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we not have full liberty to return pain upon the head of him who inflicts it? No indeed, my friends ; we have then only advanced a single step; we
' have only made ourselves ready for another and equally important inquiry—whether the injury which we have received, whatever malignity may have prompted it, is after all of any such serious magnitude as to call upon us for retaliation.
2. It is not enough then, we remark in the second place, that a man has intended to injure us, that he possesses a hostile temper towards us,or that he has wounded our pride, and triumphs in his
If he have only the desire without the power to injure us, he is no proper object of retaliation. A wise man will only despise, and a good man only pity him, as the miserable prey of malignant and self-tormenting passions. It is only when we suffer by an essential injury, that we are justified in making any active exertions to cause the injustice of him who assails us to recoil on himself.
A real injury I take to be an aggression which lessens or destroys our means of usefulness in life which impairs our ability to discharge some duty to our fellow men, to ourselves, or to our Creator. Any attack, which leaves our means and powers of action essentially entire and unimpaired, cannot surely be said to have done us any real injury; and as the principles on which we proceed reduce all retaliation to the case of necessary self-defence,
we may safely pass by an impotent attempt to injure us, without feeling ourselves obliged to resent it. If mankind would wait till this condition were satisfied, before they proceeded to retaliation, the grounds of animosity would be narrowed almost beyond belief. By far the greater part of our contests relate merely to trifles swelled into importance by voluntary aggravation. The deadliest feuds which exist among mankind often originate in some inconsiderable aggression, resented at first by petulance and passion, then persisted in by false pride, exasperated by mutual and incessant retaliation, till at length it ends in bitter and unextinguishable hatred.
3. But after having satisfied ourselves that the injury under which we suffer is intentional, and that it seriously affects our means of usefulness, another inquiry yet remains ; whether any retaliation which we can make will remedy the evil ; whether it will procure reparation to ourselves, or is necessary to prevent a repetition of the offence ? As this inquiry involves the consideration of the legitimate means of retaliation, we may remark on both under the same head.
According to the principles already laid down, as retaliation is never justifiable, except when necessary to protect us in the exercise of some of our important rights and duties, we must on the same principles conclude, that it is never to be resorted to, unless it will probably be effectual to this end. I mean by this to say, that retaliation is never to be resorted to as a punishment of a person injuring us, but simply, as was before stated, as a means of self-defence. The chastisement of the hostile and malignant disposition of an enemy towards us, the retribution of so much pain for so much guilty intention, it is not for ignorant, erring and short sighted man to think of inflicting. “ Vengeance is mine ; I will repay, saith the Lord.” . Let us not presume to invade the prerogative of Omnipotence. When we have provided for our own security, it becomes us to leave the punishment of the guilty mind to that Being, whose knowledge penetrates every concealment, from the operation of whose will no art nor flight can escape, and who alone can weigh in the balance of omniscient justice the precise amount and aggravation of every crime. Protection and reparation are the only ends which we are allowed to pursue ; and all means, which do not tend to these ends are therefore utterly wrong and indefensible. Now, in almost every case in which any of our important rights are openly invaded, we may find both protection and reparation in the laws of our country. There are indeed some cases to which the law does not reach. But in most of these the reason why the law is inadequate is, that they are of such a nature that the attempt to inflict punishment would create more evil than it would prevent ; and it is for the general good that such injuries should be left to the righteous retribution of heaven, which will at length assuredly overtake them. The wisdom which in these cases restrains the arm of the law ought likewise to operate on us. There may still, however, remain some instances to which the law does not reach, where the duty of retaliation may devolve on the individual. We may punish a man who has overreached us, for example, by not trusting him again, and by proclaiming his dishonesty to the world. We
We may lawfully use all honest means to reduce the unmerited influence of a man who is exerting that influence wrongfully to lessen our reputation. And in general, we may remark, that in those cases in which the laws are silent, we are allowed to employ all the fair instruments which we may possess, to repel injustice; provided always that we are careful to make selfprotection the only object of our efforts, and adequate reparation the measure of their exertion.
But it may be said, that as a man’s respectability clearly constitutes a part of his means of usefulness, what is to be done, when from the state of manners and opinions in the community, he will be degraded from his respectability, if under certain circumstances he suffers an insult to pass unnoticed ? Is not the practice of duelling placed, in this
wayı on the ground of self-defence? This, I think, is the only ground on which
rational man will now vindicate this custom. The barbarity of its origin; its intrinsic absurdity as a means of punishment;
the inequality of its operation, in putting the good and the bad exactly on a level; all these things are now, I believe, very generally conceded. It is only said, that absurd as it is, such is the state of things that a man may sometimes, however unwillingly, be compelled to resort to it as the only means left him, of vindicating his standing, and consequently his usefulness in society. It will not be necessary at the present time to enter largely into the consideration of this subject; it will be quite safe to place the question on the ground which is thus chosen. We may assert then that the justifying reason alleged does not exist any where, I believe, but certainly not among us. A man who possesses any real respectability does not forfeit it by disregarding an insult, which nothing in his own conduct has justly provoked. And if he should have been betrayed into any conduct, which reason and conscience do not approve, still I am confident that he will rise, rather than fall, in the esteem of every man whose regard is worth the having, by making such concessions as reason and true honour will warrant. I do not think so meanly of the state of society in which we live, I do not rate so low the influence of high morals and pure christianity, as to think that a man, who has nothing with which to reproach himself, can be thrust from his place in society by disregarding the menaces of a ruffian.
But even if this should be thought too favorable a view of the state of opinion among us, or if