Saturday, February 11, 2012

Liberty, Part XXV

James Wilson, largely quoting Edmund Burke:

“In the Analysis of his Commentaries, he mentions ‘the right of personal security, of personal liberty, and of private property’—not as the natural rights, which, I confess, I should have expected, but—as the ‘civil liberties’ of Englishmen. In his Commentaries, speaking of the same three rights, he admits that they are founded on nature and reason; but adds ‘their establishment, excellent as it is, is still human.’ Each of those rights he traces severally and particularly to magna charta, which he justly considers as for the most part declaratory of the principal grounds of the fundamental laws of England. He says indeed, that they are ‘either that residuum of natural liberty, which is not required by the laws of society to be sacrificed to publick convenience; or else those civil privileges, which society has engaged to provide, in lieu of the natural liberties so given up by individuals.’ He makes no explicit declaration which of the two, in his opinion, they are; but since he traces them to magna charta and the fundamental laws of England; since he calls them ‘civil liberties;’ and since he says expressly, that their establishment is human; we have reason to think, that he viewed them as coming under the latter part of his description—as civil privileges, provided by society, in lieu of the natural liberties given up by individuals. Considered in this view, there is no material difference between the doctrine of Sir William Blackstone, and that delivered by Mr. Burke.”

“If this view be a just view of things, then the consequence, undeniable and unavoidable, is, that, under civil government, the right of individuals to their private property, to their personal liberty, to their health, to their reputation, and to their life, flow from a human establishment, and can be traced to no higher source. The connexion between man and his natural rights is intercepted by the institution of civil society.”

“If this view be a just view of things, why should we not subscribe the following articles of a political creed, proposed by Mr. Burke.

“‘We wished, at the period of the revolution, and we now wish to derive all we possess, as an inheritance from our forefathers. Upon that body and stock of inheritance, we have taken care not to innoculate any cyon alien to the nature of the original plant. All the reformations we have hitherto made, have proceeded upon the principle of reference to antiquity; and I hope, nay I am persuaded, that all those, which possibly may be made hereafter, will be carefully formed upon analogical precedent, authority, and example.’

“‘Our oldest reformation is that of magna charta. You will see that Sir Edward Coke, that great oracle of our law, and indeed all the great men who follow him, to Blackstone, are industrious to prove the pedigree of our liberties.’

“‘They endeavour to prove, that the ancient charter, the magna charta of King John, was connected with another positive charter from Henry the first: and that both the one and the other were nothing more than a reaffirmance of the still more ancient standing law of the kingdom. In the matter of fact, for the greater part, these authors appear to be in the right; perhaps not always: but if the lawyers mistake in some particulars, it proves my position still the more strongly; because it demonstrates the powerful prepossession towards antiquity, with which the minds of all our lawyers and legislators, and of all the people whom they wish to influence, have been always filled; and the stationary policy of this kingdom in considering their most sacred rights and franchises as an inheritance.’


“Government, in my humble opinion, should be formed to secure and to enlarge the exercise of the natural rights of its members; and every government, which has not this in view, as its principal object, is not a government of the legitimate kind.”


“Those rights result from the natural state of man; from that situation, in which he would find himself, if no civil government was instituted. In such a situation, a man finds himself, in some respects, unrelated to others; in other respects, peculiarly related to some; in still other respects, bearing a general relation to all. From his unrelated state, one class of rights arises: from his peculiar relations, another class of rights arises: from his general relations, a third class of rights arises. To each class of rights, a class of duties is correspondent; as we had occasion to observe and illustrate, when we treated concerning the general principles of natural law.”


“In his unrelated state, man has a natural right to his property, to his character, to liberty, and to safety. From his peculiar relations, as a husband, as a father, as a son, he is entitled to the enjoyment of peculiar rights, and obliged to the performance of peculiar duties. These will be specified in their due course. From his general relations, he is entitled to other rights, simple in their principle, but, in their operation, fruitful and extensive. His duties, in their principle and in their operation, may be characterized in the same manner as his rights. In these general relations, his rights are, to be free from injury, and to receive the fulfilment of the engagements, which are made to him: his duties are, to do no injury, and to fulfil the engagements, which he has made. On these two pillars principally and respectively rest the criminal and the civil codes of the municipal law. These are the pillars of justice.”

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