The simple dictates of good sense had taught the inhabitants of the British colonies, that men born on the American side of the Atlantic ocean had received from nature the same rights as others born under the meridian of Greenwich, and that a difference of sixty-six degrees of longitude could have no power of changing them. They understood, more perfectly perhaps than Europeans, what were the rights common to all the individuals of the human race; and among these they included the right of not paying any tax to which they had not consented. But the British Government, pretending to believe that God had created America, as well as Asia, for the gratification and good pleasure of the inhabitants of London, resolved to hold in bondage a subject nation, situated across the seas at the distance of three thousand miles, intending to make her the instrument in due time of enslaving the mother country itself. Accordingly, it commanded the servile representatives of the people of England to violate the rights of America, by subjecting her to compulsory taxation. This injustice, she conceived, authorised her to dissolve every tie of connection, and she declared her independence.
Then was observed, for the first time, the example of a great people throwing off at once every species of chains, and peaceably framing for itself the form of government and the laws which it judged would be most conducive to its happiness; and as, from its geographical position, and its former political state, it was obliged to become a federal nation, thirteen republican constitutions were seen to grow up in its bosom, having for their basis a solemn recognition of the natural rights of man, and for their first object the preservation of those rights through every department of the union.
If we examine the nature of these constitutions, we shall discover in what respect they were indebted to the progress of the political sciences, and what was the portion of error, resulting from the prejudices of education which formed its way into them: why, for instance, the simplicity of these constitutions is disfigured by the system of a balance of powers; and why an identity of interests, rather than an equality of rights, is adopted as their principle. It is manifest that this principle of identity of interests, when made the rule of political rights is not only a violation of such rights, with respect to those who are denied an equal share in the exercise of them, but that it ceases to exist the very instant it becomes an actual inequality. We insist the rather upon this, as it is the only dangerous error remaining, the only error respecting which men of enlightened minds want still to be undeceived. At the same time, however, we see realized in these republics an idea, at that time almost new even in theory; I mean the necessity of establishing by law a regular and peaceable mode of reforming the constitutions themselves, and of placing this business in other hands than those entrusted with the legislative power.
Meanwhile, in consequence of America declaring herself independent of the British government, a war ensued between the two enlightened nations, in which one contended for the natural rights of mankind, the other for that impious doctrine which subjects these rights to prescription, to political interests, and written conventions. The great cause at issue was tried, during this war, in the tribunal of opinion, and, as it were, before the assembled nations of mankind. The rights of men were freely investigated, and strenuously supported in writings which circulated from the banks of the Neva to those of the Guadalquivir. These discussions penetrated into the most enslaved countries, into the most distant and retired hamlets. The simple inhabitants were astonished to hear of rights belonging to them: they enquired into the nature and importance of those rights: they found that other men were in arms, to re-conquer or to defend them.
In this state of things it could not be long before the transatlantic revolution must find its imitators in the European quarter of the world. And if there existed a country in which, from attachment to their cause, the writings and principles of the Americans were more widely disseminated than in any other part of Europe; a country at once the most enlightened, and the least free; in which philosophers had soared to the sublimest pitch of intellectual attainment, and the government was sunk in the deepest and most intolerable ignorance; where the spirit of the laws was so far below the general spirit and illumination, that national pride and inveterate prejudice were alike ashamed of vindicating the old institutions: if, I say, there existed such a country, were not the people of that country destined by the very nature of things, to give the first impulse to this revolution, expected by the friends of humanity with such eager impatience, such ardent hope? Accordingly it was to commence with France.
Scientific development depends in part on a process of non-incremental or revolutionary change. Some revolutions are large, like those associated with the names of Copernicus, Newton, or Darwin, but most are much smaller, like the discovery of oxygen or the planet Uranus. The usual prelude to changes of this sort is, I believed, the awareness of anomaly, of an occurrence or set of occurrences that does not fit existing ways of ordering phenomena. The changes that result therefore require 'putting on a different kind of thinking-cap', one that renders the anomalous lawlike but that, in the process, also transforms the order exhibited by some other phenomena, previously unproblematic.
Science corrects the old creeds, sweeps away, with every new perception, our infantile catechisms, and necessitates a faith commensurate with the grander orbits and universal laws which it discloses yet it does not surprise the moral sentiment that was older and awaited expectant these larger insights.
DECLARATION OF RIGHTS.
G OVERNMENT has no rights; it is a delegation from several individuals for the purpose of securing their own. It is therefore just, only so far as it exists by their consent, useful only so far as it operates to their well-being.
2 IF these individuals think that the form of government which they, or their forefathers constituted is ill adapted to produce their happiness, they have a right to change it.
3 Government is devised for the security of rights. The rights of man are liberty, and an equal participation of the commonage of nature.
4 As the benefit of the governed, is, or ought to be the origin of government, no men can have any authority that does not expressly emanate from their will.
5 Though all governments are not so bad as that of Turkey, yet none are so good as they might be; the majority of every country have a right to perfect their government, the minority should not disturb them, they ought to secede, and form their own system in their own way.
6 All have a right to an equal share in the benefits, and burdens of Government. Any disabilities for opinion, imply by their existence, barefaced tyranny on the side of government, ignorant slavishness on the side of the governed.
7 The rights of man in the present state of society, are only to be secured by some degree of coercion to be exercised on their violator. The sufferer has a right that the degree of coercion employed be as slight as possible.
8 It may be considered as a plain proof of the hollowness of any proposition, if power be used to enforce instead of reason to persuade its admission. Government is never supported by fraud until it cannot be supported by reason.
9 No man has a right to disturb the public peace, by personally resisting the execution of a law however bad. He ought to acquiesce, using at the same time the utmost powers of his reason, to promote its repeal.
10 A man must have a right to act in a certain manner before it can be his duty. He may, before he ought.
11 A man has a right to think as his reason directs, it is a duty he owes to himself to think with freedom, that he may act from conviction.
12 A man has a right to unrestricted liberty of discussion, falsehood is a scorpion that will sting itself to death.
13 A man has not only a right to express his thoughts, but it is his duty to do so.
14 No law has a right to discourage the practice of truth. A man ought to speak the truth on every occasion, a duty can never be criminal, what is not criminal cannot be injurious.
15 Law cannot make what is in its nature virtuous or innocent, to be criminal, any more than it can make what is criminal to be innocent. Government cannot make a law, it can only pronounce that which was law before its organization, viz. the moral result of the imperishable relations of things.
16 The present generation cannot bind their posterity. The few cannot promise for the many.
17 No man has a right to do an evil thing that good may come.
18 Expediency is inadmissible in morals. Politics are only sound when conducted on principles of morality. They are, in fact, the morals of nations.
19 Man has no right to kill his brother, it is no excuse that he does so in uniform. He only adds the infamy of servitude to the crime of murder.
20 Man, whatever be his country, has the same rights in one place as another, the rights of universal citizenship.
21 The government of a country ought to be perfectly indifferent to every opinion. Religious differences, the bloodiest and most rancorous of all, spring from partiality.
22 A delegation of individuals for the purpose of securing their rights, can have no undelegated power of restraining the expression of their opinion.
23 Belief is involuntary; nothing involuntary is meritorious or reprehensible. A man ought not to be considered worse or better for his belief.
24 A Christian, a Deist, a Turk, and a Jew, have equal rights: they are men and brethren.
25 If a person's religious ideas correspond not with your own, love him nevertheless. How different would yours have been had the chance of birth placed you in Tartary or India!
26 Those who believe that Heaven is, what earth has been, a monopoly in the hands of a favoured few, would do well to reconsider their opinion: if they find that it came from their priest or their grandmother, they could not do better than reject it.
27 No man has a right to be respected for any other possessions, but those of virtue and talents. Titles are tinsel, power a corruptor, glory a bubble, and excessive wealth, a libel on its possessor.
28 No man has a right to monopolise more than he can enjoy; what the rich give to the poor, whilst millions are starving, is not a perfect favour, but an imperfect right.
29 Every man has a right to a certain degree of leisure and liberty, because it is his duty to attain a certain degree of knowledge. He may before he ought.
30 Sobriety of body and mind is necessary to those who would be free, because, without sobriety a high sense of philanthropy cannot actuate the heart, nor cool and determined courage, execute its dictates.
31 The only use of government is to repress the vices of man. If man were to day sinless, to-morrow he would have a right to demand that government and all its evils should cease.
______ Man! thou whose rights are here declared, be no longer forgetful of the loftiness of thy destination. Think of thy rights; of those possessions which will give thee virtue and wisdom, by which thou mayest arrive at happiness and freedom. They are declared to thee by one who knows thy dignity, for every hour does his heart swell with honourable pride in the contemplation of what thou mayest attain, by one who is not forgetful of thy degeneracy, for every moment brings home to him the bitter conviction of what thou art.Awake!-arise!-or be for ever fallen.
But science is the great instrument of social change, all the greater because its object is not change but knowledge, and its silent appropriation of this dominant function, amid the din of political and religious strife, is the most vital of all the revolutions which have marked the development of modern civilisation.
But where, says some, is the King of America? I'll tell you. Friend, he reigns above, and doth not make havoc of mankind like the Royal Brute of Britain. Yet that we may not appear to be defective even in earthly honors, let a day be solemnly set apart for proclaiming the charter; let it be brought forth placed on the divine law, the word of God; let a crown be placed thereon, by which the world may know, that so far as we approve of monarchy, that in America THE LAW IS KING. For as in absolute governments the King is law, so in free countries the law OUGHT to be King; and there ought to be no other. But lest any ill use should afterwards arise, let the crown at the conclusion of the ceremony, be demolished, and scattered among the people whose right it is.
Some convenient tree will afford them a State-House, under the branches of which, the whole colony may assemble to deliberate on public matters. It is more than probable that their first laws will have the title only of REGULATIONS, and be enforced by no other penalty than public disesteem. In this first parliament every man, by natural right, will have a seat.
But as the colony increases, the public concerns will increase likewise, and the distance at which the members may be separated, will render it too inconvenient for all of them to meet on every occasion as at first, when their number was small, their habitations near, and the public concerns few and trifling. This will point out the convenience of their consenting to leave the legislative part to be managed by a select number chosen from the whole body, who are supposed to have the same concerns at stake which those who appointed them, and who will act in the same manner as the whole body would act, were they present. If the colony continues increasing, it will become necessary to augment the number of the representatives, and that the interest of every part of the colony may be attended to, it will be found best to divide the whole into convenient parts, each part sending its proper number; and that the ELECTED might never form to themselves an interest separate from the ELECTORS, prudence will point out the propriety of having elections often; because as the ELECTED might by that means return and mix again with the general body of the ELECTORS in a few months, their fidelity to the public will be secured by the prudent reflection of not making a rod for themselves. And as this frequent interchange will establish a common interest with every part of the community, they will mutually and naturally support each other, and on this (not on the unmeaning name of king) depends the STRENGTH OF GOVERNMENT, AND THE HAPPINESS OF THE GOVERNED.
Here then is the origin and rise of government; namely, a mode rendered necessary by the inability of moral virtue to govern the world; here too is the design and end of government, viz. freedom and security. And however our eyes may be dazzled with show, or our ears deceived by sound; however prejudice may warp our wills, or interest darken our understanding, the simple voice of nature and of reason will say, it is right.