National Penitence, &c.
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Appointed 1794-02-28February XXVIII.
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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- 2 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 3 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 4 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 5 B3r 5 ciliatory 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, 6 B3v 6 sent, 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, 7 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 8 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, 9 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 10 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. Hist.HistoryVol.volume I. against France. It may then be said, that recollecting the care and protection which the infancy of her own 11 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, 12 C2v 12 clarations, 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 13 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. 14 C3v 14 sideration. 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 15 C4r 15 tended 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 16 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 17 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 18 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, 19 D2r 19 ther, 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 20 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, 21 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 22 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 23 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 24 D4v 24 terly 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 25 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, 26 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 27 E2r 27 cessary 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, 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 28 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 29 E3r 29 forts 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 30 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, 31 E4r 31 wise, 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 32 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 33 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 34 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- 35 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 36 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 37 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 38 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. 39 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.