by Adin Ballou
Non-Resistance In Relation To Government
Is non-resistance for or against human government? – Human government de facto – Constitutions of Massachusetts and the United States – Why not participate to reform? – Cannot lie and commit perjury – Delegated power to declare war – Letters of marque and reprisal, piracy – Legal and political action – How to reform government – Injurious force not essential to government – Under what circumstances this country might have a non-resistant government – View of the present order of things, and remedy – Extract from M. Guizot’s lectures – Conclusion.
Is Non-Resistance For or Against Human Government?
I propose to occupy the present chapter in treating on the relation of non-resistance to human government. Is non-resistance, as defined and expounded in this work, for or against human government per se? This depends on what sense is given to the adjective human when joined to the noun government. If human government is understood to imply or presuppose an inherent, original, absolute power in man to make laws and exercise discretionary control over man, non-resistance is against it. It denies any such inherent, original, absolute power in man, and refers it to God only. In this sense all rightful government is essentially divine; man being ever a subject – not a governor. And whenever he assumes to require anything repugnant to the divine law, he is a rebel against God and a usurper over his co-equal fellow man. Man cannot rightfully legislate or govern insubordinately to his Creator. He can only govern under and with the divine sanction. If this position needs any defense, non-resistants are prepared to maintain it against the world. None, however, but atheists and would-be Deicides (God-killers) – the genuine no-governmentists – can be reckless enough to controvert it.
But if human government is understood to imply only divine government clothed in human forms and administered by human organizations, with merely incidental human imperfections, non-resistance is for it per se. It has no necessary opposition to it whatever. It recognizes man as, by nature, a social being. It sees the ties and dependencies of husband and wife, parent and child, friend and neighbor, smaller and larger community; and is essentially friendly to all social organizations founded on love to God and man. Human government in this sense would be an organization of society constitutionally deferential to the highest known law of God. It would disclaim and denounce all assumption of power to set up and enforce any law, regulation, or usage in violation of the natural equality and brotherhood of mankind. It would inscribe on its main pillars, no resistance of injury with injury, no rendering of evil for evil – evil can be overcome only with good! It would pledge its entire religious, intellectual, moral, physical, industrial, and pecuniary resources to the maintenance of the right education, good conduct, comfortable subsistence, and general welfare of all its population. It would declare and treat all its officers as servants of their brethren, entitled to no other remuneration than an equal subsistence and dividend of general profits with the mass of laborers. It would know no such thing as government craft, and have no separate interests of its functionaries to be fattened at the expense of their constituents. It would disclaim all authority of its own, and rest all its legislation, its judicial decrees, and its executive proceedings on their intrinsic rectitude and fitness to promote the public good. It would put off all external display, pomp, parade, and childish insignia, and be a plain simple business concern, provided with all things decent and convenient for its necessary use and nothing more. It would incur no expense for distinction’s sake – for show and dazzle. Man would make no wicked and foolish attempt to appear a god to his fellow-worms. The most exalted servant of the people would need to dwell in no better house, eat no better food, drink no costlier liquids, wear no richer livery, ride in no better carriage under a wise and righteous government than would be proper for every common citizen. He would be ashamed to wish anything better. “He that will be chief among you shall be as he that doth serve.” This is the pattern for the head of a Christian republic. Such a government would verify the prophetic prediction: “I will also make thy officers peace, and thine exactors righteousness. Violence shall no more be heard in thy land, wasting nor destruction within thy borders.” Such a government there will yet be throughout the earth. It is coming in the dim distant future. Christian non-resistance is its forerunner, and will hail its arrival amid the welcome shouts of an enlightened world. Men will then look back on our present semi-barbarous government much as a philosopher now does on the picture of an Indian Sachem, smeared with paint, ornamented with feathers and wampum and resting on his war club or tomahawk. Understanding then by human government only divine government humanized in its forms, applications and details, non-resistance is decidedly for it per se.
Human Government De Facto
But is it for human government as it is de facto? This is now the practical question. No. Why not? Because it cannot be both for and against itself. Non-resistance cannot be for war, capital punishment, slavery, and all sorts of penal injury. Nor can it be for any government that is fundamentally for these things. These things are not reconcilable with non-resistance. Its adherents cannot therefore be voluntary participators in existing governments. Not because they are opposed to government per se, but because they are utterly opposed to these fundamental evils, with which all that is good in existing governments is inseparably interwoven. They demand a removal of these anti-Christian articles from our national and state constitutions before they can voluntarily participate in the government. Are they right in assuming this stand?
Objection. “No,” says the objector, “you are not clearly right, to my apprehension, in charging our national and state constitution with being necessarily for war, capital punishment, slavery, and penal injury. But even if you are right in this, you are positively wrong in refusing to participate in the government until these things are expunged. If you will neither hold office, vote, nor bring actions at law under the government, how do you expect these evils are to be eradicated? You ought to take part in the government, if for nothing else, to effect the necessary amendments in our constitutions. Who is to remove these evils, if you, who see and feel them, refuse to lift a finger to dislodge them? Stay in the government and reform it. You frustrate your own aims by non-participation.”
Answer. War, capital punishment, slavery, and many penal injuries have prevailed in the United States. They still prevail. Are they contrary to the fundamental law? Do they not flourish under its positive sanction? I shall not go far out of my way to establish facts naked to universal observation. Without meddling with fine spun arguments, designed to show that the federal constitution is an anti-slavery instrument, or anticipating any ingenious plea which might be offered to demonstrate its consonance with Christianity in respect to capital punishment, I shall content myself with presenting an extract from the Constitution of Massachusetts (a state in the vanguard of human improvement) and two or three from that of the United States. These will show whether non-resistants can endorse even republican constitutions – not to mention the written and unwritten ones of the old world.
Extract from the Constitution of Massachusetts
“The Governor of this Commonwealth, for the time being, shall be the commander-in-chief of the army and navy, and of all the military forces of the State, by sea and land; and shall have full power, by himself, or by any commander, or other officer and officers, from time to time, to train, instruct, exercise and govern the militia and navy; and for the special defense and safety of the Commonwealth, to assemble in martial array, and put in warlike posture, the inhabitants thereof; and to lead and conduct them, and with them to encounter, repel, resist, expel, and pursue, by force of arms, as well by sea as by land, within or without the limits of this Commonwealth, and also to KILL, SLAY, AND DESTROY, if necessary, and conquer, by all fitting ways, enterprises and means whatsoever, all and every such person or persons as shall, at any time hereafter, in a hostile manner, attempt or enterprise the destruction, invasion, detriment, or annoyance of this Commonwealth; and to use and exercise, over the army and navy, and over the militia in actual service, martial law, in time of war and invasion, and also in time of rebellion declared by the Legislature to exist, as occasion shall necessarily require; and to take and surprise, by all ways and means whatsoever, all and every such person or persons, with their ships, arms, ammunition, and other goods, as shall, in a hostile manner, invade, or attempt the invading, conquering, or annoying this Commonwealth; and that the Governor be entrusted with all these and other powers, incident to the offices of captain, general, commander-in chief, and admiral, to be exercised agreeably to the rules and regulations of the Constitution, and the laws of the land, and not otherwise.”
Extracts from the U.S. Constitution
“The Congress shall have power – to define and punish piracies and felonies committed on the high seas, and offences against the laws of nations.
“To declare war, grant letters of marque and reprisal, and make rules concerning captures on land and water.
“To raise and support armies.
“To provide and maintain a navy.
“To provide for calling forth the militia to execute the laws of the union, and suppress insurrections and invasions.
“To provide for organizing, arming and disciplining the militia, etc.
“The President shall be commander-in-chief of the army and navy of the United States, and of the militia of the several States, when called into actual service.
“His oath shall be: I do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will faithfully execute the office of President of the United States; and will, to the best of my ability, preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States.
“This Constitution, and the laws of the United States that shall be made in pursuance thereof, and all treaties made, or which shall be made, under the authority of the United States, shall be the supreme law of the land.”
These extracts ought to make it clear to every man’s apprehension that our state and national constitutions authorize, provide for, and sanction war, preparations for war, and all the abominations incident to or consequent upon the murderous military system. The objector has no ground to stand on here.
Why Not Participate in Order to Reform?
But to come to the second part of the objection, if the non-resistants are right as to the fundamental, military, and penal character of the government, the objector declares they are positively wrong in refusing to participate in the government until these things are expunged. He wishes to know how, or by whom, we expect these evils to be eradicated, if we will not hold office, vote, or bring actions at law. He bids us stay in the government to reform it; and tells us we frustrate our own aims by non-participation.
This will pass current with the mass of people for sound common sense; but I shall show it to be more specious than substantial. If our scruples related solely to minor details and incidental defects in the existing governments, the objector’s reasoning would be conclusive, for we do not exact absolute perfection, either theoretical or practical, in constitutions of government as a condition of our participation in them. We can readily conceive of a radically Christian government with minor errors and defects in its details, and certainly with incidental abuses of administration arising out of human imperfection. In such governments we could conscientiously participate, and should feel bound to do so for the purpose of purifying them entirely, if possible, from errors and abuses.
But the governments now under notice are radically, fundamentally anti-Christian. “The whole head is sick, and the whole heart faint.” Military and injurious penal power is their very lifeblood – the stamina of their existence. They are as repugnant to non-resistance as pride is to humility, wrath to meekness, vengeance to forgiveness, death to life, and destruction to salvation.
These constitutions have the double character of declarations and covenants. They declare what is to be considered truth and duty, and are a solemn mutual covenant of the people with each other as to what may or shall be done in their name. They are written out with great clearness and precision so that no one may misunderstand them. When a man assents to them, swears to support them, or acknowledges himself a party to the compact established by them, they become to all intents and purposes declarations of what he regards as truth and duty, and a pledge on his part that he will faithfully co-operate in carrying them into full effect. If they do not declare his sentiments, he makes himself a liar by endorsing, subscribing, or assenting to them. If he does not honestly mean to co-operate in giving them practical efficacy, he perjures himself by solemnly engaging to support the compact.
Cannot Lie and Commit Perjury
Am I advised to lie and commit perjury in order to reform an anti-Christian government? If I accept any office of distinction, I must swear or affirm to support the Constitution – not in parts, but entire. In fact, I cannot vote without either actually taking such oath or affirmation, or at least virtually acknowledging myself to be under the highest obligations of allegiance. Government in this country is vested in the voters. They are leagued together by their common declaration of sentiments and mutual covenant – the constitution – to conduct the government in a certain way, and to maintain its authority by military force. It seems to have been universally taken for granted that military force would be indispensable.
It is therefore a gross fraud and imposition for any man to appear at the ballot box as a voter, who is at heart false to the constitution, who does not mean in good faith to abide by and support it, and just as it is, until it can be constitutionally amended. This is what a non-resistant cannot do, without treason to the divine government – without trampling under foot the precepts of Jesus Christ.
Would the objector have me join an association of persons who covenant that their governor shall be “commander in chief of their army and navy, and of all their military forces by sea and land?” Whose army, navy, and military? Mine! Am I, a non-resistant, in company with a combination that has armies, navies, and military forces? And do I agree that our chief servant shall command these? That he may lead them forth to “KILL, SLAY and DESTROY” our enemies? Am I to vote for such an officer, and agree to have him put under oath to do such things? A most exemplary non-resistant indeed! Should I not speedily convince the common mind that I was amazingly opposed to war and all its kindred deeds?
Delegated Power to Declare War
Will the objector insist that I shall proclaim to all the world my assent and agreement as a co-governing citizen of the United States, that “Congress shall have power to declare war”? My representatives have power to do this wicked thing, in my name at their discretion! Power to turn the whole nation into impious robbers, murderers, and desolators of the earth? Power to authorize the perpetration of all the crimes and cruelties of war? Never! I will not agree or consent to any such thing. It is an abomination. I will hold office on no such conditions, I will not be a voter on such conditions, I will join no church or state that holds such a creed or prescribes such a covenant for the subscription of its members.
Letters of Marque and Reprisal, Piracy
Much less will the objector persuade me to authorize any Congress of mine ever to grant those piratical commissions, called “letters of marque and reprisal.” Defensive war on the home soil, to repel murderous invaders though the most excusable of all war, is forbidden by Christianity. How much more their seven-fold abominations, called “letters of marque and reprisal”? What are they? Nothing but commissions to unprincipled buccaneers to rob, plunder and murder defenseless people on the high seas. Their victims may be individually the most peaceable and honest people in the world, but if they belong to a certain nation against which, for some foolish or wicked reason Congress has declared war, their goods are made lawful plunder, and themselves the prey of sharkish voracity. Is a common highwayman to be held in universal abhorrence and hung up by the neck on a gibbet, and yet are Christian people to authorize their Congress to grant letters of piracy? And will a man, after agreeing that such things shall be perpetrated in his name, presume to go about preaching peace and non-resistance? Does the objector wish me to make myself supremely ridiculous, as well as wicked?
And yet, notwithstanding all this, I must be a member of the national organization, which is bound by this political creed and covenant. I must be a voter. I must vote for the President of the United States to be “commander in-chief of our army and navy.” I must agree to have him put under oath, faithfully to execute this office. I must myself be ready to accept of this, that, and the other office, prefaced by an obligation to support the entire Constitution, war, slavery, and all, as “the supreme law of the land!” And if idolatry were a fundamental prescription of the compact, I must support that too! All this for the sake of wielding the necessary influence to reform the government! Unless I lie, perjure myself, and sacrifice every particle of my non-resistant principle for the time being in order to participate in the government as it is, I can never hope to see a Christian government established! I happen to see “a more excellent way” – fidelity to principle.
Legal and Political Action
Many people seem to take for granted that legal and political action afford to good men indispensable instrumentalities for the promotion of moral reform, or at least for the maintenance of wholesome order in society. Hence we hear much said of the duty of enforcing certain penal laws, of voting for just rulers, and of rendering government “a terror of evil-doers.” Now I make no objection to any kind of legal or political action that is truly Christian action. Nor do I deny that some local and temporary good has been done by prosecutions at law, voting in our popular elections, and exercising the functions of magistracy under the prevailing system of human government. But I contend that there is very little legal and political action under this system, which is strictly Christian action. And I deny that professedly good men do half as much to promote as they do to subvert moral reform and wholesome order in society by legal and political action. The common notions respecting these matters are extremely superficial, delusive, and mischievous. Look at facts.
1. Is it not a fact that men, strenuous for legal coercion, who devote themselves to the prosecution of lawbreakers as an important duty, generally become incapable of benevolent, patient, persuasive moral action? Do they not become disagreeable to human minds, and objects of defiance to the lawless? Is not this generally the case? I am sure it is. Reliance on injurious penal force costs more than it comes to as an instrumentality for the promotion of moral reform. It works only a little less mischievously in morals than in religion.
2. Is it not a fact that equally good men are divided among all the rival political parties and that, under pretence of doing their duty to God and humanity, they vote point blank for and against the same men and measures, mutually thwarting, as far as possible, each others’ preferences? Every man knows this. Does God make it their duty to practice this sheer contradiction and hostility of effort at the ballot box? Does enlightened humanity prompt it? No, there must be a cheat somewhere in the game. The Holy Ghost does not blaspheme the Holy Ghost; nor Satan cast out Satan. Either the men are not good, or their notions of duty are false.
3. Is it not a fact that the most scrupulously moral and circumspect men in all the rival political parties are uniformly found, with very rare exceptions, either among the rank and file of their party, or in the inferior offices? Are our wisest and best men of each party put forward as leaders? Are not the managers – the real wire-pullers – generally selfish, unscrupulous men? Whatever may be the exceptions, is this not the general rule? We have all seen that it is. How then is it to be accounted for, on the supposition that political action is so adapted to moral reform and wholesale order in society? The good men in political parties are not the leaders, but the led. They do not use political action to a noble end, but are themselves the dupes and tools of immoral managers – put up or put down, foremost or rearmost, in the centre or on the flank, just as they will show and count to the best advantage. All they are wanted for is to show and count against the same class in the other party. Their use is to give respectability, weight of character, and moral capital to their party. They are the “stool pigeons,” the “decoy ducks,” the take-ins of their managers. The way they are used and the game of iniquity played off are the proofs of this. Yet this is what many simple souls call having influence.
4. Is it not a fact that of the very few high-toned moral men who happen to get into the headquarters of political distinction, not one in ten escapes contamination or utter disgust? And now what do all these facts prove? That under the present system of government, legal and political action is generally anti-Christian, that politically good men are influential chiefly as tools for mischief, and that non-political good men are the most likely to render legalists and politicians decent in the affairs of government.
How to Reform Government
Existing governments have their merits. They might be worse than they are. They are as good as the great mass of the people demand, or are capable of appreciating. If full-grown Christian constitutions were proffered to them, they would vote them down with contempt. If we could cheat them into the reception of one, they would not know how to live under it. Governments are correct exponents of the aggregate religious light, moral sentiment, and intellectual development of the people living under them. People with a false and low religion, a false and low morality, and a low and undeveloped intellect, will have a corresponding false and low organization of society and a false and low government. An Eskimo, Hottentot, or New Hollander would desire and administer an Eskimo, Hottentot, or New Holland government. The reason why we have not a Christian government is that our people are not in the aggregate a Christian people. The aggregate religion is far below the Christian standard. The aggregate conscience and moral sentiment of the people is semi-barbarous. And their aggregate intellect is not yet sufficiently improved by knowledge and discipline to see how low their religion and morality is. They are, therefore, not even ashamed of war and slavery. They do not see that these gross abominations are their disgrace and curse. We have got to enlighten them, expand their intellects, purify their moral sentiment, quicken their consciences, and reform their religious ideas. This is not to be done by voting at the polls, by seeking influential offices in the government, and binding ourselves to anti-Christian political compacts. It is to be done by pure Christian precepts faithfully inculcated, and pure Christian examples on the part of those who have been favored to receive and embrace the highest truths. They must hold up the true standard, let their light shine, and patiently persevere in the great work of creating a new heart and a new spirit in the people. They must do nothing to disparage or hinder whatever is good in the existing order of society and government. Still less must they do anything to hinder their own pure testimony, either by seditious opposition to government or by voluntary participation in its sins. They must not falsify their principles by going with the government to do evil, nor in going against its wrongs by anti-Christian means, nor by condemning anything in which is right and good per se. This is the straight and narrow way of Christ.
When a considerable portion of the people have been enlightened and won over to Christian non-resistance, the tide of public sentiment will begin to set with such force against war and the whole injury-inflicting system, that the less enlightened and less conscientious portion will insensibly yield to the current, and the relics of barbarism, one after another, be “cast to the moles and bats.” Thus, ultimately, government will be Christianized, and the most scrupulous disciples of the non-resistant Savior feel at liberty to perform any service in it that the public good may require.
What a work is to be performed! It has commenced, and will progress much faster than either faint-hearted friends or unbelieving scoffers anticipate; though doubtless its consummation is at a great distance. In this view of the case, how supremely silly would it appear for a handful of non-resistants to run a tilt of politics and harness themselves to the car of Juggernaut, in the hope of influencing the misguided multitude to renounce their idolatry! It would be treason to their cause and ridiculous infatuation for them to play such antics. Their mission is to “have no fellowship with the unfruitful works of darkness, but rather reprove them;” to teach, not number the people; to show forth a model of what ought to be – not conform to what is; to testify against spiritual wickedness in high places and to cause the popular abominations of the land to be properly appreciated and utterly loathed; to scatter light and call the people to repentance; to reform our thirty-thousand religious teachers, so that instead of patronizing, inculcating, apologizing for, consenting to, and pronouncing benedictions on military power and display, they may view and speak of it with the same abhorrence they now do idol-worship; to convert our hundreds of thousands of church members to that primitive Christianity, which nerved up the ancient disciples to say, in the face of threatened death, “I am a Christian, and can not fight!” When we have done all this, then we will begin to think about voting and accepting office in the government. We believe we shall then no longer be obliged to subscribe constitutions which make our governors and presidents “commanders-in-chief of the army,” or which invest Congress with discretionary power “to declare war and grant letters of marque and reprisal” – those flagrant crimes against God and humanity. If we should, we would still ply our axe to the root of the tree, and non-participate until a better day had dawned on the world. Such is the method by which true Christianity teaches its disciples to reform government. True, it is not according to “the wisdom of this world, which is foolishness with God;” but it is according to “the wisdom that cometh down from above, which is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, easy to be entreated, full of mercy and good fruits, without partiality, and without hypocrisy.” – James 3:17.
Injurious Force Not Essential to Government
I shall now be told by the opponent that I am a Utopian, a dreamer, a chimerist, to imagine any such thing as a government without a war power in the last resort – without the power of deadly compulsion to suppress individual crime and mobocratic violence. That such a government would be a body without a soul – a house without a foundation – a powerless non-resistant abstraction – a something that can never have existence on earth, at least so long as human imperfection remains. I know that this is the common opinion respecting government. But it is false, the spawn of ignorance – a sheer delusion. A little reflection will show how utterly groundless it is. It derives all its plausibility from the exhibitions of past and remaining barbarism. Because men have been barbarous, and their laws and penalties barbarous, it is taken for granted that they can not be otherwise; just as the African, in the center of the Torrid Zone, assumed that there could be no such thing as ice because he had never seen any; and just as all ignorant people assume that nothing can exist unlike what has come under their own observation.
Suppose one should confidently assert that there could be no such thing as a man, actually living and transacting business among mankind, without a military chapeau on his head, a sword dangling by his side, or a musket over his shoulder, or at least pistols or bowie knife about his person; that no man could live in the world without either actually fighting, or threatening to fight, or at least being armed for a fight. Who would not see the absurdity of the assertion? The man and the man’s means of preserving his life do not necessarily belong together. The Christian non-resistant is as much of a man as your sword and dagger character, and much less of a brute; and the former stands a much better chance of long life, civil treatment and substantial happiness in the world than the latter. Suppose someone should assert that there could be no such thing as a family, or good family government, without guns and dogs to defend them against marauders, and plenty of switch-sticks to wear up over the children’s backs. Would it show anything more than the ignorance and low moral development of the asserter? Suppose another should affirm that there could be no such thing as a church of Christ without the Inquisition and auto-da-fé? Men of intelligence, reflection and Christianized moral feeling, know the contrary.
Under What Circumstances the Country Might Have
A Non-Resistant Government
Let us have two-thirds of the people of the United States (including that portion who are, or would be thought, Christians, philanthropists, people of intelligence, and orderly citizens) once firmly committed to non-resistance, as explained and illustrated in this work, with even a large share of imperfection still lingering about them, and the government might triumphantly dispense with its army, navy, militia, capital punishment, and all manner of injurious inflictions. Under the light necessary to effect so general a change of public sentiment, a considerable portion of the people would have reconstructed neighborhood society by voluntary association in such a manner as nearly to do away with intemperance, idleness, debauchery, ignorance, poverty, and brutality, and to insure the requisite inducements, means, and opportunities for great self-improvement and social usefulness. The consequence would be that very few poor creatures would remain without a strong moral guardianship of wise and true friends to look after their welfare. Wholesome cure would be applied with vast success to the ignorant and vicious, and at the same time powerful preventives beyond estimation applied to the newborn generation. Under such circumstances, suppose a truly Christian government to administer the general affairs of the several states and of the nation. How little would they have to do, how well might they perform that little, and how trifling would be the burdens of it either to officers or people? It would hardly require hundreds of millions of dollars to carry such a government through a single year. They would not expend eighty percent of all their receipts on ships of war, forts, arsenals, troops, etc. If they expended half this sum on the reformation of the few remaining vicious, the right education of youth, and the encouragement of virtue among the whole people, their work would be cut short in righteousness. If here and there a disorderly individual broke over the bounds of decency, the whole force of renovated public sentiment would surround and press in upon him like the waters of the ocean, and slight un-injurious force would prevent personal outrage in the most extreme cases. And every day, the causes of such extreme cases would be undergoing the process of annihilation. Meantime England, and the other great nations, between whom and ourselves there is such a frequent and increasing familiarity of intercourse, would vie with ours, not which should have the strongest army and navy, and be able to do the most mischief, but which should lead off in the glorious work of reforming, improving, and blessing the human race. Patriotism would then no longer strut in regimentals, recount its ruffian exploits, and provoke quarrels with fellow men for the crime of having been born overseas or on the other side a mountain or river. It would glory in superior justice, forbearance, meekness, forgiveness, and charity. O glorious era, I see thee coming to smile on my country and the world. Thou art advancing in silent majesty on the remote verge of the blue horizon. Clouds of dust intervene between thee and the uncouth present. They conceal thee from the gaze of the boisterous and bustling multitude. The prophets even can but dimly discern thy beautiful outline. But thou art drawing nearer. Angels are thy heralds. The morning stars are singing together in thy train, and the sons of God shout for joy. In due time the heaven shall kiss the earth in thy presence, and the earth shall be restored to the bliss of heaven!
View of the Present Order of Things, and Remedies
But we must turn back from this vision and listen again to the scoffs of skepticism, the growls of frowning bigotry, and the jargon of Babylon the Great. We must hear those who make the sword, the gibbet, and the dungeon their gods, denounce the doctrines of mercy, and extol the efficacy of cruelty. “The world is full of criminals,” say they, “horrid criminals, ravening like wolves for the prey, and it is presumption to think of trusting to love, mercy, forbearance, and un-injurious restraints. The wicked must be slain. The unprincipled must be threatened with destruction. The lawless must be held at bay by the terrors of the halter and the cell. Mankind is too depraved to be held and treated as brethren.” This is the language of many professedly wise and upright men in what are falsely supposed to be the first ranks of society. But it is the language of men who need to be born again before they can enter into the kingdom of God – Pharisees and Sadducees, haughty religionists and moralists, who know not their own hearts, nor “what manner of spirit they are of.” They look not into the causes of crime. They feel not for their fellow creatures, who were born and have lived under the worst possible circumstances. They see not that nine-tenths of the crimes of those whom they glory in bringing to punishment, might have been prevented, had good people, so called, been good enough to care for others beyond the precincts of their own blood relationship. They themselves are great sinners and need great mercy; yet they have little compassion on their fellow sinners of a lower grade. They live in a sort of conventional decency and imagine it to be true morality. They are clothed with the fashionable garments of a superfine selfishness, and vainly imagine themselves acceptable to God. They are supremely covetous of this world’s goods and revel in the midst of extravagance, yet think only of the guilt and deserved punishment of thieves and robbers. Let them spare their maledictions against the punishable class of their fellow creatures. Let each one of them seriously ask the following questions:
“How much better am I by nature than these murderers, robbers, thieves, and wretched culprits whom I so much detest? Had I been born of their parents, been brought up as they were brought up, been neglected by the better classes as they were neglected, been tempted as they have been tempted, and been treated as they have been treated, should I have been at this moment what I am? Should I not have been one among them, hated and hunted down as a hopeless reprobate? How much attention have I given, in my whole life, to the consideration of the causes that make one person to differ from another? How much time have I spent in earnest endeavors to prevent my fellow creatures from falling into these crimes, in educating them while children, providing them a good home of industry and comfort in youth, and in inducing them in mature age to lead orderly lives? How much thought, how much affection, how much time, and how much money have I devoted to such purposes? Have I considered these things, and brought up my family to consider them? Have I proposed them to my neighbors? Have I brought them before my religious or literary associates? Have I tried by precept, persuasion, and example to unite my friends in preventing pauperism, vice, and crime? Or have I thought chiefly of deterring and punishing crime? Have I been spending nearly all my attention and efforts on my own family, and myself to obtain wealth, distinction, fame, self-aggrandizement, and self-indulgence? Have I not been living all this time to myself, and for my own little circle of relations and friends? What has my religion done towards making me a Christian after the pattern of Jesus? What has my morality amounted to but worldly decency? And have I not done some things, in secret, in spite of all my religion and morality, which if known to the world would plunge me into the depths of disgrace? What have I to boast of? Why am I so intent on punishing instead of forgiving and reforming my less fortunate fellow sinners?” Would not such a self-examination as this essentially humble and chasten many a self-righteous soul?
The truth is, if one-hundredth part of what the better classes of society now acquire, contrary to the law of love and expend on themselves to their positive hurt, were faithfully devoted to the prevention and reformation of crime, scarce an offender would remain in society. If no more than what is expended in detecting, trying, and punishing criminals were judiciously applied to this work of prevention and reformation, it would accomplish ten times more for society than it now does. But alas, as undertakers live and flourish by burying the dead, so there are not a few in the present organization of society who live by hunting and punishing criminals. And yet many of the worst offenders luxuriate, in perfect impunity, fortified by bulwarks impregnable to the penal laws. At the same time, the ordinary acquisition of property by what are called the better classes, the criers out for “punishment, punishment,” is only a fashionable species of gambling and extortion in which the cunning, the fortunate, and the unscrupulous carry off the stakes amid the perpetual grumblings of the unlucky losers. Besides this, intemperance and licentiousness are permitted to allure millions through their licensed portals to the chambers of hell; and slavery shakes her whips and chains over a sixth portion of a professedly free people, under the protection of our star-spangled banner! Is it any wonder that such a state of things, such a religion, such a morality, such unbridled acquisitiveness, such selfishness, and such oppression of the governing portion should breed, foster, and perpetuate all manner of vice and crime in the under-classes of society? Not at all. Therefore, Christian non-resistance protests against the wickedness of the punishing as well as the punished classes. It proposes and insists on a radical reform. And when this reform shall have gone forward to a certain point, a government untainted by military power or penal injury will be both practicable and certain. To show that such a government is possible, I will now present a clear, discriminating, irrefutable extract from M. Guizot, prime minister of France.
Extract from M. Guizot’s Lectures
“Is it not forming a gross and degrading idea of government to suppose that it resides only, to suppose that it resides chiefly, in the force which it exercises to make itself obeyed in its coercive element?
“Let us quit religion for a moment, and turn to civil government. Trace with me, I beseech you, the simple march of circumstances. Society exists. Something is to be done, no matter what, in its name and for its interest; a law has to be executed, some measure to be adopted, a judgment to be pronounced. Now, certainly, there is a proper method of supplying the social wants; there is a proper law to make, a proper measure to adopt, a proper judgment to pronounce. Whatever may be the matter at hand, whatever may be the interest in question, there is, upon every occasion, a truth which must be discovered, and which ought to decide the matter and govern the conduct to be adopted.
“The first business of government is to seek this truth; is to discover what is just, reasonable, and suitable to society. When this is found, it is proclaimed. The next business is to introduce it to the public mind; to get it approved by the men upon whom it is to act; to persuade them that it is reasonable. In all this, is there anything coercive? Not at all. Suppose now that the truth which ought to decide upon the affair (no matter what) – suppose, I say, that the truth being found and proclaimed, all understandings should be at once convinced; all wills at once determined; that all should acknowledge that the government was right, and obey it spontaneously. There is nothing yet of compulsion, no occasion for the employment of force. Does it follow, then, that a government does not exist? Is there nothing of government in all this? To be sure there is, and it has accomplished its task. Compulsion appears not until the resistance of individuals calls for it – until the idea, the decision which authority has adopted, fails to obtain the approbation or the voluntary submission of all. Then government employs force to make itself obeyed. This is a necessary consequence of human imperfection, an imperfection that resides as well in power as in society. There is no way of entirely avoiding this; civil governments will always be obliged to have recourse, in a certain degree, to compulsion. Still it is evident they are not made up of compulsion, because, whenever they can, they are glad to do without it, to the great blessing of all; and their highest point of perfection is to be able to discard it and trust to means purely moral, to their influence upon the understanding; so that, in proportion as government can dispense with compulsion and force, the more faithful it is in its true nature, and the better it fulfils the purposes for which it is sent. This is not to shrink, this is not to give way, as people commonly cry out; it is merely acting in a different manner, in a manner more general and powerful. Those governments that employ the most compulsion perform much less than those that scarcely ever have recourse to it. Government, by addressing itself to the understanding, by engaging the free will of its subjects, by acting by means purely intellectual, instead of contracting, expands and elevates itself; it is then that it accomplishes most and attains to the greatest objects. On the contrary, it is when a government is obliged to be constantly employing its physical arm that it becomes weak and restrained – that it does little and does that little badly.
“The essence of government then by no means resides in compulsion, in the exercise of brute force; it consists more especially of a system of means and powers, conceived for the purpose of discovering upon all occasions what is best to be done, for the purpose of discovering the truth which by right ought to govern society, for the purpose of persuading all men to acknowledge this truth, to adopt and respect it willingly and freely. Thus I think I have shown that the necessity for, and the existence of a government, are very conceivable, even though there should be no room for compulsion, even though it should be absolutely forbidden.” – History of Civilization in Europe, Lecture 5.
Is this satisfactory? Is this conclusive? It ought to be so. It is not the language of a non-resistant enthusiast – a Utopian dreamer – but of Monsieur Guizot, the intelligent and accomplished prime minister of Louis Phillipe. Let the arrogant condemners of the idea of a pure Christian government revolve the matter, and consider whether their skepticism arises out of knowledge or ignorance? To a sound mind the case admits of little doubt. The great prerequisite to the establishment of such a government has already been pointed out. It is religious, moral, and intellectual reform among the people, superinducing in them a more Christian faith, a more Christian conscience, a more enlightened intellect, and a purer morality. This noble work non-resistance espouses and will unfalteringly prosecute to its blessed consummation. To carry it forward the faithful will lay aside pecuniary, political, military, and all worldly ambition – every weight that encumbers – and press forward to the mark for the prize of their high calling in Christ Jesus; despising the cross and enduring the shame, until they enter into his glory and partake of the true majesty of his kingdom. He is King of kings, and Lord of lords; and the kingdoms of this world shall at length become his in righteousness and peace.
“I’ve thought at gentle and ungentle hour,
Of many an act and giant shape of power;
Of bruised rights, and flourishing bad men,
And virtue wasting heavenwards from a den;
Brute force, and fury, and the devilish drouth,
Of the foul cannon’s ever gaping mouth;
And the bride-widowing sword; and the harsh bray,
The sneering trumpet sends across the fray;
And all which blights the people-thinning star
That selfishness invokes – the horsed war,
Panting along with many a bloody mane.
I’ve thought of all this pride, and all this pain,
And all the insolent plentitudes of power;
And I declare by this most quiet hour,
That power itself has not one half the might
Of Gentleness. ‘Tis want to all true wealth;
The uneasy madman’s force to the wise health;
Blind downward beating, to the eyes that see;
Noise to persuasion, doubt to certainty;
The consciousness of strength in enemies,
Who must be strained upon, or else they rise;
Or as all shrieks and clangs, with which a sphere
Undone and fired, could rake the midnight ear,
Compared with that vast dumbness nature keeps
Throughout her starry deeps,
Most old, and mild, and awful, and unbroken,
Which tells a tale of Peace beyond what’er was spoken.” – Leigh Hunt.