FOR THE PORT FOLIO.
"Some persons are apt to suppose that the older the world grows, the more enlightened it becomes; and consequently that doctrines contrary to the sentiments of the wisest ancients, may be maintained with peculiar propriety and merit praise. Whether those innovations, in science in cases where the merits of both sides of the question are nearly balanced are or are not proper, I shall not determine--but when the arguments against a change are stronger than those in favour of it, common sense tells us in what manner we are to decide. Those doctrines which are sanctioned with the approbation and support of the most learned men--which for ages have been regarded as genuine, and upon which, have been effected revolutions, and governments established, are entitled to some degree veneration. We should not reject them as spurious, without very forcible reasons. We should impartially and attentively investigate the subject--consider the established doctrine--view the intended change, examine authors on the subject and submit to be guided by reason. The
result of this enquiry must doubtless be right--or one at least, with which we may rest satisfied.
"The state of nature and natural rights has latterly been treated by a writer in your paper as mere chnnseras--as things that never had any existence but in the brains of philosophers. Such a thing as a right in a state of nature appears to him contrary to reason--what, in fact, never existed.
"To establish his doctrine, so inconsistent with the received opinion of philosophers for centuries past--philosophers celebrated for correctness of sentiment and depth of reason--a few arguments are produced--arguments of such a nature as will not perhaps carry conviction to every mind. But as these new assertions are deemed self-evident, it is not surprising he is so frugal with his reasons. The only argument, indeed, produced, to shew the non-existence of natural rights, is the invalidity of a person, pleading those rights against his fellow-brutes (as the author expresses himself) when they attempt to offer him violence. This surely, is strange reasoning, that men in a state of nature, have no rights, because when unjustly attacked--pleading them, would be useless. It would be a very fortunate circumstance, in civil society if by pleading
our rights, when attacked by a robber, or murderer, we could escape unhurt--murders and robberies would if this were the case, exist only in name. Happy, indeed, would be our lot. Universal experience, proves however the inefficacy of such a plea, and few if any make use of it. But does it follow from this, we have no right to our lives and property. You might with as much propriety answer in the negative, in this case as in the other. Though asserting those rights when assaulted is ineffectual--yet this does not lessen the wrong, which the killing, or restraining a man without a legal cause, in a state of nature certainly is--there could be no wrong committed, unless a right existed--a right must exist somewhere, and that must be in the injured
"In what state of society are the savage inhabitants of many parts of the world? have they any positive laws to regulate their intercourse--does any political government among them? if not they clearly do not Under the denomination of civilized. But does It follow that because they are not civilized--they are in no state whatever--most certainly not--That state, which in the history of man is previous to his entering into civil government, is termed by philosophers natural--a state nature--the lot of all mankind till the introduction of positive law. This is the name it has received, and which expresses clearly the idea it represents. Such a state does not exclude the idea of imperfect union and mutual dependency--the Indians of North America are a proof of this, still they are in a state of nature in the same manner as flocks of birds, and herds of wild cattle. That men in this state have no rights, appears a very strange proposition. One would have thought that Mr. Locke had long since proved the absurdity of the idea, and that from his time none would attempt to maintain it--but mirabile dictu the attempt has again been made--and a system produced in which the non-existence of natural rights forms a main pillar. Rights acquired by entering into society, are talked of but not a word said of the rights, resigned or those, previously possessed--What do the constitutions of every state in the union declare? Whether has not man in a state of nature as good and indubitable a right to his life as under a form of civil government--and would not a person depriving him of it, commit in the eye of God, a sin as highly henious as if it had been perpetrated in civil society? an to these questions will decide the point. By what kind of right does a man enjoy his his Limbs--his liberty--the elements, air, water, and light--surely not by an adventitious one--it must be then by a natural right--or in oher words by the gift of God."
[THE PORT FOLIO ENLARGED. BY OLIVER OLDSCHOOL, ESQ. "VARIOUS, THAT THE MIND OF DESULTORY MAN, STUDIOUS OF CHANGE, AND PLEAS'D WITH NOVELTY, MAY BE INDULGED." COWPER. VOL. II.] PHILADELPHIA, SATURDAY, JANUARY 15, 1803. [No. 52. Pg. 409-10]