The Making of a Nation eBook

Charles Foster Kent
This eBook from the Gutenberg Project consists of approximately 151 pages of information about The Making of a Nation.

And yet there has been throughout the individual history of each nation a gradual improvement in the living conditions of the masses of people, even in the tribal state.  As it proved more profitable to preserve a worker than to kill him, captives in war were not slain, but enslaved.  As society became more settled, the custom of personally avenging one’s wrong by slaying an enemy was modified.  Cities of refuge were established, where innocent victims might escape the avengers.  All down through the ages there has been a growing tendency to adapt the punishment to the crime, to temper justice with mercy, to realize that the aim of all law is not vengeance or punishment, but the promotion of the best interests of society through the wise administration of justice.



Among savages, as has been said, there is no formulation of law.  There is the instinct of the individual to preserve his own life, and there are rules that must be followed if the people are to survive.  As has been truly said:  “The love of justice is simply in the majority of men the fear of suffering injustice.”  The instinct of preservation and sheer necessity compel the people almost unconsciously to follow the rules of their leader.

In most patriarchal societies the fear of the god of the tribe, the overpowering influence of custom and the unswerving directness of the punishment of the man who violates it tend to prevent the development of individuality and of independent thinking; and the normal attitude of practically every person is to obey the customs and the laws, although often those laws leave to the individual a range of action not found in later civilized states.  But as the sense of right and justice and the desire to promote the public welfare grow, individualism grows also.  Each individual, thrown upon his own resources, learns to think and question and judge.  In democratic states he learns to take upon himself the responsibility for his acts, and at length the view becomes prevalent that law exists for the benefit of society.  The individual, in judging himself and his attitude toward society, feels that the law must be obeyed because obedience promotes the public welfare.  Even when he believes that a law is unwise, or even unjust, he hesitates to violate it, not only because he might be punished therefor, but primarily because it has become wrong, according to his conscience, to violate a law that has been adopted by the representatives of his fellow citizens as just and beneficial.  Thus the individual, in later even more than in earlier times, obeys the laws not merely from selfish, but from social and religious motives.

Questions for Further Consideration.

Can you name any modern laws that you think have been framed in the interests of a special social class?

Do you think that the people of to-day are recreant in their respect for or adherence to law?

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The Making of a Nation from Project Gutenberg. Public domain.
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