Front Page Titles (by Subject) SECT. II. - An Essay on Government
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SECT. II. - Thomas Gordon, An Essay on Government 
An Essay on Government (London: J. Roberts, 1747).
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NO Cause can be better assigned, than the Fear which Men lay under, of the Ills they might suffer, from their Neighbour’s* Power and Wickedness; and which Fear was grounded, even on the Experience of those Inconveniencies they were inevitably subject to in the State of Nature† . As there is no Improbability, in supposing this to have been the first Motive, which Mankind had to form Governments, so neither is the establishing it as such, liable to any great Objection, or ill Consequence: For tho’ Contracts entered into through Fear, are void, yet three essential Requisites are wanting in the present Case, which intirely take it out of the Reason and Force of that Maxim. And 1. The Fear which may be objected against the Validity of a Contract, must be immediate. 2. The Danger must be actually impending, and of a Nature to shock the most resolute Man. And 3. The Contract, as we said before, must be entered into, (from an Apprehension of the ill Consequence of disobeying the menacing Party) either with the Menacer or with his Privity. But as it is evident, that all these are here wanting, we may easily conclude that the Contractors are not depriv’d of free Agency, consequently are bound by the Conventions, they may enter into. Suppose a Power was apprehensive of an Attack from any other, and to defend itself made a Treaty with a Third, in which mutual Services were stipulated; the latter Power performs his Part of the Engagement; will any Lawyer, or indeed any Man in his Senses, pretend to say, the Fear the first Power was under, can be a Pretence sufficient, to justify him in the Non-performance of the most minute Article, on his Side, provided only they were consistent with the Laws of Nature.
Undoubtedly if we could imagine a Society, wherein Men had no other Law to guide their Actions, than those of natural Reason, nor no other Check on their Passions, than the Fear of receiving Punishments, from the divine Promulgator of those Laws, we should easily confess it the happiest that could possibly exist, and prefer it far beyond those wherein Men are kept to their Duty, (with more Difficulty than Hounds or Horses are broke) by the Fear of Scourges, Axes and Halters. But it is impossible for us, even to have the Idea of such a State, as we know too well the Nature of Man, how apt to be misled by his Appetites and Passions, how easy to be deceived in his Notions of Good and Evil, how prone to Vengeance, how slow to forgive, how little affected with the remote and uncertain Punishments, which attend the Transgressors of the natural Law in a future State, and how ready (if even sometimes the Reward of Crimes happens to be bestowed in this World,) to attribute them to some other Cause.
If such be the Nature of our Dispositions, no Wonder if soon in the State of Nature, when one Man attack’d another, either in his Property, or Family, (both which Rights were prior and antecedent to the Constitution of States,) the Attacked defended himself by Violence, retorted the Injury, and carried this Violence farther than he ought by the Laws of Nature, and by that Means introduced perpetual Warfare and Disputes; nay, this Opinion we have confirmed in some Measure by Holy Writ, so early as under our Fore-father Adam, whose Child Cain did not abstain even from Fratricide, to put his Brother Abel out of the Way, who stood between him and the Favour of the Almighty, and by that Means, as heimagined, decreased the Prosperity of his temporal Affairs.
If two or three could not live in the World, without having Variances, and entertaining hostile Dispositions, we may easily imagine that these decreased not, as the World became more populous, but augmented gradually as the Number of the Sons of Earth increased, till they came to that Height, as not to permit a Man to rest assured of any Thing he possessed, and compell’d every one to have perpetually Recourse to Violence, to protect and preserve his Possessions and Family: As every one felt the Grievance of this State, no Wonder if they all soon turned their Thoughts to remedy it, and consented to those Measures which were most probable to have such an Effect, and agreed to refer their Disputes and Variances, to the amicable Decision of an Arbitrator: As the World was not then encreased beyond the Connexions of one Family, tho’ that was pretty numerous, who then could be found more proper than the common Parent of all the Disputants, whose Attachment to all Parties being equal, his Judgments might the more justly be presumed to be impartial, and to whom, by Reason of the natural Affection they must naturally have for him, they would more willingly confer this Mark of Superiority—when he came to die, then his Authority was again divided among the different Fathers of Families, each deciding the Differences of his several Children.
And this Grant of a Power to judge Causes seems to have laid the first Foundation of Governments, and on it they all may be said to be built, not only without hurting their main Structures, but even without depriving them of any of their distinct Parts; how probable such an Account may be, I must leave to the Judgment of the Reader.
This Power originally was only a Right of giving an Opinion on the Matter of Dispute, unattended with any coercive one, of putting in Execution the Sentence pronounced, because it was not imagined that the Party who was condemned, would persist in his Attempts after such Sentence; but Experience soon convinced Mankind of their Error, and shew’d them that this Remedy was a very weak one, and by no Means sufficient for the Evil: This therefore induced them to go one Step further, and part with a Degree of their natural Liberty, by granting to their Arbitrators the Power of putting their Sentences in Execution, and compelling the Refractory to obey their Orders.
[* ]By Power is to be understood the natural Ability and Capacity of a Man to do Mischief, without any Reference to external Aid.
[† ]And of the Impossibility there was for them to protect and preserve themselves and Possessions from the Attacks of their Neighbours without having Recourse to violent Means.