An Essay on the Trial by Jury Part 26

And how does the trial by jury answer it? It answers it, as has already been shown throughout this volume, by saying that these mere agents and attorneys, who are chosen by a part only of the people, and are liable to be influenced by partial and unequal purposes, shall not have unlimited authority in the enactment and enforcement of laws; that they shall not exercise _all_ the functions of government. It says that they shall never exercise that ultimate power of compelling obedience to the laws by punishing for disobedience, or of executing the laws against the person or property of any man, without first getting the consent of the people, through a tribunal that may fairly be presumed to represent the whole, or substantially the whole, people. It says that if the power to make laws, and the power also to enforce them, were committed to these agents, they would have all power,--would be absolute masters of the people, and could deprive them of their rights at pleasure. It says, therefore, that the people themselves will hold a veto upon the enforcement of any and every law, which these agents may enact, and that whenever the occasion arises for them to give or withhold their consent,--inasmuch as the whole people cannot a.s.semble, or devote the time and attention necessary to the investigation of each case,--twelve of their number shall be taken by lot, or otherwise at random, from the whole body; that they shall not be chosen by majorities, (the same majorities that elected the agents who enacted the laws to be put in issue,) nor by any interested or suspected party; that they shall not be appointed by, or be in any way dependent upon, those who enacted the law; that their opinions, whether for or against the law that is in issue, shall not be inquired of beforehand; and that if these twelve men give their consent to the enforcement of the law, their consent shall stand for the consent of the whole.

This is the mode, which the trial by jury provides, for keeping the government within the limits designed by the whole people, who have a.s.sociated for its establishment. And it is the only mode, provided either by the English or American const.i.tutions, for the accomplishment of that object.

But it will, perhaps, be said that if the minority can defeat the will of the majority, then the minority _rule_ the majority. But this is not true in any unjust sense. The minority enact no laws of their own. They simply refuse their a.s.sent to such laws of the majority as they do not approve. The minority a.s.sume no authority over the majority; they simply defend themselves. They do not interfere with the right of the majority to seek their own happiness in their own way, so long as they (the majority) do not interfere with the minority. They claim simply not to be oppressed, and not to be compelled to a.s.sist in doing anything which they do not approve. They say to the majority, "We will unite with you, if you desire it, for the accomplishment of all those purposes, in which we have a common interest with you. You can certainly expect us to do nothing more. If you do not choose to a.s.sociate with us on those terms, there must be two separate a.s.sociations. You must a.s.sociate for the accomplishment of your purposes; we for the accomplishment of ours."

In this case, the minority a.s.sume no authority over the majority; they simply refuse to surrender their own liberties into the hands of the majority. They propose a union; but decline submission. The majority are still at liberty to refuse the connection, and to seek their own happiness in their own way, except that they cannot be gratified in their desire to become absolute masters of the minority.

But, it may be asked, how can the minority be trusted to enforce even such legislation as is equal and just? The answer is, that they are as reliable for that purpose as are the majority; they are as much presumed to have a.s.sociated, and are as likely to have a.s.sociated, for that object, as are the majority; and they have as much interest in such legislation as have the majority. They have even more interest in it; for, being the weaker party, they must rely on it for their security,--having no other security on which they can rely. Hence their consent to the establishment of government, and to the _taxation_ required for its support, is _presumed_, (although it ought not to be presumed,) without any express consent being given. This presumption of their consent to be taxed for the maintenance of laws, would be absurd, if they could not themselves be trusted to act in good faith in enforcing those laws. And hence they cannot be presumed to have consented to be taxed for the maintenance of any laws, except such as they are themselves ready to aid in enforcing. It is therefore unjust to tax them, unless they are eligible to seats in a jury, with power to judge of the justice of the laws. Taxing them for the support of the laws, on the a.s.sumption that they are in favor of the laws, and at the same time refusing them the right, as jurors, to judge of the justice of the laws, on the a.s.sumption that they are opposed to the laws, are flat contradictions.

But, it will be asked, what motive have the majority, when they have all power in their own hands, to submit their will to the veto of the minority?

One answer is, that they have the motive of justice. It would be _unjust_ to compel the minority to contribute, by taxation, to the support of any laws which they did not approve.

Another answer is, that if the stronger party wish to use their power only for purposes of justice, they have no occasion to fear the veto of the weaker party; for the latter have as strong motives for the maintenance of _just_ government, as have the former.

Another answer is, that if the stronger party use their power _unjustly_, they will hold it by an uncertain tenure, especially in a community where knowledge is diffused; for knowledge will enable the weaker party to make itself in time the stronger party. It also enables the weaker party, even while it remains the weaker party, perpetually to annoy, alarm, and injure their oppressors. Unjust power,--or rather power that is _grossly_ unjust, and that is known to be so by the minority,--can be sustained only at the expense of standing armies, and all the other machinery of force; for the oppressed party are always ready to risk their lives for purposes of vengeance, and the acquisition of their rights, whenever there is any tolerable chance of success.

Peace, safety, and quiet for all, can be enjoyed only under laws that obtain the consent of all. Hence tyrants frequently yield to the demands of justice from those weaker than themselves, as a means of buying peace and safety.

Still another answer is, that those who are in the majority on one law, will be in the minority on another. All, therefore, need the benefit of the veto, at some time or other, to protect themselves from injustice.

That the limits, within which legislation would, by this process, be confined, would be exceedingly narrow, in comparison with those it at present occupies, there can be no doubt. All monopolies, all special privileges, all sumptuary laws, all restraints upon any traffic, bargain, or contract, that was naturally lawful,[117] all restraints upon men's natural rights, the whole catalogue of _mala prohibita_, and all taxation to which the taxed parties had not individually, severally, and freely consented, would be at an end; because all such legislation implies a violation of the rights of a greater or less minority. This minority would disregard, trample upon, or resist, the execution of such legislation, and then throw themselves upon a jury of the whole people for justification and protection. In this way all legislation would be nullified, except the legislation of that general nature which impartially protected the rights, and subserved the interests, of all.

The only legislation that could be sustained, would probably be such as tended directly to the maintenance of justice and liberty; such, for example, as should contribute to the enforcement of contracts, the protection of property, and the prevention and punishment of acts intrinsically criminal. In short, government in practice would be brought to the necessity of a strict adherence to natural law, and natural justice, instead of being, as it now is, a great battle, in which avarice and ambition are constantly fighting for and obtaining advantages over the natural rights of mankind.

[Footnote 117: Such as restraints upon banking, upon the rates of interest, upon traffic with foreigners, &c., &c.]



It was a principle of the Common Law, as it is of the law of nature, and of common sense, that no man can be taxed without his personal consent.

The Common Law knew nothing of that system, which now prevails in England, of _a.s.suming_ a man's own consent to be taxed, because some pretended representative, whom he never authorized to act for him, has taken it upon himself to consent that he may be taxed. That is one of the many frauds on the Common Law, and the English const.i.tution, which have been introduced since Magna Carta. Having finally established itself in England, it has been stupidly and servilely copied and submitted to in the United States.

If the trial by jury were reestablished, the Common Law principle of taxation would be reestablished with it; for it is not to be supposed that juries would enforce a tax upon an individual which he had never agreed to pay. Taxation without consent is as plainly robbery, when enforced against one man, as when enforced against millions; and it is not to be imagined that juries could be blind to so self-evident a principle. Taking a man's money without his consent, is also as much robbery, when it is done by millions of men, acting in concert, and calling themselves a government, as when it is done by a single individual, acting on his own responsibility, and calling himself a highwayman. Neither the numbers engaged in the act, nor the different characters they a.s.sume as a cover for the act, alter the nature of the act itself.

If the government can take a man's money without his consent, there is no limit to the additional tyranny it may practise upon him; for, with his money, it can hire soldiers to stand over him, keep him in subjection, plunder him at discretion, and kill him if he resists. And governments always will do this, as they everywhere and always have done it, except where the Common Law principle has been established. It is therefore a first principle, a very _sine qua non_ of political freedom, that a man can be taxed only by his personal consent. And the establishment of this principle, with _trial by jury_, insures freedom of course; because: 1. No man would pay his money unless he had first contracted for such a government as he was willing to support; and, 2.

Unless the government then kept itself within the terms of its contract, juries would not enforce the payment of the tax. Besides, the agreement to be taxed would probably be entered into but for a year at a time. If, in that year, the government proved itself either inefficient or tyrannical, to any serious degree, the contract would not be renewed.

The dissatisfied parties, if sufficiently numerous for a new organization, would form themselves into a separate a.s.sociation for mutual protection. If not sufficiently numerous for that purpose, those who were conscientious would forego all governmental protection, rather than contribute to the support of a government which they deemed unjust.

All legitimate government is a mutual insurance company, voluntarily agreed upon by the parties to it, for the protection of their rights against wrong-doers. In its voluntary character it is precisely similar to an a.s.sociation for mutual protection against fire or shipwreck.

Before a man will join an a.s.sociation for these latter purposes, and pay the premium for being insured, he will, if he be a man of sense, look at the articles of the a.s.sociation; see what the company promises to do; what it is likely to do; and what are the rates of insurance. If he be satisfied on all these points, he will become a member, pay his premium for a year, and then hold the company to its contract. If the conduct of the company prove unsatisfactory, he will let his policy expire at the end of the year for which he has paid; will decline to pay any further premiums, and either seek insurance elsewhere, or take his own risk without any insurance. And as men act in the insurance of their ships and dwellings, they would act in the insurance of their properties, liberties and lives, in the political a.s.sociation, or government.

The political insurance company, or government, have no more right, in nature or reason, to _a.s.sume_ a man's consent to be protected by them, and to be taxed for that protection, when he has given no actual consent, than a fire or marine insurance company have to a.s.sume a man's consent to be protected by them, and to pay the premium, when his actual consent has never been given. To take a man's property without his consent is robbery; and to a.s.sume his consent, where no actual consent is given, makes the taking none the less robbery. If it did, the highwayman has the same right to a.s.sume a man's consent to part with his purse, that any other man, or body of men, can have. And his a.s.sumption would afford as much moral justification for his robbery as does a like a.s.sumption, on the part of the government, for taking a man's property without his consent. The government's pretence of protecting him, as an equivalent for the taxation, affords no justification. It is for himself to decide whether he desires such protection as the government offers him. If he do not desire it, or do not bargain for it, the government has no more right than any other insurance company to impose it upon him, or make him pay for it.

Trial by the country, and no taxation without consent, were the two pillars of English liberty, (when England had any liberty,) and the first principles of the Common Law. They mutually sustain each other; and neither can stand without the other. Without both, no people have any guaranty for their freedom; with both, no people can be otherwise than free.[118]

By what force, fraud, and conspiracy, on the part of kings, n.o.bles, and "a few wealthy freeholders," these pillars have been prostrated in England, it is designed to show more fully in the next volume, if it should be necessary.

[Footnote 118: Trial by the country, and no taxation without consent, mutually sustain each other, and can be sustained only by each other, for these reasons: 1. Juries would refuse to enforce a tax against a man who had never agreed to pay it. They would also protect men in forcibly resisting the collection of taxes to which they had never consented.

Otherwise the jurors would authorize the government to tax themselves without their consent,--a thing which no jury would be likely to do. In these two ways, then, trial by the country would sustain the principle of no taxation without consent. 2. On the other hand, the principle of no taxation without consent would sustain the trial by the country, because men in general would not consent to be taxed for the support of a government under which trial by the country was not secured. Thus these two principles mutually sustain each other.

But, if either of these principles were broken down, the other would fall with it, and for these reasons: 1. If trial by the country were broken down, the principle of no taxation without consent would fall with it, because the government would then be _able_ to tax the people without their consent, inasmuch as the legal tribunals would be mere tools of the government, and would enforce such taxation, and punish men for resisting such taxation, as the government ordered. 2. On the other hand, if the principle of no taxation without consent were broken down, trial by the country would fall with it, because the government, if it could tax people without their consent, would, of course, take enough of their money to enable it to employ all the force necessary for sustaining its own tribunals, (in the place of juries,) and carrying their decrees into execution.]

Receive SMS and Send Text Online for free >>

« Previous My Bookmarks Chapters Next»

Novel »
Next  »