A1r A1v A2r omitted

Sins of Government,
Sins of the Nation;

or, a
Discourse for the Fast,
Appointed on 1793-04-19April 19, 1793.

By a Volunteer.

omitted1 line

Printed for J. Johnson, No. 72, St. Paul’s Church-Yard.


Sins of Government, &c.

My Brethren,

We are called upon by high authority
to separate, for religious purposes,
this portion of our common time. The
shops are shut; the artisan is summoned
from his loom; and the husbandman from
his plough; the whole nation, in the midst
of its business, its pleasures, and its pursuits,
makes a sudden stop, and wears the semblance,
at least, of seriousness and concern. It is
natural for you to enquire, What is the
purport of all this?—the answer is in the
words of my text: “Ye stand this day, all B of B1v 2
of you, before the face of the Lord.”
INTERNAL ERROR. Please report to wwp@neu.edu that regMe is unmatched.Deuteronomy,
xxix. 10
You stand all of you,
that is, you stand here as a nation, and you
stand for the declared purpose of confessing
your sins, and humbling yourselves
before the Supreme Being.

Every individual, my brethren, who has
a sense of religion, and a desire of conforming
his conduct to its precepts, will frequently
retire into himself to discover his
faults; and having discovered to repent of,
and having repented of, to amend them.
Nations have likewise their faults to repent
of, their conduct to examine; and it is therefore
no less becoming and salutary, that they,
from time to time, should engage in the
same duty. Those sins which we have to
repent of as individuals, belong to such
transactions as relate to our private concerns,
and are executed by us in our private capacity,
such as buying, selling, the management
of our family œconomy, differences
arising from jarring interests and interfering
claims between us and our neighbours, &c. Those B2r 3
Those sins which, as a nation, we have to
repent of, belong to national acts.

We act as a nation, when, through the
organ of the legislative power, which speaks
the will of the nation, and by means of the
executive power which does the will of the
nation, we enact laws, form alliances, make
war or peace, dispose of the public money,
or do any of those things which belong to
us in our collective capacity. As, comparatively,
few individuals have any immediate
share in these public acts, we might be
tempted to forget the responsibility which
attaches to the nation at large with regard
to them, did not the wisdom and piety of
the governing powers, by thus calling us together
on every public emergency, remind
us that they are all our own acts; and that,
for every violation of integrity, justice, or
humanity in public affairs, it is incumbent
upon every one of us, to humble himself
personally before the tribunal of Almighty

That this is the true and only rational interpretation
of the solemnities of this day, B2 is B2v 4
is evident from hence, that we are never enjoined
to confess the sins of other people;
but our own sins. To take upon ourselves
the faults of others, savours of presumption,
rather than humility. There would be an
absurd mockery in pretending to humble
ourselves before God for misdeeds which we
have neither committed, nor have any power
to amend. Those evils which we could not
help, and in which we have had no share,
are subjects of grief indeed, but not of remorse.
If an oppressive law, or a destructive
war, were of the nature of a volcano or a
hurricane, proceeding from causes totally
independent of our operations, all we should
have to do, would be to bow our heads in
silent submission, and to bear their ravages
with a manly patience. We do not repent
of a dangerous disorder or a sickly constitution,
because these are things which do not
depend upon our own efforts. If, therefore,
the nation at large had nothing to do in the
affairs of the nation, the piety of our rulers
would have led them to fast and pray
by themselves alone, without inviting us to concur B3r 5
concur in this salutary work. But we are
called upon to repent of national sins, because
we can help them, and because we ought to
help them. We are not fondly to imagine
we can make of kings, or of lawgivers, the
scape-goats to answer for our follies and our
crimes: by the services of this day they call
upon us to answer for them; they throw
the blame where it ought ultimately to rest;
that is, where the power ultimately rests.
It were trifling with our consciences to endeavour
to separate the acts of governors
sanctioned by the nation, from the acts of
the nation; for, in every transaction the
principal is answerable for the conduct of
the agents he employs to transact it. If
the maxim that the king can do no wrong
throws upon ministers the responsibility,
because without ministers no wrong could
be done, the same reason throws it from
them upon the people, without whom ministers
could do no wrong.

The language of the Proclamation then
may be thus interpreted—People! who in your
individual capacities are rich and poor, high B3 and B3v 6
and low, governors and governed, assemble
yourselves in the unity of your public existence;
rest from your ordinary occupations,
give a different direction to the exercises of
your public worship, confess—not every man
his own sins, but all the sins of all. We,
your appointed rulers, before we allow ourselves
to go on in executing your will in
a conjuncture so important, force you to
make a pause, that you may be constrained
to reflect, that you may bring this will,
paramount every else, into the sacred presence
of God; that you may there examine
it, and see whether it be agreeable to his
will, and to the eternal obligations of virtue
and good morals. If not, the guilt be upon
your own heads; we disclaim the awful

Supposing that you are now prepared by
proper views of the subject, I shall go on
to investigate those sins which a nation is
most apt to be betrayed into, leaving it to
each of you to determine whether, and how
far, any one of them ought to make a part
of our humiliation on this day.

Societies B4r 7

Societies being composed of individuals,
the faults of societies proceed from the same
bad passions, the same pride, selfishness and
thirst of gain, by which individuals are led
to transgress the rules of duty; they require
therefore the same curb to restrain them,
and hence the necessity of a national religion.
You will probably assert, that most
nations have one; but, by a national religion,
I do not mean the burning a few
wretches twice or thrice in a year in honour
of God, nor yet the exacting subscription to
some obscure tenets, believed by few, and
understood by none; nor yet the investing a
certain order of men dressed in a particular
habit, with civil privileges and secular emolument;
by national religion I understand,
the extending to those affairs in which we
act in common and as a body, that regard
to religion, by which, when we act singly,
we all profess to be guided. Nothing seems
more obvious; and yet there are men who
appear not insensible to the rules of morality
as they respect individuals, and who B4 unac- B4v 8
unaccountably disclaim them with respect to
nations. They will not cheat their opposite
neighbour, but they will take a pride in
over-reaching a neighbouring state; they
would scorn to foment dissentions in the family
of an acquaintance, but they will do
so by a community without scruple; they
would not join with a gang of housebreakers
to plunder a private dwelling, but
they have no principle which prevents them
from joining with a confederacy of princes
to plunder a province. As private individuals,
they think it right to pass by little
injuries, but as a people they think they
cannot carry too high a principle of proud
defiance and sanguinary revenge. This sufficiently
shews, that whatever rule they may
acknowledge for their private conduct, they
have nothing that can be properly called national
; and indeed, it is very much
to be suspected, that their religion in the
former case, is very much assisted by the
contemplation of those pains and penalties
which society has provided against the
crimes of individuals. But the united will of B5r 9
of a whole people cannot make wrong right,
or sanction one act of rapacity, injustice, or
breach of faith. The first principle, therefore,
we must lay down, is, that we are to
submit our public conduct to the same rules
by which we are to regulate our private actions:
A nation that does this, is, as a nation,
religious; a nation that does it not,
though it should fast, and pray, and wear
sackcloth, and pay tithes, and build churches,
is, as a nation, profligate and unprincipled.

The vices of nations may be divided into
those which relate to their own internal
proceedings, or to their relations with other
states. With regard to the first, the causes
for humiliation are various. Many nations
are guilty of the crime of permitting oppressive
laws and bad governments to remain
amongst them, by which the poor are
crushed, and the lives of the innocent are
laid at the mercy of wicked and arbitrary
men. This is a national sin of the deepest
dye, as it involves in it most others. It is
painful to reflect how many atrocious governments
there are in the world; and how little B5v 10
little even they who enjoy good ones, seem
to understand their true nature. We are
apt to speak of the happiness of living under
a mild government, as if it were like the
happiness of living under an indulgent climate;
and when we thank God for it, we
rank it with the blessings of the air and of
the soil; whereas we ought to thank God
for the wisdom and virtue of living under a
good government; for a good government
is the first of national duties. It is indeed a
happiness, and one which demands our
most grateful thanks, to be born under one
which spares us the trouble and hazard of
changing it; but a people born under a
good government, will probably not die
under one, if they conceive of it as of an
indolent and passive happiness, to be left
for its preservation, to fortunate conjunctures,
and the floating and variable chances
of incalculable events;—our second duty is
to keep it good.

We shall not be able to fulfil either of
these duties, except we cultivate in our hearts B6r 11
hearts the requisite dispositions. One of
the most fruitful sources of evil in the transaction
of national affairs, is a spirit of insubordination.
Without a quiet subordination
to lawful authority, peace, order, and
the ends of good government, can never be
attained. To fix this subordination on its
proper basis, it is only necessary to establish
in our minds this plain principle, that the
will of the minority should ever yield to
that of the majority. By this simple axiom,
founded on those common principles of
justice which all men understand, the largest
society may be held together with equal ease
as the smallest, provided only some well contrived
and orderly method be established for
ascertaining that will. It is the immediate
extinction of all faction, sedition, and tyranny.
It supersedes the necessity of governing
by systems of blinding or terrifying
the people. It puts an end equally to the
cabinet cabal, and the muffled conspiracy,
and occasions every thing to go on smoothly,
openly, and fairly; whereas, if the minority
attempt to impose their will upon the majority,jority, 1 B6v 12
so unnatural a state of things will
not be submitted to without constant struggles
on the one side, and constant jealousies
on the other. There are two descriptions
of men who are in danger of forgetting this
excellent rule; public functionaries, and
reformers. Public functionaries, being entrusted
with large powers for managing the
affairs of their fellow-citizens, which management,
from the nature of things, must
necessarily be in the hands of a few, are
very apt to confound the executive power
with the governing will; they require,
therefore, to be observed with a wholesome
suspicion, and to be frequently reminded of
the nature and limits of their office.—Reformers,
conceiving of themselves, as of a
more enlightened class than the bulk of
mankind, are likewise apt to forget the deference
due to them. Stimulated by newly
discovered truths, of which they feel the
full force, they are not willing to wait for
the gradual spread of knowledge, the subsiding
of passion, and the undermining of prejudices.
They too contemn a swinish multitude,tude B7r 13
and aim at an aristocracy of talents.
It is indeed their business to attack the prejudices,
and to rectify, if they can, the systems
of their countrymen, but, in the mean
time, to acquiesce in them. It is their business
to sow the seed, and let it lie patiently
in the bosom of the ground, perhaps for
ages—to prepare, not to bring about revolutions.
The public is not always in the
wrong for not giving into their views, even
where they have the appearance of reason;
for their plans are often crude and premature,
their ideas too refined for real life, and
influenced by their own particular cast of
thinking; they want people to be happy
their way; whereas every one must be happy
his own way. Freedom is a good thing,
but if a nation is not disposed to accept of
it, it is not to be presented to them on the
point of a bayonet. Freedom is a valuable
blessing, but if even a nation that has enjoyed
that blessing, evidently chooses to give it up,
the voice of the people ought to prevail;
men of more liberal minds should warn
them indeed what they are about; but havinging B7v 14
done that, they should acquiesce. If
the established religion, in any country, is
absurd and superstitious in the eyes of thinking
men, so long as it is the religion of the
generality, it ought to prevail, and the minority
should not even wish to supplant it.
The endeavouring to overthrow any system
before it is given up by the majority, is faction;
the endeavouring to keep it after it
is given up by them, is tyranny; both are
equally wrong, and both proceed from the
same cause, the want of a principle of due

If we find reason to be satisfied with the
general sketch and outline of government,
and with that basis of subordination on
which we have placed it, it becomes us next
to examine, whether the filling up of the
plan be equally unexceptionable. Our
laws, are they mild, equal, and perspicuous;
free from burdensome forms and unnecessary
delays; not a succession of expedients
growing out of temporary exigences, but a
compact whole; not adapted to local prejudices,
but founded on the broad basis of universal B8r 15
universal jurisprudence?—Are they accessible
to rich and poor, sparing of human
blood, calculated rather to check and set
bounds to the inequality of fortunes than to
increase them, rather to prevent and reform
crimes than to punish them?—If good, are
they well administered?—Is the lenity of the
laws shewn in the moderation of the penalties,
or in the facility of evasion and the frequency
of escape?—Do we profit from greater degrees
of instruction and longer experience, and from
time to time clear away the trash and refuse
of past ages? What all are bound to observe,
are they so framed as that all may understand?
Is there any provision for instructing
the people in the various arbitrary obligations
that are laid upon them, or are
they supposed to understand them by intuition,
because they are too intricate to be explained
methodically?—Are punishments
proportioned to crimes, and rewards to services,
or have we two sets of officers, the
one to do the work, the other to be paid
without doing it?—Have we any locusts in
the land, any who devour the labours of the hus- B8v 16
husbandman without contributing any thing
to the good of society by their labours of
body or of mind?—Is the name of God, and
the awfulness of religious sanctions, profaned
among us by frequent, unnecessary, and ensnaring
oaths, which lie like stumbling
blocks in every path of business and preferment,
tending to corrupt the singleness of
truth, and wear away the delicacy of conscience;
entangling even the innocence and
inexperience of children?—Have we calculated
the false oaths which, in the space of
one sun, the accusing angel has to carry up
from our custom-houses, our various courts,
our hustings, our offices of taxation, and—
from our altars?—Are they such as a tear,
if we do shed tears on a day such as this,
will blot out?—Have we calculated the
mischief which is done to the ingenuous
mind, when the virgin dignity of his soul
is first violated by a falsehood?—Have we
calculated the wound which is given to the
peace of a good man, the thorns that are
strewed upon his pillow, when through
hard necessity, he complies with what his soul C1r 17
soul abhors? Have we calculated the harm
done to the morals of a nation, by the established
necessity of perjury? We shall do
well, being now by the command of our
rulers before the Lord, to reflect on these
things; and if we want food for our national
penitence, perhaps we may here find it.

Extravagance is a fault, to which nations,
as well as private persons, are very
prone, and the consequences to both are
exactly similar. If a private man lives beyond
his income, the consequence will be
loss of independence, disgraceful perplexity,
and in the end certain ruin. The catastrophes
of states are slower in ripening, but
like causes must in the end produce like
effects.—If you are acquainted with any individual,
who, from inattention to his affairs,
misplaced confidence, foolish law-suits,
anticipation of his rents and profusion in
his family expences, has involved himself in
debts that eat away his income, what would
you say to such a one? Would you not tell
him, Contract your expences; look yourself
into your affairs; insist upon exact accounts C from C1v 18
from your steward and bailiffs; keep no
servants for mere show and parade; mind
only your own affairs, and keep at peace
with your neighbours; set religiously apart
an annual sum for discharging the mortgages
on your estate.—If this be good advice for
one man, it is good advice for nine millions
of men.—If this individual should persist in
his course of unthrifty profusion, saying to
himself, The ruin will not come in my time;
the misery will not fall upon me; let posterity
take care of itself! would you not
pronounce him at once very weak and very
selfish? My friends, a nation that should
pursue the same conduct, would be equally

Pride is a vice in individuals; it cannot,
therefore, be a virtue in that number of individuals
called a Nation. A disposition to
prefer to every other our own habits of
life, our own management, our own systems,
to suppose that we are admired and
looked up to by others—something of this
perhaps is natural, and may be pardoned as
a weakness, but it can never be exalted into 2 a duty; C2r 19
a duty; it is a disposition we ought to
check, and not to cultivate; there is neither
patriotism nor good sense in fostering an extravagant
opinion of ourselves and our own
institutions, in being attached even to our
faults, because they are ours, and because
they have been ours from generation to generation.
An exclusive admiration of ourselves
is generally founded on extreme ignorance,
and it is not likely to produce any
thing of a more liberal or better stamp.

Amongst our national faults, have we any
instances of cruelty or oppression to repent
of? Can we look round from sea to sea, and
from east to west, and say, “that our brother
hath not aught against us”
? If such instances
do not exist under our immediate
eye, do they exist any where under our influence
and jurisdiction? There are some,
whose nerves, rather than whose principles,
cannot bear cruelty—like other nuisances,
they would not chuse it in sight, but they
can be well content to know it exists, and
that they are indebted for it to the increase
of their income, and the luxuries of their C2 table C2v 20
table. Are there not some darker-coloured
children of the same family, over whom we
assume a hard and unjust controul? And
have not these our brethen “aught against
? If we suspect they have, would it not
become us anxiously to enquire into the
truth, that we may deliver our souls; but
if we know it, and cannot help knowing it,
if such enormities have been pressed and
forced upon our notice, till they are become
flat and stale in the public ear, from fulness
and repetition, and satiety of proof; and if
they are still sanctioned by our legislature,
defended by our princes—deep indeed is the
colour of our guilt.—And do we appoint
fasts, and make pretences to religion? Do
we pretend to be shocked at the principles
or the practices of neighbouring nations,
and start with affected horror at the name of
Atheist? Are our consciences so tender, and
our hearts so hard? Is it possible we should
meet as a nation, and knowing ourselves to
be guilty of these things, have the confidence
to implore the blessing of God upon
our commerce and our colonies: preface with C3r 21
with prayer our legislative meetings, and
then deliberate how long we shall continue
human sacrifices? Rather let us
“Never pray more, abandon all remorse.”

Let us lay aside the grimace of hypocrisy,
stand up for what we are, and boldly profess,
like the emperor of old, that every
thing is sweet from which money is extracted,
and that we know better than to deprive
ourselves of a gain for the sake of a

I next invite you, my friends, to consider
your conduct with regard to other states.
Different communities are neighbours, living
together in a state of nature; that is,
without any common tribunal, to which
they may carry their differences; but they are
not the less bound to all the duties of neighbours;
to mutual sincerity, justice, and
kind offices.

First to sincerity. It is imagined, I
know not why, that transactions between
states cannot be carried on without a great C3 deal C3v 22
deal of intrigue and dissimulation. But I am
apt to think the nation that should venture
to disclaim this narrow and crooked policy,
and should act and speak with a noble frankness,
would lose nothing by the proceeding;
honest intentions will bear to be told in plain
language; if our views upon each other are
for our mutual advantage, the whole mystery
of them may be unfolded without
danger; and if they are not, they will soon
be detected by practitioners as cunning and
dextrous as ourselves.

Secondly, we are bound to justice—Not
only in executing our engagements, but in
cultivating a spirit of moderation in our very
wishes. Most contrary to this is a species
of patriotism, which consists in inverting
the natural course of our feelings, in being
afraid of our neighbour’s prosperity, and rejoicing
at his misfortunes. We should be
ashamed to say, My neighbour’s house was
burnt down last night, I am glad of it, I
shall have more custom to my shop. My
neighbour, thank God, has broken his arm,
I shall be sent for to attend the families in which C4r 23
which he was employed; but we are not
ashamed to say, Our neighbours are weakening
themselves by a cruel war, we shall rise
upon their ruins. We must act in opposition
to the peace-makers; we must hinder
them from being reconciled, and blow the
coals of discord, otherwise their commerce will
revive, and goods may remain in our crammed
warehouses. Our neighbours have bad
laws and a weak government; Heaven forbid
they should change them, for then they
might be more flourishing than ourselves.
We have tracts of territory which we cannot
people for ages, but we must take great
care that our neighbour does not get any
footing there, for he would soon make them
very useful to him.—Thus do we extend
our grasping hands from east to west, from
pole to pole, and in our selfish monopolizing
spirit are almost angry that the sun should
ripen any productions but for our markets,
or the ocean bear any vessels but our own upon
its broad bosom. We are not ashamed to use
that solecism in terms natural enemies; as if
nature, and not our own bad passions, made C4 us C4v 24
us enemies; as if that relation, from
which, in private life, flows confidence, affection,
endearing intercourse, were in nations,
only a signal for mutual slaughter; and
we were like animals of prey, solitarily ferocious,
who look with a jealous eye on every
rival that intrudes within their range of devastation
—and yet this language is heard in a
Christian country, and these detestable maxims
veil themselves under the semblance of
virtue and public spirit.—We have a golden
rule, if we will but apply it; it will measure
great things as well as small; it will measure
as true at the Antipodes, or on the
coast of Guinea, as in our native fields. It
is that universal standard of weights and
measures which alone will simplify all business:
“Do to others, as ye would that others
should do unto you.”

There is a notion which has a direct tendency
to make us unjust, because it tends
to make us think God so; I mean the idea
which most nations have entertained, that
they are the peculiar favourites of Heaven.
We nourish our pride by fondly fancying that C5r 25
that we are the only nation for whom the
providence of God exerts itself; the only
nation whose form of worship is agreeable
to him, the only nation whom he has endowed
with a competent share of wisdom to
frame wise laws and rational governments.
Each nation is to itself the fleece of Gideon,
and drinks exclusively the dew of
science; but as God is no respecter of persons,
so neither is he of nations; he has not,
like earthly monarchs, his favourites. There
is a great deal even in our thanksgivings,
which is exceptionable on this account;
“God, we thank thee, that we are not like
other nations;”
—yet we freely load ourselves
with every degree of guilt; but then we like
to consider ourselves as a child that is chidden,
and others as outcasts.

When the workings of these bad passions
are swelled to their height by mutual animosity
and opposition, war ensues. War is a state
in which all our feelings and our duties suffer
a total and strange inversion; a state, in which Life dies, Death lives, and Nature breedsPerverse, all monstrous, all prodigious things. A state C5v 26
A state in which it becomes our business
to hurt and annoy our neighbour by
every possible means; instead of cultivating,
to destroy; instead of building, to pull
down; instead of peopling, to depopulate;
a state in which we drink the tears, and feed
upon the misery of our fellow-creatures;
such a state, therefore, requires the extremest
necessity to justify it; it ought not to be the
common and usual state of society. As both
parties cannot be in the right, there is always
an equal chance, at least, to either of them,
of being in the wrong; but as both parties
may be to blame, and most commonly are,
the chance is very great indeed against its being
entered into from any adequate cause;
yet war may be said to be, with regard to nations,
the sin which most easily besets them.
We, my friends, in common with other
nations, have much guilt to repent of from
this cause, and it ought to make a large part
of our humiliations on this day. When we
carry our eyes back on through the long records
of our history, we see wars of plunder, wars
of conquest, wars of religion, wars of pride C6r 27
pride, wars of succession, wars of idle speculation,
wars of unjust interference, and
hardly among them one war of necessary
self-defence in any of our essential or very
important interests. Of late years, indeed,
we have known none of the calamities of
war in our own country but the wasteful
expence of it; and sitting aloof from those
circumstances of personal provocation, which
in some measure might excuse its fury, we
have calmly voted slaughter and merchandized
destruction—so much blood and tears for
so many rupees, or dollars, or ingots. Our
wars have been wars of cool calculating
interest, as free from hatred as from love of
mankind; the passions which stir the blood
have had no share in them. We devote a
certain number of men to perish on land and
sea, and the rest of us sleep sound, and, protected
in our usual occupations, talk of the
events of war as what diversifies the flat
uniformity of life.

We should, therefore, do well to translate
this word war into language more intelligible
to us. When we pay our army and our navy estimates, C6v 28
estimates, let us set down—so much for killing,
so much for maiming, so much for
making widows and orphans, so much for
bringing famine upon a district, so much
for corrupting citizens and subjects into
spies and traitors, so much for ruining industrious
tradesmen and making bankrupts,
(of that species of distress at least, we can
form an idea,) so much for letting loose the
dæmons of fury rapine and lust within
the fold of cultivated society, and giving to
the brutal ferocity of the most ferocious, its
full scope and range of invention. We shall
by this means know what we have paid
our money for, whether we have made a
good bargain, and whether the account is
likely to pass—elsewhere. We must take in
too, all those concomitant circumstances
which make war, considered as battle, the
least part of itself, pars minima sui. We
must fix our eyes, not on the hero returning
with conquest, nor yet on the gallant officer
dying in the bed of honour, the subject of picture
and of song, but on the private soldier,
forced into the service, exhausted by campsicknesssickness C7r 29
and fatigue; pale, emaciated, crawling
to an hospital with the prospect of life,
perhaps a long life, blasted, useless and suffering.
We must think of the uncounted tears of
her who weeps alone, because the only being
who shared her sentiments is taken from her;
no martial music sounds in unison with her
feelings; the long day passes and he returns
not. She does not shed her sorrows over
his grave, for she has never learnt whether
he ever had one. If he had returned, his
exertions would not have been remembered
individually, for he only made a small imperceptible
part of a human machine, called
a Regiment. We must take in the long
sickness which no glory soothes, occasioned
by distress of mind, anxiety and ruined fortunes.
—These are not fancy-pictures, and if
you please to heighten them, you can every
one of you do it for yourselves. We must
take in the consequences, felt perhaps for
ages, before a country which has been compleatly
desolated, lifts its head again; like a
torrent of lava, its worst mischief is not the
first overwhelming ruin of towns and palaces, C7v 30
palaces, but the long sterility to which it condemns
the track it has covered with its
stream. Add the danger to regular governments
which are changed by war,
sometimes to anarchy, and sometimes to
despotism. Add all these, and then let us
think when a General performing these
exploits, is saluted with, “well done good
and faithful servant”
, whether the plaudit
is likely to be echoed in another place.

In this guilty business there is a circumstance
which greatly aggravates its guilt,
and that is the impiety of calling upon the
Divine Being to assist us in it. Almost all
nations have been in the habit of mixing
with their bad passions a shew of religion,
and of prefacing these their murders with
prayers, and the solemnities of worship.
When they send our their armies to desolate
a country, and destroy the fair face of
nature, they have the presumption to hope
that the sovereign of the universe will condescend
to be their auxiliary, and to enter
into their petty and despicable contests.
Their prayer, if put into plain language, would C8r 31
would run thus: God of love, father of all
the families of the earth, we are going to
tear in pieces our brethren of mankind, but
our strength is not equal to our fury, we
beseech thee to assist us in the work of
slaughter. Go out we pray thee with our
fleets and armies; we call them christian,
and we have interwoven in our banners and
the decorations of our arms the symbols
of a suffering religion, that we may fight
under the cross upon which our Saviour
died. Whatever mischief we do, we shall
do it in thy name; we hope, therefore, thou
wilt protect us in it. Thou, who hast
made of one blood all the dwellers upon the
earth, we trust thou wilt view us alone
with partial favour, and enable us to bring
misery upon every other quarter of the globe
—Now if we really expect such prayers to be
answered, we are the weakest, if not, we
are the most hypocritical of beings.

Formerly, this business was managed better,
and had in it more shew of reason and probability.
When mankind conceived of their
Gods as partaking of like passions with themselves C8v 32
themselves, they made a fair bargain with
them on these occasions. Their chieftains,
they knew, were influenced by such motives,
and they thought their Gods might well be
so too. Go out with us, and you shall have
a share of the spoil. Your altars shall
stream with the blood of so many noble
captives, or you shall have a hecatomb of
fat oxen, or a golden tripod. Have we any
thing of this kind to propose? Can we make
any thing like a handsome offer to the Almighty,
to tempt him to enlist himself on
our side? Such things have been done before
now in the christian world. Churches
have been promised, and church lands, aye,
and honestly paid too; at other times silver
shrines, incense, vestments, tapers, according
to the occasion.――Oh how justly may
the awful text be here applied! He that
sitteth in the heavens shall laugh, the Lord
shall have them in derision.――Christians!
I shudder, lest in the earnestness of my heart
I may have sinned, in suffering such impious
propositions to escape my lips. In
short, while we must be perfectly consciousscious D1r 33
in our own minds, that the generality
of our wars are the offspring of mere
worldly ambition and interest, let us, if we
must have wars, carry them on as other such
things are carried on, and not think of making
a prayer to be used before murder, any
more than of composing prayers to be used
before we enter a gambling house, or a place
of licentious entertainment. Bad actions are
made worse by hypocrisy; an unjust war
is in itself so bad a thing, that there is only
one way of making it worse, and that is, by
mixing religion with it.

These, my friends, are some of the topics
on which, standing as a nation this day
before the Lord, it will be proper that we
should examine ourselves. There yet remains
a serious question: How far, as individuals,
are we really answerable for the
guilt of national sins? For his own sins, it
is evident, every man is wholly answerable;
for those of an aggregate body, it is as evident
he can be only answerable in part;
and that portion and measure of iniquity,
which falls to his share, will be more or D less D1v 34
less, according as he has been more or less
deeply engaged in those transactions which
are polluted with it. There is an active
and a passive concurrence. We give our
active concurrence to any measure, when
we support it by any voluntary exertion, or
bestow on it any mark of approbation;
when, especially, we are the persons, for
whose sake, and for whose emolument, systems
of injustice or cruelty are carried on.
The man of wealth and influence, who feeds
and fattens upon the miseries of his fellow-
creatures; the man in power, who plans
abuses, or prevents their being swept away,
is the very Jonas of the ship, and ought this
day to stand foremost in the rank of national
penitents. But there is also a passive concurrence,
and this, in common cases, the
community appears to have a right to expect
from us. Society could not exist, if
every individual took it upon himself not
only to judge, but to act from his own
judgment in those things in which a nation
acts collectively. The law, therefore, which
is the expression of the general will, seems 2 to D2r 35
to be sufficient sanction for us, when, in
obedience to its authority, we pay taxes,
and comply with injunctions, in support of
measures which we believe to be hurtful,
and even iniquitous; and this, not because
the guilt of a bad action, as some fondly
imagine, is diluted and washed away in the
guilt of multitudes; but because it is a necessary
condition of political union, that
private will should be yielded up to the
will of the public. We shall do well, however,
to bear in mind the principle on which
we comply, that we may not go a step beyond

There are, indeed, cases of such atrocity,
that even this concurrence would be criminal.
What these are, it is impossible to
specify; every man must draw the line for
himself.—I suppose no one will pretend,
that any maxims of military subordination
could justify the officers of Herod in the
slaughter of the children of Bethlehem;
and certainly the orders of Louvois, in the
Palatinate, and of Catherine de Medicis, on
the day of St. Bartholomew, were not less D2 cruel D2v 36
cruel. In our own country, it has been
the official duty of magistrates to burn alive
quiet and innocent subjects, who differed
from them in opinion. Rather than fulfil
such duties, a man of integrity will prepare
himself to suffer, and a Christian knows
where such sufferings will be rewarded.—
The honourable delinquency of those who
have submitted to be the victims, rather
than the instruments of injustice, has ever
been held worthy of praise and admiration.

But though, for the sake of peace and
order, we ought, in general cases, to give
our passive concurrence to measures which
we may think wrong, peace and order do
not require us to give them the sanction of
our approbation. On the contrary, the
more strictly we are bound to acquiesce, the
more it is incumbent on us to remonstrate.
Every good man owes it to his country and
to his own character, to lift his voice against
a ruinous war, an unequal tax, or an edict of
persecution: and to oppose them, tempeperately,
but firmly, by all the means in his
power; and indeed this is the only way reformationsformations D3r 37
can ever be brought about, or
that government can enjoy the advantage of
general opinion.

This general opinion has, on a recent
occasion, been sedulously called for, and most
of you have complied with the requisition.
You, who have, on this occasion, given
warm and unqualified declarations of attachment
to the existing system, you have
done well—You, who have denounced
abuses, and declared your wishes for reform,
you have done well likewise, provided each
of you has acted from the sincere, unbiassed
conviction of his own mind. But if you
have done it lightly, and without judgment,
you have done ill; if against judgment, worse:
if, by any improper influence, you have interfered
with the liberty of your neighbour,
or your dependant, and caused him to act
against his judgment and his conscience—
worse still. If the ferment of party has
stirred up a spirit of rancour and animosity
among friends and townsmen, or introduced
the poison of distrust amidst the freedom
and security of social life, we stand this 1 day D3v 38
day before the Lord; and if our brother
hath aught against us, “let us go first, and
be reconciled to our brother, and then
come and offer our gift.”

If any of us have disturbed or misled
weaker minds by exaggerated danger and
affected alarm, and practicing on their credulity
or their ignorance, have raised passions
which it would have better become us
to have moderated—or if, on the other
hand, we have cried, peace, peace, where
there is no peace:—we are this day before
the Lord, let shame and remorse for these
practices make a distinguished part of our
national humiliation.

Repent this day, not only of the actual
evil you have done, but of the evil of which
your actions have been the cause.—If you
slander a good man, you are answerable for
all the violence of which that slander may
be the remote cause; if you raise undue
prejudices against any particular class or description
of citizens, and they suffer through
the bad passions your misrepresentations have
worked up against them, you are answerable for D4r 39
for the injury, though you have not wielded
the bludgeon, or applied the firebrand; if
you place power in improper hands, you
are answerable for the abuse of that power;
if you oppose conciliatory measures, you are
answerable for the distress which more violent
ones may produce. If you use intemperate
invectives and inflammatory declamation,
you are answerable if others shed
blood. It is not sufficient, even if our intentions
are pure; we must weigh the tendencies
of our actions, for we are answerable,
in a degree at least, for those remote consequences,
which, though we did not intend,
we might have foreseen. If we inculcate
the plausible doctrine of unlimited confidence,
we draw upon ourselves the responsibility
of all the future measures which that
confidence may sanction. If we introduce
tenets leaning towards arbitrary power, the
generations to come will have a right to
curse the folly of their forefathers, when
they are reaping the bitter fruits of them in
future star-chambers, and courts of inquisitorial
jurisdiction. If the precious sands of our D4v 40
our liberty are, perhaps, of themselves running
out, how shall we be justified to ourselves,
or to posterity, if, with a rash hand,
we shake the glass.

If, on the other hand, through vanity, a
childish love of novelty, a spirit of perverse
opposition, or any motive still more sordidly
selfish, we are precipitated into measures
which ought to be the result of the most
serious consideration—if by “foolish talking
or jestings, which are not convenient,”
have lessened the reverence due to constituted
authorities, or slackened the bonds
which hold society together; ours is the
blame, when the hurricane is abroad in the
world, and doing its work of mischief.

The course of events in this country has
now, for a number of generations, for a
long reach, as it were, of the stream of
time, run smooth, and our political duties
have been proportionally easy; but it may
not always be so. A sudden bend may
change the direction of the current, and
open scenes less calm. It becomes every
man, therefore, to examine his principles, whether E1r 41
whether they are of that firmness and texture,
as suits the occasion he may have for
them. If we want a light gondola to
float upon a summer lake, we look at the
form and gilding; but if a vessel to steer
through storms, we examine the strength of
the timbers, and the soundess of the bottom.
We want principles, not to figure in
a book of ethics, or to delight us with
“grand and swelling sentiments;” but principles
by which we may act, and by which
we may suffer. Principles of benevolence,
to dispose us to real sacrifices; political
principles, of practical utility; principles of
religion, to comfort and support us under
all the trying vicissitudes we see around us,
and which we have no security that we
shall be long exempt from. How many
are there now suffering under such overwhelming
distresses, as, a short time ago,
we should have thought it was hardly within
the verge of possibility that they should experience!
Above all, let us keep our hearts
pure, and our hands clean. Whatever part
we take in public affairs, much will undoubtedlyE doubtedly E1v 42
happen which we could by no
means foresee, and much which we shall not
be able to justify; the only way, therefore, by
which we can avoid deep remorse, is to act
with simplicity and singleness of intention, and
not to suffer ourselves to be warped, though
by ever so little, from the path which honour
and conscience approve.

Principles, such as I have been recommending,
are not the work of a day; they
are not to be acquired by any formal act
of worship, or manual of devotion adapted
to the exigency; and it will little avail us,
that we have stood here, as a nation, before
the Lord
, if, individually, we do not remember
that we are always so.