Obrázky stránek

thing; nor could be extended to the use of it. For by the law of nature and reason, he who first began to use it acquired therein a kind of transient property, that lasted so long as lie was using it, and no longer 3: or, to speak with greater precision, the right of possession continued for the same time only that the act of possession lasted. Thus the ground was in common, and no part of it was the permanent property of any man in particular: yet whoever was in the occnpation of any determinate spot of it, for rest, for shade, or the like, acquired for the time a sort of ownership, from which it would have been unjust, and contrary to the law of nature, to have driven him by force; but the instant that he quitted the use or occupation of it, another might seize it without injustice. Thus also a vine or other tree might be said to be in common, as all men were equally entitled to its produce; and yet any private individual might gain the sole property of the fruit, which he had gathered for his own repast. A doctrine well illustrated by Cicero, who compares the world to a great theatre, which is common to the public, and yet the place which any man has taken is for the time his own“.

But when mankind increased in number, craft, and ambition, it became necessary to entertain conceptions of more permanent dominion; and to appropriate to individuals, not the immediate use only, but the very substance of the thing to be used. Otherwise innumerable tumults must have arisen, and the good order of the world been continually broken and disturbed, while a variety of persons were striving who should get the first occupation of the same thing, or disputing which of them had actually gained it. As hunian life also grew more and more refined, abundance of conveniences were devised to render it more easy, commodious, and agreeable; as, habitations for shelter and safety, and raiment for warmth and decency. But no man would be at the trouble to provide either, so long as he had only an usufruc. tuary property in them, which was to cease the instant that he quitted possession ;-if, as soon as he walked ont of his tent, or pulled off his garment, the next stranger who came by would have a right to inhabit the one, and to wear the other. In the case of habitations, in particular, it was natural to observe, that even the brute creation, to whom every thing else was in common, maintained a kind of permanent property in their dwellings, especially for the protection of their young; that the birds of the air had nests, and the beasts of the field had caverns, the invasion of which they deemed a very flagrant injustice, and would sacrifice their lives to preserve them. Hence a property was soon established in every man's house and homestall; which seem to have been originally mere temporary huts or moveable cabins, suited to the design of Providence for more speedily peopling the earth, and suited to the wandering life of their owners, before any extensive property in the soil or ground was established. And there can be no doubt, but that moveables of every kind became sooner appropriated than the permanent substantial soil; partly because they were more susceptible of a long occupancy, which might be continued for months together without any sensible interruption, and at length by usage ripen into an established right; but principally because few of them could be fit for use, till improved and meliorated by the bodily labour of the occupant: which bodily labour, bestowed upon any subject wbich before lay in common to all men, is universally allowed to give the fairest and most reasonable title to an exclusive property therein.

3 Barbeyr. Puff. 1. 4. c. 4.

4 Quem admodum theatrum, cum commune, sit recte, tamen dici potest, ejus esse euin locum quem quisque occuparir, De Fin. I. 3. c. 26.

The article of food was a more immediate call, and therefore a more early consideration. Such as were not contented with the spontaneous product of the earth, songht for a more solid refreshment in the flesh of beasts, which they obtained by hunting. But the frequent disappointments incident to that method of provision, induced them to gather together such aniinals as were of a more tame and sequacious nature; and to establish a permanent property in their flocks and herds, in order to sustain themselves in a less precarious manner, partly by the milk of the dams, and partly by the flesh of the young. The support of these their cattle made the article of water also a very important point. And therefore the book of Genesis (the most venerable monument of antiquity, considered merely with a view to history), will furnish us with frequent instances of violent contentions concerning wells; the exclusive property of which seems to have been established in the first digger or occupant, even in such places where the ground and herbage remained yet in common. 'Thus we find Abraham, who was but a sojourner, asserting his right to a well in the coun. try of Abimelech, and exacting an oath for his security, 'because he had digged that well! And Isaac, about vinety years afterwards, reclaimed this his father's property; and, after much contention with the Philistines, was suffered to enjoy it in peace".

All this while the soil and pasture of the earth remained still in common as before, and open to every occupant : except perhaps in the neighbourhood of towns, where the necessity of a sole and exclusive property in lands (for the sake of agriculture) was earlier felt, and therefore more readily complied with. Otherwise, when the multitude of men and cattle had consumed every convenience on one spot of ground, it was deemed a natural right to seize upou and occupy such other lands, as would more easily supply their necessities. This practice is still retained among the wild and uncultivated nations that have never been formed into civil states, like the Tartar, and others in the East; where the climate itself, and the boundless extent of their territory, conspire to retain them still in the same savage state of vagrant liberty, which was universal in the earliest ages, and which Tacitus informs us continued among the Germans till the decline of the Roman empire?. We have also a striking example of the same kind in the history of Abraham and his nephew Lots. When their joint substance became

5 Gen. xxi, 30.

o Gen. xxvi. 15, 18, &c. 7 Colunt discreti et diversi: ut fons, ut campus, ut nenus placnit. De Mor. Germ. 16.

8 Gen, xiij.

[ocr errors]

so great, that pasture and other conveniences grew scarce, the natural consequence was, that a strife arose between their servants; so that it was no longer practicable to dwell together. This contention Abraham thus endeavoured to compose:

· Let there be no strife, I pray thee, between thee and me. Is not the whole land before thee? Separate thyself, I pray thee, from me: If thou wilt take the left hand, then I will go to the right; or if thou depart to the right hand, then I will go to the left.' This plainly implies an acknowledged right in either to occupy whatever ground he pleased, that was not pre-occupied by other tribes. “And Lot lifted up his eyes, and beheld all the plain of Jordan, that it was well watered every where, even as the garden of the Lord. Then Lot chose him all the plain of Jordan, and journeyed east, and Abraham dwelt in the land of Cavaan.'

Upon the same principle was founded the right of migration, or sending colonies to find out new habitations, when the mother-country was overcharged with inhabitants; which was practised as well by the Phænicians and Greeks, as the Germans, Scythians, and other northern people. And so long as it was confined to the stocking and cultivation of desert, uninhabited countries, it kept strictly within the limits of the law of nature. But how far the seizing on countries already peopled, and driving out or massacring the innocent and defenceless natives, merely because they dif. fered from their invaders in language, in religion, in customs, in government, or in colour; how far such a conduct was consonant to nature, to reason,

« PředchozíPokračovat »