Слике страница
PDF
ePub

has no power over the properties of matter. He cannot give a new constitution to nature. He cannot repeal her law of universal mutability. He cannot square the circle. He cannot reduce extension and gravity to one common measure. He cannot divide or multiply the parts of the surface, the cube, or the sphere, by the uniform and exclusive number ten. The power of the legislator is limited over the will and actions of his subjects. His conflict with them is desperate, when he counteracts their settled habits, their established usages; their domestic and individual economy, their ignorance, their prejudices, and their wants: all which is unavoidable in the attempt radically to change, or to originate, a totally new system of weights and measures.

In the origin of the different measures and weights, at different stages of man's individual and social existence; in the different modes by which nature has bounded the extension of matter; in the incommensurable properties of the straight and the curve line ; in the different properties of matter, number, extension, and gravity, of which measures and weights are the tests, nature has planted sources of direr. sity, which the legislator would in vain overlook, which he would in vain attempt to control. To these sources of diversity in the nature of things, must be added all those arising from the nature and history of man. In the first use of weights and measures, neither universality nor permanency are essential to the uniformity of the standards. Every individual may have standards of his own, and may change them as convenience or humor may dictate. Even in civil society, it is not necessary, to the purposes of traffic, that the standards of the buyer and seller should be the same. It suffices, if the proportions between the standards of both parties are mutually understood. In the progress of society, the use of weights and measures having preceded legislation, if the families, descended from one, should, as they naturally may, have the same standards, other families will have others. Until regulated by law, their diversities will be numberless, their changes continual.

These diversities are still further multiplied by the abuses incident to the poverty, imperfections, and deceptions, of human language. So arbitrary and so irrational is the dominion of usage over the speech of man, that, instead of appropriating a specific name to every distinct thing, he is impelled, by an irresistible propensity, sometimes to gives different names to the same thing, but far more frequently to give the same name to different things. Weights and mea. sures are, in their nature, relative. When man first borrows from his own person a standard measure of length, his first error is to give to the measure the name of the limb from which it is assumed. He calls the measure a cubit, a span, a hand, a finger, or a foot, improperly applying to it the name of those respective parts of his body. When he has discovered the properties of the balance, he either confounds with it the name of the weight, which he puts in it to balance the article which he would measure, or he gives to the definite mass, which he assumes for his standard, the indefinite and general name of the weight. Such was the original meaning of the weight which we call a pound. But, as different families assume different masses of gravity for their unit of weight, the pound of one bears the same name, and is a very different thing from the pound of another. When nations fall into the use of different weights or measures for the estimation of different objects, they commit the still grosser mistake of calling several different weights or measures by the same name. And, when governments degrade themselves by debasing their coins, as unfortunately all governments have done, they add the crime of fraud to that of injustice, by retaining the name of things which they have destroyed or changed. Even things which nature has discriminated so clearly, that they cannot be mistaken, the antipathy of mankind to new words will misrepresent and confound. It suffers not even numbers to retain their essentially definite character. It calls sixteen a dozen. It makes a hundred and twelve a hundred, and twentyeight, twenty-five. Of all the tangles of confusion to be unravelled by the regulation of weights and measures, these abuses of language in their nomenclature are perhaps the most inextricable. So that when law comes to establish its principles of permanency, uniformity, and universality, it has to contend not only with the diversities arising from the nature of things and of man; but with those infinitely more numerous which proceed from existing usages, and delusive language; with the partial standards, and misapplied names, which bave crept in with the lapse of time, beginning with individu. als or families, and spreading more or less extensively to villages and communities.

In this conflict between the dominion of usage and of law, the last and greatest dangers to the principle of uniformity proceed from the laws themselves. The legislator having no distinct idea of the uniformity of which the subject is susceptible, not considering how far it should be extended, or where it finds its boundary in the nature of things and of man, enacts laws inadequate to their purpose, incon. sistent with one another; sometimes stubbornly resisting, at others weakly yielding to inveterate usages or abuses; and finishes by increasing the diversities which it was his intention to abolish, and by loading his statute book only with the impotence of authority, and the uniformity of confusion.

This inquiry into the theory of weights and measures, as resulting from the natural history of man, was deemed necessary as preliminary to that statement of the proceedings of foreign countries for establishing uniformity in weights and measures, called for by the resolution of the Senate.

It presents to view certain principles believed to be essential to the subject, upon which the historical statement required will shed continual illustration, and which it will be advisable to bear in mind, when the propositions supposed to be proper for the adoption of the United States are to be considered.

In this review, civil society has been considered as originating in a single family. It can never originate in any other manner. But

government, and national communities, may originate, either by the multiplication of families from one, or in compact, by the voluntary association of many families, or in force, by conquest. In the nations formed by the reunion of many families, each family will have its standard measures and weights already settled, and common standards for the whole can be established only by the means of law. It is a consideration from which many important consequences result, that the proper province of law, in relation to weights and measures, is, not to create, but to regulate. It finds them already existing, with diversities innumerable, arising not only from all the causes which have been enumerated, but from all the frauds to which these diversities give continual occasion and temptation.

There are two nations of antiquity from whom almost all the civil, political, and religious institutions of modern Europe, and of her descendants in this hemisphere, are derived the Hebrews, and the Greeks. They both, at certain periods, not very distant from each other, issued from Egypt; and both nearly at the time of the first invention of alphabetical writing. The earliest existing records of history are of them, and in their respective languages. They exhibit examples of national communities and governments originating in two of the different modes noticed in the preceding remarks. The Hebrews sprung from a single family, of which Abraham and Sarah were the first founders. The Greeks were a confederated nation, formed by the voluntary association of many families. To their historical records, therefore, we must appeal for the actual origin of our own existing weights and measures; and, beginning with the most ancient of them, the Hebrews, it is presumed, that the scriptures may be cited in the character of historical documents. We there find, that all the human inhabitants of this globe sprung from one created pair; that the necessity of raiment adapted to the organization of their bodies, and of the tillage of the ground for their subsistence, arose by their fall from innocence; that their eldest son was a tiller of the ground, and built a city, and their second son a keeper of sheep; that, at no distant period from the creation, instruments of brass and iron were invented. Of the origin of weights and measures, no direct mention is made; but the Hebrew historian, Josephus, asserts, that they were invented by Cain, the tiller of the ground, and the first builder of a city. As the duration of human life was tenfold longer before the flood than in later ages, the multiplication of the species was proportionally rapid; and the inventions and discoveries of many ages were included within the life of every individual. In the early stages of man's existence upon earth, direct revelations from the Creator were also frequent, and imparted knowledge unattainable but in a series of centuries to the merely natural energies of the human mind. The division of numbers by decimal arithmetic, and the use of the cubit as a standard measure of length, are distinctly proved to have been established before the general deluge. The division of time into days, months, and years, was settled. The ages of the patriarchs are noted in units, tens, and hundreds of years, and

their fall for the tillage inent adaptados
stound, and built nocence; that theid for thei

Noah, we are told, built, by divine instruction, his ark three hundred cubits long, fifty cubits broad, and thirty cubits in height.

After the general deluge, the dispersion of the human species, and the confusion of languages which ensued, must have destroyed whatever uniformity of weights and measures might have existed, while the whole earth was of one language and of one speech. After noticing this great and miraculous event, the historical part of the Bible is chiefly confined to the family of Abraham, originally a Chaldean, said to have been very rich in cattle, in silver, and in gold. In his time, we find mention made of measures of meal. Abimelech gives him a thousand pieces of silver. He, himself gives to Hagar a bottle of water, and buys of Ephron, the Hittite, the field of Machpelah, for which he pays him, by weight, four hundred shekels of silver, current money with the merchant. At this period, therefore, we find established measures of length, of land, and of capacity, liquid and dry; weights, coined money, and decimal arithmetic. The elements for a system of metrology are complete; but the only uniformity observable in them is, the identity of weights and coin, and the decimal numbers.

In the law given from Sinai—the law, not of a human legislator, but of God there are two precepts respecting weights and mea. sures. The first, [Leviticus xix. 35, 36] “ Ye shall do no unrighte“ ousness in judgment, in mete-yard (measure of length) in weight, " or in measure (of capacity). Just balances, just weights, a just “ ephah, and a just hin, shall ye have.” The second, (Deuteronomy xxv. 13, 14, 15] “ Thou shalt not have in thy bag divers weights, 6 a great and a small. Thou shalt not have in thine house divers “ measures, a great and a small. But thou shalt have a perfect and si just weight, a perfect and just measure shalt thou have." The weights and measures are prescribed as already existing and known, and were all probably the same as those of the Egyptians. The first of these injunctions is addressed in the plural to the whole nation, and the second in the singular to every individual. The first has reference to the standards, which were to be kept in the ark of the covenant, or the sanctuary; and the second to the copies of them, kept by every family for their own use. The first, therefore, only commands that the standards should be just: and that, in all transactions, for which weights and measures might be used, the principle of righteousness should be observed. The second requires, that the copies of the standards used by individuals, should be uniform, not divers; and not only just, but perfect, with reference to the standards.

The long measures were, the cubit, with its subdivisions of two spans, six palms or hand-breadths, and twenty-four digits or fingers. It had no division in decimal parts, and was not employed for itinerary measure: that was reckoned by paces, Sabbath day's journeys, and day's journeys. The measures of capacity were, the ephah for the dry, and the hin for liquid measure; the primitive standard from nature of which was an egg-shell ; six of these, constituted the log, a measure little less than our pint. The largest measure of capacity, the homer, was common both to liquid and dry substances ; and its contents nearly corresponded with our wine hogshead, and with the Winchester quarter. The intermediate measures were dif. ferent, and differently subdivided. They combined the decimal and duodecimal divisions: the latter of which may, perhaps, have arisen from the accidental number of the tribes of Israel. Thus, in liquids, the bath was a tenth part of the homer, the hin a sixth part of the bath, and the log a twelfth part of the hin; while, for dry measure, the ephah was a tenth part of the homer, the seah a third, and the omer a tenth part of the ephah, and the cab a sixth part of the seah. The weights and coins were, the shekel, of twenty gerahs; the maneh, which for weight was of sixty and in money of fifty shekels; and the kinchar, or talent, of three thousand shekels in both. The ephah had also been formed by the process of cubing an Egyptian measure of length, called the ardob. The original weight of the shekel was the same as one-half of our avoirdupois ounce; the most ancient of weights traceable in human history.

And thus the earliest and most venerable of historical records extant, in perfect coincidence with speculative theory, prove, that the natural standards of weights and measures are not the same; that even the natural standards of cloth and of long measure are two, both derived from the stature and proportions of man, but one from his hand and arm, the other from his leg and foot; that the natural standards of measures of capacity and of weights are different from those of linear measure, and different from each other, the essential character of the weight being compact solidity, and that of the vessel bounded vacuity; that the natural standards of weights are two, one of which is the same with metallic money; and that decimal arithmetic, as founded in nature, is peculiarly applicable to the standard units of weights and measures, but not to their subdivisions or fractional parts, nor to the objects of admeasurement and weight.

With all these diversities, the only commands of the law for observing uniformity were, that the weights and the measures should be just, perfect, and not divers, a great and a small. But this last prohibition was merely an ordinance against fraud. It was a precept to the individual, and not to the nation. It forbade the iniquitous practice of using a large weight or measure for buying, and a small one for selling the same article; and, to remove the opportunity for temptation, it enjoined upon the individual not to have divers weights and measures, great and small, of the same denomination, in his bag when at market, or in his house when at home. But it was never understood to forbid that there should be measures of different dimensions bearing the same name: and it appears, from the sacred history, that there actually were three different measures called a cubit, of about the relative proportion of 17, 21, and 35, of our inches, to each other. They were distinguished by the several denominations of the cubit of a man, the cubit of the king, and the cubit of the sanctuary.

« ПретходнаНастави »