That this law is no mere fancy, but a reality and a power in human history, is shown in this, that nothing which is not in accordance with it can last. I have not defined this law; I have taken for granted that we all have some sense of it. Its practical meaning may be discovered in the different virtues which we all have as ideals in our minds. Precise scientific statements are not always desirable, even if they are possible, in treating of so great a theme. It satisfies me in a general way to say that the higher law is that which commands us to Seek the universal good.
1 Oedipus Tyrannus, 863 ff. 2 Emile.
Another statement might be that every man has the ends of a man, and is hence to be treated as sacred and inviolable. My point now is, that if we do not so respect every man, we offend the higher law; and if there are many in a community who have a similar disregard, the fate of that community is sealed. Things are so ordered that righteousness alone is stability and lasting order and permanent peace. We did not make this so, and we cannot change it; it is a part of the nature of things, which overrides our will and makes light of our intentions ; it signifies that we are in other, stronger hands than our own. The prophets of the old time were simply those who took the side of the higher law, denounced the wickedness and the corruption that they saw about them, and prophesied the disaster and ruin that would inevitably follow. Greek tragedy is full of this thought; it is religious, even as the prophecies of the Old Testament are. The higher laws are not dead, stupid, indifferent things, but quick and alive, and know, so to speak, when they are offended. You cannot escape the consequences of any wrong you commit; if you do not suffer, society will suffer, your children will suffer : somehow the wrong must be expiated. There is a moral order in the world, holding up to us what we should do, and avenging itself upon us if we do not do it. History is but an impressive lesson of this. The Greeks spoke of the Furies that followed and would sooner or later overtake the guilty man; the Hebrews spoke of the wrath of the Eternal against the doers of wickedness. These metaphors, these figures of speech, are not more but less than the fact. The injured majesty of justice will avenge itself. "As the whirlwind passeth, so is the wicked no more, but the righteous is an everlasting foundation." 1
Time may be necessary for the proving of this. Our indignation at wrong and injustice often fails to have immediate satisfaction ; but time brings it around to us, if not to us, then to those who inherit the sense of indignation from us. For the spectacle of righteous retribution is not made for our personal satisfaction, it works itself out on its own account; happy are we, we may say, if we are privileged to see the consummation, but the consummation will come whether we see it or not. The end and issue of present wrongs are in the future, they are hid from our eyes; but the end and issue of past wrongs are plain before us. What have become of Assyria, of Babylon, those mighty empires that at their height of sway felt a boding sense come on, a sense that their huge frames were not constructed right, " And drooped, and slowly died upon their throne." 2
They rested on violence, they were permeated with immorality, they were doomed to fall. What has become of Greece, whom her art and her literature and her philosophy could not save ? Greece, of whom Matthew Arnold says that every educated man must love her ? Greece, who was the lifter up to the nations of the banner of art and science, and yet brilliant as she was, perished for lack of attention enough to conduct, for want of conduct, steadiness, character.3 What has become of Borne, stretching her empire so grandly as she did over the western world, whom her Ciceros and Antonines, and schools of great jurists failed to save ? Gone down because of luxury, because of sensuality, because of the idleness of the higher classes and the slavery of the lower; because of the contempt of human beings, because of great estates, because of inequality. What was the French revolution, I mean the horrors and the bloodshed of it, that which made it, as some one has said, " a truth clad in hell-fire," what was it but a righteous judgment upon a corrupt church, a corrupt monarchy, a corrupt society, a penalty visited upon France by the offended justice of things ?
1 Proverbs, x 25. 2 Matthew Arnold: Poems.
3 Ibid., Literature and Dogma.
What was the late war in this country but the natural and unescapable result of a wrong that was permitted to fester in the vitals of the nation, and came near to consuming it away ? The statesmen before the war thought to compromise with the wrong; they hid themselves under the forms of law and the Constitution. But the compromises and the wrongs permitted by the Constitution were part causes of the war; the war was a judgment on the country for permitting such compromises, for having such a Constitution. Wendell Phillips used to say that the sentiment of justice was something "against which no throne is potent enough to stand, no constitution sacred enough to endure ; " and he used to charge his hearers, " Remember this when you go to an anti-slavery gathering in a schoolhouse, and know that weighed against its solemn purpose, its terrible resolution, its earnest thought, Webster himself, and all huckstering statesmen in the opposite scale, shall kick the beam."1 The prophecy has come true, the huck stering statesmen have kicked the beam, and now no man wants to have it known that he or his father had any sympathy with those statesmen. "How shall a feeble minority," cried Phillips, " without weight or influence in the country, with no jury of millions to appeal to, denounced, vilified, and contemned, how shall we make way against the overwhelming weight of some colossal reputation, if we do not turn from the idolatrous present and appeal to the human race ? Saying to your idols of to-day, ' Here we are, defeated; but we will write our judgment with the iron pen of a century to come, and it shall never be forgotten, if we can help it, that you were false in your generation to the claims of the slave.'" 1 Well, brave soul, it will never be forgotten ; your appeal to the human race is already heard ; you were not defeated; the reputation which was so colossal in your day weighs very lightly upon us now, and the man who could speak contemptuously of the higher law, " some higher law," Webster said, " something existing somewhere between here and the third heaven, I do not know where," he lives in our national history in no small measure to be excused and apologized for.
1 Speeches, p. 50.