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SECTION III: Of Justice and Generosity. - John Millar, An Historical View of the English Government 
An Historical View of the English Government, From the Settlement of the Saxons in Britain to the Revolution in 1688, in four volumes, edited by Mark Salber Philips and Dale R. Smith, introduction by Mark Salber Philips (Indianapolis: Liberty Fund, 2006).
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Of Justice and Generosity.
The virtues and vices of mankind relate more immediately, either to the interest of the agent himself or to the interest of others. Of the former class are those which have been already considered. The latter may deserve a separate examination.
When our actions tend to promote the happiness of our neighbours, or when they have a contrary tendency, it may frequently happen, that, while every spectator approves or disapproves of our conduct in these different cases, yet no person imagines we could, with propriety, be compelled to act in the one way, or to abstain from acting in the other. To requite a favour with gratitude, to hazard our fortune in behalf of a friend, to relieve the distress of those with whom we have no particular connection, are actions of this nature. There are many cases, on the other hand, where our behaviour in relation to our neighbours becomes<236> a matter of strict obligation, and where we may be compelled to follow one course of action, and punished for the contrary. Thus we may be forced to fulfil our promises, and to abstain from doing hurt to others. Actions of the latter sort belong to what, in a strict sense, are called the rules of justice. Those of the former belong to generosity or benevolence.
That the advancement of arts, manufactures, and commerce, has a tendency to improve the virtue of justice in all its branches, appears indisputable.
Mankind are induced to abstain from injustice by the feelings of humanity, which dispose them to avoid hurting their neighbours, as well as by the consideration that such a conduct will be highly conducive to their own interest; and both of these principles operate with peculiar force from the circumstances in which a commercial people is placed. By commerce and manufactures, the contracts and transactions of a country are multiplied almost without end; and the possessions of individuals are extended and varied in proportion; whence the injuries<237> arising from the breach of promise, from dishonesty and fraud, or from any violation of property, are more sensibly felt, and productive of more sympathy and regret. The advantages, at the same time, which every individual derives from a strict observance of the rules of justice, become also proportionably greater and more manifest. According as the intercourse of society is extended, it requires more and more a mutual trust and confidence, which cannot be maintained without the uniform profession and rigid practice of honesty and fair-dealing. Whoever is unable, in this respect, to maintain a fair character, finds himself universally reprobated, is of course disqualified for the exercise of any lucrative profession, and becomes a sort of outcast, who, like the stricken deer, is carefully avoided by the whole herd. Compared with so dreadful a misfortune, the gain which is likely to accrue from the most artful knavery is a mere trifle.
In such a situation it becomes the object of early education to recommend and inculcate the rules of justice. Children are deterred from any failure in this respect, by<238> timely correction, and by the disgrace which attends it. At a more advanced period of life, the principles of honour, dictated by the general sentiments of mankind, and communicated through the different ranks and orders of society, confirm the same doctrine. In addition to these considerations, religion bestows her aid, by representing what is infamous among men, as offensive to the Deity, and as incurring the effects of his displeasure; while the sanctions of civil government are employed in repressing such disorders, by the salutary example of human punishments.
These principles and habits which characterize a mercantile age and country, are apt to appear most conspicuous in that part of the inhabitants who are actually engaged in trade; because they feel most powerfully the influence of the various motives which have been mentioned. In the most commercial nations of Europe, it is not, indeed, considered as inconsistent with the rules of fair trade, to lay hold of an accidental scarcity for enhancing the price of any commodity; but a merchant of credit is accus-<239>tomed to deal at a word, and to take no advantage of the ignorance of his customer. Among the rest of the inhabitants, who traffic occasionally, the same scrupulous punctuality is not required; and it is not unusual to chaffer, or even to over-reach in a bargain. This is particularly the case in the sale of commodities, which have, in some degree, an arbitrary value; as of horses, where even the country gentleman is frequently not ashamed to become a species of horse-jockey.
The manners of rude nations are, in the present view, diametrically opposite to those of a commercial people. Barbarians, whatever may be their other virtues, are but little acquainted with the rules of justice; they have seldom any regard to their promises, and are commonly addicted to theft and rapine. This is evident from the history of all early nations. In Captain Cook’s first voyage to Otaheite,22 the inhabitants of that island were so far from being ashamed of their thefts, that upon being challenged, they held up the stolen goods in triumph at their success. In Kamtschatska,23 it is said,<240> that a young woman has difficulty to procure a husband, until she has given proof of her dexterity in filching.* Among the ancient Egyptians there was no punishment for theft;† nor among the Gauls, when the crime was committed between the members of different tribes.†
In the highlands of Scotland, stealing of cattle was denominated lifting; a term to which no blame appears to have been attached; and it is a well-known fact, that an inhabitant of that country, who, upon the suppression of the rebellion, 1745, had the Pretender under his protection, and who had not been tempted to deliver him up by the great premium offered by government, was at a subsequent period tried at Inverness, and condemned to a capital punishment for horse-stealing.
As in countries highly advanced in trade and manufactures, the trading part of the inhabitants are the fairest and most punctual in their dealings, they are, in the infancy<241> of commerce, the most knavish and dishonest.
In a rude and military age, mechanics and tradesmen, who follow sedentary professions, are despised on account of their unwarlike dispositions, and from the low estimation in which they are held, become degraded in their own eyes, and regardless of their character and behaviour. The first merchants, who are a sort of pedlars, wandering from place to place, and frequently reduced to the necessity of begging their bread and their lodging among strangers, are even in a meaner condition than artificers, or labourers, who enjoy a fixed residence in the midst of their kindred and acquaintance. When Ulysses,24 in Homer, is twitted with being a wandering merchant, the patient hero is unable to bear this unmerited reproach; and though he had before determined to conceal his rank, he starts up immediately, to wipe off the aspersion, by distinguishing himself in the athletic exercises.
So long as the ancient Romans preserved their military character, they considered the<242> profession of a merchant as disgraceful to a free citizen. In modern Europe, trade and manufactures were also, for many centuries, confined to that class of the people who remained in a species of servitude.
From the want of a regular market, for ascertaining the price of commodities, it is also more difficult, in the first dawn of mercantile improvements, to discover and restrain the fraud of individuals. The pedlar, who provides a stock of goods from different quarters, and retails the various articles to persons at a distance from each other, may almost always impose upon his customers with little hazard of detection, and is laid under strong temptation to avail himself of contingencies for increasing his profits.
The mercantile profession seems, accordingly, in all countries where trade is in a low state, to be considered as peculiarly connected with knavery and injustice. Among the early Greek nations, a merchant, and a private, were understood to be nearly synonimous terms; and the same tutelary deity, who presided over merchants, became<243> also the patron of cheats and pick-pockets.
Cicero, whose opinion we may suppose was founded upon the manners of his countrymen, declares that a great wholesale merchant, who imports goods from every quarter, may have a tolerable character; but that a retailer, who buys with a view of selling immediately, is engaged in a very mean employment; because he can make no profit, unless he becomes a great liar.* Mr. Pope appears to have rather injudiciously transferred this thought to the tradesmen of his own country.
“The next a tradesman, meek, and much a liar.”25
In Armenia, Persia, and many other eastern regions, commerce is managed, in a<244> great measure, by a set of wandering merchants, who are not only destitute of protection, but even liable to be frequently plundered by government. It can hardly be expected that these people, who are often obliged to bury a part of their stock, and to invest a part of it in jewels, that they may be able to conceal, or suddenly to withdraw their effects, will be scrupulously punctual in their transactions, or that they will not, by exorbitant profit in some cases, endeavour to compensate the losses and hazards which they sustain in others.
The Jews were a people, who, on account of their singular manners and customs, and their uncommon religious rites and ceremonies, had incurred the ridicule, and even in some degree the hatred of other nations. In these unfortunate circumstances, they found little degradation in a mean employment, and therefore betook themselves very generally to merchandize, in those periods and countries where it was held in some degree ignominious. This was more especially the case after the Christian religion had spread itself over Europe, and had over-<245>whelmed that once chosen people in recent odium and aversion. The Jews became early the principal traders of the modern European nations; and in that capacity acquired immense riches; while in conformity to the state of commerce at that period, they obtained universally the character of knavery and dishonesty; a character which they appear to have long borne without murmuring, and which, even at this day, notwithstanding the great revolution in the rank and behaviour of mercantile people, they have never been able fully to obliterate.
But the circumstances of a nation which has been enriched by trade are not more friendly to justice, than unfavourable to generosity, and to the higher exertions of benevolence.
That a man should be induced to a constant observance of the rules of justice, nothing further is commonly requisite than to understand his own pecuniary interest; but before he can become eminently generous or benevolent, he must resolve to sacrifice that interest to the good of others. Justice<246> is the result of a deliberate purpose to reject an incidental advantage for obtaining an ultimate, and much greater profit. Generosity is the fruit of a violent impulse, which overlooks all private and selfish considerations. The careful and penurious tradesman, the industrious and active manufacturer, or merchant, can have little temptation to desert the one, but in the course of his professional views, he meets with as little incitement to practice the other. To be just is to breathe his natural element; to require that he should be generous is to invert his ordinary functions, and to make him subsist by organs to which he has not been accustomed.
In a commercial country, the mercantile spirit is not confined to tradesmen or merchants; from a similarity of situation it pervades, in some degree, all orders and ranks, and by the influence of habit and example, it is communicated, more or less, to every member of the community. Individuals form their notions of propriety according to a general standard, and fashion their morals in conformity to the prevailing taste of the times. By living much in society, and<247> maintaining an intimate correspondence, they are led also to a frequent and ready communication of their thoughts and sentiments. They learn by experience to do this, without hurting the feelings of one another; to conceal their own selfishness or contempt of others; to assume a tone of moderation, deference, and respect; and, without apparent restraint or effort, to accommodate their behaviour to the disposition and temper of their company, while in this manner, they improve in the arts of civility and politeness, they can hardly fail to cultivate their social feelings, by participating in the pleasures and pains of each other, and by mutual endeavours to promote the former, and to relieve or soften the latter. But this intercourse is often little more than a petty traffic, which aims merely at the purchase of reciprocal good offices; or when it proceeds from better motives, it is the offspring of a subordinate, and in some measure a speculative humanity, which in the case of any serious distress, contents itself with weeping and lamenting over the afflicted, but never thinks of sacrificing any great interest to afford him relief.<248>
Even this tinsel reciprocation of small benefits, which people are apt to value more than it deserves, but which in reality is of signal utility in removing the inconveniences, and improving the comforts which attend our journey of human life, is frequently interrupted by those opposite and jarring passions which arise amid the active pursuits of a commercial nation. In a rude age, where there is little industry, or desire of accumulation, neighbouring independent societies are apt to rob and plunder each other; but the members of the same society are attracted by a common interest, and are often strongly united in the bands of friendship and affection, by mutual exertions of benevolence, or by accidental habits of sympathy. But in a country where no body is idle, and where every person is eager to augment his fortune, or to improve his circumstances, there occur innumerable competitions and rivalships, which contract the heart, and set mankind at variance. In proportion as every man is attentive to his own advancement, he is vexed and tormented by every obstacle to his prosperity, and<249> prompted to regard his competitors with envy, resentment, and other malignant passions.
The pursuit of riches becomes a scramble, in which the hand of every man is against every other. Hence the dissentions among persons of the same trade or profession, which are more conspicuous according as the opposition of interest is more direct and pointed. The physicians, the apothecaries, and the lawyers of a small town are commonly not in speaking terms; they are not more instigated to advance their own success than to thwart and oppose that of each other; and even the customers of each party are frequently involved in the quarrel. The same principles exhibit themselves with less indecorum, perhaps, or violence, but not less invariably, through the whole commercial world. That there is no friendship in trade is an established maxim among traders. Every man for himself, and God Almighty for us all, is their fundamental doctrine.
Among an active and polished people, the desire of fame and distinction is productive of competitions and jealousies yet more ex-<250>tensive. Neither age, nor sex, nor condition; neither wisdom, nor folly; neither learning, nor ignorance, is exempted from the serious, and the ludicrous discord which originates in this universal passion, or from the acrimony and malice which it often inspires; whether it appears in the light airy shape of vanity, which glides through every corner of society, and presents the aspect of a rival in every accomplishment or agreeable talent; from that of the well-dressed coxcomb who figures at a ball, to that of the eloquent speaker who shakes an admiring senate: or whether it assumes the graver form of ambition, which divides mankind into parties, inflames their party zeal, and their party animosities, and sheltering itself under the multitude of associates, bids defiance to the sense of shame, and becomes deaf to the voice of humanity. Of this passion, the jealousy among authors, will, perhaps, be regarded as the most remarkable instance; but it seems to be so, chiefly because the parties have more the capacity of publishing their disputes, and of circulating the bitter animosities by which they are agitated.<251>
As the pursuit of wealth, the great object of a mercantile nation, contributes to scatter the seeds of envy and selfishness, the luxurious and voluptuous habits, which, as I formerly observed, become also prevalent among the same people, tend to nourish and strengthen those baneful productions.
Sensual pleasures, whether founded upon the enjoyments of the table, or upon the propensity which unites the sexes, are all of a selfish nature; however they may be connected in many cases, with the exercises of social dispositions. The mirth and festivity of the epicure26 terminates in the gratification of his palate; and the boon companion of a luxurious age will commonly prefer the company where he finds the best dinner. The pleasure of a love-intrigue supposes a communication of sentiments; but the voluptuary scruples not to procure it at the expence of ruin to the object of his wishes.
But what more especially merits attention, is, that the fashionable pleasures of an opulent nation become the source of enormous expence, by which multitudes are led to exceed their income, and become embarrassed<252> in their circumstances. To men who are, at the same time, addicted to expensive habits, and forced to struggle with pecuniary difficulties, wealth is the constant idol, the sovereign dispenser of happiness; and poverty, a dreadful spectre, usurping the place of an awakened conscience, to haunt and terrify the disordered imagination.
While the peculiar habits of an opulent people are thus calculated to increase the bias which is already too strong, by fortifying the love of money, they give unavoidably a particular turn and direction to that passion. They afford a spur to the acquisition of riches, but they encourage, at the same time, and promote the expenditure. The avarice of a frugal, and that of a luxurious age, assume very frequently, a different, and in some respects, an opposite character. The character of the former is that of a miser, who scruples not to practise the meanest arts of accumulation, is unable to take any use of what he has gathered, but living in constant terror of poverty, is afraid to lend out his money at interest, and has recourse to the wretched precaution of con-<253>cealing it in the earth. Such are the leading features of the miser, as represented by the poets of antiquity, which have been copied by Moliere27 with more fidelity and humour, than discernment in applying them to the manners of his own age; for the original of this picture is now rarely to be found. The modern usurer is not less rapacious, nor less absorbed in the constant pursuit of gain than the ancient; but he is more enterprising, and less ready to forget the end of his labours. He never loses a penny by hugging his treasure in secret, or by hiding it in the ground. Goaded, on either side, by the love of money, and by the love of pleasure, he obeys alternately the dictates of these opposite passions, and hoards that he may spend to the best advantage. He is covetous and profuse;* but his profusion is merely the avarice of sensual gratification.
From these observations it may be concluded, that the manners of an opulent and luxurious age, are, upon the whole, favourable to the general intercourse of society.<254> In the common relations of neighbourhood and acquaintance, it is not expected that individuals will make any great sacrifice of their own interest to that of others. If men abstain from the commission of crimes, if they observe the rules of justice in their various transactions, if they are punctual to their word, so as to create a mutual confidence in their probity and good faith, and if to these virtues they add the constant exercise of those inferior good offices which are dictated by humanity and the desire of pleasing, they are likely to communicate to each other, and to enjoy, all that security, ease, and tranquillity, all that comfort and satisfaction which can reasonably be desired. The practice of these common virtues will be sufficient to facilitate the accumulation of wealth, or to secure the fruits of industry, to those who are in ordinary prosperous circumstances; and at the same time to afford a moderate relief or assistance to those who may be reduced to indigence or distress. The higher exertions of benevolence are out of the question; but a limited and regulated charity is perfectly<255> consistent with the manners of a refined and polished people; and it may, perhaps, be affirmed with reason, that, from prudent and well-directed interpositions of that nature, more diffusive benefit is likely to arise, both to the public and to individuals, than from the warmest occasional ebullitions of tender-hearted and thoughtless generosity. This, at least, is indisputable, that mere generosity without the punctual observance of the rules of justice, is of less consequence to the prosperity and good order of society, than the latter, though without any considerable share of the former.
But although the spirit of opulent and trading nations tends evidently to improve the intercourse of mankind, in their more general and distant connections, it must be confessed, that when we turn our eyes to the private and intimate relations of human life, we are led, in some respects, to a different conclusion. In their domestic relations, the happiness of mankind seems to depend more upon the warmth of friendship and benevolence, than upon the alderman-like virtue of justice.28 A fond husband expects<256> more from his wife than merely that she will not steal from him. Much more is required from the father of a family, than that he should do no injury to his children, or that he should bestow small charities upon them. The domestic affections, which constitute the chief happiness of private life, are nothing but various modifications of sympathy and friendship; and these, it is to be feared, are not likely to be improved by the peculiar manners of a mercantile and luxurious age. Marriage becomes then almost always an interested connection, in which those pecuniary considerations by which it was formed are likely to keep the ascendant during the whole of its course. On the part of the husband, it is frequently a mercenary bargain calculated to gain a livelihood, or to plaster a broken fortune, by yoking himself with folly, age, or decrepitude. On the part of the wife, it is as frequently the successful issue of a decoy, by which, under the auspices of a careful and experienced mother, she has contrived to recommend her personal attractions, and factitious accomplishments, to the highest bidder. The effects of<257> opulence and luxury are no less hurtful to the parental and filial affections. The father, immersed in the sordid pursuits of the world, is apt to look upon his family as a tax upon his pleasures, and to find himself elbowed by children; who, as they grow up in years, require from their increasing demands, a suitable retrenchment of his own personal expences. If even the parents are more conscientious, and less tainted with the vices of the age, they are likely to meet with miserable disappointments and mortifications from the behaviour of their children, who frequently corrupted by bad example and by the selfish maxims which prevail around them, correspond so little to the partial hopes and anxious cares of parental fondness, as to waste their time in idleness and dissipation, and even to wait with impatience for the full possession of that hereditary fortune which will render them their own masters. The future distribution of that fortune may also become a source of discontent among the children themselves, to poison their mutual affections, and to interrupt that agreeable<258> intercourse which their situation has otherwise a tendency to produce.
The same commercial spirit is adverse to that peculiar attachment which arises among friends, united by particular habits of intimacy, and by similarity of taste and dispositions. The situation of mankind in a rude age, which prevents them from being engrossed by objects of pecuniary interest, and which prompts them to frequent exertions for the protection and defence of each other, is highly favourable to such peculiar connections. The learned father, L’Afitau,29 observes, that among the American savages, it is usual for individuals to form such intimate friendships as give rise to a perfect community of goods; insomuch that they have no separate interest, and even think it incumbent on them to abstain from intermarriages between their respective families, as if they were near relations. To sacrifice their lives for each other is regarded as a duty which these generous and simple-hearted friends are never backward to fulfil. When a warrior is made captive by his enemies, and put to death, as he commonly is by the most excru-<259>ciating tortures, he frequently pronounces the name of a particular person, and calls upon him to avenge his torments. This person is the friend of his bosom, who is rendered so eager for vengeance, and so careless of life, that hovering about the place where the bloody tragedy has been acted, he commonly soon falls into the hands of the same people. That ingenious author compares the friendships of those barbarians with the connections of a similar nature which have been so highly celebrated in the early history of the Greeks; of Hercules and Iolas, of Theseus and Peritheus, of Achilles and Patroclus, of Orestes and Pylades,30 and of several other distinguished warriors of antiquity; whose attachment has appeared so little conformable to the manners of a later age as to be frequently misunderstood and misrepresented.
The friendships of a luxurious and mercantile country are of a different complexion. They are cool and sober, breathing no ardour of enthusiasm, producing no unreserved confidence, requiring no sacrifice either of life or fortune. It is enough that you should rejoice in your friend’s prosperity; that you<260> should relieve his distress when it can be done without inconvenience to yourself; and that you should be always ready to assist him with your good advice. But you ought never to forget the famous prudential maxim, of constantly behaving to him as if he were one day to become your enemy. Your friend, as friends go in the present age, is a person whom you esteem, in whose company you receive peculiar pleasure, whose conduct in his absence you endeavour to defend, whose party you embrace in his quarrels or disputes with others, and upon whom, in a word, you confer a double portion of those good offices and civilities which pass current in the intercourse of common acquaintance.
After all, though the virtue of justice commonly maintains the ascendant in opulent and luxurious nations, there may occur particular situations where this order of things is completely reversed. Among such a people, the strict observance of the rules of justice proceeds chiefly from considerations of interest, and from the establishment of a general standard of behaviour, which has been founded on those considera-<261>tions, and with which individuals, if they wish to preserve their character, find it necessary to comply. This may be considered as the effect of artificial discipline, tending to restrain and controul the feelings of avarice, which, in that state of society, are commonly wound up to a high pitch, and are apt to form the ruling principle. It may happen, therefore, in singular circumstances, where many persons are tempted in conjunction to the same acts of injustice, where they have an opportunity of acquiring suddenly an immense profit by their transgression, and where the delinquents are so numerous, and of such rank as in some measure to keep one another in countenance, that they should give way to the immediate impulse of their passions, and that having once broken through the restraints to which they were formerly subjected, they should run into very great enormities.31
The officers who governed the ancient Roman provinces were in this tempting situation. They possessed an almost unlimited authority over the inhabitants, and were subject to no other controul but that<262> of the senate, the members of which, having either enjoyed, or expecting to enjoy, similar offices, had commonly a fellow-feeling with their situations, and were, therefore, not likely to take a strict account of their abuses. Their number was, at the same time, so great, as to lighten the share of censure which might fall upon individuals; while their distance from the capital obscured their behaviour, or concealed it entirely from their friends at home. In these circumstances, and inflamed with the rage of accumulation, they seem, as with one consent, to have burst through the restraints of justice and humanity, and to have put in practice every engine of extortion, fraud, and oppression. As the same set of officers did not commonly remain above a year or two in the same province, no time was to be lost; and when having amassed enormous wealth, they returned to Rome, to enjoy the fruits of their industry, they found another expedient for the improvement of their fortunes, by lending money at exorbitant interest, to the very<263> people whom they had already pillaged. This kind of trade became so universal, that, however prohibited by the laws, it was not held, it seems, to be disgraceful; and, though the legal interest was restricted to about twelve per cent. more than forty or fifty per cent. appears to have been frequently exacted even by the most respectable citizens.
The great mercantile companies, established by the modern European nations in very distant countries, and invested with the privileges of monopoly, may be regarded, in the present question, as in a situation similar to that of the ancient rulers of the Roman provinces; with this additional circumstance, that accumulation being in the direct line of their profession, we may expect that it will be prosecuted by them in a more systematic and regular manner. If a company of this kind shall acquire an extensive territory, and be placed at such a distance from the mother-country as to be, in some measure, emancipated from her jurisdiction, it is likely that pecuniary profit<264> will be the great object in exercising the powers of government; and if the servants of this company, from the extent of their business, and from the implicit confidence necessarily reposed in them, shall become independent of their masters, there is ground to apprehend, that the interest of the public will be assumed as a pretence, to justify the most oppressive measures; and that a set of merchants, acting in concert with one another, and provided with an excuse for their abuses, will proceed, without fear or shame, in plundering the inhabitants, and in building up such fortunes as may enable them, in another hemisphere, not only to appear with dazzling splendour, but secure them from any inquiry into the means by which their wealth has been procured.
There can be little doubt that report has often greatly exaggerated and misrepresented the abuses committed on such occasions. But every exaggeration supposes a foundation in reality. Every one must be convinced, that, if the merchants of a country are invested with unlimited authority,<265> their profits will be commensurate to their desires.
The Progress of Science relative to Law and Government.
As the advancement of commerce and civilization tends to promote the virtue of strict justice, it of course disposes mankind to cultivate and improve the science of law. By attention and experience, and by a gradual refinement of their feelings, men attain a nicer discrimination in matters of right and wrong, and acquire more skill and dexterity in settling the claims and disputes of individuals, or in proportioning punishments to the various offences which may invade the peace of society.
There is this remarkable difference between justice and the other virtues, that the former can be reduced under general rules, capable, in some degree, of accuracy and precision; while the latter, more uncertain and variable in their limits, can frequently<267> be no otherwise determined than from a complex view of their circumstances, and must, in each particular case, be submitted to the immediate decision of taste and sentiment.1 Justice requires no more than that I should abstain from hurting my neighbour, in his person, his property, or his reputation; that I should pay the debts, or perform the services, which by my contracts, or by the course of my behaviour, I have given him reason to expect from me; and that, if I have ever transgressed in any of these particulars, I should make a suitable compensation and reinstate him, as far as possible, in those advantages of which I have unwarrantably deprived him. The line of duty suggested by this mere negative virtue, can be clearly marked, and its boundaries distinctly ascertained. It resembles a matter of calculation, and may, in some sort, be regulated by the square and the compass.
But the other virtues, those more especially which lead us to promote the positive happiness of our neighbours, admit of a greater variety of aspects, and are of a more delicate nature. What is the precise beha-<268>viour consistent with the most perfect friendship, generosity, gratitude, or other benevolent affections, may often be a difficult question; and the situations which give rise to the complete exercise of those virtues are so diversified by a multiplicity of minute circumstances, that there seldom occur two instances altogether alike; and there is no room for determining any number of cases according to the same general view.
Though mankind, therefore, have in all ages, given a very universal attention to morality, though their constant aim and endeavour has been to recommend themselves, one to another, by practising, or by seeming to practice, those virtues which procure esteem, or affection and confidence—they have made, after all, but slender advances in digesting their knowledge upon the subject, and in reducing it to a regular system. Philosophers have been able to do little more than to exhibit a description or picture, more or less animated, of the principal virtues and vices, together with their various combinations in the characters of individuals, and at the same time to suggest<269> considerations and views, which, from the condition of human nature, are likely to produce an admiration and love of virtue, as well as a detestation and abhorrence of vice.
The first moralists, among an ignorant and simple people, were contented with giving general advices, for the benefit of such as were destitute of experience, to guard against the temptations to vice, and the irregular influence of the passions. Parents, desirous of promoting the welfare of their children, men of sagacity, who, in the course of a long life, had surveyed the vicissitudes of human affairs, were induced to communicate the fruits of their experience, and to inculcate such observations and maxims as might correct the errors and imprudencies to which mankind are peculiarly liable. Hence the numerous proverbs which have been circulated in all nations, containing such moral and prudential maxims, as, from an apparent shrewdness of remark, from strength or felicity of allusion, or from any peculiar point of expression, were thought worthy of atten-<270>tion, and frequently repeated. Of a similar nature, but uniting, in some cases, a train of reflections upon the same subject, are those observations, and advices, relating to the conduct of life, which have been collected by early writers, or delivered by ancient sages of high reputation; such as, the proverbs of Solomon, the words of Agur, the wisdom of the son of Sirah, a part of the writings of Hesiod, and the sayings of those who are denominated the wise men of Greece.2
Succeeding writers endeavoured to explain and enforce these observations and maxims by historical events, real or fictitious; and to illustrate their truth, by allegorical representations, taken from the brute creation, or from those different parts of nature in which we may trace any resemblance to human actions and passions. Of this latter sort are the parables of Scripture, the fables known to us by the name of Pilpay,3 which appear to have enjoyed a very ancient and extensive reputation in the eastern world; and those of equal celebrity in Europe, which are ascribed to Aesop,<271> and which have been translated, paraphrased, and embellished by such a multitude of eminent authors. Even after those early observations, from the general diffusion of knowledge, have ceased to convey much instruction, the apologue or fable, has continued, with several men of genius, to be a favourite mode of composition, on account of the delicate strokes with which it is capable of exhibiting the follies and foibles of human life.4
When men had been accustomed to consider in detail the several branches of human conduct, they were led by degrees to more connected views, and extensive reasonings. They were led to enumerate and arrange the principal virtues and vices, and to distribute them into different classes, according to the various feelings or passions, from which they proceed, or the different ends to which they are directed. The celebrated and well known division of the virtues into four great classes, usually denominated the four cardinal virtues,5 which has been handed down to us by the Greek and Roman writers, and which is reported to have been<272> brought by Pythagoras6 from the east, appears to be a very ancient, and at the same time, a successful attempt of this nature.
The arrangement and classification of the several virtues, could hardly fail to occasion enquiries and discussions concerning the peculiar character of each; and more especially to suggest an examination of the circumstances by which all the virtues are distinguished from the opposite vices. This gave rise to the far-famed question, Wherein consists virtue?
The great distinction between virtue and vice appears to consist in the different sentiments which they excite in the beholders, and in their opposite tendency, to produce happiness or misery to mankind.
There is in virtue a native beauty and excellence, which is felt and acknowledged by all the world; which, from the immediate contemplation of it, and without regard to its consequences, is the genuine source of pleasure and satisfaction; and which procures to the person in whom it is discovered, universal love and esteem, with various modifications of benevolence. The natural<273> deformity of vice; the disgust and aversion with which it is regarded; and the contempt and abhorrence, or the indignation and resentment which it excites, are no less conspicuous. That these feelings exist in the human mind is indisputable: but whether they are simple and original feelings, intended by nature for this purpose alone; or whether they are excited from different views and reasonings, and consequently, are capable of explanation and analysis, has been the subject of much philosophical disquisition; a disquisition highly curious and interesting to the lovers of metaphysical knowledge; though, in relation to practical morality, of little or no importance.
The tendency of all virtuous actions to produce happiness, either to the person who performs them or to others, and the contrary tendency of all vicious actions, are considerations, which, to the bulk of mankind, will appear of still greater magnitude, in creating a preference of the former to the latter. In this view, those virtuous actions which promote a man’s own good, are agreeable to a spectator, from those bene-<274>volent feelings which render him pleased with the happiness of the person who performs them; while those actions which promote the good of others, gratify the selfish feelings of the spectator, and call forth a sort of gratitude from every person who conceives himself within the sphere of their beneficial influence. We need not be surprised, therefore, that men should universally bestow much higher applause upon the benevolent, than upon the selfish virtues; or that some eminent philosophers have considered the latter in the light merely of useful qualities, which are not the proper objects of moral approbation. The person who performs a benevolent action appears in the light of a benefactor; and, as we readily suppose ourselves to be the objects of his beneficence, we feel, upon that account, a disposition to make a suitable return of good offices; we look upon him as peculiarly worthy of our good will and affection; and are thence led to form a notion of his meriting a reward.
From considering the beneficial tendency of all the virtues, philosophers proceeded<275> to a more general enquiry, concerning the supreme good or happiness of mankind, and the circumstances by which it is produced; whether it be produced by virtue alone, or by what is called pleasure, or from the union and co-operation of both?
Such appear to be the principal steps by which men have advanced in cultivating the general science of morality, which have undoubtedly been of great utility in presenting such views and considerations as were fitted to awaken the noblest and best affections of the heart; but which often terminating in vague reflection, or speculative disquisition afford no specific information, no precise land-marks for the regulation of our conduct. If we do not miss our way in the journey of life, it is more from our general knowledge of the compass, than from any directions we receive concerning the several windings and turnings of the road.
But in relation to strict justice, the attention of mankind has been excited and directed in a different manner, and has produced an examination of particulars much more minute and accurate. As individuals who<276> have much intercourse, are likely, on many occasions, to experience an opposition of interest, and if they are independent of each other, must be liable to numerous disputes in matters of right, they have in the infancy of society, no other method of terminating any difference which cannot be amicably adjusted than either by fighting, or by referring it to the decision of a common arbiter; and this latter mode of accommodation, which flatters the sanguine expectations of either party, and which, by preventing a quarrel, must commonly be agreeable to their private friends, as well as to the friends of good order and public tranquillity, is likely to be more frequently adopted in proportion as, by the habits of living in society, people become less quarrelsome in their temper, and more under the guidance of prudence and discretion.
The arbiters most frequently chosen on those occasions, will probably be persons who from their eminent reputation for wisdom and integrity, possess the confidence of both parties, and by their high station, and superior influence, are capable of giving<277> weight to their decisions. The longer these men have officiated in the same employment, provided they have acted with tolerable propriety, the respect paid to their opinions will be the greater, and the disposition to treat them with deference and submission, will become the more habitual. Their own efforts to render their sentences effectual will also, from considerations of expediency, be supported by the general voice of the community; till at length, by the assignment of an armed force to assist them in enforcing obedience, they are invested with power to determine law-suits independent of any reference of parties, and thus, in the natural progress of things, are converted into regular and permanent judges.
Corresponding to the advices and prudential maxims which are circulated by men of experience and observation, in the primitive cultivation of morality, are the decisions of arbiters and judges, which constitute the foundation of the science of law. From the various disputes of individuals, and from the various claims that are successively decided<278> and enforced, there is formed a set of practical rules of justice, which are gradually multiplied, and according to the different situations and relations of mankind in society, gradually extended and diversified.
The disputes among mankind are innumerable; but as one dispute is often very like another, it is apt to be decided in a similar manner; and when a number of cases have been determined upon the same grounds, there is introduced a general rule, which from the influence of habit and of analogy, is extended, even without examination to other cases of the same kind. Though this procedure originates in a propensity natural to all mankind, it is doubtless recommended and confirmed by its utility. The general rules of law are of signal service, by enabling every person to simplify his transactions, as well as to ascertain the tenor of conduct which he is bound to maintain, and by proving at the same time, a check to the partiality of judges, who must be ashamed or afraid to deviate from<279> that beaten path, which is universally known, and easily distinguished.
The advantages, however, arising from the general rules of justice, are not without limitations. When a great number of claims are decided from the consideration of those outlines in which they all agree, the smaller circumstances in which they happen to differ must of course be overlooked; and the decision may, therefore, in some instances, be productive of injustice. This is the foundation of that old complaint, which, in every country, has been made against the extremity of the law. It is necessary, for this reason, to forego in many cases, the benefit of that uniformity and certainty derived from the strict observance of a general rule, and by introducing an exception from the consideration of what is equitable in particular circumstances, to avoid the hardship which would otherwise fall upon individuals. We must on this as on many other occasions, compare and balance the inconveniencies which present themselves on opposite sides, and be contented with submitting to those which are of the least importance.<280>
The interpositions of equity, which are made in detached and singular circumstances, are at first regarded as extraordinary deviations from that legal maxim, which however just and expedient in other cases, is found in some particular instance, to be hard and oppressive. But when these interpositions have been often repeated in similar situations, they become familiar and habitual; and such of them as depend upon a common principle, are reduced into the same class, the boundaries of which are precisely determined.
In this manner, by the successive litigation of individuals, and by the continued experience and observation of judges, the science of law grows up in society, and advances more and more to a regular system. Particular decisions become the foundation of general rules, which are afterwards limited by particular exceptions; and these exceptions being also generalized, and reduced into different classes, are again subjected to future limitations. From a few parent stems, there issue various branches; and<281> these are succeeded by subordinate ramifications; diminishing gradually in size, while they increase in number; separated from each other by endless divisions and subdivisions; exhibiting a great multiplicity and variety of parts, uniformly and regularly adjusted; and which may, therefore, be easily and readily traced through all their different connections.
But though the rules of justice derive their origin from the business of the world, and are introduced by the actual decisions of judges, their extensive utility is likely to attract the notice of speculative reasoners, and to render them the subject of criticism and philosophical discussion. As from various causes the practical system of law in any country is apt, in many respects, to deviate from that standard of perfection which nature holds up to the speculative mind, the detecting of its errors and imperfections, and the display of its peculiar advantages, become an agreeable exercise to men of ingenuity and reflection; and from such disquisitions, it is reasonable to expect that the<282> knowledge of mankind will be extended, their prejudices corrected, and useful improvements suggested.
In speculating upon the system of law in any country, it is natural to compare it with other systems, and by examining and contrasting the respective advantages or disadvantages of each, to explain and illustrate the nature and tendency of different regulations. From these comparisons, pursued extensively, and accompanied by such reflections as they must naturally suggest, philosophers at length conceived the idea of delivering a system of law, free from the defects which occur in every practical establishment, and which might correspond in some measure, with our views of absolute perfection; a noble idea which does not appear to have entered into the imagination of any Roman or Greek writer, and which may be regarded as one of the chief improvements in the philosophy of modern Europe. Hence the system of jurisprudence, which, after the revival of letters, has occurred in such multitudes, and which has been dressed in different shapes, and with<283> different degrees of accuracy by Grotius and other speculative lawyers.7
It must be acknowledged, that the execution of those works has not equalled the merit of the attempt. Although they profess to deliver the rules of justice, abstracted from the imperfections of every particular establishment, they appear, for the most part, to follow implicitly, at least, in several particulars, the ancient Roman system, which, notwithstanding the consideration and celebrity it had very deservedly attained, is in many of its doctrines erroneous, and in some of its principles narrow and illiberal.
A more material defect in most of the writers on jurisprudence is their not marking sufficiently the boundaries between strict law and mere morality. They seem to consider, what a good man, from the utmost propriety of feelings and scruples of conscience, would be disposed to do, rather than what an upright judge would compel him to perform, and are thus led frequently to confound what is properly called justice (which requires that we should avoid hurting our neighbours,) with generosity or benevolence,<284> which prompts us to increase their positive happiness.
The attempts to delineate systems of jurisprudence, which have been so often repeated with more or less perspicuity or conciseness, but with little variation in substance, opened at length a new source of speculation, by suggesting an enquiry into the circumstances which have occasioned various and opposite imperfections in the law of different countries, and which have prevented the practical system, in any, from attaining that improvement which we find no difficulty in conceiving.8 In the prosecution of this inquiry, more especially by President Montesquieu, by Lord Kames,9 and by Dr. Smith, the attention of speculative lawyers has been directed to examine the first formation and subsequent advancement of civil society; the rise, the gradual developement, and cultivation of arts and sciences; the acquisition and extension of property in all its different modifications, and the combined influence of these and other political causes, upon the manners and customs, the institutions and laws of any people. By tracing in this<285> manner the natural history of legal establishments, we may be enabled to account for the different aspect which they assume in different ages and countries, to discover the peculiarity of situation which has, in any case, retarded or promoted their improvement, and to obtain, at the same time, satisfactory evidence of the uniformity of those internal principles which are productive of such various and apparently inconsistent operations.
The system of law, in every country is divided into that part which regulates the powers of the state, considered as a corporation or body politic; and that which regulates the conduct of the several members of which this corporation is composed. The former is the government, the law which constitutes; the latter, the law which is constituted. The former may with propriety, though not in the common acceptation be called the public; the latter the private law.
To government belongs the province of appointing judges for the determination of law-suits; of establishing an armed force,<286> to secure internal tranquillity as well as for defence against foreign enemies; and also, in cases where the dictates of justice are silent, that of superadding to the private law such positive regulations or statutes, as peculiar conjunctures may render necessary or expedient. It is evident, therefore, that the state of the private law in any country must be entirely subordinate to the nature of its government; and that according to the merit or demerit of the latter, will be the excellence or deficiency of the former. The origin and progress of different public institutions, and the manner in which they have arisen, and been variously modified, from the circumstances of mankind, and from the different improvements in society, are on this account, objects of great curiosity, which present an important and leading speculation in the natural history of law.
All government appears to be ultimately derived from two great principles. The first which I shall call authority, is the immediate effect of the peculiar qualities or circumstances, by which any one member of society may be exalted above another. The<287> second is the consideration of the advantages to be derived from any political establishment.
1. Superior bodily qualities, agility, strength; dexterity of hand, especially in using the weapons employed in fighting; as well as uncommon mental endowments; wisdom, knowledge, fidelity, generosity, courage, are the natural sources of admiration and respect, and consequently of deference and submission. A school-boy, superior to his companions in courage and feats of activity, becomes often a leader of the school, and acquires a very despotic authority. The strongest man of a parish assumes a pre-eminence in their common diversions, and is held up as their champion in every match or contest with their neighbours. The patriarchal government in the primitive ages of the world, and the authority possessed by the leaders of barbarous tribes in those periods which preceded the accumulation of property, are known to have arisen from similar circumstances. The heroes and demi-gods of antiquity, were indebted solely to their valour, and their<288> wonderful exploits, for that enthusiastic admiration which they excited, and for that sovereign power to which they were frequently exalted.
The acquisition of property, whether derived from occupancy and labour in conformity to the rules of justice, or from robbery and oppression, in defiance of every law, human and divine, became another and a more extensive source of authority. Wealth, however improperly in the eye of a strict moralist, seldom fails to procure a degree of admiration and respect. The poor are attracted and dazzled by the apparent happiness and splendour of the rich; and they regard a man of large fortune with a sort of wonder, and partial prepossession, which disposes them to magnify and over-rate all his advantages.10 If they are so far beneath him as not to be soured by the malignity of envy, they behold with pleasure and satisfaction the sumptuousness of his table, the magnificence of his equipage, the facility and quickness with which he is whirled from place to place, the number of his attendants, the readiness with which they<289> observe all his movements, and run to promote his wishes. Delighted with a situation which appears to them so agreeable, and catching from each other the contagion of sympathetic feelings, they are often prompted by an enthusiastic fervor, to exalt his dignity, to promote his enjoyments, and to favour his pursuits. Without distinguishing the objects which figure in their imagination, they transfer to his person that superiority which belongs properly to his condition, and are struck with those accomplishments, and modes of behaviour, which his education has taught him to acquire, and which his rank and circumstances have rendered habitual to him. They are of course embarrassed in his presence by impressions of awe and reverence, and losing sometimes the exercise of their natural powers are sunk in abasement and stupidity.*
The authority, however, of the rich over the poor is, doubtless, chiefly supported by selfish considerations. As in spending a<290> great fortune, the owner gives employment, and consequently subsistence to many individuals, all those who, in this manner, obtain or expect any advantage have more or less an interest in paying him respect and submission. The influence which may be traced from this origin, operates in such various directions, is distributed in such different proportions, and so diffused through every corner of society, that it appears in its degree and extent to be incalculable. Uncommon personal talents occur but seldom; and the sphere of their activity, so to speak, is often very limited. But the inequalities in the division of wealth are varied without end; and though their effect is greater in some situations of mankind than in others, they never cease, in any, to introduce a correspondent gradation and subordination of ranks.
These original circumstances, from which authority is derived, are gradually confirmed and strengthened by their having long continued to flow in the same channel. The force of habit, the great controuler and governor of our actions, is in nothing more<291> remarkable than in promoting the respect and submission claimed by our superiors. By living in a state of inferiority and dependence, the mind is inured to subjection; and the ascendant which has been once gained is gradually rendered more complete and powerful.
But the force of habit is much more effectual in confirming the authority derived from wealth, than that which is founded on personal qualities. The superior endowments, either of the body or of the mind, can seldom operate very long in the same direction. The son of an eminent general, or poet, or statesman, is most commonly remarkable for none of the splendid abilities by which the father was distinguished; at the same time, that we behold him in a contrasted light, which deepens the shade of his deficiency. The case is different with relation to wealth, which, in the ordinary course of things, is transmitted, by lineal succession, from father to son; and remains for many generations in the same family. The possessor of that estate, therefore, who<292> bears the name, and who exercises the powers which belonged to his ancestors, obtains not only the original means of creating dependence which they enjoyed, but seems to inherit, in some degree, that consideration and respect, that influence or attachment, which, by their high station, and by the distribution of their favours during a long period they were able to accumulate.11 This is the origin of what is called birth, as the foundation of authority, which creates a popular prepossession for the representative of an ancient family, giving him the preference to an upstart, though the latter should possess greater abilities and virtues.
From the operation of these different circumstances; from the accidental superiority of personal qualities, and from the unequal distribution of wealth, aided and confirmed by the force of habit, systems of government have grown up, and been variously modified, without exciting any inquiry into their consequences, and without leading the people to examine the grounds of their submission to the constituted authorities.<293>
2. But when, in the course of political transactions, particular persons grossly abuse their powers, or when competitions arise among individuals possessing influence and authority, and of consequence parties are formed, who espouse the interest of the respective leaders, the public attention is= roused to scrutinize the pretensions of the several candidates, to compare the different modes of government which they may propose to introduce, and to examine their title to demand obedience from the rest of the community.
In such inquiries, it is hardly possible to avoid suggesting another principle, more satisfactory than that of mere authority; the general utility of government; or rather its absolute necessity, for preventing the disorders incident to human society. Without a subordination of ranks, without a power, vested in some men, to controul and direct the behaviour of others, and calculated to produce a system of uniform and consistent operations, it is impossible that a multitude of persons, living together, should be induced to resign their own pri-<294>vate interest, to subdue their opposite and jarring passions, and regularly to promote the general happiness.
There are natural rights, which belong to mankind antecedent to the formation of civil society. We may easily conceive, that, in a state of nature, we should be entitled to maintain our personal safety, to exercise our natural liberty, so far as it does not encroach upon the rights of others; and even to maintain a property in those things which we have come to possess, by original occupancy, or by our labour in producing them. These rights are not lost, though they may be differently modified when we enter into society. A part of them, doubtless, must be resigned for the sake of those advantages to be derived from the social state. We must resign, for example, the privilege of avenging injuries, for the advantage of being protected by courts of justice. We must give up a part of our property, that the public may be enabled to afford that protection. We must yield obedience to the legislative power, that we may enjoy that good order and tranquillity to be expected from its cool and<295> dispassionate regulations. But the rights which we resign, ought, in all these cases, to be compensated by the advantages obtained; and the restraints, or burdens imposed, ought neither to be greater, nor more numerous, than are necessary for the general prosperity and happiness.
Were we to examine, according to this criterion, the various political systems which take place in the world, how many might be weighed in the balance and found wanting? Some are defective by too great strictness of regulation, confining and hampering natural liberty by minute and trivial restraints; more have deviated widely from the purpose by too great laxity, admitting, an excessive license to the various modifications of knavery and violence; but the greatest number have almost totally failed in producing happiness or security, from the tyranny of individuals, or of particular orders and ranks, who, by the accidental concurrence of circumstances, acquiring exorbitant power, have reduced their fellow-citizens into a state of servile subjection. It is a mortifying reflection, to observe, that,<296> while many other branches of knowledge have attained a high degree of maturity, the master-piece of science, the guardian of rights, and of every thing valuable, should, in many enlightened parts of the world, still remain in a state of gross imperfection. Even in countries where the people have made vigorous efforts to meliorate their government, how often has the collusion of parties, the opposite attraction of public and private interest, the fermentation of numberless discordant elements, produced nothing at last but a residue of despotism.
It may here be remarked, that, when a political constitution is happily constructed, it not only excites approbation from the ultimate view of its beneficial tendency, but, like a complex machine, in which various wheels and springs are nicely adjusted, it affords additional pleasure, from our sense of order and beautiful arrangement.12 If we are pleased with the survey of a well-regulated farm or workhouse, in which there is nothing slovenly or misplaced, nothing lost or superfluous, but in which every opera-<297>tion, and every article of expence, is directed to the best advantage, how much greater satisfaction must we receive, in beholding the same regular disposition of parts, the same happy adjustment of means to a beneficial purpose, exhibited in a system so complicated and extensive, as to comprehend the moral and political movements of a great nation?
In England, where the attention of the inhabitants has been long directed to speculations of this nature, the two original principles of government, which I have mentioned, were distinguished by political writers as far back, at least, as the commencement of the contest between the king and the people, upon the accession of the House of Stewart, and were then respectively patronized and adopted by the two great parties into which the nation was divided. The principle of authority was that of the tories; by which they endeavoured to justify the pretensions of the sovereign to absolute power.13 As the dignity of the monarch excited universal respect and<298> reverence, and as it was not conferred by election, but had been immemorially possessed by a hereditary title, it was understood to be derived from the author of our nature, who has implanted in mankind the seeds of loyalty and allegiance. The monarch is, therefore, not accountable to his subjects, but only to the Deity, by whom he is appointed; and consequently his power, so far as we are concerned, is absolute; requiring, on our part, an unlimited passive obedience. If guilty of tyranny and oppression, he may be called to an account in the next world, for transgressing the laws of his Maker; but, in this life, he is totally exempted from all restraint or punishment; and the people, whom heaven in its anger has visited with this affliction, have no other resource than prayers and supplications.
The whigs, on the other hand, founded the power of a sovereign, and of all inferior magistrates and rulers, upon the principle of utility. They maintained, that as all government is intended for defending the natural rights of mankind, and for promoting the happiness of human society, every<299> exertion of power in governors, inconsistent with that end, is illegal and criminal; and it is the height of absurdity to suppose, that, when an illegal and unwarrantable power is usurped, the people have no right to resist the exercise of it by punishing the usurper. The power of a king is no otherwise of Divine appointment than any other event which happens in the dispositions of Providence; and, in the share of government which is devolved upon him, he is no more the vicegerent of God Almighty than any inferior officer, to whom the smallest or meanest branch of administration is committed.
At the same time that the whigs considered the good of society as the foundation of our submission to government, they attempted to modify and confirm that principle by the additional principle of consent. As the union of mankind in society is a matter of choice, the particular form of government introduced into any country depends, in like manner, upon the inclination of the inhabitants. According to the general current of popular opinion, they adopt certain<300> political arrangements, and submit to different rulers and magistrates, either by positive regulation and express contracts, or by acting in such a manner as gives room to infer a tacit agreement. As government, therefore, arose from a contract, or rather a number of contracts, either expressed or implied, among the different members of society, the terms of submission between the governors and the governed, as well as the right of punishing either party, upon a violation of those original agreements, may thence be easily and clearly ascertained.
With respect to this origin of the duty of allegiance, which has been much insisted on by the principal writers in this country, and which has of late been dressed and presented in different shapes by politicians on the continent,14 it seems rather to be a peculiar explanation and view of the former principle of utility, than any new or separate ground of our submission to government; and even, when considered in this light, it must be admitted with such precautions and limitations, that very little advantage is gained by it.<301>
The obligation of a contract is liable in all cases, to be controuled and modified by considerations of general utility; and a promise inconsistent with any great interest of society is not productive of moral obligation. In reality, men, when they come into society, are bound to preserve the natural rights of one another; and, consequently, to establish a government conducive to that end. Good government is necessary to prevent robbery, murder, and oppression; and if a man be supposed to have promised, that he would support or obey a government of an opposite tendency, it would be his duty to break such an illegal compact, and to reform such an unjust constitution.
The addition of a promise, at the same time, appears but little to increase the weight of that previous obligation. The obligation to abstain from murder, receives but little additional strength by our giving a promise to that effect.
It seems, indeed, to be a maxim universally admitted, that every nation is entitled to regulate its own government; but this<302> proceeds upon the presumption that every nation is the best judge of what is expedient in its peculiar circumstances, and is likely to receive most benefit from that peculiar constitution which is introduced by the voice of the majority. The maxim, therefore, must be understood with exception of such political arrangements as are evidently tyrannical, and is applicable to such forms of government only, as in point of expediency, admit of different opinions.
It is understood, on the other hand, that no foreign state is entitled to controul or restrain its neighbours, in modelling and establishing their own political system; because, whatever pretences for such interference may be assumed, it never is dictated by a benevolent purpose, but commonly proceeds from selfish and sinister motives. As different states have always a separate, and very frequently an opposite interest, it must be expected that each will invariably pursue its own; and that, in seeking to aggrandize itself, the constant object of its policy, whether professed or concealed, will be to limit the power, and prevent the<303> aggrandizement of its neighbours. There could not, therefore, exist a more fatal calamity to any country, than that its administration and government should be settled under the direction of its neighbours.15
There occur, at the same time, a variety of circumstances, in which it should seem, that the inhabitants of a country, by living under the protection of its laws, give no good reason to infer a tacit promise of submission to its government.
It would be absurd to suppose, that the inhabitants of Turkey have given a free consent to support that government under which they live. Even in other countries, less benumbed with ignorance and stupidity, or sunk in the lethargy of despotism, a great part of the inhabitants feel themselves under a sort of necessity to remain, where the language and habits of life are familiar to them, where they enjoy the comfortable intercourse of their friends, and where they have already secured the regular means of subsistence. Their submission to the government is, therefore, extorted by the prospect of those inconveniences which would attend<304> their emigration; and if it were at all to be regarded in the light of a promise, would be such a one as ought to be set aside from equitable considerations.
When we examine historically the extent of the tory, and of the whig principle, it seems evident, that from the progress of arts and commerce, the former has been continually diminishing, and the latter gaining ground in the same proportion. In England, so late as the year 1688—
“The right divine of kings to govern ill,”16
was a doctrine still embraced in general by the landed gentry, by the church, and by a great part of the nation; and had it not been for the terror of popery, the revolution at that time would not have taken place. Since that period, however, there has been a gradual progress of opinions. Philosophy has been constantly advancing in all the departments of science; has been employed in reducing all the works of art, all the appearances of nature, to their principles; and has not neglected to push her researches into political, as well as other branches of specu-<305>lation. The mysteries of government have been more and more unveiled; and the circumstances which contribute to the perfection of the social order have been laid open. The degrees of power committed to individuals, have been placed on their proper basis; and the chief magistrate, when stript of his artificial trappings, and when the mist of prepossession which had surrounded him is dispelled, appears naked, and without disguise, the real servant of the people, appointed for the important purpose of superintending, and putting in motion the great political machine. The blind respect and reverence paid to ancient institutions has given place to a desire of examining their uses, of criticising their defects, and of appreciating their true merits. The fashion of scrutinizing public measures, according to the standard of their utility, has now become very universal; it pervades the literary circles, together with a great part of the middling ranks, and is visibly descending to the lower orders of the people.
During the rebellion in 1745, a gentleman of some eminence, who had embarked<306> in that ridiculous project, is said to have distinguished himself, by defending the measure upon what were called whig principles. This was, at that time regarded as a novelty, and was far from being well received by his associates; but so great has been the progress of opinion since that period, that the more liberal part of the tories have now caught universally the mode of reasoning employed by their adversaries, and are accustomed to justify the degree of monarchical power which they wish to establish, not by asserting that it is the inherent birthright of the sovereign, but by maintaining that it is necessary for the suppression of tumult and disorder.
Even that hardy race,17 who formerly issued from their mountains to attack him whom they considered as the usurper of the throne, are long since fully reconciled to the beneficial government of a German elector, raised by an act of parliament to the sovereignty of a free people.* <307>
The whigs themselves have not been exempted from the progressive operation of the same circumstances, which have gradually exalted their speculative principles, and occasioned a proportional change in their practical system. It cannot be overlooked, that the disposition to pry into the abuses of government is likely to suggest limitations in the power of rulers; and when a people at large employ themselves in discussing the advantages arising from different political arrangements, they must feel a bias in favour of that system, which tends to the equalization of ranks, and the diffusion of popular privileges.*
The despotism, which had long been deeply rooted upon the neighbouring continent, checked the progress of political speculation, and taught the people, not only to suffer, but even to exult in their fetters.<308> Philosophy, however, triumphed at length over ancient customs; and the light of science, which had long been diffused in every other department, discovered the rights of man, and the true principles of government.18 The nation awoke, as from a dream of horror and distress. Their enthusiasm in correcting abuses and in propagating the new system, rose to a height proportioned to the danger which they had escaped, and the obstacles which they had to surmount. It bore down all opposition; it swept away those corrupt institutions which had been the work of ages; it levelled with the dust those bulwarks which avarice and ambition had erected for maintaining their encroachments; but unhappily, in the general wreck of opinions, it overthrew those banks and landmarks, which while they defended the civil rights of the inhabitants, might have contributed to direct and regulate the new establishment.
It seems worthy of remark, that when the new system in France appeared likely to spread over the rest of Europe, the alarm and panic which it struck among the in-<309>habitants of this country, was chiefly excited by a prospect of the dangers with which they were threatened, and the arguments employed in opposing and combating that system, were drawn entirely from the anarchy and confusion, the destruction of all rights and liberties, religious and civil, with which it would be attended; and the chief alarmists were taken from that class of men who had been denominated whigs.
Upon the whole, it is evident that the diffusion of knowledge tends more and more, to encourage and bring forward the principle of utility in all political discussions; but we must not thence conclude that the influence of mere authority, operating without reflection, is entirely useless. From the dispositions of mankind to pay respect and submission to superior personal qualities, and still more to a superiority of rank and station, together with that propensity which every one feels to continue in those modes of action to which he has long been accustomed, the great body of the people, who have commonly neither leisure nor capacity to weigh the advantages of public regulations, are<310> prevented from indulging their unruly passions, and retained in subjection to the magistrate. The same dispositions contribute in some degree to restrain those rash and visionary projects, which proceed from the ambition of statesmen, or the wanton desire of innovation, and by which nations are exposed to the most dreadful calamities. Those feelings of the human mind, which give rise to authority, may be regarded as the wise provision of nature for supporting the order and government of society; and they are only to be regretted and censured, when, by exceeding their proper bounds, they no longer act in subordination to the good of mankind, but are made, as happens, indeed, very often, the instruments of tyranny and oppression.<311>
The gradual Advancement of the Fine Arts—Their Influence upon Government.
The diversions and amusements of any people are usually conformable to the progress they have made in the common arts of life. Barbarians, who are much employed in fighting, and are obliged to procure subsistence, as well as to defend their acquisitions, by vigorous corporeal exertions, amuse themselves with mock fights, and with such contentions as display their strength, agility, and courage. Long after mankind have made such advances in rearing cattle, and in agriculture, as to derive their principal maintenance from those arts, they continue to follow hunting and fishing, with all the varieties of rural sport, as their chief recreation and pastime. But when, in consequence of their improvement in useful arts, the bulk of a people are engaged in peaceable professions, and from<312> their advancement in opulence and civilization, have become averse from hazardous exertions, and desirous of repose and tranquillity, it may be expected that a suitable variation will take place in the style of their amusements. Instead of engaging in the athletic exercises, they will hire others to exhibit spectacles of that nature, and will become sedentary spectators of the struggle. Or if they have attained a higher degree of refinement, they will invent games which admit the display of mental address and ingenuity; and will at length introduce entertainments calculated to gratify the taste of whatever is beautiful in the compass of art or of nature. In some countries, no doubt, accidental circumstances have retarded the improvement of these elegant pleasures, and preserved, in the midst of opulence and civilization, an uncommon attachment to the primitive amusements of a rude age. The Romans, in consequence of early and deep impressions which they had received from their long and constant employment in war, were disgraced, even at the most exalted period of their philosophy and litera-<313>ture, by the fondness which they retained for the barbarous exhibitions of the amphitheatre. The inhabitants of this island, among whom the lower orders have considerable influence in directing the fashions, have incurred the ridicule of their neighbours, for their strong partiality to the inelegant amusements of the cock-pit, and the bear-garden. But whatever exceptions may occur in particular cases, it is commonly observed, that the refinements of taste, and the cultivation of the elegant arts, among a people, are in proportion to those improvements which multiply the comforts and conveniencies of life, and give rise to extensive affluence and luxury.
That the degree of barbarism, or of refinement, in this particular, which happens to prevail in a country, must have a powerful effect upon the character and manners of the inhabitants, will be readily admitted, when we consider what a large proportion of time is frequently spent in amusements and diversions; what a multiplicity of ideas these are capable of suggesting; and what a deep impression they make, more especially<314> in the higher ranks, and in the early periods of life!
In examining, therefore, the improvements which have taken place, in this country, since the revolution, it would be improper to overlook that progressive culture of the fine arts which has been so conspicuous, and from which the inhabitants of the higher, and even middling ranks, derive so great a share of their amusement.1 Upon this subject, I shall throw together a few observations, concerning the history of these arts, and concerning their influence upon the government of a people; beginning with that extensive branch which is communicated by language, or literary composition. This may be divided into two classes: the first comprehending those compositions which are primarily calculated for mere entertainment, and to which, in a large sense, the denomination of poetry may be given: the second, including those in which entertainment is but a secondary object, and which may come under the general description of eloquence.<315>
[22. ]James Cook (1728–79), British navigator and explorer, commanded a voyage on behalf of the Royal Society to make astronomical observations in Tahiti [Otaheite] 1768–71. He charted New Zealand, the eastern coast of Australia, Hawaii, some of Antarctica, and the northwest coast of North America.
[23. ]First visited by Russians in the late seventeenth century, Kamchatka is a northeastern Russian peninsula extending south between the Sea of Okhotsk and the Bering Sea.
[* ]See the accounts of the Russian emissaries.
[† ]Aul. Gell. Noct. Att. lib. II. 58.
[† ]Caesar. de bell. Gall. lib. 6. 5. 23.
[24. ]Ulysses is the Latin form of Odysseus, the hero of the Odyssey.
[* ]“Mercatura antem [[sic: autem , si tennis sic: tenuis est, sordida putanda est: sin magna et copiosa, multa undique apportans, multisque sine vanitate impartiens, non est admodum vituperanda.”—“Sordidi etiam putandi qui mercantur a mercatoribus quod statim vendant. Nihil enim proficiunt nisi admodum mentcantur” sic: mentiantur. [Cicero de offic. Lib. I. § 42.] “Trade, if it is on a small scale, is to be considered vulgar; but if wholesale and on a large scale, importing large quantities from all parts of the world and distributing to many without misrepresentation, it is not to be greatly disparaged.”—“Vulgar we must consider those also who buy from wholesale merchants to retail immediately; for they would get no profits without a great deal of downright lying.” Cicero, De Officiis, 1.42. See Marcus Tullius Cicero, De Officiis, trans. Walter Miller (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1913), 155, 153. (These page numbers are not reversed: a later text has been placed before an earlier.)]]
[25. ]Alexander Pope (1688–1744): English poet, a member of Swift’s circle. His major works include The Rape of the Lock (1712), the Dunciad (1712; enlarged 1729, 1742), translations of the Homeric epics, and the Essay on Man (1733). The line quoted by Millar is from Pope’s “Epistle to Sir Richard Temple, Lord Viscount Cobham.”
[26. ]The Greek philosopher Epicurus (341–270 ) was the founder of the Epicurean school of philosophy, which aimed to achieve a life free from anxiety.
[27. ]Molière: The stage name of the French dramatist and theater manager Jean Baptiste Poquelin (1622–73). His major plays include Le Festin de Pierre [Don Juan] (1665) and Le Misanthrope (1666).
[* ]Sui profusus, alieni cupictus [[sic: cupidus. Salust. “Covetous of others’ possessions, he was prodigal of his own.” Sallust, Catalina, 5. See Sallust, trans. J. C. Rolfe (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1921, rev. 1931), 9.]]
[28. ]“To a Cromwell, perhaps, or a De Retz, discretion may appear an alderman-like virtue, as Dr Swift calls it.” Hume, Enquiry Concerning the Principles of Morals, ed. T.= Beauchamp (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1998), 121.
[29. ]Joseph-François Lafitau (1681–1746): French Jesuit missionary and ethnologist who wrote Moeurs des sauvages ameriquains, comparées aux moeurs des premiers temps (1724), a comparative ethnology of Iroquois and Hurons in relation to ancient Europeans.
[30. ]Hercules is the Latin form of Heracles, the most celebrated hero of ancient Greek legend and, according to tradition, the son of the god Zeus. Iolas was the younger companion and helper of Heracles. Theseus was a legendary king of Athens whose major exploit was the journey to Crete and the killing of the Minotaur. A close friend of Theseus, Peritheus was a mythical king of the Lapiths, a Thessalian clan who warred against the legendary centaurs. Achilles was the central character of Homer’s Iliad who heroically avenged the death of his friend Patroclus. Orestes was the son of Agamemnon (king of Mycenae and leader of the Greeks during the Trojan War) who was raised by Agamemnon’s brother-in-law and befriended his son, Pylades.
[31. ]Millar’s reference here and in subsequent pages is to the corruptions of the East India Company.
[* ]In a striking picture, exhibited by an eloquent speaker of the present day, a supreme judge is represented as acting in subserviency to that “sacred thirst,” and as making a solemn progress over the country, “carrying a bloody standard in one hand, and picking pockets with the other.” [[Quid non mortalia pectora cogis / Auri sacra fames?: “To what do you not compel mortal hearts / Accursed hunger for gold?” (Virgil, Aeneid, bk. 3, lines 56–57). The phrase “sacred thirst,” adapted from Psalm 42, was often used as an ironic reference to desire for gold. It is used by Smith in a context very similar to Millar’s in the section “Of Colonies” in WN, vol. 2, bk. 4, chap. 7.]]
[1. ]Millar’s discussion in this chapter of morality as a cultivation of sentiments, his sharp distinction between justice and the other virtues, and his account of justice as the basis for the legal system is an epitome of the theory developed by Smith in reaction to premises laid down by Hume. Nearly every paragraph of the chapter can be seen as an echo or discussion of parts of Smith’s TMS and LJ.
[2. ]Solomon was king of the Hebrews ca. 970–ca. 930 ; his wisdom is proverbial. Proverbs and Ecclesiastes are ascribed to him. Agur was a contributor of proverbs mentioned in Prov. 30:1, and the Prayer of Agur in Prov. 30:7–9 is the best-known part of his writing. The Wisdom of Jesus, the Son of Sirach is another name for an apocryphal book of the Old Testament, and its main themes are the excellence and teaching of wisdom. Hesiod is one of the earliest-known Greek poets; he was active around 700 He wrote the Theogony, an epic poem on the origin of the gods and the earth, and Works and Days, which through myths and proverbial maxims offered advice for living a life of honest work.
[3. ]The Fables of Bidpai (Pilpay) was the European title for the collection of animal fables known in Sanskrit as Panca-tantra that offered instruction in statecraft to the king’s sons. The collection dates from ca. 200, and Millar is referring to the Persian version, which was translated into several European languages as the Fables of Bidpai (or Pilpay), a corruption of Vidyapati, a wise Brahmin who figures in them. Aesop was a legendary Greek fabulist usually placed as a Phrygian slave in the sixth century
[4. ]Jean de la Fontaine’s Fables (1668–94) were basic to the modern fashion, e.g. Bernard Mandeville’s Fable of the Bees (1714; 1723), Jonathan Swift’s Gulliver’s Travels (1726), John Gay’s Fables (1727; 1738), and many others.
[5. ]The moral virtues on which other virtues hinge. The four cardinal virtues are prudence, temperance, fortitude, and justice. They are distinguished from the theological virtues in that they are attainable by our natural powers and do not require an infusion of divine grace.
[6. ]Pythagoras (ca. 582–ca. 507 ) was a pre-Socratic Greek philosopher.
[7. ]Hugo Grotius (1583–1645): Dutch diplomat, jurist, and theologian. His main work, De Jure Belli ac Pacis (1625), was fundamental to the development of natural law theory in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. A second key figure was Samuel Pufendorf (1632–94), author of De Jure Naturae et Gentium (1672) and De Officio Hominis et Civis (1673).
[8. ]In this passage Millar gives a brief genealogy of his own profession as a teacher of law, drawing a line between the earlier speculations of Grotius and Pufendorf and the new, more historically framed works of Montesquieu, Kames, and Smith, who were his own great teachers. The remainder of this chapter is replete with the influence of these thinkers and is particularly close to Smith’s lectures on jurisprudence (which Millar audited twice).
[9. ]Henry Home, Lord Kames (1696–1782): Scottish judge and author of works on philosophy, jurisprudence, theology, education, literary criticism, history, antiquities, and agriculture. He was a mentor to Millar, who had served as tutor in his home as a young man. His major works include Essays on the Principles of Morality and Natural Religion (1751), Historical Law-Tracts (1758), Principles of Equity (1760), Elements of Criticism (1762), and Sketches of the History of Man (1774).
[10. ]The esteem with which the poor regard the rich is a major theme in Smith’s Theory of Moral Sentiments: “When we consider the condition of the great, in those delusive colours in which the imagination is apt to paint it, it seems to be almost the abstract idea of a perfect and happy state. It is the very state which, in all our waking dreams and idle reveries, we had sketched out to ourselves as the final object of all our desires. We feel, therefore, a peculiar sympathy with the satisfaction of those who are in it. We favour all their inclinations and forward all their wishes.” See TMS, 51–52.
[* ]Theory of Moral Sentiments.
[11. ]See Hume on “long possession” as “that which gives authority to almost all the establish’d governments of the world.” A Treatise of Human Nature, ed. David Fate Norton and Mary J. Norton (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2000), 356.
[12. ]Smith similarly emphasized the combination of aesthetic and utilitarian motives in the “machine” of government: “The perfection of police, the extension of trade and manufactures, are noble and magnificent objects. The contemplation of them pleases us, and we are interested in whatever can tend to advance them. They make part of the great system of government, and the wheels of the political machine seem to move with more harmony and ease by means of them. We take pleasure in beholding the perfection of so beautiful and grand a system, and we are uneasy till we remove any obstruction that can in the least disturb or encumber the regularity of its motions. All constitutions of government, however, are valued only in proportion as they tend to promote the happiness of those who live under them. This is their sole use and end.” See TMS, 185.
[13. ]Millar’s outline of the principles of authority vs. utility as the leading doctrines of the Tory and Whig parties can be compared with his more historical discussion of these same divisions in vol. 3.
[14. ]Millar is referring to the use of contract ideas and rhetoric in the French Revolution.
[15. ]Millar’s argument here echoes his charge in the Letters of Crito (1796) against the hypocrisy of the British government’s attempt to overthrow the revolutionary regime in France.
[16. ]Alexander Pope, Dunciad, bk. 4, line 188.
[17. ]The Scottish Highlanders, who long retained their Jacobite loyalty to the exiled Stuarts.
[* ]See Addison’s verses to Sir Godfrey Kneller.
[* ]Hence the distinction between the old and the new whigs, by which a famous political character endeavoured lately to cover the desertion of his former tenets; and hence too a pretty general suspicion, that many nominal adherents of that party have become secret admirers of democracy.
[18. ]Millar is referring, of course, to the outbreak of the French Revolution and the framing of the Declaration of the Rights of Man (1789).
[1. ]Millar’s view that the development of the practical and fine arts should be an important part of the historical narrative was shared by a number of historians of this period. See, for example, Robert Henry’s History of Great Britain (1771–93), which surveyed all epochs of British history in terms of several parallel narratives, including the history of the arts and of literature. Millar’s most important predecessor, however, was undoubtedly Hume, who famously gathered such material into his appendixes: “It may not be improper, at this period, to make a pause: and to take a survey of the state of the kingdom, with regard to government, manners, finances, arms, trade, learning. Where a just notion is not formed of these particulars, history can be little instructive, and often will not be intelligible” (appendix to the Reign of James I, HE, 5:124). Though Hume’s appendixes are evidently briefer and less developed, the parallel suggests that Millar may have seen the dissertations that now form vol. 4 of this work as a kind of extended version of Hume’s earlier efforts.