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Burke is contending
for the authority of the dead over the rights and freedom of the living.
There was a time when kings disposed of their crowns by will upon their
death-beds, and consigned the people, like beasts of the field, to
whatever successor they appointed. This is now so exploded as scarcely
to be remembered, and so monstrous as hardly to be believed. But the
Parliamentary clauses upon which Mr. Burke builds his political church
are of the same nature.

The laws of every country must be analogous to some common principle.
In England no parent or master, nor all the authority of Parliament,
omnipotent as it has called itself, can bind or control the personal
freedom even of an individual beyond the age of twenty-one years. On
what ground of right, then, could the Parliament of 1688, or any other
Parliament, bind all posterity for ever?

Those who have quitted the world, and those who have not yet arrived
at it, are as remote from each other as the utmost stretch of mortal
imagination can conceive. What possible obligation, then, can exist
between them--what rule or principle can be laid down that of two
nonentities, the one out of existence and the other not in, and who
never can meet in this world, the one should control the other to the
end of time?

In England it is said that money cannot be taken out of the pockets
of the people without their consent. But who authorised, or who could
authorise, the Parliament of 1688 to control and take away the freedom
of posterity (who were not in existence to give or to withhold their
consent) and limit and confine their right of acting in certain cases
for ever?

A greater absurdity cannot present itself to the understanding of man
than what Mr. Burke offers to his readers. He tells them, and he tells
the world to come, that a certain body of men who existed a hundred
years ago made a law, and that there does not exist in the nation, nor
ever will, nor ever can, a power to alter it. Under how many subtilties
or absurdities has the divine right to govern been imposed on the
credulity of mankind? Mr. Burke has discovered a new one, and he
has shortened his journey to Rome by appealing to the power of this
infallible Parliament of former days, and he produces what it has done
as of divine authority, for that power must certainly be more than human
which no human power to the end of time can alter.

But Mr. Burke has done some service--not to his cause, but to his
country--by bringing those clauses into public view. They serve to
demonstrate how necessary it is at all times to watch against the
attempted encroachment of power, and to prevent its running to excess.
It is somewhat extraordinary that the offence for which James II. was
expelled, that of setting up power by assumption, should be re-acted,
under another shape and form, by the Parliament that expelled him. It
shows that the Rights of Man were but imperfectly understood at the
Revolution, for certain it is that the right which that Parliament set
up by assumption (for by the delegation it had not, and could not
have it, because none could give it) over the persons and freedom of
posterity for ever was of the same tyrannical unfounded kind which James
attempted to set up over the Parliament and the nation, and for which he
was expelled. The only difference is (for in principle they differ not)
that the one was an usurper over living, and the other over the unborn;
and as the one has no better authority to stand upon than the other,
both of them must be equally null and void, and of no effect.

From what, or from whence, does Mr. Burke prove the right of any human
power to bind posterity for ever? He has produced his clauses, but he
must produce also his proofs that such a right existed, and show how it
existed. If it ever existed it must now exist, for whatever appertains
to the nature of man cannot be annihilated by man. It is the nature of
man to die, and he will continue to die as long as he continues to be
born. But Mr. Burke has set up a sort of political Adam, in whom all
posterity are bound for ever. He must, therefore, prove that his Adam
possessed such a power, or such a right.

The weaker any cord is, the less will it bear to be stretched, and the
worse is the policy to stretch it, unless it is intended to break it.
Had anyone proposed the overthrow of Mr. Burke's positions, he would
have proceeded as Mr. Burke has done. He would have magnified the
authorities, on purpose to have called the right of them into question;
and the instant the question of right was started, the authorities must
have been given up.

It requires but a very small glance of thought to perceive that although
laws made in one generation often continue in force through succeeding
generations, yet they continue to derive their force from the consent of
the living. A law not repealed continues in force, not because it cannot
be repealed, but because it is not repealed; and the non-repealing
passes for consent.

But Mr. Burke's clauses have not even this qualification in their
favour. They become null, by attempting to become immortal. The nature
of them precludes consent. They destroy the right which they might have,
by grounding it on a right which they cannot have. Immortal power is
not a human right, and therefore cannot be a right of Parliament. The
Parliament of 1688 might as well have passed an act to have authorised
themselves to live for ever, as to make their authority live for ever.
All, therefore, that can be said of those clauses is that they are a
formality of words, of as much import as if those who used them had
addressed a congratulation to themselves, and in the oriental style of
antiquity had said: O Parliament, live for ever!

The circumstances of the world are continually changing, and the
opinions of men change also; and as government is for the living, and
not for the dead, it is the living only that has any right in it.
That which may be thought right and found convenient in one age may be
thought wrong and found inconvenient in another. In such cases, who is
to decide, the living or the dead?

As almost one hundred pages of Mr. Burke's book are employed upon these
clauses, it will consequently follow that if the clauses themselves, so
far as they set up an assumed usurped dominion over posterity for ever,
are unauthoritative, and in their nature null and void; that all his
voluminous inferences, and declamation drawn therefrom, or founded
thereon, are null and void also; and on this ground I rest the matter.

We now come more particularly to the affairs of France. Mr. Burke's book
has the appearance of being written as instruction to the French nation;
but if I may permit myself the use of an extravagant metaphor, suited
to the extravagance of the case, it is darkness attempting to illuminate
light.

While I am writing this there are accidentally before me some proposals
for a declaration of rights by the Marquis de la Fayette (I ask his
pardon for using his former address, and do it only for distinction's
sake) to the National Assembly, on the 11th of July, 1789, three
days before the taking of the Bastille, and I cannot but remark with
astonishment how opposite the sources are from which that gentleman and
Mr. Burke draw their principles. Instead of referring to musty records
and mouldy parchments to prove that the rights of the living are lost,
"renounced and abdicated for ever," by those who are now no more, as
Mr. Burke has done, M. de la Fayette applies to the living world,
and emphatically says: "Call to mind the sentiments which nature has
engraved on the heart of every citizen, and which take a new force when
they are solemnly recognised by all:--For a nation to love liberty, it
is sufficient that she knows it; and to be free, it is sufficient that
she wills it." How dry, barren, and obscure is the source from which Mr.
Burke labors! and how ineffectual, though gay with flowers, are all his
declamation and his arguments compared with these clear, concise, and
soul-animating sentiments! Few and short as they are, they lead on to a
vast field of generous and manly thinking, and do not finish, like Mr.
Burke's periods, with music in the ear, and nothing in the heart.

As I have introduced M. de la Fayette, I will take the liberty of adding
an anecdote respecting his farewell address to the Congress of America
in 1783, and which occurred fresh to my mind, when I saw Mr. Burke's
thundering attack on the French Revolution. M. de la Fayette went to
America at the early period of the war, and continued a volunteer in her
service to the end. His conduct through the whole of that enterprise is
one of the most extraordinary that is to be found in the history of a
young man, scarcely twenty years of age. Situated in a country that was
like the lap of sensual pleasure, and with the means of enjoying it, how
few are there to be found who would exchange such a scene for the woods
and wildernesses of America, and pass the flowery years of youth in
unprofitable danger and hardship! but such is the fact. When the
war ended, and he was on the point of taking his final departure, he
presented himself to Congress, and contemplating in his affectionate
farewell the Revolution he had seen, expressed himself in these words:
"May this great monument raised to liberty serve as a lesson to the
oppressor, and an example to the oppressed!" When this address came to
the hands of Dr. Franklin, who was then in France, he applied to Count
Vergennes to have it inserted in the French Gazette, but never
could obtain his consent. The fact was that Count Vergennes was an
aristocratical despot at home, and dreaded the example of the American
Revolution in France, as certain other persons now dread the example of
the French Revolution in England, and Mr. Burke's tribute of fear (for
in this light his book must be considered) runs parallel with Count
Vergennes' refusal. But to return more particularly to his work.

"We have seen," says Mr. Burke, "the French rebel against a mild and
lawful monarch, with more fury, outrage, and insult, than any people
has been known to rise against the most illegal usurper, or the most
sanguinary tyrant." This is one among a thousand other instances, in
which Mr.



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