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GUERNSEY & JERSEY MAGAZINE.
ON PRINCIPLES AND OPINIONS..
Tag province of the political philosopher essentially differs from that of the practical statesman. It is the duty of the former to investigate the principles on which the system of government ought to rest; it is the business of the latter, when those principles are demonstrated to be sound, to carry them into effect. The department of the one, is thought; of the other, action. The philosopher plans in his study, what the statesman executes in the world. The office of the former is engaged with the intellectual faculties of the mind, which reasons,
and determines what ought to be done; the office of the latter rather partakes of the mechanical powers of the human body, which puts that determination into practice. If the former decides, and the latter does not perform, it is a state of imbecility; and if the latter acts without the previous determination of the former, it is a state of lunacy. In a somewhat similar manner, then, to that in which the body is subservient to the mind, the executive office of the practical statesman is subordinate to the legislative office of the political philosopher.
This distinction, which we believe to be most important in all that relates to the science of government, has hitherto met with very little attention. The reason, however, is sufficiently obvious. The most ordinary individual claims to be a practical man; but philosophers are rare in the world. Thus it happens that the most ignorant person declares that he acts upon his opinion ; though very few can boast of acting on a principle. This most grievous error is a source of incalculable evil, for an opinion may be right or wrong, but a principle is a truth. Nothing can tend more to refresh and invigorate patriotism, than a reference to first principles. It is only by tracing things to their origin that we can understand them; and it is by keeping their Vol. III.-No. 1.
origin constantly in view, that they never fade from our remembrance. We
propose, in this article, to draw some few conclusions from these premises, which appear to be applicable to the present state of political parties.
At the very root of the science of government, lies the question of Rights. Are they equal, or unequal ? And, does the solution of the quære involve a point of principle, or a point of opinion ? A right is clearly not a gift; it is not, and cannot be, a concession from one man to another man, or from one class of men to another class of men; for who is he that could be the first giver? If a Congress, or a Senate, or a Legislative Assembly, no matter what name it assumes, publishes and enacts a Bill of Rights, this is neither a creation of them, nor a donation of them; but it is merely an act declaratory of their existence, and explanatory of their nature and qualities. Since political rights, or, as some call them, civil rights, cannot be manufactured by man, and are not the objects of donation or transfer from one individual to another, they must all originate in natural law, which is a declaration of the will of God; therefore, as between man and man, all rights are equal.
Now, the doctrine of the equality of rights is not a matter of opinion, but a point of principle ; for society, or government, is not their donor, but their guardian. In them there is nothing earthly or human; they are one of the links in the chain which connects man with the divinity. They form part of his moral existence, and are inseparable from it. If the soundness of this view of the subject be doubted, let an opponent embrace the reverse side of the question, and insist on the inequality of rights. If that doctrine be maintained, then we ask, at what point shall this inequality commence, and at what point shall it stop? Further, by what standard shall the relative gradations be determined? If you confer any adventitious pre-eminence on property, then you depart from every principle of moral liberty and justice; for wealth is no proof of virtue, nor is poverty a sign of vice; moreover, you confer artificial superiority on mere matter, which is irrational. It is equally indefensible to bestow rights on those who are loaded with titular distinctions. Nothing is easier to establish than a manufactory of nobles ; nothing is more difficult than to establish a manufactory of wise men. Lockes, and Bacons, and Newtons, seldom appear more than once in a century ; such characters are, indeed, truly noble; they are the pure gold, impressed with the stamp of the divine mint; but the nobility of the Herald's College are two frequently base counterfeits, a substratum of brass lackered over with a slight gilding.
Daniel De Foe, the immortal author of Robinson Crusoe, in his historical satire, entitled “The True-Born Englishman," has very concisely traced the origin of that inequality of rights, now existing in England,
which flows from the united source of property and titles, both acquired by usurpation, and a violation of all the most sacred principles of natural law :
“The great invading Norman let them know
And lords, whose fathers were the Lord knows who !" It would be easy to bring forward other examples to illustrate what we insist on as principles, in contradistinction to opinions. But let this one concerning the equality of rights suffice. It is one of the pillars, on which every system of constitutional liberty ought to rest. Now, this principle having been demonstrated to be a truth by every political philosopher who has written on the subject, it becomes the duty of the practical statesman to carry it into effect; but here he may be allowed some latitude. Representative government, for instance, the only one worth thinking about in the present century, is not necessarily confined to any particular form. So long as first principles are respected, the mode and manner of reducing them into practical operation becomes a subordinate question,-a matter of opinion. In all deliberative assemblies, where freedom of debate exists, the votes of the majority are binding on the minority, for, otherwise, their entire usefulness would be destroyed : but this does not establish any inequality of rights: for though every man has a right to give an opinion, yet no man can pretend that his opinion is to govern his neighbour.
Every art and every science is founded on certain principles, and though these are scarcely known at their first introduction, or at most very imperfectly understood ; yet, in the course of years, and after repeated researches, they are discovered and firmly established. In every department of natural and experimental philosophy, some such fundamental laws are known to exist, and as soon as their nature and properties are ascertained, they cease to be matters of opinion, but become princi
ples. In reference to the known laws of motion, for example, no man would say, “ I am of opinion that if a body is in a state of rest, it will remain in a state of rest till acted upon by some external force,” for this is a principle, and thus ceases to be a matter of opinion. There are no longer two sides to the question. This fundamental law of motion is now so familiar to the world, that all persons act upon it, and any one who doubted its universality, would be considered a fool.
But the same reasoning which is applied to physical causes and effects, holds good in reference to moral causes and effects. Morality is governed by fundamental laws, and rests on what are called first principles. The science of government is one of the departments of morals, and therefore may be regulated by fixed and unerring rules.
The political philosopher will always be in advance of the age in which he lives, for it is his proper business to deal alone with principles and their application; the masses are content to shape their conduct according to mere opinion. The former confines himself to demonstration, certainty, and truths; the latter are satisfied with speculation, probability, and errors. Pride and prejudice are the great enemies of the philosopher ; time and reflection are his best friends. If he perceives that any existing law or custom violates a principle, and is only retained because it is ancient, it is his duty to provide a remedy: and though he knows full well that any reform will be at first scouted as a new-fangled doctrine, yet he will persevere: and if he has thrown a truth upon
the waters, sooner or later it will arrive safely in port. Of this fact many instances have occurred in our time. When Mr. Wilberforce first proposed the liberation of the negro, he was spit upon as a fanatic, and denounced as a leveller, who had no respect for the aristocracy of the skin. The eloquence of Grattan passed away as an empty sound, when he pleaded for the emancipation of the Catholics. The most convincing arguments, in favour of the repeal of the Test and Corporation Acts, weighed but as a feather in the balance. Rotten boroughs once were reverenced as the “nurseries of rising statesmen," and whoever dared to lay his ruthless hands on the constitutional cradles of these sucking babes, was held up to hatred, as an Atheist and a Jacobin. But, in a few short years, the scene has changed; truth has triumphed, and justice has prevailed. The scales have fallen from the eyes of the nation, and she walks erect, strong in the dignity of reason, her countenance radiant with the warm glow of humanity.
A political constitution, to be sound and healthy in all its parts, ought to be made up of principles. Now, the British Constitution, as we have shown in many former articles published in this Magazine, is a thing of shreds and patches,—an Ossa of inconsistencies piled upon a few grains of common sense. The unreflecting multitude, being taught