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The origin of government and the duties of its subjects are justly attracting renewed attention. For upon the theory which prevails among the citizens of this country on this subject will depend their practice. If they are taught to regard the State, in its origin, purely as a social compact, and based in the will of man, one result may be anticipated,—if as a divine institution and based in the will of God, another result will be witnessed.
No one who was interested in the late political struggle, has failed to notice how very unfixed are the present opinions of our people in regard to the fundamental principles of government, and consequently how great the doubt in respect to their duty as voters. Men felt that the right of suffrage was a privilege, —they knew there was a duty connected with that privilege. Yet how many there were who were harassed for months—who, on the morning of the election, were hesitating— nay, who even went to the polls in doubt whether they were doing what they ought to do. Nor is it to be wondered at. The community had been distracted by clashing antagonistic doctrines. Each party had its rule of action. As many theories of government were presented as there are fast days in the calendar. Each advocate of his own treated all other theories as though he were acting on the advice given to a tyro at a Tipperary row, “Wherever you see a head, hit it.” Conscience was treated as if it were caoutchouc. The press and the pulpit were taxed for the invention of forcible arguments and apt illustrations. The fast-day was made a caucus day. Ministers were charged with preaching new doctrines by means of a forced exegesis. Old doctrines were gibbeted without ‘benefit of clergy.”
The sacredness of confidence was violated, and private letters were despatched to a partisan press, to be heralded to the world with sneers instead of argument, and ridicule instead of logic. The good ways of our fathers were forgotten. Where they saw harmony we saw discord; where they had division we had dissention. The storm has passed. And now does it not become us, as “good men and true,” to repair what it has shattered,—to fertilize what it has devastated Ought we not to profit by our experience, and while the rack of the storm is still seen in the horizon to prepare for another ? In other words,-can not some theory be proposed in respect to government and our duty as the subjects of it, which shall commend itself to the calm judgment of the good— to the earnest seekers for the truth 2 The American citizen is the possessor of a choice heirship. He owes a duty to himself. So he does to those who carved out a birthright for him with their blades. He does to those who are praying for his prosperity to-day in the dungeons of Lombardy. He does to his fellow citizens who are now enjoying the blessings of our institutions—to the myriads whom he sees prospectively peopling this “domain of liberty.” The mode of discharging this duty is to him a subject of no ephemeral importance. The right of suffrage is his own, and it is a question of deep significancy how he can best use it. The cycle of our national election is not a long one. A struggle, similar, in many respects, to that through which we have just passed, will soon again demand our attention. Before it comes upon us we should determine our duty. When the mind is calm, when the eye is clear, we should look at principles; we should estimate their value. There is truth which invites our attention, which we can incorporate into our being, which will lift us above the pride and the prejudice of party, and which shall be an everliving monitor within us. We can decide what relations we sustain to government, how we may best perform the duties of citizenship. There are fundamental principles on this subject which we can make our own, and which will guide us in every particular action which we shall be called to discharge. God did not leave man the victim of a blind impulse. He gave him reason that thereby he might-determine his duty. It is with a view of evolving these principles that this article is written. We commence with the common question, Is civil government a divine institution ? and in its decision shall glance hastily at some of those problems which have agitated the public mind, and seem to call for a faithful solution. What then are we to understand by a divine institution ? I answer, any settled order of things which God has clearly willed to exist in all the appropriate circumstances of the existence of man. Any such order of things, the endurance of which we perceive to be for the best, and which we know to be universally established, we are warranted to consider of divine appointment. In every such case there is that in the nature of things which manifests its utility, and by its permanence shows its fitness for the circumstances in which it exists. Under this comprehensive definition may be included two varieties. I. The first embraces those institutions which God has expressly enjoined in his revealed word. These are positive in their nature, and depend not, primarily, on any perceived fitness by those to whom they are given, but on the authority of him who gave them. The reason
of their observance lies in the law that prescribes them, and the force of the law centers in the superior character of the lawgiver. Of this nature was the Jewish theocracy. That divine institution, unique in its character, was one in which God became the national king, and the tutelary Deity of a people which he had chosen as the depositary of truth in the world, and thus promulged to them a law, whose observance he exacted with appropriate sanctions. Of this nature, too, were the Sabbath and the rite of circumcision under the old dispensation, and the ordinances of baptism and the Lord's Supper under the new. II. The second class does not depend on external command. The institutions under it are those the reasons of which lie in, and the observance of which springs from, the very constitution of things. They are such as men acknowledge by their practice to be universally necessary for their wellbeing, the germ of which is wrought into their very nature and developed in all the appropriate circumstances of their existence. These are just as much of divine institution as the former ; for they owe their origin to that constitution of things which God has ordered, and are its useful and necessary accompaniments. Such institutions are not the fruit of a wanton caprice, resting on the arbitrary enactments of a particular age or people. They rest upon a firmer basis and are built of a more enduring substance. They are conjoined with the essential nature of that from which they proximately spring. It is not necessary in all cases that God should positively declare his will, that it may be perceived and known. We can learn it as well, if we will, from those tacit yet forcible manifestations of it which he makes in the dispensation of his works and the ordering of his providence, as from the page of his written word. And sometimes there is a deep meaning in the former which comes home to our minds with a peculiar energy. It is as though a thousand voices were whispering it, whenever we attend to their utterance, in tones so true that they find a response within us. Thus is the design of God made known as plainly as if written with his own finger on tables of stone. So that wherever we find these characteristics in a settled order of things, we there find the evidence of a divine institution. It is not enough that it has the marks of utility,+that it evidently enlightens and ennobles wherever its beneficial ef. fects are experienced,—that it purifies and blesses those who partake of its benefits;–but it must also be universal—established in all the appropriate circumstances of the life of man. These two grand characteristics then belong to this class, utility and universality. Of this nature is human Society. In this the Creator has most clearly manifested his design. The necessity of it is written as a fundamental and inviolable law in the very nature of man. Instinct alone would almost declare it. The affections implanted in man, the dispositions and propensities that belong to the constitution of his body and his mind, with all their inseparable desires and infirmities, plainly demand its recognition. Without society the faculties of the mind, the gift of God, would remain undeveloped; they would droop and die. The safety and happiness of individuals depend upon it. A state of solitude is one of gloom; a state of society is one of pleasure. The love of offspring, the dependence of the young and the infirm, the noble and pure sympathies that are thereby nurtured, the thrilling attachment, the warm alliances which are produced, strong and lasting as life, all combine to prove that God constituted man for society. He implanted in his creatures that nature which unavoidably led to these genial and enduring relations. They are as
universal as the race; they are for man's highest wellbeing. Man every where is linked to his fellow man, and he feels the permanence and binding power of that union. It is perceived by the savage as well as by the enlightened, and is valued highly even where it is most ungainly. The forms of society may be improved; knowledge and experience, and the mild influence of religion, may have so fashioned society that it is now better adapted to develop the virtues and promote mutual happiness among mankind than in the ruder and earlier ages. Yet there the same great principle is seen struggling to expand and perfect itself. It is for these reasons that we call it a divine institution.
Of this nature, too, is Marriage. Without this relation, the purposes of human society would be defeated: virtue would be disregarded, and man would live under the lawless control of his wild and wanton passions. Though enjoined by no express command, like the Sabbath, &c., it is still a divine institution. The proof that it is such, is found in the original constitution of man as existing in society—in its necessity to his wellbeing—in its tendency to promote the kindlier feelings of our nature—in its universal prevalence throughout all the habitations of men. This seems to be the view that the Savior gave of it in his conversation with the Pharisees on the banks of the Jordan. From the beginning of the creation, he says, God made them male and female. There was that in the constitution which he gave them— in the relation they sustained to each other—which made it proper to say that God had joined them together. And although no command had been uttered, still the desire and necessity of this union, springing from the nature of man, and its tendency to sustain and exalt the design of human society, sufficiently prove it to be according to the will of God and an institution of his wise ordering. The Savior did not change its character: from the first it was a divine institution, and God established it because he saw it was for man's highest good. Civil government also belongs to this class. For it springs out of the necessities of things—the very constitution of man's nature as a member of society—and is as universal as the race. It is of divine appointment inasmuch as it is wrought into the very texture of that being which God has designed for man, and must find its development under that ordering of events which God has fashioned. The good order, the interests, nay, the existence even of human society demand it. Civil government is needful to perpetuate and perfect those relations which exist between man and man—to control the grasping power of the profligate and impious—to shield the persons and property of the helpless —to inspire confidence and hope in the distrustful, and to give strength and continuance to existing union. It is proportionate to man's capacity —it is level to his necessity. He feels that it is conjoined to his very condition and character—that its history is co-equal with his history— that he is necessitated by his very nature to continue it. Men—all men—in all the appropriate circumstances of their being, feel that civil government is indispensable to their highest good. No matter how diverse their sentiments in other respects—in this they agree. The Jew and the Mohammedan, the Papist and the Protestant, the Atheist and the Pagan, give their concurrent testimony to the utility, to the necessity of civil government. They feel that government must proclaim the sanctions of its law in their hearing—must throw up its bulwarks around them—must kindle up its watch-lights at every dangerous point —must send its influence through all the ramifications of human so
ciety. If the positive civil law were annulled, and all the forms of gov. ernment abandoned—and if God's revealed code was blotted out of existence—still would man feel the necessity of civil government. The deprivation of it would rest like an incubus on his mind. He would demand its re-formation—he would make it as lasting as his existence. Now, to what are we to ascribe these facts What do they prove, if not that civil government is a di. vine institution ? God has so constituted man, and so ordered the circumstances of his being, that civil government exists wherever he exists—not as an arbitrary enactment, but the spontaneous fruit of his own being—the fulfillment of God's will respecting his creatures. No voice has audibly commanded its constitu. tion, no precept for its construction has been written in the books of the law. God has not chosen men to be the framers of civil society according to the pattern which he has showed them—he has not inspired them to teach the nations the science of government. Still it is none the less manifest what was His design in regard to its establishment. This view of civil government does not preclude the idea that it is, in some sense, a human creation. The simple fact that a civil institu. tion is so useful and universal as to be properly said to be of divine or. dination, does not take away from it its human character. The end of government, as government,is temporal. Its form comes directly or indirectly from the people. Even in an absolute monarchy it depends on their acquiescence and submission. Yet the necessity of government is not in their gift: it lies back of their action and is in no manner depend. ent upon it. They may adopt a par. ticular form of government and promulge and enforce its sanctions —they may continue it for ages, and build upon its deep foundations an enduring fabric; but even then they have only perfected the design of the Creator. And therefore we say, that while its legitimate and binding prerogative is committed to their maintenance, the reason for its formation subsisted prior to the expression of their will : it arose from that order of things which God had established. It would be an interesting study to trace back the present forms of government to their primitive sources, and to search out the causes which led to the adoption of each. The great and good governments which are now exerting such a benign influence have grown up from a far antiquity, or taken their present modifications from a series of individual events which conspired to that end. These facts prove that the particular form of every government comes from the people over whom it is exercised. What were the causes which led to this or that result may be more or less obscure. The “fierce democracie” of Attica did not spring to life till tyranny had aroused the energy of the Greek. The governments that clustered along the Archipelago were at first monarchical. But when the overbearing conduct of the petty chieftains made their sway insufferable, then Sparta called upon Lycurgus for her law, and Solon gave to Athens her constitution. Then the popular governments of those illustrious states became the harbingers of better days. Then came that list of lofty names to which succeeding ages have paid their homage. The Baptist Congregational church in Virginia, near the residence of Mr. Jefferson, whose meetings he often attended, and in whose principles of church government he was strongly interested, may have been one great means of the establishment of a democratic government for these states. No matter how trivial, or how momentous, the causes which led to the formation of any particular government. This Wol. III. 67
we may say, its adoption depended on the will of the people. But when it was duly organized, and men were invested with authority and the law had gained its binding force, then it was necessary for the general good and was an ordinance of God. It is important that these two ideas be conjoined. It is by looking at one exclusive of the other, that many mistakes have arisen, and many false theories been adopted in regard to government. Government in its outward garb is human, and its design is human. It begins with man, is employed with regard to him, and terminates in him. At the same time, it is an ordinance of God—it is a part of that system which he designed for man —the desire of which, and the necessity for which, he incorporated into the being of man and made as co-extensive and permanent as his very existence. The mere fact that any body of men had formed a civil government, and that great good resulted from its adoption and continuance, would not constitute it a divine institution. There are many examples that might be adduced to illustrate this. Take a plain one,—our common school system. Here is an institution of wide adoption and beneficial in its tendencies. The fathers of New England felt the importance of education for their children. They founded this system. Scotland followed their example. Prussia is perfecting it. Its utility is acknowledged by all who are acquainted with it. Its design is to cultivate a desire of knowledge in the young mind, to enlarge its capacities, to direct its energies. Its result is the formation of good and regular habits in the young, a restraint from idle and vicious conduct, a preparation for a virtuous and useful manhood. Yet all this does not constitute it a divine institution : nor could it be called such if it should become universally prevalent. The