Sins of Government,
Sins of the Nation;
Diſcourſe for the Faſt,
Appointed on 1793-04-19April 19, 1793.
Printed for J. Johnson, No. 72, St. Paul’s Church-Yard.
Sins of Government, &c.
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 2 B1v 2 of you, before the face of the Lord.—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 3 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 God.
That this is the true and only rational interpretation of the ſolemnities of this day, B2 is 4 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 5 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 6 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 reſponſibility.
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 7 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- 8 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 religion; 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 9 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 10 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 11 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 12 B6v 12 jority, 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 multitudetude 13 B7r 13 tude, 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 14 B7v 14 ing 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 ſubordination.
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 15 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- 16 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 17 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 18 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 reprehenſible.
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; 19 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 20 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 us? 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 21 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 fellow-creature.
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 22 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 23 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 24 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 25 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 26 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 27 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, 28 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 29 C7r 29 ſickneſs 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, 30 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 31 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 32 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 33 D1r 33 ſcious 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 34 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 35 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 it.
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 36 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 37 D3r 37 formations 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 38 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 39 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 40 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, we 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 41 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 42 E1v 42 doubtedly 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.