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C H A P. I.
OF THE STATE OF NATURE.
THE contemplation of the British con
ftitution in its origin, in its structure and in its effects, is the important and the
arduous arduous task, which I have undertaken. *« The duty incumbent upon all, who have leisure and abilities, to endeavour to understand, in order to maintain it in perfection, are those high motives, by which Englishmen are called upon to examine the principles, to study the contrivance, and to contemplate the operations of that vast political machine, which is so much the envy of others, and which should be the supreme admiration of ourselves, particularly at a time, when a party of discontented spirits, under the assumed character of philosophers, are labouring to abule what they do not understand, to point out imperfections, which have no existence,
* The trite adage of nil sub fole novum is more emphatically applicable to the subject under our present confideration, than to any other. This subject has in all ages been the primary object of the politician, the historian, and the philosopher; and in many ages, such have been the exalted idea's entertained of its dignity, that it has constituted a very considerable part of theology. As in religion, the written word of God, which, from its divine inspiration, must essentially bear a determined and unequivocal meaning, is in disputes and differences often resorted to, and modified by the appellants to its authority, so as to colour, countenance, and support the most extravagant and contradictory opinions ; fo few or no political errors, treasons, rebellions, or usurpations have at any time been attempted to be justified, but by appeale ing and resorting to the authority of the Rights of Man. Since the subject has been so often and fo fully confidered by others, I shall think I give more satisfaction to the public by collecting and arranging their opinions upon it, than by endeavouring to dress and serve up the old substance in the disguise of some new fashion. I shall
therefore offer no other apology for preferring what others, and even I myself, have on other occasions pube lished upon the subject. My primary object in making this publication is to form and fix the minds of my countrymen upon the most important of all civil and political subjects, and to do away the effects of uncertainty, confufion, and error, under which some of them now labour. I most cordially adopt the sentiments of Dr. Price, when he says, in the discourfe already alluded to, (p. 13) “ Happier far moft he be, if at the same time he has reason to believe, he has been successful, and actually contributed by his instructions, to disseminate among his fellow creatures just notions of themselves, of their rights, of religion, and the nature and end of civil government.”
Dr. Tatham's Letters to Mr. Burke, p.7.
to find defects instead of excellencies, to traduce its general worth, and to make our countrymen dissatisfied with what they ought to love." But as the nature, properties, and effectsof the most ingenious piece of mechanism can only be explained upon those mathematical principles, upon which it was constructed, and which had their existence, independent of this particular application of them: fo * « before intelligent beings existed, they were possible; they had therefore possible relations, and consequently, possible laws. Before laws were made, there were relations of possible justice. To say, that there is nothing just or unjuft, but what is commanded or forbidden by positive laws, is the same as saying, that before the describing
of a circle, all the radii were not equal." The state of This state of nature, in which all philosonature merely, phers consider man, and the rights and prometaphysical. perties inherent in this nature, is a mere, theo.
retical and metaphysical state, pre-existing only in the mind, before the physical existence of any human entity whatever. As this state of nature then never had any real existence, so also the various qualities, properties, rights, powers, and adjuncts annexed unto it, are
* Montesq. Spirit of Laws, b. i. p. 2.
mere creatures of the imaginationi, attributable only to man in this ideal ftate of speculation: they bear the same fort of analogy to the physical state of man in society, as principles and properties of mathematical points and lines bear to the practical rules of mechanics. As well might we attempt to handle and manufacture a mathematical point, as to move only upon the principles of this state of nature, being placed by the beneficence of our Creator in the physical state of society. Some of our greatest philosophers, as is often the case, to avoid pleonasm, and in the full glare of their own conviction, have omitted to say, in express words, that this state of nature, in which they considered man in the abstract, never had an actual, physical, or real existence in this world, and this omiffion has, perhaps, occasioned the error of many modern illuminators; who, from ignorance, have confounded the two states together, or, from designed malice, have transplanted the attributes and properties of the one into the other.
To state the opinions of these philofophers upon the Rights of Man, in this state of nature, is to demonstrate, that they considered it as pre-existing and antecedent to the physical state of man's real existence.
. # « To understand political power right, and derive it from its original, we must consider what state all men are naturally in, and that is, a state of perfect freedom to order their actions, and dispose of their possessions and persons, as they think fit, within the bounds of the law of nature, without asking leave or depending upon the will of any other man; a state also of equality, wherein all the power, and jurisdiction is reciprocal, no one having more than another; there being nothing more evident, than that creatures of the same fpecies and rank, promiscuously born to all the fame advantages of nature, and the use of the same faculties, should be equal one amongst another, without subordination or subjection.”
" Prior to all those laws are those of nature, so called, because they derive their force entirely from our frame and being. In order to have a perfect knowledge of these laws, we must consider man before the establishment of society: the laws received in such a state
would be those of nature." From the phy. It requires no argument to prove, when of Adam and the physical civilized state of society compure nature was menced; for, from the commencement of
* Locke upon Civil Government, p. 168. + Montesquicu's Spirit of Laws.