« הקודםהמשך »
As it would be contrary to the interest of medical men to have a healthy people, so it would be contrary to the interests of the priesthood and aristocracy to have a sensible people; for knowledge is power, and power is liberty. The interests of these privileged classes consist in that species of injury to the bodies and minds of the people, whicb, under the greatest exactions, leaves them the greatest means to produce; just as a farmer treats his soil, or as the driver works his cattle. All unjust distinctions in society bave this tendency and, if they have cunning, adopt this rule, as a means to their end. Enough both of reason and of argument, why every honest and fellow-feeling man should desire to see such distinctions abrogated. The aristocracy of this country has carried taxation to its bigbest powers of production, and has, in fact, rather overstrained the capacity of the people to produce revenue ; tbus generating not only a deal of misery, but a debt, wbich, if it be not thrown back for payment to those who have accumulated it, will be an incessant source of misery. All tbose impediments to the welfare and happiness of the mass of the people, I desire, and will assist, to remove.
A correspondent of mine, (James Hall, with whom I much desire to bave a better acquaintance) says, that the aristocracy receive ten millions yearly from the revenue; that at the rate at which they are now going on, they will, in less than fifty years, be masters of all the property in the nation; and that this property keeps giving them power and deprives the people of power in an equal ratio. I coufess, that I cannot foresee all this; but this I know well, that the aristocracy is a great curse entailed upon the nation by a barbarous feu. dal system, and that the people cannot too soon bestir themselves, so far to lessen its power, as wholly to annibilate it, and to put its members on the common footing of maintenance, each to depend upon his bodily or mental labour, or the previously acquired property of industry. .
The law of primogeniture has been happily abolished in France, and so remains as one of the blessings acquired by the Revolution. To this step, more than to any other, may be attributed the rapid improvement which the French bave made in agriculture and commerce. Prior to the Revolution, France was scarcely superior to the present state of Sicily; now it bids fair to become the most powerful nation in Europe, in having shaken off almost every privileged abuse that oppressed the labouring part of the people. Gradual efforts are makiug to restore them; but it is evident that they can never again be so restored as to become a lasting injury to the nation; and the law of primogeniture, which may be considered the key to every privileged abuse, cannot be restored.
While these beneficial changes bave been taking place in France, Great Britain has been growing weaker, by the increasing influence of the aristocracy in the legislature. Nor is there one member of that legislature to make a stand upon right honest grounds, against this increasing influence. One good man, that shall appeal to the people through that channel against every abuse, and fairly upfold them, will strike terror into every bad man. It is iinpossible, that such abuses as have been practised in Ireland could have contipued in practice, if they had been fairly unfolded tbroughout the last thirty years. They have been treated superficially; and the germ of the evil has been fostered by all parties in the legislature.
The aristocracy of a country are the conquerors of the people: for it is not to be supposed that any people will seek voluntary servitude. Where there is such an aristocracy as is found in this country and in Ireland, the people are in a state of conquest-they are captives to their tyrant legislators. This is the germ of those evils which afilict both Britain and Ireland. The people have no voice in the legislature: for a petition that speaks to the purpose will find no member's hand and tongue to preseut it. The interest of the people is therefore evident—they must strike at the root of this conquering power—they must disorganize the aristocracy and abolish the priesthood. How is this to be done? Simply, by doing what I am now doing—to learn and to avow atheisni — to respect nothing that is not respectableto attack wbatever is wrong, and to cherish whatever is right. This is the only manner, in which, under the preseat circumstances, the people can raise a voice and make themselves audible. Avow atheism and you underwine the priesthood, without ceremony on your part or resistance on theirs; for by merely asking them to define what they mean by the word God, you make them all avow athe. ism. They have not a fact to rest upon with their words God and Religion. Call upon them for a fact, and they ackoowledge that they have none. Depriving aristocracy of the influence of religion, we deprive it of its strongest bold : for this religion is never mixed up with any thing good-it makes every where a vile compound-and atrociousness is its effect. If Christianity bad been founded in truth, it never would have found an intelligent infidel. Now, every honest intelligent man rejects it; for it is an impossibility
that he can enquire and believe; and belief without enquiry as no foundation.
This law of primogeniture has, in some places, extended to daughters; of which we have a recorded instance in the island of Metelin, on the coast of Asia Minor, or the ancient Lesbos. How such a custom could have originated, it is difficult to conceive; or what the motives, upless they had an origin with some capricious tyrant or amazonian queen Whatever power tends to elevate one individual at the expence or degradation of another is an unjust power: and so every kind of law of primogeniture, that prevents an equal distribution of property in a family, is an unjust law. It is a robbery upon those who have an equal claim with the elder. The difference of priority in birth makes no moral difference in the members of a family. After a certain age, the youngest has the same aggregate capacity and merit with the oldest; while the exceptions arising from bad education will, in nine cases out of ten, be found to be with the first child, particularly under such expectations as are now associated with bis birth. It may not be amiss to copy a narrative of the Metelin law of primogeniture, which, I find in the Oxford Encyclopædia.
“ According to an ancient custom in this island, the eldest daughter alone formerly inherited the property of the fatber and mother, to the exclusion of the sons and other daughters. If there were only two daughters, the youngest obtained no succession, and when the elder married, she remained in a state of subservience to her, wearing a particular babit, and attending her as a domestic. If the family consisted of more than two, this became the lot of the immediate younger daughter, always, as her immediate elder sister married. The elder daughter enjoyed every sort of liberty; the whole family fortune was bers, and she spent it as she pleased; her husband was her obsequious servant, and her father and mother depended upon her. She dressed in a most magnificent manner, covered all over, according to the fashion of the island, with pearls, and with pieces of gold. Nothing is more common than to see the old father and mother reduced to the utmost indigence, and even begging about the streets, while their unnatural daughters are in aliluence. The eldest daughter was frequently seen parading it through the town in the greatest splendour, while her mother and sister followed her as servants, and made a melancholy part of her attendant traiu. A modification of the usage alluded to has been effected, by the intervention of the Patriarch of Constantinople, and the bishops and clergy of the island. Certain rights of primogeuiture are preserved, by which the eldest daughter receives a third of the inheritance, the second a third of wbat remains, and the younger suecessively a third of the residue.”
Here was a clear case of barbarity arising from this kind of law or custom; and though we have nothing so, bad in England, yet that which we have approaching to it, in similarity of law, makes the same approach in similarity of national evil and degradation.
I know of no evil in an accumulation of property, unless it be used oppressively. Where it be unfairly acquired, there seems a regular consequence, that it will be so used; for there is always a consciousness of unfair gain, which will resort to unfair means to preserve it. In this country, at this time, it is nationally important, that we get rid of the law of primogeniture, because, its existence bas a peculiar growing tendency to increase taxation, wbile the peculiar state of the country imperatively requires that taxation be lessened. On all sides we perceive, that, as the members of the aristocracy increase their splendour, the labouring class finds a decreased means of support, a greater deficiency of the necessaries of life. The evil bas evidently approached a crisis. With such an aristocracy as we now have, we can never bave a wise and beneficial legislature. All benefits are conferred upon themselves, at the expence of the people at large. Ao army they will have, that they may officer it. A navy in the same sense; only there is more of toil and danger in tbat department--the situation is less of a sinecure wbilst on the ocean. A church is essential for its profits and its power; and though nearly undermined by the dissenters, there is evident disposition in the aristocracy to make a new one, that shall unite as many sects as possible, and still return the profitable places-still to preserve this system of taxation-still to make industry sacrifice its produce to the gods, that is, when translated, to the aristocracy and its priests. The great miscbief of an aristocracy, or of a monarchy, or of a priesthood, is, that neither can exist without the other, where there is a spreading knowledge among the people. A priesthood at this moment, unsupported by a monarchy aud aristocracy, would iostantly fall, and so would each of these in the absence of the others. A single abuse cannot exist in this country, at this time: a copcatenation of abuses is necessary, the one as a support to the other. So that it is not one only, but mani, w, that we have to be freed from. The much boasted three states of tbis country consist not of King, Lords, and Comisons, but of King, aristocracy, and priests. The labouring land commercial class form a fourth estate, that can best exist alone, - that derives no benefit from King, Aristocracy, and Priests, but much injury in the way of taxation and impediment to free trade. The King, Aristocracy and Priests are clearly superfluous beings, as far as the welfare of the industrious class is in question. They are like the gods, we can do much better without, than with them. They exist only to consume such sacrifices of capital, as we yield, or they can extort from us. In no case do they afford us aid or assistance-in none, benefit or comfort-in none, honour and renown; but in many, we derive from them insecurity, deprivation, terror, and pain.
To conclude this letter with the subject more particularly under consideration, I bave to observe, that I can see no just reason why every father or mother should not be at liberty to make an equal division of their property among their children, or to give a larger proportion to bim or to her, wbo may most need it, and be likely to make the best use of it. Any arbitrary disposition of property, contrary to the judgment of the possessor, must be an unjust interference with the private affairs of an individual, and in every such case both a public and a private injury.
All credits are given on the ground of the individual's possessing some means of payment. If he has nothing but freehold estates, he is credited upon the probability that the rents of those estates will enable him to meet such credits. It is truly abominable, that in case of death, so common to all at every moment of life, such estates should pass to the eldest son unincumbered with the credits obtained upon them. It is a real robbery upon every correct principle of property: and were I in your situation, Mr. Sturt, I should consider myself nothing better than a common highwayman. Blame is not so much imputable to your father as to you. He miglit bave accumulated debts in improving those very estates which you have inherited, and might have fully intended payment; but you can bave no fair excuse for not paying such debts, as you have at least inherited the value of them. You have, in fact, in possession, that very property which different tradesmen entrusted to your fatherand payment with you would be but a restoration of that