OUR COUNTRY AND OUR WASHINGTON.
SUNDAY MORNING, FEBRUARY 22, 1852,
BIRTHDAY OF WASHINGTON,
THE HALL OF THE HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVES,
REV. C. M. BUTLER, D. D.
CHAPLAIN OF THE SENATE OF THE UNITED STATES
PUBLISHED BY REQUEST.
PRINTED BY JNO. T. TOWERS.
“We have heard with our ears, O God, our Fathers have told us what work thou didst in their days, in the times of old.” Psalm 44:1.
This Birth-day of Washington is a “Thanksgiving Day” to the people of this country, which it needs no proclamation of Governors to persuade them to remember and to keep. It is a day when the image of the venerable Father of his Country rises before every heart, and when our national blessings – many of which he was a chosen instrument in securing – pass in review before every mind. I shall, therefore, give expression to the feelings which pervade all our land today, if I enumerate some of those blessings, and contemplate the character of him whose memory we revere as the great, the good, the wise Father of his Country. The subject is appropriate alike to the place, and to the day.
I. The first national blessing which I mention is – the character of the country which Providence has assigned to us.
The country which we inhabit is such as has been allotted to no other modern nation. All the existing nations of the world live in lands which have been the homes of numerous generations. It was our peculiar lot to be placed in a new land, where nature “wants as in her prime, and played at will her virgin fancies.” How different must be the influences brought to bear upon a people, who occupy a country where they are surrounded with the monuments of the past, whose daily steps are over the tombs of many generations, who breathe the air in which are floating legendary traditions of early and romantic days, who see the centuries of their history notched upon olden tower and temple – how different must these influences be, from those which surround a young nation, placed in a new land, and spoken to more by impressive solemnities of nature, than by the works of man. It is unavoidable, that the external environments of a nation, the site it occupies, the monuments which daily meet its eye, the scenes in the midst of which its life is passed, should have a powerful influence in molding that nation’s character.
Old cities, venerable cathedrals, honored tombs, famous battlefields, palaces of power, around which gather associations of ancestral pomp and glory – speak to the national pride of man, and fan his local love, and fashion his soul to a narrow and sectarian patriotism. But when educated and civilized man is removed from the influence of such associations, and, no longer molded by daily contact with prescriptive institutions and local monuments, stands amid the sublimities and beauties of a new and wondrous land, his nature will spread into larger proportions, and his free mind act with more vigor, directness, and success, than amid old and familiar scenes. Look at a good and thoughtful man in the days of the First James, or the First Charles, of England, who – sickened of the baseness and tyranny all around him – strives to reach truth upon the great questions of human rights and human governments. Think of the scenes, influences, and associations, in the midst of which he sits down to meditate on these high themes. He cannot look at these questions under the clear and unclouded light of reason. Glaring colors, cross lights, distorting media, prevent a true conception of the great and unchanging rights of the governors and the governed.
There are the associations, prejudices, and enthusiasms of his childhood and youth, which memory brings before him under the name of arguments and reasons; and their rosy light beautifies the enormities of the past. A thousand years of national history, trailing their glories and their glooms, throw such strong lights and shadows upon these truths, that their real character cannot be discerned. A glittering throne casts over them its blinding glare. A splendid aristocracy adds its consecrating and glorifying flame. And with all these blending and blinding lights thrown over the subject of his contemplation, how can it seem to him other than they make it to appear? How can he well avoid, either giving his sanction to all claims of power, or of considering all government as an outrage and a wrong? But now take this man from amid these scenes, and place him in a new wide world; with a band of brothers, whom a common necessity makes his equals; with a Bible in his hand, which tells him that “of one blood God made all nations that dwell on the face of the earth;” amid ice-winds which would whistle as keenly on crowned and coroneted brows, as on the uncovered locks of the worn emigrant and pilgrim – place him there to study human rights and human governments, and he shall look at the question as it stands out under the clear and uncolored light of reason.
Should he dare yield his assent to the old sophistries and lies, which would prove the many to be made for the convenience of the few, all the stern and sublime scenes about him would utter their solemn confutations in his ear. The stones would cry out, that they grow no softer beneath a monarch’s tread; and press with equally relentless weight upon the corpses of the ignoble and the mighty. The stars in their courses would fight against the falsehood, and declare that they sparkle as brightly through the crevices of a cavern, as on gilded palaces and spear-girt towers.
II. It is another of our distinguishing mercies – that our ancestry was of a homogeneous kind – that the colonies which stretched along our shores, were not from various lands – because it is in consequence of this fact that a more complete national unity has been secured, in a country of unequalled vastness, than obtains in any other leading nation of the world. If large and influential colonies from Spain and Portugal had been established in our central positions, and connected with us in our struggles, and incorporated into our Confederacy, our Union would have been a mosaic work, were poor and friable materials would have joined hose of strength and beauty, whose unity a slight concussion might have destroyed. But there is now a more uniform type of national character all over this country, from Maine to Georgia, and from New York to San Francisco, than that which prevails in the little British Islands.
How important this state of things is for national prosperity and permanence, we need not say. The people of these States had been colonists together, under the same remote imperial power. They had together resisted its arbitrary enactments. They had together sustained a long and exhausting war. They spoke the same language, and had the same literature. Their moral and intellectual training had been similar; the elements of their personal character were much the same. In short, they were distinctively American in character, and scarcely more like the English than like other nations. “Between the extreme North and the extreme South,” say s a distinguished statesman, “there was nothing more considerable to break its expressive unity than such agreeable shades of character, as might mark the remote descendants of the Roundhead and the Puritan on the one hand, and the Cavalier of the same country on the other; such shades of difference as might mark the varying moods of the same individual character, break up its dullness and tedious uniformity, and give it animation, strength, and beauty.”
III. Another peculiarity of our national existence, replete with blessings, is, that we occupy a land everywhere rounded by distinct boundaries, which is of vast extent, and which includes every variety of soil, climate, and production. Very great must be the influence of this state of things on our continued national unity and homogeneousness, and on our prosperity.
It is a condition of all the other great nations of the earth, that they are not merely national. They are imperial. They rule over distant colonies, or detached provinces, which are not assimilated to the parent State, but retain the peculiarities, customs, and spirit of their origin. Countries which hold colonies and dependent provinces, not only thereby lose compactness and national individuality; but cannot be so free in their own home institutions, as they would be without them. The necessity of a vigorous exercise of power abroad, leads to its assumption and exercise at home. This holding on to colonies and dependencies is, most frequently, like the fastening of a dead body to a tree: they rack and tear the tree, and they continue to be dead. Now it is a peculiarity of our country, that we do not, and never can, extend ourselves by colonies and dependencies. All our additions must be grafted, so that they shall increase the beauty and stateliness of the parent tree, and receive from it something of its own peculiar life. Those who join us must be, and are, assimilated rapidly to the body into which they are taken. All our hopes, as a nation, depend upon our unity; and this seems to be secured to us no less by our homogeneous ancestry, than by the physical features of the land in which we dwell. We are so large that anything which is near us and becomes our own, must become a portion of ourselves – “as kindred drops are mingled into one.” The two oceans isolate us – the chain of lakes, the Mississippi, and all the rivers and boundaries of the land clasp us round, and hold us clamped, in indissoluble national unity.
IV. It is a distinctive and peculiar blessing of our land, that the understanding and love of the true principles of free government, and the ability to put them in practice were so early established among us, without those civil feuds which are the awful price which other nations have been compelled to pay for the inestimable treasure, and which many, even at that price, have failed to gain.
The value of this blessing it would be difficult to over-estimate. No nation of the Old World has reached more just, enlightened, and free principles of government than our own mother land of Britain. But it is fearful to think at how slow a rate, and at what a fearful cost of individual suffering and national convulsion, the blessing has been obtained. The history of England, from the First James to the Revolution of 1688, is a record of struggle of law with prerogative, of liberty with despotism, of right with might. How difficult, in the circumstances in which the champions of truth and righteousness were there placed, to fight their noble battle, with pure and un-embittered hearts. Such men, standing almost alone, seeing the upper classes subservient and sycophantic, and the masses, either submissive under all claims of power, or given up to a spirit of license, which they called liberty; stung by oppression into madness, just when they most needed to be calm; - such men, the preachers, apostles, and martyrs of human rights in England, wrought a work and met a fate which entitle them to the homage and admiration of the world!
And how slowly did their persecuted principles pervade the people! How were they insulted, branded, persecuted, imprisoned, and murdered, by despotic power! And when at length, under the intolerable despotism of Charles, the people awoke, and armed and went forth to do battle, to the death, with their oppressors, how was the glory of that noble championship marred by evil passions, by fanatical excess, by examples of tyranny kindred to that against which they contended; and how was the progress of that struggle darkened by accumulated woes: and how was its triumph signalized by other despotisms in the name of freedom; and how was its temporary defeat made horrible by the fiendish brutality of a Jeffries; and disheartening to the hopes of freedom by the martyrdom of the lofty Russel, and the gifted Sydney!
The beautiful nymph Liberty had a harder destiny and wore a sadder brow in England than in our own free land. I see her born in the home of the scholar who bends over the stories of old renown. I see her ass her childhood and youth in musing and moody solitude. I discern her next, pale and passionate, hovering near the midnight conclave, where patriots are compelled to meet with the secrecy of conspirators. Then I behold her lingering, with flashing eye, around the halls of stormy legislation and debate. At length I see her on the battlefield, armed and radiant, apparent and acknowledged queen of the hosts whom she leads to victory. Thence I follow her to cabinets and closets of negotiation and debate, where her brow is knit with care, and her voice grows dominant and harsh; and not until after the chastening influences of years of imprisonment and oppression does she issue forth, purified and calm, and with a peaceful smile, prepared to exercise a blessed and benignant sway.
Look at some of the nations of the Old World. How mournful it is to see, by their past and recent history, that the battle of freedom is to be fought over and over again, because when it is won, her champions know not how to secure their triumph! The people of those lands can demolish the grim bastilles of tyranny, but cannot erect the beautiful and proportioned temple of constitutional freedom. There are political Samsons, who can lay hold of the Dagon temples of despotic power, and shake them to the earth; but they themselves will perish in the ruins. It is melancholy to observe what crude notions and destructive theories of freedom prevail among the champions of popular rights in Europe. How seldom do they connect the idea of duties with the idea of rights! How often do they run the doctrine of political equality, into wild theories of socialism and agrarianism? How little do they seem to comprehend that obedience to law is loyalty to liberty? Hence it has so often occurred that the genius of freedom has, in Europe, worn the aspect of a fury, and gone forth with flaming torch and brandished sword, stirring up the multitude to mutiny and rage, to plunder and excess. It is the sad effect of long political enslavement, that its victims can with difficulty conceive of tolerant law-enacting, law-enforcing, and law-abiding liberty!
Now, in contrast with the toil, and blood, and suffering, at the expense of which the idea of regulated liberty was reached, and its reality secured, in our motherland, and with the wild and mistaken notions of freedom which prevail among the champions of liberty in Europe, behold the idea and the reality of freedom, as it exists with us. Liberty regulated by law – rights claimed from, because conceded to, others – the will of the people expressed through laws and constitutions – these are the fundamental privileges and principles of all our citizens. They grew with our colonial growth and strengthened with our strength, as we became a nation. We did not reach them after a long intestine struggle with our brethren and blood; but we had them in possession, and they nerved our arms, and knit our hearts, when we began the battle for independence. In this respect, as in many others, we enjoyed a peculiar and unequalled blessing. Freedom, which other nations shall secure only through long strife and revolutions, and which was established in our motherland, only through many woes, came to us without a mark of sorrow on her brow, or the stain of blood upon her garments. The benignant genius of American liberty was not born in stealth and nurtured in seclusion. Her glad childhood and youth were passed on the sounding shores, in the bracing mountain airs, amid the forest solitudes, and by the wild rivers of our glorious land. She grew up in health, and bloom, and beauty; and when our young nation become her champion, she spoke to it words of soberness, and breathed into it a steady courage, a loving enthusiasm, and an indomitable will.
V. There is another feature of our political condition which is a peculiar blessing. I refer to the Union of Sovereign States in one Nationality. In this particular we are distinguished from all the republics of ancient and modern times. This has no precedent and no parallel. Familiarity with it may make us unconscious of its singular adaptation to a country so large and various as our own. A Republic so large, not divided into separate governments, with local legislatures, but subject, in all its minutest arrangements, to a central executive and legislative authority, could not long exist. The distant portions of the country would row restive under an authority, could not understand its interests, and provide for all its minute and endless exigencies, and as its spirit of discontent and disobedience increased, the central authority would feel called upon to adopt more stringent measures of coercion and control.
But observe what a provision for permanence and prosperity is furnished by the present union of various independent States under one government. It can exercise all the authority necessary for a national administration, without the danger of undue centralization. It can leave each portion of the country to provide for its own wants, as a separate community, having its own peculiar characteristics, without allowing it to neutralize and nullify the authority of the central administration. The tastes, prejudices, and pride of each locality can be satisfied in that State legislation, which will provide such municipal regulations and State enactments as are consonant to the habits and desires of the people; while, at the same time, they shall experience the patriotic glow of feeling which becomes the citizens of a great and united nation. It is this which enables us, without detriment or danger to the integrity of the Republic, to incorporate States which are distant thousands of miles from the Capital, and separated from other States by wide and dreary wildernesses. In nothing connected with our country is the providence of God to be more admired, than in that conjuncture of conflicting interests which forced the States, at the same time to continue their separate existence, and to unite in one nationality. It is this, which, under God, has given us our prosperity and success. It is his which makes us respected and honored by the nations of the earth. It is on the continuance of this that our prosperity and glory in the future will depend. If, from the bright galaxy which constitutes our political system, one star should fall, would it not be as that star which is called in the book of Revelations, wormwood, “which fell upon the waters,” and of which it is said that “a third part of the waters upon which it fell became wormwood; and that many died of the waters because they were bitter?” Great, in proportion to the present blessings of this happy confederation, would be the curse, and the loss consequent upon its destruction.
VI. The prosperous condition of the masses of the people in this country, compared with that of every other nation of the earth, is one of our peculiar blessings. The high wages which are given to labor in this country, is productive of great and salutary results. It is a great blessing, but not the greatest, that it furnishes the people with the comforts and even the elegancies of life. It is a still greater blessing that it enables the industrious and the thrifty poor, to secure the advantages of education for themselves and their children. But beyond these obvious and immediate advantages, it is productive of extensive good. It is a permanent cause of great and increasing benefit to the State at large, and to that class in particular.
In many old countries, where labor is abundant and scantily rewarded, it is the policy of Governments to nurse employments for the people. In consequence of this, there is little effort to introduce such improvements in agriculture, manufactures, and the arts, as shall save the labor of the human hand. That hand must be kept employed in useless and frivolous labor, lest being idle, it find “some mischief still to do,” – lest it lay hold of palaces and thrones. Such a state of things is adverse to all progress. But in our country, where labor is dear and not abundant, the opposite results ensue. Ingenuity is tasked to construct machines to save the labor of human hands, and to avoid the expense of their employment. Now observe the consequences of this one fact. It stimulates the ingenuity of men to construct machines which shall do cheap, rapid, and abundant work. It puts the powers of nature and of science in motion to add to the wealth, the convenience, and the happiness of man. It does not consign increasing numbers to frivolous drudgeries for small pay, in which they must continue ignorant and degraded. It takes out of the hands of ever-increasing numbers, the more crushing labor of the workshop, and allows them to step up to a higher range of work, in which they shall enjoy more leisure, emolument, and means of improvement, and be elevated in the scale of being. When, therefore, we see an American machine at the World’s Fair, winning wide admiration, and gaining a medal, because it enables two men to do the work of twelve, we have cause for something more than national pride, because of a triumph over nations whose agriculture is many centuries older than our own. We have reason for gratitude. We see it to be not only a machine to gather in harvests, but a great engine of social amelioration and reform. It gathers in other harvests than those of corn. It brings in national intelligence, power, and plenty.
VII. It is another and peculiar blessing that in our country religion is left entirely free. Not only is there no union of Church and State, but absolute liberty of conscience in matters pertaining to religion, is secured. No man lies under civil disabilities because of his religious or irreligious convictions. No restriction is laid upon the profession and diffusion of religious opinions, and no penalties are inflicted upon anything that bears that name, unless under that name, it becomes, in fact, a violation of the law of the land. This is indeed a peculiar and a crowning mercy.
How emphatically and distinctly did our Savior proclaim that his kingdom was not of this world! How careful he ever was, in his own person, to show that he did not assume to guide the civil authority in its functions, but acknowledged his own and his disciples’ obligation to obey its laws. His was to be a spiritual kingdom, whose outward form, sacraments, rites, and worship, might subsist under every form of government, and be a detriment to none and a benefit to all, by the elevated morality which it should inculcate and exemplify. Yet, notwithstanding this explicit testimony of the master, how seldom has the Church been free from some injurious connection with the State! Either the Church has claimed lordship over kings and governments, or governments have claimed the right to regulate the doctrine, discipline, and worship of the Church, or proffered its hurtful help to pension its ministers and sustain its services; and the flattered and deluded Church has too often accepted the ruinous and paralyzing patronage.
Happily with us the Church is entirely unconnected with the State. Entirely unconnected, we say, because the fact that the State sometimes makes use of the services of the Ministers of God to give high sanction and solemnity to public acts, or to exert a purifying influence on those who do their work, no more implies a union of Church and State than the fact that she employs surgeons in her army and navy for the health and comfort of those in her employment, implies a union of the State with the medical fraternity. That exquisite patriotism which is alarmed at the prospect of the spiritual domination of the Church over the State, because a score of harmless Chaplains offer up prayers for the country and its rulers, ought to feel equal alarm lest the State fall under the dominion of the Doctors.
We may say, then, that the Church is entirely disconnected from the State. If she should control the State, she would lose her lofty character, and become more and more like a mere human government. If she should be controlled by the State, then she would fail to appeal to the souls of men with a divine and constraining authority and claim. If the State sends the Church to speak to men in reference to their religious interests, men will receive their words as a message from the State, rather than as a message from the Court of Heaven – from the King of Kings and Lord of Lords. This is the reason why the religion of the Savior never can exert its full spiritual influence over the souls of men, if it be in alliance with human institutions. It must come to men as an authorized messenger from Heaven, which can consent to accept no modification of its message from human powers. It must appeal to man as an immortal. It must lay hold of his conscience as a guilty creature of God, over whom retribution is impending, and before whom an eternal Heaven and an eternal hell lie waiting his own speedy determination. In an age like this, of activity, of enterprise, of crowded life, of strange events, absorbing novelties and rapid progress, which make existence a succession of gala days, religion must come clothed with awful dignity and authority, as a messenger of God, or it will speak in vain to the men of this generation, and of the coming generations. Only thus shall the Gospel speak, like its divine author, as never man spoke, and with authority and power, to the souls of men.
VIII. And now, when we contemplate these blessings which we enjoy, and thank God for the fair field given us, and the propitious influences under which, as a nation, we have been trained, and ask to what one man, more than another, we have been indebted for our existence as a nation – before every mind there rises the venerable and majestic form of Washington! Every great movement and crisis in human affairs has its instrument, trained and qualified by God. The Reformation had its Luther in Germany, and its Cranmer in England. The Revolution of 1688, in England, had its William; Republicanism and Constitutional Liberty in America, had its Washington. He was qualified for his work, by a character whose elements were so kindly mixed as to have made him the acknowledged model, at once, of the patriot, the hero, the statesman, the gentleman, the Christian, and the sage. He was trained for the unequalled honors and the prodigious toils and trials of his career, by a childhood and youth of hardy nurture and grave responsibility. It is needless for me to attempt to delineate his character, or to recall the incidents of his history. It rather becomes me, as the Minister of God, standing in this place and presence, to advert to that in his character – his religious principle – which was the secret of his strength, his wisdom, his greatness, and his success; to hold it up for imitation, and to show, by his example, that a wise administration of affairs, and a brave, unflinching adherence to duty, can result only from a practical, solemn, and realizing conviction of the presence and the government of that Almighty Being who doth according to his will in the army of Heaven, and among the inhabitants of the earth. This is the lesson which we would have the history of Washington impress upon us today.
1. The fixed and ruling conviction of the mind of Washington, which appears as well in his private as his public life, was, that in the administration of affairs, he could expect true prosperity only so far as he put himself in harmony with the mind, and will, and purposes of God, in his government of the nations. He who would conduct the affairs of war or State “without fault” and with success, must do it under the eye, and with respect to the government of Him who sits upon the circle of the earth, ruling over all. He must go with the tide of God’s government, and not against that tide. He must secure the blessing of the Almighty! Will he crush those whom he should protect? Will he invade those whom he should defend? Will he, for an advantage, violate his plighted word? He cannot thus advance the prosperity of a land! He may gather, in a glittering heap, the spoils of robbery and the gains of treachery and falsehood. He may set he material instrumentalities of wealth and prosperity at such rapid work, as that the nation may be stunned and bewildered by the motion and the din. But over him there is suspended a moral law of retribution, strong with the strength, and quick with the judgment of Jehovah, which, when He lets it loose, overrules and prostrates all the laws of nature and of society. And when that glittering heap of unrighteous wealth is piled up highest, this law shall strike it and scatter it to the winds; and when the clank of this godless machinery is loudest, and its power most Titan-like, this law shall smite it with a paralyzing curse, so that it shall pause powerless. The righteous ruler will rule wisely and prosperously, because he will go with God, and not against God.
2. This keeping of his eye on the hand of God, secured a wise and successful action on the part of Washington, because it preserved him from the tyranny of those influences, from which usually spring the sorrows and the sins of nations. From pride, ambition, unregulated passion, usually spring the faults and the crimes of warriors and of rulers. Now, if the ruler or statesmen have his eye on God, and look for His guidance and blessing, he will have his moral nature so elevated as to be, for the most part, free from the dominion of evil passion and selfish feeling. It is mentioned of Daniel, the prophet and statesman, there was no “error,” as well as no “fault” found in him. He not only did not commit crimes, but he was so free from mistakes that his enemies could get no advantage over him, on the ground of an impolitic and unwise administration. And from what do even the errors and mistakes of judgment spring, but from a false estimate of the worth and the true nature of things, and from some bias of wrong feeling, which prevents the right action of the reason? The purer a man’s nature is – the more he is under the sway of right feeling, and principle, and desire – the better and wiser will all his practical judgments be. “God’s word,” says the Psalmist, “gives light and understanding to the simple.” The wicked man is a fool, and the righteous man wise, not only in reference to the ultimate consequences of the course of each, but in reference to their present judgments and estimates of things. The man of God forms best judgments, because he lets reason, and not passion, speak; because he takes into account the sure action of moral laws – which the wicked usually omit – and because he is in the habit of postponing a present small good, for a future large one.
In his comparative freedom, then, from the sway of evil passion and impure motive, and from his calm and less biased judgment, we may look to find little error or fault in the measures of the ruler whose eye is on God. It is the arrogant demand, the cutting taunt, the proud recrimination, which will goad a neighbor nation into war. Just, and righteous, and self-regulated Washingtons will not utter them. It is greed, and pride, and luxury, which tempt rulers to oppress, and deceive, and defraud the people. Temperate and self-denying Washingtons will be free from the tyranny of those base passions. It is a short-sighted and material view of what constitutes the prosperity of States, which leads to errors and mistakes of policy, which keep nations low. To be free from them in the conduct of affairs, the statesman must be free from the tyranny of vice, and pride, and passion.
3. This habit of reference to God and duty, will ensure a wise administration of affairs, because it greatly simplifies all questions, and gives the ruler and statesman a prodigious advantage in all his dealings with corrupt, designing, and intriguing men. If a man be compelled to ask concerning any proposed measure or course of policy, will it wound enemies? Will it conciliate friends? Will it reward partisans? Will it reconcile conflicting schemes, not of public good, but of selfish and sordid interest? If a man asks these questions, and acts upon these considerations, he becomes involved in a labyrinth, where he can never see a step beyond him, and out of which he can never come into the clear light of day. If this evil spirit possess him, his soul will be forever in a tangled wilderness, walking in dry places. But if he asks the simple questions – Is it right? Is it called for by justice? Will it promote the public weal? Then the question is divested of much perplexity. He is kept free from entangling and contradictory measures and engagements. His soul is not kicked about – the football of a thousand filthy feet. There will be dignity, consistency, harmony, to his plans and measures. Such was the conduct and the character of Washington. When selfish and dishonest men gather about such a ruler, to offer base service for base hire, they will not know how to approach him. They will be awed into silence. They will be driven into obscurity. Their occupation will be gone. Let the statesman and legislator hang up, in the temple of his heart, the tablets of God’s law, written in golden capitals. Let him bind them for a sign upon his hand, and for frontlets between his eyes; let him write them upon the door-posts of his house and of his gates; let them be the avowed, and known, and only principles of his conduct, and he shall be always furnished with a ready rule for action; he will put to flight the tricks of diplomacy and the intrigues of low ambition; he will stand with a clear space about him, able to see where he is, and where he is going; he will march, as in triumphal progress, along the far-stretching avenue of time, lined and crowded with successive generations amid the cheers and smiles of admiring nations! Such is the majestic march of Washington!
I have thought these views were suitable to this day and place, and I would leave these lessons here under a deep conviction that piety alone, which lays hold of the strength of God, can enable public men to stand true to themselves and their duty, in the midst of the fearful trials and temptations to which they are exposed. Say of no one, that he has laid down certain principles of honor and morality, to which he intends to abide through life – principles which have little or no direct reference, as held in his own mind, to God. Now he is exposed, in public life, more than in private, to the delusions of expediency. Will his principles always enable him to master the suggestions of expediency? But he is exposed to stronger tests and trials. A great bribe, a splendid prize, the very object of his hope is before him, which he may grasp, if he will do it by treachery and wrong. Not watch hat man! Is not the desire for this prize that which is nearest to his heart? Has he not kept the motives of interests closer before him than those of duty – proposing to call the latter to him when they shall be needed? Which is nearest, most familiar, most habitually present and prevalent with him? These vague principles, kept in the background, and having no eternal sanctions – shall they come forward now, and conquer? Would it not, in many cases, be calling spirits from the vast deep? Having given his soul up, habitually, to interest, indulgence, and desire, must they not now, roused into more energy than ever, bear away the soul? Or take another case. A man is stung with the wrongs and insults of a rival. His ruin is plotted. His fair fame is blackened. But he can win a victory; he can recover his position; he can overthrow his rival, if he will let his principles sleep the while.
Now what is there that is near him? What, from his previous moral training, will be most likely to stand before his soul with attractiveness and power? Will it not be his dear advantage, his sweet revenge, his masterly success? Will not his soul be raised to a vehement pursuit of those near, attractive, and beckoning objects? Can such moral principles as he has adopted hold him now? Why should they? They are not present – they are not before him to tell of high joy if followed, and of keen woe if resisted. They are not before the soul as its august and venerated and recognized lords. What power, then, have they? They will not hold the soul to its moral purpose, like an anchor, sure and steadfast. They will be dragged in the wake of the soul, driven onward by the tempest of the passions; broken cables, without an anchor! Oh there is awful power in the roused up evil passions of the human soul! Nothing is strong enough to master them but God – the truth and grace of God. This held firm to truth, to duty, to patriotism, to self-denying toil, to a self-consecration of himself and his fame, amid obloquy, intrigue, and base persecution, the great, the pure, the majestic, the unselfish soul of Washington!
We have contemplated today the unequalled blessings which as a nation we enjoy. For these let us render to God our earnest praises. We have seen that in which lay the strength and glory of the venerable Father of his Country. In that let us imitate his example. A beautiful and matchless example it is of private and public virtue. It rises and towers aloft and alone on the field of history, majestic, proportioned, and pure! His fame is well symbolized by the monument which is rising near us, to commemorate his services and our everlasting gratitude. It is, like that monument, deep and strong in its foundations, simple in its form, pure in its material, massive in its structure, and has but the beginning of the elevation which it is destined to attain! It shall rise higher and higher, as the ages pass along; and should the sun of this Republic ever set, “the last rays of its departing glory shall linger and play upon its summit.”