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“For the principal aim of society is to protect individuals in the enjoyment of those absolute rights, which were vested in them by the immutable laws of nature, but which could not be preserved in peace without that mutual assistance and intercourse, which is gained by the institution of friendly and social communities. Hence it follows, that the first and primary end of human laws is to maintain and regulate those absolute rights of individuals.”
What, now, are these absolute or natural rights of man?
“ The absolute rights of man . . . are usually summed up in one general appellation and denominated the natural liberty of mankind. This natural liberty consists properly in a power of acting as one thinks fit, without any restraint or control, unless by the law of nature: being a right inherent in us by birth, and one of the gifts of God to man
his creation when he endued him with the faculty of free-will."
In France, a famous writer, Rousseau, expressed the ideas of Locke as to men's original liberty in even more eloquent words. He helped kindle a passionate love of freedom in all Western Europe. In America, Thomas Jefferson, who read Locke and Blackstone and Rousseau, put these ideas into the great Declaration of Independence, through which they have become a part of American government and American ideas. Sometimes it seems as though writings and ideas of philosophers did not have great weight. But in such a case as this it is easy to see that ideas of liberty and democracy have become the basis of government and laws.
The third type of men who have advanced the cause of liberty includes writers, some in poetry, some in prose, who have voiced the protests of the oppressed and the passion for justice in words that have touched
Men of letters and liberty
the heart and stirred the conscience. From ancient Egypt one powerful appeal of such a writer has come down to us called “ The Appeal of the Eloquent Peasant." A government official had unjustly seized the donkeys of a poor peasant. The unhappy man whose sole means of livelihood has thus been taken away appeals to Pharaoh's Grand Steward for justice. Other officials ridicule the poor man and his case desperate. The steward is entertained by the eloquent words of the peasant, but puts him off from day to day. The symbol of the balances is used to emphasize the demand for fair dealing:
" Ward off the robber, protect the wretched, become not a torrent against him who pleads. Take heed, for eternity draws near. ... Do the balances err? Does the scale beam swerve to one side? _. Do justice for the sake of the lord of justice. For justice is for eternity. It descends with him that doeth it into the grave. . . . His name is not effaced on earth; he is remembered because of good.”
In England many songs have come down from nearly every reign protesting against oppression. The earlier ones, such as those which praise Simon de Montfort, are in French. In the time of King Edward I we have them in early English, and some of them show, even in translation, the spirit of protest.
“Thus men rob the poor and pick him full clean,
“ Thus me lileth the pore and pyketh ful clene,
Robin Hood ballads
The familiar Robin Hood ballads voiced the accumulated protest of a subject race against the oppression practised by Norman kings, of the lower classes against the brutality and state abuses of King John's day. Robin Hood was living as an outlaw in the Greenwood, waging war against the sheriff and always getting the better of him. He was generous to the poor, and did not harm yeomen and laborers, but one time he slew fourteen out of fifteen foresters who came to arrest him: he slew the sheriff, the judge, the town gatekeeper. He was so popular that in the sixteenth century his commemoration day was observed. Taine quotes from the experience of Bishop Latimer who, on coming to a church where preaching had been announced, “ found the doors closed and waited more than an hour before they brought him the key. At last a man came and said to him, ‘Syr, thys ys a busye day with us; we cannot heare you: it is Robyn Hoodes Daye. The parishe are gone abrode to gather for Robyn Hoode. ... I was fayne there to geve place to Robyn Hoode.''
Langland, in 1362, pleaded for justice to the humble laborer. Even of the beggars Piers Plowman says, “They are my brethren by blood, for God bought us all.” And he urges impressively that in death at least men must leave their distinctions of rank. “In the charnel-house at the church it is hard to know a knight from a knave.”
The discovery of America seemed to suggest that a better day might dawn now that a new world had come into view. It called out a famous book by Sir Thomas More called Utopia in which he pictured a country with perfect laws and perfect society. This was not a new idea. Prophets, philosophers, and men
of letters had alike held up visions of a better day. In ancient Israel, when the kingdom was no longer so glorious as under David and Solomon, when the poor were oppressed and there was great injustice, prophets began to look forward to a new and better kingdom of peace and righteousness. The early Christian writer, John, had a vision of a heavenly city in which God should reign, a city in which there should be no more war. In Greece the philosopher Plato described an ideal city in which rulers would be selected because of their wisdom. Every one should do the work for which he was best fitted, whether it were that of the brave soldier to defend the city, or that of the farmer and laborer to provide food. Women, too, should be educated as well as men and should be given a chance to do whatever they were able to do. In this way harmony and order would prevail. People would be united in the service of the city. It was not the modern ideal of a democratic city, for Plato did not believe in education for all. Neither did he think that the great majority of common people should have anything to do with the government. Nevertheless it was a picture which exercised a tremendous influence over the minds of men and is still full of suggestion for those who are hoping and planning for a better future.
Sir Thomas More lived in the time of Henry VII and Henry VIII, when the “new learning," as it was called, was filling the minds of a few with great enthusiasm. More studied Plato's work and applied it to his own day. He protested against the cruelty with which slight offenses against property were then punished. He urged it would be much better to make some provision for preventing stealing than to use such severity in punishing thieves. “For great and horrible punish
ments be appointed for thieves, whereas much rather provision should have been made that there were some means whereby they might get their living.” If it be said that there are trades and farming, he answers that because of the wars which cripple men and use up the wealth of the country, because of the great numbers of “gentlemen ” who live in idleness and extort the last cent from their tenants, because of the luxury which calls for a great many needless servants, and finally because of the monopolies by which rich men oppress the poor, there is no fair chance for the common man. He would do away with class distinctions and have all citizens equal before the law. He would have religious liberty. King Utopus
"made a decree that it should be lawful for every man to favor and follow what religion he would, and that he might do the best he could to bring other to his opinion so that he did it peaceably, gently, quietly and soberly, without hast and contentious rebuking and inveighing against other.
. And this surely he thought a very unmeet and foolish thing, and a point of arrogant presumption, to compel all others by violence and threatings to agree to the same that thou believest to be true."
In order to have men think of the common good, More desired to do away with private property and have people share their goods. Such a plea as the following must have stirred many to thought of a juster order:
"For what justice is this, that a rich goldsmith, or an userer, or to be short, any of them which either do nothing at all, or else that which they do is such that it is not very necessary to the commonwealth, should have a pleasant and a wealthy living, either by idleness, or by unnecessary business; when in the meantime poor laborers, carters, iron