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HUMAN GOVERNMENT - 2 - B, PREVIOUS SECTION - NEXT SECTION - HELP - FACEBOOK
Apply the foregoing principles to the rights and duties of governments and subjects in relation to the execution of the necessary penalties of law: the suppression of mobs, insurrections, rebellion; and also in relation to war, slavery, Sabbath desecration, etc.
1. It is plain that the right and duty to govern for the security and promotion of the public interests, implies the right and duty to use any means necessary to this result. It is absurd to say that the ruler has the right to govern, and yet that he has not a right to use the necessary means. Some have taken the ground of the inviolability of human life, and have insisted that to take life is wrong per se, and of course that governments are to be sustained without taking life. Others have gone so far as to assert, that governments have no right to resort to physical force to sustain the authority of law. But this is a most absurd philosophy, and amounts just to this: The ruler has a right to govern while the subject is pleased to obey; but if the subject refuses obedience, why then the right to govern ceases: for it is impossible that the right to govern should exist when the right to enforce obedience does not exist. This philosophy is, in fact, a denial of the right to use the necessary means for the promotion of the great end for which all moral agents ought to live. And yet, strange to tell, this philosophy professes to deny the right to use force, and to take life in support of government, on the ground of benevolence, that is, that benevolence forbids it. What is this but maintaining that the law of benevolence demands that we should love others too much to use the indispensable means to secure their good? Or that we should love the whole too much to execute the law upon those who would destroy all good? Shame on such philosophy! It overlooks the foundation of moral obligation, and of all morality and religion. Just as if an enlightened benevolence could forbid the due, wholesome, and necessary execution of law. This philosophy impertinently urges the commandment, "Thou shalt not kill" (Deut. 5:17), as prohibiting all taking of human life. But it may be asked, why say human life? The commandment, so far as the letter is concerned, as fully prohibits the killing of animals or vegetables as it does of men. The question is, what kind of killing does this commandment prohibit? Certainly not all killing of human beings, for in the next chapter the Jews were commanded to kill human beings for certain crimes. The ten commandments are precepts, and the Lawgiver, after laying down the precepts, goes on to specify the penalties that are to be inflicted by men for a violation of these precepts. Some of these penalties are death, and the penalty for the violation of the precept under consideration is death. It is certain that this precept was not intended to prohibit the taking of life for murder. A consideration of the law in its tenor and spirit renders it most evident that the precept in question prohibits murder, and the penalty of death is added by the lawgiver to the violation of this precept. Now how absurd and impertinent it is, to quote this precept in prohibition of taking life under the circumstances included in the precept!
Men have an undoubted right to do whatever is plainly indispensable to the highest good of man; and, therefore, nothing can, by any possibility be law, that should prohibit the taking of human life, when it becomes indispensable to the great end of government. This right is every where recognized in the Bible, and if it were not, still the right would exist. This philosophy that I am opposing, assumes that the will of God creates law, and that we have no right to take life, without an express warrant from Him. But the facts are, that God did give to the Jews, at least, an express warrant and injunction to take life for certain crimes; and, if He had not, it would have been duty to do so whenever the public good required it. Let it be remembered, that the moral law is the law of nature, and that everything is lawful and right that is plainly demanded for the promotion of the highest good of being.
The philosophy of which I am speaking lays much stress upon what it calls inalienable rights. It assumes that man has a title or right to life, in such a sense, that he cannot forfeit it by crime. But the fact is, there are no rights inalienable in this sense. There can be no such rights. Whenever any individual by the commission of crime comes into such a relation to the public interest, that his death is a necessary means of securing the highest public good, his life is forfeited, and to take the forfeiture at his hands is the duty of the government.
2. It will be seen, that the same principles are equally applicable to insurrections, rebellions, etc. While government is right, it is duty, and while it is right and duty, because necessary as a means to the great end upon which benevolence terminates, it must be both the right and the duty of government, and of all the subjects, to use any indispensable means for the suppression of insurrections, rebellion, etc., as also for the due administration of justice in the execution of law.
3. These principles will guide us in ascertaining the right, and of course the duty of governments in relation to war.
Observe, war to be in any case a virtue, or to be less than a crime of infinite magnitude, must not only be honestly believed, by those who engage in it, to be demanded by the law of benevolence, but it must also be engaged in by them with an eye single to the glory of God, and the highest good of being. That war has been in some instances demanded by the spirit of the moral law, there can be no reasonable doubt, since God has sometimes commanded it, which He could not have done had it not been demanded by the highest good of the universe. In such cases, if those who were commanded to engage in war, had benevolent intentions in prosecuting it as God had in commanding it, it is absurd to say that they sinned. Rulers are represented as God's ministers to execute wrath upon the guilty. If, in the providence of God, He should find it duty to destroy or to rebuke a nation for His own glory, and the highest good of being, He may beyond question command that they should be chastised by the hand of man. But in no case is war anything else than a most horrible crime, unless it is plainly the will of God that it should exist, and unless it be actually undertaken in obedience to His will. This is true of all, both of rulers and of subjects, who engage in war. Selfish war is wholesale murder. For a nation to declare war, or for persons to enlist, or in any way designedly to aid or abet, in the declaration or prosecution of war, upon any other conditions than those just specified, involves the guilt of murder.