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bring it to pass that no man can easily choose to transgress the law; since, by reason of the impending correction, com. pliance is in a high degree preferable to disobedience. And, even where rewards are proposed as well as punishments threatened, the obligation of the law seems chiefly to consist in the penalty: for rewards, in their nature, can only pero suade and allure ; nothing is compulsory but punishment.
It is true, it hath been holden and very justly, by the principal of our ethical writers, that human laws are binding upon men's consciences. But if that were the only, or most forcible obligation, the good only would regard the laws, and the bad would set them at defiance. And, true as this principle is, it must still be understood with some restriction. It holds, I apprehend, as to rights; and that, when the law has determined the field to belong to Titius, it is matter of conscience no longer to withhold or to invade it. So also in regard to natural duties, and such offences as are mala in se: here we are bound in conscience, because we are bound by superior laws, before those human laws were in being, to perform the one and abstain from the other. But in relation to those laws which enjoin only positive duties, and for
bid only such things as are not mala in se but mala  prohibita merely, without any intermixture of moral
guilt, annexing a penalty to non-compliance', here I apprehend conscience is no farther concerned, than by directing a submission to the penalty, in case of our breach of those laws : for otherwise the multitude of penal laws in a state would not only be looked upon as an impolitic, but would also be a very wicked thing; if every such law were a snare for the conscience of the subject. But in these cases the alternative is offered to every man; “ either abstain from this, or submit to such a penalty :" and his conscience will be clear, whichever side of the alternative he thinks proper to embrace. Thus, by the statutes for preserving the game, a penalty is denounced against every unqualified person that kills a hare, and
1 Sce Vol. II. page 120.
against every person who possesses a partridge in August. And so, too, by other statutes, pecuniary penalties are inflicted for exercising trades without serving an apprentice. ship thereto, for not burying the dead in woollen, for not performing statute-work on the public roads, and for innumerable other positive misdemesnors. Now these prohibitory laws do not make the transgression a moral offence, or sin: the only obligation in conscience is to submit to the penalty, if levied. It must however be observed, that we are here speaking of laws that are simply and purely penal, where the thing forbidden or enjoined is wholly a matter of indifference, and where the penalty inflicted is an adequate compensation for the civil inconvenience supposed to arise from the offence(7). But where disobedience to the law involves in it also any degree of public mischief or private injury, there it falls within our former distinction, and is also an offence against consciencem.
m Lex pure poenalis obligat tantum ad poenam, non item ad culpam: lex poenalis mixta et ad culpam obligat, et ad poenam.
(Sanderson de conscient. obligat. prael või. sec. 17. 24.)
(7) This is a doctrine to which the Editor cannot subscribe. It is an important question, and deserves a more extensive discussion than can conveniently be introduced into a note. The solution of it may not only affect the quiet of the minds of conscientious men, but may be the foundation of arguments and decisions in every branch of the law. To form a true judgment upon this subject, it is necessary to take into consideration the nature of moral and positive laws. The principle of both is the same, viz. utility, or the general happiness and true interests of mankind,
Atque ipsa utilitas justi prope mater et æqui. But the necessity of one set of laws is seen prior to experience; of the other, posterior. A moral rule is such, that every man's reason (if not perverted) dictates it to him as soon as he associates with other men. It is universal, and must be the same in every part of the world. Do not kill, do not steal, do not violate promises, must be equally obligatory in England, Lapland, Kamtschatka, and New Holland. But
I HAVE now gone through the definition laid down of a municipal law; and have shewn that it is “ a rule-of civil “conduct-prescribed—by the supreme power in a state
a positive law is discovered by experience to be useful and necessary only to men in certain districts, or under peculiar circumstances. It is said that it is a capital crime in Holland to kill a stork, because that animal destroys the vermin which would undermine the dykes or banks, upon which the existence of the country depends. This may be a wise law in Holland; but the life of a stork in England would probably be of no more value than that of a sparrow, and such a law would be useless and cruel in this country.
By the laws of nature and reason, every man is permitted to build his house in any manner he pleases; but from the experience of the destructive effects of fire in London, the legislature with great wisdom enacted that all party-walls should be of a certain thickness; and it is somewhat surprising that they did not extend this provident act to all other great towns. (14 Geo. 3. c. 78.)
It was also discovered by experience, that dreadful consequences ensued, when sea-faring people, who returned from distant countries infected with the plague, were permitted immediately to come on shore, and mix with the healthy inhabitants ; it was therefore a wise and merciful law, though restrictive of natural right and liberty, which compelled such persons to be purified from all contagion by performing quarantine. (4 Vol. 161.)
He who, by the breach of these positive laws, introduces conflagration and pestilence, is surely guilty of a much greater crime than he is who deprives another of his purse or his horse.
The laws against smuggling are entirely juris positivi; but the criminality of actions can only be measured by their consequences; and he who saves a sum of money by evading the payment of a tax, does exactly the same injury to society as he who steals so much from the treasury; and is therefore guilty of as great immorality, or as great an act of dishonesty. Or smuggling has been compared to that species of fraud which a man would practise who should join with his friends in ordering a dinner at a tavern, and after the festivity and gratifications of the day, should stcal away, and leave his companions to pay his share of the reckoning. Usury and simony are entirely of a positive nature, yet few men would have a conscience quite at ease, who had been guilty of either.
“ commanding what is right, and prohibiting what is wrong:" in the explication of which I have endeavoured to interweave a few useful principles, concerning the nature of civil government, and the obligation of human laws. Be
Punishment or penalties are never intended as an equivalent or a composition for the commission of the offence; but they are that degree of pain or inconvenience, which are supposed to be sufficient to deter men from introducing that greater degree of inconvenience, which would result to the community from the general permission of that act, which the law prohibits. It is no recompense to a man's country for the consequences of an illegal act, that he should afterwards be whipped, or should stand in the pillory, or lie in a gaol. But in positive laws, as in moral rules, it is equally false that omnia peccata paria sunt. If there are laws, such perhaps as the game-laws, which in the public opinion produce little benefit or no salutary effect to society, a conscientious man will feel perhaps no further regard for the observance of them, than from the consideration that his example may encourage others to violate those laws which are more highly beneficial to the community. Indeed, the last sentence of the learned Judge upon this subject, is an answer to his own doctrine ; for the disobedience of any law in existence, must be presumed to involve in it either public mischief or private injury. It is related of Socrates, that he made a promise with himself to observe the laws of his country; but this is nothing more than what every good man ought both to promise and to perform : and he ought to promise still farther, that he will exert all his power to compel others to obey them. As the chief design of established government is the prevention of crimes and the enforcement of the moral duties of man, obedience to that government necessarily becomes one of the highest of moral obligations : and the principle of moral and positive laws being precisely the same, they become so blended, that the discrimination between them is frequently difficult or impracticable, or, as the Author of the Doctor and Student has expressed it with beautiful simplicity, “In “ every law positive well-made, is somewhat of the law of reason and “of the law of God; and to discern the law of God and the law of “reason from the law positive, is very hard.” 1 Dial. c. 4.
fore I conclude this section, it may not be amiss to add a few observations concerning the interpretation of laws.
When any doubt arose upon the construction of the Roman laws, the usage was to state the case to the emperor in writing, and take his opinion upon it. This was certainly a bad method of interpretation. To interrogate the legislature to decide particular disputes, is not only endless, but affords great room for partiality and oppression. The answers of the emperor were called his rescripts, and these had in succeeding cases the force of perpetual laws; though they ought to be carefully distinguished, by every rational civilian, from those general constitutions, which had only the nature of things for their guide. The emperor Macrinus, as his historian Capitolinus informs us, had once resolved to abolish these rescripts, and retain only the general edicts: he could not hear that the hasty and crude answers of such princes as Commodus and Caracalla should be reverenced as laws. But Justinian thought otherwise”, and he has preserved them all. In like manner the canon laws, or decretal epistles of the popes, are all of them rescripts in the strictest sense. Contrary to all true forms of reasoning, they argue from particulars to generals.
The fairest and most rational method to interpret the will of the legislator, is by exploring his intentions at the time when the law was made, by signs the most natural and probable. And these signs are either the words, the context, the subjectmatter, the effects and consequence, or the spirit and reason of the law. Let us take a short view of them all. 1. Words are generally to be understood in their usual and
most known signification; not so much regarding the  propriety of grammar, as their general and popular use.
Thus the law mentioned by Puffendorfo, which forbad a
Inst. 1. 2.6
o L. of N. and N. 5. 12. 3.