« ZurückWeiter »
moment they set up an interest different from that of their subjects; and this is the only definition he gives us of tyranny. Our own countryman, before cited, and the sagacious Greek, both agree on this point, that a governor, who acts contrary to the ends of government, loses the title bestowed on him at his institution. It would be highly improper to give the same name to things of different qualities, or that produce different effects. Matter, while it communicates heat, is generally called fire, but when the flames are extinguished, the appellation is changed. Sometimes indeed the same sound serves to express things of a contrary nature; but that only denotes a defect, or poverty, in the language.
A wicked prince imagines, that the crown receives a new lustre from absolute power, whereas every step he takes to obtain it is a forfeiture of the crown.
His conduct is as foolish as it is detestable; he aims at glory and power, and treads the path that leads to dishonor and contempt; he is a plague to his country, and deceives himself.
During the inglorious reigns of the Stuarts (except a part of Queen Anne's), it was a perpetual struggle between them and the people; those endeavouring to subvert, and these bravely opposing the subverters of liberty. What were the consequences ? One lost his life on the scaffold, another was banished. The memory of all of them stinks in the nostrils of every true lover of his country; and their history stains with indelible blots the English annals.
The reign of Queen Elizabeth furnishes a beautiful contrast. All her views centred in one object, which was the public good. She made it her study to gain the love of her subjects, not by flattery or little soothing arts, but by rendering them substantial favors. It
was far from her policy to encroach cn their privileges; she augmented and secured them. .
And it is remarked to her eternal honor, that the acts presented to her for her royal approbation (forty or fifty of a session of Parliament) were signed without examining any farther than the titles. This wise and good Queen only reigned for her people, and knew that it was absurd to imagine they would promote any thing contrary to their own interests, which she so studiously endeavoured to advance.* On the other hand, when this Queen asked money of the Parliament, they frequently gave her more than she demanded, and never inquired how it was disposed of, except for form's sake, being fully convinced she would not employ it but for the general welfare. Happy princess, happy people ! What harmony, what mutual confidence! Seconded by the hearts and purses of her subjects, she crushed the exorbitant power of Spain, which threatened destruction to England, and chains to all Europe. That monarchy has ever since pined under the stroke, so that now, when we send a man-of-war or two to the West Indies, it puts her into such a panic fright, that, if the galleons can steal home, she sings Te Deum as for a victory.
This is a true picture of government; its reverse is tyranny.
* This notion of the infallible perception by the people of their true interest, and their unerring pursuit of it, was very prevalent in the provinces, and, for a time, in the States after the establishment of American independence A striking instance of it is mentioned by Mr. Justice Story, in his Eulogy on Chief Justice Marshall, who, during the earlier part of his life, did not dream that the voice of the people could be other than the voice of God. W. PHILLIPS.
ON FREEDOM OF SPEECH AND THE PRESS. *
FROM THE PENNSYLVANIĄ GAZETTE, NOVEMBER, 1737.
FREEDOM of speech is a principal pillar of a free government; when this support is taken away, the constitution of a free society is dissolved, and tyranny is erected on its ruins. Republics and limited monarchies derive their strength and vigor from a popular examination into the action of the magistrates ; this privilege in all ages has been, and always will be abused. The best of men could not escape the censure and envy of the times they lived in.
Yet this evil is not so great as it may appear at first sight. A magistrate, who sincerely aims at the good of society, will always have the inclinations of a great majority on his side, and an impartial posterity will not fail to render him justice.
Those abuses of the freedom of speech are the excesses of liberty. They ought to be repressed; but to whom dare we commit the care of doing it? An evil magistrate intrusted with power to punish for words, would be armed with a weapon the most destructive and terrible. Under pretence of pruning off the exuberant branches, he would be apt to destroy the tree.
It is certain, that he who robs another of his moral reputation more richly merits a gibbet, than if he had plundered him of his purse on the highway. Augustus Cæsar, under the specious pretext of preserving the character of the Romans from defamation, introduced the law whereby libelling was involved in the penalties of treason against the state
* This essay, in regard to its genuineness, may fairly be considered in the same light as those preceding it, on Government. Though written with ability, and probably expressing the sentiments of Franklin, yet the characteristics of the style are not such as to make it evident, on that ground alone, that the performance came from his pen. It is proper to state, however, that Mr. Duane has included it in his edition, and thus given it the sanction of us judgment – EDITOR
This law established his tyranny; and, for one mischief which it prevented, ten thousand evils, horrible and afflicting, sprung up in its place. Thenceforward every person's life and fortune depended on the vile breath of informers. The construction of words being arbitrary, and left to the decision of the judges, no man could write or open his mouth without being in danger of forfeiting his head.
One was put to death for inserting in his History the praises of Brutus; another, for styling Cassius the last of the Romans. Caligula valued himself for being a notable dancer; and to deny, that he excelled in that manly accomplishment, was high treason. This emperor raised his horse, the name of which was Incitatus, to the dignity of consul; and, though history is silent, I do not question but it was a capital crime to show the least contempt for that high officer of state! Suppose, then, any one had called the prime minister a stupid animal; the emperor's council might argue, that the malice of the libel was the more aggravated by its being true, and consequently more likely to excite the family of this illustrious magistrate to a breach of the peace, or to acts of revenge. Such a prosecution would to us appear ridiculous; yet, if we may rely upon tradition, there have been formerly proconsuls in America, though of more malicious dispositions, hardly superior in understanding to the consul Incitatus, and who would have thought themselves libelled to be called by their proper names.
Nero piqued himself on his fine voice and skill in music; no doubt a laudable ambition ! He performed in public, and carried the prize of excellence; it was afterwards resolved by all the judges as good law, that whosoever would insinuate the least doubt of Nero's
preëminence in the noble art of fiddling, ought to be deemed a traitor to the state.
By the help of inferences, and inuendoes, treasons multiplied in a prodigious manner. Grief was treason ; a lady of noble birth was put to death for bewailing the death of her murdered son; silence was declared an overt act, to prove the treasonable purposes of the heart; looks were construed into treason; a serene, open aspect was an evidence, that the person was pleased with the calamities that befell the emperor; a severe, thoughtful countenance was urged against the man that wore it, as a proof of his plotting against the state ; dreams were often made capital offences. A new species of informers went about Rome, insinuating themselves into all companies to fish out their dreams, wnich the holy priests (O nefarious wickedness !) interpreted into high treason. The Romans were so terrified by this strange method of juridical and penal process, that, far from discovering their dreams, they durst not own that they slept. In this terrible situation, when every one had so much cause to fear, even fear itself was made a crime. Caligula, when he put his brother to death, gave it as a reason to the senate, that the youth was afraid of being murdered. To be eminent in any virtue, either civil or military, was the greatest crime a man could be guilty of. O virtutes, certissimum exitium.
These were some of the effects of the Roman law against libelling. Those of the British kings, that aimed at despotic power or the oppression of the subject, continually encouraged prosecutions for words.
Henry the Seventh, a prince mighty in politics, procured that act to be passed, whereby the jurisdiction of the Star-chamber was confirmed and extended. Afterwards Empson and Dudley, two voracious dogs of prey, under the protection of this high court, exercised the most merciless acts of oppression. The subjects