John Prince was the pastor of the First Church in Salem (1779-1836), and a witness to the Boston Tea Party. He preached the following sermon on May 9, 1798, the national day of fasting proclaimed by President John Adams.
ON THE DAY OF THE
MAY 9, 1798;
On account of the difficulties subsisting between the United States and France
BY JOHN PRINCE, L.L.D
Minister of the First Congregational Society in Salem
1 Timothy, ii. 1, 2, 3.
I exhort therefore that, first of all, supplications, prayers, intercessions, and giving of thanks, be made for all men for kings, and for all that are in authority; that we may lead a quiet and peaceable life, in all godliness and honesty. For this is good and acceptable in the sight of God our Saviour.
St. Paul, in these words, addressed to Timothy, a Christian minister, points out the duty of praying for civil magistrates; exhorts him to teach it to his hearers, and set an example of it in his own public performances. By the words “first of all,” he seems to consider it as an essential duty of Christians to pray “for all men;” and by “giving of thanks,” that Christians should feel interested in the happiness of their fellow men, and bear on their hearts and tongues a thankful remembrance and acknowledgment of God’s favours to them. They should consider mankind in the extensive view of brethren, deriving their existence from one common Parent, enjoying his common blessings, and living under his providential government. Having spoken of the duty generally, he proceeds to a particular description of characters to be prayed for: they should pray “for kings and all that are in authority;” that is for the supreme magistrate, and all inferior and subordinate officers who hole the power and authority of government under him. The whole civil government is to be the subject of prayers, supplications, and intercessions; that it may be justly and wisely administered so that all the people, who live under it, may “lead quiet and peaceable lives, in all godliness and honesty.” Such effects of the administration of government will naturally make it the subject of thanksgiving : for the peaceable enjoyment of life and property, under the protection of good laws, is the greatest temporal blessing mankind can have.
As the gospel is designed to promote the happiness of man, both in this life and that which is to come, it furnishes him with such sentiments, and enjoins such duties on him, as are adapted to his present and future condition. While it teaches a spiritual obedience to Christ, with an ultimate view to his future, glorious kingdom, it also enjoins a temporal obedience to the civil magistrate, and the laws of society, as necessary to the present happiness of mankind.
CHRISTIANITY is friendly to all those social and civil institutions of men, which are calculated to promote their improvement and happiness, notwithstanding all that has been said by its enemies to bring it into disrepute and discredit, by representing it as a system of superstition, inimical to the true enjoyments of life: and I may add, notwithstanding all that has been done, by its mistaken friends, to force it upon unbelievers, by such cruel means as have betrayed the want of that humanity it so strongly recommends. This divine religion breathes the spirit of pure philanthropy, and inculcates the precepts of social life. It forbids no pleasure which can be innocently and safely pursued: it lays no restrictions but what are beneficial to men : and it cultivates to the highest degree that virtuous temper and conduct which are essential to the well being of society. 1
But however excellent this system appears in itself, when examined apart from those absurd dogmas, which have at times been incorporated with its pure and benevolent doctrines, when separated from the erroneous and wicked conduct of some of its professors, it has never the less met with opposition. However well adapted its principles are to the real wants and condition of men, it has always had its enemies, who have opposed its progress in the world. These enemies have either been men who were “too wise in their own conceits” to relish the plainness and simplicity of the gospel; or too ignorant and weak to break over the pale of prejudice, and venture upon a new ground of faith; or such as were too corrupt and vicious to be pleased with the purity of its doctrines and precepts, and to submit to its restriction. Though this light has come into the world, some men love their own darkness rather than this light, because their deeds are evil. And as long as the eyes and actions of men are evil, they will neither look upon Christianity with pleasure, nor love its pure and holy precepts; but they will rather slander this religion, which condemns their principles and conduct.
When the Gospel was first preached by Christ and His apostles, mankind were sunk in the grossest corruption of error and wickedness; as St. Paul informs us in the beginning of his epistle to the Romans. Addressed to such men, it is not surprising that it meant with violent opposition from the prejudices of some and the wickedness of others, that it was early exposed to persecution; ant that attempts were made to crush it in its infancy. The enemies of Christianity have attempted this, by calumniating its doctrines, and charging it with false principles; and by ascribing other views and aims to its teachers than what they avowed. It was declared to be unfriendly to the civil institutions. The zealots of other religions endeavoured to prejudice the civil rulers against it, that they might use their power to destroy it. They insinuated, that its doctrines tended to subvert civil government to weaken the respect of men for their rulers, and sap the foundation of their authority. This art was early practiced by the insidious enemies of the gospel, to create alarms in the government against it, and excite opposition to it, and it has often been used since.
If we look back in the history of Christianity to the life of its blessed founder, the peaceable an pious Jesus, we shall see an artful snare laid by His enemies to betray Him into a treasonable conversation, in order to expose him to the jealousy and power of the Roman government. By the wisdom of his teaching, and the manner of his life, he had attracted the notice of the learned and unlearned of his own nation. The Jewish rulers saw that he was setting himself up as a leader of a new sect; that he supported his doctrines with irresistible arguments; exposed and condemned their errors and vices with boldness, and great plainness of speech. They were alarmed by his discourses, which unveiled to the multitude their corruption, wickedness and hypocrisy; and they sought to ruin him. When he delivered some parables, which the Pharasees supposed to be aimed at them, as a censure upon their profession and conduct they “went and took counsel together how they might entangle him in his talk.” They sent some of their disciples, with the Herodians, to propose such questions to him as might draw something from him that would expose him to the Roman government. These disciples began their attack in an insidious manner. They first paid him some flattering compliments upon his integrity and independence; observing, that he was not afraid to speak the truth, and declare his sentiments boldly. Then they put his question to him : “Tell us, what thinkest thou? Is it lawful to give tribute to Cesar, or not? But Jesus perceived their wickedness, and said, Why tempt ye me, ye hypocrites?” He requested to see the tribute money, and finding upon it the stamp of Cesars image, he said to them, “Render unto Cesar the things which are Cesar’s, and unto God the things that are God’s.” By this answer he avoided the snare that was laid for him’ shewed to the people he had no intention of opposing the civil government himself under which he live, or of exciting them to rebellion. On the contrary, he taught them submission in the payment of their taxes; that they ought to do such things as were necessary for the support of government, as well as those which related immediately to God. His enemies were confounded by his answer, and left him. But it shews, that he did not mean to intermeddle with the political affairs of the world at that time, or make any change in them by the exercise of his power, or encourage a spirit of revolt in the Jews. When they would have made him a king, he avoided the intended honour by retiring from them; and when he was requested by one to use his influence to procure the division of an estate, he answered, “Man, who made me a judge or a divider over you?” How false then was the accusation brought against him by his enemies before Pilate! “We found this fellow perverting the nation and forbidding to give tribute to Cesar; saying, that he himself is Christ, a king.” and how can it be said that Christianity is inimical to government, and seeks to establish and exalt itself upon its ruins? An abominable superstition, under its borrowed name may have aimed at this; but not the religion of Jesus Christ. His own preaching and example give the lie to the calumny.
If from the Gospel we turn to the writings of the apostles , we shall find the same disposition manifested with respect to civil government; the same exhortations to a compliance with the duties we owe to it. “let every soul be subject to the higher powers,” says the apostle Paul; “for rulers are not a terror to good works, but to the evil. For he (the ruler) is the minister of God to thee for good.” The apostle seems evidently to speak here of that government which is so constituted and administer as to promote the good of the governed; which is for the praise and encouragement of its good subjects, and the punishment of the bad. “Do that which is good,” says he, “and thou shalt have praise of the power; but if thou do that which is evil, be afraid.” Such “powers are ordained of God.” They are constituted for the happiness of mankind : and to such, Christianity teaches us a dutiful submission. “Render therefore to all their dues: tribute to whom tribute is due; custom to whom custom; fear to whom fear; honour to whom honour.”
The Gospel was set forth to the Jewish converts to Christianity as a “law of liberty,” because it freed them from the observance of the mosaical institutions, which were burdensome. These converts, or some mistaken men among them, might conclude, that by becoming Christians they were likewise exempt from obedience to the civil magistrate and were bound only by the institutions of Christ. This might occasion the apostles writing so explicitly on the subject of civil obedience. But whatever right they had as men to remonstrate against unjust and oppressive measures of government, or oppose tyranny, Christianity gave them no particular command to refuse obedience in matters merely civil. It forbad a compliance with the institutions respecting idol-worship, because this was incompatible with the worship of the true God: and no civil magistrate had a right to impose on any man the performance of an act so contrary to that religious service he owes to God, as his first duty. But in civil matters the apostles, after the example of their divine Master, often enjoined obedience to the ruling power; and taught Christians, that their coming under the authority of Christ, as their spiritual prince, did not destroy their allegiance to their temporal sovereign, nor cancel their obligations to obey his commands, in anything not contrary to the laws of God, which indeed had a prior claim upon them.
Thus we see that the Gospel of Christ is not the enemy of civil government; neither is it to any of those social institutions which are beneficial to man. It also enjoins the observance of all the social duties of life, which arise out to the relation of husband and wife, parent and child, master and servant, friend and neighbor; extending good will and good offices to all mankind.
I have been led to make these observations to you, my hearers, on Christianity, as it relates to social and civil life; because much has been said to vilify it, and represent it as unfriendly to it. I have noticed the conduct and arts of its enemies in former times, that you may compare them with the conduct of its present virulent opposers, and see their views. Do they tell you it is hostile to the rights of mankind; that it binds them in servitude, and denies them the real enjoyments of life; this is only to apologize for their own libertinism and licentiousness, and to make you as corrupt as themselves. Look to their conduct, and see what that liberty is they propose you should enjoy by its destruction. Look to the liberty which the gospel warrants you to exercise, and see if any thing beyond it can be indulged with safety to the common interest of society, to the virtue and happiness of mankind. Do these opposers of the Christian religion declare that it is inimical to a free and good government; and that it is the aid and engine of tyranny – if they mean by it a system of superstition which has adopted the name of Christianity, but discarded or violated its principles, it is not answerable for the abuse or the wickedness of that superstition. These have arisen from the corrupted heart of man, and not from Christianity, which is designed to correct that corruption – And it may be asked what do the enemies of Christianity propose in its stead, better, or so well, adapted to oppose that corruption, or guard mankind against its effects? Has the experiment, as far as it has been tried hitherto, by those who have discarded it, produced any more virtue, social order, and happiness, than the pure and unadulterated religion of Jesus Christ has, where this has been the rule of sincere faith and practice? I leave its enemies to answer. But whenever they decry this religion as set forth in the new testament by Christ and his apostles, declaring in to be inimical to good government, and the social enjoyments of life, you have, in your own experience, the confutation of the calumny, and just ground to mistrust their apparently good intentions towards you. Do they not mean by such insinuations to delude you with respect to their own political views and conduct – to lessen the energies of religion in support of a free and upright government, that you may not be “subject for conscience sake;” but that you may be more easily brought to submit to their domination; to that system of arbitrary power and universal dominion they are aiming to establish upon the ruins of religion and virtue? For who are the open and avowed opposers of Christianity? Are they not those men who are endeavouring to put down all rule and all authority in every nation, that their will and power alone may govern the world?
Upon this day then of humiliation and prayer let us pray for the preservation and continuance of our religious privileges; that the gospel may remain to us, and its sacred truths be our guide. It may be asked, are we in any danger of losing it? I answer, it has been attacked by men of the above description: And although the gospel has not been put down by absolute authority in the revolutionized countries, the same insidious arts have been used to prejudice mankind against it, as against the ancient government, to work the same ruin. The abuses of Christianity have been brought to criminate the gospel itself; and the sacred scriptures have been treated, not only with contempt, but with the vilest insult. The enemies of Christianity have succeeded too far elsewhere, by their insidious arts, not to create cautionary alarms in us. The means they use, though apparently weak, are powerful when aided by the corruption of the human heart, and the tempting pleasures of sensuality. If any means appear contemptible in a previous view, yet if they prove successful in the experiment, they become important if, the object be important they are used to effect. Ridicule may sometimes effect as much as argument. The habit of seeing any person or thing treated with contempt may reconcile us to more serious operations against it. It is thus the enemies of our government endeavor first to lessen our respect and esteem for our rulers, that they may ultimately, attack the government itself, and by a bolder hand destroy it; and thus they would by artful means weaken our attachments to religion that they may finally succeed in completely overthrowing it. We might be more alarmed if we saw the arm of power stretched forth to prevent the exercise of it: but if it be destroyed by any other means, the consequences may be as injurious to society in a religious view. And he that attempts to undermine the foundation of a beautiful building, and bring it to the ground in ruins, without touching it with his hands, is as much to be feared and guarded against, as he who would pull it to pieces by violence.
From these workers of underplot we are in danger, and we ought seriously to guard against them. We ought earnestly to pray to God, that the designs formed against our religion may not in any degree prevail; but that it may be preserved against insidious attacks, as well as open violence. And let us at the same time give thanks to God, that the light of the gospel still sheds its mild influence on us; that the word of God has free course among us to run and be glorified; that our bibles have not yet been sacrificed on the altars of infidelity nor our religious liberty overawed and restrained by the reign of licentiousness; 2 but that the light of the gospel is still the light of our country to guide our feet in then way of peace and righteousness.
By what has been said, you may see how, as Christians, you are in duty bound to submit to the institution of government, and obey your civil rulers, when that government is so constituted and administered that you may lead quiet and peaceable lives, in all godliness and honesty under it; and that you ought to pray for the continuance and exercise of it. This is the duty of every man who would cherish the hope in himself of entering into the glorious kingdom of Christ. For he that is restless, quarrelsome, and contentious, is not fit for that more perfect state of society, where love is the prevailing motive of action: he has not that peaceable and quiet spirit, which is necessary to make the kingdom of heaven a place of enjoyment an happiness to him.
I shall now endeavor to lay before you some observations, to shew that this duty of obedience to government is founded in the present constitution of things, and the nature of man, as well as in the word of God; that his command of civil obedience is to be read in the book of nature, as well as in that of revelation I shall take some notice of that condition of government which seems best adapted to promote the improvement and happiness of man, as arising out of his condition; and offer some observations on our present political circumstances, and the duty we are called to under them.
Man, though a rational being, in the rude state in which he is sometimes found, discovers but very little of the exercise of reason. His faculties lie dormant, undeveloped, and unimproved. From the local situation, or low state of society in which he lives, he reaps but a small portion of the advantages of social life. Compare the human being, whom we find in this situation, with one who has enjoyed, and well improved the highest advantages of society; but whose natural powers of mind are not stronger than the others; and how different shall we find them! They scarcely resemble each other except in form. The difference of mind, portrayed in their countenances, and discovered in their conduct, almost marks them as different orders of beings. Such a comparison will shew us the advantages of society, in a refined and improved state, in expanding the human mind, giving dignity to man, and opening the sources of enjoyment and happiness to him. By living in well regulated society, man finds personal protection from the base and selfish principles and passions which are sometimes predominate in the human breast: he finds a stronger stimulus for genius in the greater rewards for his exertions and labour: he finds he may be more happy in himself, by the indulgence of his social affections, and more extensively useful to his fellow men; enjoy more of the bounties of his Creator, and glorify him by more refined sentiments and obedience, than in an uncultivated state of solitude. It is evident from these considerations that man was intended by his Maker to live in a state of society; that it is a duty enjoined on him by the nature of his constitution to associate with his fellow men, and live with them under such laws and regulations as appear best adapted to answer the purposes of his being. He is bound to cultivate the social life, by which his own dignity, usefulness and happiness are increased, and that of his fellow men. It is a duty enjoined upon him by the Author of his being, who requires of him the cultivation of his talents in that manner which will best promote his own interest and happiness, in connection with that of other men. He is not left to his own choice: he cannot follow the bent of his inclinations uncontrolled by reason, uninfluenced by the common good of others, and live by prey and rapine, if he would. The laws of society will bind him to order; and they are the laws of God, who has ordained this order for the benefit of this creature man. We ought to suppose every institution to come from God, either immediately or mediately, which promotes the improvement of man as a rational being, and best increases and secures his happiness.
For the due regulation of social life, and that men may reap the greater advantages from associating together, it is necessary that rules and laws should be formed for the government of the several members of the society; and that they should be such as will best promote the common interest of those who have associated together. This social compact is founded upon the natural right which every man has to preserve his life and property from violence4 and depredation. As all men are not wise, just and benevolent; as all men are not equal in bodily strength, and no individual is capable of resisting the united efforts of many against his life and property, they must associate for mutual protection that the weak, as well as the strong may be secured against the injustice, cruelty, arbitrary will and power of any individual, or any banditti combined to prey upon others, for these purposes of defense and protection, the great body of the people unite themselves in a large society, and create a power, to be exercised for their benefit, which shall be superior to any power that may arise within the society to injure any of its members. A constitution is first formed, the principles of which are founded on the natural rights of man; that is, the right of personal liberty and protection; the rights of conscience in matters of religion; and the right of peaceably enjoying all the temporal blessings of this life, which he can acquire in a state of society without injuring the right of personal liberty and protection; the rights of conscience in matters of religion; and the right of peaceably enjoying all the temporal blessings of this life, which he can acquire in a state of society without injuring the rights of others. To ensure these blessings of a free constitution founded on the condition and necessities of human nature, persons of wisdom and integrity are chosen from among the body of the people to frame such laws and regulations, upon the principles of the constitution, as shall best answer the purposes expressed in it. Persons thus elected are the representative s of the people at large. They are clothed with authority by them, to act in their stead in making laws for the government of the community’ and the people bind themselves to the observance of their institutions. That there may be no abuse of the powers committed to the legislative body, in a wise and well-constructed constitution, this body is divided, and so invested with separate powers as to make each part a check upon the other. Both are chosen by the people, and derive their powers from them. That there may be no coalition between the two branches, to usurp an un-delegated power, and deprive the people of their rights and liberties, it is required then that these legislators should hold a certain property in the community, and be interested in the public welfare; that their power should not be of long duration; that they should be chosen for a short period of time, and then return to the mass of the people again, that they may be equally affected with their constituents by their own laws. As it is impossible that the great body of the people should assemble to make their own laws, so it is that they should see them executed. Other persons are therefore chosen and invested with executive powers to see them faithfully observed and put into execution. Experience has taught mankind, that this executive power is exercised much better, and with more safety to the people, when placed in the hands of an individual, than when committed to several persons. For the man will always feel himself more responsible for the duties of any office committed solely to him, than if others are concerned with him in the exercise of it. That this officer, high in power, may not be tempted to abuse his trust, he is not only subject to the laws himself while he governs the community, but he is appointed for a short period of time only. He then returns and mixes with the mass again, either to enjoy the good, or suffer the evil, consequences of his administration.
Such a system of government cannot be capable of much abuse, or great danger to the liberties of the people. It appears to the most free and perfect system that can be devised for man in this state of his existence; best adapted to the security of his rights, and the enjoyment of the blessings of society. It gives every latitude to man, which he can and ought to possess, considering the rights of others. It secures to him every object he might acquire, even if the disregarded the rights of others, which can contribute to the improvement and happiness of his life, taking the whole of his existence into view. For no man can advance his own happiness, by deviating from that line of conduct God has marked out for him. And as God has so constituted man as to make the greatest improvement in a state of society, he cannot advance his own happiness ultimately, without respecting the rights of others, as well as his own; without living in the observance of those laws which are appointed for the protection and benefit of all. We often see many inconveniences, and much unhappiness, arising to those who violate the trust reposed in them in the offices of government. And it is certain, that usurpers lose more in the end than they can gain by usurpation and the abuse of power.
A good and righteous government, founded in equity and administered with justice and impartiality, is one of the greatest blessings of human life, and without it few of them can be enjoyed by the community at large.
From what has been said on the nature and condition of man and his improvement, it is evident he was made for social life; and that state of society will best advance his improvement and happiness, which affords the best security to life and property, the best means of expanding his faculties, and the best encouragement is to industry, by securing to him the fruits of his labour. To such a government every man, who is so fortunate as to live under it, is indispensably bound to yield obedience; to respect the sovereign power of it, and submit to its lawful authority and commands.
“As society, by the dispensation of God’s providence is necessary to mankind, and government is necessary for the preservation of society; so is sovereign power necessary to support government; and therefore sovereign power is established by the general providence of God; consequently submission to it is enjoined by the same providence. Obedience then to sovereign human civil or temporal power or authority, is commanded by God, and becomes of course a conscientious duty of man. There is no express command or precept of god to vest it in any particular person or persons; but the existence of civil authority, and consequently the conscientious obligation of submitting to it, when lawfully exercised, is substantially, and in effect enjoined by those general laws, which God has instituted for the preservation of the moral order of mankind, and which are therefore indispensably and uniformly binding upon every human individual, whatever be his station in the community of which he is a member.
“It was but in the special instance of the Jewish nation, that God selected a particular or chosen people or community, to whom he gave particular laws and particular rules. This formed a theocracy, or a form of government immediately appointed by God; and it lasted for a limited period. All the rest of mankind were left to their free liberty, to form themselves into whatever communities or societies they chose, and to delegate the sovereignty of human or temporal power and authority to whomsoever, and in whatever manner, they should find it reasonable and agreeable. Hence has arisen the endless variety of forms and modes of government through the succession of all ages to the present.” 3 Some nations have chosen that of monarchy, in which the sovereign power is made hereditary; and others, that of republicanism, in which the sovereignty is often changed, and passes into different hands at short periods of time.
Without going into the merits or demerits of the former, let it be observed, that the government under which we live is of the latter kind. It is republicanism. It is a government we have chosen ourselves and is that above describe. It is formed upon the broad basis of civil and religious liberty, in which a man may enjoy all those blessings which a state of society can give; all that freedom of action which is consistent with the laws of God and the rights of others. The laws by which we are governed may be said to have originated from ourselves; for we choose the makers of them. The sovereign power for their execution is delegated to the chief magistrate by ourselves. He is chosen from among the people, and we declare in the constitution how we will be governed by him. Can anything be more free than such a government as this? Can any better protect the rights and liberty of the subject? Or could one more democratic have any energy at all? The people at large have chosen this government after deliberate consideration, it has become binding upon them, and their duty and interest go together. In a comparative view with other governments, we are a fortunate, a happy people. For no government on earth is so free, and well calculated to make wise and virtuous men happy; and no people ever enjoyed so much freedom, prosperity and happiness, in so short a period of time, as we have since its establishment. But let it be remembered, that knowledge and virtue in the people are absolutely necessary to the existence of a government so free as our own.
As it was originally founded upon the theory of human nature and civil society, and the experience drawn from other nations and governments, so the practice of it has justified the choice, and shewn it to be a wise and valuable institution. Having been adopted by us, and put into exercise, it has become, in one sense, the law and institution of God; and every individual of the community is conscientiously bound to obey it. Every wise and virtuous man will prize it as one of the most valuable gifts of God, and offer up his supplications, prayers and intercessions, with thanksgiving, for it; for its chief magistrate, and all who are in authority in this government; “that we may lead quiet and peaceable lives in all godliness and honesty.” Under their administration of it. the great end and object of government is, that men may lead quiet and peaceable lives in all godliness; that is in the exercise of religious and pious duties, undisturbed by the persecutions of wicked men: and in all honesty; that is in the exercise of integrity and justice, reciprocally performed towards each other. For such a government every man should pray; and, in the possession and enjoyment of it give thanks.
From the several recommendations in scripture, by our Saviour and his apostles, of submission to temporal government, the doctrine of passive obedience and nonresistance to any government, however corrupt, iniquitous and oppressive, however established by usurpation and tyrannical means, has been held up and taught by some Christians to its fullest extent.
We cannot go into the full consideration of this doctrine at present. Suffice to say, that god ordained government for the good of mankind, to prevent the evils of anarchy, the evils of uncontrolled passions; to protect the live and prosperity of mankind, and promote their rational improvement and happiness. But when, through the corruption of rulers, and their abuse of constitutional powers, the government is changed, and these benefits cease to result from their administration; the people at large are debased and rendered miserable; their lives insecure, their religious rights of conscience invaded, their property torn from them till they are reduced to poverty, to pamper corruption, and promote and extend vice, can it be said that this the ordinance of God? – the government to which he commands his rational creatures to submit? – in which neither godliness or honesty is seen among the rulers? – and in which there is no such ting as enjoying a quiet and peaceable life? Can it be a question, whether in this case the body of the people have a right to say to such corrupt, unfaithful men, “We will not have you any longer to rule over us?” They undoubtedly have a right to say it. The only difficulty lies in exercising that right in such a cool, deliberate and wise manner as shall remove the evils they suffer; with that wisdom and discretion which shall regain the blessings they have lost, or have a right to enjoy; which shall guard against the evils of anarchy, and a mere change of matters without any relief from suffering; and shall establish them in freedom, and the enjoyment of the privileges and blessings of social life.
The revolutions in government which have recently taken place, and are now in motion, in the European world, hitherto afford melancholy proofs, that the great body of the people who do not always gain the end at which they aim by them. We have hitherto seen little more than a change of men, without any change of measures beneficial to the people at large. They still groan under burdens and oppressions; and are not allowed to complain under their present rulers, any more than when they were under the power of those who were formerly denominated their tyrants. The rights of conscience are not better respected; their lives and property are not more secure. If they suffered before under military despotism, they do not appear to suffer less under the new-formed governments, which are evidently controlled by military force. If the former constitutions were arbitrary and tyrannical, what benefits of freedom have hitherto resulted from exercise of those set up in their stead? If their former rulers abused their powers, and, being armed with military strength, committed acts of despotism on their subjects; if they seized, imprisoned and banished with trial, not merely the private citizen, but the public officers when in the exercise of their constitutional duty, have not the present rulers done as much, in some nations, which have been revolutionized, in violation of the freedom of the subject, and the new constitutions? And if the revolutionary rulers of the great nation in Europe, which began the reform of government, have shewn no more respect for the rights of their own people, could it be supposed they would respect the rights of foreign nations where they have sent their armies to carry on the work of political reformation? Have they done it, even to nations at peace with them? But supposing they had given freedom to their own nation, and that the people of France were now in the full exercise of those privileges named in the constitution they have adopted, where is the spirit of universal philanthropy with which they set out to meliorate the condition of other nations? Has it evaporated in experiment! Or is it smothered by success, and stifled by the lust of power, ambition and avarice? Or did it never exist! Was it the mere art of delusion which spoke to the oppressed nations this language of philanthropy and freedom? – “People of Italy, the French army comes to break your chains; the French people are the friends of all people: come with confidence to them; your property, religion, and customs, shall be respected. We make war as generous enemies and wish only to make war against the tyrants who oppress you.” 4 This was the language held out to the oppressed by these deliverers of mankind! Compare this language with their conduct when conquerors; and look at the situation of the people they had addressed with so much comparison, after their old chains were broken, and their masters subdued. Has not the whole mass of the people been included in the fruits of the conquest? – severe requisitions and contributions levied upon them at large, and collected at the point of the bayonet? Have their “property, religion, and customs been respected: by the “generous enemy?” How have the conquerors then their friendship? What has been done to beget “confidence in them?” What is their language to the same people they pitied so much before, when they had conquered “the tyrants who oppressed” them? “Remember,” says the “generous enemy,” you are altogether a conquered country; I am here the legislative power, and your heads shall fall at the least trouble or disorder of which you shall be the authors.” 5 And have they not been as vindictive in punishing any provoked offences, or oppression that has been made to their arbitrary mandates, as any despot against whom they so loudly exclaim? Have they not made as many exactions from the people whom they came to deliver, as their former masters ever did? Have they in any instance, after crushing the former government, generously withdrawn their military force, and left the people at liberty to establish a free constitution by themselves? Have they not dictated in every government, and controlled the wishes of every people, where the ancient order of things has been destroyed? Have not the rulers of the “friendly nation” sold a whole people whom they first delivered from their ancient tyrants, to a despot, against whose arbitrary power they have said so much; whose arms they have so long opposed in the “cause of freedom,” as they term their own? Yet, to accommodate their own convenience (not from necessity) have not they, who style themselves “the friends of all people,” sacrificed the rights of a neutral nation, and delivered this people over, without their consent, into the hands of a despot, to use them as he pleases? I s it thus they give liberty and free government to other nations? If this has been the conduct of the “friendly nation,” what does it in fact differ from the former despotism? How is the condition of the people meliorated by the change? How have the conquerors proved the truth of this friendly declaration, with infatuated and lulled the people as a charm? – “We war not against you, but against the tyrants who oppress you!” And is it not a fact, that while this republic has expressed such pointed disapprobation of kings and despots, she has overturned the governments of most of the republics where she came; but has allowed the hereditary sovereigns (tyrants, as she styles kings and princes) to remain – permitted them to purchase a continuance of their power, and a license to oppress, if she may share in the profits of the oppression? For the price of toleration for all the thrones which remain in the conquered countries must ultimately be paid by the people. Consequently the people are not only burdened to support their former masters, but to pay for their masters’ privilege of keeping them in subjection. And as it was under the ancient conquerors, when the sovereigns of the countries they subdued were obliged to oppress their subjects more heavily to pay the exactions of their conquerors, so it is now; and the new republic seems to be expressing her friendship to the nations she has conquered by the largeness of her requisitions. Are then the supreme rulers of this republic so inimical to kings as to their people? Do they not assume as much haughtiness as any despot? Do they not use as high-swelling language in speaking of their own power, and dictating the submission of all others to it, as any monarch? 6 And do not the rulers of this republic already claim homage from other independent nations – insult and treat with contempt their sovereignty – trample upon their rights, and evidently aim at universal power and dominion? Where then is the difference between the ancient and former state of things, as it respects the liberty and enjoyments of mankind, in any government they have changed? Is there any difference, except in name, between the power which now oppresses the people, and did then? The only discernible difference is, the greater extension of this power in its oppressive effects; in calling tyranny by another name, and decoying mankind within its grasp by the specious pretension to philanthropy. But where the government is tyrannical, whether it be monarchical or republican, it is never worthwhile to quarrel about names. Mankind cannot always be deceived by them, and put up with the imposition of tyranny under the name of liberty. Their eyes begin to be opened. And where this subtle serpent has entwined itself, the people feel the baneful influence of its poison, and lament its depredations. But unhappily they at first allowed its charm to prevail, and lull them in security, till it got them within its folds; and now it has inserted its fangs so deeply, they cannot escape from its fatal embrace.
Let their fate be a warning to others, and their sufferings a stimulus to guard those, who are not yet in its power, against the danger of its fascination, which prepares the way for inevitable destruction.
I have been led to make the foregoing observations on the necessity, nature and end of government, and upon the principles of our own, that seeing it is calculated to promote our improvement and happiness, and is therefore become the ordinance of God to us, we may, from a sense of duty to him, and benefit to ourselves, feel our obligations to obey it; that upon this day, set apart by civil authority to humble ourselves before God, and implore his blessing upon our government, we may recollect our situation, and our duty, as good subjects; recognize the blessings we enjoy under our happy constitution with thankful hearts, and offer up our prayers to God for their continuance.
Let us contrast our misconduct with the blessings we have enjoyed, that the sense of our unworthiness and ingratitude may impress deeper humiliation. May a sense of the dangers which hang over us lead us to repentance, and fervent prayer, that God may turn from us these tokens of his anger, and cause us more highly to esteem and improve, in future, his spiritual and temporal blessings.
And let us pray, that God will continue to us our freedom and our constitutions of government; as well that of the state as that of the union; preserve them in purity, both in their principles and administration; and that all who are called into public office may be men of religion and virtue, of true patriotism and inflexible integrity.
Let us comply with the exhortation in the text, to pray for all that are in authority, and for the prosperity of our government. A sense of our obligations to do this, as Christians, will make the duty of obedience more binding upon us. Our sincere and earnest prayers, “that we may lead quiet and peaceable lives in all godliness and honesty,” under it, will lead us to attend to those things, which will preserve peace and quietness among ourselves: the greatest requisites to which are, reverence for God, and love for our fellow men; the exercise of pious duties, and the practice of that “righteousness which exalteth a nation.”
By praying for our rulers, we shall cultivate a due reverence and regard for them. They are called to the arduous task of conducting the affairs of our government : and while they are found faithfully in the administration, in governing according to the principles of the constitution, and the laws enacted under it, they highly merit our esteem, our approbation and praise. In such a government as this, where the power primarily resides in the people, and is delegated to the officers of government only for a short time, a cheerful assent to the measures which their wisdom shall direct, confidence in their integrity, a unity of sentiment among ourselves, and co-operation with them, are absolutely necessary to give strength and energy to the government, force to its laws, and respect to its administration. This countenance and support we must give to it, if we expect it to answer the design of its institution, in protecting our lives, liberty and property, and securing to us the blessings of civil society.
In this discourse I have also been led to the painful task of calling your attention, my hearers, to the great and important revolutions in governments which have recently taken place in other nations, and which are now in operation in the European world; because from our connection with some of those nations we are in danger of suffering by the violence of their agitations. Painful indeed has the task been to me to call up to your view the errors, or misconduct, of that nation which began so well the work of political reformation, and which set out with such philanthropic principles to benefit mankind. While those principles appeared to govern, and those virtuous and patriotic men conducted the business, who first undertook it, every true patriot, every lover of mankind, might wish them Godspeed; and the inhabitants of this country rejoiced in their success. But when we see those men driven from the stage of action, or destroyed by the violence of others, who have abandoned those first principles, and assumed a different conduct; when we see that the benefits expected do not result from the revolution; the liberties of other nations attacked, and our own menaced, is it not the duty which every man owes to his country, to point out the danger arising from such conduct, and call the attention of his fellow citizens to it? The warning voice has reached our ears from the seat of government. OUR CHIEF MAGISTRATE has called us to consider our danger and our duty; declaring that we are “placed in a hazardous and afflictive situation, by the unfriendly disposition, conduct and demands of a foreign power, evinced by repeated refusals to receive our messengers of reconciliation and peace, by depredations on our commerce, and infliction of injuries on very many of our fellow citizens.” We have seen the ground on which this danger is stated to us by the Executive. We see, in part, the evil designs which that foreign power has formed against us, in the dispatches from our Envoys, and on what it builds its prospect of success. It is on its “diplomatic skill” in sowing the seeds of discord among us, and dividing the people from their rulers; by creating jealousies and mistrust in our minds, and thereby weakening the energies of our government, and rendering us defenseless against their bolder attacks. Thus they would prepare us for the same impositions they have laid on other neutral nations. They wish to conquer us by their arts, as they have others by their arms; that our government may be under their control, and our property under their requisition. This they have done to others, and thus they threaten us. It is only as a warning against their evil designs I have called up their conduct towards other nations to your view, that their example may be a beacon to us. We must be on the watch against this evil, to prevent its nearer approaches: for it has already come too nigh to us for our quietude and safety. We must be firmly united among ourselves, to prevent its stealing further upon us: for it comes in an insidious way; and, if we are not well guarded, it will seize us before we are aware of it. It has not, till lately, approached us with the bold menace of an enemy; but has been stealing upon our hearts with the kisses of an Absalom, who weaned the affections of his father’s subjects from him and excited them to rebellion against him, by making unjust representations of his government, and pretending to be their better friend.
But while we have the privilege of choosing our own rulers, and changing them at short periods, we cannot be in danger of tyranny from them, if we adhere to the rules of our constitution. While we choose them from among the most wise and virtuous of our citizens, we ought to believe them capable of conducting our political affairs aright; and not be jealous of them, and mistrust their wisdom and integrity, without any good evidence of their folly and unfaithfulness in the administration of government. While they govern according to the rules of our constitution, they merit our confidence, and are entitled to our obedience and support; and it is the duty of every man to give it to them.
We ought also to consider how great the task of government is, to those men who are placed in the first offices of it; that the pecuniary rewards in our government are small, compared with the labour and anxiety they undergo; and that they deserve our commendation, and not our censure, when they do well. And we ought to consider them as doing well, when they adhere to the rules of the constitution; and when we prosper under their administration, unless our prosperity be in interrupted by others, over whom they have no control; which can be no fault of our rulers. It is discouraging to able and virtuous men, to undertake the administration of our government – men who could live more at their ease, or gain greater pecuniary rewards for their labour, in private life, without the hazard of reputation, if they must be exposed to unjust censure an calumny; be traduced in their characters, as guilty of hypocrisy; of entertaining the vilest views of ambition, and sacrificing the honour and interest of the community to personal emolument, without foundation. When they have had repeated and continual, slander thrown upon them, in some public papers, but have been able to vindicate their administration by the rules of the constitution, and justify their measures by circumstances existing at the time, notwithstanding which there is no relaxation of abuse, and some of it of the meanest and vilest kind; should we not mistrust the purity of the fountain from whence it flows, and the patriotic intentions of those who make such free use of it Some men, through ignorance, or mistaken zeal, may be honest in their intentions, and think they are doing “God service” by it. But those political intriguers, who have long since discarded a belief of His agency in the affairs of this world, well know how to make use of that zeal and political ignorance to carry on their views against the government. They know, that the power of republican governments resides in the people. To destroy that government, they must weaken the power by dividing the people. And they have spared no pains, and left no measures untried, to do it. But when such men as a WASHINGTON and an ADAMS cannot be trusted with the limited powers of our constitution, and escape censure and calumny – men, who had been so long and faithfully tried in the cause of our country, previous to their appointment to the office of chief magistrate, who had given such evidence of their wisdom, integrity and patriotism, where shall we find men whom we can trust, and who will not be slandered? – where shall we look among all our citizens for characters of more integrity and wisdom? – who can have higher pretensions to our confidence, can give better security for a faithful administration of government, or whose real merit can better turn aside the shafts of calumny, and prevent its malignity on the government? If such men be not worthy of your confidence, we are hopeless indeed. And when we become so corrupt, or so much the dupes of artifice, as to discard and change these for their opposers, we may expect our constitution will be changed also. Or, one which we have as an example before our eyes, it may exist in name, but will not protect us from confiscations and banishment without trial by Jury – that boasted of right freemen, that palladium of liberty. Then we may expect to see in the administration, a chief magistrate who will address us in such language as this: “I leave you the liberty of your republic,” but “I will compose for you a legislative body of wise and honest men!!” 7
To such a construction of liberty, who of us will consent? And if the same be meant by wise and honest men, under such a free government who of us would choose to live, while we can enjoy our own? That we may continue to enjoy it, let us guard against every art and design formed against it; adhere to its principles, and live in the practice of all social and political virtue, and in the exercise of all pious and moral duties. Then may we put our trust in God, and look to him for deliverance in all times of danger. And we have reason, from our past experience, to put our trust in him. How often has he delivered us when in imminent danger? In the early stage of our struggle for liberty, when the enemy bore down all opposition, and spread himself like a torrent through the country; when despair was in almost every countenance, how did he inspire the illustrious WASHINGTON to attempt the scene at Trenton, and turn the scale of victory in our favour, with a few men; - like Jonathan, who, with his armor bearer, smote the host of the Philistines, because the hand of the Lord was with him! When an army from the north poured in upon us, and threatened our destruction, and we saw no adequate means of stopping its progress, how did he put his hook into the nose of this enemy, and deliver him into our hands, in a very unexpected manner! When the treachery of an Arnold endangered our country, and the capture of our military chief, in what a remarkable manner was that conspiracy detected and defeated! The atheist may look to natural causes for these events, and rest in them. I do not presume to say, they were effected by miracles. We saw the natural means which were used to produce them. But who could foresee, or did, that such means were adequate to such effects? The wisest atheist, and the profoundest politician, could not have conjectured that some of these events could have been brought about by such means. They were like the arrow from the bow drawn at a venture; which was directed by the HAND OF PROVIDENCE through the joints of the harness, to effect the death of the king of Israel, according to prophesy. God often effected great things for us by small mean in the course of our revolution. He has done much to shew us (if we had not been convicted before) that an INTELLIGENT BEING governs the world; - “that the MOST HIGH rules in the kingdoms of men.” And what he has done for us is sufficient to confirm our trust in him, and lead us still to hope in his goodness. Let us be humble, repent, and be virtuous, and we may rely on his protection; that he will preserve us as an Independent people. As we see how he formerly rescued us when in imminent danger, so we may consider the discoveries made at this critical period, of the “unfriendly disposition” of the rulers of that nation with whom we have been so intimately connected, in some measure, as the act of His Providence; and that he means to save us.
But we must still work by the means he has given us. We must have confidence in our own rulers, and use our own strength for defense. By trusting to their wisdom and information, and putting confidence in them, we shall have nothing to fear from the foreign influence of the rulers of any nation who may wish to convert us to their own use. By unanimity among ourselves, in the determination to support our own government, we need not fear the success of any foreign power against us. Let us avoid all party spirit and contention; treat each other with mildness in the discussion; and be of one mind with regard to our government, THAT WE WILL OPPOSE ALL FOREIGN INFLUENCE AND INNOVATION IN IT. Let us not be actuated by the spirit of jealousy. In whatever instances our own public interest coincides with that of any other nation, let us not think that our rulers are governed by an undue partiality to that nation, to the prejudice of any other, because they pursue those measures which will promote our own. But rather let us think they are faithful to the4 trust reposed in them, and act wisely; that they act upon better information than we have, are the best judges of what ought to be done, and what will best secure our rights and privileges, and promote our national prosperity and happiness. With this confidence in them, and unanimity among ourselves, let us earnestly pray for the government of our own nation, and of all others, that they may be so formed and administered, that all men “may lead quiet and peaceable lives” under their administration, “in all godliness and honesty: for” such effusions of the heart, accompanied with corresponding actions, are “good and acceptable in the sight of God our savior.”
1. This and a few other paragraphs were not delivered from the pulpit; but it has been desired the whole might be printed. (Return)
2. We have an account, in the relation of the siege of Lyons, that a large concourse of people on the Lord’s day suspended the old and new testament to the tail of an ass; and forming a mock procession, led him through the streets to a square, where they threw the bible into the fire prepared for the purpose, and made the ass drink out of the sacramental cup, in derision of Christianity. (Return)
3. Plowden’s Church and State, p. 24. (Return)
4. See Buonaparte’s speech to his army before Milan, April 26, 1796. (Return)
5. Buonaparte’s answer to the deputation of Milan. (Return)
6. The monarch may gather his pride or haughtiness from the greatness of the nation over which he reigns; but perhaps it may be said, that the rulers of this republic only assume a tone of language, which becomes the dignity of the great people over whom they preside. But republicans should not find fault with the haughtiness of monarchs, and assume as much themselves. If it be improper in the former, it does not better become the republican character. If haughtiness be the evidence of a little mind in an individual, it never can add to the dignity of the rulers of a great nation. Such language is too often the effusion of the heart; and, where it is indulged, is very apt to cherish and encourage impositions in arbitrary and tyrannical actions. (Return)
7. See Buonaparte’s speech to the deputation of the city of Milan. (Return)