Abbildungen der Seite
PDF
EPUB

vateering merchants of London, who were so ready to rob the merchants of Amsterdam, that would not as readily plunder another London merchant of the next street, if he could do it with the same impunity ? The avidity, the alieni appetens is the same; it is the fear alone of the gallows that makes the difference. How then can a nation, which among the honestest of its people has so many thieves by inclination, and whose government encouraged and commissioned no less than seven hundred gangs of robbers; how can such a nation have the face to condemn the crime in individuals, and hang up twenty of them in a morning! It naturally puts one in mind of a Newgate anecdote. One of the prisoners complained, that in the night somebody had taken his buckles out of his shoes. “ What the devil !” says another, “ have we then thieves amongst us? It must not be suffered. Let us search out the rogue, and pump him to death.”

There is, however, one late instance of an English merchant who will not profit by such ill gotten gain. · He was, it seems, part owner of a ship, which the other owners thought fit to employ as a letter of marque, which took a number of French prizes. The booty being shared, he has now an agent here inquiring, by an advertisement in the Gazette, for those who have suffered the loss, in order to make them, as far as in him lies, restitution. This conscientious man is a quaker. The Scotch presbyterians were formerly as tender; for there is still extant an ordinance of the town council of Edinburgh, made soon after the Re. formation, “ forbidding the purchase of prize goods, under pain of losing the freedom of the burgh for ever, with other punishment at the will of the magistrate ;

[ocr errors]

the practice of making prizes being contrary to good conscience, and the rule of treating Christian brethren as we would wish to be treated ; and such goods are not to be sold by any godly man within this burgh." The race of these godly men in Scotland is probably extinct, or their principles abandoned, since, as far as that nation had a hand in promoting the war against the colonies, prizes and confiscations are believed to have been a considerable motive.

It has been for some time a generally received opinion, that a military man is not to inquire whether a war be just or unjust; he is to execute his orders. All princes, who are disposed to become tyrants, must probably approve of this opinion, and be willing to establish it; but is it not a dangerous one ? since, on that principle, if the tyrant commands his army to attack and destroy not only an unoffending neighbour nation, but even his own subjects, the army is bound to obey. A negro slave, in our colonies, being commanded by his master to rob or murder a neighbour, or do any other immoral act, may refuse; and the magistrate will protect him in his refusal. The slavery then of a soldier is worse than that of a negro! A conscientious officer, if not restrained by the apprehension of its being imputed to another cause, may indeed resign, rather than be employed in an unjust war; but the private men are slaves for life; and they are, perhaps, incapable of judging for themselves. We can only lament their fate, and still more that of a sailor, who is often dragged by force from his honest occupation, and com. pelled to imbrue his hands in perhaps innocent blood. But, methinks, it well behoves merchants (men more enlightened by their education, and perfectly free from any such force or obligation) to consider well of the

justice of a war, before they voluntarily engage a gang of ruffians to attack their fellow merchants of a neighbouring nation, to plunder them of their property, and perhaps ruin them and their families, if they yield it; or to wound, maim, and murder them, if they endeavour to defend it. Yet these things are done by Chris. tian merchants, whether a war be just or unjust; and it can hardly be just on both sides. They are done by English and American merchants, who, nevertheless, complain of private theft, and hang by dozens the thieves they have taught by their own example.

It is high time, for the sake of humanity, that a stop were put to this enormity. The United States of America, though better situated than any European nation to make profit by privateering (most of the trade of Europe with the West Indies passing before their doors), are, as far as in them lies, endeavouring to abolish the practice, by offering, in all their treaties with other powers, an article, engaging solemnly, that, in case of future war, no privateer shall be commis. sioned on either side ; and that unarmed merchant ships, on both sides, shall pursue their voyages unmolested. This will be a happy improvement of the law of nations. The humane and the just cannot but wish general success to the proposition (See Observations on War).

PRIVATE PROPERTY.

Suppose one of our Indian nations should now agree to form a civil society ; each individual would bring into the stock of the society little more property than his gun and his blanket, for at present he has no other ; we know that when one of them has attempted to keep a few swine, he has not been able to maintain a property in them, his neighbours thinking they have a right to kill and eat them whenever they want provision, it being one of their maxims that hunting is free for all: the accumulation therefore of property in such a society must be an effect of the protection afforded to it by the joint strength of the society, in the execution of its laws. Private property therefore is a creature of society, and is subject to the calls of that society whenever its necessities shall require it, even to its last farthing ; its contributions to the public exigences are not to be considered as conferring a benefit on the public, entitling the contributors to the distinctions of honour and power, but as the return of an obligation previously received, or the payment of a just debt. The combinations of civil society are not like those of a set of merchants who club their property in different proportions for building and freighting a ship, and may therefore have some right to vote in the disposition of the voyage in a greater or less de gree according to their respective contributions : but the important ends of civil society, and the personal securities of life and liberty, these remain the same in every member of society ; and the poorest continues to have an equal claim to them with the most opulent, whatever difference time, chance, or industry, may occasion in their circumstances (See Taxes).

PARTICULAR PROVIDENCE. I have read your manuscript with some attention. By the argument it contains against a particular Providence, though you allow a general Providence, you strike at the foundation of all religion. For without the belief of a Providence that takes cognizance of, guards and guides, and may favour particular persons, there is no motive to worship a Deity, to fear its displeasure, or to pray for its protection. I will not enter into any discussion of your principles, though you seem to desire it. At present I shall only give you my opinion, that though your reasonings are subtle, and may prevail with some readers, you will not succeed so as to change the general sentiments of man. kind on that subject, and the consequence of printing this piece will be, a great deal of odium drawn upon yourself, mischief to you, and no benefit to others. He that spits against the wind spits in his own face. But were you to succeed, do you imagine any good would be done by it? You yourself niay find it easy to live a virtuous life without the assistance afforded by religion ; you having a clear perception of the advantages of virtue, and the disadvantages of vice, and possessing a strength of resolution sufficient to enable you to resist common temptations. But think how great a portion of mankind consists of weak and ignorant men and women, and of inexperienced inconsiderate youth of both sexes, who have need of the motives of religion to restrain them from vice, to support their virtue, and retain them in the practice of it till it becomes habitual, which is the great point for its security. And perhaps you are indebted to her originally, that is to your religious education, for the habits of virtue upon which you now justly value yourself. You might easily display your excellent talents of reasoning upon a less hazardous subject, and thereby obtain a rank with our most distinguished authors. For among us it is not necessary, as among the Hottentots, that a youth to be raised into the company of men should prove his manhood by beating his mother. I would advise you therefore not to at

« ZurückWeiter »