« AnteriorContinuar »
those of an aggregate body, it is as evident he can be only answerable in part; and that portion and measure of iniquity, which falls to his share, will be more or less, according as he has been more or less deeply engaged in those transactions which are polluted with it. There is an active and a passive concurrence. We give our active concurrence to any measure, when we support it by any voluntary exertion, or bestow on it any mark of approbation ; when, especially, we are the persons for whose sake, and for whose emolument, systems of injustice or cruelty are carried
The man of wealth and influence, who feeds and fattens upon the miseries of his fellow-creatures ; the man in power, who plans abuses, or prevents their being swept away, is the very
Jonas of the ship, and ought this day to stand foremost in the rank of national penitents. But there is also a passive concurrence; and this, in common cases, the community appears to have a right to expect from us. Society could not exist, if
individual took it upon himself not only to judge, but to act from his own judgement in those things in which a nation acts collectively. The law, therefore, which is the expression of the general will, seems to be a sufficient sanction for us, when, in obedience to its authority, we pay taxes, and comply with injunctions, in support of measures which we believe to be hurtful, and even iniqui
tous; and this, not because the guilt of a bad action, as some fondly imagine, is diluted and washed away in the guilt of multitudes; but because it is a necessary condition of political union, that private will should be yielded up to the will of the public. We shall do well, however, to bear in mind the principle on which we comply, that we may not go a step beyond it.
There are, indeed, cases of such atrocity, that even this concurrence would be criminal. What these are, it is impossible to specify; every man must draw the line for himself.—I suppose no one will pretend, that any maxims of military subordination could justify the officers of Herod in the slaughter of the children of Bethlehem; and certainly the orders of Louvois, in the Palatinate, and of Catherine de' Medici, on the day of St. Bartholomew, were not less cruel. In our own country, it has been the official duty of magistrates to burn alive quiet and innocent subjects, who differed from them in opinion. Rather than fulfill such duties, a man of integrity will prepare himself to suffer, and a christian knows where such sufferings will be rewarded.—The honourable delinquency of those who have submitted tu be the victims, rather than the instruments of injustice, has ever been held worthy of praise and admiration.
But though, for the sake of peace and order,
we ought, in general cases, to give our passive concurrence to measures which we may think wrong, peace and order do not require us to give them the sanction of our approbation. On the contrary, the more strictly we are bound to acquiesce, the more it is incumbent on us to remonstrate. Every good man owes it to his country and to his own character, to lift his voice against a rụinous war, an unequal tax, or an edict of persecuțion; and to oppose them, temperately, but firmly, by all the means in his power: and indeed this is the only way reformations can ever be brought about, or that government can enjoy the advantage of general opinion.
This general opinion has, on a recent occasion, been sedulously called for, and most of you have complied with the requisition. You, who have on this occasion given warm and unqualified declarations of attachment to the existing systems, you have done well-You, who have denounced abuses, and declared your wishes for reform, you have done well likewise, provided each of you has acted from the sincere, unbiassed conviction of his own mind. But if you have done it lightly, and without judgement, you have done ill; if against judgement, worse: if, by any improper influence, you have interfered with the liberty of your neighbour, or your dependent, and caused him to act against his judgement and his con
science--worse still. If the ferment of party bás stirred up a spirit of rancour and animosity among friends and townsmen, or introduced the poison of distrust amidst the freedom and security of social life, we stand this day before the Lord; and if our brother hąth ought against us, “let us go first, and be reconciled to our brother, and then come and offer our gift.”
of us have disturbed or misled weaker minds by exaggerated danger and affected alarm, and, practising on their credulity or their ignorance, have raised passions which it would have better become us to have moderated or if, on the other hand, we have cried, “ Peace, peace, where there is no peace"--we are this day before the Lord, let shame and remorse for these practices make a distinguished part of our national humiliation. Repent this day, not only of the actual evil
you have done, but of the evil of which your actions have been the cause.-- If you slander a good man, you are answerable for all the violence of which that slander may be the remote cause ; if you raise undue prejudices against any particular class or description of citizens, and they suffer through the bad passions your misrepresentations have worked up against them, you are answerable for the injury, though you have not wielded the bludgeon, or applied the firebrand; if you place power in improper hands, you are answer
able for the abuse of that power; if you oppose conciliatory measures, you are answerable for the distress which more violent ones may produce. If
you use intemperate invectives and inflammatory declamation, you are answerable if others shed blood. It is not sufficient, even if our intentions are pure; we must weigh the tendencies of our actions, for we are answerable, in a degree at least, for those remote consequences which, though we did not intend, we might have fore
If we inculcate the plausible doctrine of unlimited confidence, we draw upon ourselves the responsibility of all the future measures which that confidence may sanction. If we introduce tenets leaning towards arbitrary power, the generations to come will have a right to curse the folly of their forefathers, when they are reaping the bitter fruits of them in future star-chambers, and courts of inquisitorial jurisdiction. If the precious sands of our liberty are, perhaps, of themselves running out, how shall we be justified to ourselves or to posterity, if, with a rash hand, we shake the glass.
If, on the other hand, through vanity, a childish love of novelty, a spirit of perverse opposition, or any motive still more sordidly selfish, we are precipitated into measures which ought to be the result of the most serious consideration—if by “foolish talking or jestings, which are not