beaten openly 
and uncondemned, being Romans,^' they did not regard the direc 
tions of the magistracy to leave the prison, but asserted their 
right to legal justice, by making the magistrates - come them- 
selves and fetch them out." When Charles I. made his demands 
of supphes upon his own Hlegal authority, I should have thought 
myself at hberty to refuse to pay them. This were not a L 
obedience to government. Government was broken. One of 
Its constituent parts refused to impose the tax, and one imposed 
It. 1 might, indeed, have held myself in doubt whether Charles 
constituted the government or not. If the people had thought 
It best to choose him alone for their ruler, he constituted the 
government, and his demand would have been legal ; for a law 
IS but the voice of that governing power whom the people prefer 
As It was, the people did not choose such a government : the 
demand was illegal, and might therefore be refused. 


Promises or Oaths of Allegiance to Governors do not appear 
easily reconcilable with political reason. Promises are made for 
the advantage or security of the imposer; and to make them to 
governors seems an inversion of the order which just principles 
would prescribe. The security should be given by the employed 
party, not by the employer. A community should not be bound 
to obey any given officer whom they employ; because they may 
find occasion to exchange him for another. Men do not swear 
fidelity to their representatives in the senate. Promising fidehty 
to the state may appear exempt from these objections, but the 
promise is hkely to be of little avail ; for what is the state V or 
how is Its will to be discovered but by the voice of the governing 
power. To promise fidelity to the state is not very diflTerent from 
promising it to a governor. 

If it be said that promises of allegiance may be useftd in 
periods of confusion, or when the public mind is divided re- 
specting the choice of governors, such a period is peculiarly unfit 
for promising allegiance to one. The greater the instability of 
an existing government, the greater the unreasonableness of 


exacting an oath. K an oath should maintain a tottering 
government against the public mind, it does mischief; and if a 
government is secure, an oath is not needed. 

The sequestered ministers in the time of Charles II., were 
required to take an oath, " declaring that they would not at any 
time endeavour an alteration in the government of the church 
or state." ^ One reason of their ejection was, that they would 
not declare their assent to every thing in the Book of Common 
Prayer. Why should these persons be required to promise not 
to endeavour an alteration in Church Government, when, pro- 
bably, some of them thought the endeavour formed a part of 
their christian duty ? Upon similar grounds, it may be doubted 
whether the Roman Catholics of our day ought to declare, as 
they do, that they will not endeavour any alteration in the 
religious establishments of the country. To promise this without 
limitation is surely promising more than a person who disap- 
proves that establishment ought to promise. The very essence 
of peculiar religious systems tends to the alteration of all others. 
He who preaches the Romish creed and practice, does practically 
oppose the Church of England, and practically endeavour an 
alteration in it. And if a man thinks his own system the best, 
he ought, by christian means, to endeavour to extend it. 

And even if these declarations were less objectionable in 
principle, their practical operation is bad. Some invasion or 
revolution places a new prince upon the throne — that very 
prince, perhaps, whom the people's oath of allegiance was 
expressly designed to exclude. What are such a people to do ? 
Are they to refuse obedience to the ruler whom, perhaps, there 
are the best reasons for obeying ? Or are they to keep their 
oaths sacred, and thus injure the general weal ? Such alterna- 
tives ought not to be imposed. But the truth is, that allegiance 
is commonly adjusted to a standard very distinct from the 
meaning of oaths. How many revolutions have oaths of alle- 
giance prevented ? In general a people will obey the power whom 
they prefer, whatever oaths may have bound them to another. In 
France, all men are required to swear ''that they would be 
faithful to the Nation, the Law, and the King J ^ A year after, 
these same Frenchmen swore an everlasting abjuration of mon- 
archy ! And now they are living quietly under a monarchy 

* Southey's Book of the Church. 

Chap, 5. 



agam ! After the accession of William III., when the clergy 
were required to take oaths contrary to those which they had 
before taken to James, very few in comparison refused. The 
rest ^^took them with such reservations and distinctions, as 
redounded very Uttle to the honour of their integrity.'^ i 

Thus it is that these oaths which are objectionable in principle 
are so nugatory in practice. The mischief is radical. Men ought 
not to be required to engage to maintain, at a future period, a set 
of opmions which, at a future period, they may probably think 
erroneous : nor to maintain aUegiance to any set of men 
whom, hereafter, they may perhaps find it expedient to replaee 
by others. ^ 

^ Smollett's History of England. 

Chap. 6. 




There is one great cause which prevents the political moralist 
from describing, absolutely, what form of government is pre- 
ferable to all others— which is, that the superiority of a form 
depends, like the proper degree of civil liberty, upon the existing 
condition of a community. Other doctrine has indeed been 
held : " Wherever men are competent to look the first duties of 
humanity in the face, and to provide for their defence against 
the invasion of hunger and the inclemencies of the sky, there 
they will, out of all doubt, be found equally capable of every 
other exertion that may be necessary to their security and 
welfare. Present to them a constitution which shall put them 
into a simple and intelligible method of directing their own 
affairs, adjudging their contests among themselves, and cherishing 
in their bosoms a manly sense of dignity, equality, and inde- 
pjpfence, and you need not doubt that prosperity and virtue 
wulbe the result.'^ i 

There is need to doubt and to disbelieve it— unless it can be 
shown from experience that uncultivated and vicious men require 
nothing more to make them wise and good than to be told the 
way. " Present to them a constitution.'' Who shall present it ? 
Some foreign intelligence, manifestly ; and if this foreign in- 
telligence is necessary to devise a constitution, it will be necessary 
to keep it in operation and in order. But when this is granted, 
it is in effect granted that an uncultivated and vicious people are 
not '' capable of every exertion that may be necessary to their 
security and welfare.'' 

But if certain forms cannot be specified which shall be best 
for the adoption of every state, there are general principles to 
direct us. 

* Godwin's Enq. Pol. JuRt. vol. 1, p. 69. 




It is manifest that the form of government, like the adminis- 
tration of power, should be conformable to the public wish In 
a certain sense, and in a sense of no trifling import, that form 
IS best for a people which the people themselves prefer : and this 
rule applies, even although the form may not be intrinsically the 
best ; for public welfare and satisfaction are the objects of govern- 
ment and this satisfaction may sometimes be insured by a form 
which the public prefer, more effectually than by a form, essen- 
tially better, which they dislike. Besides, a nation is likely to 
prefer that form which accords best with what is called the 
national genius; and thus there may be a real adaptation of a 
form to a people which is yet not abstractedly the best, nor the 
best for their neighbours. But when it is said that that form of 
government ought to be adopted for a people, which they them- 
selves prefer, it is not to be forgotten that their preference is 
often founded upon their weaknesses or their ignorance. Men 
adhere to an estabUshed form because they think little of a better 
Long prescription gives to even bad systems an obscure sanctity 
amongst unthinking men. No reasonable man can suppose that 
the government of Louis the Fourteenth was good for the 
French people, or that that form could be good which enabled 
him to trifle with or to injure the public welfare. And yet, when 
his ambition and tyranny had reduced the French to poverty 
and to wretchedness, they stiU clung to their oppressor, and made 
wonderful sacrifices to support his power.-Now, though it might 
have been both improper and unjust to give a new constitution 
to the French when they preferred the old, yet such examples 
indicate the sense in which only it is true that the form which 
a people prefer is the best for them ; -and they indicate, too 
most powerf-ully, the duty of every citizen and of every legislator 
to diffuse just notions of political truth. The nature of a govern- 
ment contributes powerfuUy, no doubt, to the formation of this 
national gemus : and thus an imperfect form sometimes cou- 
tnbutes to its own duration. 

In the present condition of mankind, it is probable that some 
species of monarchy is best for the greater part of the world 
Hepubhcamsm opens more wide the gates of ambition. He who 
knows that the utmost extent of attainable power is, to be the 
servant of a prince, is not Ukely to be fired by those boundless 
schemes of ambition which may animate the republican leader 
Ihe virtue of the generality of mankind is not suflBciently power- 




fill to prompt them to political moderation without the application 
of an external curb : and thus it happens that the order and 
stability of a government is more efficiently secured by the indis- 
putable supremacy of one man. Now, order and stability are 
amongst the first requisites of a good constitution, for the object 
of political institutions cannot be secured without them. 

I accept the word Monarchy in a large sense. It is not neces- 
sary to the security of these advantages even in the existing 
state of human virtue, that the monarch should possess what we 
call kingly power. By monarchy I mean a form of government 
in which one man is invested with power greatly surpassing 
that of every other. The peculiar means by which this power 
is possessed, do not enter necessarily into the account. The 
individual may have the power of a Sultan or a Czar, or a King 
or a President; that is, he may possess various degrees of 
power, and yet the essential principle of monarchy and its prac- 
tical tendencies may be the same in all — the same to repress 
violence by extent of power — the same to discoimtenance ambi- 
tion by the hopelessness of gratifying unlimited desire. 

It is usual to insist, as one of the advantages of monarchy, 
upon its secrecy and dispatch ; which secrecy and dispatch, it 
is to be observed, would be of comparatively little impor- 
tance in a more advanced state of human virtue. Where diplo- 
matic chicanery and hostile exertions are employed, dispatch 
and secrecy are doubtless very subservient to success ; but take 
away the hostility and chicanery— take away, that is, such 
wickedness from amongst men, and secrecy and dispatch would 
be of little interest or importance. We love darkness rather than 
light, because mr deeds are evil. Thus it is that unnumbered 
usages and institutions find advocacy, rather in the immoral con- 
dition of mankind, than in direct evidences of their excellence. 

'* An hereditary monarchy is universally to be preferred to 
an elective monarchy. The confession of every writer on the 
subject of civil government, the experience of ages, the ex- 
ample of Poland and of the Papal dominions, seem to place this 
amongst the few indubitable maxims which the science of politics 
admits of.^' ^ But, Tidthout attempting to decide upon the pre- 
ferableness of hereditary or elective monarchy, it may be ques- 
tioned whether this formidable array of opinion has not been 
founded upon the mischiefs which actually have resulted from 

*Paley; Mor. and Pol. Phil., p. 3, b. 6, c. 6. 




Chap. 6. 



electmg prmces, rather than from those which are insepa- 
rable from the election. The election of the kings of Poland 
convulsed that imhappy country, and sometimes embroiled 
ii-urope. The election of popes has produced similar efi*ects ; but 
this IS no evidence that popes and kings cannot be elected by 
pacific means : cardinals and lords may embroil a nation, when 
other electors would not. 

I call the President of the United States a monarch. He is not 
called, indeed, an emperor, or a king, or a duke, but he exercises 
much of regal power. Yet he is elected : and where is the mis- 
chief ? The United States are not convulsed : civil war is not 
waged: foreign princes do not support with armies the pretensions 
of one candidate or another ;— and yet he is elected. Who then 
will say that other monarchs might not be elected too ? It will 
not be easy to show that the being invested with greater power 
than thePresident of America, necessarily precludes the peaceable 
election of a prince. The power of the president differs, I believe, 
less from that of the king of England, than the power of the king 
differs from that of the Russian emperor. No man can define the 
maximum of power which might be conferred without public 
mischief by the election of the public. Yet I am attempting to 
elucidate a poHtical truth, and not recommending a practice. It 
IS, indeed, possible, that when the genius of a people, and the 
whole mass of their political institutions, are favourable to an 
election of the supreme magistrate, election would be preferable 
to hereditary succession. But election is not without its dis- 
advantages, especially if the appointment be for a short time. 
When there are several candidates, and when the inchnations of 
the community are consequently divided, he who actually assumes 
the reins is the sovereign of the choice of only ?i portion oi the 
people. The rest prefer another ; which circumstance is not only 
likely to animate the hostilities of faction, but to make the elected 
party regard one portion of the people as his enemies and the other 
as his friends. But he should be the parent of all the people. 

Fox observed with respect to the British Constitution, that 
"the safety of the whole depends on the jealousy which each 
retains against the others, not on the patriotism of any one 
branch of the legislature.' '^ This is doubtless true; yet surely 
it is a melancholy truth. It is a melancholy consideration that, 
in constructing a constitution, it is found necessary not to 

' Speech on the Regency Question. 




Essay 3. 

encourage virtue but to repress vice, and to contrive mutual curbs 
upon ambition and licentiousness. It is a tacit, but a most 
emphatical acknowledgment, how much private inclination 
triumphs over public virtue, and how little legislators are disposed 
to keep in the right political path, unless they are restrained 
fipom deviation by walls and spikes. 

Yet it is upon this lamentable acknowledgment that the great 
institutions of free states are frequently founded. A balance of 
interests and passions is contrived, something like the balance of 
power, of which we hear so much amongst the nations of Europe 
— a balance of which the necessity (if it be necessary) consists 
in the wickedness, the ambition, and the violence of mankind. 
If nations did not viciously desire to encroach upon one another, 
this balance of power would be forgotten ; and in a purer state 
of human virtue, the jealousies of the different branches of a 
legislature will not need to be balanced against each other. Until 
the period of this advanced state of human excellence shall 
arrive, I know not how tbis balance can be dispensed with. It 
may still be needful to oppose power to power, to restrain one 
class of interests by the counteraction of others, and to procure 
general quiet to the whole by annexing inevitable evils to the 
encroachments of the separate parts. Thus, again, it happens, that 
constitutions which are not abstractedly the best, or even good, 
may be the best for a nation now. 

Whatever be the form of a government, one quality appears to 
be essential to practical excellence— that it should be susceptible 
oi peaceable change. The science of government, hke other 
sciences, acquires a constant accession of light. The intellectual 
condition of the world is advancing with onward strides. And 
both these considerations intimate that Forms of Government 
should be capable of admitting, without disturbance, those im- 
provements which experience may dictate, or the advancing 
condition of a community may require. To reject improvement, 
is absurd ; to incapacitate ourselves for adopting it, is absurd also. 
It surely is no unreasonable sacrifice of vanity to admit, that 
those who succeed us may be better judges of what is good for 
themselves, than we can be for them. 

Upon these grounds no constitution should be regarded as 
absolutely and sacredly fixed, so that none ought and none have 
a right to alter it. The question of right is easily settled. It is 
inherent in the community, or in the legislature as their agents. 

Chap. 6. 



It would be strange, indeed, if our predecessors, five or^ six 
centuries ago, had a right to make a constitution for us which 
we have no right to alter for ourselves. Such checks ought, no 
doubt, to be opposed to alterations, that they may not be hghtly 
and crudely made. The exercise of political wisdom is to dis- 
cover that point in which sufficient obstacles are opposed to hasty 
innovation, and in which sufficient facihty is afforded for real 
improvement by virtuous means. The common disquisitions 
about the value of stability in governments, like those about the 
sacredness of forms, are frequently founded in inaccurate views 
What confusion, it is exclaimed, and what anarchy and commo- 
tions would follow, if we were at Hberty continually to alter 
political constitutions ! But it is forgotten that these calamities 
result from the circumstance, that constitutions are not made 
easily alterable. The interests which so many have in keeping 
up the present state of things, make them stmggle against an 
alteration ; and it is this struggle which induces the calamities 
rather than anything necessarily incidental to the alteration 
Itself. Take away these interests, take away the motives to 
these struggles, and improvements may be peacefully made Yet 
It must be acknowledged that to take away these interests is no 
hght task. We must once again refer to - the present condition 
ot mankind,- and confess that it may be doubted whether any 
community would possess a stable or an efficient government if 
no interests bound its officers to exertion. To such a govern- 
ment patronage is probably at present indispensable. They who 
possess patronage and they who are enriched or exalted by its 
exercise, array themselves against those propositions of change 
which would diminish their eminence or their wealth. And I 
perceive no means by which the existence of these interests and 
their consequent operation can be avoided, except by that eleva- 
tion of the moral character of our race which would bring with 
It adequate motives to serve the pubhc without regard to honours 
or rewards. It is however indisputably true, that these interests 
should be as much as is practicable diminished ; and in whatever 
degree this is effected, in the same degree there will be a wiUing- 
ness to admit those improvements in the form of governments 
which prudence and wisdom may prescribe. 

'' Let no new practice in politics be introduced, and no old 
one anxiously superseded till called for by the pubHc voice.^'i 

I Godwin : Pol. Just., v. 2, p. 593. This doctrine is adverse to that which is 

2 A 2 



Essay 3. 

The same advice may be given respecting the alteration of fonns ; 

because alterations which are not so called for, may probably 

fail of a good effect from the want of a congenial temper in the 
people, and because, as the public wish is the natural measure 
of sound political institutions, even beneficial changes ought not 
to be forced upon them against their own consent. The public 
mind, however, should be enlightened by a government. The 
legislator who perceives that another form of government is 
better for his country, does not do all his duty if he declares 
himself willing to concur in the alteration when the country 
desires it : he should create that desire by showing its reason- 
ableness. Unhappily there is a vis inertia in governments of 
which the tendency is opposite to this. The interests which 
prompt men to maintain things as they are, and dread of inno- 
vation, and sluggishness, and indifference, occasion governments 
to be amongst the last portion of the community to diffuse know- 
ledge respecting political truth. But, when the public mind has 
by any means become enlightened, so that the public voice 
demands an alteration of an existing form, it is one of the plainest 
as well as one of the greatest duties of a government to make the 
alteration : not reluctantly but joyfully, not urging the prescrip- 
tion of ages and what is called '' the wisdom of our ancestors," 
but philosophically yet soberly accommodating present institu- 
tions to the present state of mankind. 

If, then, it is asked by what general rule Forms of Government 
should be regulated, I would say— Accommodate the form to the 
opinion of the community; whatever that community may prefer: 
and, Adopt institutions such as will facilitate the peaceable ad- 
mission of alterations, as greater Hght and knowledge become 
diffused. I would not say to the Sultan, Adopt the constitution 
of England to-morrow ; because the sudden transition would 
probably effect, for a long time, more enl than good. I would 
not say to the King of France, Descend from the throne and 
establish a democracy ; because I do not think, and experience 
does not teach us to think, that democracy, even if it were theo- 
retically best, is best for France at the present day. 

Turning, indeed, to the probable future condition of the worid, 
there is reason to think that the popular branches of all govern- 

quoted in the first page of this chapter, where to be able to provide for mere 
physical wants, is stated to be a sufficient qualification for the reception of an 
entirely new system of politics. 



ments will progressively increase in influence, and perhaps 
eventually predominate. This appears to be the natural conse- 
quence of the increasing power of public opinion. The public 
judgment is not only the proper, but almost the necessary even- 
tual measure of political institutions; and it appears evident that, 
as that judgment becomes enlightened, it will be exercised, and 
that, as it is exercised, it will prevail. The expression of public 
opinion upon political affairs, and consequently the influence of 
that opinion, partakes obviously of the principles of popular 
government. If public opinion governs, it must govern by some 
agency by which public opinion is expressed ; and this expression 
can in no way so naturally be effected, as by some modification 
o^ popular authority. These considerations, which appear obvious 
to reasoning, are enforced by experience. There is a manifest 
tendency in the world to the increase of the power of the public 
voice ; and the effect is seen in the new constitutions which have 
been established in the new world and in the old. Few perma- 
nent revolutions are effected in which the community do not 
acquire additional influence in governing themselves. 

It will not perhaps be disputed, that if the world were wise 
and good, the best form of government would be that of demo- 
cracy in a very simple state. Nothing would be wanting but to 
ascertain the general wish and to collect the general wisdom. 
If, therefore, the present propriety of other forms of government 
results from the present condition of mankind, there is reason to 
suppose that they may gradually lapse away, as that condition, 
moral and intellectual, is improved. Whether mankind are thus 
improving, readers may differently decide; and their various 
decisions will lead to various conclusions respecting the future 
predominance of the public voice : the writer of these pages is 
one who thinks that the world is improving, that virtue as well 
as knowledge is extending its power; and therefore that, as ages 
roll along, every form of government but that which consists in 
some organ of the general mind, will gradually pass away. It 
may be hoped, too, that this gi^adual lapse will be occasioned, 
without solicitude on the part of those who then possess privi- 
leges or power, to retain either to themselves. That same state 
of virtue and excellence which enabled the people almost imme- 
diately to govern themselves, would prevent others from wishing 
to retain the reins. Purer motives than the love of greatness, 
of power, or of wealth, would influence them in the choice of 



Essay 3. 

their political conduct. They might have no motive so powerful 
as the promotion of the general weal. 

As no limit can be assigned to that degree of excellence which 
it may please the Universal Parent eventually to diflPuse through 
the world, so none can be assigned to the simplicity and purity 
of the form in which government shall be carried on. In truth, 
the mind, as it passes onward and still onward in its anticipations 
of purity, stops not until it arrives at that period when all govern- 
ments shall cease -, when there shall be no wickedness to require 
the repressing arm of power; when terror to the evil-doers and 
praise to them that do well, shall no longer be needed, because 
none will do evil though there be no ruler to punish, and all will 
do well from higher and better motives than the praise of man. 

In speaking of political constitutions, it is not sufficiently re- 
membered in how great a degree good government depends upon 
the character and the virtue of those who shall conduct it. 
There is much of truth in the political maxim, that " whatever 
is best administered is best.'' But how shall good administra- 
tion be secured except by the good dispositions of the adminis- 
trators ? The great present concern of mankind, in the selection 
of their legislators, respects their political opinions rather than 
their moral and christian character. This exclusive reference to 
political biasses is surely unwise, because it leaves the passions 
and interests to operate without that control which individual 
virtue only can impart. Thus we are obliged to contrive reins 
and curbs for the public servants, as the charioteer contrives 
them for an unruly horse ; too much forgetting that the best 
means of securing the safety of the vehicle of state, are found 
in the good dispositions of those who move it onward. Political 
tendencies are important, but they are not the most important 
point : moral tendencies are the first and the greatest. The 
question in England should be, less, " ministeriaUst or opposi- 
tionist ? '' in America, less, '' federahst or republican ? '' than in 
both, " a good or a bad man ? " Kectitude of intention is the 
primary requisite; and whatever preference I might give to 
superiority of talents and to poHtical principles, above all and be- 
fore all, I should prefer the enlightened christian ; knowing that 
his character is the best pledge of political uprightness, and that 
political upriglitness is the best security of good government. 




The system of governing by influence appears to be a substi- 
tute for the government of force— an intermediate step between 
awing by the sword, and directing by reason and virtue. When 
the general character of political measures is such, that reason and 
virtue do not sufficiently support them to recommend them, on 
their own merits, to the public approbation — these measles 
must be rejected, or they must be supported by foreign means : 
and when, by the political institutions of a people, force is neces- 
sarily excluded, nothing remains but to have recourse to some 
species of influence. There is another ground upon which in- 
fluence becomes, in a certain sense, necessary— which is, that 
there is so much imperfection of virtue in the majority of legis- 
lators — they are so much guided by interested or ambitious 
or party motives, that for a measure to be recommended by its 
own excellence, is sometimes not sufficient to procure their con- 
currence ; and thus it happens that influence is resorted to, not 
merely because public measures are deficient in purity, but be- 
cause there is a deficiency of uprightness in public men.' 

Whilst political affairs continue to be conducted on their pre- 
sent, or nearly on their present, principles, I believe influence is 
necessary to the stability of almost all governments. How else 
shall they be supported ? They are not sufficiently virtuous to 
bespeak the general and unbiassed support of the nations, and 
without support of some kind, they must fall. That which Hume 
says of England is perhaps true of all civilized states— ^^ The 
influence which the crown acquires from the disposal of places, 
honours, and preferments, may become too forcible, but it cannot 
altogether be aboHshed without the total destruction of monarchy, 
and even of all regular authority.'' ^ A mournful truth it is ! 
because it necessarily implies one of two things— either that the 

* History of England. 

1 1 I "^ 




Essay 3. 

acts '' of authority '' do not recommend themselves by their 
own excellencies, or that subjects are too little principled to be 
influenced by such excellencies alone. 

Whilst the generality of subjects continue to be what they are, 
influence is inseparable from the pri\ilege of appointing to offices! 
With whomsoever that pri\dlege is entrusted, he will possess 
influence, and consequently power. Multitudes are hoping for 
the gifts which he has to bestow ; and they accommodate their 
conduct to his wishes, in order to propitiate his favour, and to 
obtain the reward. When they have obtained it, they call 
themselves bound in gratitude to continue their deference : and 
thus the influence and power is continually possessed. Now 
there is no way of destroying this influence but by making men 
good; for until they are good, they will continue to sacrifice 
their judgments to their interests, and support men or measures, 
not because they are right, but because the support is attended 
with reward. It matters little in morals by whom the power of 
bestowing offices is possessed, unless you can ensure the virtue 
of the bestower. Politicians may talk of taking the power from 
crowns and vesting it in senates : but it will be of little avail to 
change the hands who distribute, if you cannot change the 
hearts. If a man should ask whether the influence of the crown 
in this country might not usefully be transferred to the House 
of Commons, I should answer. No. Not merely because it would 
overthrow (for it certainly would overthrow) the monarchy, but 
because I know not that any security would be gained Vor a 
better employment of this influence than is possessed already. 
In all but arbitrary governments it appears indispensable that 
much of the privilege of appointing to offices should rest with 
the executive power. It is the peculiar source of its authority. 
In our own government, the peers possess power independently 
of their political character, and the commons possess it as repre- 
sentatives of the public mind; but where, without influence, 
would be the power of the king ? So it is in America. They 
have two representative bodies, and a third estate in the office of 
their president. But that president could not execute the func- 
tions of a third estate, nor the office of an executive governor 
without having the means of influencing the people. I do not 
know whether it was with the determinate object of giving to 
the president a competent share of power that the Americans 
invested him with the privilege of appointing to offices ; but it is 




not to be questioned, that if they had not done it, the fabric of 
their government would speedily have fallen. 

The degree of this influence, which may be required to give 
stability to an executive body, (and therefore to a constitution,) 
will vary with the character of its own policy. The more wide/y 
that policy deviates from rectitude, the greater will be the 
demand for influence to induce concurrence in its measures. 
The degree of influence that is actually exerted by a government, 
is therefore no despicable criterion of the excellence of its prac- 
tice. In the United States the degree is less than in England ; 
and it may therefore be feared that we are inferior to them in 
the purity of the general administration of the aff'airs of state. 

But let it be constantly borne in mind, that when we thus 
speak of the '' necessity" for influence to support governments, 
we speak only of governments as they are, and of nations as 
they are. There is no necessity for influence to support good 
government over a good people. All influence but that which 
addresses itself to the judgment, is wrong— wrong in morals, 
and therefore indefensible upon whatever plea. Influence is in 
part necessary to a government in the same sense that oppression 
is necessary to a slave trader— not because the captain is a man, 
but because he has taken up the trade in slaves— not because the 
government is a government, but because it conducts so many 
political afl'airs upon unchristian principles or in an unchristian 
manner. The captain says, I cannot secure my slaves without 
oppression —Let them go free. The government says, I cannot 
conduct my system without Influence -.—Make the system good. 

And here arises the observation, that if a government should 
faithfully act upon moral principles, that demand for influence 
which is occasioned by the ill principles of senators or the public, 
would be diminished or done away. The opposition which 
governments are wont to experience— indefensible as that oppo- 
sition frequently is— is the result, principally, of the general 
character of political systems. Men, seeing that integrity and 
purity are sacrificed by a government to other considerations, 
adopt kindred means of opposing it. If I reason with a man 
upon the impropriety of his conduct, he will probably listen ; if 
I use violence, he will probably use violence in return. There 
is no reason to doubt, that if political measures were more uni- 
formly conformable with the sober judgments of a community, 
respect and affection would soon become so general and power- 



Essay 3. 

fill, that that clamorous opposition which it is now attempted to 
oppose by influence, would be silenced by the public voice. 
Besides, the very fact that influence is exercised, animates oppo- 
sition to measures of state. The possession of power—that is, in 
a great degree, of Influence— -i^ a tempting bait ; and it cannot 
be doubted that some range themselves against an executive 
body, not so much from objections to its measures as from desire 
of its power. Take away the influence, therefore, and you take 
away one operative cause of opposition — one great obstacle to 
the free progress of the vessel of state. 

" All influence but that which addresses itself to the judgment, 
is wrong." Of the moral off*ence which this influence implies, 
many are guilty who oppose governments, as well as those who 
support them, or as governments themselves. It is evidently 
not a whit more virtuous to exert influence in opposing govern- 
ments than in supporting them : nor, indeed, is it so virtuous. 
To what is a man influenced? Obviously, to do that which, 
without the influence, he would not do ; — that is to say, he is 
induced to violate his judgment at the request or at the will of 
other men. It can need no argument to show that this is vicious. 
In truth, it is vicious in a very high degree ; for to conform our 
conduct to our own sober judgment, is one of the first dictates 
of the Moral Law : and the viciousness is so much the greater, 
because the express purpose for wliich a man is appointed to 
legislate, is that the community may have the benefit of his 
uninfluenced judgment. Breach of trust is added to the sacrifice 
of individual integrity. A nation can gain nothing by the know- 
ledge or experience of a million of " influenced " legislators. It 
is curious, that the submission to influence which men often 
practise as legislators, they would abhor as judges. What shoidd 
we say of a judge or jurj'man who accepted a place or a promise 
as a bribe for an unjust sentence ? We should prosecute the 
juryman and address the parliament for the removal of the judge. 
Is it then of so much less consequence in what manner affairs 
of state- Sire conducted, than the afl'airs of individuals, that that 
which would be disgraceful in one case, is reputable in another ? 
No account can be given of this strange incongruity of public 
notions, than that custom has in one case blinded our eyes, and 
in the other has taught us to see. Let the legislator who would 
abhor to accept a purse to bribe him to write Ignoramus upon 
a true bill, apply the principle upon which his abhorrence is 


Chap, 7. 



founded to his political conduct. When our moral principles 
are consistent these incongruities will cease. When uniform 
truth takes the place of vulgar practice and opinion, these incon- 
gruities will become wonderful for their absurdity; and men 
will scarcely believe that their fathers, who could see so clearly, 
saw so ill. The same sort of stigma which now attaches to Lord 
Bacon, will attach to multitudes who pass for honourable persons 
in the present day, 

A man may lawfully, no doubt, take a more active part in 
political measures, in comphance with the wishes of another, than 
he might otherwise incline to do ; but to support the measures 
of an opposition or an administration, because they are their 
measures, can never be lawful.— Nor can it ever be lawful to 
magnify the advantages or to expatiate upon the mischiefs of a 
measm-e, beyond his secret estimate of its demerits or its merits. 
That legislator is viciously influenced, who says or who does any 
thing which he would think it not proper to say or do if he were 
an independent man. 

But it will be said. Since influence is inseparable from the 
possession of patronage, and since patronage must be vested 
somewhere, what is to be done ? or how are the evils of Influence 
to be done away ?— a question which, Hke many other questions 
m political morality, is attended with accidental rather than 
essential difficulties. Patronage, in a virtuous state of mankind, 
would be small. There would be none in the church and Httle 
in the state. Men would take the oversight of the christian 
flock, not for filthy lucre but of a ready mind. If the ready mind 
existed, the influence of patronage would be needless; and, as a 
needless thing, it would be done away. And as to the state, 
when we consider how much of patronage in all nations results 
from the vicious condition of mankind— especially for miUtary 
and naval appointments— it will appear that much of this class 
of patronage is accidental also. Take away that wickedness and 
violence in which hostile measures originate, and fleets and armies 
would no longer be needed ; and with their dissolution there * 
would be a prodigious diminution of Patronage and of Influence. 
So, if we continue the enquiry, how far any given source of 
influence arising from patronage is necessary to the institution of 
civil government, we shall find, at last, that the necessary portion 
is very small. We are little accustomed to consider how simple 
a thing civil government is— nor what an unnumbered multi- 



Essay 3. 

plicity of oflSces and sources of patronage would be cut off, if 
it existed in its simple and rightful state. 

Supposing this state of rectitude to be attained, and the little 
patronage which remained to be employed rather as an encou- 
ragement and reward of public virtue than of subserviency to 
purposes of party, we should have no reason to complain of the 
existence of Influence or of its effects. Swift said of our own 
country, that " while the prerogative of giving all employments 
continues in the crown, either immediately or by subordination, 
it is in the power of the prince to make piety and virtue become 
the fashion of the age, if, at the same time, he would make them 
necessary qualifications for favour and preferment.''^ But un- 
happily, in the existing character of political aff'airs in all nations, 
piety and virtue would be very poor recommendations to many 
of their concerns. " The just man," as Adam Smith says, " the 
man who, in all private transactions would be the most beloved 
and the most esteemed, in those public transactions is regarded 
as a fool and an idiot, who does not understand his business."^ 
It would be as absurd to think of making '' piety and virtue, 
qualifications *' for these offices, as to make idiocy a qualification 
for understanding the Principia.—Eut the position of Swift, 
although it is not true whilst politics remain to be what they 
are, contains truth if they were what they ought to be. We 
should have, I say, no reason to complain of the existence of 
influence or of its eff'ects, if it were reduced to its proper amount, 
and exerted in its proper direction. 

It has, I think, been justly observed that one of the principal 
causes of the separation of America from Britain, consisted in 
the little influence which the crown possessed over the American 
States. They had popular assemblies, guided, as such assemblies 
are wont to be, by impatience of control, as well as by zeal for 
independence ; and the government possessed no patronage that 
was sufficient to counteract the democratic principles. Occasion 
of opposition was ministered; and the effbct was seen. The 
American assemblies, and the corresponding temper of the people, 
were more powerful than the little influence which the crown 
possessed. What was to be done ? It was necessary either to 
relinquish the government, which could no longer be maintained 
without force, or to employ force to retain it. The latter was 
attempted ; and, as was to be expected, it failed. I say failure 

* Project for the Advancement of Religion . * Theo. of Mor. Sent. 

Chap, 7. 



was to be expected ; because the state of America, and of Eng- 
land too, was such, that a government of force could not be 
supposed likely to stand. Henry VIII. and Elizabeth governed 
England by a species of force. They induced parliamentary 
compliance by intimidation. This intimidation has given place 
to influence. But every man will perceive that it would be im- 
possible to return to intimidation again. And it was equally 
impossible to adopt it permanently in the case of America. 

And here it may be observed, in passing, that the separation 
from a mother country of extensive and remote dependencies, is 
always to be eventually expected. As the dependency increases 
in population, in intelligence, in wealth, and in the various points 
which enable it to be, and which practically constitute it, a nation 
of itself —it increases in the tendency to actual separation. This 
separation may be delayed by the peculiar nature of the parent's 
government, but it can hardly be in the end prevented. It is 
not in the constitution of the human species to remain under 
the supremacy of a foreign power, to which they are under no 
natural subordination, after the original causes of the supremacy 
have passed away. Accordingly, there is reason to expect that, 
in days to come, the possessions of the European powers on the 
other quarters of the globe will one after another lapse away. 
Happy will it be for these powers and for the world, if they take 
counsel of the philosophy of human aff'airs, and of the experience 
of times gone by :— if they are willing tranquilly to yield up a 
superiority of which the reasonableness and the propriety is 
passed— a superiority which no eff'orts can eventually maintain 
—and a superiority which really tends not to the welfare of the 
governing, of the governed, or of the world. 


The system of forming Parties in governments, is perfectly 
congruous with the general character of political aff'airs, but 
totally incongruous with political rectitude. Of this incongruity 
considerate men are frequently sensible; and accordingly we 
find that defences of party are set up, and set up by men of 
respectable political character.^ To defend a custom is to inti- 
mate that it is assailed. 

• Fox, I believe, was one of them, and the present Lord John Russell, in his 
Life of Lord Russell, is another. 



Esm^ 3. 

Chap, 7. 



What does the very nature of party imply ? That he who 
adheres to it speaks and votes not always according to the dic- 
tates of his own judgment, but according to the plans of other 
men. This sacrifice of individual judgment violates one of the 
first and greatest duties of a legislator — to direct his separate 
and unbiassed judgment to the welfare of the state. There can be 
no proper accumulation of individual -experience and knowledge 
amongst those who vote with a party. 

But, indeed, the justifications which are attempted do not refer 
to the abstract rectitude of becoming one of a party, but to the 
unfailing ground of defending political evil — Expediency, An 
administration, it is said, would not be so likely to stand, or an 
opposition to prevail, when each man votes as he thinks rectitude 
requires, as when he ranges himself under a leader. The difib- 
rence is like that which subsists in war between a body of irregular 
peasantry and a disciplined army : each man's arm is as strong 
in the one case as in the other, but each man's is not equally 

Very well. If we arc to be told that it is fitting, or honest, 
or decent, that senates and cabinets should act upon the prin- 
ciples of conflicting armies, parties may easily be defended, but 
surely legislators have other business and otlier duties. It only 
exhibits the wideness of the general departure from the proper 
modes of conducting government and legislation, that such argu- 
ments are employed. It will be said, that there are no means of 
expelling a bad administration from office but by a systematic 
opposition to its measures. If this were true, it would be nothing 
to the question of rectitude, unless it can be shown that the end 
sanctions the means. The question is not whether we shall over- 
throw an administration, but whether we shall do what is right. 
But, even with respect to the success of political objects, it is not 
very certain that simple integrity would not be the most effica- 
cious. The man who habitually votes on one side, loses, and he 
ought to lose, much of the confidence of other members and of 
the public. At what value ought we to estimate the mental 
principles of a man, who foregoes the dictates of his own judg- 
ment, and acts in opposition to it in order to serve a party ? 
What is the ground upon which we can place confidence in his 
integrity ? Facts may furnish an answer. The speeches, and 
statements, and arguments, of such persons, are listened to with 
suspicion ; and a habitual and large deduction is made from their 


weight. This is inevitable. Hearers and the public cannot tell 
whether the speaker is uttering his own sentiments or those of 
others : they cannot tell whether he believes his own statements, 
or is convinced by his own reasoning. So that, even when his 
cause is good and his advocacy just, he loses half his influence 
because men are afraid to rely upon him, and because they still 
do not know whether some illusion is not underneath. The mind 
is kept so constantly jealous of fallacies, that it excludes one half 
of the truth. But when the man stands up, of whom it is known 
that he is sincere, that what he says he thinks, and what he 
asserts he believes, the mind opens itself to his statements with- 
out apprehension of deceit. No deductions are made for the 
overcolourings of party. Integrity carries with it its proper 

Now if, generally, the measures of a party are good, the indi- 
vidual support of upright men would probably more effectually 
recommend them to a senate and to a nation, than the ranked 
support of men whose uprightness must always be questionable 
and questioned. If the measures are not good, it matters not 
how inefficiently they are supported. Let those who now range 
themselves under political leaders of whatever party, throw away 
their unworthy shackles ; let them convince the legislature and 
the public that they are absolutely sincere men ; and it is pro- 
bable that a vicious policy would not be able to stand before 
them. For other motives to opposition than actual viciousness 
of measures, I have nothing to say. He whose principles allow 
him to think that other motives justify opposition, may very 
well vote against his understanding. The princiijles and the 
conduct are congenial ;— but both are bad. 


The unanimous support or opposition which ordinarily is given 
to a measure by the members of an administration, whatever be 
their private opinions, is a species of party. Like other modes 
of party, it results from the impure condition of political affairs; 
like them it is incongruous with sound political rectitude— and, 
like them, it is defended upon pleas of expediency. The immo- 
rality of this custom is easily shown ; because it sacrifices private 
judgment, involves a species of hypocrisy, and defrauds the 



Essay 3. 

community of that uninfluenced judgment respecting public 
affairs for whicli all public men are appointed. " Ministers have 
been known, publicly and in unqualified terms, to applaud those 
yery measures of a coadjutor which they have freely condemned 
in private."* Is this manly ? Is it honest ? Is it christian ? 
If it is not, it is vicious and criminal : and all arguments in its 
defence— all disquisitions about expediency — are sophistical and 

" The necessity for the co-operation *' (I use political language) 

results from the general impurity of political systems — systems 

in which not reason, simply, and principle, direct, but influence 

also, and the spirit of party — and the love of power. Where 

influence is to be employed, union amongst a cabinet is likely 

to urge it in fuller force :— Where the spirit of party is to be 

employed, this union is necessary to the object :— Where 

the love of power is the guide, consistency and integrity 

must be sacrificed to its acquisition or retention. But take 

away this influence — which is bad ; and this spirit of party — 

which is bad; and this love of power— which is bad; and the 

minister may speak and act like a consistent and a virtuous 

man. It is with this, as with unnumbered cases in life, that 

what is called the necessity for a particular vicious course of 

action is quite adventitious, resulting in no degree from the 

operation of sound principles, but from the diflPused impurity of 

human institutions. 

But, indeed, the necessity is not perhaps so obvious as is 
supposed. The same reasons as those which make the support of 
a partisan comparatively inefficient, operate upon the ministerial 
advocate. He is regarded as a party man ; and as the exertions 
of a party man his arguments are received. People say or think, 
when such arguments are urged, as some men say and think of 
the labours of the clergy — '^What they say is a matter of course :'' 
— '^It is their business; their trade.'' No one disputes that 
these feelings have a powerful effect in diminishing the practical 
eff'ect of the labours of the pulpit ; and they have the same effect 
with respect to the labours of a ministry. We listen to a minister 
rather as a pleader than as a judge ; and every one knows what 
disproportionate regard is paid to these. Why should not 
ministers be judges ? Why should not senates confide in their 
integrity, believe their statements, give candid attention to their 

» Gisbome : Duties of Men. 


reasonings— as we attend to, and believe, and confide in, what is 
uttered from the bench? And does any man think so ill of 
mankind as to believe that if an administration acted thus, they 
would not actually possess a greater influence upon the minds of 
men, than they do now ? Even now, when men are so habituated 
to the operation of influence and party, I believe that a minister 
is listened to with much greater confidence and satisfaction when 
he dissents from his colleagues, than when he makes common 
. cause. We then insensibly reflect, that he is no longer the 
pleader but the judge. The independence of his judgment Js 
unquestioned; and we regard it therefore as the judgment of an 
honest man. 

Uniformity of opinion— or more properly, unity of exertion- 
is not at all necessary to the stability of a cabinet. Several 
recent administrations in our own country have been divided in 
sentiment upon great questions of national policy, and their 
members have opposed one another in parliament. With what 
ill eff'ects ? Nay, has not that very contrariety recommended 
the reasonings of all, as those of sincere integrity ? It is usual 
with some politicians to declaim vehemently against '' unnatural 
coalitions in cabinets.'' As to individuals, they, no doubt, may 
be censurable for political tergiversation; but as to cabinets 
being composed of men of difl'erent sentiments— of sentiments so 
diff'erent as their respective judgments may occasion— it is both 
allowable and expedient. It is just what a wise community 
would wish, because it affords a security for that canvass of 
public measures which is likely to illustrate their character and 
tendencies. But it is a sorrowful and a sickening sight, to contem- 
plate a number of persons frankly urging their various and dis- 
agreeing opinions at a council board, and as soon as some resolu- 
tion is come to, all proceeding to a senate, and one half urging 
the very arguments against which they have just been contending, 
and by which they are not yet con\dnced. Is freedom of canvass 
for any reasons useful and right at the council board? Is 
it not, for the very same reasons, useful and right in a senate ? 
The answer would be, yes, if public measures were regarded as 
the measures of the community, and not of the administration ; 
because then the desire and judgment of the community would 
be sought by the public and independent discussion of the ques- 
tion. Here, then, at last is one great cause of the evil— that a 

2 B 




Essay 3. 

large proportion of public acts are the measures of administra- 
tions ; and, being such, administrations unitedly support them 
wiiatever be the individual opinions of their members. These 
things ought not so to be. I would not indeed say that, from 
the crown of the head to the sole of the foot, there is no sound- 
ness in the system — but the evil is mingled deplorably with the 
good. It is sometimes in practice almost forgotten, that an 
administration is an Executive rather than a Legislative body— 
that their original and natural business is rather to do what the 
legislature and constitution directs, than to direct the legislature 
themselves. I say the original and natural business ; for, how 
congenial soever the great influence of administrations in public 
affairs may be with the present tenor of policy, and especially of 
international policy, it is not at all congenial with the original 
purpose and simple and proper objects of civi] government — the 
welfare of the community, as determined by an enlightened 
survey of the national mind. 

Of the want of advertence to these simple and proper objects, 
one effect has been that, in this country, administrations have 
frequently given up their offices when the senate has rejected 
their measures. This is an unequivocal indication of the wrong 
station in which cabinets are placed in the legislature — because 
it indicates, that if a cabinet cannot carry its point, it is supposed 
to be unfit for its office. All this is natural enough upon the 
present system, but it is very unnatural when cabinets are 
regarded, either in their ministerial capacity, as executive officers, 
or in their legislative capacity, as ordinary members of the senate. 
Executive officers are to do what the constitution and the legis- 
lature directs :— members of the senate are to assist that legis- 
lature in directing aright : in all which, no necessity is involved 
for ministers to resign their oflfices because the measures which 
they think best are not thought best by the majority. That a 
ministry should sometimes judge amiss is to be expected, because 
it is to be expected of all men : but surely in a sound state of 
political institutions, their fallibility would not be a necessary 
argument of unfitness for their offices, nor would the rejection 
of some of their opinions be a necessary evidence of a loss of 
the confidence of the public. 






T I 

r \ j- 

«. ■*' 



"« iiaw 



That the British Constitution is relatively good, is satisfac- 
torily indicated by its effects. Without indulging in the ordinary 
gratulations of our " own country being the first country in the 
world,'' it is unquestionably, in almost every respect, amongst 
the first— amongst the first in liberty, in intellectual and moral 
excellence, and in whatever dignifies and adorns mankind. A 
country which thus surpasses other nations, and which has, with 
little interruption, possessed a nearly uniform constitution for 
ages, may well rest assured that its constitution is good. To say 
that it is good, is however very different from saying that it is 
theoretically perfect, or practically as good as its theory will 
allow. Under a King, Lords, and Commons, we have prospered ; 
but it does not therefore follow that under a King, Lords, and 
Commons, we might not have prospered more. 

Whatever may be the future allotment of our country as to 
the form of its government, whether at any period, or at what, 
the progressive advancement of the human species will occasion 
an alteration, we are not at present concerned to enquire. Of 
one thing, indeed, we may be assured, that if it should be the 
good pleasure of Providence that this advancement in excellence 
shall take place, the practical principles of the government and 
its constitutional form, will be gradually moulded and modified 
into a state of adaptation to the then condition of mankind. 

I. Of the regal part of the British Constitution I would say 
little. The sovereign is, in a great degree, identified with an 
administration; and into the principles which would regulate 
ministerial conduct, the preceding chapters have attempted some 

Yet it may be observed that, supposing ministerial influence 
to be ''necessary" to the constitution, there appears consider- 

2 B 2 


* ^ ' %Sfi 



Essay 3. 

able reason to think that its amount may be safely and rightly 
diminished. As this influence becomes needless in proportion 
to the actual rectitude of political measures j as there is some 
reason to hope that this rectitude is increasing ; and as the public 
capacity to judge soundly of political measures is manifestly 
increasing also j it is probable that some portion of the influence 
of the crown might be given up, without any danger to the con- 
stitution or the public weal. And, waiving all reference to the 
essential moral character of influence, it is to be remembered, 
that no degree of it is defensible, even by the politician, but that 
which apparently subserves the reasonable purposes of govern- 

It is recorded that in 1741, in Scotland, "sixteen peers were 
chosen literally according to the list transmitted from court.'' ^ 
Such a fact would convince a man, without further enquiry, that 
there must have been something very unsound in the ministerial 
politics of the day ; or at any rate, (which is nearly the same 
thing,) something very discordant with the general mind. 

In 1793, and whilst, of course, the Irish Parliament existed, 
a biU was brought into that parliament to repeal some of the 
Catholic disabilities. This bill the " parliament loudly, indig- 
nantly, and resolutely rejected." A few months afterwards, a 
similar bill was introduced under the auspices of the government. 
Pitt had taken counsel of Burke, and wished to grant the 
Catholics relief: and when the viceroy's secretary accordingly 
brought in a bill, two members only opposed it ; and at the 
second reading, it was opposed but by one vote. Now, whatever 
may be said of the " necessity " of ministerial influence for the 
purposes of state, notliing can be said in favour of such influ- 
ence as this. Every argument which would show its expediency, 
would show even more powerfully the impurity of the system 
which could require it. 

It is common to hear complaints of ministerial influence in 
parliament. '' That kind of influence which the noble lord alludes 
to,'' said Fox in one of his speeches, " I shall ever deem un- 
constitutional ; for by the influence of the crown, he means the 
influence of the crown in parliament." ^ But, if it is concluded 
that influence is " necessary/' it seems idle to complain of its 
exercise in the senate. Where should it be exerted with efl'ect ? 

» Smollett : Hist. England, v. 3, p. 71. * Fell's Public Life of C. J. Fox. 

Chap, 8. 






Whether it be constitutional it is difficult to say, because it is 
difficult to define where constitutional acts end and unconstitu- 
tional acts begin.