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INFLUENCE OF IDEAS UPON THE PROGRESS
OF LIBERTY AND DEMOCRACY
F we wish to tell at all completely the story of liberty, we shall have to add to all these forces
which have been at work in the national state the influence of great men, men who have had ideas of a better and juster society, and have put these into the minds of rulers and judges, or into the general sentiment of their peoples. We may note three classes of such great men.
The first type is those whom we call prophets or Religious religious teachers. Ancient Israel had many of this teachers type. Amos, Isaiah, and many others pleaded powerfully for the cause of the poor, and the laws of Israel liberty were made more humane by their teachings. Christianity held that all men are equal before God. It dwelt a great deal in the Middle Ages upon God as a judge. It held, however, that He was so great and just a being that to Him human ranks and titles were of no account. He judged men according to their hearts, not according to their birth or wealth. This was in flat contradiction to the earlier laws of the Saxons, according to which a higher fine had to be paid for killing a man of good birth than for killing a man of low birth, and a man of low birth had to pay a heavier fine than a man well-born. The belief that men are equal before God did not at once do away with slavery nor with class privileges; but the tendency was in that direction. The Peasants' Revolt of the fifteenth cen
tury was largely aroused by a priest, John Ball, who put his doctrines into rhymes.
“When Adam delved and Eve span,
Who was then the gentleman?” Equity Another way in which religious influence directly af
fected English law was through that particular part of the law which is called “Equity.” Equity was a plan to provide remedies for wrongs which the law. courts did not set right. Men went to the king's chancellor, who was usually a bishop, and complained they could not get redress through the king's other courts. They “ urged that they were poor while their adversaries were mighty, too mighty for the common law, with its long delays and purchasable juries.” Or they had made certain agreements with neighbors or friends which the common law would not undertake to enforce because it had no rules which applied. Would not the chancellor enforce these honorable understandings, these “uses, trusts, or confidences "? The chancellor in deciding these cases was at liberty to follow his conscience. He could ask what was fair, or equitable, or what belonged to good faith. This saved the law from becoming utterly rigid. It brought a new
element of conscience into it. Philoso The second type of great men who have helped phers and liberty and democracy we call philosophers. Stoic philiberty
losophers in Greece argued against slavery. Cicero urges that men are equal. “ There is no one thing so like or so equal to another as in every instance is man to man.” All share in the common gift of reason. Now law is merely what right reason requires; hence in giving us reason, nature gives us law. “ And if nature has given us law she hath also given us right. But she has bestowed reason on all, therefore right has
been bestowed on all.” A Roman lawyer who lived later than Cicero wrote, “By the law of nature men were born free.” This fine thought did not lead men at once to abolish slavery; but it was later to become a watchword of freedom in England and America and France.
Four modern writers who aided greatly in advancing the cause of human rights were Milton, Locke, Rousseau, and Jefferson. Milton was the great Puritan writer and the early settlers of New England were Puritans. Milton and Locke had great influence upon the ideas of our forefathers in America. John Locke was read in all parts of the United States, and probably did more to influence the thoughts of men at the time of the American Revolution than any other writer.
Milton was writing to defend those who had over- Milton thrown and beheaded Charles I. This rebellion and execution seemed to many people the greatest of crimes. Some had believed that the king could do no wrong, and that whatever evils his people might suffer, they could never under any circumstances be justified in rebelling against him. Milton wished to show that men are not bound to obey a wicked king. The title of his first book runs:
“The Tenure of Kings and Magistrates: Proving That it is Lawfull and hath been held so through all Ages, for any who have the Power, to call to account a Tyrant, or wicked KING, and after due conviction, to depose and put him to death if the ordinary magistrate have neglected or denied to do it.” Milton wanted to prove that the rights of people are v older than the rights of kings. He claimed therefore that men
were born free and that kings and other rulers were appointed to prevent violence:
“No man who knows ought, can be so stupid to deny that all men naturally were borne free, being the image and resemblance of God himselfe, and were by privilege above all creatures, borne to command and not to obey.”
In a later book, entitled “ Second Defense of the People of England,” Milton declares the right for kings of “ doing what they please is not justice but injustice, ruin, and despair,” and addressing Cromwell, he continues :
“ You cannot be truly free unless we are free too; for such is the nature of things, that he, who entrenches on the liberty of others, is the first to lose his own and become a slave.”
The power of kings and magistrates is held in trust by them from the people “ to the common good of them all.” To say, “ The King hath as good right to his crown and dignitie, as any man to his inheritance is to make the subject no better than the King's slave, his chattel, or his possession that may be bought and sould.”
John Locke is less passionate than Milton, but for that very reason he appeals especially to lawyers and statesmen. He dwells upon the state of nature, in which he supposes men to have lived at first:
"To understand political power aright, and derive it from its original (origin], we must consider what estate all men are naturally in, and that is, a state of perfect freedom to order their actions, and dispose of their possessions and persons as they think fit, within the bounds of the law of Nature, without asking leave or depending upon the will of any other man. A state also of equality, wherein all the power and jurisdiction is reciprocal, no one having more than another."
Or again, in another passage, which you will see reads like the Declaration of Independence, he proclaims essentially democratic doctrines—freedom, equality, self-government:
“Men being by nature all free, equal, and independent, no one can be put out of this estate and subjected to the political power of another without his own consent.”
Men form governments, he continues, by agreeing with others to join and unite into a community. They make a compact or contract. The purpose of this is the “preservation of their lives, liberties, and estates. If governments act contrary to the trust that is placed in them the right of the rulers is forfeited:
“The people have a right to act as supreme and continue the legislative in themselves or place it in a new form, or new hands as they think good.”
Finally we may mention among the philosophers, Blackstone who did much to express the conviction of freedom and liberty, Blackstone, the famous author of the “ Commentaries on the Laws of England,” which were published in 1765. He has been studied by practically all English and American lawyers since his day. We might say that his writings have seemed almost sacred to them. When we remember that in America our legislatures are very largely made up of lawyers, so that our laws are made as well as applied by Blackstone's disciples, we can appreciate what a great influence he has exerted. In the first chapter of his book he speaks of the rights of men as “ absolute.” He means by this that they come before all laws and all society. It is the same theory which Locke has in mind, but it is stated even more emphatically: