Thomas Robins (August 11, 1777 – September 13, 1856)
DELIVERED BEFORE A NUMBER OF
ASSEMBLED AT HARTFORD, TO CELEBRATE OUR
JULY 4, 1822.
By THOMAS ROBBINS,
CHAPLAIN OF THE FIRST REGIMENT OF INFANTRY, OF CONNECTICUT
GOODSELL AND WELLS…PRINTERS.
MY CHRISTIAN FRIENDS and
By the good hand of our God, upon us, we are preserved to the return of that memorable Anniversary, on which the people of our native country, became a united and independent nation. Since that great event, forty-six years have now rolled away. During this period, our country, which then took a rank among the nations of the earth, has advanced, by the constant care of a merciful Providence, in population, in strength, in the arts, and in most of the properties of national prosperity, in a manner scarcely paralleled in the history of mankind. Thus, the pleasing recollections of the anniversary of our Independence, are heightened by the testimony of facts, that the venerable patriots who made that memorable declaration for the benefit of their country, judged correctly; that the devoted soldier who resolved to hazard his life in the conflict of the field, for the confirmation of the object, was engaged in a reasonable, and most important cause; and that the invincible host, whose faith cast anchor within the veil, daily bearing their country in the arms of prayer to the mercy-seat of God, did not trust in vain.
Yet, amid these joyful recollections, we cannot suppress the grateful sigh, or resist the involuntary tear, at the reflection that our beloved fathers, and venerable friends, who were the illustrious actors in these eventful scenes, are called hence : ---their mortal part moulders in the soil consecrated by their virtues, their undying souls, we hope are with the spirits of just men made perfect around the throne of the eternal Redeemer. Many here present can say with me, ‘Forty-six years ago, this day, my father, who now sleeps, was in the wilds of Canada, with the northern army, afflicted with distracted counsels, its ranks thinned by a raging pestilence,* retiring before a triumphant enemy advancing upon them, resolved to subject their habitations to all the desolations of war.’
The causes which led to the declaration of American Independence, the various means by which the war of our Revolution was sustained and conducted to a successful issue, have been often exhibited on occasions like the present, and need not now be recited.
What is proposed, is
I. To speak of the propriety of a public commemoration of important national events: and
II. To mention some of the principal means, by which the blessings of National Prosperity may be obtained.
I. We speak of the propriety of a public commemoration of important national events.
It has been the practice of most people to celebrate important occurrences in their national history. Before the use of historic records, this was the principal method of preserving the memory of such events. The history of all countries is essentially illustrated by their anniversaries and festivals. The founding of cities and colonies, the liberation of a country from foreign or domestic enemies, its escape from some imminent danger, some favorable change in the form of government, national victories and triumphs, have always been commemorated in various ways, with tokens of gratitude and rejoicing. In like manner, the characters of illustrious men, who have been great benefactors to their country, have often been presented to the view of their countrymen, for a general imitation of their virtues, by the annual celebration of the day of their birth.
The commemoration of such events gave rise to the numerous festivals, public games, and the various annual solemnities, which make so distinguished a figure in all the nations of antiquity. Take the festivals and games from the history of Greece, and one half of the admiration and delight we experience, in a contemplation of that celebrated people, is lost. The deliverance of ancient Israel from the bondage of Egypt, was directed, by divine authority, to be perpetually commemorated by a solemn annual festival. And, for fifteen centuries, it was gratefully solemnized, from year to year, by the offering of the paschal lamb, until that dread night, when the holy Lamb of God was made a sacrifice for the redemption of the world. Anniversary solemnities are much observed by the nations of modern Europe.
The true object of such festivals, is to maintain a grateful remembrance of the distinguished mercies of God towards a community; and to impress upon the public mind, especially upon the rising generation, a due sense of those illustrious virtues by which great blessings are usually procured. It is admitted that, with many, these seasons, are often made the occasion of riot and vice, and are observed in an improper manner. This, however, does not alter the nature of the original design, nor make it improper to commemorate important events in a suitable manner. Such celebrations should always be performed, as they usually have been in all countries, principally in a religious form, for the purpose of calling to mind the great mercies of God, by whose gracious interposition, all public blessings, are primarily obtained.
The greatest events in the history of our country are, the landing of Columbus on this continent in 1492; the settlement of the Fathers of New-England at Plymouth in 1620; and the declaration of our national Independence, July 4th, 1776. In this latter transaction, one of the most sublime of moral scenes, the Representatives of thirteen United Colonies, embracing a vast extent of country, in opposition to the power of a great nation, claiming no more control than had usually been exercised by most countries over their colonies, without any direct precedent in history, unanimously declare those colonies, free, sovereign, and independent states. This was done with a solemn appeal to God, relying upon him, who had wrought great things for our fathers, to ratify this declaration in the counsels of heaven, to support it in the cabinet by the communication of his wisdom, to sustain it in the field by the mighty arm of the Captain of our salvation. He, to whom all power in heaven and in earth is given, witnessed the appeal of our public councils; He saw the distress of our bleeding country; He beheld unnumbered broken hearts in all parts of our land bowing before him; He heard, in heaven his dwelling-place, and maintained our cause. My hearers, it was not the wisdom of our statesmen that secured our independence; it was not the valor of our patriot armies, nor the virtues of Washington; but it was the arm of the Lord of hosts.
Tom commemorate these events, to praise the god of our fathers for his great mercies, to recollect the virtues and sacrifices of our statesmen and soldiers in this arduous conflict, we are this day assembled in the house of prayer. And may God accept of our grateful acknowledgments, humble us for all our forgetfulness of him, and cause the unmerited blessings of his providence and grace to rest upon us, and upon our beloved country, for a long time to come.
II. We now proceed to mention some of the principal means of National Prosperity.
The declaration of Independence was the commencement of our National existence. Its acknowledgement by the parent country and by other nations, confirmed our national standing, so far as it could be done consistently with the vicissitudes of human events. The object of national independence is national prosperity and happiness. This object is considered desirable, because it is deemed more conducive to the welfare, the increase, and the felicity of a community, than a colonial state. If this be not true, the toil, the hazard, and suffering requisite to establish a nation’s independence, are poorly applied. The successful experiment of forty-six years has certainly shown that our fathers judged correctly in their bold design of declaring independence, and in encountering the arduous conflict necessary to its establishment. At the same time, it becomes us to call to mind, the repeated and singular interpositions of divine Providence for our preservation, when our national existence seemed suspended by a thread. Such was the case at the defection of Arnold, at the time of the attempt to corrupt the army at Newburgh, at the establishment of the National government, and at other eventful periods in our history. At present, our National institutions seem to be constantly acquiring an increased consistency and permanent strength. It will, therefore, be a useful inquiry, on the present occasion, ---by what means can the great blessings anticipated from our National independence, be most effectually obtained, and secured to us and succeeding generations? On this enquiry, a few thoughts will be suggested to my indulgent audience. And
1. Public industry is indispensible to national prosperity. No community can be prosperous or happy without good morals, and these can hardly be found without general industry. It is often observed that indolence leads to vice. This, indeed, is true, but it may be said further, that indolence is itself a vice, and one of the most pernicious with which human society can be affected. It withholds from connections and the public, that service which they have a right o expect; it brings upon others a severe burden, and sets one of the most dangerous examples that can be presented to the community. Why are fraud, falsehood, gaming, impurity, vices? Because they injure one’s self, and injure others. The same is true of sloth. This is one of the last vices from which there is ever a reformation. It is congenial to our nature, it necessarily increases with age and indulgence. There is more hope of reforming an habitual drunkard, than one that is habitually indolent.
Industry consists not only in doing something, in not living idle, but in employing our time and exertions in a useful manner. It is not difficult for most persons to be generally doing something; our business is to be doing good. Every person is bound to be engaged in some useful calling, and to do something, every day, for the good of himself or others. A man’s first duty, after what he owes to his Creator, is to his family and connections. He who is faithful in this limited sphere, is a good citizen, a good patriot, and, usually, a Christian.
The poorer part of the community, are apt to look upon labor as their own peculiar portion. A very unhappy impression; as it tends to make it always painful. And when you observe to such a one, “You are quite industrious,” his reply is ready, “I am obliged to be.” A reply not very proper; for he is no more obliged to be diligent than others. Anyone that would do his duty to God and his fellow men, that would not make himself miserable, that would not be a nuisance to society, must be industrious. It is often said, that children should be taught to work, for it may be useful for them should they be able to live without it. They never can be able to live without work, unless they are able to neglect the first duties of life.
It is not true that labor is the portion of the less wealthy part of the community. Let the people of this state be divided into two equal portions, according to their property, there would be much more, much more, laborious active industry, in the richer than the poorer half. No class of men are exempt from the duties of industry. The farmer, the mechanic, the merchant, the student, the professional man, are all called to laborious, constant duties. Of all these employments, persons engaged in agriculture, though, at some seasons, they work is laborious, usually have the most leisure. The public professions are the last employments which one should undertake, who will not engage in his work with laborious diligence. Of all characters that have lived on earth, HE who is man’s best friend, and who is our only perfect example, was the most eminent sample of laborious, useful industry. At twelve years of age he was about his Father’s business, and he never intermitted his toils till he had finished the work which was given him to do.
General industry is the real strength of any country. Nothing without labor, is an ancient and just maxim. And we may add, With labor almost everything may be accomplished.
2. The manners and character of a community are essential to national prosperity. Public morals are composed of the character of individuals. National virtue cannot exist and never did, unless it is found in the virtues of private life. Public characters, without virtue, sometimes dazzle by their genius, (though the genius of persons without morals is, usually greatly over-rated;) yet, in most countries, there is genius enough to be found, in connection with morals, for all the exigencies of society. Besides, the best part of genius is a strong thirst for useful knowledge. This is seldom found without morals. The public seldom suffers by he fall of duelists. Persons who set so lightly by human life, and are so regardless of the laws of God, are, on the whole, of no value to society.
The far-famed virtue of patriotism, or love of country, which has been celebrated for ages, can be nothing more than a union of private virtues. He who loves his family and relatives, who possesses a disposition of charity and benevolence towards his neighbors and acquaintance, who conducts with integrity and kindness in his ordinary intercourse with his fellow-men, who loves the habits of his education and the common usages to which he is accustomed, who is cordially attached to the domestic, civil, and religious customs which prevail around him; in short, who seeks to “do good to all as he has opportunity,” is a patriot, is a friend to his country. And without these virtues, let pretensions be what they may, there is no patriotism.
Patriotism is a noble virtue, and is a reality. It always glows in the hearts of good men, but has no residence with the corrupt and ungodly. The purest patriotism that exists, is that attachment which prevails in a good heart to the place of our nativity. Who does not love the dwelling which gave him birth; the consecrated house where he was early taught the truths of heaven from the man of God; who does not love the school-house, the garden, the spring, the brook, the hill, the scenes of all his earliest recollections, his first attachments and joys? The reason of this attachment is, with these objects are associated our first impressions of parental tenderness and filial confidence, with the artless innocence of infantile years. He that does not love the place of his nativity, can hardly be supposed to love any place whatever. When an emigrant from New-England, residing in the western or southern part of our country, (I would to God this could be no more than a supposition,) is fond of ridiculing the manners, the usages, the character, of his native state, he may rest assured that a discerning person will believe that he is no sincere friend to any other.
Some of the best specimens of patriotism on record are the following. A British poet says,
“England with all thy faults, I love the still
My country! And, while yet a nook is left
Where English minds and manners may be found,
Shall be constrained to love thee.”
God said to Moses, probably the most exalted character that has stood at the head of any nation, “I have seen this people, and, behold, it is a stiff-necked people: Now, therefore, let me alone, that I may consume them; and I will make of thee a great nation.” This promise contains all that ambition, or avarice, or the love of fame could desire: and, coming from such a source, there was nothing to fear. Now hear the patriot of Sinai. “Lord, why doth thy wrath wax hot against thy people, which thou hast brought forth out of the land of Egypt,---Wherefore should the Egyptians say, For mischief did he bring them out, to slay them in the mountains, and to consume them from the face of the earth? Turn from thy fierce wrath, and repent of this evil against thy people. Remember Abraham, Isaac, and Israel, thy servants, to whom thou swears by thy own self, and says unto them, I will multiply your seed as the stars of heaven; and all this land that I have spoken of will I give to your seed, and they shall inherit it forever.” It is added, “And the Lord repented of the evil which he thought to do unto his people.”
The captives of Judah, holden in Babylonish servitude, were called upon by their unfeeling oppressors, with exulting contempt, “Sing us one of the songs of Zion”—‘Would you have us assume the air of mirth when the city of our father’s sepulchers lie waste?—a song of Zion when Zion’s hallow wealth, recommends six Councils of state, one of them to be of religion and learning. And he would have Christianity, under a particular form of ecclesiastical government, which he names, established by law. The best political writers maintain that the rights of conscience are to be respected, while a due regard is to be paid by all to the obligations of religion as recognized by the laws. If the laws do not consider all citizens as acknowledging the essential truths of religion, there seems to be no propriety in the administration of oaths. An oath can be of no avail, without the acknowledgement of the existence of God, of his providential government, and a future state. Our country has reason to fear the judgments of heaven for not having more distinctly acknowledged, in our national capacity, the holy religion of the divine Redeemer. God hath said, “Happy is that people whose God is he Lord.”
The interests of religion, among all Christian denominations, always rest, principally, with the Clergy. On this account, they ought to be well qualified and educated for their work. The sentiment of all men decides that they ought to be devoted to their profession. But an uneducated clergy will not be supported by their people that they may be thus devoted. With a well informed clergy, there will be little un-charitableness, and few collisions between different modes of religious profession. No Christian denomination ever held that a love of religion, and a character conformed, essentially, to its moral precepts, were not essential qualifications for the sacred ministry: and no denomination, having an educated clergy, ever held that learning is not an important requisite.
We do not know, by experience, the consequences to a community of a want of religious ordinances, and God grant that we never may. Take the benign influences of Christianity from our country, or let it be as destitute universally, as some parts of it actually are at the present time, and our republican institutions could not be maintained for half a century, probably, not for half that period.
4. It is important to national prosperity to cherish a regard for the character and habits of our ancestors. No principle that has been mentioned is more fully established by the testimony of history than this. All virtuous and prosperous communities that have existed, have been distinguished for this feature of character. The Poems of Homer had a powerful influence in forming the character of the free states of Greece: and the great subject of these is the virtues and achievements of their ancestors. During the period of the Roman Republic, the usages and deeds of their fathers were the subject of incessant eulogy and imitation. The same observation is applicable to the dominion of the Mahometan Caliphs, a very flourishing empire, for four or five centuries, while the most of Europe was in a very degraded state. The same is true of England, it is eminently so of Scotland, and, perhaps, still more so of the Germans.
“Nil malum de mortuis,” Say no evil of the dead, is an ancient maxim, and one in which the feelings of our nature strongly concur. Thus we forget he imperfections and errors of departed friends, and remember their better qualities only. In this way, a remembrance of our fathers and an imitation of their conduct is a remembrance and imitation of the best part of their character. This will excite one to laudable exertions to do good, and to aspire after the best attainments. In the veneration of ancestors, as it brings their virtues into view, a person, finding himself in such a connection feels an additional value in his personal reputation, and new motives to good conduct. An impression which often stimulates to good actions, and deters from many evil courses.
You smile at the man who tills his ground, and educates his children, and reads his Bible, just as his father did. But you love to have such a man for a neighbor, you will have confidence in his word, you would recommend him as a guardian to an orphan child.
One of the most artful of all the efforts of ungodliness is the sneering charge, often made, ‘You believe and act from tradition, you have no opinion of your own, your father did thus and so, and you suppose that you must do the same.’---I beg to know, my candid auditors, Is my father’s having done thus any evidence that it is wrong? Any proof that it is not useful?---If we must leave the habits of our fathers, in order to acquire the reputation of independence of opinion, the next generation must do the same by us, and change again. If you must depart from the practices of your father, you must teach your son, or rather your example will teach him to do the same by you.---You admit that your father believed the Bible to be the word of God, that he kept the Sabbath, that he schooled, and governed, and catechized his children. And you love to reflect and have it known that such was your father’s character. And must you renounce this example, lest the sons of error, of folly, and vice, should tell you that you act from tradition?---Perhaps, in the next age, emigrants from Europe will say to the citizens of these states, ‘Your republican institutions are worth nothing, you are attached to them merely from a bigoted regard to the habits of your fathers; think or yourselves and exchange them for the permanency, the dignity, and the grandeur, or monarchy.’---We trust our successors will have too much sense to be thus deprived of their dearest rights.
No people on earth have greater reason to rejoice in their high descent, to venerate the character and imitate the virtues of their ancestors than the people of New-England. The fathers of New-England were the best characters of that age, and they established the best civil and religious institutions that then existed. And the salutary effects of these are among the principal blessings of their posterity at the present day.
It has been supposed that a veneration of ancestors is particularly characteristic of the people of New-England. This is not the case. It is far more true of the French population in Canada, of the Germans in Pennsylvania, of the original class of settlers in New-York, and the people in the older parts of Virginia. That spirit of enterprise, of invention, of experiment, of unbounded curiosity, which so strongly mark the New-England character, powerfully counteracts a high veneration for the manners of our ancestors. In this duty, this important national characteristic, I have long felt that we are deficient.
In connection with this subject, I would suggest that we have nothing in this state of the nature of an Historical Society. We have no deposit of ancient books, pamphlets, manuscripts, historical tracts, and temporary publications, many of which are highly valuable, and must become important documents in history. Many of these yet exist, but they are rapidly perishing, and will perish unavoidably, unless some such institution is established for their preservation. But little can be done, in making such collections by individuals, and there are but few persons who have inclination and leisure to engage in the work. It is a work of labor and perseverance, rather than of much expense. There is no complete set of the Election Sermons of the state that have been printed. Nor of the funeral sermons of the respective Governors, which must be among the best documents for their characters.
I know of two manuscript accounts, very valuable so far as they extend, of the expedition to Louisburg; the most gallant military enterprise in the New-England history. Many similar articles might probably be found. But they are now very liable to be lost. I presume there are no complete files of the early Newspapers. There are not many of the ancient families whose genealogy is known. The neighboring states have Institutions of this kind, and have found them highly beneficial. The want of such a society, in this state, was often lamented by the late President Dwight. Should there ever be one, I think it must be in this town. This is the oldest town in the state, and I am persuaded a better collection might be made here than at any other place.
I observe in the last place,
5. Our national prosperity must depend much on the character of the Militia. This is a sentiment so generally received in our country and so well understood, that I need not add anything for its confirmation. I would observe, however, that a respectable militia can never be produced by mere laws and fines. It must have the countenance of public opinion, it must be popular and respectable to do military duty, or an efficient militia can never exist. No one ought to be unwilling to perform this duty, if he would promote the best interests of his country. The militia are the real support of the public peace. The magistrate and the sheriff can keep the peace with ease. Because everyone knows, that the arms of the militia are ready at their call. Without this resource, their authority would be weakness.
Many conscientious persons have doubted the lawfulness of bearing arms, as it might be an encouragement to war, contrary to the spirit of the gospel of Christ. The truth is, an efficient militia is the direct means of promoting the public peace. I refer not to the well-established political maxim, that a preparation for war, is a great security against the evil, but it is the great means of preventing crime. The wicked know the strong arm that can at once be raised against them, and that the penalties of the law can and will be enforced.
The militia ought always to be encouraged by men of character and influence in society. It is highly desirable that people should attend as spectators of military reviews, to encourage the soldier in the performance of his duty. This observation applies, particularly, to past officers of the militia, whose approbation is highly gratifying to those who continue in the line. It is desirable that training days should be public days and days of recreation, rather than others. The greater the notoriety of the occasion, the more is the main object promoted. The militia have a task, they bear a burden; but it will be cheerfully borne, if they can have the reward which they deserve, the reward of public approbation and gratitude. So far as I know, all military men regret our present law, which permits a Regimental review but once in two years. Once a year, is thought, by the most competent judges, to be not too frequent.
I conclude, with a brief address to the members of the militia here present. My Brethren; the profession of arms, has always been honorable with all people. To you and your fellow soldiers, your country looks for protection, and on your profession it must always rely for its external security and internal peace. The patriotism and valor of the American militia, is known to our country and other countries, and it stands, under God, our nation’s safe-guard. To whom do the solemn and pleasing recollections of this day, primarily, direct our attention? To your fathers and predecessors in arms. Our sages declared our country independent and free; but they relied on the arms which you bear by the blessing of Him who hath said, “The Lord is a man of war;” to establish the declaration. They relied and were not disappointed.
Not only the heroes of all countries, but many of the greatest benefactors of mankind, have been chiefly in the profession of arms. The word of God exhibits the Christian soldier as eminently enjoying the favor of heaven. On this subject, we find in the Epistle to the Hebrews, the following eloquent passage---“And what shall I more say? For the time would fail me to tell of Gedeon, and of Barak, and of Samson, and of Samson, and of Jephthae, and of David:---who through faith subdued kingdoms, wrought righteousness, escaped the edge of the sword, waxed valiant in fight, turned to flight the armies of the aliens.”
My brethren, be faithful in the duties of your profession, and you will be a rich blessing to your country; you will have the approbation of wise and good men; you will have the high reward of doing good. This was the only earthly reward of Him who went about doing good, who lived and died that he might mediate peace between earth and heaven.
Be entreated to be found faithful in all the duties of life; live for God, live for eternity, that so you may be enlisted under the holy Captain of our salvation. He has long had a conflict with sin and death, but will be, in the end, a triumphant conqueror. “They that are with him are called, and chosen, and faithful.” He knows all the trials and conflicts to which we are called, in the vicissitudes of human life, and in the service of our Lord, and has given the gracious testimony, “Him that overcometh will I make a pillar in the temple of my God, and he shall go no more out.”