Fundamentals and Principles
- Chapter I: The Unity of God
- Chapter II: Unity, Liberty, Equality
- Chapter III: Elective Magistracy
- Chapter IV: Justice, Peace, Agriculture
- Chapter V: Industry, Property, Family, Human Life
- Chapter VI: Education
- Chapter VII: Social Union, Balance of Powers, Public Opinion
It is the proper function of the sciences to arrive at general principles; that is to say, primary, or general facts, in which all secondary, or particular facts are included. Gravitation may serve as an illustration of many meanings. By this one simple principle, astronomy explains all the complex laws of the celestial harmony.
In political, as well as physical science, there are certain great principles, true or false, from which, in any given case, all the numerous details of social organization flow. Every state is based upon some fundamental ideas, and the study of those ideas is the most important object of inquiry in the study of its constitution. No social system can be understood without a knowledge of its fundamental principles. The Hebrew government, like all others, was founded upon certain great maxims of policy, to the development and elucidation of which the reader’s attention is now invited.
The first and most essential of these fundamental principles was the unity of God.1
1 Deuteronomy 6:4.
To some it may have an odd sound, to hear announced, as a principle of political science, what we are apt to regard as a mere religious dogma. But this can arise only from a want of due reflection on the subject. When Moses made his appearance in the world, idolatry had crept in on every side. It was firmly established in all nations. With its long train of moral and social evils, it had become the common sentiment and common practice of mankind. It had gained the credit of a settled truth, and the authority of an undoubted principle of common sense. There was not a civil constitution then in being, which was not based upon the assumed truth of polytheism. The Israelites themselves had become so infected with it, that all the miracles wrought for their deliverance were not sufficient to cure their superstition, and keep them steadfast to the worship of the true God.
A civil constitution, inseparably interwoven with the worship of the one living God, was, as far as we can judge, an indispensable agency in enabling, perhaps I ought rather to say, in compelling the Hebrews to answer their high destination. By this means, the worship of the true God would be made imperishable, so long as the nation continued a nation. By this means, it would happen that religion and the political existence of the people must be annihilated together. Whatever reason, therefore, there was for desiring the overthrow of idolatry, there was the same reason for incorporating the idea of the divine unity into the political structure of the Hebrew commonwealth.
Such a politico-religious constitution could then be introduced without difficulty, since it was in accordance with the political ideas of the times. Religious prodigies were as familiar as civil edicts, and as constantly bore their share in the administration of public affairs. All the ancient lawgivers called in the aid of religion to strengthen their respective polities Thus did Menes in Egypt, Minos in Crete, Cadmus in Thebes, Lycurgus in Sparta, Zaleucus in Locris, and Numa in Rome.
But the procedure of Moses differed fundamentally from that of these heathen legislators. They employed religion in establishing their political institutions, while he made use of a civil constitution as a means of perpetuating religion.2 Thus Moses made the worship of the one only God the fundamental law of his civil institutions. This law was to remain forever unalterable, through all the changes, which lapse of time might introduce into his constitution. Thus was the Jewish lawgiver enabled to secure a result of indispensable necessity to human virtue and happiness; a result, which, as far as we can see, could have been attained in no other way.
2 It is not meant to be asserted here that Moses did not also employ religion in establishing his political institutions, but merely to direct attention to the fact that, with the heathen legislators religion was the means and government the end, while with him government was the means and religion the end.
In this procedure Moses has shown himself one of the greatest benefactors of mankind. The pernicious influence of polytheism will be more fully exhibited in our chapter on the Hebrew theocracy. Let it suffice for the present to observe that the superstitions connected with it are a prolific source of immorality, crime, and misery. But it is to be carefully noted, that it is one thing to make the single article of the worship of one God the first principle of a civil polity; and it is another and totally different thing to make the numerous articles of a religious creed, and their maintenance among the people, the object and scope of political arrangements. Moses framed no symbolic books for the people to subscribe, nor did he publish any mere theological dogma, the belief of which was to be enforced by civil penalties. Such was the structure of the Hebrew state, as will be explained in the next chapter, that idolatry became, under its constitution, a civil crime. No mere private opinion, however, nothing but the overt act of idolatry, was punishable, under the laws of Moses, by the civil authorities.3
3 Mich. Com. on the Laws of Moses. Arts. 32, 33, 34, and 245. The political prohibition of idolatry, under the sanction of civil punishment, was not, as we shall see in the next chapter, founded on the doctrine of the true God, considered as a theological dogma, but on the principle that Jehovah, having delivered the Israelites from slavery and made them a nation, was, by their own free choice, constituted civil head of their commonwealth. He was, therefore, to be honored as their king, as well as their God. Even on the assumption of the truth of idolatry, on the supposition that there actually were other gods, this principle bound every subject of the Israelitish government to worship none but the God of Israel. Still, it was not opinions that were prohibited, but actions. But words may be political actions. Blackstone, indeed (B. 4. C. 6.), lays down the doctrine that words spoken amount only to a high misdemeanor and no treason; for the words may be spoken in heat, without any intention, or they may be mistaken, perverted, or misremembered by the hearers. But he adds that words set down in writing constitute an overt act of treason, for scribere est agere. But by the law of Moses, words spoken against the divine king of Israel were considered as compassing, that is, designing and aiming at the overthrow of the government. They were an overt act of treason, which was punished capitally. Hence blasphemy was a state crime, and I have no doubt that to speak any evil of the God of Israel, or to deny his existence, was blasphemy, within the meaning of the statute. This law extended to foreigners as well as to natives. (Numbers 15:15.) While Moses provided that strangers who took refuge in the land of Israel should be treated with justice and kindness, he gave no protection or privilege to any foreign religion. He prohibited absolutely all manner of idolatry. Still, if the stranger was, in his heart, a friend of paganism, Moses did not authorize am inquiry into his private opinion. Such an inquisitorial procedure was foreign both to this temper and his legislation. His laws gave no sanction to it. They were framed against actions, not ideas.
National Unity Liberty Political Equality
A second fundamental principle of the Hebrew government was national unity.
This idea was, in that age, as new and startling as the doctrine of the divine unity. The most ancient sages made their ideas of the material universe the type of their political and social institutions. The Egyptian priests regarded the universality of things as composed of two distinct essences; the one intellectual and active, the other physical and passive. This philosophic dogma had a predominating influence on the civil state. In the political system framed by them, the spiritual essence of the universe was the symbol of the sacerdotal aristocracy, while the baser material essence represented the common people. Thus the higher and lower classes, the nobility and commonalty, were separated by a gulf, as impassable as that which divides the inhabitants of different planets.
Moses, endowed with a capacity and animated with a principle higher than any preceding philosopher or statesman, rejecting this doctrine of dualism in the formation of his commonwealth, substituted in its place the principle of national unity. His, however was not that species of unity, which the world has since so often seen, in which vast multitudes of human beings are delivered up to the arbitrary will of one man. It was a unity effected by the abolition of caste; a unity, founded on the principle of equal rights; a unity in which the whole people formed the state, contrary to what happened in Egypt, where the priesthood was the state, and contrary to the celebrated declaration of a French monarch,1 who avowed himself to be the state.
1 Louis XIV.
Let us glance at the Decalogue2 to ascertain, if possible, its relation to this question of the unity of the Hebrew state. These ten precepts belonged not simply to the department of ethics among the Hebrews. They were civil, as well as moral laws. They were intended to serve as the basis of the whole system of civil legislation. They have suggested to modern legislators the first idea of the declaration of the rights of man.
2 Exodus 20.
Mark the expressive form given to the preamble of these laws. It is as significant as it is laconic. “I am Jehovah Thy God, which brought Thee out of the house of bondage.” Here the Hebrews are addressed as one man, and so they are throughout the enactment of this fundamental code. It is Israel, it is the entire people, to whom the lawgiver speaks. Here is no distinction of castes. Here is no appropriation of dignities to one class, no hereditary inferiority assigned to another. The priesthood had not at this time been instituted, nor the tribe of Levi set apart to its peculiar functions. This tribe formed, it is true, a kind of literacy aristocracy, and its dignities and duties were hereditary. Still, as will be shown in our chapter on the Levitical order, it was far from constituting a nobility, in the modern acceptation of that term. The same fundamental rights are recognized as belonging to all, the same fundamental duties as binding upon all. The whole law is in the interest of the whole people. Social distinctions, therefore, whenever they arise, must rest upon the natural basis of superior intelligence and worth.
Another of those great ideas, which constituted the basis of the Hebrew state, was liberty.
Liberty is a word often uttered, but seldom understood. It is the theme of much glowing declamation, but of little sober inquiry. Poets and orators have eulogized the charms of liberty; demagogues use the word every day, as an instrument of political advancement; yet few, comparatively, investigate or comprehend its nature. Civil liberty, the liberty of a community, is a severe and restrained thing. The fundamental idea of it is that of protection in the enjoyment of our own rights, up to the point where we begin to trench upon the rights of others. It is natural liberty, so far restrained, and only so far, as may be necessary for the public good. Every law, which abridges personal freedom, without a corresponding general advantage, is an infringement of civil liberty. But it is no infringement of liberty to restrain the freedom of individuals, when the public good requires it. On the contrary, civil liberty implies, in the very notion of it, authority, subjection, and obedience. Montesquieu has well defined it, when he says that it “consists in the power of doing what we ought to will, and in not being constrained to do what we ought not to will.” Liberty is a right of doing what the laws permit. If one citizen might do what they forbid, all might do it, which would be anarchy. True liberty would expire in such a state of things.
This rational, restrained, regulated liberty was amply secured by the Hebrew constitution. In the preamble to the ten commandments3, before cited, God expressly declares that he had brought his people out of the “house of bondage.” In another place he says, “I have broken the bands of your yoke, and made you go upright.”4 These expressions, rendered into their modern equivalents, mean: “I have delivered you out of a state of servitude, and constituted you a nation of freemen.” “Is Israel a slave?” cries Jeremiah,5 his heart bursting with sadness at the contrast between the freedom secured by the constitution of his country and the vassalage imposed upon his countrymen by foreign arms. The learned Fleury has declared his opinion on this point in unequivocal terms. “The Israelites,” he says, “were perfectly free. They enjoyed the liberty cherished by Greece and Rome. Such was the purpose of God.” Montesquieu makes a reflection, which is applicable here. He says that countries are not cultivated in proportion to their fertility, but to their liberty. Tried by this test, the freedom of Palestine will bear a favorable comparison with that of any nation in my age of the world; for never was territory more highly cultivated, or more productive, than that of the chosen tribes, in the palmy days of their history.
The freedom secured by the polity of Moses will more fully appear is we advance in our inquiries. There is no doubt, that the constitution vas as free as it could be, consistently with its own safety and stability; and it is probable that the Hebrew people enjoyed as great a degree of personal liberty as can ever be combined with an efficient and stable government.
3 Exodus 20:2.
4 Leviticus 26:13.
5 Leviticus 2:14.
A fourth fundamental principle of the Hebrew constitution was the political equality of the people.
This was absolute and entire. I lay down the following proposition broadly and without qualification. The members of the body politic, called into being by the constitution of Moses, stood upon a more exact level, and enjoyed a more perfect community of political rights, dignities, and influence, that any other people known in history, whether of ancient or modern times.
A few words will place this point in a clear and convincing light.
It is a principle of political philosophy, first announced by Harrington, and much insisted upon by Lowman and the elder Adams, that property in the soil is the natural foundation of power, and consequently of authority. This principle will not now be disputed. Hence, the natural foundation of every government may be said to be laid in the distribution of its territories. And here three cases are supposable, viz. the ownership of the soil by one, the few, or the many. First, if the prince own the lands, he will be absolute, for all who cultivate the soil, holding of him, and at his pleasure, must be so subject to his will, that they will be in the condition of slaves, rather than of freemen. Secondly, if the landed property of a country be shared among a few men, the rest holding as vassals under them, the real power of government will be in the hands of an aristocracy, or nobility, whatever authority may be lodged in one or more persons, for the sake of greater unity in counsel and action. But thirdly, if the lands be divided among all those who compose the society, the true power and authority of government will reside in all the members of that society; and the society itself will constitute a real democracy, whatever form of union may be adopted for the better direction of the whole, as a political body. Under such a constitution, the citizens themselves will have control of the state. They will not need to have this power conferred upon them by express grant. It will fall into their hands by the natural force of circumstances, by the inevitable necessity of the case. There is no truth in political science more easy to comprehend, more open to the view of all, or more certainly known in universal experience, than that the men who own the territories of a state will exercise a predominating influence over the public affairs of such state. This is agreeable to the constitution of human nature, and is confirmed by the concurrent testimony of all history.
The provision of the Hebrew constitution in reference to the ownership of the soil is that of my third supposition. Moses ordered that the national domain should be so divided that the whole six hundred thousand free citizens should have a full property in an equal part of it.6 And to render this equality solid and lasting, the tenure was made inalienable, and the estates, thus originally settled upon each family, were to descend by an indefeasible entail, in perpetual succession.7
6 Numbers 33:54.
7 Leviticus 25:23.
The principle which lies at the bottom of this argument for the political equality of the Hebrew citizens is strongly developed, in its application to our own country, by one of our ablest political writers. “The agrarian in America,” says the elder Adams, “is divided into the hands of the common people in every state, in such a manner, that nineteen twentieths of the property would be in the hands of the commons, let them appoint whom they might for chief magistrate and senators. The sovereignty, then, in fact as well as theory, must reside in the whole body of the people; and even an hereditary king and nobility, who should not govern according to the public opinion, would infallibly be tumbled instantly from their places.” Such was the opinion of Mr. Adams in regard to the nature and operation of this principle. He held that the sovereignty of a state is an inseparable attribute of property in the soil. Lord Bacon and Harrington were of the same opinion. The former uses property and dominion as convertible terms, and the latter says expressly that empire follows the balance of property, whether lodged in one, few, or many hands.
The details of the agrarian law of Moses will occupy our attention in a subsequent part of this treatise. The reader, however, is desired to mark, in passing, a few points in it, evincing its great wisdom. It made extreme poverty and overgrown riches alike impossible, thus annihilating one of the most prolific sources as well as powerful engines of ambition. With the denial of the means of luxury, it took away all the ordinary incitements to it, in the example of a titled and wealthy aristocracy. It gave to every member of the body politic an interest in the soil, and consequently in the maintenance of public order and the supremacy of law, which he had not even the power to part with. It made the virtues of industry and frugality necessary elements in every man’s character. Its tendency was to secure to all the citizens a moderate independence, and to prevent those extremes of opulence and destitution, which are the opprobrium of modern civilization. Great inequality of wealth in a nation is a great evil, to be avoided by the use of all just and prudent means. It was a leading object with Moses to give to his constitution such a form as would tend to equalize the distribution of property. Under his polity, the few could not revel in the enjoyment of immense fortunes while the million were suffering from want. Misery was not the hereditary lot of one class, nor boundless wealth of another. The government watched over all, and cared for all alike. No citizen could justly charge his poverty to its neglect.
The agrarian law of Moses elevated labor to its just dignity, and removed the odium which adhered to it in all other ancient states. It is an error, into which our best informed political writers have fallen, to suppose, that, for the first time in the history of the world, labor has taken its true position in our country. It was as much fostered by the government, it was as generally practiced, and it was as honorable among the ancient Hebrews, as it is even in New England. St. Paul says, “if any man will not work, neither shall he eat.”8 This saying of the apostle was but the reflection of a common Hebrew sentiment, and shows in what estimation labor was held by that people. Intelligent labor, manly labor, independent labor, labor thinking, and acting, and accumulating for itself, was the great substantial interest, on which the whole fabric of Hebrew society rested. Such was Hebrew labor and such the position assigned to it by the Hebrew lawgiver.
8 2 Thessalonians 3:10.
But, not content with establishing originally a full equality among the citizens, the constitution of Moses made provision for its permanent continuance. With such jealous care did it watch, that the people might never molder away, and be lost to the state in the condition of slaves, that it provided for a general periodical release of debts and servitudes—partially by the institution of the sabbatical year, but more completely by that of the jubilee. No matter how often the property had changed hands, at the return of the jubilee year, it was restored, free of encumbrance, to the original owners or their heirs.9 The Israelite, whom calamity or improvidence had driven abroad, needed no longer to wander for want of a home of his own to welcome him. This was a wise, as well as benevolent provision of the constitution. It was admirably suited to preserve a wholesome equality among the citizens. The rich could not accumulate all the lands. The fiftieth year, beyond which no lease could run, was always approaching with silent but sure tread, to relax their tenacious grasp. However alienated, however unworthily sold, however strongly conveyed to the purchaser an estate might be, this long-expected day annulled the whole transaction, and placed the debtor in the condition which either himself or his ancestor had enjoyed. At the return of this day, the trumpet peal was heard, in street and field, from mountain top and valley, throughout the length and breadth of the land.10 The chains fell from the exulting slave. The burden of debt, like that of Bunyan’s Pilgrim, rolled off from shoulders, long galled by its pressure. The family mansion and the paternal estate again greeted eyes, from which misfortune, through many a weary year, had divorced them. The inequalities of condition, which the lapse of half a century had produced, once more disappeared. Garlands of flowers crowned all brows, and the universal gladness found vent in music, feasting, and merriment.11
9 Leviticus 25:10,13.
10 Leviticus 25:9.
11 A reflection of Lord Bacon, in his History of Henry VII (p. 72) is pertinent here. He is commending the wisdom of the law, which required, “that all houses of husbandry, that were used with twenty acres of ground, or upwards, should be maintained and kept up forever, together with a competent proportion of land, to be used and occupied with them, and in no ways to be separated from them.” On this he observes, “The houses being kept up, did of necessity enforce a dweller, and the proportion of land for occupation being kept up, did of necessity enforce that dweller not to be a beggar or cottager, but a man of some substance. This did wonderfully concern the might and manhood of the kingdom, to have farms, as it were, of a standard sufficient to maintain an able body out of penury; and did, in effect, amortize [transfer as an inalienable possession] a great part of the lands of the kingdom unto the hold and occupation of the yeomanry, or middle people, of a condition between gentlemen and cottagers, or peasants. Thus did the king sow hydra’s teeth, whereupon, according to the poet’s fiction, should rise up armed men for the service of the kingdom.” This observation of a wise and able politician sets in a striking light the wisdom of this part of the Hebrew constitution. If the law on which Bacon is here commenting, “did wonderfully concern the might and manhood of the kingdom,” how much more the agrarian of Moses!
Elective Magistracy People’s Authority in the Enactment of Laws The Responsibility of Public Officers to Their Constituents
A magistracy elected by the people, the public officer chosen by the public voice, was another of those great principles, on which Moses founded his civil polity.
The magistrates are not properly the ministers of the people, unless the people elect them. It is, therefore, a fundamental maxim in every popular government, that the people should choose their ministers, that is to say, their magistrates. The people need councillors of state and executive officers, as much as monarchs, perhaps even more than they. But they cannot have a just confidence in these officers unless they have the choosing of them. And the people, in every nation capable of freedom, are well qualified to discharge this trust. Facts, obvious to sense, and to which they cannot be strangers, are to determine them in their choice. The merits of their neighbors are things well known to them. “Should we doubt of the people’s natural ability in respect to the discernment of merit, we need only cast an eye on the continual series of surprising elections made by the Athenians and Romans, which no one surely will attribute to hazard.” The people, therefore, though in the mass incapable of the administrations of government, are, nevertheless, capable of calling others to this office. They are qualified to choose, though, as a general thing, not qualified to be chosen. “In their sentiments,” said the great Edmund Burke, “the people are rarely mistaken.”
The election by the Hebrew people of Jehovah himself to be the civil head of their state, is a point which has been already established in the introductory essay. The proofs need not be repeated here. No fact can be plainer, or more certain, than that the judges, instituted at the suggestion of Jethro, were chosen by the suffrages of all Israel. The direction of Moses to the people, upon that occasion, is very explicit. His words are, “Take you wise men, and understanding, and known among your tribes, and I will make them rulers over you.”1 The meaning is, “Do you elect the proposed officers, and I will commission and induct them into office.” It is very observable that these magistrates were to be taken “out of all the people,” and not from any privileged class. The only qualifications for office required were that they should be “able men, such as fear God, men of truth, hating covetousness,”2 “wise men, and understanding, and known among their tribes.” The possession of these high attributes was enough; no other patent of nobility was required. Mr. Jefferson’s test of official competency is expressed in the three interrogatories: “Is he honest? Is he capable? Is he faithful?” If he had added a fourth, “Does he fear God?” he would have had the Mosaic test to a tittle. Moses demanded four qualifications in a civil ruler, viz. ability, integrity, fidelity, and piety.
When the land of Canaan was to be divided among the tribes, Joshua addressed all Israel thus: “Give out from among you three men from each tribe, and I will send them,”3 “Give out from among you”; that is, “Select, choose for yourselves.” When Jephthah was made judge, it is expressly said, “The people made him head and captain over them.”4 These instances, and others which might be cited, prove that the great principle, that rulers should be elected by the ruled, that authority should emanate from those over whom it is to be exercised, was fully embodied in the Hebrew constitution.
1 Deuteronomy 1:13.
2 Exodus 18:21.
3 Joshua 18:4.
4 Judges 11:11.
A principle, closely allied to this, viz. that the people should have an authoritative voice in the enactment of the laws, is another of those great ideas, which underlie the Hebrew government; and this principle, like the preceding one, is fundamental in every popular government.
When Moses, on descending from the mount, rehearsed to the people the laws which he had received from the Lord, with one voice, they answered and said, “All the words that the Lord has said, will we do.”5 What is this, but an acceptance by the nation of the constitution proposed to them? The Hebrew constitution was adopted by the Hebrew people, as truly as the American constitution was adopted by the American people. “This adoption, by the Jewish nation, of the laws, which Moses brought from God, was repeated at the death of Moses, and by a statute, once in seven years was to be repeated ever after by the assembled nation. So that, from generation to generation, once in seven years, the tribes met in a great national convention, and solemnly ratified the constitution. They took what might be called the freeman’s oath to observe that constitution.” The government, then, was, in a solid and just sense, a government of the people; for the magistrates were chosen by their suffrages, and the laws were enacted by their voice.
5 Exodus 19:8.
The responsibility of public officers to the people was the seventh fundamental maxim of the Hebrew polity.
In proof of this the reader is referred to the closing scene of Samuel’s public administration. The aged statesman resigns his authority to the convention of the people, by whom it had been conferred. History records no sublimer or more touching scene. He calls upon his constituents, if any had been injured by his public acts, or knew of any abuse of the trusts confided to him, to step forward and accuse him. With one voice they reply, “Thou hast injured, oppressed, defrauded none.”6
Several incidents, related in the history of the kings, confirm this view. When Saul was chosen king, a writing, limiting the royal prerogative, was prepared by Samuel, and deposited in the sanctuary, where reference might afterwards be made to it, in case of royal usurpation.7 A similar writing was exacted of his successors.8 Solomon, during the latter period of his life, had reigned as a despot. When his son mounted the throne, Judah and Benjamin were the only tribes which acknowledged him. The other tribes offered to submit to his authority, on conditions which were not accepted. But when the young king rejected their terms, they rejected him, chose a sovereign for themselves, and established a separate kingdom.9These instances show that the people held their rulers to a stern responsibility for the manner in which they discharged their public trust.
All this was the action of the republican spirit of the nation—a spirit, inspired, cherished, and sanctioned by the constitution. Who can doubt whether it was a constitution intended for a free and self-governing community?
6 1 Samuel 12:1-5.
7 1 Samuel 10:25.
8 2 Samuel 5:2, 1 Kings 12:4, 2 Kings 11:17.
9 1 Kings 12:1-20.
A Cheap, Speedy, and Impartial Administration of Justice Peace Agriculture
A cheap, speedy, and impartial administration of justice was another of those great ideas, on which Moses founded his civil polity.
Under the Hebrew constitution, the poor and the weak were not to be the victims of the rich and the strong. The small as well as the great1 were to be heard, and equal justice awarded to all, without fear or favor. That terrible and ruinous evil, “the law’s delay,” was unknown to the Hebrew jurisprudence. Courts of various grades were established, from high courts of appeal down to those ordained for every town. “Judges and officers shalt thou make thee in all thy gates,”2 was the constitutional provision on this subject. To what a minute subdivision the judiciary system was carried, appears from the ordinance which required that there should be “rulers over thousands, rulers over hundreds, rulers over fifties, and rulers over tens, who should judge the people at all seasons.3 Care was thus taken, that in suits and proceedings at law, every man should have what was just and equal, without going far to seek it, without waiting long to obtain it, and without paying an exorbitant price for it. Certainly, with a judiciary constituted in this manner, justice could be administered promptly, while provision was made against the evils of hasty decisions, in the right of appeal to higher courts; in important cases, even to the venerable council of seventy, composed of the wisest, the gravest, the ablest, the most upright, and trustworthy men in the nation.4
1 Deuteronomy 1:17.
2 Deuteronomy 26:18.
3 Exodus 17:21.
4 Deuteronomy 7:8-9.
Another a vital principle of the Hebrew constitution was peace.
A thirst of conquest, and the foul passions which it implies and engenders, had no place in the legislator’s own bosom, and were utterly repugnant to the spirit of his legislation. It was a prime object of his polity to discountenance and repress a military spirit in the nation.
In the first place, his constitution made no provision for a standing army, and a soldiery under pay was an innovation long posterior to the time of Moses. The whole body of citizens, holding their lands on condition of military service, when required,5 formed a national guard of defense. Thus the landholders (and every Israelite was a landholder) formed the only soldiery known to the Mosaic constitution.
5 Judges 5:23.
In the second place, the intensely agricultural character of the Hebrew government served to impress upon it an almost equally pacific character. Light and darkness are scarcely more repugnant to each other, than husbandry and war. Among the ancient Germans, as we learn from Tacitus and Caesar, the chiefs, in the general council of the nation, made an annual distribution of the lands in the country. The motive prompting to such a procedure was that the thoughts of the people might not be diverted from war to agriculture. Deeply did those sagacious chieftains feel, for clearly did they perceive, that permanent landed possessions, improved habitations, and a too curious attention to domestic conveniences and comforts, would beget in the tillers of the soil an affection for the spots they cultivated, which would produce sentiments and manners quite repugnant to their own schemes of conquest and military aggrandizement.
Thirdly, the use of cavalry, at once the effect and the cause of a passion for war, was prohibited by the constitution.6 On the occasion of a certain victory, when a large number of the enemy’s horses had fallen into his hands, Joshua was directed by the oracle to “hough” or hamstring them, that is, to cut their thigh sinews.7 This was practiced on similar occasions, even as late as the reign of David.8 The law against multiplying horses appears to have been faithfully observed, till the proud ambition of Solomon swept away this, in common with many other wholesome provisions of the national constitution. In governments, which have made conquest a leading object of pursuit, the principal military force has consisted in cavalry, and this especially in rude societies. In the infancy of the military art, the superiority of cavalry over infantry is very conspicuous. The fate of battle depended on that part of the army which fought on horseback or in chariots. It is obvious that no founder of an empire, in those early ages, who intended his people for a career of conquest and military grandeur, would or could have dispensed with cavalry in his armies. The fact that Moses forbade the use of this species of force, is a proof that he designed his people for peaceful pursuits, and not for military glory.
6 Deuteronomy 17:16.
7 Joshua 11:6. The object of “houghing” the horses was not, as most expositors, following Kimchi and Bochart, have represented, to merely lame them in the hind legs and let them go, but to kill them. A horse can be hamstrung in an instant, and, as the operation cuts the artery of the thigh, he soon dies of the wound, by bleeding to death. This plan is still sometimes used by military commanders to render horses, which have been taken in battle and cannot be carried away, unserviceable to the enemy.
8 2 Samuel 8:4.
But Moses had another motive for his prohibition of cavalry. The political equality of all the citizens, as we have seen under a former head, was a darling object with him. But in all ancient nations, where cavalry was employed, the horsemen, being necessarily the wealthier members of the community, became also the more powerful. The system threw the chief political power into the hands of a few rich citizens, who could afford to mount and bring into the field themselves and their dependants. This naturally tended to the establishment of monarchical and aristocratical governments. Moses could not but perceive this tendency, and on this account, as well as on account of his repugnance to an aggressive military policy, he excluded a mounted soldiery from the forces of the republic. It is remarkable how speedily the substitution of the monarchical for the republican form of polity led to the introduction and use of cavalry in the Israelitish armies.
Fourthly, according to the testimony of Josephus, it was required, except in the case of the Canaanitish nations, that, previous to actual hostilities, heralds should be sent to the enemy with proposals of peace; and not until negotiation had failed, was force to be called in. This testimony is confirmed by a law contained in Deuteronomy 20:10. Considerable light is also thrown upon the point, by what I will venture to call a state paper of Jephthah.9 It is a letter of instructions to his ambassadors, directing them as to the manner in which they should conduct a negotiation with the king of the Ammonites. the instructions are drawn up with an ability, force, and skill, which would not discredit any statesman of modern times.
9 Judges 6:12-27.
Another proof of the repugnance of Moses to aggressive wars, and of the peaceful spirit of his general policy, may be drawn from the law of the Hebrew festivals. Thrice every year all the males were required to repair to the capital.10 With such a law in operation, how could a nation engage in schemes of foreign conquest? The idea seems little less than preposterous.
Finally, this view of the pacific character of the Hebrew constitution is strengthened by a forcible argument of Michaelis, in which that learned writer undertakes to prove that the sin of David in numbering the people, which has so puzzled the commentators, consisted, not in any ambitious motions, hid in the secret chambers of his own heart, but in openly aspiring at the establishment of a military government, and in attempting, with that view, to subject the whole nation to martial regulations, to form a standing army, and so to break down and ride over one of the fundamental provisions of the constitution—the many successful wars which he had carried on having, in all likelihood, filled his mind with the spirit of conquest.
10 Judges 34:23.
In beautiful harmony with the peaceful genius of his institutes, was the conduct of Moses, whenever he wished to march through the territories of other nations. Unlike the mere military chieftain of ancient times, whose sole aim was conquest and plunder, he always asked permission to do so, promising to abstain from treading down the cornfields, and to pay for everything he consumed, not accepting even water. Sihon himself was not conquered and despoiled of his territories, because of his refusal to grant a passage through them, nor because he marched an army of observation toward his frontier, for the Edomites had done the same before, but because he proceeded beyond his frontier into the wilderness, and, without provocation, attacked the Israelites first.11
11 Numbers 20:14-21, 21:21-23.
Let us pause here, for a moment, to contemplate the remarkable phenomenon, offered to our observation. What do we behold? A man, whose deep sagacity, under the guidance of a divine illumination, “discerned the hollowness of martial glory, in an age when battles were the business and delight of nations; when hardly any thing was respected, either in societies or men, in comparison with military fame; and when public virtue and civil wisdom dwindled into nothing before the splendid sins of war.” In such an age, his penetrating genius saw that the true elements of public prosperity lay in the path of public tranquility; and that the greatness of a nation consisted not in standing armies, in memorable victories, or in uncounted acres; but in the calm virtues of industry, frugality, and beneficence; in the bloodless triumphs of disciplined intelligence; in the mild dignities, which play around the domestic circle; and in the amount of individual prosperity and happiness, spread through the homes and hearts of the land. And was he not right in this estimate? Of all the evils which afflict humanity, the greatest in magnitude, the most injurious in its moral influences, the most repugnant to Christianity, and the most expensive of money, is war. How, then, can we sufficiently admire the wisdom of a lawgiver, who, in an age of barbarism and war, established a government upon the broad principles of equity and peace? In vain does the imagination essay to follow, in all their amplitude and variety, the streams of happiness, which shall gush forth, as from a thousand fountains, when war shall never again unfurl his crimson banner to the breeze, nor imprint his bloody footsteps upon the earth. Then shall religion, learning, social order, and regulated liberty become the inheritance of the race. Humanity shall receive purer impulses. Arts shall flourish, and science extend her enriching victories. Plenty and contentment shall become the general lot. Piety, that plant of renown, the fairest flower that bloomed in the abode of primeval innocence, shall again strike deep its roots into the human heart. And the broad earth, now scathed and blighted by the curse of its offended maker, shall again smile in the freshness and beauty of Eden.
The doctrine that agriculture constitutes the best basis of the prosperity and happiness of a state, was the tenth fundamental principle of the Mosaic polity.
Moses labored to impress upon his people the conviction that their country was best adapted to agriculture, and that agriculture was most favorable to its true and lasting prosperity. 14 He represented it as a land flowing with milk and honey; a land that drank liberally of the river of heaven, and wherein bread should be eaten without scarceness.12 Nothing can be plainer, than that it was on agriculture alone, taken in its broadest sense, so as to include the culture of vineyards, olive grounds, and gardens, that Moses saw fit to lay the foundation of the Israelitish state. By a provision in the constitution, before explained, no Israelite could be born who did not inherit a piece of land from his progenitors.
12 Exodus 3:8; Deuteronomy 1:25, 8:7-19.
Country life has inspired the genius, and tuned the lyre, of many a rural bard. Their smiling pictures have lent new charms to nature herself, and have inspired, in many hearts, a taste for rural scenes and labors. But agriculture presents itself to us under a point of view more positive and practical. It is the parent art, the paramount interest, of civilized society. The great pursuit of man is agriculture. It is the nurse of the human race. It has principles which elevated it to the rank of a science, a noble and comprehensive science. In the improvement of domestic animals and the fertilization of soils, the most abstruse principles of physiology and chemistry must be consulted. The principles of natural philosophy, also, have an equal relation to agriculture; for there is not a change of the seasons or the wind, there is not a fall of rain or of snow, there is not a fog or a dew, which does not affect some one or more of the manifold operations of the farmer. The relation of science to agriculture is close and vital. It is an error to suppose that the whole education of a farmer consists in knowing how to plough and sow and reap, the rest being left to the earth, the seasons, good fortune, and providence. The nature of soils and plants, the food they require, and the best methods of supplying it, are objects worthy of an earnest study. In a word, farming is a science, whose principles must be investigated, mastered, and skillfully applied, in order to insure profitable crops. There is no other pursuit in which so many of the laws of nature must be understood and consulted as in the cultivation of the earth.
What, then, shall we think of those ancient nations, which treated agriculture as a servile profession, and refused to the tillers of the soil a rank among the citizens of the state? What shall we say of those Greek philosophers and legislators, who abandoned to slaves and the dregs of the people the culture of the lands? Both Plato and Aristotle required slaves to till the land. In many of the states of Greece, agriculture was a servile profession. The inhabitants of conquered countries were compelled to practice it, while the citizens found employment in gymnastic and military exercises, forming, as Montesquieu says, a society of wrestlers and boxers. Thus the soil was tilled by the Helots among the Lacedaemonians, by the Periecians among the Cretans, by the Penestes among the Thessalians, and by other conquered people in other republics.
Not thus did the Hebrew lawgiver think and act. He made agriculture the great channel of Hebrew industry. Doubtless, the circumstance of the Hebrew people and the grand design of their polity had an influence over this direction. Still, it cannot be doubted that Moses regarded agriculture as, in itself, the most useful and the most honorable of employments.
The honor accorded by a lawgiver to any pursuit is a sure test of the esteem in which he holds it, and the most effectual means of causing any branch of industry to flourish among a people is to honor it. Apply this test to agriculture among the Hebrews, and what is the result? We see the same men passing from the labors of the field to the exercise of the highest public functions and returning again to their private toils. Even after his elevation to the royal dignity, Saul goes back to the labors of husbandry.13 Elijah casts his prophetic mantle upon Elisha, when the latter is engaged in ploughing.14 David is taken from the sheepfold, to fill the throne of his country, and to become the leader and shepherd of the people.15 The highest proof of the devotion of a people to agriculture, and of its flourishing condition, is the increase of population; since, among an agricultural people, this will generally be in proportion to the increased means of subsistence. But nowhere, in the whole history of mankind, has an equal extent of territory given birth and sustenance to a population as numerous as that of ancient Palestine. The figures of the prophets attest the zeal of the Hebrews in preparing their soil, in removing stones and weeds, and in surrounding their fields with walls and hedges.
13 1 Samuel 11:5.
14 1 Kings 19:19.
15 1 Samuel 16:11-12.
Small proprietorships and the cultivation of all the territories of the state by the actual owners, was the policy of the Hebrew laws. Let us inquire into the effect of this policy on the social condition and general welfare of a country.
Under the system of small ownerships, Attica reached the height of her prosperity, but when Herodes Atticus became universal proprietor, she sank to poverty and misery. We look at Rome under Servius, and we see a vast body of small proprietors, enriching themselves by the cultivation of their own lands.16 We look again, and see universal poverty. Immense tracts are now in the hands of the Scipio’s and Pompey’s, who have replaced the numerous small, but prosperous proprietors. The same scenes have, in modern times, been reenacted in the South of Spain. When the industrious Moors held that country, the lands were divided and worked by the owners, who enriched both themselves and the state. But since these industrious cultivators of their own estates have been succeeded, in the ownership of the soil, by a few princely grandees, the most fertile territories, which the sun visits in his course, are abandoned, I had almost said to sterility and desolation. Thus has it been everywhere and always. General wealth and comfort have increased in proportion to the division of the land.
16 Curius Dentatus once said to his soldiers, when they insisted on a larger division of the conquered lands, “God forbid that a citizen should look upon that as a small piece of land, which is sufficient to support a man.” (Plutarch’s Lives.) He declared that man a pernicious citizen who did not find seven acres sufficient for his subsistence. Seven acres was the number fixed by law for each Roman on the expulsion of the kings (Pliny in Anthon’s Class. Dict. Art Curius.)
The condition of the several sections of our own country confirms this view. Where do we see competence, domestic comfort, industry, intelligence, and manly dignity most extensively diffused among the masses? In those portions, where the land is divided into small farms, and every man works his own estate. The introduction of slavery into Georgia was owing to the system of large proprietorships. The fatal influence of cultivation by tenantry compelled a resort to slave labor, at a time when slavery was abhorrent to the feelings of the inhabitants, as well as to the principle on which the colony had been founded.
But the most remarkable exemplification of the fruits of the two systems of large and small proprietorships is seen in the comparative condition of England and France. In the united kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland, with a population of twenty-six millions, the number of landed proprietors does not exceed eighty-five thousand. In France, with a population of thirty-four millions, the landholders are five and a half millions. Yet the aggregate wealth of Britain is greater than that of France. The rental of the former country exceeds that of the latter by about one third.
The effect of this state of things on the social condition of the two countries is well worthy of our study. Great Britain has a million and a half of public paupers, or one in eleven of her whole population; and she expends thirty-five millions of dollars annually for their maintenance. France, with double her population, has only a little more than a third of this number, or one in fifty of her whole population; and the sum expended on their support is less than two million dollars per annum, being about one twentieth of the cost of English pauperism. Great Britain and Ireland together contain fourteen millions of human beings, whose utmost possible earning fall short, by about one fourth, of what it would cost her to maintain the same persons in the poorhouses, notwithstanding a rigid system of economy is practiced in those establishments. The consequence of all this is that the body of the British working people is fast sinking into a state to which there has hardly ever been a parallel. At Stockport Assizes, in the autumn of 1841, a father and mother were arraigned and convicted of poisoning three of their children, to defraud a burial society of 31. 8s., due on the death of each child. It was whispered at the time, that the public authorities hinted that this case might not be a solitary one, and perhaps it would be best not to probe matters too deeply in that direction. “Such instances are like the highest mountain apex emerged into view, under which lies a whole mountain region not yet emerged.” Statements like those contained in this paragraph, would be incredible, if their authenticity did not rest on unimpeachable testimony. The English nation is richer than any nation ever was before, and yet half her people are starving. The fable of Tantalus is here a reality. With a soil blooming in beauty and waving with yellow harvest, with a commerce whitening every sea, with workshops studding all her territory, with industrial implements and mechanical skill unmatched, and in the midst of plenty such as earth has seen never, her people perish from hunger. It is as if some demon had covered the land with his enchantments.
Let us now turn our regards to France, to see the effect of the opposite system of agriculture—that system in which the lands are minutely subdivided, and, for the most part, worked by those who own them. The French people are less educated, less intelligent, less skillful, and less industrious, than the English. They ought, therefore, to be in circumstances of greater destitution and misery; and they undoubtedly were so, before the revolution of 1789. At that time the minute division of landed property commenced. Since then, wages have slowly but steadily increased, and the social condition of the people has advanced in the same ratio. Rye and wheat flour have superseded buckwheat and oatmeal. The dress of the laboring classes has improved. Their houses are better built, better lighted, better warmed, and better furnished. And, while the rate of wages has increased, bread and clothing have been cheaper, which is a sure proof of the growing prosperity and comfort of the common people. There is pauperism in France undoubtedly; but in the rural districts it is trifling, and the whole amount is but little, when compared with the enormous aggregate of it in England.
Whence this difference? What is the cause of the general misery of the laboring classes in England, and the general well-being of the same classes in France? They have their roots in the respective systems of landed property in the two countries. To a great extent, they are the result, in the one case, of large, in the other, of small proprietorships. The average size of landed estates in England is eight hundred and eighty acres, while in France it is only twenty acres.
“The profit of the earth is for all” was a Hebrew maxim which grew into a proverb. The monopoly of the soil is a sore evil. It makes the many the slaves of the few. It produces ignorance, improvidence, destitution, turbulence, and crime. It is essential to the progress of man, that he be unshackled, that his faculties have free play. But this can never be, unless the earth be owned by those who till it. Ownership of the soil will give tone to the mind, vigor to the body, and earnestness to industry. As well might one circle an oak with iron bands, and expect it to unfold its majestic proportions, as to cramp the human mind by unequal institutions and an oppressive distribution of land, and then expect a full development of its powers, and a happy state of society. “As the attraction of gravity is the great principle of motion in the material world, so the possession of the earth in fee simple by the cultivator, is the great principle of action in the moral world. Nearly all the political evils, which have afflicted mankind, have resulted from the unrighteous monopoly of the earth; and the predicted renovation can never be accomplished, until, to some extent, this monopoly has passed away, and the earth is extensively tilled by the independent owners of the soil.” Great proprietorships are the scourge of any country. All history attests this truth. The multiplication of farms, and their cultivation by the actual owners, is the dictate of true political wisdom. It is this which peoples the country and even the cities. It is this which elevates the masses. It is this which confers dignity upon the common people. It is this which stimulates industry, quickens genius, and develops the resources of a state. It is this which gives true freedom and independence to a nation. And this, to the broadest extent ever known in practical legislation, was the policy of Moses.
These observations will, perhaps, be sufficient to establish the wisdom of the Hebrew constitution in its partition of the territories of the republic. Let us now see what can be said in regard to the policy of founding a state on agriculture alone. I shall say nothing here of the special design of the Hebrew institution, but shall confine my inquiries to the point of general legislative policy.
It must be confessed, as Michaelis has observed, that the extreme indifference of Moses to foreign and maritime commerce is not a little remarkable. To some of the politicians of our day, this will seem little short of an absurdity. Yet it may be that some erroneous notion lies at the bottom of their wonder. The wealth acquired by Holland and Great Britain, by means of foreign trade, is so striking, that many are apt to imagine that commerce alone is the true source of national prosperity, and that it is the greatest benefit which a legislator can confer upon a people. The mere name commerce fascinates their imagination, and seems almost to incapacitate them for sober reflection and comparison. In the delirium of their golden dreams, they forget that it may prove the ruin of both public and private prosperity, as when too many superfluous commodities are imported, and the nation is thereby plunged into the mire of foreign indebtedness.
A main cause of the overvaluation of commercial as compared with agricultural pursuits, I imagine to be this, that the gains of commerce lie more upon the surface, and are more open to the general observation, while those of agriculture are of a retiring nature, and seldom obtrude themselves on public notice. It will not, therefore, be impertinent to enter somewhat into detail on this point, with the view of showing the superior importance of the cultivation of the earth, as a means of national prosperity, and so of vindicating the wisdom of Moses in founding upon it his civil polity.
Great Britain is the most commercial nation on the globe. Her trade with the United States is nearly twofold that which she carries on with any other country. Yet the entire annual movement of this commerce both ways about equals in value the crop of oats and beans in the former country. The whole foreign commerce of Britain, in pursuit of which she over-spreads the ocean with her fleets, and plants her colonies in the most distant islands, is actually less in value than the annual grass crop of the British Isles. The breadstuffs, annually extracted from our own soil, amount to more than eight hundred million bushels, and their value is triple that of the aggregate exports and imports of the whole country. Our grass crop exceeds in value the whole outward and inward movement of our foreign commerce. The annual Indian corn crop of Tennessee and Kentucky reaches one hundred and twenty million bushels, and is worth as much as all our exports to Great Britain and France. What is not a little remarkable, the corn crop of these two states exactly equals, while the agricultural productions of the single state of New York greatly exceeds in value, the entire cotton crop grown in all the states and territories of this union.
The instability of commercial pursuits, and the greater certainty of the ultimate rewards of agricultural labor, are worthy of consideration here. The prizes in commerce are comparatively few. While one man rises, multitudes sink. The late Mr. Gallatin instituted researches upon this point and arrived at results which seem almost incredible. I have scarcely the courage to repeat them, even under the shelter of such a name. According to this distinguished statesman and philosopher, the fortunate individuals, who attain wealth by trade and commerce, are less than ten percent of the whole number who engage in such pursuits.
The physical and moral influences of agriculture ought not to be overlooked, in estimating the wisdom of a lawgiver, who has seen fit to found his polity upon it. It is the nurse of health, industry, temperance, cheerfulness, and frugality; of simple manners and pure morals; of patriotism and the domestic virtues; and, above all, of that sturdy independence, without which a man is not a man, but the mere slave, or plaything, of his more cunning fellows. Agriculture tends to produce and cherish a spirit of equality and sympathy. Buying and selling are the chief business of cities, the giving and receiving of wages a transaction of hourly occurrence. This produces a collision of interests and feelings, which necessarily begets a spirit of caste, and checks the current of sympathy. But there are comparatively few of these repelling influences in country life. The man who owns fifty acres, and the man who owns a thousand, live side by side, on terms of mutual esteem and friendship. Both, if they are equally entitled to it, have an equal share in the public respect. Both feel and own the bond, that unites them in the cultivation of the earth.
Agriculture begets and strengthens love of country. The heart of the husbandman is bound to the fields, on which he bestows his labor. The soil, which responds to his industry by clothing itself in beauty and riches, has a place in his affections. Especially, the circumstance that his possession has come down to him through a long line of honored ancestors, greatly strengthens the attachment, which he feels both to his home and his country.
The agricultural interest is, in the highest degree, conservative in its nature and action. It is the great antagonist of that mad spirit of radicalism and revolutionary innovation, which is the most terrible enemy of popular institutions. This has long ago been observed by Aristotle. “Husbandry,” he says, “is the best stuff of a commonwealth, such a one being the most devoted to liberty, and the least subject to innovation or turbulence.” The same thing is noticed by Harrington. “Tillage,” he observes, “bringing up a good soldiery, brings up a good commonwealth; for where the owner of the plough comes to have the sword too, he will use it in defence of his own. The plough in the hands of the owner produces the most innocent and steady genius of a commonwealth.”
It is in the scenes and occupations of country life that the mind is most tranquil, sober, and unclouded. It is in such an atmosphere that it can discern most clearly the relations of things and look beyond the events of a day. From amid the deep calm of rural pursuits, free states have drawn many of their most illustrious patriots and civilians. The influence of agriculture, therefore, is rather favorable, than adverse, to those exalted and commanding civil qualities, which form the consummate statesman. A Hebrew farmer was summoned from the quiet of a pastoral life on the distant plains of Midian, to become the founder and lawgiver of a mighty republic. A Roman farmer was called from his plough to the helm of state, at a crisis of imminent peril to his country’s welfare. And an American farmer led the revolutionary armies to victory, and secured for his grateful and admiring countrymen the blessings of liberty, independence, and self-government.
In a word, this great business, the cultivation of the earth, lies, so far as any branch of human industry can be said to lie, at the foundation of all that is important and valuable in civil society. And, as Mr. Webster once said, if it was for his sins that man was condemned to till the ground, it was the most merciful judgment that almighty benignity could have inflicted upon him.
I promised, in considering the expediency of founding a state on agriculture, to confine myself to the point of general legislative policy. Let me recall that promise, so far as just to advert to the more immediate reasons, which may be supposed to have moved Moses to give no encouragement to commerce. They were probably such as these:
1. Commerce would tend to counteract the first and highest principle of his polity, since it would lead the Israelites to contract intimacies with foreign nations, which could hardly fail to draw them into idolatry.
2. It would entice too many citizens to leave their own country and settle in foreign lands, which would weaken the sentiment of patriotism, and at last cause them to forget their relations and their home. The merchant is, in some sense, a citizen of the world, and has no such ties, either of interest or affection, binding him to his native land, as the man who lives upon his hereditary farm.
3. It would introduce luxurious tastes and habits, before the nation was rich enough to bear the expense of their indulgence. Commerce is more apt to be hurtful, than beneficial, in the infancy of a state.
4. Maritime commerce would be likely to stir up enemies, against whom they could not successfully contend, without special divine assistance, which special divine assistance it would be irrational to expect, when engaged in pursuits prejudicial to true religion. It would, in all probability, have embroiled them with the Sidonians and Tyrians, just as, in modern times, we have seen France incurring the irreconcilable enmity of England and Holland, by the establishment of an East India trading company.
5. The vicinity of these two commercial nations, and the constant passage of Asiatic trading caravans to Egypt, secured to the Israelites all the most important advantages of foreign commerce.
I should, however, fail to do justice to the Mosaic legislation, if I were to leave this topic without adverting to one branch of commerce with which no nation can dispense without essential detriment to its prosperity—I mean a domestic trade, carried on between the different parts of the same country. For such an internal commerce, provision was made in the national festivals, whereby thrice every year the entire male population of Palestine was assembled at Jerusalem. Religious conventions of the kind have generally been made subservient to the purposes of commerce. The airs, so common in Germany, originated at public masses, to which the people flocked from every quarter. The holy pilgrimages to Mecca gave a strong impulse to the commerce of Arabia. In a similar way the interest of internal trade were consulted in the institutes of Moses. Yet it was done in such a manner that the carrying of it on could not become a distinct employment, but would merely occupy the weeks of leisure from the toils of agriculture—before the harvest at the feast of the Passover, after harvest at the feast of Pentecost, and on the conclusion of the vintage at the feast of Tabernacles.
As for foreign commerce, to expand a little hint contained in the last paragraph but one, the country of the Hebrews was so situated that they could enjoy its advantages without engaging in it themselves. The Phoenician cities, Tyre and Sidon, were on their borders, ready to supply them with all they wanted in return for their agricultural productions. The rich caravans of the desert continually swept by them, affording them, without expense or hazard to themselves, the benefit of the enterprise of foreign nations. Moses endeavored to make his countrymen content under their vines and fig trees, and to convince them, that in these unambitious cares and labors they would find the most solid prosperity and happiness. And was he not right in this judgment? It is true that his hopes were disappointed. This unaspiring employment was too quiet for his countrymen, when war was the business of the rest of the world. But the event proved the truth of his principles and predictions. Solomon laid Ophir and Tarshish, the East and West Indies of his day, under contribution. He had his harbors in the Mediterranean and the Red Sea. He built Tadmor in the desert, now a marble wilderness, as a station for his caravans. Wealth flowed in through a thousand channels. But as the prophetic eye of Moses had foreseen, and his prophetic voice forewarned, it proved the ruin of his country. It became a golden weight, which ground its free institutions to the dust.
But, although Moses made no laws favoring foreign commerce, his legislation was far from being chargeable with the illiberality of the Greek and Roman laws, or the bigotry of the early canonists. The profession of a shopkeeper was infamous among the Greeks, as it obliged a citizen to wait on a slave or a stranger. This was more than the haughty spirit of Grecian liberty could brook. Hence Plato, in his laws, makes it a criminal offense in a citizen to concern himself with trade, and orders such a one to be punished. The civil law treated commerce as a dishonorable occupation, and forbade the exercise of it to persons of birth, rank, or fortune. The Claudian law forbade the senators to have any ship at sea, which held more than forty bushels. The canon law went farther still, and declared commerce inconsistent with Christianity. At the council of Melfi, under Pope Urban II, in the year 1090, the canonists decreed that it was impossible, with a safe conscience, to exercise the trade of a merchant. The decree was to the effect that a merchant could rarely, if ever, pursue a conduct pleasing to God; that no Christian ought to become a merchant; and that if any of the faithful meddled with merchandise, he should be excluded from the pale of the church.
Universal Industry The Inviolability of Private Property The Sacredness of the Family Relation The Sanctity of Human Life
Again, the Hebrew state was founded on the industry of all the citizens. This was the eleventh of those fundamental principles, which lay at the basis of the constitution.
This idea has been partially developed already, but it was so vital to the Hebrew legislation that it deserves a distinct consideration. We have seen that a leading object of Moses was to make the country of the Hebrews a vast and busy scene of rural industry. Now, the culture of the earth requires a great number and variety of implements, and a soil of but moderate fertility will afford sustenance to a much larger population than is required for its tillage. In these two ideas, behold the germ of an effective system of mechanical industry, and a powerful stimulus to the cultivation and development of mechanical skill.
The lawgiver’s first care was the cultivation of the land, his next to provide that the people might be conveniently and comfortably lodged. He enjoined upon all to labor, that they might not only eat and be satisfied, but that they might also build goodly houses, and dwell therein.1 The counsel of Solomon was but an echo of this Mosaic law: “Prepare thy work without, and make it fit for thyself in the field; and afterwards build thine house.”2
The various objects of necessity, convenience, and luxury enumerated in the sacred books prove to us that industry and the arts were far from being in a depressed state among the Hebrews. They made divers stuffs of wool, cotton, goat’s hair, and, some say, of silk.3
1 Deuteronomy 8:12.
2 Proverbs 24:27.
3 Exodus 39.
The art of dyeing was in use among them, and reached a high perfection. Their principal colors were blue, crimson, purple, and yellow, which were obtained from vegetables, fishes, and minerals. They labored especially to impart a snowy whiteness to their fabrics used for clothing. Rich stuffs, interwoven with threads of gold, and adorned with fringes of variegated colors, presented to the eye designs of various sorts.
In the construction of the tabernacle, we read of fine twined linen, and of broad tapestries, covered with beautiful figures of delicate workmanship, and joined to each other by clasps of gold. The details in Exodus respecting the proportions of the various pieces, which formed the carpentry of this portable temple, and the numerous articles which constituted its furniture, indicate the use of a great number of instruments, proper for dividing and measuring.
Together with the arts of carpentry, founding, and pottery, the Israelites brought from Egypt the art of engraving precious stones, the art of working metals, the art of inlaying in gold, and the art of molding. The curtains of the tabernacle with their ornaments, the ark overlaid with gold, the mercy-seat with its cherubim, the table of showbread with its furniture, the golden candlestick, the veil, the altars of burnt offering and incense, the ephod with its curious girdle, the breastplate with its mysterious urim and thummim, the priestly vestments, and all the other paraphernalia of the royal tent, must have required, for their construction, a high degree of mechanical ingenuity.
In the reign of Solomon the arts shone out in full effulgence. The temple, the royal palaces, their rich furniture, superb gardens, beautiful works in gold and ivory, splendid concerts of vocal and instrumental music, roads multiplied and handsomely paved, towns and fortresses built and repaired, and the great marble city of Palmyra, starting into life like a vision of beauty, attest the encouragement afforded to the arts by that munificent monarch.
The indignant rebuke of the prophet Amos to the rich and luxurious idlers of his day, is a proof both of the progress of Jewish art and of the stern demand for labor, which the Jewish law made upon all. “Woe to them that are at ease in Zion; that lie upon beds of ivory, and stretch themselves upon their couches, and eat the lambs of the flock, and the calves out of the midst of the stall; that chant to the sound of the viol, and invent to themselves instruments of music, like David: that drink wine in bowls, and anoint themselves with the chief ointments; but they are not grieved for the affliction of Joseph.”4
Isaiah, complaining of the luxury of the daughters of Zion, enumerates more than twenty articles of their toilet, all costly or elegant, which are as clear an indication of the state of Jewish art, as they are of the pride and ostentation of the Jewish ladies: “In that day the Lord will take away the bravery of their tinkling ornaments about their feet, and their cauls, and their round tires like the moon, the chains, and the bracelets, and the mufflers, the bonnets, and the ornaments of the legs, and the headbands, and the tablets, and the ear-rings, the rings and the nose jewels, the changeable suits of apparel, and the mantles, and the wimples, and the crisping pins, the glasses and the fine linen, and the hoods and the vails.”5
4 Amos 6:1-6.
5 Isaiah 3:18-23.
At the time of the captivity, artists abounded in Jerusalem. Of ten thousand heads of families, carried to Babylon at the first invasion, one thousand were workmen in wood and in metals. Winkelman, in his his history of art, has made the following observation on this fact: “We are but slightly acquainted with art among the Hebrew people; nevertheless, it must have reached a certain degree of perfection, at least in design and finish. Among the artists whom Nebuchadnezzar carried captive from the single city of Jerusalem, were a thousand, skilled in inlaid work. It would be difficult to find as many in the largest of our modern cities.”
It is sometimes made matter of reproach against the Hebrews, that they left none of those great monuments like the pyramids and temples of Egypt, which struggle successfully against the devastations of time. How little do such persons appreciate the true grandeur of nations! There were not slaves in Palestine to erect such ostentatious structures; and free labor employs itself about things more useful. Voltaire himself takes notice of this fact. He regards the pyramids as a proof of the slavery of the Egyptians, and says that nothing could constrain a free people to rear such masses. The temple, the palace of their heavenly king, is the only monumental edifice, of which the memory has been preserved. This shared the fate of the Jewish people, and, after having served as a fortress in the last efforts of liberty, the nation and the temple fell together.
Since that day the fate of the Jewish people has been one of almost unmingled bitterness. “Scattered and pealed” has been deeply engraved upon its forehead. But they have always displayed much of the energy, activity, and industrious application to business, which distinguished their remote ancestors. This even their worst enemies have been compelled to acknowledge. An old Spanish chronicler, with an ingenuousness which would be amusing, if it did not recall painful memories, says of them: “This portion of humanity was at least good to awaken industry and to pay imposts.”
How far these permanent elements of industry may have been the result of the exact and positive spirit of their ancient law, it is impossible now to trace with distinctness. I do not affirm, but I suggest for reflection, whether the economy, the ability, the tenacity, and the energy of the modern Jews, are not due to some profound cause, which is to be sought in the great principles of their original institution.
Again, the inviolability of private property, and the sacredness of the family relation, are principles which entered essentially into the Hebrew constitution.
It cannot be necessary to adduce, at any length, the proof of this proposition, for no one can open the Pentateuch, without meeting it on every page. The whole scope of the second table of the Decalogue is to guard the institution of the family and the institution of property. The right and the advantage of private property are everywhere assumed by Moses. To facilitate its increase, to regulate its use, and to provide for its distribution are leading objects of his law. In this the Hebrew legislator does but echo a sentiment common to all just and wise lawgivers. A political community could not be organized except upon a basis of individual property and right. This is the only bond, strong enough to hold such an association together. Not even a savage tribe could live together without property. The ownership by each member of the body politic of his tools, arms, clothing, and habitation is essential to the rudest form of civil society. None would be willing to till the ground if others had an equal right with him to gather the harvest.
None would even erect a hut, if his next neighbor might enter and take possession the moment it was finished. If the idle and the industrious, if those who waste and those who save, have the same rights, and are to share alike in the fruits of the earth and the products of labor, then prudence, frugality, thrift, and provision for the future become simple impossibilities. All this is recognized in the legislation of Moses. That legislation has no sympathy with a social theory, which has of late gained some currency in the world—a theory which places activity, industry, ability, and virtue upon the same level with indolence, idleness, incapacity, and vice; a theory which begins by offering a premium for ignorance and incompetency, and which must end in the annihilation of all industry, all emulation, and every opening faculty. Neither has the legislation of Moses any sympathy with another principle, which has a prevalence perhaps still more extensive—I mean the principle of a separation of the pecuniary interests of the husband and wife. The husband and wife are regarded by the Mosaic law as one person, having, as it were, but one soul, one interest, one will. Doubtless the doctrine that the man is the head of the woman and that the property of the latter becomes, as a result of the nuptial tie, part and parcel of that of the former, is sometimes productive of much hardship and suffering; but who that reflects on the frailties and passions of human nature can doubt that the contrary doctrine, adopted and applied as a practical principle of legislation, would be attended with evils far greater, both in number and magnitude?
The spirit of the Mosaic law is opposed to the modern radicalism of woman’s rights; a radicalism, which boldly avows its purpose of “subverting the existing order of society and dissolving the existing social compact.” Moses did not favor the manhood of woman. “Unto the woman he said,…thy desire shall be to thy husband, and he shall rule over thee.”6 Paul interprets this precept, when he says of women, “It is not permitted to them to speak in the churches; but they are commanded to be under obedience, as also saith the law.”7 He speaks in the very spirit of Moses, when he says, “The man is the head of the woman”;8 “wives, submit yourselves unto your own husbands”;9“Adam was first formed, then Eve.”10 Man has a mission and so has woman, to which the wisdom that never errs, has adapted the bodily and mental constitution of each. Man’s mission is to subdue and till the earth, to cultivate the mechanic arts, to make roads and dig canals, to carry on commerce, to encounter the perils and fatigues of war, to institute and administer government, to be the shield of woman in moments of danger and sudden alarm—in a word, to perform the rough business of life, that which requires physical strength and endurance. Woman’s mission, while it has no less of dignity, is very different from this. It is to be the light and joy of the household, to nourish and train the immortal children within its precincts, to mold the whole mass of mind while in its most plastic state, to fill the throne of the heart, to be the priestess in the sanctuary of home, to be the comfort and support of man in seasons of sorrow and of suffering, to move in the realm of ignorance and want, to shine, to cheer, and to bless in all, the varied ministrations of sympathy and love, from the cradle to the grave. What purer, nobler, holier realm can she desire? “The true nobility of woman is to keep her own sphere, and to adorn it.”
6 Genesis 3:16.
7 1 Corinthians 14:34.
8 1 Corinthians 11:3.
9 Ephesians 5:22.
10 1 Timothy 2:13.
Another essential principle of the legislative policy of Moses was the sanctity of human life.
No legislation of antiquity approaches that of the Hebrew lawgiver, in its solicitude to guard the lives of men. The prohibition against killing was one of the ten precepts, which formed what may be called the magna charta of the Hebrew state.11 The crime of murder was punished with death. There was no redemption. It was declared that the land could not be purged of the stains of blood, except by the blood of him who had shed it.12 Even an ox, which had gored a man to death, and, by parity of reason, any other animal, as a goat, a dog, or a horse, that had killed a person by pushing, biting, or kicking, was to be stoned,13 not, indeed, to punish the beast, but the owner, and so to oblige him to be careful in preventing his oxen, dogs, and other domestic animals from injuring his neighbors. The flesh of the goring ox could not be eaten,14 a prohibition which served to keep up a wholesome horror of murder, at the same time that it punished the man by the total loss of his beast. A man who built a house was required to make a battlement, or balustrade, to the roof.15 If he neglected to do this, and a person fell from the roof in consequence, and was killed, the owner of the house brought bloodguiltiness upon himself; he was considered in the light of a murderer.16
11 Exodus 20:13.
12 Numbers 35:33.
13 Exodus 21:28.
15 Deuteronomy 22:8.
A very peculiar statute concerning homicide by an unknown person is recorded in Deuteronomy 21:1-9. This statute will be particularly examined in a subsequent part of this work, and I forbear, therefore, a detail of its provisions at the present time. By consulting the passage, the reader will perceive, that the elders, or magistrates, of the nearest city were obliged to purge themselves and their city of the murder, and make a solemn avowal that they were ignorant of the perpetrator of it. He will perceive also, that, in the absence of the press, nothing could be better fitted than the ceremonies ordained to give publicity to the murder, and to make everyone who had any knowledge of the matter give information concerning it. There can be no doubt that the investigation instituted by the laws of Moses over the body of a person, who had come to his death by means unknown, is the origin of the coroner’s inquest in modern times. No ancient law made such provision for the detection of secret murders as this of Moses. That of Plato, which is regarded as the best, simply ordained that if a man was found dead and the murderer could not be ascertained, proclamation should be made that he should not come into any holy place, nor into any part of the whole country; for if he were discovered and apprehended, he should be put to death, be thrown out of the bounds of the country, and have no burial. These provisions of the Mosaic code to beget an abhorrence of murder, and to guard the lives of the citizens, are very remarkable. They evince a humanity in Moses, unknown to all other ancient legislators. They must have tended, in a high degree, to introduce a horror of shedding human blood, and to give intensity to the idea of the sacredness of human life.
A fifteenth fundamental principle of the Hebrew government was education—the education of the whole body of the people, especially in the knowledge of the constitution, laws, and history of their own country.
An ignorant people cannot be a free people. Intelligence is essential to liberty. No nation is capable of self-government which is not educated to understand and appreciate its responsibilities. In a republican government, the whole power of education is required. Upon this principle Moses proceeded in the framing of his commonwealth.
The details of the arrangements for the education of the Hebrew people, contained in the Pentateuch, are but scanty. We are, therefore, greatly in the dark as to the specific means employed. So far, however, is clear that the Mosaic law required that the greatest pains should be taken to mold the minds, the principles, the habits, and manners of the young. Parents were, again and again, commanded to teach their children, from infancy, all the words of the law, and all the glorious facts of their national history. They were enjoined to talk of them, when they sat in the house, and when they walked by the way, when they lay down, and when they rose up.1 The whole system of legislation was crowded with commemorative rites and festivals. Into the meaning of these, it was taken for granted that the young would inquire, and it was ordained that their curiosity should be satisfied by the explanations of their sires.2 The Passover reminded them of the wonders of the exode; the Pentecost, of the terrific splendors which accompanied the giving of the law; the feast of tabernacles, of the hardships and miraculous supplies of the wilderness; and the monumental heap of stones at Gilgal, of the standing of the waters of Jordan upon a heap, to afford a passage to their forefathers. Even the borders of their garments, their gates, the frontlets between their eyes, and the posts and lintels of their doors, were to become their teachers by the laws and maxims which were inscribed upon them.3
1 Deuteronomy 6:7.
2 Exodus 7:4,15.
3 Deuteronomy 6:8-9.
It is hence plain, that Hebrew parents were required, not only to teach their children orally, but also to impart to them the arts of reading and writing. Since they were commanded to write them, they must themselves have learned the art of writing; and since they were to write them for the use of their children, these must have been taught the art of reading. There is reason to believe that the ability to read and write was an accomplishment more generally possessed by the Hebrews than by any other people of antiquity. This was certainly the case in the time of our Savior. In his addresses to the common people, he constantly appealed to them in such words as these: “Have ye not read what Moses with? Have ye not read in the scriptures?”4 Such language implies an ability, on the part of the people, to examine the scriptures for themselves. The same thing is indicated by a fact, stated by the evangelical historian concerning the inscription placed over the head of Jesus at his crucifixion: “This title then read many of the Jews.”5 The writings of Josephus are crowded with testimonies as to the great care of the Hebrews in the education of their children. He says, among other things, that first of all they are taught the laws, as best fitted to promote their future happiness; that the people weekly assemble to hear them read, and to learn them exactly; and, to crown all, he adds—somewhat hyperbolically, no doubt—that, “if any one do but ask any of our people about our laws, he will more readily tell them all than he will tell his own name.” “We find it to be the uniform testimony of Jewish writers, that the school was to be found in every district throughout the nation, and under the care of teachers, who were honored alike for their character and station.” Maimonides, in his treatise on the study of the law, says, “Every Israelite, whether poor or rich, healthy or sick, old or young, is obliged to study the law; and even if so poor as to be maintained by charity, or beg his bread from door to door, and have wife and children, he must devote some time to the daily and nocturnal meditation of it.” He asks, “How long ought a man to pursue the study of the law?” and replies, “Till death.”
4 Matthew 12:3, 19:4, 21:16, 22:31; Mark 2:25, 12:10,26; Luke 6:3.
5 John 19:20.
An important function of the Levites was to superintend the education of the people. The proofs of this proposition will be submitted in a subsequent chapter. For the present, I merely advert to the fact, in passing, that, in the reformation undertaken by Jehoshaphat, that excellent prince, in the true spirit of the Mosaic institution, commanded the priests to go though the land, and teach the people, city by city, the laws of Moses.6 Several of the leading political principles of Plato, as I have shown in the first book, were borrowed from the Hebrew lawgiver, but in no other point did his republic so closely resemble the Jewish, as in this, that he enjoined it upon all the citizens to learn accurately the laws.
In full harmony with the spirit of the Mosaic laws, and indeed as a natural result of their operation, higher seminaries of learning, under the name of “schools of the prophets,”7 were introduced and established among the Hebrews. These institutions were presided over by men venerable for their age, character, ability and learning. The notices of these schools in the sacred books are rather scanty, and this has given rise to various opinions concerning them. From their name some have conjectured that they were places of instruction in the art of prophecy. This absurd fancy was borrowed by Spinoza from the rabbins, and by him handed down to his followers, whence these sage logicians have inferred that prophecy was among the practical arts of the Hebrews, as much as carpentry or engraving. But of this we may be certain, that the schools of the prophets were seminaries of prophets, meaning by this term inspired men, only insofar as that those who were best instructed in the divine law, being best fitted to convey God’s commands to the people, would, for that reason, be most likely to be chosen by him for that purpose. In opposition to the opinion of Spinoza, Bishop Warburton argues, with no little force, in support of the opinion that they were seminaries designed chiefly for the study of the Jewish law. It is probable, however, that they were not devoted exclusively to that department of study, but embraced within their scope other branches of knowledge, which were reckoned among the pursuits of learning in that day. They corresponded to the colleges and universities of modern times. They must have exercised a powerful influence on the mind and manners of the Jewish people. It was in the schools of the prophets that David imbibed that love for the religious and civil laws of his country, which glowed so intensely in his bosom, which sparkled in his inimitable lyrics, which became so copious a spring of blessing to his nation, and which won for himself the exalted title of the “man after God’s own heart,”8 not morally and religiously, for that no man has ever yet been, but, as the whole scope of the passage shows, the man after God’s heart as a civil ruler, a man imbued with the spirit, and devoted to the maintenance, of the national constitution.
6 2 Chronicles 17:8-9.
7 1 Samuel 19:18; 2 Kings 2:3,5.
8 1 Samuel 13:14.
There was a peculiarity in the Mosaic system of education which deserves our notice. It did not overlook the fact that every man has what Dr. Arnold calls two businesses—his particular business, as of a farmer, merchant, lawyer, or the like; and his general business, that which he shares in common with all his fellow citizens, his business as a man and a citizen. Most modern systems of education take but little notice of this distinction. They go upon the presumption that, if a man learns his particular business well, a knowledge of his general business will come of itself, or be picked up by the way. Not such was the view of Moses. He seems rather to have thought that every man would be impelled to make himself master of his particular business, since his bread depended on it; but that the knowledge of his general business, the want of which is less keenly felt, would be a more fit subject of legal provision. He intended that all his people should share in the management of the public affairs. He meant each to be a depository of political power. But he looked upon power as a solemn trust, and thought it incumbent on a legislator to take care that those who hold it would know how to discharge its duties. Hence, in legislating on the subject of education, he appears chiefly anxious to have his people instructed in the knowledge of their general business, that is, their duties as men and citizens. He belonged neither to that class of political philosophers who desire to see the mass of the people shut out from all political power, as always and under all circumstances unfit to exercise it, nor to that class who wish to see the power of the masses increased, irrespective of their ability to discharge so important a trust beneficially to the community. In his educational scheme, power and knowledge went hand in hand. The possession of the latter was regarded as essential to the right use of the former.
The old Romans have received the highest praises, because, conscious of the importance of imparting to the rising generation an early knowledge of the laws, they made the twelve tables one of the first elements of public instruction, requiring the youth to commit to memory their entire contents. They were sensible that what is learned at so early a period is not only likely to a long remembered, but is almost sure to command respect and veneration. But Moses gave a broader application to this principle than it ever received among the Roman people. The education enjoined by Moses was not, as among them, merely of the children of the highborn and the rich, but of all ranks and conditions. It was a fundamental maxim of his policy that no citizen, not even the lowest and the poorest, should grow up in ignorance. How much does he deserve the gratitude of mankind for so noble a lesson! In proportion as this idea enters into the constitution of a state, tyranny will hide its head; practical equality will be established; party strife will abate its ferocity; error, rashness, and folly will disappear; and an enlightened, dignified, and venerable public opinion will bear sway.
Upon the whole, it may be affirmed that in no part of the Hebrew constitution does the wisdom of the lawgiver shine with a more genial luster than in what relates to the education of the young. The provisions of the constitution on this point cannot be regarded otherwise than as the dictate of a wise, liberal, and comprehensive statesmanship; for, surely, it is in the highest degree desirable that every citizen should be acquainted with the laws and constitution of his country. Patriotism itself is but a blind impulse, if it is not founded on a knowledge of the blessings we are called upon to secure, and the privileges which we propose to defend. It is political ignorance alone that can reconcile men to the tame surrender of their rights; it is political knowledge alone that can rear an effectual barrier against the encroachments of arbitrary power and lawless violence.
In full accordance with the spirit of the Mosaic Legislation, is the beautiful prayer of David “that our sons may be as plants grown up in their youth; that our daughters may be as corner-stones, polished after the similitude of a palace.” Such was the political philosophy of the founder of the Hebrew state, and such was the practice of those statesmen in after times, who adhered most closely to the spirit of his institutions. From a survey of the whole matter, the conclusion seems warranted that the education of the Hebrew people, conducted mainly, though not wholly, under the domestic roof, was, nevertheless, a national education, and worthy of the imitation of other nations.
Especially does it deserve to be studied and copied, so far as that branch of education is concerned, which consists in development, as distinguished from instruction. The Hebrew law required an early, constant, vigorous, and efficient training of the disposition, judgment, manners, and habits both of thought and feeling. The sentiments held to be appropriate to man in society were imbibed with the milk of infancy. The manners considered becoming in adults were sedulously imparted in childhood. The habits regarded as conducive to individual advancement, social happiness, and national repose and prosperity, were cultivated with the utmost diligence. The greatest pains were taken to acquaint the Hebrew youth with their duties, as well as their rights, both personal and political. In a word, the main channel of thought and feeling for each generation was marked out by the generation which preceded it, and the stream for the most part flowed with a steady current.
Such a system of mental and moral culture as that for which the Hebrew constitution made provision could not be without rich fruits. The result was that the nation reached a high point of literary attainment and distinction. Under their most splendid and munificent monarch, the Hebrews enjoyed what may be called the golden age of their literature. “Solomon and his court were, in their day, the great center of attraction for those of all nations, who loved and honored knowledge. His wisdom excelled all the wisdom of the east country, and all the wisdom of Egypt. He spake of trees, from the cedar in Lebanon even unto the hyssop that springeth out of the wall; he spake also of beasts, and of fowl, and of creeping things, and of fishes. His songs were a thousand and five, and his proverbs three thousand. And while he excelled in the wide fields of natural science, poetry, and ethics, the temple, which still bears his name, stood before the world a monument of skill and taste, which rendered it in after ages the original model of grace, majesty, and grandeur in architecture. Such gifted luminaries in the intellectual world do not shine alone. They usually belong to a constellation, and the king who sets such an example, is not likely to be without followers. There was, indeed, one cardinal feature in the Hebrew polity, which was pre-eminently favorable, at all times, to the cultivation of knowledge. By divine appointment the whole tribe of Levi was set apart for the service of religion and letters; and while many were employed before the altar and in the temple, others were devoted to study; many of whom, especially in the reign of Solomon, reached a high name both for their attainments in the science of their age, and the fidelity with which they made their learning available for the benefit of the people. Thus was produced that happy conjunction in the history of knowledge, when learning bestowed honor on the learned, and the learned brought honor on learning; when the highest attainments were deemed of value, not according as they gave distinction to him who had reached them, but according as they tended to improve and to bless the whole family of man. Among the Hebrews there was no monopoly of knowledge by a favored few. Intelligence was general in the degree and of the kind adapted to the various pursuits and duties of those among whom it was spread. The tongue and pen of even learned royalty were industriously employed in giving to knowledge that condensed and practical form, which might bring it within the reach of all, and make it available for the advantage of all; of the shepherd and vinedresser, as well as of the sons of the prophets.”
Social Union Balance of Powers Enlightened Public Opinion
Another of those great ideas, ova which Moses founded the Hebrew government, was union.
I refer here, not so much to those civil ties which bound the people together in one body politic, as to that oneness of hearts, opinions, and manners, which forms the strongest bond of society, and is the firmest rampart of its defense. This sympathy of souls, and the interchange of social charities springing from it, though not the primary object, was yet an excellent incidental advantage, of the equal distribution of property, heretofore noticed. The nation was thus composed of a brotherhood of hardy yeomen, no one of whom could become either very rich or very poor, or could have anything in his outward circumstances greatly to excite the envy or the contempt of the others. How well suited such a condition of things was to make solid friendships, let the opinions of all antiquity, from Aristotle to Cicero, as well as those of every succeeding age, attest.
The system of education, in vogue among the Hebrew people, tended powerfully to the same result. To this cause Josephus, with much plausibility, traces that unanimity of sentiment concerning God and morals, which, he says, so remarkably distinguished his nation that even the women and servants spake the same things.
To the same effect was the incessant inculcation of kindness and charity, not only towards one another, but also to strangers, enforced by the oft repeated admonition, “Ye know the heart of a stranger, for ye were strangers in the land of Egypt.”1 “If,” says the venerable patriarch, whose history, there is reason to believe, Moses introduced to the knowledge of his countrymen, if he was not himself the author of it, “if I have withheld the poor from their desire, or have caused the eyes of the widow to fail; if I have eaten my morsel alone, and the fatherless have not eaten thereof; if I have seen any perish for want of clothing, or any poor without covering; if I did despise the cause of my man-servant or my maid-servant, when they contended with me; what then shall I do when God riseth up; and when he visiteth, what shall I answer him? Did not he that made me in the womb, make him? and did not one fashion us?”2 How beautifully does this acknowledgment of brotherhood with paupers and bondmen, from one of the most illustrious princes of his age, and this warm gush of charity towards every creature, wearing the human form, and crushed beneath the burden of human sorrows, contrast with that utter want of sympathy for man as man, which characterized all the ancient systems both of government and philosophy! The “odi profanum vulgus et arceo” of Horace—that bitter scorn and supercilious contempt of the profane herd—was but the echo of a mode of thinking and feeling well-nigh universal among the learned and the great of his day. Much of Greek, and nearly all of Roman letters, breathes a proud oblivion and contempt of the common people. The scornful sentiment of the Roman poet, cited above, “hate for the profane rabble,” is but too faithfully reflected from the pages of ancient scholarship.
1 Exodus 23:9.
2 Job 31:13 seqq.
But, after all, the great and sufficient means of cementing the bond of sympathy and friendship among the Hebrews, were the three annual festivals, at which the males must, and the females might, assemble at Jerusalem. The divine wisdom has a reach, a compass, a manifold fulness in its plans, which the shortsighted policy of man would in vain labor to imitate. Thus it was in the institution of these solemnities. While the primary end of their appointment was of a religious nature, another and a most important one was the promotion of that fraternal esteem and charity, so congenial both the character of Moses and the temper of his laws. This was the opinion of Maimonides. “The festival days,” says he, “were appointed generally for purposes of joy, and because such public assemblies promote that union and affection, which are necessarily required under all civil and political governments.”
From a similar motive sprang the national games of Greece, so celebrated in ancient story, and the institution of those assemblies has ever been looked upon as a master stroke of policy and prudence. The Greek nation, as observed by Goguet, composed of a multitude of small states, jealous and envious of each other, had need of some common center, where all might occasionally find themselves united and commingled. This is precisely what happened in these games, whither repaired an incredible number of spectators from all parts of Greece. By this concourse was formed a bond of correspondence, a sort of confraternity, among all the citizens of the different Grecian cities. the Greeks, at these times, appeared to be, in a manner, inhabitants of the same place; they offered in common the same sacrifices to the same deities, and participated in the same pleasures. By this means grudges were calmed, animosities stifled, and quarrels terminated. They had also an opportunity, in these grand assemblages, of effacing those prejudices, which are commonly kept up only by not knowing the persons against whom they are entertained.
Whatever advantages of this nature Greece derived from the institution of her games, the same flowed, in a still higher degree, to the Hebrews from their national festivals. By being thus brought frequently into contact, on an equal footing, they were reminded of their common origin and their common objects. The fact was brought home vividly to their thoughts, that they were sons of the same father, worshippers of the same God, and heirs of the same promises. Persons of distant towns and different tribes met together on terms of brotherhood and fellowship, and old relations were renewed and new ones formed. Thus the twelve petty states would become more and more closely connected, and would be, not merely nominally, but really, and from social love, united into one great people.
How strong the cementing power of these solemn convocations was actually found to be, plainly appears, in the motive which prompted the politic and crafty Jereboam, on the revolt of the ten tribes from the successor of Solomon, to set up the golden calves at Dan and Bethel: “Jeroboam said in his heart, Now shall the kingdom return to the house of David. If this people go up to do sacrifice in the house of the Lord at Jerusalem, then shall the heart of this people turn again to their Lord, even unto Rehoboam, king of Judah, and they shall kill me, and go again unto Rehoboam, king of Judah.”3
Here we have a clear proof, that the separation of the ten tribes from the tribe of Judah, under Rehoboam and Jeroboam, could not have been permanent, had not the latter abrogated one part of the law of Moses relative to the festivals. This shows, in a very striking manner, how naturally one common place for national festivals has the effect of preventing, or healing, any such political breaches; and that the legislator who should be desirous of inseparably uniting twelve small states into one great nation, could not adopt a more effectual plan for that purpose than that which Moses pursued in the case of the tribes of Israel.
3 1 Kings 2:26-27.
To bring the illustration of this point somewhat more closely to ourselves, what is it, let me ask, that constitutes the strongest bond of union between the people and states of our own confederacy? Is it a common ancestry? Is it the property we all claim in the public annals of the country? Is it the cementing power of our revolutionary struggle? Is it even our national constitution, that precious legacy, bequeathed to us by the wisdom of our patriot sires? These things, doubtless, have their influence, nor is it a feeble one; but not one, nor all of them combined, are adequate to the result. What, then, is that mysterious, cohesive power which holds us together, and which alone can hold us together, as one people? It is our migratory habits. It is our universal fondness for travel. It is the fact that each of us has a parent, a child, a brother, a sister, in the distant North, the extreme South, the far-off West. It is the certainty that none of us can find ourselves in a railway car, or steamboat, on any of the iron roads or majestic rivers of this broad empire, without meeting or making an acquaintance or a friend. It is the cheap postage system, which enables heart to speak to heart, between the most distant points, without taxing even the poor with an expenditure out of proportion to their means. It is the magnetic telegraph, which transmits the messages of business and of affection, with lightning rapidity, from one extremity of the country to the other. It is our numerous watering places, where the inhabitants of the North, the South, the East, and the West find themselves once a year, like the ancient Greeks at their games, and like the ancient Hebrews at their festivals, united and commingled, sitting at the same table, bathing in the same waters, drinking at the same springs, inhaling health from the same breezes, engaging in the same sports, mingling in the same social circles, and joining in the song and the joke and the laugh together. It is these influences, and such as these, that bind us more firmly as a people into one common brotherhood than would a cordon of paper constitutions long enough to encircle the globe.
A well adjusted system of checks and balances between the several powers of government was another fundamental principle of the civil polity of Moses.
To form a free government, it is necessary to combine the several powers of it, to admit them to each other, to regulate, temper, and set them in motion, to give, as Montesquieu expresses it, ballast to one, in order to enable it to resist another. This is a masterpiece of legislation never produced by hazard, and seldom attained by prudence. It is exactly here that the point of greatest difficulty with a legislator lies. This will afford scope for the exercise of all his genius, however comprehensive, sagacious, and commanding it may be.
It is here that we see the proudest triumph of the British and American constitutions. Here also, as it seems to me, is the chief defect of the constitution of the new French republic. There is no division of powers in it. There is no balance, no check. All the authority of the state is collected into one center, the single assembly; and the constant tendency will be to a similar centralization of power in that body. It will be well if the system does not degenerate into the government of an irresponsible junto of master spirits, or even into the despotism of one man, bold enough and popular enough to seize the reins of supreme power.
Unfortunately, history is but too full of proofs that restless and ambitious spirits, who do not hesitate to seek personal aggrandizement, in the confusion, if not the ruin, of their country, are the growth of all ages and nations. It is well observed by Lowman that there are two principal methods of preventing the evils of ambition, viz. either to take away the usual occasions of ambitious views, or else to make the execution of them difficult and improbable.
The Hebrew constitution, it may be boldly affirmed, made both these provisions, in a manner equal, if not superior, to any known constitution of government in the world. Its very foundation, as we have seen, was laid in a rigid equality of all the citizens, effected by a perfectly equal division of the national domain, which division, moreover, a fundamental ordinance of the constitution made perpetual. Such then was the peculiar character of the agrarian of the Hebrews, that, on the one hand, few could acquire the means of bribery to any considerable extent, and, on the other, there could hardly, at any one time, be many indigent persons to be corrupted. The power in the hands of so large a number of freeholders was so much greater than the power in the hands of one, or of a few men, that it is impossible to conceive how, without first destroying some of the fundamental provisions of the constitution, ambition and tyranny could accomplish their nefarious designs.
But, besides cutting off the usual occasions and incitements to ambition, the constitution made all factious attempts so little likely to succeed, as to be next to impracticable. The powers of each department of the government, as will more clearly appear from our analysis of the constitution in the following chapters, were so balanced by the powers of the other departments, that, without the concurrence of all, it was well-nigh impossible for any one part to draw to itself any considerable preponderance of authority over the others. The authority of the judge was checked by that of the senate of princes; the power of the senatorial council was balanced by that of the judge and the popular assembly; while the whole was tempered and restrained by the oracle of their heavenly king. Whoever will attentively consider the true plan and arrangement of the government, will acknowledge that it must have been exceedingly hard, if not absolutely impracticable, for any person, tribe, magistrate, or public council, to invade the property of the citizens or overturn the liberties of the state.
But it has been repeatedly charged against the institutes of Moses that they were purposely contrived to draw all the wealth and power of the nation into the hands of the Levites, and that, therefore, the chief danger to the popular liberty arose out of the institution of that tribe. Never was so malignant an accusation raised upon so slender a foundation. On the contrary, the organization and disposition of the tribe of Levi was contrived with consummate wisdom, both to impart a vital action to the whole system, and, at the same time, to act as a balance wheel to regulate its motions.
Let us sift a little the charge against this part of the constitution, and see to what it amounts.
There are two principal sources of political, as of personal, power—knowledge and property. It is undeniable that the Levites were the scholars of the nation; and it is readily granted, that, if to this advantage they had united an independent government, such as the other tribes enjoyed, and an equal possession of territory, there would have been a continual and dangerous tendency to the accumulation of property and power in their hands. But Moses committed no such capital mistake as such an organization would argue. His constitution, at one blow, deprived the Levites of a united and independent government, and rendered them incapable of holding landed property. According to an ancient prophecy of their great progenitor, they were “divided in Jacob and scattered in Israel.” They were distributed into cities, allotted to them throughout the territories of all the other twelve tribes. By this arrangement both the estates and the persons of the Levites were given into the hands of the remaining tribes, as so many hostages for their good behavior. They were so separated from each other that it was impossible for them to form any dangerous combinations among themselves or to afford mutual assistance in the execution of any ambitious projects. Upon suspicion of any factious attempts on their part, it was in the power of the other tribes, not only to put a stop to their whole livelihood, but also to seize upon all their persons at once. Hence it may be perceived, that, whatever influence the constitution conferred upon the Levites to do good, the same constitution took away from them all power to endanger the peace or the liberties of their country. Never, certainly, did any other constitution watch, with such eagle-eyed jealousy, to preserve the people from the dangers of ill-balanced power, or guard the public liberty with so many and so admirably contrived defenses against the projects of factious and restless ambition. Most justly does Lowman take notice how much these provisions of the Hebrew government to prevent the occasions of faction excel all the constitutions of the famed Spartan lawgiver for the same purpose, so much celebrated by Grecian authors. Nor would they, he adds, have missed their praise, had they been published by a Lycurgus, a Solon, a Numa, or, indeed, by any body but Moses. The more we examine into the Mosaic plan of government, and the more reflection we bestow upon it, the more shall we be convinced of the admirable equilibrium of its powers, and the more shall we feel its fitness for the efficient preservation of the public liberty.
The necessity of an enlightened, virtuous, salutary public opinion, is the last of those great ideas, which I shall notice as lying at the basis of the Hebrew constitution.
Public opinion is an instrument of mighty power, and it is nonetheless powerful because its operation is silent and unperceived. It is a great and pervading principle of action among men. No human being is beyond the reach of its influence. The despot moderates his tyranny in obedience to its mandates. The legislator respects its authority in making laws. The politician seeks to turn it to account in promoting his schemes of personal advancement. A disregard of it cost Charles I of England his head, and drove Charles X of France from his throne.
Ignorance or contempt of it has prostrated monarchs, overthrown governments, and drenched the plains of Europe and America in fraternal blood. Yet how benign it may be made in its operation and effects!—not like those destructive engines, with which the walls of hostile cities are battered down, but like those happier contrivances, by which the waters of rivers are diverted from their channels and conveyed to the orchards, gardens, and cornfields of the neighboring valleys, which thus become indebted to them for their fertility and their beauty, for the riches which reward the husbandman’s toils, and the bloom and fragrance which regale his senses. Public opinion is “the empire of mind instead of brute force, and will always prevail, when intelligence is generally diffused, and thought is free and untrammeled. Mere statute law is comparatively powerless, if public opinion is against it. Civil liberty, too, even if acquired today, may be lost tomorrow, unless there is accompanying it a sound public opinion, growing out of general intelligence, and an elevated tone of moral sentiment among the mass of the people. Hence the great importance of those regulations in a community, which tend to improve the standard of public sentiment.” No legislator ever understood this principle better than Moses, and none ever applied it with a wiser forecast. Undoubtedly the most efficient means employed by him to form a just, pure, wise, and vigorous public opinion was the system of education, which he established among the people and which has been already described. But Moses introduced into his code many other regulations, which had a strong tendency to that end, even if such was not their primary intention. Let the reader consult Exodus 22:21-24; Deuteronomy 24:6,10,19-22; Exodus 23:4, Deuteronomy 22:6, 24:14; Leviticus 19:32; and Exodus 23:1. Dr. Spring takes notice of the precepts here referred to, and denominates them great moral axioms, designed to form the moral sensibilities of the Hebrews by a standard refined and honorable, to guard them against unnatural obduracy, and to be a sort of standing appeal to the tenderness and honor of men in all their mutual intercourse. Dr. Matthews speaks of them as “statutes by which the national mind in the Hebrew commonwealth was trained to a high standard of public sentiment, imparting to all classes a sensibility to the proprieties of life, and a spontaneous regard to its relative duties, which, in some degree, render a people a law unto themselves. To produce and perpetuate such a governing power, the power of opinion, is the very essence of wise legislation; and, in proportion to its strength and prevalence among a people, will the foundations of civil freedom be strong and enduring.” This was the steady aim and successful endeavor of the Jewish lawgiver.
Such, then, as I conceive, were the great ideas, the fundamental principles, which lay at the basis of the Hebrew state. The unity of God; the unity of the nation; civil liberty; political equality; an elective magistracy; the sovereignty of the people; the responsibility of public officers to their constituents; a prompt, cheap, and impartial administration of justice; peace and friendship with other nations; agriculture; universal industry; the inviolability of private property; the sacredness of the family relation; the sanctity of human life; universal education; social union; a well adjusted balance of powers; and an enlightened, dignified, venerable public opinion, were the vital elements of the constitution of Moses. What better basis of civil polity, what nobler maxims of political wisdom, does the nineteenth century offer to our contemplation, despite its boast of social progress and reform? The institutions founded on these maxims, tower up, amid the barbaric darkness and despotisms of antiquity, the great beacon light of the world, diffusing the radiance of a political philosophy full of truth and wisdom, over all the ages, which have succeeded that in which they were first promulgated to mankind.
End of Section I