Abbildungen der Seite
PDF
EPUB

because they were more susceptible of a long occupancy, which might be continued for months together without any sensible interruption, and at length by usage ripen into an established right; but principally because few of them could be fit for use, till improved and meliorated by the bodily labour of the occupant: which bodily labour, bestowed upon any subject which before lay in common to all men, is universally allowed to give the fairest and most reasonable title to an exclusive property therein.

The article of food was a more immediate call, and therefore a more early consideration. Such as were not contented with the spontaneous product of the earth, sought for a more solid refreshment in the flesh of beasts, which they obtained by hunting. But the frequent disappointments incident to that method of provision, induced them to gather together such animals as were of a more tame and sequacious nature; and to establish a permanent property in their focks and herds, in order to sustain themselves in a less precarious manner, partly by the milk of the dams, and partly by the flesh of the young. The support of these their cattle made the article of water also a very important point. And therefore the book of Genesis (the most venerable monument of antiquity, considered merely with a view to history), will furnish us with frequent instances of violent contentions concerning wells; the exclusive property of which seems to have been established in the first digger or occupant, even in such places where the ground and herbage remained yet in common. Thus we find Abraham, who was but a sojourner, asserting his right to a well in the country of Abimelech, and exacting an oath for his security, 'because he had digged that well. And Isaac, about pinety years afterwards, reclaimed this his father's property; and, after much contention with the Philistines, was suffered to enjoy it in peace.

All this while the soil and pasture of the earth remained still in common as before, and open to every occupant: except perhaps in the neighbourhood of towns, where the necessity of a sole and exclusive property in lands (for the sake of agriculture) was earlier felt, and therefore more readily complied with. Otherwise, when the multitude of men and cattle had consumed every convenience on one spot of ground, it was deemed a natural right to seize upou and occupy such other lands, as would more easily supply their necessities. This practice is still retained among the wild and uncultivated nations that have never been formed into civil states, like the Tartar, and others in the East; where the climate itself, and the boundless extent of their territory, conspire to retain them still in the same savage state of vagrant liberty, which was universal in the earliest ages, and which Tacitus informs us continued among the Germans till the decline of the Roman empire?. We have also a striking example of the same kind in the history of Abraham and his nephew Lots. When their joint substance became 5 Gen. xxi, 30.

6 Gen. xxvi. 15, 18, &c. 7 Colunt discreti et diversi: ut fons, ut campus, ut nem is placuit. De Mor. Germ. 16.

& Gen, xiii.

so great, that pasture and other conveniences grew scarce, the natural consequence was, that a strife arose between their servants; so that it was no longer practicable to dwell together. This contention Abraham thus endeavoured to compose: 'Let there be no strife, I pray thee, between thee and me. Is not the whole land before thee? Separate thyself, I pray thee, from me: If thou wilt take the left hand, then I will go to the right; or if thou depart to the right hand, then I will go to the left.' This plainly implies an acknowledged right in either to occupy whatever ground he pleased, that was not pre-occupied by other tribes. “And Lot lifted up his eyes, and beheld all the plain of Jordan, that it was well watered every where, even as the garden of the Lord. Then Lot chose him all the plain of Jordan, and journeyed east, and Abraham dwelt in the land of Cavaan,'

Upon the same principle was founded the right of migration, or sending colonies to find out new habitations, when the mother-country was overcharged with inhabitants; which was practised as well by the Phænicians and Greeks, as the Germans, Scythians, and other northern people. And so long as it was confined to the stocking and cultivation of desert, uninhabited countries, it kept strictly within the limits of the law of nature, But how far the seizing on countries already peopled, and driving out or massacring the innocent and defenceless natives, merely because they dif. fered from their invaders in language, in religion, in customs, in government, or in colour; how far such a conduct was consonant to nature, to reason,

or to Christianity, deserved well to be considered by those who have rendered their names immortal by thus civilizing mankind.

As the world by degrees grew more populous, it daily became more difficult to find out new spots to inhabit, without encroaching upon former occupants; and, by constantly occupying the same individual spot, the fruits of the earth were consumed, and its spontaneous produce destroyed, without any provision for a future supply or succession. It therefore became necessary to pursue some regular method of providing a constant subsistence; and this necessity produced, or at least promoted and encouraged, the art of agriculture. And the art of agriculture, by a regular connection and consequence, introduced and established the idea of a more permanent property in the soil, than had hitherto been received and adopted. It was clear, that the earth would not produce her fruits in sufficient quantities, without the assistance of tillage: but who would be at the pains of tilling it, if another might watch an opportunity to seize upon and enjoy the product of his industry, art, and labour? Had not therefore a separate property in lands, as moveables, been vested in some individuals, the world must have continued a forest, and men have been mere animals of prey; which, according to some philosophers, is the genuine state of nature. Whereas now (so gra ciously has Providence interwoven onr duty and our happiness together) the result of this very necessity has been the ennobling of the human species, by giving it opportunities of improving its rational faculties, as well as of exerting its natural. Necessity begat property; and, in order to insure that property, recourse was had to civil society, which brought along with it a long train of inseparable concomitants; states, governments, laws, punishment, and the public exercise of religious duties. Thus connected together, it was found that a part only of society was sufficient to provide, by their manual labour, for the necessary subsistence of all; and leisure was given to others to cultivate the human mind, to invent useful arts, and to lay the foundations of science.

The only question remaining is, How this property became actually vested; or what it is that gave a man an exclusive right to retain, in a permanent manner, that specific land, which before belonged generally to every body, hut particularly to nobody? And, as we before observed that occupancy gave the right to the temporary use of the soil, so it is agreed upon all hands that occupancy also gave the original right to the permanent property in the substance of the earth itself; which excludes every one else but the owner from the use of it. There is indeed some difference among the writers on natural law, concerning the reason why occupancy should convey this right, and invest one with this absolute property : Grotins and Puffendorf insisting that this right of occupancy is founded upon a tacit and inplied assent of all mankind, that the first occupant should become the owner: and Barbeyrac, Titius, Mr. Locke, and others, holding, that there is no such implied assent, neither is it necessary that there should be; for that the very act of occupancy alone, being a degree of bodily labour, is, from a

VOL. VI.

« ZurückWeiter »