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is much as if a man should approach me with a dissecting knife, and
say, 'I have strong doubts about the structure of the lungs and the heart, and I propose, therefore, in perfect kindness to lay bare their quivering fibres to open day that I may examine them.'
We do not claim, therefore, that there should be personality, or that there should be a reckless intrusion into domestic arrangements, or that there should be a public exposure of private character, in order to secure the right of free discussion. We deprecate all these. But with these necessary metes and bounds, we maintain that the right of discussion and inquiry is to be unlimited. We maintain that every man has a right to cherish and express his opinions every where, and on all subjects; and that liberty is identified with the principle, that in reference to this matter no one has a right to molest or make afraid.
In particular, we hold that the right extends to the following things.
1. To all principles of action or belief. The right to ascertain what are correct principles belongs to human nature. It pertains to the most humble, as well as the most elevated man; and is a right of which no one can justly deprive him. Principles are in their nature abstract things. In examining them, I do not profess or design to disturb my neighbor. If he is holding erroneous principles of action or belief, the fact that he holds them is no argument why I should not examine them ; for he has no right to claim that his principles should constitute my creed; or prevent my settling my own grounds of action or belief. And if his principles should be incorporated into all his belief, and conduct; if they should enter into his domestic arrangements ; if they should be interwoven with his business, and if he should have invested a large amount of capital on the strength of his principles, and should have joined with others in making laws that are based on them; and if any or all of these should be disturbed or disarranged by my discussion of the abstract principle, he has no right to complain. I make no war on him; I do not bring his name into the controversy. And should I even succeed in changing the prevalent principles of society so far as to render him odious, break up his business, and occasion him a great loss of capital, still he has no right to complain ; for the society can never prosper which is based on erroneous principle. The establishment of correct principles for the whole community is of more importance than his private
welfare, or the business in which he is engaged. We shall
may impinge ; on whatever man, or family, or law, or social
and every form is consistent with the laws of God, and is morally right, or morally wrong; and that on these and on all kindred questions we have the utmost right to express our sentiments when and where we please. This right we hold to be one of the inalienable rights of man; this right we deem essential to any just views of civil and religious liberty.
2. On the same ground we maintain that we have a right to go most fully into an examination of the question what is truth, on any and on all subjects. This right is involved in the former; and is based on the fact that a man's own happiness here and hereafter depends on his embracing the truth, and acting on it. The investigation of this we suppose lies open to every man's mind; and he may pursue it in whatever direction or department he pleases. Truth is presented to man in the Bible and in the works of God, just as freely as the light of heaven, the air, or the running waters; and every man has just the same right to investigate it in any department that he has to gaze upon the heavens from any portion of the earth which he may select
select as his observatory, or to drink from the running stream in any place in which he may choose to kneel down. Whether he chooses to turn his thoughts to the heavens above him, and investigate the laws of the planetary motions; or examine the petal of a flower, the wing of an insect, or the structure of an oak; whether to fuse a metal in a crucible, or ascertain a degree of longitude; whether to examine a question in morals, in political science, or in theology, we hold that he has the utmost right to make his selection with freedom, and to pursue his inquiry just so far as he pleases, answerable only to God. Nor is there any opinion which is to be held up to
mankind as too sacred for investigation ; nor are there to be any institutions that are to be regarded as designed simply to perpetuate belief irrespective of the independent examination of each successive generation of men. No sentiment in morals, in science, or in theology is to be regarded as so settled that it may not be at any moment submitted to re-examination ; no ecclesiastical ramparts ; no theological creeds or laws; no organization or custom is to be so constructed as to interpose the slightest impediment to an independent examination in any place, or in any age.
3. We maintain that every doctrine or practice in which we partake with others, or in reference to which there is a compact between us and them, may be subjected to rigid re-examination. If I divide with them the responsibility, and am in any way to be held answerable for the effect of the sentiment, or the practice, I have a right to inquire whether it is founded in truth, and whether it is consistent with justice and right. If there is blame attached to the opinion or the habit, it will affect me, and I have a right to endeavor to free both myself and others from the blame. We have a common interest, and no man has a right to urge a compact, or to make use of a compact to keep me or himself in error. No compact which he and I can form can change falsehood into truth, or make sin holiness. No agreement, which number of men can make, can transform wrong into right; or can destroy or supersede the original obligation of every man to investigate truth for himself. And no compact which our ancestors have entered into, however strong it may be, or however solemn the sanction, or however great the interests involved, can supersede the obligation of each successive generation to examine truth for itself. This principle seems to be obvious; and yet in the application it is often called in question. It is proper then to state more particularly, that whatever opinions are held in a church with which we are connected may be subjected to rigid examination. All its members and ministers may discuss them freely, and may express their views, and suggest their reasons for supposing that opinions have been held, and are even embodied in their creed, which may not be founded in truth. Every man in a church is bound to compare his opinions with the sacred Scriptures; and this implies that he has a right, so to speak, to see that his sentiments are not in accordance with the Scriptures, and if they are not, he has a right to express his views to his brethren. Nor should it be claimed
that he should at once leave the church on the suggestion of a doubt to his own mind respecting some opinion that has been held in the church. We grant, indeed, that if his views are radically changed, and if the views of his brethren are not changed so as to accord with truth, they can no longer walk together, and he should leave them. But shall he not have liberty to express his honest doubts ? Is not truth of more value than the mere fixedness of an opinion, or the unchangeableness of a creed? And is it not the proper place for him to express his doubts to his brethren, and admonish them of error, and endeavor to set them right, rather than break the bonds which unite them, and be guilty of schism, and become their open enemy ? This seems to be plain. No man can so bind himself to a creed, or to any set of opinions; can so fetter his own powers and tie his hands, as that he himself shall not be at liberty to investigate the Bible for himself, and to propound his opinions freely. And yet, if we have not greatly mistaken, there is a feeling often in the church that when a man becomes a member, and subscribes a creed, he foregoes a right evermore to examine those points, or to propound any doubt, or to give his mind to the freedom of independent investigation. The grand effort of spiritual tyranny in all times, and pre-eminently in the Papacy, has been to interpret the notion of subscription to a creed, or the notion of the compact into which men enter when they connect themselves with a church, in such a manner as to render subsequent investigation proof of heresy. Ecclesiastical tyranny reigns just so long as this dogma openly or secretly can keep its ascendency over the human mind; a dogma which is the very corner-stone of the Papacy, but which is by no means excluded from the bosom of Protestant churches. Our position is, that if there has been such a compact express or implied, it is like the oath of Herod, and should be broken rather then kept. Our reason for this position is, that the obligation to investigate truth, and to examine all subjects of opinion, is an obligation imposed by the God who created the responsible powers of human agency; is an obligation which lies back of all human compacts and ecclesiastical ordinances; and is an obligation which cannot be disannulled by any compact which man can make with man.
If it could be, then all which would be needful to sanction error, and to make sin harmless, would be to form a compact, and baptize it with the name of religion ; and to throw around it the shield of an inapproachable sacredness.
On the same ground we maintain that every law, and custom in a community may be subjected to the most full and free investigation. If one part of the community have bound themselves with another part in the maintenance of certain customs, and if they are to share in any measure in common the effects of those customs, then every portion of the community so interested has the most full and free right to express its opinions. It is not intruding into the affairs of its neighbors. It is not violating a compact; for no compact can destroy the obligation which God has imposed on man to inquire what course he ought to pursue.
And if the conduct referred to shall plunge the community in common disgrace; be held up to the world as affecting a united people; and be regarded as the course approved by all who have entered into the compact, then every portion of the community so affected has a right to canvass the course pursued, and to use all feasible means by all the
power of argumentation, and persuasion, and by all the appeals to these united and common interests, to induce that other portion to abandon the course which is involving all in common disgrace.
These principles are in this country generally, not universally, admitted.' They have been commonly supposed to be principles lying at the foundation of all our liberty. They are not often, in words, called in question. Yet to establish them has been the result of all the struggle for freedom in the battle-field, and in the arena of intellectual strise. Each one of these principles has cost many a hard fought struggle in former times; and the life of many a martyr. They have made their way to the ascendency which they now occupy by slow, and almost imperceptible advances; and in some instances generations of men have passed away while no advance has been made in the establishment of views which now seem so obvious. And the reluctance which the dark powers that tyrannize over the human mind have had, that these should be regarded as undisputed and indisputable principles may be seen in every age of the world. At one time, the powers of darkness have had such an ascendency that it might be safely held that no subject is open for free and independent investigation; that all is to be settled by the authority of those on whom heaven has conferred more elevated endowments than on their fellow-men ; and that the human mind was to be subjected to the direction of this superior rank of mortals. Such was the opinion, in part, under the domination of the priesthood in the dark ages ; and such is the sentiment which now holds the