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laws are interesting to every member of the community : and more especially to those whose personal insignificance leaves them no encouragement, but what they derive from the general spirit of the government under which they live.
It is evident, therefore, that the most important branch of political science is that which has for its object to ascertain the philosophical principles of jurisprudence; or (as Mr Smith expresses it) to ascertain “ the general principles which
ought to run through and be the foundation of the laws of • all nations *.” In countries where the prejudices of the people are widely at variance with these principles, the political liberty which the constitution bestows, only furnishes them with the means of accomplishing their own ruin : And if it were possible to suppose these principles completely realized in any system of laws, the people would have little reason to complain, that they were not immediately instrumental in their enactment. The only infallible criterion of the excellence of any constitution is to be found in the detail of its municipal code; and the value which wise men set on political freedom, arises chiefly from the facility it is supposed to afford, for the introduction of those legislative improvements which the general interests of the community recommend.- I cannot help adding, that the capacity of a people
* See the conclusion of his Theory of Moral Sentiments.
to exercise political rights with utility to themselves and to their country, presupposes a diffusion of knowledge and of good morals, which can only result from the previous operation of laws favourable to industry, to order, and to freedom,
Of the truth of these remarks, enlightened politicians seem now to be in general convinced; for the most celebrated works which have been produced in the different countries of Europe, during the last thirty years, by Smith, Quesnai, Turgot, Campomanes, Beccaria, and others, have aimed at the improvement of society,—not by delineating plans of new constitutions, but by enlightening the policy of actual legislators. Such speculations, while they are more essentially and more extensively useful than any others, have no tendency to unhinge established institutions, or to inflame the passions of the multitude. The improvements they recommend are to be effected by means too gradual and slow in their operation, to warm the imaginations of any but of the speculative few; and in proportion as they are adopted; they consolidate the political fabric, and enlarge the basis upon which it rests.
To direct the policy of nations with respect to one most important class of its laws, those which form its system of political economy, is the great aim of Mr Smith's Inquiry :
« Finis et scopus
And he has unquestionably had the merit of presenting to the world, the most comprehensive and perfect work that has yet appeared, on the general principles of any branch of legislation. The example which he has set will be followed, it is to be hoped, in due time, by other writers, for whom the internal policy of states furnishes many other subjects of discussion no less curious and interesting ; and may accelerate the progress of that science which Lord Bacon has so well described in the following passage :
quem leges intueri, atque ad quem jussiones et sanctiones suas dirigere debent, non alius est, quam ut cives feliciter
degant; id fiet, si pietate et religione recte instituti ; mo“ ribus honesti; armis adversus hostes externos tuti; legum “ auxilio adversus seditiones et privatas injurias muniti ; im
perio et magistratibus obsequentes; copiis et opibus locu
pletes et florentes fuerint.Certe cognitio ista ad viros “ civiles proprie spectat; qui optime nôrunt, quid ferat so“ cietas humana, quid salus populi, quid æquitas naturalis,
quid gentium mores, quid rerumpublicarum formæ diver
sæ: ideoque possint de legibus, ex principiis et præceptis “ tam æquitatis naturalis, quain politices decernere. Quam“ obrem id nunc agatur, ut fontes justitiæ et utilitatis pub“ licæ petantur, et in singulis juris partibus character qui“ dam et idea justi exhibeatur, ad quam particularium reg
norum et rerumpublicarum leges probare, atque inde emen“ dationem moliri, quisque, cui hoc cordi erit et curæ, possit.”
The enumeration contained in the foregoing passage, of the different objects of law, coincides very nearly with that given by Mr Smith in the conclusion of his Theory of Moral Sentiments; and the precise aim of the political speculations which he then announced, and of which he afterwards published so valuable a part in his Wealth of Nations, was to ascertain the general principles of justice and of expediency, which ought to guide the institutions of legislators on these important articles ;—in the words of Lord Bacon, to ascertain those leges legum, ex quibus informatio peti possit,
quid in singulis legibus bene aut perperam positum aut * constitutum sit.”
The branch of legislation which Mr Smith has made choice of as the subject of his work, naturally leads me to remark a very striking contrast between the spirit of ancient and of modern policy in respect to the Wealth of Nations *. The great object of the former was to counteract the love of money and a taste for luxury, by positive institutions; and to maintain in the great body of the people, habits of frugality, and a severity of manners. The decline of states is uniformly ascribed by the philosophers and historians, both of Greece and Rome, to the influence of riches on national character; and the laws of Lycurgus, which, during a course of ages, banished the precious metals from Sparta, are proposed by many of them as the most perfect model of legislation devised by human wisdom.—How opposite to this is the doctrine of modern politicians ! Far from considering poverty as an advantage to a state, their great aim is to open new sources of national opulence, and to animate the activity of all classes of the people, by a taste for the comforts and accommodations of life.
* Science de la Legislation, par le Chev. Filangieri, Liv, i. chap. 13.
One principal cause of this difference between the spirit of ancient and of modern policy, may be found in the difference between the sources of national wealth in ancient and in modern times. In ages when commerce and manufactures were yet in their infancy, and among states constituted like most of the ancient republics, a sudden influx of riches from abroad was justly dreaded as an evil, alarming to the morals, to the industry, and to the freedom of a people. So different, however, is the case at present, that the most wealthy nations are those where the people are the most laborious, and where they enjoy the greatest degree of liberty. Nay, it was the general diffusion of wealth among the lower orders of men, which first gave birth to the spirit of independence in modern Europe, and which has produced under some of its governments, and especially under our own, a inore equal diffusion of freedom and of happiness than took place under the most celebrated constitutions of antiquity.