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thing besides creation and preservation is necessary to legitimate authority. If a malevolent being bad created us and given us laws like himself, rebellion and not obedience would be duty. This therefore is one item which is to be regarded as indicative of the proper source of authority, and which is not to be set aside but for strong countervailing reasons.
2. There must be competent qualifications.
This is an essential element in all valid authority. Where the source of sovereignty is manifestly incompetent to the purposes of authority, it can confer no obligation. The competency is found in the possession of those qualifications which secure the enactment of the best laws and the administration of the best government which the nature of the case permits. The intelligence and habits of the people, the exigencies of their condition, and all the general circumstances which give peculiarity to their character must be taken into the account, and the source of authority, which can rightly claim their obedience, must possess within itself those qualifications which secure to that community the best government. There must be intelligence to discern, rectitude to select, and power and decision to execute, the best system of legislation for that people. The possession of these qualities more than any thing else confirms authority. Man must be governed, his nature demands it, and that is the right source of authority which affords the highest security for the best government.
In the divine government all things conspire to its absolute perfection. God's relation to his creatures and his essential attributes ensure perfection in the precept, the penalty, and the execution. There is a government absolutely the best that can be for the subject. It is not essential to a perfect government that it should secure universal obedience. The subject is a distinct agent, and sustains a distinct responsibility, and may therefore be most guilty, while the sovereign and his law are absolutely perfect. If the law is the best for the subject, and its sanctions righteously executed, it has done all that it can do, and is itself perfect though many of its subjects are guilty of wilful disobedience. This is true of the divine government. But in all human governments there can be only an approximation to perfection. No human source of authority can be found competent to secure an infallible system. That source of authority, however, is legitimate which gives the highest security for the greatest attainable degree of perfection. This is the theory of all correct legislation. Here is the basis of all good governinent. The general rule of investing the parent with the authority of family government is the bighest security for domestic peace and prosperity. In all the different forms of civil governments this principle is the test of its legitimacy- the best security for the best government. Not the legitimacy of descent, or the regularity of election self-considered, but these only as means to an end, and connected with the security of the best government for the people. To this test all authority must submit as the proof of its validity. If it cannot endure the application, it is wrong, and ought at once to yield itself to correction; and if it can endure it, it is right, no matter what its form of administration. The most absolute despotism is as legitimate as the authority of a parent, if it secures to the people the best government for their peculiar genius and character, and rebellion against it, is treason of as deep guilt as that against the most popular form of government on earth.
Here is the ground for the inapplicability of popular republican forms of government to many nations. They are not prepared for so much freedom. All governments to be legitimate must be for the good of the governed, and in many instances the will of the majority would not secure it. They are not ripe for a free popular elective system. There is not sufficient intelligence and virtue to make it safe to trust the supreme authority in their hands. It would be to their own destruction. Indeed it is clear that there has never yet been a nation, where it would be safe to carry out fully the principle of intrusting supreme power to a majority. Our own government may approach the nearest to such a state, of any that has yet been administered; but clearly we are yet at a long remove from such a proposition. Who would not shrink from the experiment of throwing the destinies of this nation into the hands of a majority of every man, woman and child within it? But why not do this ? Simply because it is clear that it would not secure the best legislation. Yea, there is the most fearful ground of apprehension, that the gateways are already thrown so wide open, that the sweeping flood of vice and licentiousness and popular frenzy which is rolling in shall overwhelm the last hope of freedom forever. If the work of education and moral culture be not pushed forward with a zeal and energy proportioned to the exigencies of the crisis, there can be no other issue. lar governinent, administered in such a way as not to secure the
good of the people, is as really usurpation and tyranny as the most arbitrary despotism. There is no political condition so intolerable as hopeless subjection to the passions of a corrupt and ignorant populace. Any nation will flee from its horrors to the sway of the most arbitrary despot in preference. We may wrap ourselves in our false security, and cry“ peace and safety” with as much credulity as we will
, but if that majority wbich is to hold the sovereign power of this nation for the next quarter of a century be not both intelligent and virtuous, the knell of republican liberty will, ere that period has passed, have tolled its requiem. The tide of events will set back in the opposite direction. The mass of the people, under the ancient dynasties of the old world, will no longer be seen struggling to free themselves from the oppressions of hereditary power; but even in this new world, the descendants of revolutionary heroes will be obliged, for very safety, to flee back to the strength of monarchy for protection. If the alternative is to lie between the domination of a corrupt, capricious, blind and infatuated populace, or the prompt authority of a monarchical government, there can be no hesitation which will, and which ought to be chosen. This nation can never rest in a position, where the government does not secure the good of the people to as high a degree as they are prepared to appreciate. If they are not sufficiently virtuous and intelligent for the superior blessings of free republican institutions, they will soon lose them. No form of government can keep human nature to a higher point of elevation, than that for which its own intellectual and moral worth prepares it. For our own preservation we must go back again to the bondage of Egypt, and eat" the leeks and garlics,” and “make brick” as best we may, till another generation shall arise more worthy to enter in and enjoy the promised land. The source of authority, with us as with all other nations, to be legitimate and valid, must be competent to secure to the people the highest political good for which they are qualified.
3. Its legislation must not contravene the claims of natural obligation.
One reason for the necessity of positive authority in the government of man, as we have seen, lies in the fact, that many things essential to the welfare of society can never be settled, by sending each man to direct bis conduct by the nature of things. A great proportion of the province of legislation lies without the region of direct intuition. All that we can have,
Vol. XII. No. 32.
therefore, to bind the conscience in those cases where the nature of things does not settle the obligation, is the perception of the rightness of the authority. And as another test of the validity of it, we may appeal to reason in all those cases where it comes within the province of reason. Where they are both within the same field, authority must harmonize with reason or all its legislation is a nullity. If a positive precept contradict a plain duty from the nature of things, no authority however high or venerable can make it obligatory. God himself appeals to this standard for the rectitude of his own dealings as a moral governor : “ Are not my ways equal”—“Come, let us reason together.” And because of the force of this appeal, it is true, that “every mouth will be stopped” in the judgment. God's positive legislation never may, and never does, contradict the law of nature. Wherever they meet, there is everlasting harmony. Divine authority often reaches beyond the limits of human reason, but never contradicts it.
And when any human authority demands compliance with unnatural laws, and intuitively perceived wrong edicts, no obligation goes with it. Submission is then a crime, and resistance a duty. God has legislated there in the majesty of nature, and all contradictory authority is usurpation. This must, however, be a case of clear intuition. It does not apply to instances of disputed propriety, or prudential expediency. If there is not direct contradiction to a clear case of natural right and conscience, obligation is on the side of obedience ; for the reasons which sustain the authority itself, are plainer than those against its legislation.
4. It must not conflict with any higher authority.
All sovereignty is supreme within its own jurisdiction. It is absolute so far as its limits extend. But these limits are defined by principles, not persons. One person may come legitimately under the authority of a score of sovereignties. He may owe allegiance to the authority of a college, a parent, civil government, a church, and God's general government. Thus to a single individual the sources of bis responsibility may be multiplied indefinitely. There is however a principle which settles the limits of his allegiance in the midst of them all. The universal principle is—a lower source of authority can never bind in conflict with a higher source. There may perhaps not unfrequently be some difficulty in settling the points of precedence between conflicting authorities. Questions of casuistry may
often arise here which shall require more or less care and discernment to decide correctly. But in all such cases it is because the fact is obscure, not because there is any hesitation in regard to the truth of the principle. Once settle satisfactorily wbich is the paramount authority, and the mind no longer hesitates. Obligation to the higher authority rests at once upon the conscience.
It was on this principle that the three pious Jews refused to bow down to Nebuchadnezzar's golden image. A higher authority had forbidden the worship of idols. This also induced Daniel to make bis supplication three times a day, notwithstanding the prohibition according to the law of the Medes and Persians. And this too was the ground of the bold and unanswerable appeal of the apostles : « Whether it be right in the sight of God to bearken unto you more than unto God, judge ye.” This is a principle of universal application. A higher authority forever prostrates all obligation from the conflicting claims of a lower. The lower authority in legislating against the enactments of the higher, so far forth nullifies itself and becomes a non-entity.
Enough has now probably been said to show the necessity of authority to the well being of human society, and the criterion of its legitimacy. When under these conditions, authority from any source comes upon man, it binds his conscience as inviolably as the clearest dictate of natural obligation. Yea, it resolves itself ultimately into a natural obligation, for he intuitively perceives the rectitude of the authority, and that is as natural a source of obligation, as when he intuitively perceives the rectitude of the precept.
He knows before heaven that he is thus bound, and that disobedience to such authority is a sin against conscience and God. More might be said upon the nature and extent of the sanctions by which positive authority is to be sustained, and upon the methods of administration, but this is sufficient for the purpose we have had in view, to show the nature of positive authority as a source of moral obligation.
The following truths result directly from the foregoing view of this subject.
1. Authority may give obligation to that which would otherwise have been a matter of indifference.
If the proper source of authority deem any particular course of procedure, form, or ceremony, to be important in gaining