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different codes of law, not only in different countries, but in the same country at different periods.
There are, at the same time, certain general and fixed princles of law applicable to every state of society; which, founded in eternal, unchangeable truth and justice, are in perpetual force, and of universal obligation. Divested of every thing arbitrary, local and temporary, they address themselves to the understanding and conscience of every man, and irresistibly carry conviction with them. The genius, character and progress of any people, a sagacious observer will be able to trace, with tolerable accuracy, in their legislation, in their institutions, political and religious; for those of a moral tendency never vary. It is easy to discern in the spirit of the laws, what is the spirit of the nation; to discern whether liberty or despotism, moderation or tyranny is predominant.
But the constitution of the commonwealth of Israel possesses distinctive features. It was formed by Divine Wisdom long before it had a local residence wherein to act. The laws by which Canaan was to be governed, were enacted in the wilderness. Prescience made provision for cases which could not as yet have arisen. Republican. equality was blended with absolute unlimited theocracy; a liberty and a sovereignty established in perfect harmony, and yet both to their utmost extent. The Levitical part of the constitution was adapted to this state of things. The priesthood, in respect of property and possession, was reduced below the level of their brethren; while by their office and employments, the homage paid and the provision made for them, they were raised above their fellows. They were appointed to minister at the altar of God; and it was his will, and it was reasonable, that they should live by it.
One of the last public services in which Moses was employed, is the settlement of this branch of the political economy....the establishment of religion, with
out which no state can long exist; and the appointment of a moderate, but certain and steady provision for its ministers.
Forty and eight cities, in all, which their suburbs, and an extent of territory around every one, not exceeding two thousand cubits, in all directions, were to be set apart for the tribe of Levi, and distributed by lot. As the lot was specially ordered by Divine Providence, the dispersion of this tribe over the whole land, there is good reason to believe, God in wisdom overruled favorably to the exercise of their sacred function. Of their other privileges and immunities, we are not now led to treat. The words we have read limit our attention to an institution, in many respects singular, and unexampled in the history of mankind.... the appointment of six of the Levitical cities, as places of refuge for the unintentional, and therefore less criminal manslayer. Respecting this institution, and its reason and design, the following particulars recommend themselves to our notice.
The provision here made refers to a case of singular importance to society; on which indeed the very being of society depends....the security of human life against violence. To take away the life of another is the most atrocious offence which man can commit against man. The laws of every well-regulated community have accordingly marked it as the object of just vengeance, saying, in the language of the supreme Legislator, "Whoso sheddth man's blood, by man shall his blood be shed." But into the commission of this offence, as of every other, circumstances of aggra vation or alleviation may enter; and every wise legislator will take these into consideration; adapting the degree of punishment to the degree of criminality, distinguishing the action, as connected with, or sepa. rated from the intention. To the wilful and deliberate murderer no place was to serve as a sanctuary; to him the altar itself was to afford no protection. But a man
may deprive his neighbor of life without incurring the guilt of murder; and it must be imputed to him as a calamity, not a crime. To meet such a case, the provision in question was made; and a refuge was provided for both the citizen and the stranger who might "unawares," without malice or intention, occasion the death of another.
This refuge, however, was not wholly unrestricted, but subject to a variety of regulations, all calculated powerfully to impress on the minds of the people, an awful sense of the value put on the life of man by the great Legislator: and to serve as a caution not only against deliberate violence, but even against carelessness and inattention, where the life of another was concerned. Blood lies heavily, as it ought, on the head of him who sheddeth it, however innocently; and the consciousness of it will ever be felt as a severe punishment by a sensible heart, though no judge arise to avenge it. But punishment to a certain degree was inflicted on the manslayer, by the very statute which appointed the refuge; and to the uneasy reflections arising from having been the unwilling instrument of a man's death, were superadded alarming apprehensions and painful restraints.
The first regulation limited the number of these cities to six, for the whole commonwealth of Israel. Hence, an escape to a place of refuge must, in many instances, have been effected through much danger, exertion and labor; and the unhappy fugitive must frequently have felt all the bitterness of death in his solicitude to flee from it. Thus, while the finger of mercy pointed to the strong hold of safety, the voice of justice exclaimed, "Flee for thy life, look not behind thee, lest thou perish; behold the avenger of blood is at thy heels.'
But that the danger, and the anxiety resulting from it, might be diminished as far as the limited number of the cities would admit, it was determined by the
lot that these should be dispersed at the most commodious distances, over the country; and it was expressly provided that three of them should be on each side the Jordan, in order to facilitate and secure escape at the seasons when that river overflowed its banks, and rendered a passage tedious, difficult or impracticable. In the same view, it has been affirmed, and seems probable, that the roads which led to these cities were formed and maintained at the public expense, and that their breadth was very considerable: that every obstruction was removed out of the way, bridges were thrown over interposing streams, and when roads happened to cross or separate, an index, inscribed with the word Refuge, pointed out the right course. And thus an institution humane in its design, was rendered more so, by the manner in which it was observed.
But again....the city was, in the first instance, to serve only as a temporary refuge, and afforded shelter only till inquiry was made into the fact, and judgment was solemnly given between the manslayer and the avenger of blood, upon evidence adduced. If criminal intention was proved, there was no remedy, blood demanded blood, the prisoner must be delivered up to the hands of justice. If otherwise, public protection was granted, and he was restored to his refuge. The ordinance having it in view not to prevent and suppress the truth, but to bring it openly and fully to light.
The innocence of the prosecuted party having been made clearly to appear, he was restored indeed to his refuge, but it became, at the same time, his prison. Exiled from his native possession, and from all that rendered it dear; doomed to live among strangers, to subsist on their bounty, perhaps to feel their unkindness or neglect, he must drag out a comfortless existence, to an unknown, uncertain period; or stir abroad under constant apprehension and hazard of his life. And confinement is still confinement, though in a place of safety, a city of refuge: and ignorance and uncer
tainty respecting the termination of our misery, are bitter ingredients in the cup of affliction. "It may outlast life," sad thought!" or consume the best and most valuable portion of my days. Unhappy that I am, to have introduced mourning into my neighbor's family, and desolated my own. Though I feel not the pangs of remorse, my heart is torn with those of regret ; and blood, though shed without a crime, is a burden too heavy for me to bear."
The last regulation on record respecting this subject, was a permission to the hapless manslayer to "return into the land of his possession," on the death of the high-priest. The reason of this ordinance does not appear; but it contains a circumstance very affecting to the prisoner himself, and affecting to all Israel. His release from confinement could be purchased only by death, the death of another; and that not of an or dinary citizen, but of the most dignified and respecta ble character in the republic. The weight of blood innocently shed, was at length to be removed; but how? Not by the demise of him who shed it, but of "the high-priest which should be in those days." And may we not suppose a refuge of sensibility looking forward to this event with the mixed emotions of hope and sorrow? The very cause of his enlargement makes it to partake of the nature of a punishment. He dare hardly wish for liberty, for it involved guilt deeper than what already lay upon his head; deliberate devising the death of his neighbor, and taking pleasure in it.
Now, if guiltless homicide subjected the perpetrator of it to such accumulated danger, anxiety and distress, how atrocious in the sight of God must wilful murder be? And how sacred, in the sight of man, ought to the life of his brother, and every thing relating to its preservation and comfort, his health, his peace, his reputation? To attack him in any of these respects, is to level a blow at his head, or, where he feels more sensibly still, at his heart.