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Reasons
For
National Penitence, &c.

Price One Shilling.

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Reasons
For
National Penitence,


Recommended For The
Fast,
Appointed 1794-02-28February XXVIII.
1794.

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“sicut vetus ætas vidit, quid ultimum in libertate
esset: ita nos quid in servitute, adempto per inquisitiones
et loquendi, audiendique, commercio.”
Tacit. vit. Agric.De vita Julii Agricolae

London:
Printed For G. G. and J. Robinson,
Pater-Noster-Row.

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Reasons
For
National Penitence, &c.

We are again commanded to supplicate a pardon of
our sins, and to implore the future protection of the
Divine Being. A whole people, united in one general act
of religion, and impressed with a general sense of their dependence
on Providence, exhibit an awful and magnificent
spectacle. But if the solemnities of the day are only calculated
to display a pompous scene of national worship, their
purpose might very justly be derided, and their utility safely
denied. There would be a species of pride, even in our
acts of humiliation and penance, if they did not generate a
train of serious and sober reflections, suited to the present
aspect of the times, as well as to our participation in the
events which they have produced. We shall not reap any B instruc- B1v 2
instructions from this religious exercise, unless our attention
be directed to the circumstances which rendered it necessary.
There are, indeed, in the history of nations, as in the lives
of individuals, seasons of sorrow and calamity, when no
employment is so pleasant, or useful, as that of “lifting
the eyes upwards,”
and of counting, as it were, the links
of the chain, that connects us with heaven. We are, however,
performing a service, as displeasing to God, as it is
uninstructive to man, if, upon such an occasion, we neglected
to enquire into the causes of the misfortunes we lament,
or if we did not feel the sincerest penitence for the
sins, whose pardon we implore.

It is necessary, therefore, that we should not join in the
appointed duties of the day, but with rational and proper
conceptions of the end of such an institution. If we
imagine that we ought to enter our churches, to pour out
our spleen, and express our malice to our enemies, to mingle
execrations against them with our prayers for ourselves, we
have grossly misunderstood its purpose and its principles.
Let us not be deceived. It is not surely an act of public
expiation, which is intended to absolve us, as it were,
from our former accounts with heaven, and to give us courage
and vigour in the future perpetration of our crimes.
Nor let us reason thus with ourselves:—“The atheists of
France never offer up a prayer, nor proclaim public fastings.
Surely, then, our austerity and abstinence will obtain “the B2r 3
the divine assistance and co-operation in our cause.”

We cannot subsidize the Deity, as we have subsidized his
majesty of Sardinia. Unless our hearts be penitent, the
solemn repetition of liturgies, and the formal confession of
our sins, will avail us nothing against the judgments which
a whole year of slaughter and devastation has stored up
against us. We cannot bribe him into complacence, after
having laid waste, and destroyed the fairest scenes of his
creation. But when we approach the altar of Peace, with
our arms streaming with blood, and our hearts swelling with
meditations of still more complete and bloody vengeance,
we are only displaying to the world a disgusting alliance
of the fiercest barbarity with the most abject superstition.
Let us, therefore, clearly apprehend the nature, and the
object of the duties, which have been enjoined us, by the
public authority of the nation. But let me conjure you to
lay aside that ferocious and unrelenting malice, which is
more calculated for the synagogues of Satan, than the
temples of the Almighty. This is a day of repentance!
If we have committed any sins as a nation, we are called
upon to confess them with sincere and unfeigned penitence;
and if we have suffered any calamities, it is our duty to
deplore them with emotions of earnest piety, and with
humble hopes of divine forgiveness. A verbal acknowledgement
of our errors, however, and an idle and whining
lamentation over our misfortunes, is as inconsistent with our
duty, as it is unworthy of our dignity. We must resolve B2 to B2v 4
to turn from our evil conduct; and we must listen to a
lesson of instruction, under the pressure of affliction. Unless
we do this, the confession of our crimes will resemble
the timid and superstitious devotion of savages; and our
sorrow for our calamities will be the voice of effeminate,
and even of guilty complaint. He who sins, in spite of
experience, incurs an aggravated and severer punishment.

We are, my brethren, a great nation, if we are considered
with regard to our power, our resources, our connections,
and dependencies. Whatever, therefore, may be the part
which we act in the great drama of the world, it is not at
least an unimportant, or trifling part. If we have conducted
our affairs with imprudence, or temerity; if our
measures have been dictated by passion, instead of being
conceived in wisdom, the effects of our misconduct must be
very extensively and severely felt. We have had it in
our power, by moderate and enlightened, or by violent and
precipitate counsels, to add to, or to diminish considerably,
the general bulk of human happiness. If, instead of availing
ourselves of our natural strength, and our acquired greatness,
that qualified us to sit as the judge and arbiter of surrounding
nations, we have communicated to them a passion
for war, and an ambition of conquest, our sin is grievous
in proportion to our means of avoiding it. If the measures,
which have been fruitful of so much destruction and
slaughter, might have been averted by a temperate and conciliatoryciliatory B3r 5
spirit, we are awfully responsible to Providence
for the neglect, or abuse of the trusts communicated to us.
If, in our conduct of war, we have been guilty of unnecessary
acts of perfidy; and if, while our own island is resounding
with exclamations against anarchy and sedition,
we ourselves have been industrious in seducing the subjects
of another government from their allegiance, we stand convicted
before God, of hypocrisy, as well as treachery. If,
at home likewise, we have been guilty of intolerance and
oppression, and if we have punished, with the same undiscerning
severity, the exertions of mistaken zeal with the
most base and ignominious crimes, we have abundant reason
for national penitence. These are some of those offences,
of which, as they stand the foremost in the catalogue,
it behoves us seriously and earnestly to repent.

But if this be the guilt of the nation, it is the guilt of
the people. Every one, according to the true and legitimate
maxims of civil government, has an immediate or
remote participation in the counsels of the legislature. The
right of exercising a judgment on public measures, exists
independently of the sanctions of human institutions. We
may sell our vote, and throw away our integrity at elections:
but no man can barter away the moral capacities of his
nature; and no man can suppress the faculties, which discriminate
between right and wrong. Government itself cannot
lawfully exist without some expression of popular consent,sent, B3v 6
as its foundation. This, my brethren, is a maxim,
which cannot be superseded; it forms a part of the charter
which God himself has given to man. The decisions of a
Scotch judge, or the decrees of a British minister, can neither
annul, nor suspend its sacred authority. Every individual,
therefore, among you, if he be not in love with servitude,
even the meanest individual, may decide on the propriety
and expedience of all public measures: since, as a part
of a nation, he participates in the benefits, or evils which
may result from them. He may abandon, for a while, the
ordinary sphere of his actions; he may quit the anvil, or
the loom, and search keenly and narrowly for the sources
of every public mischief, or misfortune. A nation is not
governed by a system of laws alone; for the wisest rules
of legislature may consist with the grossest usurpation. The
energy of laws is instrumental, and secondary only; and
they derive their sanction and authority from the will of
the people. I have reverted to the origin of civil government,
that it might clearly appear to you, that every one
of you is involved in the guilt of public and national offences.
We have, therefore, on this occasion, a privilege
of greater importance, than that of making a ceremonial
confession of our sins, or of joining in a peculiar form of
public worship. Each of us may exercise a kind of magisterial
authority, and erect his own judgment into a tribunal
for the cognizance of political affairs.

If, B4r 7

If, my brethren, there ever was a conjuncture, which
required a nice and accurate scrutiny, the situation of our affairs,
and the complexion of these times must make a striking
and solemn appeal to our attention. In the course of one
year, events have taken place, which must have roused into
reflection the dullest mind, and baffled the keenest skill of
political conjecture. War, indeed, to him who has not
shut his eyes to the uniform tenor of history, neither exhibits
a scene that is new, or extraordinary: but, perhaps,
the picture which it presents to us at this moment, if we
calculated all its immediate, or remote evils, is even more
disgusting and melancholy, than the contests, fierce and
sanguinary as they were, which in former ages have desolated
the world. The common intelligence of the day has
frequently displayed as diversified an image of destruction,
as that which is to be found in the fields of Cannæ, or
the deserts of Zama. The ordinary details of carnage,
which, as they are familiarized to our minds, are heard of
with indifference, are replete with relations of distress,
and sufferings as various as the accidents and chances of
battle. Or if the descriptions of this melancholy scene are
not so minute, or ample, a short arithmetical computation
informs us of the numbers, who have perished with so
much glory;
of those who, “though in the catalogue they
go for men,”
are usually considered as the necessary machines
of war, constructed for the bloody purposes of the
despot, who directs them. But if these evils have been always B4v 8
always characteristic of war, whenever it has taken place,
and under what circumstances soever it has been undertaken,
there are other consequences which distinguish all
the contests of modern times from those of remoter periods
of society. The states of antiquity experienced only
half of the evils of war; when all its calamities consisted
in the destruction and bloodshed, which the contending
armies let loose upon each other. In the present age,
when nations cannot arrive at prosperity, nor even obtain
subsistence, but by commercial intercourse, it cannot surely
be contemplated, but in a shape of much greater and more
aggravated horror.

It is impossible, my brethren, that similar reflections
should not have frequently suggested themselves to your
minds, in almost every period of the present war. It
is impossible, that you should have been ignorant of those
multiplied spectacles of distress, which every manufacturing
town exhibits. It is impossible, not to trace these evils to
their true and productive source: and if they have been
incurred rashly, or precipitately, with too little regard for
public happiness, and too much regard to the voice of passion,
they must be acknowledged to constitute a very necessary
and ample theme of national repentance. They
are not susceptible of any exaggerations, were I inclined,
or were I able to heighten them, with the colours of
pathetic discourse. You must have observed the universal gloom, C1r 9
gloom, which pervades our whole kingdom; you must have
observed how much the face of society is clouded, amidst
a sullen and melancholy cessation from almost every active
employment and cheerful exertion. And, do you imagine,
that the starving artizan and impoverished manufacturer are
much indebted to those, who have contributed to seduce
us into a measure, which has been hitherto so unprofitable
and destructive; and which, from its nature and principle,
cannot inspire us with any rational and well-grounded hopes
of its success? Is any consolation held out to them in
the pompous, and perhaps fallacious annunciations of success,
which are uttered with so much eagerness and exultation;
when the same wind, that wafts into our harbours the detail
of our victories, may convey to them the intelligence of
bankrupt debtors, and intercepted cargoes?

Since, however, we have undertaken the enterprize against
France, it is our duty, that we may be able to ascertain
whether it be a theme of rejoicing, or an object of repentance,
to examine the principles on which it has been
conducted. In such an enquiry, a knowledge of the characters
and dispositions of those, into whose alliance we
have entered, will be very necessary and useful. If their
dispositions are to be estimated, or their purposes calculated
by the zeal which they have displayed in the cause of human
happiness, I cannot say that the examination would terminate
considerably in their praise. There is one transaction C in C1v 10
in which our allies have borne a very strenuous and active
part; but it is a transaction, with whose memory the abhorrence
of mankind will be coeval, while history shall be read,
and oppression hated. It need not be observed, that I allude
to the interference in the Polish government. With
these ferocious tyrants, the love of liberty is a crime of
the blackest enormity; and the reformation of those gloomy
and gothic systems of usurpation, which mankind have dignified
with the name of Government, is a most dangerous
and alarming species of treason. Perhaps, at some future
and happier period of our affairs, when more indulgence will
be shewn to the boldness of truth, it may be said, that it
was more becoming the dignity, as well as the interests of
England, had she interfered in the behalf of that unhappy
people, instead of engaging in an impotent and unfortunate
crusade From the following passage in Hume, we may observe that the
crusaders of the dark, as well as those of more enlightened ages, could
atone for their excesses, by acts of the most fervent piety.—“The
triumphant warriors, after every enemy was subdued and slaughtered,
immediately turned themselves, with sentiments of humiliation
and contrition, towards the holy sepulchre: they threw
aside their arms, still streaming with blood; they advanced with
reclined bodies, and naked feet and heads, to that sacred monument:
they sung anthems to their Saviour, who had there purchased
their salvation by his death and agony,”
&c. &c.
Hume’s Hist.HistoryVol.volume I.
against France. It may then be said, that recollecting
the care and protection which the infancy of her own C2r 11
own liberty required, she ought to have been united in a
bond of sympathy with a nation, that was contending against
injustice and oppression. It may then be said, that she
would eventually have consulted her own safety, as well
as her glory, had she interposed as a seasonable check to
so dangerous and destructive a spirit of aggrandizement.
When we consider who were the actors in the scene, we
need not be told, that faith solemnly pledged was violated,
and treaties of the most sacred obligation disregarded.

I have deviated somewhat from the reflections, which
more peculiarly belong to the duties of this occasion; but
some allusion to this disgraceful event was necessary to let
in a proper light on the system of policy pursued by our
allies; and in whose guilt, as far as we are subservient to
its purposes, we ourselves are partakers. If, indeed, we
estimated their concern for the happiness of the human race,
by the general tenor of the manifestoes, The manifesto of the duke of Brunswick is not, however, of
this ambiguous kind. It is expressed in a style of undisguised barbarity,
and it is replete with threats, which Attila, or Zenghis Khan
would not have uttered without remorse. The other manifestoes
may be said to have the praise of hypocrisy, at least,.
which they have
assiduously published, we might think that they were actuated
by the purest motives of reverence towards God, and
of benevolence to man. We might, from these public declarations,C2 clarations, C2v 12
be inclined to suppose that their’s was a confederacy
against tyranny, disorder, and irreligion; and that
instead of contending against a free, they were anxious
only to liberate an enslaved nation. But, were we to follow
these heroic knights, who have sallied forth against atheism
and oppression, to their own territories, we should not suspect
them of too violent an attachment to liberty, in its
theory, or in its enjoyment. We should neither see a
prosperous and thriving people, nor an equal and liberal
system of laws. A ruined and degraded peasantry, a people
without any principle of virtuous pride, or any sense of
their own dignity, form the completest description of their
maxims of government. The king of Prussia, and the other
rulers of Germany may be the leaders of armies, but they
can scarcely be said to be the governors of men: for the
discipline, which converts their subjects into soldiers, seems
to have depressed the faculties, in which man’s pre-eminence
over other animals chiefly consists. All freedom of enquiry,
which has a tendency to improve the political condition
of mankind, is strictly inhibited. A laborious commentator
may compose a dissertation on a particle, and analyze
the beauty of a preposition. But in Germany, it
need not be said that neither a Locke nor a Milton were
ever permitted to discuss the principles, and display their
enlightened schemes of civil government.

We C3r 13

We have another ally too, in our most christian-like
cause, the illustrious princess of the North. It is unnessary,
surely, to enquire, with what intentions she has joined the
crusade, if we are not forgetful of the general policy of her
reign. And shall we, by conquering, or contributing to
conquer France, prepare another victim for the shrine of
her ambition? There is indeed but little either of a provident,
or benevolent policy in a measure, which may ultimately
render her plans of usurpation and tyranny successful
and complete. From a horde of barbarians, shut
out of all intercourse with the more civilized states of Europe,
can we either expect much regard to the happiness
and rights of mankind, or even mercy and mildness in the
violation of them?

These, my brethren, are the characters of those, with
whom we are now engaged, and to the completion of whose
purposes, be they innocent or guilty, we have considerably
conduced. On this occasion, it behoves us, therefore, to
reflect, that we are partakers of their designs, if rashly and
precipitately, even with the purest motives on our parts, we
have lent them our assistance. The temple, which they are
dedicating to despotism, may be reared on the foundations,
which we devoted to liberty. The guilt, however, of those,
who suffer themselves to be made their blind and imprudent
instruments, is not light or trifling. I cannot pass over this
topic, without urging it as an object of very attentive consideration.sideration. C3v 14
It is, I acknowledge, very difficult to conjecture
upon the events of political contests. But there is
much more cause of alarm, in the ambition of these united
powers, than in the spirit of proselytism imputed to the
French. Singly, they were sufficiently powerful; but in
their coalition, they present to our minds an image of gigantic
and bloated strength, which seems to require a strong
and effectual barrier. We have as much reason to be
alarmed at their mode of fraternization, as that of the nation
with whom we are at war: for they conquer, not
to liberate, but to enslave. Their march is not ushered
in with songs in praise of liberty, with the festive dance,
or the shouts of an applauding people. Destruction and
slavery are in their train, and should they be victorious,
Europe would begin a new æra of darkness and barbarity.
These are events which ought to have entered into our calculations,
if we acted wisely and providently, and even
now we ought not to be entirely free from alarm, though
perhaps the danger is more remote, or more doubtful.

Have we, then, acted with the prudence that became
us, in uniting with characters, whose purity is so questionable,
and whose purposes are so ambiguous? Have we
duly reflected on the cruel and dangerous tendency of a
violent interference with the affairs of an independent nation?
For let us not amuse ourselves any longer with debates
on the opening of a river, or the violation of pretendedtended C4r 15
treaties. Those pretences are now no more, and
the opportunity of profiting by them, is past. To a
people, earnestly desirous of peace, and deeply impressed
with a sense of its benefits, if they had afforded grounds of
negotiation, they would not have afforded occasion for
arms. If, from the very beginning, we were determined
to prevent our neighbours from erecting the system of their
own government, if we were resolved to rebuild the
Bastille, and to reanimate the lifeless trunk of exhausted
despotism, it is the most exquisite hypocrisy, to resort
to these stale and forgotten pretences. Every twig and
every reed, however, we are willing to seize. We are now
sedulously pleading our indignation at their crimes, and displaying
our sorrow for their excesses. We have made ourselves
the instruments of divine justice, and we say that we
are fighting, to punish the French for their wickedness. But
whence have we derived this new maxim of hostility? Oh,
most enlightened discovery! How have we improved the
law of nations! Had this beautiful maxim been made
known before, how often would the very pillars of the
earth have been shaken by the trampling of crusaders against
vice and wickedness! Long ago should we have carried
our arms into Spain, to punish her priesthood for the victims
devoted to their inquisition. We should have carried
our righteous indignation into the new world, to avenge
on the barbarous Mexican the human sacrifices offered up
at the shrine of his cruel superstition. Our fleets would have C4v 16
have covered the Euxine, to chastize the worshippers of
Mahomet, for the institutions which consign the charms of
beauty to the custody of a tyrant, and condemn youth and
innocence to the sofas of the seraglio. And our swords would
have leapt from their scabbards, when Poland was torn from
the sweets of her newly tasted liberty, by a wicked confederacy
of those, with whom we ourselves are allied.

We ought, also, to examine into the justice of our
claims to sit as the judge of vice and depravity, over neighbouring
nations, lest we be guilty of arrogance and presumption.
If we undertake to deal out our punishments to
cruelty and oppression, we ourselves ought at least to be
free from all those imputations, which we have so profusely
scattered on our enemies. And are there no complaints
preferred to heaven against us? Has the African,
who is made the object of commercial calculations and
bargains, ever had any reason to invoke blessings upon our
heads, while he feels the maddening sense of violated right,
and protracted cruelty? Have our eastern armies never invaded
the territories of an unoffending people, and broken
down the barriers, which nature herself seems to have erected
as limits to our ambition, and as lessons to our avarice? We
cannot, indeed, hear the execrations, which we may have
provoked; for oceans divide us from them. We cannot
hear the cries of divided families; we cannot hear the complaints
of nations, that have been subjected to the dominion of D1r 17
of our rapacity and oppression. The coast of Guinea, or
the natives of India, do not represent their wrongs by ambassadors.
But we may read them in the very nature of
man, and in those feelings, which teach him to revolt at
tyranny and usurpation, in every climate and quarter of
the globe.

Such reflections as these, my brethren, were they allowed
to have the weight, which they deserve, would perhaps effectually
cure us of that spirit of intolerance, and of that
want of forbearance, which we have lately discovered.
Upon an occasion of this kind, it cannot but be very serviceable,
to meditate upon all these topics with seriousness
and concern. We have, unquestionably, the privilege of
exercising the severest judgements on the crimes of other
nations. It is good, it is salutary thus to do. But the
attempt of rooting out vice by violence has ever been unsuccesful,
even when exerted upon an individual. There
are certain passions, which take the deepest root, when the
strongest efforts are used to prevent and check their growth.
Besides, we ought not to decide in the tone of an harsh and
rigorous morality upon excesses, which, there is every reason
to conclude, have arisen rather from peculiar circumstances,
than general principles. Let us recollect, that a state of
anarchy (for that is a crime, of which the French have been
copiously accused) is a temporary evil only; and that, as
it seems almost necessary to follow the first acquisition of D so D1v 18
so valuable a gift, as liberty, it ought not to fall within the
jurisdiction of too strict and stern a rule of justice. It is
almost natural, that when the ordinary modes of administrating
affairs are suspended, or superseded, a licentiousness
of some sort or other should precede the new establishment
of things. When we reflect likewise, that they were so
long oppressed by excessive burdens and tyrannical imposts,
that they were under the galling yoke of subordination to
so many proud and insolent orders of men, we cannot be
surprized that the first effort of popular strength should have
been proportioned to the degree of its restraint and oppression.
Retaliation is the privilege of misery; and in
the first moments of their liberty, men are too apt to exercise
it with little moderation, or prudence; to be flushed
with the restitution of their rights, and to feel the natural
insolence, which victory is so apt to generate in the mind of
man. We cannot be surprized, that in such a state as
this, the tardy operations of law should give way to the
hasty decisions of resentment. In the midst of universal
turbulence and confusion, private wrongs are not forgotten,
and all who have been obnoxious for their tyranny, and
even for their wealth or power, feel the undistinguishing
stroke of popular vengeance.

But dreadful as such a state of things is, it cannot be
permanent. It carries within it the principle of its own
remedy; for human intercourse itself cannot be held together,ther, D2r 19
but by means of those securities which regular government
affords it. Let us not, therefore, discover too
delicate a sensibility to the miseries, which are sometimes
found in the first moments of newly-acquired liberty, lest
we be suspected of too warm an attachment to despotism:
for anarchy must necessarily be short-lived; but it is from
the universal silence and tranquillity with which despotism
is surrounded, and from the disguised and deceitful shapes
which it assumes, that it becomes an object of dread and
suspicion.

But however, as the lovers of order and good government,
it may be our duty to deplore these excesses, do they
furnish us with a just pretext for making war upon those,
whom we have accused of them? Has the mode, which
we have adopted, of conducting hostilities, a tendency to
alleviate these evils? Have our exertions restored the plundered
to their property, or the persecuted to their rights?
Have they lessened the number of internal factions, and
rendered the dreadful instrument of murder inactive and
unnecessary? We must ask ourselves these important
questions, or we shall be convicted of having been inconsistent
with ourselves, as well as with the principles of honour
and justice: for we cannot surely exclaim with sincerity,
that we are fighting to restore order and authority to
a country, if treasons and rebellions have been the fruit
of our intrigues, and if anarchy and dissention have formed D2 a part D2v 20
a part of our policy. We have looked “like the innocent
flower,”
but we have really been “the serpent under it,” if
we have displayed, by this perverse and inconsistent conduct,
our zeal for the blessings of peaceful and regular government.
Let us recollect, likewise, that our hypocrisy has
been productive of the most destructive consequences, by
our attempts to excite insurrections against the public authority
of another nation, and if our precipitate and immature
schemes of success have made the scaffold blush with the
blood of traitors, if they have made widows and mothers
pay the forfeit of our rashness, that we have much to answer
for, and much to repent of, on this occasion!

We have now, my brethren, an opportunity to enquire
into the probability of ultimate success in the enterprize,
which we have undertaken. It is now time to reckon on the
advantages of our commercial treaty with the prince of
Hesse and Sardinia; to examine, whether the price which
we have paid for human blood, with so much mercantile
accuracy and precision, is likely to fulfil the expectations of
profit, with which we entered into so honourable an agreement.
Perhaps, at this time, we may be able to make the
enquiry, with our judgements more improved, and our passions
more subdued, than when we began the contest:
for we cannot be proud in the midst of disgrace, we cannot,
surrounded by loss and defeat, feel the arrogance of victory.
We ought indeed to have reasoned on the improbability of advantage, D3r 21
advantage, before we were instructed by calamity. Had we
listened to the voice of history and experience, we should
have reckoned France in the number of those nations, who,
in defence of their liberties, have gathered courage from enthusiasm,
and strength from despair; for the efforts, which her
enemies have made to dissolve her government, have afforded
her a principle of union; and she has imbibed so much of a
sense of freedom, that the very memories of her citizens
must be obliterated, before her former tyranny can be
restored.

A revolution so complete, both with regard to her mode
of government, and to the public sentiments which uphold
it, is unprecedented in the long story of the world. She
has not only abolished monarchy, but she has diffused a
kind of oblivion over the mind, that the image of it can
scarcely be found in the thoughts of her people. Her armies
have exhibited a species of zeal, and even a spirit of martyrdom
in their cause, which seems almost to present us with
a picture of human nature, that is totally new and extraordinary.
She has done all this, while powerful and disciplined
forces were ravaging her frontiers, and while the
fiercest discontents and factions were dividing her at home.
She has poured on astonished foes, an army composed of
all ages and sexes; and the atchievements of their promiscuous
multitudes have far surpassed the most renowned exploits
of skilful and disciplined troops.

Does D3v 22

Does the history of this campaign then animate us with
hopes of future success? for we seem only to have marched
from one defeat to another, and to have gone on in a perpetual
transition from projects rashly medidtated, to losses
acutely experienced. “Time and chances, which happen
to all men,”
seem to have been confederated against our purposes;
the very elements have joined the strife against us,
and nothing, except it is debased, sordid, and treacherous, I allude to the prospect of success which the seizure of French
towns, and the exertions of the royalists, held out to us. Even
these hopes are now gone.

declares in our favour. Are we unmoved by these repeated
warnings? Are our armies to be subdued, before
our obstinacy is overcome?

But the struggle, which the French have made, is the
last convulsive exertion This was the burthen of the king’s speech at the opening of
the present session of parliament.
of their government. She is exhausted
by her contests, and she will soon be humbled. I
confess, however, notwithstanding the high authority from
which this argument for the continuance of the war proceeds,
that such a sanguine kind of expectation seems to me
not very suitable to the complexion of many recent events,
nor to the actual situation of our enemies at this moment. If D4r 23
If we were disposed to reflect upon the whole history of
the French revolution, with the cool and unprejudiced attention,
which such a theme demands, we should not, probably,
be inclined to adopt such ill-grounded and unsatisfactory
speculations. We should be at a loss to discover
that appearance of distress and weakness, on which these
calculations are founded.

The frauds of bankrupt power, the wild struggles of ruined
despotism, and pitiful intrigues of impoverished courts, have
been pretty general on the continent. But in France, we
may behold a picture, that will produce impressions totally
different. In the midst of what is called anarchy and confusion,
we may observe a system, which is built on the
harmonious and applauding assent of many millions of men.
We must surely, when we observe how devoted are the lives
and fortunes of every individual to the republic, and when
we observe their enthusiastic, and even superstitious attachment
to their country, we must say to ourselves,—“These
men are invincible; we are contending against Nature herself.”
We cannot likewise build any very valuable hopes
of success on the poverty, into which we have reduced them,
or on the narrowness and insufficiency of their resources.
Have we been unmindful of the wealth with which their
exchequer overflows, the treasures of unsuccessful treason, and
the spoils of ecclesiastic avarice. But had they been utterlyterly D4v 24
destitute In the address of Galgacus to the Caledonians, this idea has been
forcibly expressed by Tacitus. “Ne terreat vanus aspectus, et auri
fulgor, atque argenti, quod neque tegit, neque vulnerat.”
of gold and silver, if their churches had
yielded up none of their pious offerings, and if their saints,
more useful than in days of yore, had not replenished their
coffers, still we should have found an hardy and invincible
enemy, in a people who were determined to defend their liberties,
or resolved to sell them dearly. Still they might
have been rich enough to procure arms, and they might
have had sufficient courage to teach them how they were to
be used.

Such, my brethren, always have been, and such always
will be, the difficulties that oppose the execution of a project
so visionary and malevolent, as the extirpation of opinions.
We cannot expect to overturn a government, which is cemented
by the blood of so many patriots, unless we can
wash out of the minds of the French the knowledge of their
rights, and the love of their liberty: for were our arms,
and those of our allies, able to penetrate to the capital, and
to surround the walls of Paris; and were even the manifesto
of the duke of Brunswick executed according to the
minutest injunctions of his merciless disposition, opinion,
our grand enemy, would not be destroyed. While the
sword was satiating its vengeance in the north, the soul of liberty E1r 25
liberty would revive in the south; and it would be necessary
to destroy every citizen, and to cover the whole country
with a camp of German barbarians, before our scheme
could be effectually accomplished.

Let us, I beseech you, remember, that as this is a
day of repentance, it behoves us to desist from an attempt
which is likely to be fruitful of nothing but slaughter:
for this is a day of repentance; and we should pervert the
very principles of such an institution, were we to suffer it to
glide over our heads, without having suggested one salutary
reflection, or one purpose of amendment. We may, therefore,
spend our time not altogether unprofitably, by revolving
the thoughts, which I have hinted to you, seriously
and earnestly, and dispassionately; much more profitably,
indeed, than by running hastily over our liturgy, or listening
to a homily It has been observed, rather more wittily than religiously, upon
the public conduct of our English bishops, that, according to the
pliant maxims of christianity, they can recommend war to our governors,
and preach up peace and submission to the people.
in favour of war and of passive obedience.
If we are resolved to go on in this destructive
course of hostility, we may not, perhaps, have any opportunity,
at another period, of arriving at a termination either
honourable, or safe to ourselves; and the voice that warns
us now, may assume the tone that threatens us hereafter.

E Having, E1v 26

Having, by our own perverse struggles against our enemies,
procured their union, we may probably discover, that
we ourselves are divided, and that the annual accumulation
of grievous burdens has no tendency to generate affection,
even to the English constitution. Mankind may then begin
to think that antiquated charters, and immemorial usages,
are not alone sufficient for the varied purposes and benefits
of civil government. They may cease to study the blessings
of our constitution in the lectures of law professors, or in
the untried observations of foreigners. Every book of domestic
expenditures may refute even Blackstone and De
Lolme. They may then be invited towards another system
of things, instead of contemplating, with increased veneration,
a frame of laws which have stood the test of ages;
and may begin to prefer the efforts of present times to the
wisest and most venerable monuments of antient jurisprudence.
As they feel, they will think; and they will recognize
no greater excellence in government, than that it
protects its subjects, and extends to laborious poverty its
well-earned and undiminished reward.

It imports us to reflect, whether an obstinate adherence
to our measures has a tendency to hasten us to such a situation;
for there is a degree, beyond which even the patience
of Englishmen will not be preserved; and they too may
be infected with the spirit of innovation, which it is now
so fashionable to deprecate. A certain portion of the necessarycessary E2r 27
burdens of government, their loyalty, perhaps, may
bear without a murmur: but if we go on thus, year after
year, the peasant will not be able to procure food for the
day, that passes over him, nor to light a few bundles of wood
to dispel the damps and gloom of his hovel. In such
an abject and degraded state as this, to which, if our present
measures are prolonged, we are hastily tending, we shall
be inclined to contemplate with envy the confusion and
anarchy of France.

My brethren, these reflections appeal to our minds, with
an importunity that cannot be resisted, or evaded. They
admonish us not to sully history with the stain of fresh
crimes, and not to call, like Renault, Otway’s Venice Preserved. “for more blood.”
They admonish us to return to our old, sober, and quiescent
habitudes of commercial industry, and to restore ourselves
from the violent agitation, which has “frightened our isle
from its propriety,”
to those blessings, which our constitution
cannot extend to us, in times of such turbulence and
distraction.

We have fought in former times the battle of our liberties;
and it is in such fields only, that there can be
glory to our arms, or consolation in our victories. Let us
cease to fight in a cause so contradictory to our old and E2 instinctive E2v 28
instinctive principles; and let us not strive to intercept from
others, those invaluable benefits, of which we ourselves were
formerly enamoured. Liberty, like the rain of heaven,
that refreshes and fertilizes the earth, is the prerogative of
every people.

But, besides the guilt and folly of fighting in such a cause,
we have, upon this occasion, other national offences, for
which it is our duty to implore divine forgiveness. Does not
our own island resound with the complaints of those, who
have been the objects of unjust and oppressive persecutions?
Have not the securities of social life been undermined, by converting
our servants into spies and informers, and debauching
their fidelity and allegiance? Have we resigned so much of
our ancient attachment to freedom, that its name is become
no longer music to our ears, and that we should pour out
bitterness and malice, against those who have not yet learned
to despise it? Do we punish, with dungeons and exile, those
men, “who worship in the way, which we call sedition, the
constitution of our fathers?”
Have our towns, and even our
villages, been subjected to the domination of petty inquisitions;
and have the forgotten terrors of criminal justice been
revived, to overwhelm those of our brethren, who have been
more imboldened, or more enlightened by what they have
conceived to be the truth, than ourselves? We have indeed
many sins to account for on this day, if we have attempted to
crush the energies of public sentiment, and to silence the effortsforts E3r 29
of honest zeal, by assigning them the narrow limits of
our own judgements and prepossessions. We have been
guilty of the most atrocious injustice, if we have taken away
from the oppressed the freedom of complaint, and the right
of remonstrance. We have sinned against reason itself,
the noblest of our moral perfections, if we have been intolerant
towards those, who have conscientiously and boldly
followed its guidance.

It is devoutly to be wished, that there were no reasons for
making predictions, not of a very flattering kind, to those
who have not acquired the new-fashioned relish for servitude.
Political prophecy is not indeed infallible, as it
cannot be founded on systems of calculation, as certain as
the prediction of a comet, or any other event of the same
sort. But when the times are pregnant with a great and important
mischief, from the very nature of the struggles we
may be allowed to predict concerning the birth; and with a
species of superstition to press into the service of our forebodings
every omen and every symptom. Recent appearances
in the political atmosphere have taught those minds,
who see the beginnings of despotism afar off, to be not a
little apprehensive and jealous; and those who are the most
unconcerned observers of the scenes that are shifting around
them, must have seen, that the sky is darkened by an unpropitious
and ill-omened flight, from which the most melancholy
divinations may be derived. It is certain that there has E3v 30
has been a mighty movement in the minds of Englishmen
from the love of freedom, to a total abhorrence of it, or, at
least, to submission and acquiescence under its frequent violations.
The time was, when our rough and unsubmitting
hatred of oppression, in whatever shape it appeared, would
have been stirred up to mutiny by more moderate encroachments,
than our liberties have suffered within the space of
one or two years.

The faults, of which we are so eager to accuse our
enemies, and which proceed only from the luxuriance of
untried liberty, are more shocking in our sight, than the
cringing servilities of those titled or pensioned slaves, who
seem to have been created for nothing else, than to intercept
the blessings of Providence from more honest and deserving
objects of its protection. Since our alliance with continental
despotism, we seem to have divorced ourselves from
Liberty herself, and to have forgotten her former endearments.
By our violent change of opinions and habits, we
have abandoned the principles which we inherited from our
ancestors, and we have convicted ourselves of the grossest
apostacy from the cause, in which they fought and perished.

It is not, indeed, compatible with our duty, as virtuous
and useful members of the commonwealth, to demand the
redress of grievances passionately or violently. It is, likewise,wise, E4r 31
unworthy of our dignity, as the subjects of a free government,
and as a part of an enlightened community, to
slumber over the violations of our liberties, or to divest
ourselves of that jealousy and alarm, with which it behoves
us to inspect the regulation of our affairs. Government,
unless it is to be dissolved, and renewed by every generation,
is not an usunfruct only, but it is a trust, which is
to descend to our posterity, without loss or diminution.
We must, therefore, suffer no measure, whose principle or
tendency may be of a questionable nature, to pass by without
complaint or remonstrance. We must examine the
spirit in which it was dictated, and the object to which
it was directed; and we must keenly and assiduously strip
of their sophistries, every maxim and every practice that
wears the complexion of arbitrary domination.

I am now addressing you, my brethren, upon a subject,
which, on an occasion of this kind, has the strongest claim
to attention. We have already considered the war, in its
present and its future consequences. But, perhaps, were
we to examine the general tenor of our recent conduct, as
a nation, even war, dreadful as it is abstractedly, and calamitous
as it is under our present circumstances, is not the
most dangerous evil, of which these times have been so
productive. The madness, that torments and vexes itself, is
not incurable: and we cannot, surely, long persist in a
project so hazardous and ineffectual. We may once more trade E4v 32
trade to the East and West, and commerce may recover
her former tone and energy; but the stab, which our liberties
have suffered, is not susceptible of so speedy and
effectual a remedy. It is the very nature of all arbitrary
power to be felt lightly and gently, in its first approaches,
till by degrees it becomes, instead of an object of delight,
an image of terror. The serpent is gathering together its
venom, while we are amusing ourselves with its docility
and tameness.

I desire you to ask yourselves, whether we are improving
or preserving the blessings, of which we are so proud, by
letting loose a torrent of persecution upon those who have
opposed our opinions with zeal, and probably with effect.
Are we adding fresh beauty to our constitution, by such
unseemly outrages upon those, who have been the active
partizans of what they have thought, perhaps erroneously,
the cause of truth and justice? When we are wiping off
the dust from the statues of dark and intolerant ages, to
gratify our malice against them, do we exhibit an example
of an improved and enlightened state of society? Will
the victims, who have been offered up by our bigotry, be
the memorials, either of the equity, or the mildness of
British jurisprudence? Will our exiles carry in their
breasts, a grateful remembrance of the lenity or the benevolence
of their judges? Will they cherish, in noxious and
unwholesome climes, a juster or more improved sense of the benefits F1r 33
benefits of the government by which they were persecuted?
Or, when the rigours of their punishment are felt no more,
will their sufferings be forgotten by succeeding times? Will
they not rather be recorded, as examples of cruelty, and oppression,
and contemplated with horror, or pointed out as
lessons to mankind? But in whatever period they may
be observed, they must be considered as the stains of an
age, which boasts so high an advancement in knowledge
and refinement: for in reviving the punishments and the
laws of ancient times, we have practised “the deeds of
darkness,”
in the midst of light; and we have acted with
aggravated injustice, in resorting so far back for precedents
of iniquity and persecution. We are punishing the subjects
of a free government, with the severities that were derived
from times of despotism and darkness. Since those days,
the powers of the human mind have not been torpid, or
inactive. An order of things totally new has arisen; and
with it a fearless and liberal spirit of enquiry has been
awakened. We have, therefore, punished these our The severe and cruel sentences, which have been passed upon
the Scotch reformers, have, even by lawyers, been supposed to be
illegal and unconstitutional: but, even allowing that they were legal,
it cannot but be reproachful to a free nation, that it should preserve
the intolerant laws of arbitrary reigns. While such statutes
remain, we cannot wonder that the spirit of Jefferies is not extinct.
fellow-
citizens, for that love of truth, and that zeal for her interests, F which F1v 34
which the prevailing disposition of the times, and the advancement
of the intellectual state of men, communicated
to them; and we have been guilty, in doing this, of a very
great and dangerous species of injustice!

Is, then, the cruse of truth to pour forth no more oil?
Is the privilege of remonstrance and complaint to be taken
away by our newly constituted star-chambers and courts of
inquisition? Have we ascertained, with such accuracy,
the boundaries within which our silent researches, or our
active efforts for improvement, ought to be confined? Have
we received a revelation from heaven, which has assured
us that we have received the true political faith, and commanded
us to punish, with unrelenting severity, the sowers
of heresies, and the promoters of schisms? Is the result
of all enquiries upon political subjects to be a servile admiration
of the government, under which we were born, and
an ignorance of, or an indifference to, its errors and defects?
And do you think that all this conduces to the praise of your
constitution?

Surely, my brethren, if nothing is to be said or written,
but in favour of the present system; if our standard of excellence
be derived from what it is, or has been, and not
from what it may be, it must soon be even disgusting to
those, who affect so much to admire it at present. Is its secu- F2r 35
security, then, not to be the result of gradual and successive
improvements, but the effect of Scotch trials, and English
associations, with their black and gloomy train of punishments
and terrors? Is a bigotted attachment to be the
test of patriotism and fear, and constraint to be the source
of our allegiance? These will prove but weak pillars, if
government is to be built upon them. Metus, et terror est infirma vincula caritatis. Tac. Never did oppression
beget attachment; never did the exercise of unjust power
strengthen the bonds of obedience. If it is to be upheld
by such supports, its weakness is at once betrayed. Even
those who were once its most ardent admirers, will not
contemplate it with so much satisfaction, as if it had stood
upon its own foundations; as if it had undergone the ordeal of
keen and unrestricted research; as if it had been unshaken by
the complaints of those, who saw its abuses and corruptions;
as if it had refuted the visionary speculations of the philosopher,
and had rendered, by its purity, the touch of reform unnecessary.
Can we say, that it deserves an equal degree of veneration,
as if it had not been supported by the rod of
power, and the menaces of authority? For her virtue, who
is confined by the locks and bars of a convent, is of a very
questionable nature; it is only the beauty, which withstands
the assaults of flattery and temptation, that exhibits
a lesson of genuine and sincere chastity.

F2 We F2v 36

We have profited very little of the lights of reason and
philosophy, which have hitherto beamed upon us, if we
wish to check their future progress, or if we regret that
their advancement has been too rapid. One of the most distinguishing
characteristics of man’s nature, is its gradual
improvement, and its unlimited march towards moral and intellectual
perfection. A free and unrestricted intercourse
of opinions, and the silent dissemination of truth, are the
safest modes of effecting any melioration in the condition of
mankind; and the attempt is dangerous to impede the operation
of causes which are preparing us for the final destination
of our existence, with so much stillness and tranquility.
If we did not perversely interfere, by endeavouring
to interpose the barrier of unjust authority to the acquisition
of truth, all revolutions that have taken place might have
been accomplished without violence or anarchy.

The advantages, which the present age enjoys, have been
derived from the liberal and fearless spirit of discussion,
which has distinguished it from all others. It has put to
flight a train of political and religious superstitions; it has
taught mankind to ascertain the nature of their social rights,
and, by purging religion of its mysteries and absurdities, it
has divested it of its terrors, and displayed only its consolations.
It is not possible for knowledge to be long stationary,
or the human faculties to be in a perpetual state of depression F3r 37
depression and inactivity. The energies of reason may be
frightened into silence for a while, and the intellectual
powers may be constrained into dulness: but, in proportion
to the length of their depression, and the severity
of their restraint, they will be communicated in a
gentle diffusion, or poured out in a violent eruption. It is
impossible, however, to prevent its propagation and growth.
The effort to stop the motion of our globe itself, is equally
as absurd and impotent, as an attempt to impede the endless
revolutions of that little world, the mind of man.

Let us, therefore, endeavour to hasten the intellectual
progress of man, as far as we are able, by leaving to every
one the undisturbed right of private judgement. Let us
watch, with an anxious and trembling jealousy, the conduct
of those, who administer our affairs, and to whom we
have delegated the important functions of government. That
we may be able, likewise, to decide with propriety, and
to think with accuracy upon all political questions, let us
confer together upon these subjects, and communicate to
each other the fruits of our several enquiries. Let us not
imagine that political knowledge is beyond the sphere of our
duties, or the reach of our understandings; for happily those
maxims, which have the most important reference to civil
action, are the least recondite and abstruse; and the most
useful principles are those which are the most fitted for common F3v 38
common reception and communication. They may indeed
have been perverted, or obscured by those pernicious sophistries,
which have been devised to bewilder and perplex
the common sense of mankind; and they may have been
removed from vulgar apprehension and enquiry, by a veil
of mysterious and artful policy: but a very little judgement
and diligence will be sufficient to clear away that mass
of misconstructions and perversions, by which they may have
been overwhelmed.

For instance, when we are told (and it does not need an
elaborate train of reasoning to tell us) that the origin of all
government is the will of the people, and that its object is
the general good, we shall perceive the necessity of a pure
and uncorrupt legislature. We shall then look with indignation
at the shameless prostitution of the public revenue,
as the reward of apostacy, and the bribe of dishonest services.
We shall then enter into the business of reform,
by demanding the separation of corruption from the commonwealth,
and by demanding from those, who have been
seduced into so unnatural an alliance, a restitution of the
gifts and the emoluments, which are now the pledges of
their connexion, and the monuments of their shame.

If we do this with zeal and earnestness, we shall exhibit
on our days of fastings, and other occasions, a truly penitent people. F4r 39
people. Until we do this, we may be religious, but we
cannot be virtuous; and were we to roll ourselves in the
dust, and clothe ourselves with sackcloth and ashes, without
serious and vigorous resolution of amendment, we should
only deserve the contempt of man for our superstition, and
the vengeance of heaven for our hypocrisy.

Finis