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RIGHTS AND WRONGS.
RIGHTS-in the sense in which it is intended to consider them in this work-are the powers, immunities, and privileges which attach to us at the moment of our birth, and such as we may acquire afterwards by operation of custom or law. And acts, committed or neglected, by reason of which the above are infringed or threatened, are WRONGS.
To every Right is joined a DUTY to exercise it properly. The common saying that a man may do what he pleases with his own, is repugnant alike to sacred precept and human ordinance. A RIGHT improperly employed becomes a WRONG. "Do unto others as you would they should do unto you," says the Scripture. "Sic utere tuo ut alienum non lædas,"* is a fundamental principle of our common law.
Rights are of two descriptions: 1st. Such as belong to us as persons; 2nd. Such as we gain over things. As persons, the law divides our rights, again, under two heads:
1st. Those which we have naturally as British subjects.
2nd. Those artificially created under the various relationships of life, such as the mutual duties and obligations of husbands and wives, parents and children,
*Use what is your own, so that you injure not another.
masters and servants, landlords and tenants, &c. For it is not absolutely necessary that we should marry, or have children, or engage servants, or hire houses or lands. It does not follow as a matter of course that we should have any persons to stand in the legal relationships of father and mother to us, for we may be born illegitimate.
Naturally-as British subjects-we enjoy the following rights :
I. THE RIGHT OF PERSONAL SECURITY.-This is prized so highly by our law, that it justifies us in selfdefence, even in slaying any person who may injure us in life or limb, and absolves us from the performance of any promise no matter how solemnly or formally made—if it has been exacted under threats against either the one or the other. It also protects us from practices injurious to our health, and from attacks upon our characters and good name.
II. THE RIGHT OF PERSONAL LIBERTY.-It is enacted by Magna Charta that no freeman shall be banished or imprisoned unless by judgment of his peers (equals), or by the law of the land; and by the equally famous Habeas Corpus Act, passed in the thirty-first year of the reign of King Charles II., it is provided that no subject of this realm shall be sent a prisoner beyond the seas to places where they cannot claim and enjoy the protection of the common law. A person wrongfully imprisoned, "beyond seas," may recover damages, not less than £500 and costs, from those who have procured his confinement; and they shall be "disabled," so runs the statute,"from thenceforth to bear any office of trust or profit within the realm of England, and shall incur and sustain the pains, penalties, and forfeitures limited, ordained, and provided in and by the Statute of Præmunire,
and be incapable of any pardon from the king, his heirs and successors, of the said forfeitures, losses, or disabilities, or any of them." With regard to those who may be imprisoned within the jurisdiction of our courts no matter by whom and in what manner, and whether under colour of judicial sentence or by private
wrong this statute enacts that the person so circumstanced, or his friends for him, may sue out a writ of Habeas Corpus, in obedience to which, he must be brought, within three days of the date of the writ, before the court out of which it is issued, there to hear the reason of his detention; and if he can show that he is illegally detained, he is entitled to his discharge. The writ of Habeas Corpus may be applied for in the High Court of Chancery and in the Courts of Queen's Bench, Common Pleas, and Exchequer, and a penalty of £500 may be recovered against any judge of such courts for improperly refusing to grant it. From a gaoler who refuses or neglects to obey it, a penalty of £100 for the first offence, and £200 for the second, may be recovered.
In the midst of violent political convulsions, such as the Scots Rebellion in the year 1715, the great Irish Rebellion in 1798, the disturbances which took place in England in the following year, and the abortive attempt at insurrection in Ireland in 1848, &c., when the safety of the many demanded that the liberty of a few turbulent spirits should be curtailed, this great bulwark of our freedom has been removed for short periods, by the consent of the people at large, expressed through their representatives in Parliament.
Thus, a British subject cannot be removed from his country against his will, except under the sentence of a court of law. The Sovereign cannot even compel him to accept the most honourable post abroad. Soldiers and sailors may be sent beyond seas, because when they entered their honourable professions, they of their own free will resigned a portion of their natural liberties into the hands of their commanders.
III. THE RIGHT OF LIBERTY OF CONSCIENCE.No disabilities now attach to any subject of the crown, upon account of his religion. Formerly, the rites and temples of the Church of England were the only forms and places of worship recognized by our constitution. Indeed, the law went so far as to punish with death a man or woman's systematic absence from their parish church; and as late as the year 1828, persons who from
conscientious scruples, refused to take the Holy Sacrament according to the formula of the Established Church, were incapable of election as members of Parliament, or of any municipal corporation. Thus, by what was called the Test and Corporation Acts, Dissenters and Roman Catholics, however capable and loyal they might be, were excluded from the service of their country. By other enactments, passed rather upon political than theological grounds, if the heirs of a deceased landed proprietor were Papists, the next descendant, however remote, who would declare himself a Protestant, might claim and possess them. A Roman Catholic was not permitted to carry arms for his defence, or to own a horse above the value of five pounds; and to carry out this last vexatious prohibition, he was compelled to sell any horse that he might possess, to the Protestant who should first offer that sum for it.
A form of words concluding the Oath of Abjuration and Supremacy, by which the rights of the Roman Catholic branch of the family of Stuart to the crown of England and Scotland were abjured, and the supremacy of the reigning sovereigns, William and Mary, acknowledged, and which was framed expressly to prevent the Jesuitical adherents of the Pretender, Charles Stuart, from taking the oath with a mental reservation, had indirectly the effect of excluding natural-born British subjects of the Jewish persuasion from Parliament. The words in question being, "Upon the true faith of a Christian."
One by one, all these disabilities, and many more that I need not enumerate, have been removed. The Dissenters and Roman Catholics received from time to time, various instalments of toleration, but in the year 1828, the Test and Corporation Acts were repealed, and in the following year the Roman Catholic Relief Act was passed. The session of 1857 brought to a satisfactory conclusion the long struggle that had been made in Parliament on behalf of the Jews, and now no disabilities whatever attach to a British subject on account of his religious tenets.
IV. THE RIGHT OF PRIVATE PROPERTY gives every one the free use and disposal of his possessions; but they must be obtained and transmitted according to law, and dealt with in conformity with the great maxim-" Sic utere tuo ut alienum non lædas."
It forms no part of my present purpose to trace the causes by operation of which the soil and its products, once common to all, have become the property of individuals, or to recount down to the present time the various customs and laws which have regulated the transmission from hand to hand of such and similar property. I am about to deal solely with RIGHTS, as they may now be exercised, and WRONGS, as they may now be redressed.
No consideration of the general welfare will justify one person, or class of persons, in seizing or injuring the private property of another. Sometimes the legislature compels a man to sell his land, &c., for the purpose of railways, roads, docks, &c., being constructed through or upon it; but, at the same time, it invariably provides that a proper price for the purchase, and a sum for compensation for any resulting inconvenience, shall be impartially assessed and promptly paid.
We tax ourselves, through our representatives in Parliament, to provide funds for the government and security of the kingdom at large; and no impost can be levied by compulsion for any purpose whatever without our sanction so expressed. The various municipal and other local governing bodies act with power derived and reflected from the legislature; and it is only in counties-where the justices (appointed by the Crown) levy the county rate,-that the sums we have to pay in these and other respects are not fixed by our own delegates. In the last-mentioned case, however, we are not without our remedy against mistake or unfairness; for, should our property be rated improperly, the law gives us an appeal to the Court of Quarter Sessions, where the impeached rating may be altered or entirely quashed or set aside.
At present no article of absolute necessity is taxed in this country, and a poor person may live a long and