We had a meeting of the ΦBK immediately after Commons in the morning, and received
White. The meeting was then adjourned till twelve o'clock, as we were obliged to retire
at 9. to read our forensic in the chapel. I made the following piece answer two purposes;
but as I disliked the Question, I was quite short upon it.
Whether an extorted promise be obligatory?
The Question must be considered as relating only to such promises as are unjustly
extorted; for if reason approves of the claim, of a man, who is reduced to the necessity
of employing violence to obtain it, she will undoubtedly likewise justify that violence.
The laws of nature, and the customs of all civilized nations justify it. It cannot
therefore be made a question: under the head of promises justly extorted, must be
taken, all contracts with an open and public enemy, whether made by a nation at large,
or, by individuals. A doubt can be raised therefore, only when the person by whom
the promise is extorted, acts contrary to the Laws of nature and of nations, and I
am sensible that most moral writers agree, that in cases of this kind, all promises,
are null of themselves and consequently cannot be obligatory. As it would argue the
most unjustifiable arrogance in me, to maintain an opinion in opposition to that of
many persons, whose productions have done honour to human nature, I shall only beg
leave, to question, whether the consequences which must attend the breach of extorted
promises, might not be very prejudicial to the interests of mankind in general? And
whether the man who should not prefer enduring, the greatest evils, even Death itself,
rather than make a promise with the design never to fulfill it, would not be blameable
for loosening the bonds of Society.
We danced in the evening, at Tom Chandler's chamber; but I was unwell, and came away
before nine. Cranch went to Lincoln, to day with his Mamma.