« AnteriorContinuar »
mighty mass of mind in India under the power of the Brahmins. At another time, it has been held that all that can be done in investigation has been done by a wise and pious, and learned ancestry, in the golden age of the church or the world ; that every subject which it is important for men to know has passed in review before such illustrious minds, and that all true opinions have been shaped in the creeds of a venerable antiquity; as the perfection of the human frame has been chiseled by the hand of Phidias or Praxiteles, and that all attempts to amend or improve the established form of belief by moderns would be like the hand of a clumsy stone-cutter to improve the Farnese Hercules, or the Belvidere Apollo, or the Venus de Medici, or the Marcus Aurelius. Such is now the attempt of the papacy since the overthrow of the veneration for the priesthood which once held the human mind in chains; and such is the effect of that papal influence in protestant churches which is constantly referring us to the wisdom of past times ; and dwelling on the intellectual and moral eminence of the makers of creeds in former ages, and ever reverting, when pressed by an argument, to the wisdom of a venerable antiquity, - forgetting the remark of Bacon that we are really in the old age of the world, and that the fathers lived in the infancy and youth of the world, and that the wisdom of years ought to be sought in our time rather than in theirs. And at another period, when the superiority and ascendency of a heaven-descended rank of men cannot be asserted, or the undisputed right of a venerable antiquity to fix all opinions and creeds will not be admitted ; when men claim the right to examine for themselves, and to admit no dogmas which do not commend themselves to their own mind as true, then the effort is made to rescue a few doctrines from the claim to the right of universal investigation ; to insist that there are some points of vital interest which are so palpable, and so well established, that to call them in question, or to claim the right to examine them is presumptive heresy, and a violation of compacts, and a contemptuous disregard for the opinions of the wise and good of all ages. But these points are like the Sybil's leaves. They augment in value just as they decrease in number. They are held with a tenacity of grasp just in proportion to their fewness. A few points in theology; a few points in politics* are
* See governor McDuffie's message to the Legislature of South Carolina.
all that are demanded now in order to maintain this dominion over the human mind, and to prevent the spirits of men from becoming entirely free, and to constitute the basis on which the throne of despotism may again be reared all over the world, and the human spirit be again bound every where in fetters of adamant. — These few points it is reserved for the achievement of this age to rescue from this thraldom, and to place on the common level of all other subjects, as open for the most full and free investigation. We believe that the most appalling danger which threatens this nation is the restriction of the right of free discussion in regard to these points. And we hold that so long as it is maintained that there is one principle in science or in religion ; one doctrine of government, or one maxim of law that may not be examined; that there is one tribunal of a court, be it the Inquisition or the Star Chamber, that may not be examined; one custom or opinion that may not be tested by reason and the Bible, or one mineral that may not be subjected to the crucible or the blow-pipe, our liberty is at an end; a wedge is entered that may be driven, and that will be driven until the whole fabric of civil and religious freedom is demolished.
We proceed, therefore, to state on what the right of the free discussion of all subjects in morals, science, politics, and religion, according to the metes and bounds which we have expressed above, is founded.
We remark, then, that this right is one that is inherent in our very nature, and is connected with every just view of accountable moral agency. It is connected with the elementary idea of liberty, and is inwrought into the very frame-work of the mind. God has given us a right to examine all things, and to investigate all opinions in science, in morals, and in religion. It is perfectly manifest that there can be no responsibility where this right does not exist, any more than there can be for the color of the skin or the height of the stature. And as God has made all men responsible, it is clear that they have the right to examine all things in regard to which they are to give an account. To hold us responsible for opinions which we are at no liberty to form, or for conduct which flows from such opinions, is evidently the very definition of tyranny. And if men are endowed with freedom of any kind, that freedom appertains in a peculiar and preeminent sense to mind. Any other freedom without this would be without value ; and in fact could not exist. No man could be held blameworthy in holding to any sentiment
unless he has had the most perfect freedom in forming it; nor can he be punished for any conduct resulting from opinion unless he has had the most perfect liberty of investigation. This right is inwrought into the very soul ; and God invites us to investigate all opinions and doctrines by the original aspirations for truth which he has breathed into our minds, and which are as inextinguishable as the soul itself. The mind is adapted to truth, and truth is adapted to mind, as food is to the nutriment of the body. God designed that the most should be made of the human powers. He placed the intellect in a world best fitted to develope and expand it. He made it active, intelligent, responsible. He made it capable of vast expansion by truth; and of acquiring vast strength by exercise in the investigation of his works. Nothing is more remarkable than the early disposition to inquire in childhood; and this disposition is one of the last things that survives when all the other indications and forms of liberty are at an end. The body may be be fettered or incarcerated, but the mind is conscious of freedom and will exercise the powers which God has given it; it may waste away by disease, or may be tortured, and racked, but the mind holds on to the right of its own opinion as a right which is to survive the destruction of all other things. And though laws may be enacted to prevent the expression of the independent sentiments of the soul; though the body may be tortured for such expressions ; though the iron may be driven into the soul by cruel and inexorable laws, yet the mind feels always that there is a violation of right; nor can the immortal spirit of man ever be convinced that it has not a right to the utmost freedom in the discussion of all subjects, and in the formation and expression of its own opinions. This right may be suppressed. Laws may fetter the mind down, and tyranny may sway an iron sceptre over the soul ; but it is like accumulating a mass of earth and rocks by human means on the volcano to prevent its bursting forth. The internal and accumulating fires will heave with angry commotion, and sooner or later the superincumbent mass will be parted asunder, or driven high in mid-air. The mind of man will ultimately be true to the great laws which the Creator has impressed on it; and will burst all shackles and will be free. No plans on earth have been better laid than those which were designed to prevent freedom of inquiry; and for a time such plans seem to be successful. But the restless energies of the human soul will re-assert their own rights; and society, Vol. IX. No. 26.
heaved, as by an earthquake, to its centre, will proclaim that God intended the human mind to be free.
A single glance at those portions of the world where this right has been denied, or where attempts have been made to prevent its exercise, is enough to satisfy any one that God intended that the human mind should be free. The moment this right is denied, intellect is paralyzed, and society pauses in its advancement, and rapidly loses all that had been before gained. It travels back to barbarism and night ; and every thing that is connected with energy, with sound morals, with the liberal arts, and with enterprise also recedes. We have only to look at the dark ages in Europe as a most striking illustration of this truth; or in modern times at the nations where Islamism prevails, and where freedom of discussion is, of course, unknown.
God has fitted up not only the mind itself, but the universe as adapted to freedom of investigation, and as inviting to it. All the works of God bear to us evidence that they were designed to be examined with the utmost freedom by the minds which he has made, and that they are so formed as to prompt to such inquiry, and to reward those who will give themselves to toil that they may obtain truth. God has hidden knowledge as he has precious stones, and gold. To excite man to enterprise, and to keep the world in healthful action, he has buried the precious ores deep in the bowels of the earth; has infused them in veins of solid rock, or beneath a vast superincumbent strata ; he has sunk pearls deep in the ocean. It would have been easy for him to have laid the valuable minerals on the surface, or to have taught the earth to bring forth spontaneously the food requisite for man. But it was an important object to lay the plan so that man should be excited to healthful toil, and to prompt him to inquiry. And he has therefore fitted up the world to this end, and implanted in the bosom such desires, as being well regulated, would secure the healthful action of the world. The earth is given to man. All its vast treasures are committed to his bands. And in regard to all those treasures there is the utmost freedom. The language of God's providence addressing man endued with active energies is, 'The wide world; the soil; the mountains; the oceans, are full of riches; full of all that may be needful to excite the powers to healthful action, and to promote the welfare of the world. You may select any place where you choose to toil ; you may climb any mountain, or ascend any stream; you may clear away any forest, and substitute for the
lofty oak or the hemlock any variety of tree for beauty or for comfort; you may sink a shaft any where in the earth for precious metals ; or you may cross any oceans for the productions of distant climes. The whole world is before you ; and all is yours.' And the same language is addressed to men in regard to the freedom of inquiry after truth. God has implanted in the soul a desire of knowledge; and he has formed a world to gratify that desire, and to call forth the energies, and to make the most of mind. And there is no part of his works which does not invite us to examine them with the utmost freedom. The heavens gaze upon us at night, and ask us to turn away from the earth, and investigate the laws of their motion. The heaving tides invite us to examine them; the bud, the opening leaf, the flower of the forest, the insect, the lion of the desert, the elements around us, nay, the metals, the solid diamond ask us to subject all to investigation with the utmost freedom, and to learn their nature. There is not one of these objects which is forbidden to our inquiry; and there is not one that will not furnish an ample compensation in the pleasure furnished, and in the enlargement of the faculties of the mind itself, for the toil of the investigation. We ask him who would bar the freedom of unfettered inquiry to point us to one portion of the works of God, from the atom up to the vast systems of worlds, where the right of investigation is prohibited by God. What star, among the wandering or the fixed, is there on which the eye may not gaze, and whose laws of motion are too sacred to be examined? What plant is there too sacred to be subjected to questions in regard to its nature; what mineral that may not be subjected to the crucible or the blowpipe? Where is there in all the works of God one object however minute where he has said that it is to be reserved from the process of investigation? Where is there one, the investigation of which is not connected with rewards, and where investigation does not expand and purify the powers of man? We hold, therefore, that if men were to follow the original promptings of their own nature, and were to give heed to the invitations which nature herself gives to make inquiry, that there would be the utmost liberty of investigation. Nature has put no limits to this freedom. All the barriers have been placed there by man.
Nature never leads us astray. There is not one of the works of God which, on being examined, can ever lead man into falsehood. Through all her seats she utters a clear and unambiguous voice. When examined by the microscope, the telescope,