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HUMAN GOVERNMENT - 2 - A, PREVIOUS LECTURE - NEXT SECTION - HELP - FACEBOOK
I propose now to make several remarks respecting forms of government, the right and duty of revolution, etc.
1. The particular forms of state government must, and will, depend upon the virtue and intelligence of the people.
When virtue and intelligence are nearly universal, democratic forms of government are well suited to promote the public good. In such a state of society, democracy is greatly conducive to the general diffusion of knowledge on governmental subjects; and although, in some respects less convenient, yet in a suitable state of society, a democracy is in many respects the most desirable form of government.
God has always providentially given to mankind those forms of government that were suited to the degrees of virtue and intelligence among them. If they have been extremely ignorant and vicious, He has restrained them by the iron rod of human despotism. If more intelligent and virtuous, He has given them the milder form of limited monarchies. If still more intelligent and virtuous, He has given them still more liberty, and providentially established republics for their government. Whenever the general state of intelligence has permitted it, He has put them to the test of self-government and self-restraint, by establishing democracies.
If the world ever becomes perfectly virtuous, governments will be proportionally modified, and employed in expounding and applying the great principles of moral law.
2. That form of government is obligatory, that is best suited to meet the necessities of the people.
This follows as a self-evident truth, from the consideration, that necessity is the condition of the right of human government. To meet this necessity is the object of government; and that government is obligatory and best which is demanded by the circumstances, intelligence, and morals of the people.
Consequently, in certain states of society, it would be a Christian's duty to pray for and sustain even a military despotism; in a certain other state of society, to pray for and sustain a monarchy; and in other states, to pray for and sustain a republic; and in a still more advanced stage of virtue and intelligence, to pray for and sustain a democracy; if indeed a democracy is the most wholesome form of self government, which may admit of doubt. It is ridiculous to set up the claim of a Divine right for any given form of government. That form of government which is demanded by the state of society, and the virtue and intelligence of the people, has of necessity the Divine right and sanction, and none other has or can have.
3. Revolutions become necessary and obligatory, when the virtue and intelligence, or the vice and ignorance, of the people, demand them.
This is a thing of course. When one form of government fails to meet any longer the necessities of the people, it is the duty of the people to revolutionize. In such cases, it is vain to oppose revolution; for in some way the benevolence of God will bring it about. Upon this principle alone, can what is generally termed the American Revolution be justified. The intelligence and virtue of our Puritan forefathers rendered a monarchy an unnecessary burden, and a republican form of government both appropriate and necessary; and God always allows His children as much liberty as they are prepared to enjoy.
The stability of our republican institutions must depend upon the progress of general intelligence and virtue. If in these respects the nation falls, if general intelligence, public and private virtue, sink to that point below which self-control becomes practicably impossible, we must fall back into monarchy, limited or absolute; or into civil or military despotism; just according to the national standard of intelligence and virtue. This is just as certain as that God governs the world, or that causes produce their effects.
Therefore, it is the maddest conceivable policy, for Christians to attempt to uproot human governments, while they ought to be engaged in sustaining them upon the great principles of the moral law. It is certainly the grossest folly, if not abominable wickedness, to overlook either in theory or practice, these plain, common sense and universal truths.
(1.) We may yield obedience, when the thing required does not involve a violation of moral obligation.
(2.) We are bound to obey when the thing required has no moral character in itself; upon the principle, that obedience in this case is a less evil than resistance and revolution. But: