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mankind will resist the assumptions of authority, undertaking to superintend their opinions, and then these assumptions will produce no more than an ineffectual struggle; or they will submit, and then the effects will be injurious. He, that in any degree consigns to another the task of dictating his opinions and his conduct, will cease to inquire for himself, or his inquiries will be languid and inanimate.
Regulations will originally be instituted in fa vour either of falsehood or truth. In the first case no rational enquirer will pretend to allege any thing in their defence; but, even should truth be their object, yet such is their nature, that they infallibly defeat the very purpose they were intended to serve. Truth, when originally presented to the mind, is powerful and invigorating; but, when attempted to be perpetuated by political institution, becomes flaccid and lifeless. Truth in its unpatronised state improves the understanding; because in that state it is embraced only so far as it is perceived to be truth. But truth, when recommended by authority, is weakly and irreso lutely embraced. The opinions I entertain are no longer properly my own; I repeat them as a lesson appropriated by vote, but I do not, strictly speaking, understand them, and I am not able to assign the evidence upon which they rest. My mind is weakened while it is pretended to be improved. Instead of the firmness of independence, am taught to bow to authority and know not Bb 2 why
why. Persons thus trammeled, are not, strictly speaking, capable of a single virtue. The first duty of man is, to take none of the principles of conduct upon trust; to do nothing without a clear. and individual conviction that it is right to be done. He that resigns his understanding upon one particular topic, will not exercise it vigorously upon others. If he be right in any instance, it will be inadvertently and by chance. A consciousness of the degradation to which he is subjected will perpetually haunt him; or at least he will want the consciousness that accrues from independent consideration, and will therefore equally want that intrepid perseverance, that calm selfapprobation that grows out of independence. Such beings are the mere dwarfs and mockery of men, their efforts comparatively pusillanimous, and the vigour with which they should execute their purposes, superficial and hollow..
Strangers to conviction, they will never be able to distinguish between prejudice and reason. Nor is this the worst. Even when the glimpses of inquiry suggest themselves, they will not dare to yield to the temptation. To what purpose inquire, when the law has told me what to believe, and what must be the termination of my inquiries? Even when opinion, properly so called, suggests itself, I am compelled, if it differ in any degree from the established system, to shut my eyes, and loudly profess my adherence where I doubt the most
A system like this does not content itself with
habitually unnerving the mind of the great mass of mankind through all its ranks, but provides for its own continuance, by debauching or terrifying the few individuals, who, in the midst of the general emasculation, might retain their curiosity and love of enterprise. We may judge how pernicious it is in its operation in this respect by the long reign of papal usurpation in the dark ages, and the many attacks upon it that were suppressed, previously to the successful one of Luther. Even yet how few are there that venture to examine into the foundation of Mahometanism and Christianity, in those countries where those systems are established by law.
It is a mistake to suppose that speculative differences of opinion threaten materially to disturb the peace of society. It is only when they are enabled to arm themselves with the authority of government, to form parties in the state, and to struggle for that political ascendancy which is too frequently exerted in support of, or in opposition to some particular creed, that they become dangerous. Wherever government is wise enough to maintain an inflexible neutrality, these jarring sects are always found to live together with suffi eient harmony. The very means that have been employed for the preservation of order, have been the only means that have led to its disturbance. The nioment government resolves to admit of no regulations oppressive to either party controversy finds its level, and appeals to arguments and reaBb 3
son, instead of appealing to the sword or the stake. The moment government descends to wear the badge of a sect, religious war is commenced, the world is disgraced with inexpiable broils, and deluged with blood.
GODWIN. Political Justice, b. vi. ch. i. and iii. MAN has a right to think all things, speak all things, write all things, but not to impose his opinions.
WHAT bloodshed and confusion have been occasioned from the reign of Henry IV. when the first penal statutes were enacted, down to the Revolution in this kingdom, by laws made to force conscience! There is nothing certainly more unreasonable, more inconsistent with the rights of human nature, more contrary to the spirit and precepts of the Christian religion, more iniquitous and unjust, more impolitic, than persecution. It is against natural religion, revealed religion, and sound policy.
Sad experience, and a large mind, taught that great man, the President de Thou, this doctrine. Let any man read the many admirable things, which, though a papist, he hath dared to advance upon the subject, in the dedication of his history to Henry IV. of France, (which I never read without rapture) and he will be fully convinced, not only how cruel, but how impolitic it is to persecute for religious opinions.
Make a law to render men incapable of offices; make another to punish them (for it is admitted on all hands, that the defendant in the cause before your lordships is prosecuteable for taking the office upon him): if they accept, punish; if they refuse, punish: if they say yes, punish; if they say no, punish. My lords, this is a most exquisite dilemma, from which there is no escape; it is trap a man cannot get out of; it is as bad persecution as that of Procrustes: if they are too short, stretch them; if they are too long, lop them.
Debates on the Case of Mr. Evans.
EXPERIENCE teaches that the sword, the faggot, exile, and proscriptions, are better calculated to irritate than to heal a disease, which having its source in the mind, cannot be relieved by remedies that act only on the body. The most efficacious means are sound doctrines and repeated instructions, which make a ready impression when inculcated with mildness. Every thing else bows to the sovereign authority of the magistrates and the prince; but religion alone is not to be commanded.
What the Stoics have so vauntingly ascribed to their philosophy, religion has a higher claim to. Torments appear trivial to those who are animated by religious zeal: the firmness with which it inBb 4 spires
* A Dissenter fined by the City of London for refusing to serve an office which required the taking of the sacramental test as its qualification.