DIRECTOR   Valerian Gabriels


SOLON, the celebrated legislator of Athens, we are told, enacted a law for the capital punishment of every citizen who should continue neuter when parties ran high in that republic. He considered, it should seem, the declining to take a decided part on great and critical occasions, an indication of such a culpable indifference to the interests of the commonwealth, as could be expiated only by death. While we blame the rigour of this law, we must confess the principle, on which it was founded, is just and solid. In a political contest, relating to particular men or measures, a well-wisher to his country may be permitted to remain silent; but when the great interests of a nation are at stake, it becomes every man to act with firmness and vigour. I consider the present as a season of this nature, and shall therefore make no apology for laying before the public, the reflections it has suggested. The most capital advantage an enlightened people can enjoy is the liberty of discussing every subject which can fall within the compass of the human mind : while this remains, freedom will flourish ; but should it be lost or impaired, its principles will neither be well understood nor long retained. To render the magistrate a judge of truth, and engage his authority in the suppression of opinions, shews an inattention to the nature and design of political society. When a nation forms a government, it is not wisdom but power which they place in the hand of the magistrate; from whence it follows, his concern is only with those objects which power can operate upon. On this account the administration of justice, the protection of property, and the defence of every member of the community from violence and outrage, fall naturally within the province of the civil ruler, for these may all be accomplished by power; but an attempt to distinguish truth from error, and to countenance one set of opinions to the prejudice of another, is to apply power in a manner mischievous and absurd. To comprehend the reasons on which the right of public discussion is founded, it is requisite to remark the difference between sentiment and conduct. The behaviour of men in society will be influenced by motives drawn from the prospect of good and evil: here then is the proper department of government, as it is capable of applying that good and evil by which actions, are determined. Truth, on the contrary, is quite of a different nature, being supported only by evidence, and, as when this is represented, we cannot withhold our assent, so where this is wanting, no power or authority can command it.