John Thornton Kirkland (1770-1840) graduated from Harvard in 1789. He was ordained and installed as the pastor of the New South Church in Boston in 1794 and continued there until he was elected president of Harvard University in 1810. He served as president of the University for seventeen years during which time the schools of Divinity and Law were established.
His Excellency Caleb Strong, Esq.
His Honor William Phillips, Esq.
The Honorable Council,
Two Houses Composing the Legislature
Commonwealth of Massachusetts.
May 29, 1816,
Being the Anniversary Election.
By John Thornton Kirkland, D.D.
President of Harvard University.
Printed by Russell, Cutler and Co. for Benjamin Russell,
Printer to the State.
Psalm CVI. 45.
O visit me with thy salvation, that I may see the good of thy chosen, that I may rejoice in the gladness of thy nation, that I may glory with thine inheritance.
YOU enter this temple, civil Fathers, to offer prayers to the Supreme Governor of Nations for your country, as the object of your cares and labors; and for yourselves, as the appointed guardians of that country’s welfare.
You engage in this solemnity as an act, expressing the obligations and sentiments, at once of patriotism and piety. Impressed with the belief of the presence and agency of the Most High, the source of all life and happiness, the witness and judge of character and conduct, you are led by duty and feeling to his throne. Affected with solicitude for the course of public affairs, and the direction they may receive from your deliberations and measures, you commit to God the commonwealth, and the country for his blessing; and yourselves for his guidance and aid. It pertains to each of you to adopt the prayer of the psalmist, – “O visit me with thy salvation, that I may see the good of thy chosen, that I may rejoice in the gladness of thy nation, that I may glory with thine inheritance. – The nation, with all the separate portions of it is thine, O, God, thy chosen, thy inheritance. It has been enriched by thy bounty, guarded by thy providence, instructed by thy word, corrected by thy visitations of mercy and judgment. Accept the expression of my concern, for what thou hast shewn to be dear to thee. Give me the joy of seeing its prosperity – grant me the privilege of being permitted to co-operate with thee in advancing its felicity and glory.”
It belongs to the man, the citizen, and the Christian, in whatever station, and especially in public office, to have a heart to offer such a prayer as this – to cherish and maintain that affection for the public good, which is implied in his prayer, and carefully and habitually to consider in what that good consists.
I. Let me then speak of the obligation and value of a public spirit – and
II. Offer some remarks on a few of the most important objects of our patriotic solicitude.
We estimate the duty and worth of a public spirit. – The love of our country, rightly interpreted, is a disposition approved by reason and religion, as well as dictated by nature. The feeling of citizenship, and of political duty, is an essential expression of that charity, which the gospel enjoins. It is a branch of the love of our neighbour, operating according to occasions, and extending from the parts to the whole. It is the affection, which is due to human nature, to man as man, directed to those members of the great family, who are near us, and to whom we have most opportunity to be useful. If we are to love all that good and excellence which we can produce or affect, or only imagine, we are undoubtedly to express our benevolent regards towards the country or district which is the seat of our personal enjoyments, the proper sphere of our activity, and the station assigned us by Providence for the exercise of every social duty. Self love is in alliance with principle to endear a home, a native land to every human heart; to give us an interest in a society with which we must rise or fall; to engage our attachment to the spot where we first draw our breath, and where our tender infancy was reared; with which are associated all the soothing remembrances of early years, and all our hopes of quiet and serenity in the evening of our days.
The sympathies and affections that grow out of the near relations of private life, constitute elements of the love of country. It presents itself to our thoughts with the recollection of a mother’s smile, a father’s revered image, with the loved idea of a spouse and child, a brother and a sister, a benefactor and friend, and from this connexion has a power over our feelings that makes patriotism an instinct. A common interest in ancestral worth promotes this affection. We love our country for the sake of those who have loved and served it in former and later periods; honored worthies, whose labours have subdued her fields and wisdom guided her councils, and eloquence swayed her assemblies – whose learning and talents have exalted her name – whose piety has sustained her churches, and valour defended her borders.
Religious sentiments and emotions hallow the feeling that unites us to our own land, and to one another. Here is the church of the Most High, and here the houses of our solemnities in which we are accustomed to seek the favour, and celebrate the praises of the God of our fathers, the God of our salvation.
The marks of divine favour shown to our nation, the striking interpositions of Divine Providence, in our behalf, cannot fail to enliven the patriotic sentiments of a pious mind.
There is no want of arguments and motives to cultivate in ourselves and others a public spirit. Truly the maker of our frame and the disposer of our lot, requires us to regard the advantage and honor, to feel for the dangers and sufferings – to wish well to the inhabitants of the country, which we call our own. All should care for all, bound together as they are by strong and tender ties, with interests blended, and though various, not opposite. Geographical divisions must not be suffered to limit the walk of our benevolence; nor shades of difference in religion, manners, state of society, to make us aliens; nor should the passions produced by competition for influence, nor even the sense of unfriendly conduct in one section towards another countervail, though they cannot but impair the force of incentives to sympathy and expanded patriotism. It is right to feel a peculiar and intimate concern for the smaller divisions and communities to which we immediately belong. For members of a great confederacy to have no country but their State, of a State to be indifferent to all but their own town or district, is miserable narrowness or overweening self love. To be destitute of local attachment, on the other hand, and to have proximity and distance, alike to our feelings, is against nature, and truth and reason.
I have hinted at a few of the ties which bind us to the place of our nativity, or to the collective body on which we are members.
II. I proceed to point out the objects of patriotic affection. What is in the operation of a real public spirit – and what are a few of the most important interests included in an enlightened and regulated attachment to country? I select a few topics for general remarks. I do not think to speak of all the effects and appearances of this principle, or represent all the great things, good and bad, which it has proved itself able to achieve; still less to describe the consequences of its irregular, eccentric and criminal action. When the love of our State, association, country is not merely principal, but exclusive, or when it is uninformed, or misguided, when it is only another name for selfishness, cupidity, resentment, or party feeling, it must generate sins and follies. It may prompt us to justify and encourage the community, or those who direct its affairs, in wrong; to serve the views of our country at the expense of justice or humanity; to flatter her passions at the sacrifice of her interest, or to help her to accomplish a present purpose at the price of her permanent good; to be not only tender, but blind to her faults. It may require us to partake her guilt, or meet her frown – to lend countenance to the excesses of her pride, and the pretensions of her vanity, or be considered doubtful friends, or perhaps real enemies.
Whilst I turn from this dark side of the subject, and abstain from dilating on the sinister effects of mistaken, or spurious patriotism, I shall also decline topics relating to the intricacies of government, that most complicate of sciences, and difficult of arts. I shall not attempt to find out new doctrines, or to throw new light upon those, which are old; but invite you, honoured auditors, to contemplate received but important truths respecting the duty and welfare of rulers and people.
I shall make observations on several of those general interests of a community which claim and occupy the solicitude of the enlightened patriot, which all persons, according to their abilities and means are bound to regard, and particularly those who are charged with public functions, and which a good citizen and a serious Christian can ask a righteous God to favor.
1. The thoughts, wishes and prayers of a good man are directed to the civil government of his country. – Without government there can be no society.
The government of every collective body of men is its blessing or its scourge; sometimes both by turns, or both with deductions and mitigations. Who shall be the depositaries of power, and how they shall discharge their trust, are questions which may involve every social benefit and external religious privilege. Whether the possessor of authority, the monarch, elective chief magistrate, or popular leader, be wise or weak, devoted to a part or considerate of the whole, guided by principle or swayed by passion, decides much of the good or evil of a state or nation. Thanks be to God, who though he tries and visits, does not any where wholly forsake the children of men, nor leave them without check or remedy, entirely to the passions of one another, that the worst government is better than anarchy; that amidst all the flagrant defects and abuses of civil institutions, arising from the excess of resistance or restraint, from faction or despotism, so many of the sources of human subsistence to accommodate themselves with greater or less contentment to evils resulting from established modes, and that so much of the happiness of every individual is derived rather from his feelings and character than the precise circumstances in which he is placed.
The specific form of the government is commonly determined for us by the order of Providence; authority being variously distributed, in hereditary or elective rulers, in a few or in many, by the operation or permanent and uncontrollable causes. Our business in this respect is seldom to change or abolish, but only to preserve, amend or improve the existing arrangement. The fortunes of our country are, under Heaven, staked on the issue of popular constitutions. The Supreme Disposer has assigned us these American States the solemn, the interesting destination of being the subjects of an experiment, on an extensive scale, on the capacity of men in society for self government.
Happy for the result, if those who are to feel the restraint of laws have integrity and wisdom for their enaction and administration; – happy if the sovereign, the popular majority, have the magnanimity and uprightness to bind himself to his duty, and refrain from all oppression of the minor part, overcoming the temptation to “feel power and forget right.” It is included in our love of country to be attached to this republican form of civil polity, for its intrinsic advantages, and its adaptation to our character and habits and state of society, not because we think it absolutely best for every people under all circumstances; and that those who are not governed upon our model, are, of course, objects of our pity. Events of late years have brought just discredit upon political doctrines derived from metaphysical abstractions, in contempt of simple matters of fact. The project of applying a form of polity to a nation, without regard to circumstances, has been tried; and for a series of years, it produced scenes which surpassed description, at which humanity recoiled; till at length, after dreadful agitations, it subsided in a government so essentially military and despotic, that neither the actors in it nor the world could bear it. We are attached to our republican constitutions, because they are the best for us; because, after all deductions, they have accomplished much good, and proved better than the fears of some of their truest friends; because they have cost the painful consultations of our wisest and best men to frame, and their strenuous exertions in successive periods to maintain. – We prize them for the dangers they have passed, and the storms they have had strength to outride. – Who will not wish and labor to preserve us a republic as long as possible, knowing that we cannot cease to be so without fearful convulsions, and the hazard of evils of immeasurable extent and indefinite duration? – Shall we not pray to the God of our fathers to secure to us the benefit of their councils and toils, and for this end to direct us in the proper methods of making our forms of government adequate to their purposes; to establish in the hearts of all a sacred respect for those fundamental laws and compacts, the constitutions, designed to restrain the majority in the exercise of their power; and a disposition to amend and improve them in the spirit, which presided in their formation? May he vouchsafe to incline us always to “seek of Him a right way for us, for our little ones, and for all our substance.”
2. Not only government, but liberty is comprised in the wishes and prayers of a good man for his country. National independence, civil and religious freedom, are precious gifts of the Author of good. The love of liberty is the impulse of nature; and the love of regulated liberty, the effect of love to mankind. We of this country may surely hold independence dear, whose fathers preferred a wilderness to bondage, and afterwards breasted the hazards of revolution, and met the perils and toils of a long and doubtful war, to bequeath the blessing to their children. We of this age may well prize the possession, who have seen the fate of nations, bowing to a haughty and inexorable master, bound to a foreign will, their spirit crushed under the yoke of a relentless conqueror, their treasures exhausted to satiate the rapacity of invading armies, and their sons compelled to fight the battles of a stranger. – Patriotism exalts the blessing of freedom as friendly to the exercise and improvement of all respectable faculties of man, and auspicious to the discovery and communication of truth. It gives dignity to character, and interest to existence.
Whilst the lover of his country and his race covets their rights for his fellow men and fellow countrymen, he intends real not spurious freedom, the substance, and not merely the form. He wishes that civil liberty may be understood; that it may be known to consist not so much in the power as in the security of every citizen; and in his power so far only as requisite or useful for his security. He prays that it may be esteemed the fruit of civil establishments and laws, and the cause, not of the poor against the rich, and of the humble against the eminent, but the protection of the weak from the strong, of the simple from the cunning, and the innocent from the guilty. – It is “equal rights, but not to equal things.” It secures to every one his honestly acquired condition, however peculiar and distinguished, and is the guardian alike of the riches of the opulent, and the pittance of the necessitous.
The desire of the end implied regard to the means. The friend of his country wishes and prays that the virtues on which liberty depends may mark the character of the people; that the constitutional barriers, designed for its safeguard, may remain inviolate; that in the State and in the Nation it may be always under the patronage of a legislature, actuated by a regard to the public welfare, and if not exempt from attachment to party, not blinded or corrupted by it – sacrificing private views and passions to justice, and integrity; of a judiciary, skilled in jurisprudence, with an equal concern for the rights of all parties, unawed by the fear of encroachment from the other departments of the government; of an executive, employing its authority and influence, not with an anxious view to the prolongation of its power, or for the indulgence of its resentments, but to promote justice and union at home – safety and respectability abroad.
He must desire that the benefit of the religious liberty, provided by the constitution and laws, may not be defeated by the prevalence of a spirit of exclusion and monopoly among the members of the same body of Christ. – He prays that the God of truth and love will direct each one to such views of his duty, as will reconcile his adherence to the dictates of his own conscience, with a reasonable respect for the conscience of his neighbour.
Finally, it is worth of a wise and good man to avoid being too much disturbed by the collisions and contests that are incident to liberty, and are the price of it; convinced that “liberty with all its parties and agitations is more desirable than slavery” – that we are placed in this world for exercise and discipline, to find our chief good in disposition and character; that the relation of living active natures to each other is not merely that of juxta position and place, “like that of stones in a wall or an arch, but of activity and co-operation in different functions, of balance, counterpoise, and mutual correction, where the operation of any single power may be partial and wrong, and yet the general result, salutary and just.”
3. The means of subsistence and the degree of plenty and wealth in a country, enter into an estimate of the general good. While the protection and encouragement of the diversified industry of a people constitute one of the stated cares of the public functionaries, they have a peculiar and often arduous charge in the duty of providing and managing the revenues of the state.
There are many important truths and maxims, relating to the value and use of wealth, not always sufficiently regarded and felt, which the limits of the occasion do not allow me to offer to your attention.
The common good requires that men in the advancement of society should be influenced by the desire of gain, beyond the supply of the mere necessaries of life. It has its appointed place among the inferior aims and immediate motives designed to act upon human nature, in subordination to higher principles; and to be regulated, not suppressed. “It is the office of reason and religion to give the appetites and passions their task – not to do it for them.” This desire has a claim to be encouraged within proper limits, as a stimulant to enterprize, and to the prosecution of beneficial arts and employments; as a motive to attach men to their private concerns, and to annex pleasure to success in their pursuits. A busy life is a school to call forth the faculties, and form the virtues. Whilst we acknowledge the uses of a measured love of gain, we have a reason to deprecate the evils of its excessive and irregular operation. It is liable to become a restless passion, a diseased not a healthy action – the source of inquietude, injustice, envy. The philanthropist and the patriot does not desire nor expect to have wealth divested of attraction; but he wishes and prays that men may feel enough of its excitement to be worthily and diligently occupied, without that greedy appetite for accumulation, which corrupts and debases the character, and opposes the nature of things and the institutions of society. For after all that the most paternal and most prosperous government can do, to place riches within the reach of all, it is only a small number in any community who can possibly be opulent, whilst the great body of persons can go no further that obtain a healthy subsistence by the constant application of their skill and labor to some vocation. – Shall we all be unhappy at wanting the superfluity which the order of things makes attainable only by a few? It is peculiar to our country to have resources to feed the “mouth of labour,” however multiplied its wants. We have cause to acknowledge our distinction in the circumstances that enable the least favoured part of the society to subsist by moderate exertions, exempt from the necessity of that excessive toil, which wastes the health, exhausts the spirits, discourages virtue, and surrounds life with cheerlessness and discomfort. Where the wealth that is diffused in a nation is the consequence of good habits, of diligence, skill in arts and frugality, where it indicates the security of property and a good administration of the laws, it is a subject of felicitation. If it be the fruit of injustice or rapine, and the source of licentiousness and prodigality, it cannot be regarded as a public blessing.
4. The social felicity of a country is involved in its condition of peace or war. Shall not a good man pray and strive that his country may never incur the guilt of unjust and unnecessary war; that she may not bring on herself and others, the moral and physical calamities attending a conflict of arms, by insisting on doubtful rights and minor interests; that she may have the virtue and wisdom to grapple with the prejudices and aversions, that tend to pervert the judgment on difficult questions, and to widen breaches, that a disposition to amicable compromise might find a way to heal? While the man with public affections, covets peace and deprecates war, and most of all, war which good and honest counsels in the rulers and a reasonable temper among the people might prevent; he knows that he is not allowed to think his country exempt from the danger of this calamity – War may be required to be chosen, as the least evil. It may be necessary to decide the question of existence, or of security – War or subjugation may be the only alternatives. It will be no strange thing, if those, who have the power of peace and war in a country, though with no more of moral infirmity than may belong to minds generally upright, shall fail to escape the hazard of a deceived conscience; and in cases which make a strong appeal to the feelings, shall have their judgment of right and wrong disturbed, and mistake the illusions of prejudice and passion for the indications of duty and honor; brandishing a sword, which should never have been drawn from its scabbard. Not to supply a forethought excuse for taking arms without necessity, but to show our nature and circumstances, it is proper to observe, that the lover of peace is compelled to admit, that there is sometimes and inveteracy in the disease of the collective body, that will yield to none but an extreme remedy; a misapprehension and intractableness upon certain subjects and relations, the long continued effects of which may be worse than the consequences of open rupture. The event may prove, that war is in some cases a method of teaching lessons, which will not be learned in any other school; and serves to dispel mists and calm agitations, which have never ceased to endanger and harass the vessel of state. Whether a patriot shall have reason to pity or congratulate his country in such a season depends on her cause and her conduct.
Does she contend for safety and true honor, and manifest the virtues that answer to her condition, he does not consider her state as necessarily a state of misery. In a pacific and in a hostile position, the happiness of a people is to be measured by their observance of disregard of the maxims comporting with their advantages and their trials.
Whoever values peace, will be obliged to desire for his country the military and naval preparation necessary to maintain it; – believing that till the world shall greatly mend, the ability and disposition to repel aggression, will afford one important security against encroachment, and hoping, at the same time, that the union of moderation and energy in the public councils will save the occasion of applying the public force.
Internal peace is a vital blessing and a religious as well as a social duty. “If it be possible, as much as lieth in you live peaceably with all men.” – It may indeed be difficult or impossible. Where the tranquility of a country proceeds from the impotence of forbearance of those who suffer wrongs which they seek in vain to have redressed, wrongs inflicted by the many on the few, or the few on the many, it is real war, though all on one side; and is a condition of the citizens aggrieved, which breeds in the mind animosities of the most rancorous kind.
It pertains to the character of a good citizen to prevent the causes not less than to control the effects of contention; to endeavor to correct the false views, to rebuke the eager desires, the fierce jealousies, the keen resentments that are incident to a popular government; to check the fermentation of discordant elements; and obviate the consequences of rival pursuits, and the contests of proud and ardent minds for the distinctions of life and places of authority and renown.
5. The happiness of a people is connected with their character, intellectual and social, their manners, improvements, and accommodations, the quality and directions of their tastes and desires. Here is a wide field foe the enquiry, the observation and influence of a person interested in the public welfare – in whatever tends to make power safe and salutary, and obedience liberal and cheerful – in whatever contributes to multiply the sources of innocent enjoyment, and to strengthen the foundations of order and virtue.
I confine my remarks under this head to the importance of the diffusion of knowledge, and the cause of education.
Sciences and arts belong to the unrestrained progress of society. Knowledge may be abused. Yet light should be better than darkness. In an enlightened and inquisitive period, undoubtedly some will be found, with half learned twilight views, that serve rather to minister to presumption than to render the possessors of them more useful; and seem to justify a wish that they knew less or more. They may be prone to misapply their smatterings of science and shreds of learning, and set up for teachers and reformers of the world without qualifications. Yet the diffused cultivation of the mind and the taste should seem to be attended with a great over balance of good. It exalts the character of the individual; it strengthens and multiplies the social ties, and adds value to intercourse; it gives a higher enjoyment of the gifts of nature, and what is beautiful and orderly in the frame and course of the world. Inquiry should be friendly to true religion; morals should be promoted by the study of the nature and the relations of man. Public opinion has a subtle and mighty influence. Must we not desire and endeavor to have it intelligent – What will be the consequence in the political body, of the wide diffusion of the right of political deliberation and function among a people very imperfectly instructed, or extremely ignorant. It is true that private persons are not called on to prescribe remedies for the public disorders; – but they are obliged to exercise a choice about the physician; and in judging of men, have occasion for a degree of light on the utility of measures. Will not a knowledge of the mechanism of society and of the principles and preservatives of social order, fit and dispose men for their civil duties? In a country and form of society in which, by the exertion of talents and industry, any individual, born in the obscure walks of life, may raise himself above his present condition, it is a duty of patriotism and benevolence to provide for every one so much education, as, in the event of an advantageous change in his circumstances, may enable him to make his advancement a good, and avoid the inconvenience and mortification of gross illiterateness.
The interests of education awaken the solicitude of every considerate and benevolent man. Education was a chosen care of our fathers. It has engaged the frequent and earnest attention of their descendants, both in private and public capacity. It lies with you, guardians of the State, charged with the patronage of good institutions, it lies with all the teachers and guides of the young, and with us, especially, who are intrusted with public seminaries, to feel the greatness of this concern. It is indeed a solemn and affecting inquiry, what man can do, by early culture, to assist the powers, to model, to control the thoughts, principles, affections, actions, habits, character of man. By what methods shall we seek to preserve the succession of young and helpless generations from the waste of talents, the perversion of feelings and the ruin of hopes, to which they are exposed; how insure the progress of their minds and the development of their virtues; how make their existence a blessing to society, to themselves and to those from whom they sprung; in what manner shall we best do, what can be done but once; and seize the fugitive moments of uncertainty and contest, on which their character and destinies are suspended?
The solution of these interesting problems is under God’s blessing, to be sought in the influences of the family society and of religious institutions, of the school and academy; and of the seminaries for enlarged education.
These seminaries have ever been considered with us a public not less an individual interest. They are approved methods of preserving and extending the knowledge of the various departments of literature and science. They are designed to train a portion of each succeeding race who may be qualified for responsible situations in the community, for the learned professions and for public stations. A limited number of persons, formed in a course of rigorous mental discipline, answer to the exigencies of the social body, and fill a place, which cannot be left vacant.
While the University and Colleges in this Commonwealth have found their objects espoused by generous individuals, and have received from private munificence large endowments for various branches of instruction; and means for enabling them to give the public the benefit of distinguished powers drawn from every class of citizens–the Government of the State have thought it their duty to encourage and partake of these good services rendered to the cause of knowledge and education, by stated and occasional aids for these purposes, in former times, and recently, by a liberal benefaction. Thus have they evinced their participation in the spirit and principles of our ancestors in relation to the concern of the republic in our seats of learning. We trust the fruits will appear; that our University and Colleges will be enabled and excited more and more to promote the diffusion and to extend the boundaries of knowledge, and to send forth continually, learned, pious and virtuous youth to support and adorn the church and the state.
6. The morals and religion of a people are primary objects of solicitude to a lover of his country, and of mankind.
The other interests of individuals, or of the public, which I have considered, are subservient to these; and of little or no value without them. Every plan of escaping evil, or obtaining good, that depends on external things, is either inpracticable in its nature, or of temporary duration. We rely in vain on peace and freedom, riches and territory, letters and arts, without virtuous principles and habits to direct their use and secure their continuance. Could a corrupt nation be prosperous they would not be happy. Happiness is suspended on disposition and character; and refuses to dwell in disordered hearts, or be the portion of those who are slaves to their evil passions. Virtue is more than well conducted selfishness, more than prudence; it is a principle, sentiment, affection, operating in actions; it is the love and practice of what is right. Yet individuals and a people have abundant reason to look for the greatest aggregate of good in adherence to rectitude. Virtue is wisdom, and includes prudence and discretion. Vice is a canker, a poison, tainting the sources of enjoyment. A curse hangs upon the steps of wickedness; and criminal passions, in one form or another, react, in bitter consequences, upon those who indulge them, while good intentions, integrity, and beneficent conduct, have a sure reward. Instructors and monitors, with more or less light and power to engage us to the practice of virtue, present themselves in our frame and situation, in reason, and the sentiment of order and fitness, in natural conscience, in the desire of personal well being, in the social affections, and the sense of reputation, in positive laws, in the lessons derived from the experience of life, and from the observation of a moral Providence. Here are some valuable sources of morals. So many inducements and restraints must have some effect. But after all that they can do, more is wanting to withstand the powerful tendencies to evil. Dwarfish virtues, gigantic vices, dissatisfied hearts, furnish melancholly proof that more is necessary to resist the tyranny of appetites and passions – to overcome the moral lethargy to which we are liable – and produce a genuine rectitude of temper and conduct. Human tribunals have but a limited jurisdiction. The law of honor fails to include some of the most essential virtues, is capricious, and in some things hostile to reason and humanity. How often is natural consequence overborne or mis-guided – Natural affections are vague and uncertain guides. Motives drawn from enlarged self interest are subject to many defects. The profitable and the right appear here and there disjoined, and we are compelled to witness prosperous crimes and defeated virtues -- the discomfiture of a good cause, and sufferings and losses incurred by integrity. We are tempted to sacrifice a principle to an end, and pursue the expedient in violation of the right.
In the exigencies of our moral relations, our was is obscured, our strength insufficient, shall we not look beyond this narrow world, this limited sphere; – and hear the call, invoke the aid of heaven-born religion? Let us ally ourselves to the power that made us. Virtue is God’s law. It is under the patronage and protection of a rewarding and avenging Deity.– By his unalterable will, virtue and happiness are, in the ultimate result, bound together in an indissoluble chain. Think not, short-sighted presumptuous mortal, to make a computation about the possible advantage of doing wrong in a single instance. Never imagine that you have an inducement to attempt to serve or deliver yourself by departure from right – or any reason to be discouraged from duty by a doubt of final support and reward. Say you that natural religion leaves these truths open to question? We have the articulate voice of God, an extraordinary light from heaven to dispel every doubt, to make them clear and certain.
The christian revelation establishes the doctrine of the universal and absolute safety and final benefit of virtue – of the inevitable ruin of vice. It also corrects our misapprehensions of the nature of goodness. It contains discoveries, facts and influences, to make virtue not only a principle, but an affection. It is designed indeed to qualify us for a higher happiness than the world can give. We are acting and suffering for eternity. But it forms a character adapted to the best use of the present life. The christian is to live soberly, righteously and godly in the present world. – The principles and motives of his conduct are chiefly drawn from distant objects; but he is taught that his business lies near at hand. His religion blends itself in one system with the common rules of behaviour, and makes his duties to men duties to God. He is not taken out of society to live in inactive seclusion, but enjoined to be diligent in business, as well as fervent in spirit, serving the Lord. No useful principle or propensity of his nature is eradicated or suspended by religion – but all are controlled and chastised. In whatsoever state he is, he is instructed to be content, whilst he uses opportunities to improve his condition. The gospel is a well-spring of charity. Kind affections, disinterestedness, mutual deference, respect to the rights and feelings of our fellow men in great and in small concerns, mark the temper and demeanor or every disciple of Christ.
Do we desire the good of our native country, the order and peace of the whole community, we shall concern ourselves in every proper way about the means and safeguards of morals and religion. Have we abilities, station, authority, fortune? We can be eminent instruments for advancing the interests of truth, piety and virtue. Are we destined to a smaller compass of action? We may do the little in our power with fidelity. Christians are exhorted to remember, that there is one way of pleading for our principles, faith and worship, a way which is likely to be the most effectual of any, and is liable to none of the objections, which are, with much reason, alleged against many other methods of making proselytes. It is such a method of converting and reforming others as will at least have a good effect on ourselves – it is the practise of virtue, the conscientious discharge of those duties, and the cultivation of those graces which are enjoined by the acknowledged principles of morality, and which, by the confession of all, pertain to the essence of our holy religion.
When we speak of the value of religion to society, we mean the spirit and substance, not merely the form. If it come to be generally viewed as only an engine of state, it must soon cease to be even so much as that. Whilst we must approve decency in all, and wish sacred seasons and rites to be observed, we pray that religion may appear to be the sincere conviction and governing principle of those, who pay it the homage of exterior respect. Do any recommend that as necessary to others, which their conduct shows they do not think necessary to themselves, they are liable to be thought to overrate the importance of their principles, or not to be in earnest in recommending them.
I have represented some of the objects, which the friend of the community and the man of generous spirit, in his private character, and in a public station, considers with affection, which he remembers in his prayers and promotes by his talents and influence: the order, freedom, plenty, tranquility and improvement, the manners, the morals, the religion of his country.
Let us give thanks to the Author of good counsels and just desires, for all the spirit of patriotism which, amidst the influence of selfishness and party, is alive in our state and nation. Let us hold in honor all those in former and later periods, who have sought the welfare of the republic--and particularly, who have maintained the conflicts, incident to the conduct of her political affairs, with unshaken resolution and unwearied patience.
We are this day to take leave of one of this number, for many years at the head of this Commonwealth – who, having declined our suffrages, claims the privilege of a long course of services to authorise his retirement from public cares. Permit me, I ask your Excellency, in the name of those to whom you have devoted your talents and influence, to express our sense of the value and the importance of your agency in the high and responsible stations, which your respect to the wishes of your fellow citizens and your interpretation of your duty in the aspects of Providence have led you to accept. Permit me to acknowledge in their behalf the benefits of your wisdom, moderation, activity and firmness, displayed in framing the constitutions of the Commonwealth and of the Union, in taking a conspicuous part in administering the government under them, and in maintaining the interests of republican liberty; – your countenance of the cause of learning and education, and your exemplary respect to the religion we profess.
However reluctant to resume the load of public duties, when last called from your retirement, you cannot fail to account it a privilege, to have been the character desired in a period of difficulty and agitation; and to have be resorted to as a shield from the dangers, that seemed to be gathering round us – to have been able, under the favor of Heaven, to guide us safely in a dark and troubled season, and now to resign the chair of the Commonwealth to an honorable man, high in your esteem, with auspices so benign, and prospects so cheering; – the world at peace, and a career of public improvement and happiness opening before us. Your principles and example will continue our valued possession, though your immediate services be withdrawn. The recollection of your public course will enliven our feelings of complacency and confidence towards our republican institutions, which placed authority in your hands, and made it so effectual for the conservation of the public interests.
The affectionate wishes and prayers of your fellow citizens attend your Excellency to the shade of honorable privacy. May the best comforts and hopes gild the evening of your life; and after prolonged years of tranquil enjoyment, in the scenes of your affection and peace to which you repair, may the God you have served receive you from earthly distinctions, duties and trials, to the rest and reward of eternity.
We congratulate our Commonwealth on the election of a Chief Magistrate, acknowledged and honored as a “patriot from his youth,” a laurelled hero of the revolution which made us a nation, a son of liberty, who shared the dangers and councils which were the purchase of our independence; – an able and faithful guardian of our rights and interests in the important offices which he has since sustained, and the object of heartfelt respect and attachment in private life for the virtues of the man and the christian. – May we be worthy of that patriotic solicitude with which he will watch over us, and appreciate the discernment and disinterestedness, which we have the fullest reason to believe will mark his administration. May his feelings be gratified by finding in all who share authority with him, a conciliatory disposition, which he will not be the last to exemplify, and which the circumstances of the times encourage; a disposition to unite moderation with consistency; to embrace openings for concert and co-operation; to remove dissentions, and allay animosities, and soften the acrimony of party.
We bid his Honor, the second Magistrate, a respectful and cordial welcome to a renewed participation in the councils of the State. May he have the joy of seeing the objects of his affection secured; – the interests of order, of freedom, of learning and religion, which have ever derived support from his influence, countenance from his example, and encouragement from his liberality.
We tender respects and felicitations to the Honorable Council, to whom, entrusted with delicate and important functions, we have been accustomed to look for enlightened views of the public welfare; for equity and candor joined to a steady adherence to the sentiments of duty – may they have the gratification of “seeing things go well in our American Israel.”
I respectfully salute the Honorable members of each branch of the Legislature. We rejoice in the pledges of the love of the public, and the eminent ability to serve it, in your respective bodies.
The study of the public happiness is your peculiar care – “the greatest good of the greatest number,” pursued by means adapted to our forms of political association, and consistent with the eternal laws of righteousness. In regard to a great part of our moral conduct, and especially to those cases which arise in legislating for a community, there is scope for deliberation and choice. The general rules are supplied, and ends proposed; but we are left to discover the windings and turnings of the way by the exercise of our judgment and skill. In performing the work of patriotism, our duties are not meted out in weight and measure, but we are subjected to the necessity of the continual interpretation of conscience. To guard against the opposite attractions of private and public interest, and to detect the illusions of prejudice and self love, is the point of solicitude which is surrounded with danger. But upright minds are not left, without remedy, to be perplexed with interminable scruples. They are assured that a good conscience is a safe and sufficient guide; and that an honest intention – with care to enlighten the judgment, constitutes all their concern For the obligation of moral precepts lies only upon our purposes and endeavors, and not upon the events and issues of conduct. Only let us see to it, that because the line between right and wrong is not exactly defined, we do not proceed under the cover of doubts, perhaps even under the pretext of duty, to the gratification of unlawful desires; – nor forget how much it belongs to the human passions to justify themselves, and be blind to all objects but their own. May the “Father and God of mercy send wisdom from his holy heavens, that she may be present with you and labor with you,” and make you the honored instruments of advancing the purposes of divine goodness in favor of your beloved country.
Whilst we rejoice in the pleasing circumstances and recollections of this day, we would take a serious and becoming notice of solemn events, which this occasion brings to our thoughts. Affecting instances of mortality have occurred, fitted to show us the precarious tenure of our lives, to renew our convictions of truth and duty, and to lead our meditations to that invisible state, where the secrets of all hearts shall be revealed, and the spirits and actions of men be weighed in an unerring balance. The distinguished citizen,[*] to whom the wishes of many would have appropriated the first honors of the Commonwealth, has suddenly fallen beneath the stroke of death, teaching us, in an impressive manner, “what shadows we are, and what shadows we pursue.” Instruct us, O God, Sovereign Arbiter of life and death, so to number our days, at to apply our hearts unto wisdom.
When we think of the condition and prospects of our country, and present our desires in its behalf to the Supreme Ruler of nations, we would not be unmindful of our fellow men in other regions. As men, and as Americans, we contemplate with great sensibility the interesting circumstances of the European world. What extraordinary scenes have passed on that theatre in our days. The spirit of improvement, of reform, and change, became a spirit of innovation and turbulence, till in one country it exploded in a revolution, which tore the fabric of society in pieces. From the ruins, a military power sprung up, whose portentous bulk and formidable strength seemed for a long time to be increased by the efforts made against it. Bu the day of recompenses came; the great disturber of the world was compelled to descend from his elevation. Again, however, he seemed to be resuming his sceptre; – he arose and stood upon his feet, as if his deadly wound was healed, and the spirit of conquest and desolation was again to extend itself over prostrate nations. – But he had gone beyond the permitted line, and was baffled in his purpose. By united councils and efforts, by an emulation in generous sentiments, in willing self devotion, and determined valor, the new danger which threatened the world, was turned away.
Let us pray and hope that the inhabitants of the earth may learn righteousness from the experience of adversity; that the root of the evils, which have afflicted the nations may be cut up; that liberty, with order may be established; that the restored sovereigns, and governments of Europe may be preserved from hurtful extremes, not reviving obnoxious institutions which should be suffered to perish; and that a long period of quiet and improvement may be allotted to that fair portion of the earth.
In a view of the events of Providence, so instructive and monitory, are we not prepared to join in the ascription, “Great and marvellous are the works, Lord, God, Almighty, just and true are thy ways, thou King of Saints. Who shall not fear thee, O Lord, and glorify thy name? for thou only art holy, for thy judgments are made manifest, Amen.”
The Hon. Samuel Dexter, after a short illness, died at Athens, in the state of New York, on the 4th of the present month, in the 54th year of his age.