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TRUE patriotism consists of an intelligent attachment to the institutions of our country. We love, or rather we ought to love, an object, in the proportion in which we perceive it to be worthy of our love; and in this is implied a fair knowledge of its qualities. It would surely be absurd to hear a person constantly uttering passionate expressions of fondness for an individual of whom he proves, upon inquiry, to know little or nothing beyond the name ! When pressed to explain the grounds of his attachment, he stammers, with an embarrassed air, “Oh everybody loves So-and-so," or "I ought to love him," or "I am taught to love him."
Is not this calculated to excite a smile of surprise, and even contempt? And yet, how many are there who act thus towards their country!-Who have the love of their country' constantly on their lips; they 'prefer its interests to their own;' they would 'make any sacrifice in behalf of the constitution; ' they would lay down their life for it; it is their 'fervent desire to hand it down unimpaired to their latest posterity.' If a person of this description were asked, what is it that you so love, for which
you would do, and sacrifice, so much, and are so desirous that your latest posterity should enjoy: what satisfactory answer would he make?
It is obvious, then, that before a man can be allowed rationally and worthily to love his country and her institutions, he must be in some measure capable of understanding and appreciating them; and this cannot be, without considerable inquiry and reflection.
"But," says another, "I love my country for this plain reason—her institutions secure liberty." Has he, however, at any time troubled himself to inquire how they answer so noble an end? Or has he hitherto rested satisfied with catching a few cant phrases, taking everything for granted that he hears uttered upon the subject, dignifying every fluctuating fancy and prejudice with the imposing name of patriotism? It certainly may be excusable, or rather fitting, for one whom Providence has placed in the humblest sphere of society, to say, "I feel, I know, that I live in a country where I enjoy perfect freedom and safety, both of person and property, and I love the country that secures me such principles-her institutions must be admirable; and though I have not the means of ascertaining their nature, yet I can venerate, and will support them." But how does this language sound in the mouth of one who professes to have received a liberal education, to move in a superior circle of society, to be entitled even to discuss-to form, to express, and to disseminate opinions upon the gravest constitutional questions that can be proposed?
Let it then be said that we love, in our country,
an object which confers signal benefits upon us ;towards which, therefore, we cultivate feelings of intelligent gratitude. Is it any evidence of our sincerity, is it respectful to that country, to make no attempt to become acquainted with any part of the structure and economy of its constitution, when we have it so easily in our power to do so? Do we, nevertheless, assume a confident tone in speaking of its defects and the remedies that we conceive necessary? do we venture to attempt alterations in a machinery of which we are entirely ignorant?—How many a fluent and confident declaimer, and even writer,* upon political subjects, would startle himself into making exertions to become really
* The confused and imperfect notions of many who assume to deal with subjects of constitutional law are thus alluded to by Paley "Most of those who treat of the British constitution, consider it as a scheme of government formally planned and contrived by our ancestors, in some certain era of our national history, and as set up in pursuance of such regular plan and design. Something of this sort is secretly supposed, or referred to, in the expressions of those who speak of the "principles of the constitution," of bringing back the constitution to its "first principles," of restoring it to its "original purity," or "primitive model." Now this appears to me an erroneous conception of the subject. No such plan was ever formed; consequently no such “first principles," "original model," or standard, exist: I mean, there never was a date or point of time in our history when the government of England was to be set up anew, and when it was referred to any single person, or assembly, or committee, to frame a charter for the future government of the country; or when a constitution, 'so prepared and digested was, by common consent, received and established."- Moral and Political Philosophy. book vi., c. vii.
acquainted with the laws and constitution of his country, if he could be persuaded secretly to cast his eye over the list of the contents of this little volume, for instance, and ascertain the extent of his acquaintance with them! How many important matters would he there find of which he knew literally nothing; or, at most, possessed only a slight and superficial smattering! What clear and distinct notions has he of some even of the most notorious topics-of Magna Charta, the Petition of Rights, the Habeas Corpus Act, the Bill of Rights, the Act of Settlement, the Doctrine of the Hereditary Right to the Throne, the Successions, the Prerogative of the King, the Constitution and Powers of Parliaments, Trial by Jury, with very many others that could be mentioned. How easily is such an one the dupe of delusion! how numerous and dangerous are the delusions he aids in disseminating! How can he justify his support of the existing order of things, or vindicate his adherence to those who would effect changes in them? If the principle of one great party in the state, as pointedly observed by Mr. Hallam, be conservation, of the other melioration, how can the man we are speaking of, attach himself to either? What value. have his opinions—what weight can be attached to them? Can one so ignorantly acquiescent, or so ignorantly active, be said to possess true patriotism?
"The science of the laws and constitution of our own country," says the illustrious commentator, "is a species of knowledge in which the gentlemen of England have been more remarkably deficient than those of all Europe besides." Would that there