The Elements of Moral Science (1835, 1856 ed.)

Francis Wayland

BOOK 2, DIVISION 1, CLASS 1, CHAPTER 1, SECTION 2

Modes in Which Personal Liberty May Be Violated

Personal liberty may be violated in two ways: 1. By the individual; 2. By society.

PART FIRST. Of the violation of personal liberty by the Individual.

The most common violation of personal liberty, under this head, is that which exists in the case of Domestic Slavery.

Domestic slavery proceeds upon the principle that the master has a right to control the actions, physical and intellectual, of the slave, for his own, that is, the master’s, individual benefit; and, of course, that the happiness of the master, when it comes in competition with the happiness of the slave, extinguishes in the latter the right to pursue it. It supposes, at best, that the relation between master and slave, is not that which exists between man and man, but is a modification, at least, of that which exists between man and the brutes.

Now, this manifestly supposes that the two classes of beings are created with dissimilar rights: that the master possesses rights which have never been conceded by the slave; and that the slave has no rights at all over the means of happiness which God has given him, whenever these means of happiness can be rendered available to the service of the master. It supposes that the Creator intended one human being to govern the physical, intellectual and moral actions of as many other human beings as by purchase he can bring within his physical power; and that one human being may thus acquire a right to sacrifice the happiness of any number of other human beings, for the purpose of promoting his own.

Slavery thus violates the personal liberty of man as a physical, intellectual, and moral being.

1. It purports to give to the master a right to control the physical labor of the slave, not for the sake of the happiness of the slave, nor upon terms mutually satisfactory to the parties, but for the sake of the happiness of the master. It subjects the amount of labor, and the kind of labor, and the remuneration for labor, entirely to the will of the one party, to the entire exclusion of the will of the other party.

2. But if this right in the master over the slave be conceded, there are of course conceded with it all other rights necessary to insure its possession. Hence, inasmuch as the slave can be held in this condition only while he remains in a state of comparative mental imbecility, it supposes the master to have the right to control his intellectual development, just as far as may be necessary to secure entire subjection. Thus, it supposes the slave to have no right to use his intellect for the production of his own happiness; but, only to use it in such manner as may be consistent with his master’s profit.

3. And, moreover, inasmuch as the acquisition of the knowledge of his duty to God could not be freely made without the acquisition of other knowledge, which might, if universally diffused, endanger the control of the master, slavery supposes the master to have the right to determine how much knowledge of his duty a slave shall obtain, the manner in which he shall obtain it, and the manner in which he shall discharge that duty after he shall have obtained a knowledge of it. It thus subjects the duty of man to God, entirely to the will of man; and this for the sake of pecuniary profit. It renders the eternal happiness of the one party subservient to the temporal happiness of the other. And this principle is commonly recognized by the laws of all slave-holding countries.

If argument were necessary to show that such a system as this must be at variance with the ordinance of God, it might be easily drawn from the effects which it produces both upon morals and upon national wealth.

1. Its effects must be disastrous upon the morals of both parties. By presenting objects on whom passion may be satiated without resistance and without redress, it tends to cultivate in the master, pride, anger, cruelty, selfishness and licentiousness. By accustoming the slave to subject his moral principles to the will of another, it tends to abolish in him all moral distinctions and thus fosters in him lying, deceit, hypocrisy, dishonesty, and a willingness to yield himself up to minister to the appetites of his master. That in all slave-holding countries there are exceptions to this remark, and that there are principles in human nature which, in many cases, limit the effects of these tendencies, may be gladly admitted. Yet, that such is the tendency of slavery, as slavery, we think no reflecting person can for a moment hesitate to allow.

2. The effects of slavery on national wealth, may be easily seen from the following considerations:

1. Instead of imposing upon all the necessity of labor, it restricts the number of laborers, that is, of producers, within the smallest possible limit, by rendering labor disgraceful.

2. It takes from the laborers the natural stimulus to labor, namely, the desire in the individual of improving his condition; and substitutes, in the place of it, that motive which is the least operative and the least constant, namely, the fear of punishment without the consciousness of moral delinquency.

3. It removes, as far as possible, from both parties, the disposition and the motives to frugality. Neither the master learns frugality from the necessity of labor, nor the slave from the benefits which it confers. And hence, while the one party wastes from ignorance of the laws of acquisition, and the other because he can have no motive to economy, capital must accumulate but slowly, if indeed it accumulate at all.

And that such are the tendencies of slavery, is manifest from observation No country, not of great fertility, can long sustain a large slave population. Soils of more than ordinary fertility cannot sustain it long, after the first richness of the soil has been exhausted. Hence, slavery in this country is acknowledged to have impoverished many of our most valuable districts; and, hence, it is continually migrating from the older settlements, to those new and untilled regions, where the accumulated manure of centuries of vegetation has formed a soil, whose productiveness may, for a while, sustain a system at variance with the laws of nature. Many of our free and of our slave-holding States were peopled at about the same time. The slave-holding States had every advantage, both in soil and climate, over their neighbors. And yet the accumulation of capital has been greatly in favor of the latter. If any one doubt whether this difference be owing to the use of slave labor, let him ask himself what would have been the condition of the slave-holding States, at this moment, if they had been inhabited, from the beginning, by an industrious yeomanry; each one holding his own land, and each one tilling it with the labor of his own hands.

But let us inquire what is the doctrine of revelation on this subject.

The moral precepts of the Bible are diametrically opposed to slavery. They are, Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself, and all things whatsoever ye would that men should do unto you, do ye even so unto them.

1. The application of these precepts is universal. Our neighbor is every one whom we may benefit. The obligation respects all things whatsoever. The precept, then, manifestly, extends to men, as men, or men in every condition; and if to all things whatsoever, certainly to a thing so important as the right to personal liberty.

2. Again. By this precept, it is made our duty to cherish as tender and delicate a respect for the right which the meanest individual possesses over the means of happiness bestowed upon him by God, as we cherish for our own right over our own means of happiness, or as we desire any other individual to cherish for it. Now, were this precept obeyed, it is manifest that slavery could not in fact exist for a single instant. The principle of the precept is absolutely subversive of the principle of slavery. That of the one is the entire equality of right; that of the other, the entire absorption of the rights of one in the rights of the other.

If any one doubt respecting the bearing of the Scripture precept upon this case, a few plain questions may throw additional light upon the subject. For instance,

1. Do the precepts and the spirit of the Gospel allow me to derive my support from a system, which extorts labor from my fellow-men, without allowing them any voice in the equivalent which they shall receive; and which can only be sustained by keeping them in a state of mental degradation, and by shutting them out, in a great degree, from the means of salvation?

2. Would the master be willing that another person should subject him to slavery, for the same reasons, and on the same grounds, that he holds his slave in bondage?

3. Would the gospel allow us, if it were in our power, to reduce our fellow-citizens of our own color to slavery? But the gospel makes no distinction between men on the ground of color or of race. God has made of one blood all the nations that dwell on the earth. I think that these questions will easily ascertain the gospel principles on this subject.

But to this it is objected, that the gospel never forbids slavery; and, still more, that, by prescribing the duties of masters and servants, it tacitly allows it. This objection is of sufficient importance to deserve attentive consideration.

The following will, I think, be considered by both parties a fair statement of the teaching of the New Testament on this subject. The moral principles of the gospel are directly subversive of the principles of slavery; but, on the other hand, the gospel neither commands masters to manumit their slaves, nor authorizes slaves to free themselves from their masters; and, also, it goes further, and prescribes the duties suited to both parties in their present condition.

First. Now, if this be admitted, it will, so far as I see, be sufficient for the argument. For if the gospel be diametrically opposed to the principle of slavery, it must be opposed to the practice of slavery; and, therefore, were the principles of the gospel fully adopted, slavery could not exist.

Secondly. 1. I suppose that it will not be denied, that God has a right to inform us of his will in any manner that he pleases; and that the intimation of his will, in what manner soever signified, is binding upon the conscience.

2. Hence, God may make known to us his will either directly or indirectly; and if that will be only distinctly signified, it is as binding in the one case as in the other. Thus, he may, in express terms, forbid a certain course of conduct; this is forbidding it directly; or else he may command certain duties, or impose certain obligations, with which that course of conduct is manifestly inconsistent; this is forbidding it indirectly. It is sufficient, in either case, in order to constitute the obligation, that the will of God be known.

3. The question, then, resolves itself into this: Has God imposed obligations upon men which are inconsistent with the existence of domestic slavery? That he has, may, I think, be easily shown.

a. He has made it our duty to proclaim the gospel to all men, without respect to circumstance or condition. If it be our duty to proclaim the gospel to every creature, it must be our duty to give to every creature every means for attaining a knowledge of it; and, yet more imperatively, not to place any obstacles in the way of their attaining that knowledge.

b. He has taught us, that the conjugal relation is established by himself; that husband and wife are joined together by God; and that man may not put them asunder. The marriage contract is a contract for life, and is dissoluble only for one cause, that of conjugal infidelity. Any system that interferes with this contract, and claims to make it any thing else than what God has made it, is in violation of his law.

c. God has established the parental and filial relations, and has imposed upon parents and children appropriate and peculiar duties. The child is bound to honor and obey the parent; the parent to support and educate the child, and to bring him up in the nurture and admonition of the Lord. With these relations and obligations, no created being has a right to interfere. A system which claims authority to sever these relations, and to annihilate these obligations, must be at variance with the will of God.

4. That the Christian religion does establish these relations, and impose these obligations, will not, I think, be disputed. Now, they either are, or are not, inconsistent with the existence of domestic slavery. If they are inconsistent with the existence of slavery, then slavery is indirectly forbidden by the Christian religion. If they are not inconsistent with it, then, that interference with them, which slavery exercises, is as uncalled for as it would be in any other case; and is the infliction of just so much gratuitous, inexcusable, and demoralizing misery. And, as we have before said, what is indirectly forbidden in the Scripture, is as truly forbidden as though it were directly forbidden.

But it may be asked, Why was this manner of forbidding it chosen in preference to any other? I reply that this question we are not obliged to answer. It is enough for us to show that it is forbidden. It is this which establishes the obligation, and this obligation cannot be in the least affected by the reason which may be given, for the manner in which God has seen fit to reveal it.

The reason may be, that slavery is a social evil; and that, in order to eradicate it, a change must be effected in the society in which it exists, and that this change would De better effected by the inculcation of the principles themselves which are opposed to slavery, than by the inculcation of a direct precept. Probably all social evils are thus most successfully remedied.

We answer, again, this very course which the gospel takes on this subject, seems to have been the only one that could have been taken, in order to effect the universal abolition of slavery. The gospel was designed, not for one race, or for one time, but for all races, and for all times. It looked not at the abolition of this form of evil for that age alone. but for its universal abolition. Hence, the important object of its Author was, to gain it a lodgment in every part of the known world; so that, by its universal diffusion among all classes of society, it might quietly and peacefully modify and subdue the evil passions of men; and thus, without violence, work a revolution in the whole mass of mankind. In this manner alone could its object, a universal moral revolution, have been accomplished. For, if it had forbidden the evil, instead of subverting the principle; if it had proclaimed the unlawfulness of slavery, and taught slaves to resist the oppression of their masters; it would instantly have arrayed the two parties in deadly hostility, throughout the civilized world: its announcement would have been the signal of servile war; and the very name of the Christian religion would have been forgotten amidst the agitations of universal bloodshed. The fact, under these circumstances, that the gospel does not forbid slavery, affords no reason to suppose that it does not mean to prohibit it; much less does it afford ground for belief, that Jesus Christ intended to authorize it.

3. It is important to remember that two grounds of moral obligation are distinctly recognized in the gospel. The first is our duty to man, as man; that is, on the ground of the relation which men sustain to each other: the second is our duty to man, as a creature of God; that is, on the ground of the relation which we all sustain to God. On this latter ground, many things become our duty which would not be so on the former. It is on this ground, that we are commanded to return good for evil, to pray for them that despitefully use us, and when we are smitten on one cheek, to turn also the other. To act thus is our duty, not because our fellow-man has a right to claim this course of conduct of us, nor because he has a right to inflict injury upon us, but because such conduct in us will be well pleasing to God. And when God prescribes the course of conduct which will be well pleasing to him, he by no means acknowledges the right of abuse in the injurious person, but expressly declares, Vengeance is mine, and I will repay it, saith the Lord. Now, it is to be observed, that it is precisely upon this latter ground, that the slave is commanded to obey his master. It is never urged, like the duty of obedience to parents, because it is right; but because the cultivation of meekness and forbearance under injury, will be well pleasing unto God. Thus, servants are commanded to be obedient to their own masters,” in singleness of heart, as unto Christ;” “doing the will of God from the heart, with good will doing service as to the Lord, and not to men.” Eph. 6:5-7.” Servants are commanded to count their masters worthy of all honor, that the name of God and his doctrine be not blasphemed.” 1 Tim. 6:1 “Exhort servants to be obedient to their own masters,” etc.,” that they may adorn the doctrine of God our Savior in all things.” Titus 3:9. The manner in which the duty of servants or slaves is inculcated, therefore, affords no ground for the assertion, that the gospel authorizes one man to hold another in bondage, any more than the command to honor the king, when that king was Nero, authorized the tyranny of the emperor; or than the command to turn the other cheek, when one is smitten, justifies the infliction of violence by an injurious man.*

In a word, if the gospel rule of conduct be directly at variance with the existence of slavery; if the relations which it establishes, and the obligations which it enforces, are inconsistent with its existence; if the manner in which it treats it, is the only manner in which it could attempt its utter and universal extermination; and if it inculcates the duty of slaves on principles which have no connection with the question of the right of masters over them; I think it must be conceded that the precepts of the gospel in no manner countenance, but are entirely opposed to, the institution of domestic slavery.

Before closing this part of the subject, it may be proper to consider the question, What is the duty of masters and slaves, under a condition of society in which slavery now exists?

I. As to masters.

If the system be wrong, as we have endeavored to show, if it be at variance with our duty both to God and to man, it must be abandoned. If it be asked, When? I ask again, When shall a man begin to cease doing wrong? Is not the answer always, Immediately? If a man is injuring us, do we ever doubt as to the time when he ought to cease? There is then no doubt in respect to the time when we ought to cease inflicting injury upon others.

But it may be said, immediate abolition would be the greatest possible injury to the slaves themselves. They are not competent to self-government.

This is a question of fact, which it is not within the province of moral philosophy to decide. It very likely may be so. So far as I know, the facts are not sufficiently Known to warrant a full opinion on the subject. We will, therefore, suppose it to be the case, and ask, What is the duty of masters under these circumstances?

1. The situation of the slaves, in which this obstacle to their emancipation consists, is not by their own act, but by the act of their masters; and, therefore, the masters are bound to remove it. The slaves were brought here without their own consent, they have been continued in their present state of degradation without their own consent, and they are not responsible for the consequences. If a man have done injustice to his neighbor, and have also placed impediments in the way of remedying that injustice, he is as much under obligation to remove the impediments in the way of justice, as he is to do justice. Were it otherwise, a man might, by the accumulation of injury, at last render the most atrocious injury innocent and right.

2. But it may be said, this cannot be done, unless the slave is held in bondage until the object be accomplished. This is also a question of fact, on which I will not pretend to decide. But suppose it to be so, the question returns, What then is the duty of the master? I answer, supposing such to be the fact, it may be the duty of the master to hold the slave; not, however, on the ground of right over him but of obligation to him, and of obligation to him for the purpose of accomplishing a particular and specified good An d, of course, he who holds him for any other purpose, hold. him wrongfully, and is guilty of the sin of slavery. In th{ mean while, he is innocent in just so far as he, in the fear oi God. holds the slave, not for the good of the master, but for the good of the slave, and with the entire and honest intention of accomplishing the object as soon as he can, and of liberating the slave as soon as the object is accomplished. He thus admits the slave to equality of right. He does unto another as he would that another should do unto him; and, thus acting, though he may inform hold a fellow-creature in bondage, he is in fact innocent of the crime of violation of liberty. This opinion, however, proceeds upon the supposition that the facts are as above stated. As to the question of fact, I do not feel competent to a decision.

II. The duty of slaves is also explicitly made known in the Bible. They are bound to obedience, fidelity, submission, and respect to their masters, not only to the good and kind, but also to the unkind and froward; not, however, on the ground of duty to man, but on the ground of duty to God. This obligation extends to every thing but matters of conscience. When a master commands a slave to do wrong, the slave ought not to obey. The Bible does not, as I suppose, authorize resistance to injury; but it commands us to refuse obedience in such a case, and suffer the consequences, looking to God alone, to whom vengeance belongeth. Acting upon these principles, the slave may attain to the highest grade of virtue, and may exhibit a sublimity and purity of moral character, which, in the condition of the master, is absolutely unattainable.

Thus we see that the Christian religion not only forbids slavery, but that it also provides the only method in which, after it has once been established, it may be abolished, and that with entire safety and benefit to both parties. By instilling the right moral dispositions into the bosom of the master and of the slave, it teaches the one the duty of reciprocity, and the other the duty of submission; and thus, without tumult, without disorder; without revenge, but, by the real moral improvement of both parties, restores both to the relation towards each other intended by their Creator.

Hence, if any one will reflect on these facts, and remember the moral law of the Creator, and the terrible sanctions by which his laws are sustained, and also the provision which in the gospel of reconciliation, He has made for removing this evil after it has once been established; he must I think, be convinced of the imperative obligation which rests upon him to remove it without the delay of a moment. The Judge of the whole earth will do justice. He hears the cry of the oppressed, and he will, in the end, terribly vindicate right. And, on the other hand, let those who suffer wrongfully, bear their sufferings with patience, committing their souls unto him as unto a faithful Creator.

PART II. The right of personal liberty may be violated by SOCIETY.

As the right to use the means of happiness which God has given him in such manner as he will, provided he do not violate the corresponding rights of others, is conferred upon the individual by his Creator, it is manifest that no being but the Creator can rightly restrict it. The individual is just as truly, in this sense, independent of society, as he is of individuals. Society is composed of individuals, and can have no other rights than the individuals of which it is composed, only in just so far as the individual voluntarily, and for an equivalent, has conceded to it, in given and limited respects, some of the rights of which he was originally, possessed. Whenever society interferes with these original rights, unless in the cases in which they have been voluntarily ceded, then the right of personal liberty is violated Thus, the Declaration of Independence, above quoted, after having asserted the universality of the equality of men,. by virtue of their creation, and that they are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights, among which are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness, proceeds to state, “that, to secure these rights, governments were instituted among men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed;” (that is, by the concession of the individual to society;) “that, when any form of government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the right of the people to alter or to abolish it, and to institute a new government, laying its foundation in such principles, and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their safety and happiness.”

SOCIETY may violate the personal rights of the individual.

1. By depriving him unjustly of his physical liberty, or any of his means of physical happiness. This is done, first, whenever any individual is imprisoned or punished, except for crime.

2. Whenever, although he may have been guilty of crime, he is imprisoned or punished without a fair and impartial trial; for, as every man is presumed to be innocent until he shall have been proved to be guilty, to imprison or molest him without such proof is to imprison or molest him while he is innocent. This remark, however, does not apply to the detention of prisoners in order to trial. The detention in this case is not for the purposes of punishment, but simply to prevent escape, and as a necessary means for the execution of justice. It is also no injustice; for it is a power over their persons which the individuals have, for mutual good, conceded to society.

3. Inasmuch as every individual has the right to go where he pleases, under the limitations above specified, this right is violated, not merely by confining him to a particular place, but also by forbidding his going to any particular place within the limits of the society to which he belongs, or by forbidding him to leave it when and how he pleases As his connection with the society to which he belongs is a voluntary act, his simple will is an ultimate reason why he should leave it; and the free exercise of this will cannot, without injustice, be restrained.

The great clause in the Magna Charta on this general subject, is in these memorable words: “Let no freeman be imprisoned, or disseized, or outlawed, or in any manner injured or proceeded against by us, otherwise than by the legal judgment of his peers, or by the law of the land.” And the full enjoyment of this right is guaranteed to every individual in this country and in Great Britain, by the celebrated act of Habeas Corpus: by which, upon a proper presentation of the case before a judge, the judge is under obligation, if there be cause, to command the person who has the custody of another, to bring him immediately before him; and is also obliged to set the prisoner at large, unless it appear to him that he is deprived of his liberty for a satisfactory reason.

2. Society may violate the rights of the individual by restraining his intellectual liberty.

I have before stated that a man has the right to the use of his intellect in such manner as he pleases, provided he interfere not with the rights of others. This includes, first, the right to pursue what studies he pleases; and, secondly, to publish them when and where he pleases, subject to the above limitation.

1. This right is violated, first, when society, or government, which is its agent, prohibits any course of study or investigation to which the inclination of the individual may determine him.

2. When government prohibits him from publishing these results, and from attempting, by the use of argument, to make as many converts to his opinions as he can, in both eases within the limits specified. If it be said, that men may thus be led into error, the answer is, For this error the individuals themselves, and not their neighbor, are responsible; and, therefore, the latter has no authority to interfere.

These remarks apply to those cases only, in which the use of the individual’s intellect is without injury to the rights of others. They, however, by the terms of the case, exclude those modes of intellectual employment, which do thus interfere. It is obvious, that a man has no more right to restrict, by the use of his intellect, my just control over the means of happiness bestowed upon me, than by the use of his body, or the use of his property. What I have said, therefore, in no manner precludes the right of society to restrict the use of the individual’s intellect, in those cases where this violation exists.

But when this violation is supposed to exist, by what rule is society to be governed, so as, in the exercise of the right of restraint, to avoid infringement of the law of intellectual liberty? I am aware that the decision of this question is attended with great difficulties. I shall, however, endeavor to suggest such hints as seem to me to throw light upon it, in the hope that the attention of some one better able to elucidate it, may be thus more particularly attracted to the discussion.

1. Society is bound to protect those rights of the individual which he has committed to its charge. Among these, for instance, is reputation. As the individual relinquishes the right of protecting his own reputation, as well as his property, society undertakes to protect it for him.

2. Society has the right to prevent its own destruction As, without society, individual man would, almost universally, perish; so men, by the law of self-preservation, have a right to prohibit those modes of using a man’s mind, as well as those of using his body, by which society would be annihilated.

3. As society has the right to employ its power to prevent its own dissolution, it also has the same right to protect itself from causeless injury. A man has no more right to carry on a trade by which his neighbor is annoyed, than one by which he is poisoned. So, if the employment of a man’s intellect be not of such a character as to be positively fatal, yet, if it be positively mischievous, and if such be its manifest tendency, society has a right to interfere and prohibit it.

4. It is, however, a general principle, that society is not to interfere, while the individual has in himself the means of repelling, or of rendering nugatory, the injury. Whenever, therefore, although the publication of opinions be confessedly injurious, the injury is of such a nature, that every individual can protect himself from it, society leaves the individual to the use of that power which he still retains, and which is sufficient to remedy the evil.

If I mistake not, these principles will enable us to distinguish between those cases in which it is, and those in which it is not, the duty of society to interfere with the freedom of the human intellect.

1. Whenever the individual possesses within himself the means of repelling the injury, society should not interfere. As, for instance, so far as an assertion is false, and false simply, as in philosophical or mathematical error, men have, in their own understandings and their instinctive perception of truth, a safeguard against injury. And, besides this when discussion is free, error may be refuted by argument; and in this contest, truth has always, from the constitution of things, the advantage. It needs not, therefore, physical force to assist it. The confutation of error is also decisive. It reduces it absolutely to nothing. Whereas the forcible prohibition of discussion leaves things precisely as they were, and gives to error the additional advantage of the presumption, that it could not be answered by argument; that is, that it is the truth.

2. But, suppose the matter made public is also injurious, and is either false, or, if true, is of such a nature as directly to tend to the destruction of individual or social happiness, and the individual has not in himself the power of repelling the injury. Here, the facts being proved, society is bound to interfere, and impose such penalty, and render such redress, as shall, if possible, remunerate the injured party, or, at least, prevent the repetition of the offence.

Under this head, several cases occur:

1. If a: man use his intellect for the purpose of destroy mg his neighbor’s reputation, it is the duty of society to interfere. There is here a manifest injury, inasmuch as reputation is a means of happiness, and as much the property of an individual, as his house or lands, or any other result of his industry. He has, besides, no method of redress within himself; for he may be ruined by a general assertion, which is in its nature incapable of being disproved. As if A asserted that B had stolen; this, if believed, would ruin B; but he could not disprove it, unless he could summon all the men with whom, in his whole life, he had ever had any pecuniary transactions. Besides, if he could do this, he could never convey the facts to all persons to whom A had conveyed the scandal. Were such actions allowed, every one might be deprived of his reputation, one of his most valuable means of happiness. It is the duty of society, therefore, in this case, to guard the rights of the individual, by granting him redress, and preventing the repetition of the injury.

2. Inasmuch as men are actuated by various passions, which are only useful when indulged within certain restraints, but which, when indulged without these restraints, are destructive of individual right, as well as of society itself; society has a right to prohibit the use of intellect for the purpose of exciting the passions of men beyond those limits. As he is guilty who robs another, so is he also guilty who incites another to robbery; and still more, he who incites, not one man, but a multitude of men, to robbery. Hence, society has a right to prohibit obscene books, obscene pictures, and every thing of which the object and tendency is to promote lasciviousness. On the same ground, it has a right to prohibit incendiary and seditious publications, and every thing which would provoke the enmity or malice of men against each other.

The reason of this is, first, injury of this kind cannot be repelled by argument, for it is not addressed to the reason.; and the very mention of the subject excites those imaginations, from which the injury to society arises. As the evil is susceptible of no other remedy than prohibition, and a the welfare of society requires that a remedy be found, prohibition is the right and the duty of society.

Another reason, applicable to most publications of this sort, is found in the nature of the parental relation. The parent, being the guardian of his child’s morals, has the right of directing what he shall and what he shall not read. Hence, all the parents of a community, that is, society at large, have a right to forbid such books as shall, in their opinion, injure the moral character of their children.

3. Again. Society may be dissolved, not merely by the excitation of unlawful passion, but by the removal of moral restraint. Every one must see that, if moral distinctions were abolished, society could not exist for a moment. Men might be gregarious, but they would cease to be social. If any one, therefore, is disposed to use his intellect for the purpose of destroying, in the minds of men, the distinction between virtue and vice, or any of those fundamental principles on which the existence of society depends, society has a right to interfere and prohibit him.

This right of society is founded, first, upon the right of self-preservation; and, secondly, upon the ground of com mon sense. Society is not bound to make, over and over again, an experiment which the whole history of man has proved always to end in licentiousness, anarchy, misery, and universal bloodshed. Nor can any man claim a right to use his mind in a way which must, if allowed, produce unmixed misery and violation of right, wherever its influence is exerted.

Besides, in this, as in the other cases specified, society has no means of counteracting the injury by argument, because such appeals are made, not to the reason and the conscience, but to the rapacious passions of men; and, also, because those persons who would listen to such suggestions, would rarely, if ever, be disposed to read, much less to examine and reflect upon, any argument that could be offered.

But it may be objected, that a society constituted on these principles, might check the progress of free inquiry, and under the pretext of injurious tendency, limit the liberty of fair discussion.

To this it may be answered, —

It is no objection to a rule, that it is capable of abuse; for this objection will apply to all laws and to all arrangements that man has ever devised. In the present imperfect condition of human nature, it is frequently sufficient that a rule prevents greater evil than it inflicts.

It is granted that men may suppose a discussion injurious when it is not so, and may thus limit, unnecessarily, the freedom of inquiry. But let us see in what manner this abuse is guarded against.

The security, in this case, is the trial by jury. When twelve men, taken by lot from the whole community, sit in judgment, and specially when the accused has the right of excepting, for cause, to as many as he will, he is sure of having, at least, an impartial tribunal. These judges are themselves under the same law which they administer to others. As it is not to be supposed that they would wish to abridge their own personal liberty, it is not to be supposed that they would be willing to abridge it for the sake of interfering with that of their neighbor. The question is, therefore, placed in the hands of as impartial judges as the nature of the case allows. To such a tribunal, no reasonable man can, on principle, object. To their decision, every candid man would, when his duty to God did not forbid, readily submit.

Now, as it must be granted that no man has a right to use his intellect to the injury of a community, the only question in any particular case, is, whether the use complained of is injurious, and injurious in such a sense as to require the interference of society. It surely does not need argument to show that the unanimous decision of twelve men is more likely to be correct than the decision of one man; and specially that the decision of twelve men, who have no personal interest in the affair, is more likely to be correct, than that of one man who is liable to all the influences of personal vanity, love of distinction, and pecuniary emolument. There surely can be no question either, in a matter on which the dearest interests of others are concerned, a man is to be a judge in his own ease, or whether as impartial a tribunal as the ingenuity of man has ever devised, shall judge for him. If it be said that twelve impartial men are liable to error, and by consequence to do injustice, it may be answered, How much more liable is one, and he a partial man, to err and to do injustice! If, then, a system of trial of this sort, not only must prevent more injury than it inflicts, but is free front all liability to injury, except such as results from the acknowledged imperfections of our nature, the fault, if it exist, is not in the rule, but in the nature of man, and must be endured until the nature of man be altered.

And I cannot close this discussion without remarking, that a most solemn and imperative duty seems to me to rest upon judges, legislators, jurors and prosecuting officers, in regard to this subject. We hear, at the present day, very much about the liberty of the press, the freedom of inquiry, and the freedom of the human intellect. All these are precious blessings by far too precious to be lost. But it is to be remembered, that no liberty can exist without restraint; and the remark is as true of intellectual as of physical liberty. As there could be no physical liberty, if every one, both bad and good, did what he would, so there would soon be no liberty, either physical or intellectual, if every man were allowed to publish what he would. The man who publishes what will inflame the licentious passions, or subvert the moral principles of others, is undermining the foundations of the social fabric; and it is kindness neither to him nor to society, quietly to look on until both he and we are crushed beneath the ruins. The danger to liberty is preeminently greater, at the present day, from the licentiousness than from the restriction of the press. It therefore becomes all civil and judicial officers to act as the guardians of society; and, unawed by popular clamor, and unseduced by popular favor, resolutely to defend the people against their worst enemies. Whatever may be the form of a government, it cannot long continue free, after it has refused to acknowledge the distinction between the liberty and the licentiousness of the press. And, much as we may execrate a profligate writer, let us remember that the civil officer who, from pusillanimity, refuses to exercise the power placed in his hands to restrain abuse, deserves, at least, an equal share of our execration.

THIRDLY. The right of religious liberty may be violated by society.

We have before said, that every individual has the right to pursue his own happiness, by worshiping his Creator in any way that he pleases, provided he do not interfere with the rights of his neighbor.

This includes the following things: He is at liberty to worship God in any form that he deems most acceptable to Him, to worship individually or socially, and to promote that form of worship which he considers acceptable to God, by the promulgation of such sentiments as he believes to be true, provided he leave the rights of his neighbors unmolested; and of this liberty he is not to be restricted, unless such molestation be made manifest to a jury of his peers.

As a man is at liberty to worship God individually or in societies collected for that purpose, if his object can be secured, in his own opinion, by the enjoyment of any of the facilities for association granted to other men for innocent purposes, he is entitled to them just as other men are. The general principle applicable to the case, I suppose to be this: A man, in consequence of being religious, that is, of worshiping God, acquires no human right whatever; for it is, so far as his fellow-men’s rights are concerned, the same thing, whether he worship God or not. And, on the other hand, in consequence of being religious, he loses no right, and for the same reason. And, therefore, as men are entitled to all innocent facilities which they need for prosecuting an innocent object, a religious man has the same right to these facilities for promoting his object; and it is the business of no one to inquire whether this be religious, scientific, mechanical, or any other, so long as it is merely innocent.

Now this right is violated by society, 1. By forbidding the exercise of all religion; as in the case of the French Revolution.

2. By forbidding or enforcing the exercise of any form of religion. In so far as an act is religious, society has no right of control over it. If it interfere with the rights of others, this puts it within the control of society, and this alone, and solely for this reason. The power of society is, therefore, in this case, exercised simply on the ground of injury perpetrated and proved, and not on account of the truth or falseness, the goodness or badness, of the religion in the sight of the Creator.

3. By inflicting disabilities upon men, or depriving them of any of their rights as men, because they are or are not religious. This violation occurs in all cases in which society interferes to deny to religious men the same privileges for promoting their happiness by way of religion, as they enjoy for promoting their happiness in any other innocent way. Such is the case when religious societies are denied the right of incorporation, with all its attendant privileges, for the purposes of religious worship, and the promotion of their religious opinions. Unless it can be shown that the enjoyment of such privileges interferes with the rights of others, the denial of them is a violation of religious liberty. Depriving clergymen of the elective franchise, is a violation of a similar character.

4. By placing the professors of any peculiar form of religion under any disabilities; as, for instance, rendering them ineligible to office, or in any manner making a distinction between them and any other professors of religion, or any other men. As society has no right to inflict disabilities upon men, on the ground of their worshiping God in general, by consequence, it has no right to inflict disabilities on the ground of worshiping God in any manner in particular. If the whole subject is without the control of society, a part of it is also without its control. Different modes of worship may be more or less acceptable to God; but this gives to no man a right to interfere with those means of happiness, which God has conferred upon any other man.

The question may arise here, whether society has a right to provide by law for the support of religious instruction I answer, If the existence of religious instruction be necessary to he existence of society, and if there be no other means of providing for its support, but by legislative enactment, then, I do not see any more violation of principle in such enactment, than in that for the support of common schools; provided that no one were obliged to attend unless he chose, and that every one were allowed to pay for that form of worship which he preferred. There are other objections, however, to such a course, aside from that arising from the supposed violation of civil liberty.

1. It cannot be shown that religious teachers cannot be supported without legislative aid. The facts teach a different result.

2. The religion of Christ has always exerted its greatest power when, entirely unsupported, it has been left to exert its own peculiar effect upon the consciences of men.

3. The support of religion by law is at variance with the genius of the gospel. The gospel supposes every man to be purely voluntary in his service of God, in his choice of the mode of worship of his religious teachers, and of the compensation which he will make to them for their services. Now, all this is reversed in the supposition of a ministry supported by civil power. We therefore conclude that, although such support might be provided without interference with civil liberty, it could not be done without violation of the spirit of the gospel. That is, though the state might be desirous of affording aid to the church, the church is bound, on principle, resolutely and steadfastly to protest against in any manner receiving it.

4. And I think that the facts will show that this view of the subject is correct. The clergy, as a profession, are better remunerated by voluntary support than by legal enactment. When the people arrange the matter of compensation with their clergymen themselves, there are no rich and overgrown benefices, but there are also but few miserably poor curacies. The minister, if he deserve it, generally lives as well as his people. If it be said that high talent should be rewarded by elevated rank in this profession, as in any other, I answer, that such seems to me not to be the genius of the gospel. The gospel presents no inducements of worldly rank or of official dignity, and it scorns to hold out such motives to the religious teacher. I answer again, official rank and luxurious splendor, instead of adding to, take from, the real influence of a teacher of religion. They tend to destroy that moral hardihood which is necessary to the success of him, whose object it is to render me, better; and, while they surround him with all the insignia of power, enervate that very spirit on which moral power essentially depends. And, besides, a religion supported by the government, must soon become the tool of the government; or, at least, must be involved and implicated in every change which the government may undergo. How utterly at variance this must be with the principles of Him who declared, “My kingdom is not of this world,” surely need not be illustrated.


* I have retained the above paragraph, though I confess that the remarks of Professor Taylor, of the Union Theological Seminary of Virginia, have led me seriously to doubt whether the distinction to which it alludes is sustained by the New Testament.