Monday, February 13, 2012

Liberty, Part XXVII

James Otis, from Rights of the British Colonies Asserted and Proved, 1766:

“The end of government being the good of mankind, points out its great duties: it is above all things to provide for the security, the quiet, and happy enjoyment of life, liberty, and property. There is no one act which a government can have a right to make, that does not tend to the advancement of the security, tranquility and prosperity of the people. If life, liberty and property could be enjoyed in as great perfection in solitude, as in society, there would be no need of government. But the experience of ages has proved that such is the nature of man, a weak, imperfect being; that the valuable ends of life cannot be obtained, without the union and assistance of many. Hence it is clear that men cannot live apart or independent of each other: in solitude men would perish; and yet they cannot live together without contests. These contests require some arbitrator to determine them. The necessity of a common, indifferent and impartial judge, makes all men seek one...”

“Government is founded immediately on the necessities of human nature, and ultimately on the will of God, the author of nature, who has not left it to men in general to chuse, whether they will be members of society or not, but at the hazard of their senses if not of their lives. Yet it is left to every man as he comes of age to chuse what society he will continue to belong to.”

“Government having been proven to be necessary by the law of nature, it makes no difference in the thing to call it from a certain period, civil. This term can only relate to form, to additions to, or deviations from, the substance of government: This being founded in nature, the superstructures and the whole administration should be conformed to the law of universal reason. A supreme legislative and a supreme executive power, must be placed somewhere in every commonwealth: Where there is no other positive provision or compact: to the contrary, those powers remain in the whole body of the people. It is also evident there can be but one best way of depositing those powers; but what that way is, mankind have been disputing in peace and in war more than five thousand years. If we could suppose the individuals of a community, met to deliberate, whether it were best to keep those powers in their own hand?, or dispose of them in trust, the following questions would occur - Whether those two great powers of Legislation and Execution should remain united? If so, whether in the hands of the many, or jointly or severally in the hands of a few, or jointly in some one individual?”

“The same law of nature and of reason is equally obligatory on a democracy, an aristocracy, and a monarchy: Whenever the administrators, in any of those forms, deviate from truth, justice and equity, they verge towards tyranny, and are to be opposed; and if they prove incorrigible, they will be deposed by the people, if the people are not rendered too abject.”

“A Power of legislation, without a power of execution in the same or other hands, would be futile and vain; On the other hand, a power of execution, supreme or subordinate, without an independent legislature, would be perfect despotism.”

“By being or becoming members of society, they have not renounced their natural liberty in any greater degree than other good citizens, and if it is taken from them without their consent they are so far inslaved.”

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