An Essay on the History of Civil Society – Part II

An Essay on the History of Civil Society – Part II

Part Second.

Of the History of Rude Nations

Section I

Of the Informations on this subject which are derived from

The history of mankind is confined within a limited period,
and from every quarter brings an intimation that human affairs
have had a beginning: Nations, distinguished by the possession of
arts, and the felicity of their political establishments, have
been derived from a feeble original, and still preserve in their
story the indications of a slow and gradual progress, by which
this distinction was gained. The antiquities of every people,
however diversified, and however disguised, contain the same
information on this point.
In sacred history, we find the parents of the species, as yet
a single pair, sent forth to inherit the earth, and to force a
subsistence for themselves amidst the briers and thorns which
were made to abound on its surface. Their race, which was again
reduced to a few, had to struggle with the dangers that await a
weak and infant species; and after many ages elapsed, the most
respectable nations took their rise from one or a few families
that had pastured their flocks in the desert.
The Grecians derive their own origin from unsettled tribes,
whose frequent migrations are a proof of the rude and infant
state of their communities; and whose warlike exploits, so much
celebrated in story, only exhibit the struggles with which they
disputed for the possession of a country they afterwards, by
their talent for fable, by their arts, and their policy, rendered
so famous in the history of mankind.
Italy must have been divided into many rude and feeble
cantons, when a band of robbers, as we are taught to consider
them, found a secure settlement on the banks of the Tiber, and
when a people, yet composed only of one sex, sustained the
character of a nation. Rome, for many ages, saw, from her walls,
on every side, the territory of her enemies, and found as little
to check or to stifle the weakness of her infant power, as she
did afterwards to restrain the progress of her extended empire.
Like a Tartar or a Scythian horde, which had pitched on a
settlement, this nascent community was equal, if not superior, to
every tribe in its neighbourhood; and the oak which has covered
the field with its shade, was once a feeble plant in the nursery,
and not to be distinguished from the weeds by which its early
growth was restrained.
The Gauls and the Germans are come to our knowledge with the
marks of a similar condition; and the inhabitants of Britain, at
the time of the first Roman invasions, resembled, in many things,
the present natives of North America: they were ignorant of
agriculture; they painted their bodies; and used for cloathing,
the skins of beasts.
Such therefore appears to have been the commencement of
history with all nations, and in such circumstances are we to
look for the original character of mankind. The inquiry refers to
a distant period, and every conclusion should build on the facts
which are preserved for our use. Our method, notwithstanding, too
frequently, is to rest the whole on conjecture; to impute every
advantage of our nature to those arts which we ourselves possess;
and to imagine, that a mere negation of all our virtues is a
sufficient description of man in his original state. We are
ourselves the supposed standards of politeness and civilization;
and where our own features do not appear, we apprehend, that
there is nothing which deserves to be known. But it is probable
that here, as in many other cases, we are ill qualified, from our
supposed knowledge of causes, to prognosticate effects, or to
determine what must have been the properties and operations, even
of our own nature, in the absence of those circumstances in which
we have seen it engaged. Who would, from mere conjecture,
suppose, that the naked savage would be a coxcomb and a gamester?
that he would be proud and vain, without the distinctions of
title and fortune? and that his principal care would be to adorn
his person, and to find an amusement? Even if it could be
supplied that he would thus share in our vices, and, in the midst
of his forest, vie with the follies which are practised in the
town; yet no one would be so bold as to affirm, that he would
likewise, in any instance, excel us in talents and virtues; that
he would have a penetration, a force of imagination and
elocution, an ardour of mind, an affection and courage, which the
arts, the discipline, and the policy of few nations would be able
to improve. Yet these particulars are a part in the description
which is delivered by those who have had opportunities of seeing
mankind in their rudest condition: and beyond the reach of such
testimony, we can neither safely take, nor pretend to give,
information on the subject.
If conjectures and opinions formed at a distance, have not
sufficient authority in the history of mankind, the domestic
antiquities of every nation must, for this very reason, be
received with caution. They are, for most part, the mere
conjectures or the fictions of subsequent ages; and even where at
first they contained some resemblance of truth, they still vary
with the imagination of those by whom they are transmitted, and
in every generation receive a different form. They are made to
bear the stamp of the times through which they have passed in the
form of tradition, not of the ages to which their pretended
descriptions relate. The information they bring, is not like the
light reflected from a mirrour, which delineates the object from
which it originally came; but, like rays that come broken and
dispersed from an opaque or unpolished surface, only give the
colours and features of the body from which they were last
When traditionary fables are rehearsed by the vulgar, they
bear the marks of a national character; and though mixed with
absurdities, often raise the imagination, and move the heart:
when made the materials of poetry, and adorned by the skill and
the eloquence of an ardent and superior mind, they instruct the
understanding, as well as engage the passions. It is only in the
management of mere antiquaries, or stript of the ornaments which
the laws of history forbid them to wear, that they become even
unfit to amuse the fancy, or to serve any purpose whatever. It
were absurd to quote the fable of the Iliad Or the Odyssey, the
legends of Hercules, Theseus, or Oedipus, as authorities in
matter of fact relating to the history of mankind; but they may,
with great justice, be cited to ascertain what were the
conceptions and sentiments of the age in which they were
composed, or to characterise the genius of that people, with
whose imaginations they were blended, and by whom they were
fondly rehearsed and admired.
In this manner fiction may be admitted to vouch for the
genius of nations, while history has nothing to offer that is
intitled to credit. The Greek fable accordingly conveying a
character of its authors, throws light on an age of which no
other record remains. The superiority of this people is indeed in
no circumstance more evident than in the strain of their
fictions, and in the story of those fabulous heroes, poets, and
sages, whose tales, being invented or embellished by an
imagination already filled with the subject for which the hero
was celebrated, served to inflame that ardent enthusiasm with
which this people afterwards proceeded in the pursuit of every
national object.
It was no doubt of great advantage to those nations, that
their system of fable was original, and being already received in
popular traditions, served to diffuse those improvements of
reason, imagination, and sentiment, which were afterwards, by men
of the finest talents, made on the fable itself, or conveyed in
its moral. The passions of the poet pervaded the minds of the
people, and the conceptions of men of genius being communicated
to the vulgar, became the incentives of a national spirit.
A mythology borrowed from abroad, a literature founded on
references to a strange country, and fraught with foreign
allusions, are much more confined in their use: they speak to the
learned alone; and though intended to inform the understanding,
and to mend the heart, may, by being confined to a few, have an
opposite effect: they may foster conceit on the ruins of common
sense, and render what was, at least innocently, sung by the
Athenian mariner at his oar, or rehearsed by the shepherd in
attending his flock, an occasion of vice, and the foundation of
pedantry and scholastic pride.
Our very learning, perhaps, where its influence extends,
serves, in some measure, to depress our national spirit. Our
literature being derived from nations of a different race, who
flourished at a time when our ancestors were in a state of
barbarity, and consequently when they were despised by those who
had attained to the literary arts, has given rise to a humbling
opinion, that we ourselves are the offspring of mean and
Contemptible nations, with whom the human imagination and
sentiment had no effect, till the genius was in a manner inspired
by examples, and directed by lessons that were brought from
abroad. The Romans, from whom our accounts are chiefly derived,
have admitted, in the rudeness of their own ancestors, a system
of virtues, which all simple nations perhaps equally possess; a
contempt of riches, love of their country, patience of hardship,
danger, and fatigue. They have, notwithstanding, vilified our
ancestors for having perhaps only resembled their own; at least,
in the defect of their arts, and in the neglect of conveniencies
which those arts are employed to procure.
It is from the Greek and the Roman historians, however, that
we have not only the most authentic and instructive, but even the
most engaging, representations of the tribes from whom we
descend. Those sublime and intelligent writers understood human
nature, and could collect its features, and exhibit its
characters in every situation. They were ill succeeded in this
task by the early historians of modern Europe; who, generally
bred to the profession of monks, and confined to the monastic
life, applied themselves to record what they were pleased to
denominate facts, while they suffered the productions of genius
to perish, and were unable, either by the matter they selected,
or the style of their compositions, to give any representation of
the active spirit of mankind in any condition. With them, a
narration was supposed to constitute history, whilst it did not
convey any knowledge of men; and history itself was allowed to be
complete, while, amidst the events and the succession of princes
that are recorded in the order of time, we are left to look in
vain for those characteristic of the understanding and the heart,
which alone, in every human transaction, render the story either
engaging or useful.
We therefore willingly quit the history of our early
ancestors, where Caesar and Tacitus have dropped them; and
perhaps, till we come within the reach of what is connected with
present affairs, and makes a part in the system on which we now
proceed, have little reason to expect any subject to interest or
inform the mind. We have no reason, however, from hence to
conclude, that the matter itself was more barren, or the scene of
human affairs less interesting, in modern Europe, than it has
been on every stage where mankind were engaged to exhibit the
movements of the heart, the efforts of generosity, magnanimity,
and courage.
The trial of what those ages contained, is not even fairly
made, when men of genius and distinguished abilities, with the
accomplishments of a learned and a polished age, collect the
materials they have found, and, with the greatest success,
connect the story of illiterate ages with transactions of a later
date: it is difficult even for them, under the names which are
applied in a new state of society, to convey a just apprehension
of what mankind were in situations so different, and in times so
remote from their own.
In deriving from historians of this character the instruction
which their writings are fit to bestow, we are frequently to
forget the general terms that are employed, in order to collect
the real manners of an age, from the minute circumstances that
are occasionally presented. The titles of Royal and Noble were
applicable to the families of Tarquin, Collatinus, and
Cincinnatus; but Lucretia was employed in domestic industry with
her maids, and Cincinnatus followed the plough. The dignities,
and even the offices, of civil society, were known many ages ago,
in Europe, by their present appellations; but we find in the
history of England, that a king and his court being assembled to
solemnize a festival, an outlaw, who had subsisted by robbery,
came to share in the feast. The king himself arose to force this
unworthy guest from the company, a scuffle ensued between them,
and the king was killed.(1*) A chancellor and prime minister,
whose magnificence and sumptuous furniture were the subject of
admiration and envy, had his apartments covered every day in
winter with clean straw and hay, and in summer with green rushes
or boughs. Even the sovereign himself, in those ages, was
provided with forage for his bed.(2*) These picturesque features
and characteristical strokes of the times, recal the imagination
from the supposed distinction of monarch and subject, to that
state of rough familiarity in which our ancestors lived, and
under which they acted, with a view to objects, and on principles
of conduct, which we seldom comprehend, when we are employed to
record their transactions, or to study their characters.
Thucydides, notwithstanding the prejudice of his country
against the name of Barbarian, understood that it was in the
customs of barbarous nations he was to study the more ancient
manners of Greece.
The Romans might have found an image of their own ancestors,
in the representations they have given of ours: and if ever an
Arab clan shall become a civilized nation, or any American tribe
escape the poison which is administered by our traders of Europe,
it may be from the relations of the present times, and the
descriptions which are now given by travellers, that such a
people, in after ages, may best collect the accounts of their
origin. It is in their present condition, that we are to behold,
as in a mirrour, the features of our own progenitors; and from
thence we are to draw our conclusions with respect to the
influence of situations, in which, we have reason to believe, our
fathers were placed.
What should distinguish a German or a Briton, in the habits
of his mind or his body, in his manners or apprehensions, from an
American, who, like him, with his bow and his dart, is left to
traverse the forest; and in a like severe or variable climate, is
obliged to subsist by the chace?
If, in advanced years, we would form a just notion of our
progress from the cradle, we must have reCourse to the nursery,
and from the example of those who are still in the period of life
we mean to describe, take our representation of past manners,
that cannot, in any other way, be recalled.

Section II

Of Rude Nations prior to the Establishment of Property

From one to the other extremity of America; from Kamschatka
westward to the river Oby, and from the Northern sea, over that
length of country, to the confines of China, of India, and
Persia; from the Caspian to the Red sea, with little exception,
and from thence over the inland continent and the western shores
of Africa; we every where meet with nations on whom we bestow the
appellations of barbarous or savage. That extensive tract of the
earth, containing so great a variety of situation, climate, and
soil, should, in the manners of its inhabitants, exhibit all the
diversities which arise from the unequal influence of the sun,
joined to a different nourishment and manner of life. Every
question, however, on this subject is premature, till we have
first endeavoured to form some general conception of our species
in its rude state, and have learned to distinguish mere ignorance
from dullness, and the want of arts from the want of capacity.
Of the nations who dwell in those, or any other of the less
cultivated parts of the earth, some intrust their subsistence
chiefly to hunting, fishing, or the natural produce of the soil.
They have little attention to property, and scarcely any
beginnings of subordination or government. Others having
possessed themselves of herds, and depending for their provision
on pasture, know what it is to be poor and rich. They know the
relations of patron and client, of servant and master, and suffer
themselves to be classed according to their measures of wealth.
This distinction must create a material difference of character,
and may furnish two separate heads, under which to consider the
history of mankind in their rudest state; that of the savage, who
is not yet acquainted with property; and that of the barbarian,
to whom it is, although not ascertained by laws, a principal
object of care and desire.
It must appear very evident, that property is a matter of
progress. It requires, among other particulars which are the
effects of time, some method of defining possession. The very
desire of it proceeds from experience; and the industry by which
it is gained, or improved, requires such a habit of acting with a
view to distant objects, as may overcome the present disposition
either to sloth or to enjoyment. This habit is slowly acquired,
and is in reality a principal distinction of nations in the
advanced state of mechanic and commercial arts.
In a tribe which subsists by hunting and fishing, the arms,
the utensils, and the fur, which the individual carries, are to
him the only subjects of property. The food of to-morrow is yet
wild in the forest, or hid in the lake; it cannot be appropriated
before it is caught; and even then, being the purchase of
numbers, who fish or hunt in a body, it accrues to the community,
and is applied to immediate use, or becomes an accession to the
stores of the public.
Where savage nations, as in most parts of America, mix with
the practice of hunting some species of rude agriculture, they
still follow, with respect to the soil and the fruits of the
earth, the analogy of their principal object. As the men hunt, so
the women labour together; and, after they have shared the toils
of the seed-time. they enjoy the fruits of the harvest in common.
The field in which they have planted, like the district over
which they are accustomed to hunt, is claimed as a property by
the nation, but is not parcelled in lots to its members. They go
forth in parties to prepare the ground, to plant, and to reap.
The harvest is gathered into the public granary, and from thence,
at stated times, is divided into shares for the maintenance of
separate families.(3*) Even the returns of the market, when they
trade with foreigners, are brought home to the stock of the
As the fur and the bow pertain to the individual, the cabbin
and its utensils are appropriated to the family; and as the
domestic cares are committed to the women, so the property of the
household seems likewise to be vested in them. The children are
considered as pertaining to the mother, with little regard to
descent on the father’s side. The males, before they are married,
remain in the cabbin in which they are born; but after they have
formed a new connection with the other sex, they change their
habitation, and become an accession to the family in which they
have found their wives. The hunter and the warrior are numbered
by the matron as a part of her treasure; they are reserved for
perils and trying occasions; and in the recess of public
councils, in the intervals of hunting or war, are maintained by
the cares of the women, and loiter about in mere amusement or
While one sex continue to value themselves chiefly on their
courage, their talent for policy, and their warlike achievements,
this species of property which is bestowed on the other, is in
reality a mark of subjection; not, as some writers alledge, of
their having acquired an ascendant.'(6*) It is the care and
trouble of a subject with which the warrior does not chuse to be
embarrassed. It is a servitude, and a continual toil, where no
honours are won; and they whose province it is, are in fact the
slaves and the helots of their country If in this destination of
the sexes; while the men continue to indulge themselves in the
contempt of sordid and mercenary arts, the cruel establishment of
slavery is for some ages deferred; if in this tender, though
unequal alliance, the affections of the heart prevent the
severities practised on slaves; we have in the custom itself, as
perhaps in many other instances, reason to prefer the first
suggestions of nature, to many of her after refinements.
If mankind, in any instance, continue the article of property
on the footing we have now represented, we may easily credit what
is farther reported by travellers, that they admit of no
distinctions of rank or condition; and that they have in fact no
degree of subordination different from the distribution of
function, which follows the differences of age, talents, and
dispositions. Personal qualities give an ascendant in the midst
of occasions which require their exertion; but in times of
relaxation, leave no vestige of power or prerogative. A warrior
who has led the youth of his nation to the slaughter of their
enemies, or who has been foremost in the chace, returns upon a
level with the rest of his tribe; and when the only business is
to sleep, or to feed, can enjoy no pre-eminence; for he sleeps
and he feeds no better than they.
Where no profit attends dominion, one party is as much averse
to the trouble of perpetual command, as the other is to the
mortification of perpetual submission: ‘I love victory, I love
great actions,’ says Montesquieu in the character of Sylla; ‘but
have no relish for the languid detail of pacific government, or
the pageantry of high station.’ He has touched perhaps what is a
prevailing sentiment in the simplest state of society, when the
weakness of motives suggested by interest, and the ignorance of
any elevation not founded on merit, supplies the place of
disdain. The character of the mind, however, in this state, is
not founded on ignorance alone. Men are conscious of their
equality, and are tenacious of its rights. Even when they follow
a leader to the field, they cannot brook the pretensions to a
formal command: they listen to no orders; and they come under no
military engagements, but those of mutual fidelity, and equal
ardour in the enterprise.(7*)
This description, we may believe, is unequally applicable to
different nations, who have made unequal advances in the
establishment of property. Among the Caribbees, and the other
natives of the warmer climates in America, the dignity of
chieftain is hereditary, or elective, and continued for life: the
unequal distribution of property creates a visible
subordination.(8*) But among the Iroquois, and other nations of
the temperate zone, the titles of magistrate and subject, of
noble and mean, are as little known as those of rich and poor.
The old men, without being invested with any coercive power,
employ their natural authority in advising or in prompting the
resolutions of their tribe: the military leader is pointed out by
the superiority of his manhood and valour: the statesman is
distinguished only by the attention with which his counsel is
heard; the warrior by the confidence with which the youth of his
nation follow him to the field: and if their concerts must be
supposed to constitute a species of political government, it is
one to which no language of ours can be applied. Power is no more
than the natural ascendency of the mind; the discharge of office
no more than a natural exercise of the personal character; and
while the community acts with an appearance of order, there is no
sense of disparity in the breast of any of its members.(9*)
In these happy, though informal, proceedings, where age alone
gives a place in the council; where youth, ardour, and valour in
the field, give a title to the station of leader; where the whole
community is assembled on any alarming occasion, we may venture
to say, that we have found the origin of the senate, the
executive power, and the assembly of the people; institutions for
which ancient legislators have been so much renowned. The senate
among the Greeks, as well as the Latins, appears, from the
etymology of its name, to have been originally composed of
elderly men. The military leader at Rome, in a manner not unlike
to that of the American warrior, proclaimed his levies, and the
citizen prepared for the field, in consequence of a voluntary
engagement. The suggestions of nature, which directed the policy
of nations in the wilds of America, were followed before on the
banks of the Eurotas and the Tyber; and Lycurgus and Romulus
found the model of their institutions where the members of every
rude nation find the earliest mode of uniting their talents, and
combining their forces.
Among the North-American nations, every individual is
independent; but he is engaged by his affections and his habits
in the cares of a family. Families, like so many separate tribes,
are subject to no inspection or government from abroad; whatever
passes at home, even bloodshed and murder, are only supposed to
concern themselves. They are, in the mean time, the parts of a
canton; the women assemble to plant their maize; the old men go
to council; the huntsman and the warrior joins the youth of his
village in the field. Many such cantons assemble to constitute a
national council, or to execute a national enterprise. When the
Europeans made their first settlements in America, six such
nations had formed a league, had their amphyctiones or
states-general, and, by the firmness of their union, and the
ability of their councils, had obtained an ascendant from the
mouth of the St Laurence to that of the Mississippi.(10*) They
appeared to understand the objects of the confederacy, as well as
those of the separate nation; they studied a balance of power;
the statesman of one country watched the designs and proceedings
of another; and occasionally threw the weight of his tribe into a
different scale. They had their alliances and their treaties,
which, like the nations of Europe, they maintained, or they
broke, upon reasons of state; and remained at peace from a sense
of necessity or expediency, and went to war upon any emergence of
provocation or jealousy.
Thus, without any settled form of government, or any bond of
union, but what resembled more the suggestion of instinct, than
the invention of reason, they conducted themselves with the
concert, and the force, of nations. Foreigners, without being
able to discover who is the magistrate, or in what manner the
senate is composed, always find a council with whom they may
treat, or a band of warriors with whom they may fight. Without
police or compulsory laws, their domestic society is conducted
with order, and the absence of vicious dispositions, is a better
security than any public establishment for the suppression of
Disorders, however, sometimes occur, especially in times of
debauch, when the immoderate use of intoxicating liquors, to
which they are extremely addicted, suspends the ordinary caution
of their demeanour, and inflaming their violent passions, engages
them in quarrels and bloodshed. When a person is slain, his
murderer is seldom called to an immediate account: but he has a
quarrel to sustain with the family and the friends; or if a
stranger, with the countrymen of the deceased; sometimes even
with his own nation at home, if the injury committed be of a kind
to alarm the society. The nation, the canton, or the family,
endeavour, by presents, to atone for the offence of any of their
members; and, by pacifying the parties aggrieved, endeavour to
prevent what alarms the community more than the first disorder,
the subsequent effects of revenge and animosity. (11*) The
shedding of blood, however, if the guilty person remain where he
has committed the crime, seldom escapes unpunished: the friend of
the deceased knows how to disguise, though not to suppress, his
resentment; and even after many years have elapsed, is sure to
repay the injury that was done to his kindred or his house.
These considerations render them cautious and circumspect,
put them on their guard against their passions, and give to their
ordinary deportment an air of phlegm and composure superior to
what is possessed among polished nations. They are, in the mean
time, affectionate in their carriage, and in their conversations
pay a mutual attention and regard, says Charlevoix, more tender
and more engaging, than what we profess in the ceremonial of
polished societies.
This writer has observed, that the nations among whom he
travelled in North America, never mentioned acts of generosity or
kindness under the notion of duty. They acted from affection, as
they acted from appetite, without regard to its consequences.
When they had done a kindness, they had gratified a desire; the
business was finished, and passed from the memory. When they
received a favour, it might, or it might not, prove the occasion
of friendship: if it did not, the parties appeared to have no
apprehensions of gratitude, as a duty by which the one was bound
to make a return, or the other intitled to reproach the person
who had failed in his part. The spirit with which they give or
receive presents, is the same which Tacitus observed among the
ancient Germans: They delight in them, but do not consider them
as matter of obligation.(12*) Such gifts are of little
consequence, except when employed as the seal of a bargain or
It was their favourite maxim, That no man is naturally
indebted to another; that he is not, therefore, obliged to bear
with any imposition, or unequal(13*) treatment. Thus, in a
principle apparently sullen and inhospitable, they have
discovered the foundation of justice, and observe its rules, with
a steadiness and candour which no cultivation has been found to
improve. The freedom which they give in what relates to the
supposed duties of kindness and friendship, serves only to engage
the heart more entirely, where it is once possessed with
affection. We love to chuse our object without any restraint, and
we consider kindness itself as a task, when the duties of
friendship are exacted by rule. We therefore, by our demand for
attentions, rather corrupt than improve the system of morality;
and by our exactions of gratitude, and our frequent proposals to
inforce its observance, we only shew, that we have mistaken its
nature; we only give symptoms of that growing sensibility to
interest, from which we measure the expediency of friendship and
generosity itself; and by which we would introduce the spirit of
traffic into the commerce of affection. In consequence of this
proceeding, we are often obliged to decline a favour with the
same spirit that we throw off a servile engagement, or reject a
bribe. To the unrefining savage every favour is welcome, and
every present received without reserve or reflection.
The love of equality, and the love of justice, were
originally the same: and although, by the constitution of
different societies, unequal privileges are bestowed on their
members; and although justice itself requires a proper regard to
be paid to such privileges; yet he who has forgotten that men
were originally equal, easily degenerates into a slave; or in the
capacity of a master, is not to be trusted with the rights of his
fellow-creatures. This happy principle gives to the mind its
sense of independence, renders it indifferent to the favours
which are in the power of other men, checks it in the commission
of injuries, and leaves the heart open to the affections of
generosity and kindness. It gives to the untutored American that
air of candour, and of regard to the welfare of others, which, in
some degree, softens the arrogant pride of his carriage, and in
times of confidence and peace, without the assistance of
government or law, renders the approach and commerce of strangers
Among this people, the foundations of honour are eminent
abilities and great fortitude; not the distinctions of equipage
and fortune: The talents in esteem are such as their situation
leads them to employ, the exact knowledge of a country, and
stratagem in war. On these qualifications, a captain among the
Caribbees underwent an examination. When a new leader was to be
chosen, a scout was sent forth to traverse the forests which led
to the enemy’s country, and, upon his return, the candidate was
desired to find the track in which he had travelled. A brook, or
a fountain, was named to him on the frontier, and he was desired
to find the nearest path to a particular station, and to plant a
stake in the place.(14*) They can, accordingly, trace a wild
beast, or the human foot, over many leagues of a pathless forest,
and find their way across a woody and uninhabited continent, by
means of refined observations, which escape the traveller who has
been accustomed to different aids. They steer in slender canoes,
across stormy seas, with a dexterity equal to that of the most
experienced pilot.(15*) They carry a penetrating eye for the
thoughts and intentions of those with whom they have to deal; and
when they mean to deceive, they cover themselves with arts which
the most subtile can seldom elude. They harangue in their public
councils with a nervous and figurative elocution; and conduct
themselves in the management of their treaties with a perfect
discernment of their national interests.
Thus being able masters in the detail of their own affairs,
and well qualified to acquit themselves on particular occasions,
they study no science, and go in pursuit of no general
principles. They even seem incapable of attending to any distant
consequences, beyond those they have experienced in hunting or
war. They intrust the provision of every season to itself;
consume the fruits of the earth in summer; and, in winter, are
driven in quest of their prey, through woods, and over deserts
covered with snow. They do not form in one hour those maxims
which may prevent the errors of the next; and they fail in those
apprehensions, which, in the intervals of passion, produce
ingenuous shame, compassion, remorse, or a command of appetite.
They are seldom made to repent of any violence; nor is a person,
indeed, thought accountable in his sober mood, for what he did in
the heat of a passion, or in a time of debauch.
Their superstitions are groveling and mean: and did this
happen among rude nations alone, we could not sufficiently admire
the effects of politeness; but it is a subject on which few
nations are intitled to censure their neighbours. When we have
considered the superstitions of one people, we find little
variety in those of another. They are but a repetition of similar
weaknesses and absurdities, derived from a common source, a
perplexed apprehension of invisible agents, that are supposed to
guide all precarious events to which human foresight cannot
In what depends on the known or the regular course of nature,
the mind trusts to itself; but in strange and uncommon
situations, it is the dupe of its own perplexity, and, instead of
relying on its prudence or courage, has recourse to divination,
and a variety of observances, that, for being irrational, are
always the more revered. Superstition being founded in doubts and
anxiety, is fostered by ignorance and mystery. Its maxims, in the
mean time, are not always confounded with those of common life;
nor does its weakness or folly always prevent the watchfulness,
penetration, and courage, men are accustomed to employ in the
management of common affairs. A Roman consulting futurity by the
pecking of birds, or a King of Sparta inspecting the intrails of
a beast, Mithridates consulting his women on the interpretation
of his dreams, are examples sufficient to prove, that a childish
imbecility on this subject is consistent with the greatest
military and political talents.
Confidence in the effect of superstitious observances is not
peculiar to any age or nation. Few, even of the accomplished
Greeks and Romans, were able to shake off this weakness. In their
case, it was not removed by the highest measures of civilization.
It has yielded only to the light of true religion, or to the
study of nature, by which we are led to substitute a wise
providence operating by physical causes, in the place of phantoms
that terrify or amuse the ignorant.
The principal point of honour among the rude nations of
America, as indeed in every instance where mankind are not
greatly corrupted, is fortitude. Yet their way of maintaining
this point of honour, is very different from that of the nations
of Europe. Their ordinary method of making war is by ambuscade;
and they strive, by over-reaching an enemy, to commit the
greatest slaughter, or to make the greatest number of prisoners,
with the least hazard to themselves. They deem it a folly to
expose their own persons in assaulting an enemy, and do not
rejoice in victories which are stained with the blood of their
own people. They do not value themselves, as in Europe, on
defying their enemy upon equal terms. They even boast, that they
approach like foxes, or that they fly like birds, not less than
that they devour like lions. In Europe, to fall in battle is
accounted an honour; among the natives of America, it is reckoned
disgraceful.(16*) They reserve their fortitude for the trials
they abide when attacked by surprise, or when fallen into their
enemies hands; and when they are obliged to maintain their own
honour, and that of their nation, in the midst of torments that
require efforts of patience more than of valour.
On these occasions, they are far from allowing it to be
supposed that they wish to decline the conflict. It is held
infamous to avoid it, even by a voluntary death; and the greatest
affront which can be offered to a prisoner, is to refuse him the
honours of a man, in the manner of his execution: ‘With-hold’,
says an old man, in the midst of his torture, ’the stabs of your
knife; rather let me die by fire, that those dogs, your allies,
from beyond the seas, may learn to suffer like men.'(17*) With
terms of defiance, the victim, in those solemn trials, commonly
excites the animosity of his tormentors, as well as his own; and
whilst we suffer for human nature, under the effect of its
errors, we must admire its force.
The people with whom this practice prevailed, were commonly
desirous of repairing their own losses, by adopting prisoners of
war into their families: and even in the last moment, the hand
which was raised to torment, frequently gave the sign of
adoption, by which the prisoner became the child or the brother
of his enemy, and came to share in all the privileges of a
citizen. In their treatment of those who suffered, they did not
appear to be guided by principles of hatred or revenge: they
observed the point of honour in applying as well as in bearing
their torments; and, by a strange kind of affection and
tenderness, were directed to be most cruel where they intended
the highest respect: the coward was put to immediate death by the
hands of women: the valiant was supposed to be intitled to all
the trials of fortitude that men could invent or employ. ‘It gave
me joy,’ says an old man to his captive, ’that so gallant a youth
was allotted to my share: I proposed to have placed you on the
couch of my nephew, who was slain by your countrymen; to have
transferred all my tenderness to you; and to have solaced my age
in your company: but maimed and mutilated as you now appear,
death is better than life: prepare yourself therefore to die like
a man.'(18*)
It is perhaps with a view to these exhibitions, or rather in
admiration of fortitude, the principle from which they proceed,
that the Americans are so attentive, in their earliest years, to
harden their nerves.(19*) The children are taught to vie with
each other in bearing the sharpest torments; the youth are
admitted into the class of manhood, after violent proofs of their
patience; and leaders are put to the test, by famine, burning,
and suffocation.(20*)
It might be apprehended, that among rude nations, where the
means of subsistence are procured with so much difficulty, the
mind could never raise itself above the consideration of this
subject; and that man would, in this condition, give examples of
the meanest and most mercenary spirit. The reverse, however, is
true. Directed in this particular by the desires of nature, men,
in their simplest state, attend to the objects of appetite no
further than appetite requires; and their desires of fortune
extend no further than the meal which gratifies their hunger:
they apprehend no superiority of rank in the possession of
wealth, such as might inspire any habitual principle of
covetousness, vanity, or ambition: they can apply to no task that
engages no immediate passion, and take pleasure in no occupation
that affords no dangers to be braved, and no honours to be won.
It was not among the ancient Romans alone that commercial
arts, or a sordid mind, were held in contempt. A like spirit
prevails in every rude and independent society. ‘I am a warrior,
and not a merchant,’ said an American to the governor of Canada,
who proposed to give him goods in exchange for some prisoners he
had taken; ‘your cloaths and utensils do not tempt me; but my
prisoners are now in your power, and you may seize them: if you
do, I must go forth and take more prisoners, or perish in the
attempt; and if that chance should befal me, I shall die like a
man; but remember, that our nation will charge you as the cause
of my death.'(21*) With these apprehensions, they have an
elevation, and a stateliness of carriage, which the pride of
nobility, where it is most revered by polished nations, seldom
They are attentive to their persons, and employ much time, as
well as endure great pain, in the methods they take to adorn
their bodies, to give the permanent stains with which they are
coloured, or preserve the paint, which they are perpetually
repairing, in order to appear with advantage.
Their aversion to every sort of employment which they hold to
be mean, makes them pass great part of their time in idleness or
sleep; and a man who, in pursuit of a wild beast, or to surprise
his enemy, will traverse a hundred leagues on snow, will not, to
procure his food, submit to any species of ordinary labour.
‘Strange,’ says Tacitus, ’that the same person should be so much
averse to repose, and so much addicted to sloth.’
Games of hazard are not the invention of polished ages; men
of curiosity have looked for their origin, in vain, among the
monuments of an obscure antiquity; and it is probable that they
belonged to times too remote and too rude even for the
conjectures of antiquarians to reach. The very savage brings his
furs, his utensils, and his beads, to the hazard-table: he finds
here the passions and agitations which the applications of a
tedious industry could not excite: and while the throw is
depending, he tears his hair, and beats his breast, with a rage
which the more accomplished gamester has sometimes learned to
repress: he often quits the party naked, and stripped of all his
possessions; or where slavery is in use, stakes his freedom to
have one chance more to recover his former loss.(22*)
With all these infirmities, vices, or respectable qualities,
belonging to the human species in its rudest state; the love of
society, friendship, and public affection, penetration,
eloquence, and courage, appear to have been its original
properties, not the subsequent effects of device or invention. If
mankind are qualified to improve their manners, the subject was
furnished by nature; and the effect of cultivation is not to
inspire the sentiments of tenderness and generosity, nor to
bestow the principal constituents of a respectable character, but
to obviate the casual abuses of passion; and to prevent a mind,
which feels the best dispositions in their greatest force, from
being at times likewise the sport of brutal appetite and
ungovernable violence.
Were Lycurgus employed anew to operate on the materials we
have described, he would find them, in many important
particulars, prepared by nature herself for his use. His equality
in matters of property being already established, he would have
no faction to apprehend from the opposite interests of the poor
and the rich; his senate, his assembly of the people, is
constituted; his discipline is in some measure adopted; and the
place of his helots is supplied by the task allotted to one of
the sexes. With all these advantages, he would still have had a
very important lesson for civil society to teach, that by which a
few learn to command, and the many are taught to obey. he would
have all his precautions to take against the future intrusion of
mercenary arts, the admiration of luxury, and the passion for
interest. he would still perhaps have a more difficult task than
any of the former, in teaching his citizens the command of
appetite, and an indifference to pleasure, as well as a contempt
of pain; in teaching them to maintain, in the field, the
formality of uniform precautions, and as much to avoid being
themselves surprised, as they endeavour to surprise their enemy.
For want of these advantages, rude nations in general, though
they are patient of hardship and fatigue, though they are
addicted to war, and are qualified by their stratagem and valour
to throw terror into the armies of a more regular enemy; yet, in
the course of a continued struggle, always yield to the superior
arts, and the discipline of more civilized nations. Hence the
Romans were able to over-run the provinces of Gaul, Germany, and
Britain; and hence the Europeans have a growing ascendency over
the nations of Africa and America.
On the credit of a superiority which certain nations possess,
they think that they have a claim to dominion; and even Caesar
appears to have forgotten what were the passions, as well as the
rights of mankind, when he complained, that the Britons, after
having sent him a submissive message to Gaul, perhaps to prevent
his invasion, still pretended to fight for their liberties, and
to oppose his descent on their island.(23*)
There is not, perhaps, in the whole description of mankind, a
circumstance more remarkable than that mutual contempt and
aversion which nations, under a different state of commercial
arts, bestow on each other. Addicted to their own pursuits, and
considering their own condition as the standard of human
felicity, all nations pretend to the preference, and in their
practice give sufficient proof of sincerity. Even the savage
still less than the citizen, can be made to quit that manner of
life in which he is trained: he loves that freedom of mind which
will not be bound to any task, and which owns no superior:
however tempted to mix with polished nations, and to better his
fortune, the first moment of liberty brings him back to the woods
again; he droops and he pines in the streets of the populous
city; he wanders dissatisfied over the open and the cultivated
field; he seeks the frontier and the forest, where, with a
constitution prepared to undergo the hardships and the
difficulties of the situation, he enjoys a delicious freedom from
care, and a seducing society, where no rules of behaviour are
prescribed, but the simple dictates of the heart.

Section III

Of Rude Nations under the Impressions of Property and Interest

It was a proverbial imprecation in use among the hunting
nations on the confines of Siberia, That their enemy might be
obliged to live like a Tartar, and be seized with the folly of
breeding and attending his cattle.(24*) Nature, it seems, in
their apprehension, by storing the woods and the desert with
game, rendered the task of the herdsman unnecessary, and left to
man only the trouble of selecting and of seizing his prey.
The indolence of mankind, or rather their aversion to any
application in which they are not engaged by immediate instinct
and passion, retards their progress in extending the notion of
property. It has been found, however, even while the means of
subsistence are left in common, and the stock of the public is
yet undivided, that this notion is already applied to different
subjects; as the fur and the bow pertain to the individual, the
cottage, with its furniture, are appropriated to the family.
When the parent begins to desire a better provision for his
children than is found under the promiscuous management of many
copartners, when he has applied his labour and his skill apart,
he aims at an exclusive possession, and seeks the property of the
soil, as well as the use of its fruits.
When the individual no longer finds among his associates the
same inclination to commit every subject to public use, he is
seized with concern for his personal fortune. and is alarmed by
the cares which every person entertains for himself. He is urged
as much by emulation and jealousy, as by the sense of necessity.
He suffers considerations of interest to rest on his mind, and
when every present appetite is sufficiently gratified, he can act
with a view to futurity, or rather finds an object of vanity in
having amassed what is become a subject of competition, and a
matter of universal esteem. Upon this motive, where violence is
restrained, he can apply his hand to lucrative arts, confine
himself to a tedious task, and wait with patience for the distant
returns of his labour.
Thus mankind acquire industry by many and by slow degrees.
They are taught to regard their interest; they are taught to
abstain from unlawful profits; they are secured in the possession
of what they fairly obtain; and by these methods the habits of
the labourer, the mechanic, and the trader, are gradually formed.
A hoard, collected from the simple productions of nature, or a
herd of cattle, are, in every rude nation, the first species of
wealth. The circumstances of the soil, and the climate, determine
whether the inhabitant shall apply himself chiefly to agriculture
or pasture; whether he shall fix his residence, or be moving
continually about with all his possessions.
In the west of Europe; in America, from south to north, with
a few exceptions; in the torrid zone, and every where within the
warmer climates; mankind have generally applied themselves to
some species of agriculture, and have been disposed to
settlement. In the east and the north of Asia, they depended
entirely on their herds, and were perpetually shifting their
ground in search of new pasture. The arts which pertain to
settlement have been practised, and variously cultivated, by the
inhabitants of Europe. Those which are consistent with perpetual
migration, have, from the earliest accounts of history, remained
nearly the same with the Scythian or Tartar. The tent pitched on
a moveable carriage, the horse applied to every purpose of
labour, and of war, of the dairy, and of the butcher’s stall,
from the earliest to the latest accounts, have made up the riches
and equipage of this wandering people.
But in whatever way rude nations subsist, there are certain
points in which, under the first impressions of property, they
nearly agree. Homer either lived with a people in this stage of
their progress, or found himself engaged to exhibit their
character. Tacitus has made them the subject of a particular
treatise; and if this be an aspect under which mankind deserve to
be viewed, it must be confessed, that we have singular advantages
in collecting their features. The portrait has already been drawn
by the ablest hands, and gives, at one view, in the writings of
these celebrated authors, whatever has been scattered in the
relations of historians, or whatever we have opportunities to
observe in the actual manners of men, who still remain in a
similar state.
In passing from the condition we have described, to this we
have at present in view, mankind still retain many parts of their
earliest character. They are still averse to labour, addicted to
war, admirers of fortitude, and, in the language of Tacitus, more
lavish of their blood than of their sweat.(25*) They are fond of
fantastic ornaments in their dress, and endeavour to fill up the
listless intervals of a life addicted to violence, with hazardous
sports, and with games of chance. Every servile occupation they
commit to women or slaves. But we may apprehend, that the
individual having now found a separate interest, the bands of
society must become less firm, and domestic disorders more
frequent. The members of any community, being distinguished among
themselves by unequal shares in the distribution of property, the
ground of a permanent and palpable subordination is laid.
These particulars accordingly take place among mankind, in
passing from the savage to what may be called the barbarous
state. Members of the same community enter into quarrels of
competition or revenge. They unite in following leaders, who are
distinguished by their fortunes, and by the lustre of their
birth. They join the desire of spoil with the love of glory; and
from an opinion, that what is acquired by force, justly pertains
to the victor, they become hunters of men, and bring every
contest to the decision of the sword.
Every nation is a band of robbers, who prey without
restraint, or remorse, on their neighbours. Cattle, Says
Achilles, may be seized in every field; and the coasts of the
Aegean sea were accordingly pillaged by the heroes of Homer, for
no other reason, than because those heroes chose to possess
themselves of the brass and iron, the cattle, the slaves, and the
women, which were found among the nations around them.
A Tartar mounted on his horse, is an animal of prey, who only
inquires where cattle are to be found, and how far he must go to
possess them. The monk, who had fallen under the displeasure of
Mangu Chan, made his peace, by promising, that the Pope, and the
Christian princes, should make a surrender of all their
A similar spirit reigned, without exception, in all the
barbarous nations of Europe, Asia, and Africa. The antiquities of
Greece and Italy, and the fables of every ancient poet, contain
examples of its force. It was this spirit that brought our
ancestors first into the provinces of the Roman empire; and that
afterward, more perhaps than their reverence for the cross, led
them to the East, to share with the Tartars in the spoils of the
Saracen empire.
From the descriptions contained in the last section, we may
incline to believe, that mankind, in their simplest state, are on
the eve of erecting republics. Their love of equality, their
habit of assembling in public councils, and their zeal for the
tribe to which they belong, are qualifications that fit them to
act under that species of government; and they seem to have but a
few steps to make, in order to reach its establishment. They have
only to define the numbers of which their councils shall consist,
and to settle the forms of their meeting: They have only to
bestow a permanent authority for repressing disorders, and to
enact a few rules in favour of that justice they have already
acknowledged, and from inclination so strictly observe.
But these steps are far from being so easily made, as they
appear on a slight or a transient view. The resolution of
chusing, from among their equals, the magistrate to whom they
give from thenceforward a right to controul their own actions, is
far from the thoughts of simple men; and no eloquence, perhaps,
could make them adopt this measure, or give them any sense of its
Even after nations have chosen a military leader, they do not
intrust him with any species of civil authority. The captain,
among the Caribbees, did not pretend to decide in domestic
disputes; the terms jurisdiction and government were unknown in
their tongue.(27*)
Before this important change is admitted, men must be
accustomed to the distinction of ranks; and before they are
sensible that subordination is matter of choice, must arrive at
unequal conditions by chance. In desiring property, they only
mean to secure their subsistence: but the brave who lead in war,
have likewise the largest share in its spoils. The eminent are
fond of devising hereditary honours; and the multitude, who
admire the parent, are ready to extend their esteem to his
Possessions descend, and the lustre of family grows brighter
with age. Hercules, who perhaps was an eminent warrior, became a
god with posterity, and his race was set apart for royalty and
sovereign power. When the distinctions of fortune and those of
birth are conjoined, the chieftain enjoys a pre-eminence, as well
at the feast as in the field. His followers take their place in
subordinate stations; and instead of considering themselves as
parts of a community, they rank as the followers of a chieftain,
and take their designation from the name of their leader. They
find a new object of public affection, in defending his person,
and in supporting his station; they lend of their substance to
form his estate; they are guided by his smiles and his frowns;
and court, as the highest distinction, a share in the feast which
their own contributions have furnished.
As the former state of mankind seemed to point at democracy,
this seems to exhibit the rudiments of monarchical government.
But it is yet far short of that establishment which is known in
after ages by the name of monarchy. The distinction between the
leader and the follower, the prince and the subject, is still but
imperfectly marked: their pursuits and occupations are not
different; their minds are not unequally cultivated; they feed
from the same dish; they sleep together on the ground; the
children of the king, as well as those of the subject, are
employed in tending the flock; and the keeper of the swine was a
prime counsellor at the court of Ulysses.
The chieftain, sufficiently distinguished from his tribe, to
excite their admiration, and to flatter their vanity by a
supposed affinity to his noble descent, is the object of their
veneration, not of their envy: he is considered as the common
bond of connection, not as their common master; is foremost in
danger, and has a principal share in their troubles: his glory is
placed in the number of his attendants, in his superior
magnanimity and valour; that of his followers, in being ready to
shed their blood in his service.(28*)
The frequent practice of war tends to strengthen the bands of
society, and the practice of depredation itself engages men in
trials of mutual attachment and courage. What threatened to ruin
and overset every good disposition in the human breast, what
seemed to banish justice from the societies of men, tends to
unite the species in clans and fraternities; formidable, indeed,
and hostile to one another, but in the domestic society of each,
faithful disinterested, and generous. Frequent dangers, and the
experience of fidelity and valour, awaken the love of those
virtues, render them a subject of admiration, and endear their
Actuated by great passions, the love of glory, and the desire
of victory. roused by the menaces of an enemy, or stung with
revenge; in suspense between the prospects of ruin or conquest,
the barbarian spends every moment of relaxation in the indulgence
of sloth. He cannot descend to the pursuits of industry or
mechanical labour: the beast of prey is a sluggard; the hunter
and the warrior sleeps, while women or slaves are made to toil
for his bread. But shew him a quarry at a distance, he is bold,
impetuous, artful, and rapacious: no bar can withstand his
violence, and no fatigue can allay his activity.
Even under this description mankind are generous and
hospitable to strangers, as well as kind, affectionate, and
gentle, in their domestic society.(29*) Friendship and enmity are
to them terms of the greatest importance: they mingle not their
functions together; they have singled out their enemy, and they
have chosen their friend. Even in depredation, the principal
object is glory; and spoil is considered as a badge of victory.
Nations and tribes are their prey: the solitary traveller, by
whom they can acquire only the reputation of generosity, is
suffered to pass unhurt, or is treated with splendid munificence.
Though distinguished into small cantons under their several
chieftains, and for the most part separated by jealousy and
animosity; yet when pressed by wars and formidable enemies, they
sometimes unite in greater bodies. Like the Greeks in their
expedition to Troy, they follow some remarkable leader, and
compose a kingdom of many separate tribes. But such coalitions
are merely occasional; and even during their continuance, more
resemble republic than monarchy. The inferior chieftains reserve
their importance, and intrude, with an air of equality, into the
councils of their leader, as the people of their several clans
commonly intrude upon them.(30*) Upon what motive indeed could we
suppose, that men who live together in the greatest familiarity,
and amongst whom the distinctions of rank are so obscurely
marked, would resign their personal sentiments and inclinations,
or pay an implicit submission to a leader who can neither overawe
nor corrupt?
Military force must be employed to extort, or the hire of the
venal to buy, that engagement which the Tartar comes under to his
prince, when he promises, ‘That he will go where he shall be
commanded; that he will come when he shall be called; that he
will kill whoever is pointed out to him; and, for the future,
that he will consider the voice of the King as a sword.'(31*)
These are the terms to which even the stubborn heart of the
barbarian has been reduced, in consequence of a despotism he
himself had established; and men have, in that low state of the
commercial arts, in Europe, as well as in Asia, tasted of
political slavery. When interest prevails in every breast, the
sovereign and his party cannot escape the infection: he employs
the force with which he is intrusted, to turn his people into a
property, and to Command their possessions for his profit or his
pleasure. If riches are by any people made the standard of good
and of evil, let them beware of the powers they intrust to their
prince. ‘With the Suiones,’ says Tacitus, ‘riches are in high
esteem; and this people are accordingly disarmed, and reduced to
It is in this woful condition that mankind, being slavish,
interested, insidious, deceitful, and bloody, bear marks, if not
of the least curable, surely of the most lamentable, sort of
corruption.(33*) Among them, war is the mere practice of rapine,
to enrich the individual; commerce is turned into a system of
snares and impositions; and government by turns oppressive or
It were happy for the human race, when guided by interest,
and not governed by laws, that being split into nations of a
moderate extent, they found in every canton some natural bar to
its further enlargement, and met with occupation enough in
maintaining their independence, without being able to extend
their dominion.
There is not disparity of rank, among men in rude ages,
sufficient to give their communities the form of legal monarchy;
and in a territory of considerable extent, when united under one
head, the warlike and turbulent spirit of its inhabitants seems
to require the bridle of despotism and military force. Where any
degree of freedom remains, the powers of the prince are, as they
were in most of the rude monarchies of Europe, extremely
precarious, and depend chiefly on his personal character: where,
on the contrary, the powers of the prince are above the control
of his people, they are likewise above the restrictions of law.
Rapacity and terror become the predominant motives of conduct,
and form the character of the only parties into which mankind are
divided, that of the oppressor, and that of the oppressed.
This calamity threatened Europe for ages, under the conquest
and settlement of its new inhabitants.(34*) It has actually taken
place in Asia, where similar conquests have been made; and even
without the ordinary opiates of effeminacy, or a servile
weakness, founded on luxury, it has surprised the Tartar on his
wain, in the rear of his herds. Among this people, in the heart
of a great continent, bold and enterprising warriors arose: they
subdued, by surprise, or superior abilities, the contiguous
hords; they gained, in their progress, accessions of numbers and
of strength; and, like a torrent increasing as it descends,
became too strong for any bar that could be opposed to their
passage. The conquering tribe, during a succession of ages,
furnished the prince with his guards; and while they themselves
were allowed to share in its spoils, were the voluntary tools of
oppression, In this manner has despotism and corruption made
their way into regions so much renowned for the wild freedom of
nature: a power which was the terror of every effeminate province
is disarmed, and the nursery of nations is itself gone to
Where rude nations escape this calamity, they require the
exercise of foreign wars to maintain domestic peace: when no
enemy appears from abroad, they have leisure for private feuds,
and employ that courage in their dissensions at home, which, in
time of war, is employed in defence of their country.
‘Among the Gauls,’ says Caesar, ’there are subdivisions, not
only in every nation, and in every district and village, but
almost in every house, every one must fly to some patron for
protection.'(36*) In this distribution of parties, not only the
feuds of clans, but the quarrels of families, even the
differences and competitions of individuals, are decided by
force. The sovereign, when unassisted by superstition, endeavours
in vain to employ his jurisdiction, or to procure a submission to
the decisions of law. By a people who are accustomed to owe their
possessions to violence, and who despise fortune itself without
the reputation of courage, no umpire is admitted but the sword.
Scipio offered his arbitration to terminate the competition of
two Spaniards in a disputed succession: ‘That,’ said they, ‘we
have already refused to our relations: we do not submit our
difference to the judgement of men; and even among the gods, we
appeal to Mars alone.'(37*)
It is well known that the nations of Europe carried this mode
of proceeding to a degree of formality unheard of in other parts
of the world: the civil and criminal judge could, in most cases,
do no more than appoint the lists, and leave the parties to
decide their cause by the combat: they apprehended that the
victor had a verdict of the gods in his favour: and when they
dropped in any instance this extraordinary form of process, they
substituted in its place some other more capricious appeal to
chance; in which they likewise thought that the judgement of the
gods was declared.
The fierce nations of Europe were even fond of the combat as
an exercise and a sport. In the absence of real quarrels,
companions challenged each other to a trial of skill, in which
one of them frequently perished. When Scipio celebrated the
funeral of his father and his uncle, the Spaniards came in pairs
to fight, and, by a public exhibition of their duels, to increase
the solemnity.(38*)
In this wild and lawless state, where the effects of true
religion would have been so desireable, and so salutary,
superstition frequently disputes the ascendant even with the
admiration of valour; and an order of men, like the Druids among
the ancient Gauls and Britons,(39*) or some pretender to
divination, as at the Cape of Good Hope, finds, in the credit
which is paid to his sorcery, a way to the possession of power:
his magic wand comes in competition with the sword itself; and,
in the manner of the Druids, gives the first rudiments of civil
government to some, or, like the supposed descendent of the sun
among the Natchez, and the Lama among the Tartars, to others, an
early taste of despotism and absolute slavery.
We are generally at a loss to conceive how mankind can
subsist under customs and manners extremely different from our
own; and we are apt to exaggerate the misery of barbarous times,
by an imagination of what we ourselves should suffer in a
situation to which we are not accustomed. But every age hath its
consolations, as well as its sufferings.(40*) In the interval of
occasional outrages, the friendly intercourses of men, even in
their rudest condition, is affectionate and. happy (41*) in rude
ages, the persons and properties of individuals are secure;
because each has a friend, as well as an enemy; and if the one is
disposed to molest, the other is ready to protect; and the very
admiration of valour, which in some instances tends to sanctify
violence, inspires likewise certain maxims of generosity and
honour, that tend to prevent the commission of wrongs.
Men bear with the defects of their policy, as they do with
hardships and inconveniencies in their manner of living. The
alarms and the fatigues of war become a necessary recreation to
those who are accustomed to them, and who have the tone of their
passions raised above less animating or trying occasions. Old
men, among the courtiers of Attila, wept, when they heard of
heroic deeds, which they themselves could no longer perform.(42*)
And among the Celtic nations, when age rendered the warrior unfit
for his former toils, it was the custom, in order to abridge the
languors of a listless and inactive life, to sue for death at the
hands of his friends.(43*)
With all this ferocity of spirit, the rude nations of the
West were subdued by the policy and more regular warfare of the
Romans. The point of honour, which the barbarians of Europe
adopted as individuals, exposed them to a peculiar disadvantage,
by rendering them, even in their national wars, averse to
assailing their enemy by surprise, or taking the benefit of
stratagem; and though separately bold and intrepid, yet, like
other rude nations, they were, when assembled in great bodies,
addicted to superstition, and subject to panics.
They were, from a consciousness of their personal courage and
force, sanguine on the eve of battle; they were, beyond the
bounds of moderation, elated on success, and dejected in
adversity. and being disposed to consider every event as a
judgement of the gods, they were never qualified by an uniform
application of prudence, to make the most of their forces, to
repair their misfortunes, or to improve their advantages.
Resigned to the government of affection and passion, they
were generous and faithful where they had fixed an attachment;
implacable, froward, and cruel, where they had conceived a
dislike: addicted to debauchery, and the immoderate use of
intoxicating liquors, they deliberated on the affairs of state in
the heat of their riot; and in the same dangerous moments,
conceived the designs of military enterprise, or terminated their
domestic dissensions by the dagger or the sword.
In their wars they preferred death to captivity. The
victorious armies of the Romans, in entering a town by assault,
or inforcing an incampment, have found the mother in the act of
destroying her children, that they might not be taken; and the
dagger of the parent, red with the blood of his family, ready to
be plunged at last into his own breast.(44*)
In all these particulars we perceive that vigour of spirit,
which renders disorder itself respectable, and which qualities
men, if fortunate in their situation, to lay the basis of
domestic liberty, as well as to maintain against foreign enemies
their national independence and freedom.


1. Hume’s History, ch. 8, p. 278.

2. Ibid., p. 73.

3. History of the Caribbees.

4. Charlevoix.

5. Lafitau.

6. Ibid.

7. Charlevoix.

8. Wafer’s account of the Isthmus of Darien.

9. Colden’s History of the Five Nations.

10. Lafitau, Charlevoix, Colden, etc.

11. Lafitau.

12. Muneribus gaudent, sed nec data imputant, nec acceptis

13. Charlevoix.

14. Lafitau.

15. Charlevoix.

16. Charlevoix.

17. Colden.

18. Charlevoix.

19. Ibid. This writer says, that he has seen a boy and a girl,
having bound their naked arms together, place a burning coal
between them, to try who would shake it off first.

20. Lafitau.

21. Charlevoix.

22. Tacitus, Lafitau, Charlevoix.

23. Caesar questus, quod quum ultro in continentem legatis missis
pacem a se petissent, bellum sine causa intulissent. Lib. 4.

24. Abulgaze’s Genealogical History of the Tartars.

25. Pirgum quin immo et iners videtur, sudore acquirere qod
possis sanguine parare.

26. Rubruquis.

27. History of the Caribbees.

28. Tacitus, De moribus Germanorum.

29. Jean du Plan Carpen. Rubruquis, Caesar, Tacit.

30. Kolbe, Description of the Cape of Good Hope.

31. Simon de St Quintin.

32. De moribus Germanorum.

33. Chardin’s Travels.

34. See Hume’s History of the Tudors. — There seemed to be
nothing wanting to establish a perfect despotism in that house,
but a few regiments of troops under the command of the crown.

35. See the History of the Huns.

36. De Bello Gallico, lib. 6.

37. Livy.

38. Livy, lib. 3.

39. Caesar.

40. Priscus, when employed on an embassy to Attila, was accosted
in Greek, by a person who wore the dress of a Scythian. Having
expressed surprise, and being desirous to know the cause of his
stay in so wild a company, was told, that this Greek had been a
captive, and for some time a slave, till he obtained his liberty
in reward of some remarkable action. ‘I live more happily here,’
says he, ’than ever I did under the Roman government: for they
who live with the Scythians, if they can endure the fatigues of
war, have nothing else to molest them; they enjoy their
possession undisturbed: whereas you are continually a prey to
foreign enemies, or to bad government; you are forbid to carry
arms in your own defence; you suffer from the remissness and ill
conduct of those who are appointed to protect you; the evils of
peace are even worse than those of war; no punishment is ever
inflicted on the powerful or the rich; no mercy is shown to the
poor; although your institutions were wisely devised, yet in the
management of corrupted men, their effects are pernicious and
cruel.’ Excerpta de legationibus.

41. D’Arvieux’ History of the Wild Arabs.

42. Ibid.

43. Ubi transcendit florentes viribus annos,
Impatiens aevi spernit novisse senectam.
Silius, lib. I, 225.

44. Liv. lib. xli. II. Dio. Cass.


naar boven |