Political rights do not belong to men by nature, but are conferred by government. Within reasonable bounds, they may be enlarged or restricted without injustice. Since they are conferred by the government, the power to vote and to hold office is a privilege to be enjoyed rather than a right to be asserted.
In the United States the political rights of the people are carefully set forth in the Constitution. The smallest functions of government, such as the size and color of a postage stamp, or the employment of a page in the State legislature, touch the political rights of the citizen. Appointment and elections to public office, the enactment of laws, and the performance of public duties are questions of political concern.
Good laws, good administrations, and the perpetuity of the government itself, depend upon the manner in which the people discharge their public duties. A man who habitually fails to vote and to take interest in the political affairs of his country may be a good man, but he is certainly a bad citizen.
To be a good citizen is to aid intelligently in giving the people good government. For a man to hold himself aloof from politics, unless his action is based upon conscientious scruples, shows his interest in himself, and his lack of interest in his country.
1. Why does happiness depend upon the maintenance of rights?
2. How do persons born under government agree to be governed by the laws?
3. If the claims of people as to their rights conflict, how is the difference settled?
4. What is meant by the phrase “common carrier”?
5. Is it right for men to hold aloof from public affairs because there is corruption in politics?
LAW AND LIBERTY.
Through law rights are secured, and the performance of some duties is enforced. Law is a rule of action, prescribing what shall be done and what shall not be done. Laws exist for the purpose of securing the rights of the people. The enjoyment of rights is liberty.
As the enjoyment of rights depends upon their security, and as they are secured by law, therefore liberty is based upon law. Without law there could be no political liberty, and the civil liberty of the people would be narrow and uncertain. It may be said, therefore, that there can be no true liberty without law; but laws may be so many and so stringent that there can be no liberty. Liberty and just laws are inseparable.
Liberty and rights are of the same kinds, industrial, social, moral or religious, and political. The words “rights,” “law,” and “liberty” are full of meaning, and in a free country suggest ideas of the deepest reverence.
ORIGIN.—The laws of the country are partly human and partly divine. They were framed by man, but some of them are based upon the laws of God. Some are of recent origin, and many are so ancient that their beginning can not be traced. When men began, to live in society, they began to make laws, for laws at once became necessary. Laws are undergoing constant changes, as new conditions arise and new customs prevail.