Chapter 18

The preceding painting may be considered as extravagant; and exceeding all probability; the voting of beasts. But is it a new thing in the history of government that the right of suffrage should be made to depend upon property? No man shall be entitled to a vote unless he is worth so much, say some of the constitutions. In this case is it not his property that votes? If this property consists in cattle, can it be said that his cattle do not vote? Ergo, a cow or a horse, in some communities have the privilege of a vote in the enacting laws. If some of them, who belong to hard hearted masters, knew of this privilege, and could exercise it to the whole extent of their wishes, they would stipulate with the candidate, for milder treatment in the drudgery in which they are employed. I have seen many a horse, that considering matters individually; and apart from the nature, I have thought more respectable than the owner; and yet this horse most unmercifully treated. The only universally distinguishing criterion of humanity, that I know is, the mild treatment of every creature that has feeling, and is in our power. This ought to be inculcated as a moral duty. But as to beasts in propria persona, voting, not just giving a ticket for themselves, but standing by and grunting and neighing, or grinning, it may be thought too much yet. But why should it be thought altogether out of the compass of possibility? After what I have seen and heard of mankind, I should not wonder at such a thing taking place. Of what absurdity is not the human mind capable. Who would think it possible were it not a fact established by ten thousand testimonies, that human sacrifice could ever have been thought acceptable to the divinity? It is easy to trace the origin of the idea, and the policy of the sacrifice of cattle; because it facilitated to an order of men who did not labour, the means of livelihood. And unless we suppose that the custom of human sacrifice began amongst men that were cannibals, I am at a loss to account for it. It may be considered as still more absurd, that a creature, supposed rational, as man, could be so far irrational as to think that the punishment of himself could be acceptable to divinity, unless taken in this light, that the present smart might help weak minds to refrain from the like wrong they have done; connecting the flaggellation with the memory of it. Hence it may be said, that it is not out of nature, to ascribe any thing however absurd to the creature man.

The line of the poet Pope applied to an individual, may be parodied, and applied to the whole species.

“The greatest, basest, meanest of all kind.”

If it should be found, as I hope it will, some hundred years hence, that no innovator in a republican government, has at that time thought of extending suffrage in this manner, will he be sure that it is not owing to my ridicule that the thing has not taken place? If a chapter like this had been written in the course of the revolution from the government of Britain, representing the body of the people in some state, as reprobating the common law, and calling out for its abrogation, would it not have been thought extravagant, and intended as a burlesque upon the republican institutions of the country? And yet we have seen this actually pressed and not far from being carried. It amounts to the same thing as having no law at all. For it is experience that has made that law; dictated by the wants of man successively brought to view. And to begin again, we must be in the situation of those who had no law; and therefore the proposition was to be without law; and to have law only as a legislature, from occasion to occasion, could enact.--the case that first happened, could have no principle, that could apply to it; that must be provided for the second: and at the end of a thousand years, we might have such a body of laws, as that which is proposed to be abolished. I say we might have; but it would be a rare chance if we should: for it would require the continuance of a free government all that time to give it.--How should a man be sensible of this, that had not traced the history of that law, and examined the nature of it? It could not be expected from one who had confounded its perversions with the law itself. If when the constitutions of these states were formed, after much reflection of the ablest judges, and the people had solemnly, and deliberately adopted them, it had been stated by any writer, that in the short period, of perhaps not more than twenty years, innovators, not born in the country, or born late, and having no experience of what had past, should assume the language of what they call reform, to the extent they have done in some places, would it be believed? Nay, would it not have been rejected as outraging all probability? Suppose it had been part of the prediction that these innovators should come, the principal of them, from the country with whom we were then at war, and these not the most intelligent of them, and that the body of our people should be wrought upon, in any degree by their representation, would it have been thought at all likely to happen? There is no knowing to what the love of novelty may bring the human mind. It is a strange compound of the rational and irrational, and it is only by turns that the rational predominates.--”Thinkest thou me a dog, that I can do these things?” said Hazael. Thinkest thou me a beast, may one say to me, that I could advocate the suffrages of beasts, or of giving them the elective franchise? Yes: human nature, I do think you capable of being brought to such absurdity, or to any thing else you please to call it. It is true, I do not see you at this moment offering up your children, or even enemies, as sacrifices to please a divinity, which out-herods Herod, in all conceptions, yet I hear doctrines published, and see them in books, which are still worse. For their divinities, with the exception of the case of Jeptha and his daughter, were the false divinities of the heathen world; and might be supposed to delight in the miseries of mortals; though what good they could get by that, I cannot comprehend. But in the doctrines which I have in view, a good deity, and even represented as good, by those blasphemers, without knowing it, is holden out as having created existences, the sum of whose misery may exceed the happiness. Nay, even the escape from the excess of misery above that of happiness, may depend upon a charm. For the idea of felicity in a future state depending upon subtilties of creeds, is placing it upon the mere accident of situation, and the casualty of belief. Yet if one were to deny to some doctors the truth of what they teach, they would be disposed to treat the individual as not a good citizen. It is true, they would only say, they did not think him a good citizen. But I would say to them, that I did not think them Christians at all, so far as regarded opinion, whatever they might be in practice. For the Christian religion is a system of humanity, and truth; and the great object of it is to secure morality amongst men. It has no metaphysics in the nature of it; but is intelligible to a child, though catechisms are not.