LIBERTY, in its most general signifi cation, is said to be a power to do as one thinks fit ; unless restrained by the law of the land : and it is well observed, that human nature is ever an advocate for this liberty ; it being the gift of God to man in his creation. It is upon that account the laws of England in all cases favour li berty. According to Montesquieu, liber ty consists principally in not being com pelled to do any thing which the law does not require ; because we are go verned by civil laws, and therefore we are free, living under those laws.
The absolute rights of man, considered as a free agent, endowed with discern ment to know good from evil, and with power of choosing those measures which appear to him to be most desirable, are usually summed up in one general ap pellation, and denominated the natural li berty of mankind. This natural liberty consists properly in a power of acting as one thinks fit, without any restraint or control, unless by the law of nature ; be ing a right inherent in us by birth, and one of the gifts of God to man at his cre ation, when be endowed him with the fa culty of free will.
But every man, when he enters into so ciety, gives up a part of his natural liber ty, as the price of so valuable a purchase; and in consideration of receiving the ad vantages of mutual commerce, obliges himself to conform to those laws which the community has thought proper to establish. This species of legal obedience is infinitely more desirable than that wild and savage liberty, which is sacrificed to obtain it. For no man, who considers a moment, would wish to retain the abso lute and uncontrolled power of doing whatever he pleases ; the consequence of which is, that every other man would also have the same power ; and then there would be no security to individuals in any of the enjoyments of life.
Political or civil liberty, therefore, which is that of a member of society, is no other than natural liberty, so far re strained by human laws, and no further, as is necessary and expedient for the ge neral advantage of the public.
Hence we may collect that the law, which restrains a man from doing mis chief to his fellow-citizens, though it di minishes the natural, increases the civil liberty of mankind : but that every wan ton and causeless restraint of the will of the subject, whether practised by a mo narch, by nobility, or a popular assembly, is a degree of tyranny ; nay, that even laws themselves, whether made with or without our consent, if they regulate and constrain our conduct in matters of mere indifference, without any good end in view, are regulations destructive of liber ty ; whereas, if any public advantage can arise from observing such precepts, the control of our private inclinations, in one or two particular points, will conduce to preserve our general freedom in others of more importance, by supporting that state of society which alone can secure our independence. So that laws, when
prudently framed, are by no means sub versive, but rather introductive of liber ty ; for where there is no law, there is no freedom.
But then, on the other hand, that con stitution, or form of government, is alone calculated to maintain civil liberty, which leaves the subject entire master of his own conduct, except in those points wherein the public good requires some direction or restraint.
The above definition of the learned commentator is admitted by his last editor to be clear, distinct, and rational, as far as relates to civil liberty ; in the defini tion of which, however, he adds, it ought to be understood, or rather expressed, that the restraints introduced by the law should be equal to all ; in as much so as the nature of things will admit.
Political liberty is distinguished by Mr. Christian from civil liberty, and he defines it to be the security with which, from the constitution, form, and nature of the esta blished government, the subjects enjoy civil liberty. No ideas, continues he, are more distinct than those of civil and po litical liberty ; yet they are generally confounded ; and the latter cannot yet claim an appropriate name. The learned judge (Blackstone) uses political and ci vil liberty indiscriminately; but it would perhaps be convenient uniformly to use those terms in the respective senses here suggested, or to have some fixed specific denominations for ideas, which, in their natures, are so widely different. The last species of liberty has most engaged the attention of mankind, and particularly of the people of England.