Imágenes de páginas

chine to men of political intrigue or mere worldly policy. Christians are to use their talents of every kind, their time, their influence, their property, their suffrage, under a solemn sense of their res. ponsibility to God and man. They may not be able to do all they wish; but each may do something: and even if that something should be little, it will not lose the approbation of Him who said of one whose affection was greater than her opportunities, " She hath done what she could."

Nor is there any reason for despondency. Taking the reform acts at the estimate of their greatest opposers, they are acknowledged on all sides to allow of larger scope for the expression of the public voice than formerly; so that if the large majority of respectable householders be what they ought to be, there is a vast field for the exercise of sound principle; and if not, there is the greater cause that those who are guided by the word of God should be the more strenuous in exerting themselves to enlighten and influence their neighbours. In the ease of a nomination borough, the voice of the public could have scarcely any influence; it was a mere matter of personal preference, good or bud, as might happen: but where the election is vested in the majority of householders, there is no individual among thein who has not a serious duty to discharge, and who may not by possibility in some degree influence the election. The number of faithful, zealous, Christian men in this country, however overlooked amidst secular strifes, is not small; there is no town, and scarcely perhaps a village, where there is not a sufficient number of such persons to exercise some degree, and often a considerable degree, of influence, provided they will abandon narrow sectarian and interested objects, and unite only for the real good of all. Even an individual is not powerless; he may pray in secret; he may converse with his neighbours; he may endeavour to raise the tone of right feeling around him ; he may in wisdom and meekness assign his reasons for his choice, and, in a spirit uninfluenced by partisanship, throw his weight, be it little or much, into the right scale. Where several individuals thus act, their efforts will not be wholly lost; even if they gain not their immediate purpose, they will at least commend themselves to every man's conscience in the sight of God, and their testimony, if they have nothing else to offer, will strengthen the side of truth.

We have suggested these remarks, because it is often asked by well meaning persons, " What can I do? How can I oppose the torrent of wickedness mid iniquity, whieh carries away every thing around me? My voice is feeble, my arm is powerless." Even were this true, it would afford no exemption from the discharge of the obligation we owe to God

and our neighbour, as members of civil society j duty being ours, and the result with an all-wise Providence. But we do not believe that the issue would be as powerless as many think; almost every scheme of public benefit, every thing nationally effected in the cause of truth and righteousness, has resulted from efforts which at first appeared weak, isolated, and unavailing; but the good cause gathered strength, till the leaven leavened the whole lump, and statesmen confirmed what Christians or philanthropists projected. Look, within the memory of all of us, at the abolition of the slave trade, the opening of India to religious instruction, the melioration of our criminal code, prison discipline, church-building, the fast approaching extinction of colonial slavery, and even parliamentary reform itself, as examples of what may be effected in a course of years amidst every obstacle, and by means which at first appeared wholly inadequate to the object. But Christians are too often cowardly, shamefaced, unwilling to confess Christ before men, or to bear the brunt of the battle where they seem to stand almost alone; and thus, from indolence or despair, much is lost that might, by the blessing of God, have been secured by timely and diligent exertion.

These remarks will not have been penned in rain, if they shall only incite any one of our readers, who may for the first time have come into possession of the elective franchise, to consider seriously how he may use his little influence aright, rather than either'waste it or pervert it. He may rest assured, that even his worldly neighbour, not excepting the most thorough-going partizan, will be constrained to respect a fearless, honest determination to act upon principle, and to consult the dictates of conscience rather than to be borne heedlessly along upon the surface of popular opinion. Even Mr. Hume himself might quail before an honest tenpound freeholder, who should say calmly but firmly, " I am anxious for reform, retrenchment, and enlightened political economy; but I believe the Bible, and will therefore never vote for a man, whatever may be his other qualifications, who calls the doctrine of Divine Providence—humbug." A few such negatives in every parish in Middlesex, if they did not cause the rejection of an active man of business, would at least go far to muzzle the lips of impiety and infidelity. And so of innumerable other cases.

The duty of Christian men using their influence as members of the commonwealth for the public benefit, being thus admitted, it becomes necessary to ask how they may best employ it. In many cases perhaps, a few such persons might meet together from time to time- and consider what the peculiarities of their own neighbourhoods required, and what particulars it was right to keep in view as their standard of judging. They should remember that a general election is a season of great temptation, and requires the discharge of arduous duties, which they are to endeavour to ascertain, and to perform, not shrinking from them on the sellish ground of personal inconvenience or unpopularity. They should remember that what is really good has seldom been popular in a world of sin; and that He who spake as never man spake, and whose actions were infinitely pure and merciful, did not escape the voice of misrepresentation and calumny. If a few religious men can agree as to those great matters which are above all dispute or party, they ought resolutely to keep them in mind, ana to use their efforts jointly and severally to promote them.

In thus writing, we do not mean to express a wish that those private Christians whose station does not of necessity lead them into the whirl of politics, should voluntarily precipitate themselves into it. We have often expressed our opinion that nothing more insidiously tends to deaden the sense of religion in the soul, than party warfare, and political or even theological, excitement. Amidst debate and turmoil, the graces of the Christian life decay; prayer, meditation, and the study of the word of God are neglected; and till the strife of tbe spirit and the din of war have begun to cease, there is little hope that due attention will be paid to the still small voice that whispers in the deep recesses of the soul. We are far therefore from wishing to see every private Christian, every religious tradesman, every clergyman, busily engaged in parliamentary electioneering; we only suggest that in their several stations, with a due measure of interest and intelligence, tbey should do what in them lies to check whatever is evil and to promote whatever is good. This, by the blessing of God, they may do, if they are prayerful and vigilant, without in any measure impairing the bloom of the Christian graces or sliding into tbe perils of a worldly spirit.

We proceed to offer a few such practical suggestions as occur to us at tbe moment. In tbe rapid writing of a periodical publication, at the close of the month, we do not pretend to exhaust the subject or to treat it systematically; but our readers will, we trust, indulgently bear with a few cursory observations.

One of the most obvious features in popular elections in all nations and ages Is the struggle between liberty and arbitrary principles. There are dangers on both sides; for liberty may become licentious; whereas the popular feeling usually is, that all tbe dangers are on one side, the side of power, and those in power are often equally alarmed at the extension of popular liberty. A Chris

Christ. Observ. No. 368.

tian therefore, in tendering his suffrage

where points of this sort are under condiction, should calmly estimate the real character and probable effects of the struggle. He is not to take names for things; to decide his course by determining before-hand on certain watchwords, the slang nomenclature of party: and to say Yes or No, as the measure happens to be popularly pronounced Whig or Tory, free or arbitrary, liberal or illiberal. There is the side of established institutions and the side of the movement; and it will depend upon the exigencies of the case, as to which it will be the duty of a good man to espouse. If he believe that the evil in his age and country is on tbe side of arbitrary power, he will endeavour to promote more liberal views; if he think that liberty is degenerating into licentiousness, ana threatening the subversion of what ia good, he will not scruple to lend his aid to the less popular side.

If we are asked in what manner the above principle applies at the present moment, we have no scruple in giving our humble but honest opinion. Our often-expressed sentiments on subjects connected with civil and religious liberty will exempt us from any overweening love of servile institutions; we shall not be suspected of wishing to promote slavery at home or abroad j or to restore borough nomination, or intolerance to Dissenters or Papists ; or again to shackle half-emancipated commerce, or once more to drench our criminal laws in the blood out of which they have partly waded; or to stop up the fountains of freedom and arrest the march of mind. With the more confidence therefore may we say to those who honour our pages with their notice, Be on your guard against the dangers of false liberty, boisterous patriotism, and needless and bootless innovation. Upon some excellent men among the Dissenters, if they would listen to us, would we more especially urge this caution. They have been gladdened by the subversion of some things which they considered evil, and they rejoice at the predicted downfall of others; they think, above all, that- they; see a second religious Reformation coming upon the land ; and measuring the Anglican Church by its abuses, they believe it would be doing God and man *ervice to overturn it. And for this purpose some of them will not perhaps tremble to entrust the ark of the state to hands which in many respects are unfit to guide it; they will even smile with complacency at the machinations of Papists and infidels, in the vain hope that the downfall of the church-establishment will be the renovation of the walls of the spiritual Zion. We can conceive other in. stances of a similar kind; to all of which applies the general principle above mentioned, of looking to tbe side from which

4 C

threatened, and not, for the ominous protrusion of men of evil prin

danger ia

mere name of consistency, without the reality, lending an evil influence to the strongest party. If we thought that in future the danger lay, where often, we admit, it has lain, and where often we have ourselves opposed it, we should see reason for taking a different course to that which may be necessary under altered circumstances. It may be quite as requisite to ask, Will you retain what is sound? as, Will you oppose what is corrupt? and every wise and honest reformer, will in the best sense—not in a party sense or interested spirit—be a conservator. We need men who are favourable to the cause of peace and order, and who are not likely to be carried away by hasty theories, to the detriment of solid and valuable institutions which would he ill replaced by the gourds and fungus of a revolutionary political hot-bed.

Yet let us not be misunderstood. There will be no want of effort on the part of many individuals, to undo what has been done; and much of it, we believe, with all its faults, well and rightly done: besides which, the fear of the dangers to which we have alluded, the alarm that has gone abroad among not a few persons of rank and property, respecting the stability of our most cherished institutions under future parliaments, and the dread of untried experiments among many who have no wish to promote anti-liberal institutions, will operate very powerfully as a check to the popular effervescence. We are not sure whether, in many cases, persons ordinarily disposed to what is called the liberal view of questions, may not, under present circumstances, be led, counter to their usual bias, to prefer what appears to them, in a moment of great public excitement, the safer side. In times when the national institutions are apparently safe and settled, individuals will occasionally vote for a member of parliament, with a view to a particular question, whom they would not have voted for in regard to his general opinions; but when there is an alarming danger from these opinions, the weight of the particular question may not suffice to carry the vote, more especially if the important item can be otherwise secured. We forbear naming examples, but they will readily occur to our readers.

We are far, therefore, from apprehending, under all the circumstances, that the next parliament will, of necessity, be so vehemently anti-conservative, so recklessly destructive, as many excellent persons conjecture. If it be, it shews that the great body of the householders of the land are in a very unwholesome moral and mental condition; but we would trust that the national morality is not sunk to this lowest depth. It seems, indeed, too probable, that upon the first enlargement of the elective franchise, there will be an

ciples and damaged character; men who have a fortune to make, and no conscience as to how they make it; men of vast pretension and little value; speculatists, visionaries, rash innovators, political quacks, and legislatorial mountebanks. Thus it has ever been; but the characters of such men are soon discovered; and their countrymen are not likely to confide to them the management of their concerns. The ranting demagogue will soon rave in vain; and the man whose character is known and valued, be elected. It may be otherwise at a particular moment of excitement; but such, we feel assured, will be in the end, the usual result. We have numerous parallels to this effect in history j the following remarks by Dr. Dwight are so apposite to our argument, that we shall quote them for the warning and instruction of our readers :—

"The state of Vermont, and all its interests, came at once into the hands of a new set of men, gathered suddenly from many parts of New England, and in a great measure strangers to each other. Their education, manners, habits, views, and characters, were often very unlike, and not unfrequently opposed. The men who, in such a state of things, first gain influence, are the restless, bold, ambitious, cunning, talkative, and those who are skilled in land jobbing. In established society, influence is chiefly the result of personal character, seen and known through the period in which that character is formed, and the conduct by which it is displayed. In such society, notwithstanding the corruption of the present world, a man of worth and wisdom will, unless prevented by peculiar circumstances, be almost always more respectfully regarded than persons destitute of these characteristics, and will have a superior efficacy on the affairs of those around him. But in a state of society recently begun, influence is chiefly gained by those who directly seek it, and these in almost all instances are the noisy and bustling. Such men make bold pretensions to qualities which they do not possess; clamour every where about liberty and rights; are patriots of course, and jealous of the encroachments of those in power; thrum over incessantly the importance of public economy; stigmatize every just and honourable public expenditure; arraign the integrity of those whose wisdom is undisputed, and the wisdom of those whose integrity cannot be questioned; and profess universally, the very principles and feelings of him with whom they are conversing. These things uttered every where with peremptory confidence and ardent phraseology, are ultimately believed by most men in such a state of society. Ignorant of the true character of those among whom they have just begun to reside, and knowing that they must necessarily give their votes to somebody, they are pleased to be relieved from uncertainty, and still more pleased to find an object of their suffrages so entirely coinciding with their own views; never mistrusting, that the amount of all this parade of eloquence and patriotism may be expressed in this little sentence, 'Will you please to vote for me?'

"A considerable number of those who first claimed and acquired influence in the state of Vermont during its early periods, were men of loose principles and loose morals. They were either professed infidels, universalists, or persons who exhibited the morals of these two classes of mankind. We cannot expect, therefore, to find the public measures of Vermont distinguished, at that time, by any peculiar proofs of integrity or justice." Dr. Dwight adds, however, that " intelligence and piety are growing up in Vermont, in spite of its founders."

From the whole tenor of the preceding remarks, our readers will perceive our intended inference, that as there is no danger at present that our institutions will not be sufficiently free. Christian men and lovers of their country should beware that they do not allow themselves to be carried away by rash and violent candidates for distinction; men who declaim about nothing but peculation and tyranny; who affect to view a reform in parliament as the commencement of a political millennium ; and place at no great distance in the glowing vista, the destruction of established churches, perhaps the subversion of monarchial government and the introduction of a republic; and to a certainty the cessation of war, poverty, want, oppression, and injustice. Men who talk thus are either fools or knaves. While sin remains in the world, crime and misery will not fail to attend it; and to a far higher regeneration than what politicians call by that name, must we look for the eventual extirpation of the evils that press upon nations. We are thankful for political privileges, and would desire to turn them to the best account; but till men universally fear God and work righteousness, till a real millennium takes place, it is but fraud or folly to speak as some politicians do of the blessings which are to result from an amended system of national representation; unless indeed as it may be accompanied by those moral and religious benefits which we would earnestly wish, rather than dare confidently hope, will ensue from it.

Shunning therefore noisy demagogues, the Christian elector will desire to give his suffrage to persons duly qualified by talents and character for the office of legislators. He will endeavour to follow the excellent advice of Jethro to Moses, "Thou shalt provide out of all the people able men; such as fear God, men of truth, hating covetousness, and place such over

them." They should be "able men ;" for God does not intend any man for a post he is not qualified to fill; and it is no disparagement to many good men that they are not fitted to be legislators for a mighty empire. In most instances', reading, thought, habits of business, a knowledge of history and political and international economy, and in many cases ability for public discussion, are desirable in a British senator. But however this may be, he should "fear God;" for though there may be a fair choice between two men whose claims are reasonably balanced, there can be none between a man who fears God and one who fears him not. Unless Christianity be an imposture, and the Bible a book of fables, a religious elector ought above all things to wish to have a religious man for his representative, more especially as a large part of legislation bears upon the moral principles of nations, and tends either to promote or to injure the best interests of mankind. We need scarcely add, that those to whom we give our suffrage should be " men of truth and hating covetousness;" not men to act a part, or to accept a bribe, or to cajole or be cajoled, or to make their legislative power a stepping stone to their personal or family aggrandizement. Men of this character are not usually the most obtrusive; they must often be sought for: they are not the men for the boisterous hustings or the insidious canvass, promising much and meaning little; but they are the men whom a judicious and right-minded elector will choose, notwithstanding the most specious oratory or party pledges of a more plausible rival; and we would hope that there is, in the larger part of the respectable householders of this country, enough of good sense and penetration to secure in a majority of instances this important end.

If a Christian elector cannot find all the qualifications he wishes for in the candidates who solicit his suffrage, we do not think that he ought on that account to forego his responsible privilege of voting. He may look to the degrees of moral worth, to habits of business, and to general competency; and he may also make use of the occasion to urge what is good, and protest against what is evil; and he may thus perhaps induce a candidate, especially if assisted by others of like mind with himself, to take into serious consideration important questions which he might not otherwise have attended to, and this after as well as before his election. It is cowardice and folly, to give up all in despair, because we cannot gain every thing that we think desirable.

The Christian elector and the Christian candidate will both set their faces against those scenes of riot and drunkenness which too often disgrace our popular elections. If a candidate will practise or permit bribery, corruption, or excess, he is not • man in whom moral or political confidence is to be placed.

A Christian elector will vote from conscience, not interest. He will also allow others an honest opinion; striving to correct their judgment if bethinks it wrong, but not by any m ts of fraud, flattery, or intimidation, seeking to sway their suffrage. He will conduct himself in the same fair and temperate manner towards his tradesmen and dependents. If this be not done, we shall soon come to the vote by ballot, ns the only protection for a man who wishes to vote contrary to the dictation of his landlord or employer.

As regards specific pledges, the Christian elector will feel some difficulty in exacting, and the Christian candidate in giving them. We may view the subject legally or morally. On the legal point, Blackstone says, " The end of bis coming to parliament is not particular, but general; not barely to advantage bis constituents, but the commonwealth; to advise his Majesty, as appears from the writ of summons, t)e lommuni consilio svjter tugotiis quibusdam arduis el urgentibits, regum, statum, ct defeiisumem regni Angluc, et Ecclesiee Anglicnnte concerncntibus; and therefore he is not bound, like a deputy in the United Provinces, to consult with, or take the advice of, his constituents upon any particular point, unless he himself thinks it proper or prudent so to do." At the same time, morally and honourably speaking, the bond between the elector and the representatives is broken when a general opposition of views takes place, and most persons of delicate feeling, placed as was Sir Robert Peel with his University constituents, would have acted as he did. Our view is, that, generally speaking, there should not be specific pledges; that is, such pledges as would prevent the free exercise of the understanding and judgment when the matter comes to be fully deliberated upon. But there are exceptions. In the case, for^example, of the present parliament, there was a particular bill before the country, the principles of which were generally.known; and it was a short way of coming to a mutual understanding between the elector and the candidate to ask and answer the simple question, Do you approve of those principles ; and will you support the Bill which contains them? We say the same of pledges, plainly involving points of morality and religion; and of those where the subject matter is precise, well understood, and includes a turning point of principle. How many hundreds of members who were opposed in general to specific pledges, promised to vote for the abolition of the slave trade. The enormity was so well known, and the duty of abolition so clear, that no man was fit to be returned who had not formed a very decisive opinion on the

question. The same would we now say of colonial slavery; nor could we conscientiously vote for a man who we did not

believe would urge its speedy and total abolition, though in all such cases we should prefer a frank declaration of his sentiments by the candidate to a catechetical examination in question and answer. Where the sentiments of the candidate are well known, ligatures were better avoided.

Without tben going to the direct inculcation of the doctrine of specific pledges, we will touch upon two or three of the points on which we think that, at the present moment, a Christian elector should feel well assured of the sentiments of any gentleman who requests his vote. We will allude chiefly to some of those wvk:h are suggested by the affairs of the month, as a specimen of our meaning, rather than attempt to draw up a syllabus of senatorial qualifications. Where an individual has been already in parliament, or is well known, personally or by character, to those whose suffrages he desires, such an incidental knowledge of bis principles is infinitely better than the trammel of distinct pledges. His whole life ought to be one pledge, and his statements to be merely necessary for information, not as a guarantee.

We will touch upon the important question of the better observance of the Lord's day, respecting which a select committee of the house of commons has been sitting for several weeks, and has accumulated such a mass of evidence as must convince every moral and patriotic man—religious men who have studied the subject, are convinced already—of the fearful profanation of the day, and the necessity of amending the laws against its desecration. The report and evidence, we trust, will be ready to be presented to the house before the close of the session. So strong a case we have reason to believe has been proved, that no person who values the morality or happiness of the country, and certainly no person who honours the commands of God, can doubt, after reading the evidence, that something is necessary to be done in the next session of parliament, to secure to the people the blessings of a Christian Sabbath, which are fast sliding out of their hands. Tradesmen of various classes, and persons in different stations of life, many of them not impelled by religious considerations, are earnestly demanding protection against the practices which rob them of this inestimable boon. Surely it would be nothing unreasonable, nothing but what is a solemn duty, to urge upon parliamentary candidates the great importance of this question, and the need of prohibiting by effectual laws, those occupations and practices which interfere with the repose of the Sabbath. The performance of religious duties cannot be properly enjoined by law; but it is strictly within

« AnteriorContinuar »