TO kill is to take life, human or animal. It was once thought by a sect

of crazy fanatics, that the Fifth Commandment applied to the killing of

animals as well as of men. When a man slays a man, he slays an equal;

when he kills an animal, he kills a creature made to serve him and to

be his food; and raw meat is not always palatable, and to cook is to

kill. "Everything that moves and lives," says Holy Writ, "shall be unto

> you as food."

The killing therefore herein question is the taking of human life, or

homicide. There can be no doubt but that life is man's best and most

precious possession, and that he has an inborn right to live as long as

nature's laws operate in his favor. But man is not master of that gift

of life, either in himself or in others. God, who alone can give, alone

may take it away. Sole master of life, He deals it out to His creatures

as it pleases Him; and whoever tampers with human life intrudes upon

the domain of the Divinity, violating at the some time the first right

of his fellow-man.

We have an instinctive horror of blood, human blood. For the ordinary

individual the Mosaic enactment that forbids murder is almost

superfluous, so deeply has nature graven on our hearts the letter of

that law. Murder is abominable, for the very reason that life is

precious; and no reasonable being, civilized or savage, dealing death

unjustly unto a fellow-man, can have any other conviction in his soul

than that he is committing a crime and incurring the almighty wrath of

the Deity. If such killing is done by a responsible agent, and against

the right of the victim, the crime committed is murder or unjustifiable


Which supposes that there is a kind of homicide that is justifiable, in

seeming contradiction of the general law of God and nature, which

specifies no exception. But there is a question here less of exception

than of distinction. The law is a general one, of vast comprehension.

Is all killing prohibited? Evidently no. It is limited to human beings,

in the first place; to responsible agents, in the next; and thirdly, it

involves a question of injustice. What is forbidden is the voluntary

and unjust killing of a human being. Having thus specified according to

the rules of right reasoning, we find we have a considerable margin

left for the taking of life that is justifiable. And the records of

Divine revelation will approve the findings of right reason.

We find God in the Old Law, while upholding His fifth precept,

commanding capital punishment and sanctioning the slaughter of war; He

not only approved the slaying of certain persons, but there are

instances of His giving authority to kill. By so doing He delegated His

supreme right over life to His creatures. "Whoever sheds human blood,

let his blood be shed." In the New Testament the officer of the law is

called the minister of God and is said not without cause to carry the

sword; and the sword is the symbol of the power to inflict death.

The presence of such laws as that of capital punishment, of war and of

self-defense, in all the written codes of civilized peoples, as well as

in the unwritten codes of savage tribes, can be accounted for only by a

direct or indirect commission from the Deity. A legal tradition so

universal and so constant is a natural law, and consequently a divine

law. In a matter of such importance all mankind could not have erred;

if it has, it is perfectly safe to be with it in its error.

These exceptions, if we may call them exceptions, suppose the victim to

have forfeited his right to live, to have placed himself in a position

of unjust aggression, which aggression gives to the party attacked the

right to repel it, to protect his own life even at the cost of the life

of the unjust aggressor. This is an individual privilege in only one

instance, that of self-defence; in all others it is invested in the

body politic or society which alone can declare war and inflict death

on a capital offender.

Of course it may be said that in moral matters, like does not cure

like, that to permit killing is a strange manner of discouraging the

same. But this measure acts as a deterrent; it is not a cure for the

offender, or rather it is, and a radical one; it is intended to instil

a salutary dread into the hearts of those who may be inclined to play

too freely with human life. This is the only argument assassins

understand; it is therefore the only one we can use against them.