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are created; or, which is the same thing, how any new rights can accrue from the establishment of civil society? as rights of all kinds, we remember, depend upon the will of God, and civil society is but the ordinance and institution of man. For the solution of this difficulty, we must return to our first principles. God wills the happiness of mankind; and the existence of civil society, as conducive to that happiness. Consequently, many things, which are useful for the support of civil society in general, or for the conduct and conservation of particular societies already established, are, for that reason, “consistent with the will of God,” or “right,” which, without that reason, i. e. without the establishment of civil society, would not have been so. From whence also it appears, that adventitious rights, though immediately derived from human appointment, are not, for that reason, less sacred than natural rights, nor the obligation to respect them less cogent. They both ultimately rely upon the same authority—the will of God. Such a man claims a right to a particular estate. He can show, it is true, nothing for his right, but a rule of the civil community to which he belongs; and this rule may be arbitrary, capricious, and absurd. Notwithstanding all this, there would be the same sin in dispossessing the man of his estate by craft or violence, as if it had been assigned to him, like the partition of the country amongst the twelve tribes, by the immediate designa-tion and appointment of Heaven. II. Rights are alienable or unalienable. Which terms explain themselves. The right we have to most of those things which we call property, as houses, lands, money, &c. is alienable. The right of a prince over his people, of a husband over his wife, of a master over his servant, is generally and naturally unalienable. The distinction depends upon the mode of acquiring the right. If the right originate from a contract,
and be limited to the person by the express terms of the contract, or by the common interpretation of such contracts (which is equivalent to an express stipulation), or by a personal condition annexed to the right; then it is unalienable. In all other cases it is alienable. The right to civil liberty is alienable; though in the vehemence of men's zeal for it, and the language of some political remonstrances, it has often been pronounced to be an unalienable right. The true reason why mankind hold in detestation the memory of those who have sold their liberty to a tyrant is, that, together with their own, they sold commonly, or endangered, the liberty of others; which certainly they had no right to dispose of. III. Rights are perfect or imperfect. Perfect rights may be asserted by force, or, what in civil society comes into the place of private force, by course of law. Imperfect rights may not. Examples of perfect rights.-A man's right to his life, person, house; for, if these be attacked, he may repel the attack by instant violence, or punish the aggressor by law: a man's right to his estate, furniture, clothes, money, and to all ordinary articles of property; for, if they be injuriously taken from him, he may compel the author of the injury to make restitution or satisfaction. Examples of imperfect rights.-In elections or appointments to offices, where the qualifications are prescribed, the best qualified candidate has a right to success; yet, if he be rejected, he has no remedy. He can neither seize the office by force, nor obtain redress at law: his right therefore is imperfect. A poor neighbour has a right to relief; yet if it be refused him, he must not extort it. A benefactor has a right to returns of gratitude from the person he has obliged; yet, if he meet with none, he must acquiesce. Children have a right to affection and education from their parents; and parents, on their part, to duty and
reverence from their children: yet if these rights be on either side withholden, there is no compulsion by which they can be enforced. It may be at first view difficult to apprehend how a person should have a right to a thing, and yet have no right to use the means necessary to obtain it. This difficulty, like most others in morality, is resolvable into the necessity of general rules. The reader recollects, that a person is said to have a “right” to a thing, when it is “consistent with the will of God” that he should possess it. So that the question is reduced to this: How it comes to pass that it should be consistent with the will of God that a person should possess a thing, and yet not be consistent with the same will that he should use force to obtain it? The answer is, that by reason of the indeterminateness, either of the object, or of the circumstances of the right, the permission of force in this case would, in its consequence, lead to the permission of force in other cases, where there existed no right at all. The candidate above described has, no doubt, a right to success; but his right depends upon his qualifications, for instance, upon his comparative virtue, learning, &c.: there must be somebody therefore to compare them. The existence, degree, and respective importance of these qualifications are all indeterminate: there must be somebody therefore to determine them. To allow the candidate to demand success by force is to make him the judge of his own qualifications. You cannot do this but you must make all other candidates the same; which would open a door to demands without number, reason, or right. In like manner, a poor man has a right to relief from the rich; but the mode, season, and quantum of that relief, who shall contribute to it, or how much, are not ascertained. Yet these points must be ascertained, before a claim to relief can be prosecuted by force. For, to allow the poor to ascertain them for themselves would be to expose property to so many of these claims, that it would lose its value, or rather its nature; that is, cease indeed to be property. The same observation holds of all other cases of imperfect rights; not to mention that, in the instances of gratitude, affection, reverence, and the like, force is excluded by the very idea of the duty, which must be voluntary, or cannot exist at all. Wherever the right is imperfect, the corresponding obligation is so too. I am obliged to prefer the best candidate, to relieve the poor, be grateful to my benefactors, take care of my children, and reverence my parents; but in all these cases my obligation, like their right, is imperfect. I call these obligations “imperfect,” in conformity to the established language of writers upon the subject. The term, however, seems ill chosen, on this account, that it leads many to imagine that there is less guilt in the violation of an imperfect obligation than of a perfect one; which is a groundless notion. For an obligation being perfect or imperfect, determines only whether violence may or may not be employed to enforce it; and determines nothing else. The degree of guilt incurred by violating the obligation is a different thing, and is determined by circumstances altogether independent of this distinction. A man who by a partial, prejudiced, or corrupt vote, disappoints a worthy candidate of a station in life, upon which his hopes, possibly, or livelihood, depended, and who thereby grievously discourages merit and emulation in others, commits, I am persuaded, a much greater crime than if he filched a book out of a library, or picked a pocket of a handkerchief; though in the one case he violates only an imperfect right, in the other a perfect one. As positive precepts are often indeterminate in their extent, and as the indeterminateness of an obligation is that which makes it imperfect; it comes to pass, that positive precepts commonly produce an imperfect obligation. Negative precepts or prohibitions, being generally precise, constitute accordingly perfect obligations.
The fifth commandment is positive, and the duty which results from it is imperfect.
The sixth commandment is negative, and imposes a perfect obligation.
Religion and virtue find their principal exercise among the imperfect obligations; the laws of civil society taking pretty good care of the rest.
THE GENERAL RIGHTS OF MANKIND.
By the General Rights of Mankind, I mean the rights which belong to the species collectively; the original stock, as I may say, which they have since distributed among themselves. These are, 1. A right to the fruits or vegetable produce of the earth. The insensible parts of the creation are incapable of injury; and it is nugatory to inquire into the right, where the use can be attended with no injury. But it may be worth observing, for the sake of an inference which will appear below, that as God had created us with a want and desire of food, and provided things suited by their nature to sustain and satisfy us, we may fairly presume, that he intended we should apply these things to that purpose. 2. A right to the flesh of animals. This is a very different claim from the former. Some excuse seems necessary for the pain and loss which we occasion to brutes, by restraining them of their liberty, mutilating their bodies, and, at last, putting an end to their lives (which we suppose to be the whole of their existence), for our pleasure or convenuency. The reasons alleged in vindication of this practice are the following: that the several species of brutes being created to prey upon one another, affords a kind of analogy to prove that the human species were in